General health

Veganuary: The dietitian-approved guide to success


January, a month of new beginnings, filled with hopes and dreams of a healthier, happier self.“This year will be different”, you say; “This will be the year I succeed!”. But come February the happier, healthier self we imagined is next year’s problem. Sound familiar? Yes, we’ve all been there, done that.

If you have not yet succeeded in making a change after the new year, then perhaps it is time for a new approach. Time to give your diet and body the attention and love it truly deserves. Time to ditch those quick-fix fad diets. Time to make simple, sustainable changes that result in a healthier you, while also reducing your food-related carbon footprint by up to 50%.

Start the year with a challenge

Veganuary is a month-long challenge to go vegan in January. Staying on a plant-based diet for just one month is far more manageable than total commitment to the vegan lifestyle right away.

Completing the month is a success in itself, even if you don’t become vegan permanently. It’s the chance to try healthy, simple, sustainable changes in a low-pressure environment and ease yourself into what could be a life-changing habit.

Change your outlook

While this is definitely a challenge, it gives you a chance to kickstart a change in your prospective. It will push you to explore new foods, new dishes and make you more aware of what you're putting in your body in the long term.

Going vegan or increasing your amount of plant-based meals is good not only for you, but also for the planet.

The benefits of a primarily plant-based diet are enormous. From lowering cholesterol and blood pressure to reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and obesity.

Both the British Dietetic Association (BDA) and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognise that vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle and for athletes.

Plenty of athletes follow a vegan diet, still managing to pack on muscle while staying lean. Tennis star Venus Williams and F1 champion Lewis Hamilton swear by a vegan diet, with one of the most famous NFL stars Tom Brady stating that an 80% plant-based diet being the reason he can still play in the NFL at 44 years of age.

Where to start?

So how do I go vegan for the month? The key is in the planning. In order to achieve the health benefits while ensuring you are not missing out on essential nutrients your vegan diet needs to be well planned.

Some resources I recommend checking out for helping you during your challenge are:

Top tips for a balanced diet

Below are my top tips for achieving a healthy, balanced vegan diet. There is a lot of information but try not to feel too overwhelmed as many of the foods listed below give you several of the vitamins and nutrients you need. If cooking isn't really your thing you could always investigate a plant-based delivery service!

Fruit & Vegetables:
Make sure you’re eating at least 5-a-day, and aim for each meal to contain a source of vitamin C to boost your iron absorption (e.g. peppers, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi fruit, strawberries or pineapple).

You should also aim to eat a rich source of vitamin A and K daily, which can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spinach, and kale.

Starchy foods:
Try to make high fibre choices when it comes to your carbohydrates, e.g., oats, new/sweet potatoes with skin, wholewheat pasta/noodles, brown rice, wholemeal bread.

Each meal should ideally contain at least one source of protein. Lots of vegan meals and items will tell you on the label if they have protein, but some examples of whole food sources of protein include beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, soya alternatives to milk and yoghurt, nuts, nut butters, tahini and seeds.

Your daily diet should contain at least two portions of calcium-rich foods.
Here are examples of one portion:

  1. 200ml calcium-fortified soya, oat, nut, coconut, or pea milk
  2. 200g calcium-fortified soya, oat, or coconut yoghurt
  3. 100g calcium-set tofu
  4. 2 slices of soya and linseed bread fortified with extra calcium

Healthy fats:
Eating nuts and seeds daily are a great option to get your healthy fats in and are a good source of omega-3. Adding a tablespoon of mixed nuts and mixed seeds to your morning breakfast bowl with plant-based yoghurt, porridge or muesli/granola, or adding them to a salad are easy wins. You could also have a handful of walnuts as a snack and aim to use vegetable (rapeseed) oil as your main cooking oil.

Sources of iron should be included daily, and absorption can be boosted by your Vitamin C intake. Food high in iron includes: lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereal.

Also avoid drinking tea or coffee with meals.

Good sources of zinc include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, wholemeal bread, quinoa, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds.

Vitamins B12 & D, iodine & selenium:
I would recommend taking a daily supplement containing these nutrients. VEG1 supplement includes all these and more in one chewable tablet.

There are of course, many more resources on the internet that can help you in your journey but hopefully this gives you some food for thought and a solid starting point.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2022,

Caroline Gillies
Registered Dietitian

Get started with Mayfield Clinic

Become a Mayfield Clinic member and get direct access to experienced general practitioners