We Brits love our post-Christmas penance. Paying for our excess we join gyms, detox, forswear the booze for a month – our January hair shirts come in lots of shapes and sizes. One new kid on the block is Veganuary. Although the name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, Veganuary is a charity that wants us to go vegan for January – and once we get the taste for it, we’ll hopefully sign up for good.
Why go vegan?
The origins of veganism lie in concerns about animal welfare. Industrial-scale livestock farming causes suffering for huge numbers of animals. And even those rare farmers who make animal welfare a priority still kill them – somewhere in the region of 50 billion land animals are raised and slaughtered every year – most in terrible conditions. Then there is the environmental impact. Cattle farming contributes to deforestation, water degradation and loss of biodiversity. It also puts out nearly 20 per cent of all man-made greenhouse gases – more than all forms of transport combined.
Meat can be a menace
Modern diets are meat heavy. Your average westerner eats between 200 and 250 grams of meat a day, that’s nearly three times the UN recommendation. And a meat-heavy diet, particularly if it’s red and processed meat, is linked to a bunch of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a slew of cancers. Cutting that out has got to be good for you.
Then there’s the antibiotic issue. Industrial meat production – keeping all that livestock penned together – relies on massive use of antibiotics. In the US, 80 per cent of antibiotics are used in farming. And this promotes antibiotic resistance. If we run out of antibiotics we are in serious trouble: minor infections – even a scrape or a graze – could become lethal again.
How healthy is a vegan diet?
There’s little doubt that cutting out – or seriously reducing – red and processed meats is good for your health, and for the planet. But veganism goes further. A vegan only eats plants, or foods made from plants. Unlike most vegetarian diets, it gets rid of dairy as well – no eggs, cheese or milk. So how healthy is it?
Despite a lot of chit-chat, if you take it seriously, and eat intelligently, you can get all the nutrients and protein you need from a vegan diet. And it certainly cuts out a lot of the rubbish that clogs our diet.
So how should vegans eat?
This is what the NHS recommends for vegans:
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day – and variation is key.
- Build your meals on starchy carbs like potatoes, bread, pasta or rice – wholegrain if you can.
- Use dairy swaps like soya drinks and yoghurts – plump for low fat and low sugar varieties.
- Beans and pulses are good sources of protein – fill your boots.
- Use unsaturated fats – but don’t overdo it.
- Drink plenty of water or other fluids.
Not all foods that look vegan are vegan. Animal products can turn up in surprising places – in wine, white sugar and sugary sweets. Always read the label.
Going vegan can be an interesting, healthy choice – good for you, good for the planet and good for those billions of suffering animals. And forget the naysayers – vegan food can be tasty.