Pros and cons of Veganuary

Alexandra Thompson
Buddha bowl with grilled avocado, asparagus, chickpeas, pea sprouts and broccoli. Vegan food concept.
A quarter of a million people took part in Veganuary last year. [Photo: Getty]

Whether it’s to staying fighting fit, help combat climate change or prevent animal cruelty, more and more of us are adopting a plant-based diet.

While giving up meat and dairy all year round may be too extreme for some, going without in January seems more manageable.

A record quarter of a million people worldwide took part in Veganuary last year, The Guardian reported.

Yet, when it comes to the health benefits of veganism - particularly for just one month - the jury is still out.

READ MORE: Should you go vegan for your health?

“Studies have shown people who follow a meat-free diet have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and digestive disorders, such as constipation,” Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist at Healthspan, told Yahoo UK.

This may be down to the high quantity of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables vegans tend to consume.

Health officials recommend we eat five portions of fresh produce every day.

While this may sound achievable, data from the World Cancer Research Fund suggests just over a quarter (27%) of 19-to-64 year olds hit this target.

By eliminating meat and dairy from their plates, vegans may load up on fruit and vegetables.

“It’s been shown vegans are more likely to exceed the daily recommended fruit and vegetable intake, which means gleaning a greater quantity of micronutrients and antioxidants,” Mr Hobson said.

READ MORE: Going vegan in your seventies could ward off disease

While it all sounds positive, registered nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert is wary of any diet that cuts out major food groups.

“Veganuary can be a great opportunity to embrace a more plant-based diet, but it can also become just another diet that fosters a restrictive eating pattern,” she told Yahoo UK.

“A vegan diet can be a difficult thing to adjust to and it is important it doesn’t end up with you simply limiting the variety of your diet.”

Problems could also arise if Veganuary motivates participants to give up meat and dairy altogether, unaware of the importance of supplements.

Vitamin B12 helps keep our blood healthy and immune system in check, according to the NHS.

Only found naturally in meat, fish, eggs and dairy, vegans must rely on supplements or fortified foods.

Veganuary alone will unlikely do much damage, with the body “silently coping” with a B12 deficiency for around four years.

Yahoo UK previously reported, however, many view the deficiency as a “myth”, leading to irreversible nerve damage down the line.

READ MORE: Vegans warned B12 deficiency is 'not a myth'

For those just going vegan in January, however, ditching meat and dairy could help them develop healthy habits that they take into the rest of the year.

“One of the key lessons is learning how to adapt simple everyday dishes such as curries, chilli and spaghetti Bolognese by switching meat for foods such as tofu, beans or pulses,” Mr Hobson said.

“The choice to eat meat is not just about taste but often born out of a lack of understanding about how to cook meat-free meals that stimulate all of our senses.

“My personal opinion about meat is we should eat less and choose the very best quality affordable rather than filling our shopping trolley full of cheap, over farmed animal products.

“You don’t need to go vegan to be healthy but eating less meat is undoubtably a good thing.

“While going vegan for one month may not have an immediate impact on our health it does help enlighten people to the plant-based way of eating.”

For those choosing to take on the challenge, Ms Lambert stresses the importance of protein intake.

“If you are following a plant-based diet, you need to combine different protein sources to ensure you get what is referred to as a complete amino-acid profile,” she said.

“Often animal products have a complete profile, but most plant-based alternatives do not.

“The body needs all of these amino acids to function optimally and for muscle synthesis.

“A great example would be almonds and beans, when added together this gives you a complete source of amino acids.

“Jackfruit, often used to replace meat in recipes, is actually not a source of protein.”

It is also worth remembering just because something is labelled “vegan”, it is not automatically healthy - think Gregg’s plant-based sausage roll.