Celebrating Veganuary: Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
As the New Year starts, many of us try to incorporate new, healthier habits which can lead to a better standard of living. We may choose to join a gym, give up takeaways or quit smoking. But thousands of people around the world will be starting their journey of harnessing plant-based power through an annual event known as Veganuary! But what exactly is Veganuary, and where did this inspiring movement originate?
Veganuary is a non-profit UK charity which was founded in 2014 by Jane Land and Matthew Glover. It’s aims are to encourage people to try going vegan for the entirety of the first month of the year, showing how easy it can be to substitute meat out of your meals. In 2023, 706,965 people from around the world signed up to be a part of Veganuary, wow!
Lets take a look at some of the reasons why more and more people are taking part each year!
Veganism, which involves abstaining from the consumption of animal products, can have positive impacts on several aspects of your body’s overall health.
For example, vegan diets are typically lower in saturated fats. High intake of these types of fats can lead to elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This is the bad type of cholesterol which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Vegan diets include higher levels of polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the good type), as well as preventing blood platelets from clotting together and acting as an anti-inflammatory to reduce hypertension of blood vessels. All of these benefits contribute to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and it’s side effects like strokes and heart attacks.
Plant-based diets are also rich in potassium and magnesium which are both linked to helping your body with regulating blood pressure, further reducing the risks of heart problems. The anti-oxidant intake from a plant-based diet will also protect your body from free radicals which can damage cells and lead to chronic diseases like cancer.
Embracing a vegan lifestyle can be a transformative journey towards not only physical well-being but also improvements in your mental health. The inherent richness of plant-based foods in essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins lays the foundation for optimal brain function.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid the brain uses to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter largely responsible for the feeling of happiness and well-being. Whilst some meats also contain tryptophan, the body can have a more difficult time converting it to serotonin compared to plant-based sources. This is due to the high-protein nature of meat which leads to other amino acids competing with tryptophan and preventing it from reaching the brain. Pant-based sources of tryptophan include mushrooms, sunflower seeds, leafy greens and soybeans.
Foods which are rich in magnesium can also have a positive impact on your overall mental well-being. Magnesium is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which helps to lower cortisol levels in the body and reduces the side effects of stress and anxiety. Which in turn helps to improve sleeping patterns! Plant-based foods which are rich in magnesium include spinach, black beans, quinoa, almonds, cashews and peanuts.
The largescale production of meat around the world takes a huge toll on the health of planet Earth. The breeding, raising and slaughtering process of farming requires colossal amounts of natural resources, such as fresh water and land space. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, agriculture is the largest fresh water user globally. Agricultural irrigation accounts for 70% of the planet’s fresh water supplies each year. This creates a moral dilemma when considering the fresh water insecurity faced by many countries around the world. Agriculture is also a major source of water pollution with fertilizers, pesticides and livestock waste all contaminating waterways and groundwater, which in turn ends up in our oceans.
The Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations also expressed that in 2018, global emissions due to agriculture and its related land use (such as deforestation), accounted for 9.3 billion tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂eq). These emissions speed up the destruction of the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from the Sun’s UV radiation, leading to global warming. Agriculture is also a huge source of methane production. Cattle alone emits at least 231 billion pounds of methane into the atmosphere each year according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Methane is actually 80 times more effective at trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than CO₂, accounting for up to 30% of global warming since the pre-industrial era.
Adopting a vegan diet may seem like a hard task. However, there are plenty of vegan recipes available online which can guide you on your journey! You should also research which plant-based foods are rich in different nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body was previously absorbing from animal products. This is to ensure you are adapting the diet to fit your needs.