Could you give up burgers, bacon and even butter for 30 days? Or, how about just before 6 p.m.? As January marches on, you’ve inevitably noticed a few people pledging their commitment to ‘Veganuary’ (yup, that’s going vegan for the month of January) — or maybe just to #MeatlessMondays — all over your feeds.
Though exact numbers aren’t available, vegan meal delivery service Purple Carrot says they’ve also seen a large increase in orders in January, too. And with its science-backed health and weight loss benefits, the vegan diet, once considered extreme, has become more entrenched in the mainstream. But is it worth it if you’re only going vegan for 30 days — or just for part of the day or week?
What’s the Deal with Part-Time Veganism?
“If you’re vegan in January and eat like crap for other 11 months that’s not enough.”
The body benefits of being a full-fledged vegan are hard to ignore. “From a health perspective, most people when they eat more plants and less junk lose weight,” says Mark Bittman, co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Purple Carrot. “Most will see their blood sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure go in the right direction and according to the data, they could also reduce their risk of death and cancer.”
As a part-time vegan (he goes meat-free before 6 p.m.), Bittman says he’s seen these benefits in his own life — and has written about them in his popular book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health for Good. “Whatever it takes to get people to eat more plants makes sense,” the former New York Times columnist and cookbook author says.
But before you start planning your February 1 cheeseburger bender, experts say eating vegan only leads to better health if you do it right — and keep it up. “I would say you should see it as part of a larger trend towards part-time veganism,” Bittman says. “If you’re vegan in January and eat like crap for other 11 months that’s not enough. But if you learn you could eat better more often that’s a really great thing.”
What’s more, there’s a wide world of vegan junk food (hello, Oreos!) waiting for you on store shelves. “Just because it is plant-based, does not make a vegan diet automatically healthy,” says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “In fact, you could enjoy a vegan diet loaded with many processed, high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium options.”
Whether you’re going vegan for a month, before 6 p.m., or just want to give it a try for a day, here are some tips to help you along the way.
3 Ways to Make the Most of Veganuary
1. Make substitutions.
Before you resign yourself to salad after boring salad, educate yourself on how to substitute your favorite sources of protein for similarly satiating options. “It’s not just a matter of what you are avoiding,” Sheth, a life-long vegetarian says. “The focus should be on what you can add to ensure nutritional quality.” She recommends swapping out chicken and beef for beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds. (Try some of these recipes for your next Meatless Monday!)
RELATED: 14 Best Proteins for Meatless Meals
2. Portion your plate.
Piling veggies on your dish might seem like the way to go, but there’s a science to constructing the ideal vegan meal. Sheth recommends filling half your plate with colorful veggies and fruits, one-quarter with whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, and the rest with a plant-based protein like beans or lentils. You can even pour yourself a glass of non-dairy milk to make sure you’re getting some calcium, vitamin D and B12 in your system, she says. “Vegans need to make a conscious effort to eat the right quantity and combinations of food to get the nutrients they need to stay healthy,” she notes.
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
If you’re just testing the waters of veganism, don’t sweat it over small slip-ups. “If you’re a part-time vegan and want milk, it’s not the end of the world,” Bittman says. “…It’s just a matter of maintaining thoughtfulness and awareness.”