It is already the 21st day of the new year and therefore the 21st day of Veganuary! What is Veganuary you may ask? Veganuary is an annual challenge that encourages people to follow a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. I know I am a bit late with this. The idea only popped into my mind yesterday and I debated whether I should say anything about Veganuary now since it is so late into the month, but then I realized… the advice I give here will not only help you to succeed on a vegan diet for the rest of Veganuary, but also for the days, months and even years to come.
5 tips to stay vegan during Veganuary and beyond!
The truth is most people will fail at Veganuary. Those that do make it through the 30 days will most likely go back to their meat-eating ways once the month is over. It is sad but true. Do not get me wrong, the mere attempt at a vegan-only month is a step in the right direction. I applaud the effort! However, my goal here is to give advice that will help you succeed on a vegan diet for life. I want you to see it as more than just a 30-day challenge that you may or may not overcome. There is a reason why some people can live their whole lives as healthy and happy vegans, while others can not even make it through a few days or a month. That is because there is a right and a wrong way to do a vegan diet.
5. Eat enough calories
It is easy to under-eat if you are new to a vegan diet. Plant foods tend to be lower in calories than animal products. What this means is you need to eat a greater volume of food on a vegan diet to get the same amount of calories you would get on a diet filled with animal products. It is not a good or bad thing. It only means that you should take note of your caloric intake, at least for the first few days of eating a vegan diet. A great app to track your caloric intake is Cronometer (not-sponsored!) This will help prevent you from under-eating. If you do under-eat, your body will crave the highest calorie source it can imagine. The result is usually that you will binge out on fatty, non-vegan junk food like donuts, or chocolates. That is what your body is used to and associates as a high calorie food. The same principal applies to any diet that restricts your caloric intake. If you restrict your calories, you will inevitably binge out on junk food. A better idea is to eat a sufficient amount of calories from healthy food. A sufficient amount of calories is 2 500 kcal for a female and 3 000 kcal for a male. You may need more if you are active.
There are different reasons as to why you may want to go vegan. You might be motivated by the obvious health benefits or it may be that you love animals, and want to eat in a more ethical fashion. Whatever your motivation, it will be impossible to maintain a vegan diet long-term if you are restricting your food intake. When you are hungry you will quickly forget about your health goals, or the animals for that matter.
4. Eat enough carbohydrates
It is not just important to eat enough calories, you need to eat enough carbohydrates. Every cell in the human body runs on carbohydrates. The easiest way to boost your energy levels is to eat more carbs, and the easiest way to decrease your energy levels is to eat less carbs. There is a big misconception that carbohydrates are reserved for athletes and that if you are not an athlete you can not eat carbs. This could not be further from the truth. Sure, long distance runners and Tour de France cyclists will need more carbohydrates than the average person, but that does not mean you should avoid carbs all together. Even if you are not a professional athlete, I am going to go ahead and assume that you live a busy life as most people do. If you have a 9-5 office job, kids to take care of, or university classes to attend… then you NEED carbs!
The powers that be have made us terrified of carbohydrates. It is ironic, because traditionally the healthiest populations thrived for centuries on high carbohydrate, low fat plant based diets. Yet in todays society we are taught that carbohydrates are the enemy. I love to use the example of the Thai people living in small mountain villages in rural Thailand. I met a lot of them while cycling in the country. They eat a diet rich in carbohydrates, with white rice as the staple food. They have never heard of Atkins, Paleo or Banting, yet they are skinny and healthy individuals with no obesity epidemic or risk of type 2 diabetes. Carbohydrates are not the problem, it is what you eat with the carbohydrates that is cause for concern. For example, a donut or a chocolate bar may be filled with sugar (carbs), but they are also filled with FAT. A McDonalds hamburger has a fried patty, a slice of cheese and comes with French fries dripping in oil, but you blame the bread bun for making you fat? Excuse my sarcasm, but I think you get my point. People love hearing good things about their bad habits, and carbohydrates act as the perfect scapegoat to do so. Someone will literally eat bacon and eggs and call it healthy, because they opted for “no toast”.
This could be the start of a much longer conversation. For now, allow me to recommend a great read. There are a number of books written on this topic, but I like that The Starch Solution is easy to read and understand:
In case you were wondering what all this has to do with being vegan and Veganuary… one thing almost all the ex-vegans I talk to have in common, is that they restrict their carbohydrate intake. Doing so, makes you feel horrible and leads you to become despondent about your diet in general. It is impossible to stick to a certain way of eating if you consistently feel like crap. Eventually, what will happen is that you stop caring about what you eat. If you are following a vegan diet, then of course this means that you will go back to eating animal products. That is why it is important to eat enough carbohydrates.
3. Do not worry about your Protein intake
The first question you often get from someone when they find out you are vegan, is “Where do you get your protein?” You could answer this question with a 10 minute speech on how society places an over-emphasis on protein. You may even feel like quoting the scientific research found in The China Study, by Dr T. Colin Campbell about how a high protein diet, particularly one filled with animal protein is responsible for the most common western diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Alternately, you could just smile and say “Plants have protein.” After over 5 years of being vegan I have began to opt for the latter.
We need protein in our diet to build new cells, synthesize hormones, and repair damaged and worn-out tissues. But how much do we need? Well, a lot less than you may think. We lose about 3 grams of protein each day through shedding skin, sloughing intestine, and other miscellaneous losses. Add to this loss other physiological requirements, such as growth and repairs, and the final tally shows, based on solid scientific research, a total daily protein requirement of about 20 to 30 grams. The is easily achieved by eating a plant based diet filled with a sufficient amount of calories, as discussed above. The US Department of Agriculture, the World Health Organization, and all other international health organizations recommend protein levels ranging from 33 to 71 grams a day for adult men and women. This is also easily doable on a vegan diet, without being meticulous about your protein intake.
If you have no idea how much protein you eat in a day, I again recommend that you use Cronometer. I do not want you to become overly obsessive over how many calories you eat and what your macronutrient intake consists of, but tracking your food intake for a few days to a week will give you a good understanding about how much and what you are eating. I have worked out that I average around 50-80 grams of protein a day. That means that on some days, I eat more than the recommended amount of protein and I do so on a high carbohydrate vegan diet. In fact, my macronutrient intake is around 80/10/10… 80% being from carbohydrates, 10% from fat and 10% from protein.
If you are truly concerned about your protein intake as a vegan (which you should not be), here are a few examples of high protein plant foods:
2. Find tasty vegan recipes
I always get requests for vegan recipes from friends and family, but the truth is that I am probably not the best person to ask. I remember when I first went vegan, I would just cook up a bunch of random vegetables together and add them to rice or pasta. Needless to say I am a very lazy cook. However, over time I have found a few tasty vegan recipes that I like and are easy to prepare. I have started adding them to my blog and you can find them here. I also recommend that you google “high carb low fat vegan recipes”. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these recipes online for you to choose from.
Just as an example, here is what I ate today:
Baked potatoes (oil-free)
In between meals I had mango juice. This was a very typical day of eating for me. Sometimes I might have oats or Nutrific for breakfast, instead of a banana smoothie. Other times, when bananas are in season and I have enough ripe bananas to do so, I will have a smoothie for breakfast and lunch and only eat a cooked meal for dinner.
1. Handle critique from friends and family
There is a good chance that your non-vegan friends and family will vocally object to your new diet preferences. Learn to live with it! I live in South Africa where cooking meat on a barbeque (known here as a “braai”) is treated like a national sport. So it goes without saying that when I went vegan I faced a fair amount of critique. I was fairly outspoken about my new way of life when I initially went vegan, so it quickly taught me how to deal with comments and criticism related to the topic. There are a few questions you will always get as a vegan. If you can learn how to answer them it will make your life a lot easier. An example includes the “Where do you get your protein?” question I mentioned above. Other common questions are “What about b12?” and “Did you know that Hitler was a vegan?” I am not even joking about that last one. I actually get that from time to time, and just for the record Hitler was not a vegan or vegetarian.
Sometimes you have to take things with a grain of salt. Have fun, laugh it off, engage in some light hearted banter and ALWAYS keep your cool. After all, you do not want to be known as the angry vegan who can not take a joke. That is another thing… you will often be the punch line of a vegan joke. After over 5 years vegan I have heard them all, trust me! What I found is that while people are happy to have fun at your expense, they are not so appreciative if you say something back. It is what it is. That is why I have learnt to not take things personal.
Veganuary: Final thoughts
This post was inspired by Veganuary. I hope that in the future when someone searches for Veganuary tips they will come across this. I also hope that it will guide you, not just with Veganuary, but with what comes after. If you follow the advice here while also doing your own research, you will look and feel better on a vegan diet than you ever have before. If that is the case, then I am sure this will be more than a 1 month challenge or new years resolution, but a way of life.