Including the health benefits of going vegan for the month of January —  plus how a plant-based diet can help the planet, too.

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Updated Dec 10, 2020 @ 5:45 pm
What Is Veganuary?
Credit: OatmealStories/Getty Images

Even though traditional resolutions often fail, it makes sense that with the new year we feel inspired by getting a chance to wipe the slate clean and start being the healthiest version of ourselves. (Cue the January onslaught of “new year, new you” messaging.)

While we already have Dry January, now there's yet another trendy option for kicking off your 2021 with a healthy bang: Veganuary. As you've probably guessed, this involves eating more plants and cutting animal products for the first month of the year.

Wondering if you should give Veganuary a try? Here’s everything you need to know, including how the diet started and the health and environmental benefits of going vegan for a month.

Where Did Veganuary Come From?

Like Dry January, the Veganuary challenge actually started in the U.K. back in 2014, when a non-profit organization by the same name encouraged people to try going vegan for the month of January. Fast forward to 2019 and a quarter of a million people signed up for the pledge, according to the Veganuary website. Now, it’s made its way stateside and, much like Dry January, has gained widespread popularity outside of one specific campaign.

Of course, following an animal-free diet isn’t anything new. World Vegan Day was established in 1994 and has only continued to see a growth in followers since. In 2014, only one percent of United States consumers said they were vegan; in 2017 that number jumped to six percent, according to a 2017 report by GlobalData. Plenty of celebs have helped boost the popularity of veganism along the way — including none other than Beyoncé, who promoted a 22-day vegan diet back in 2015.

The marketing of 'Veganuary' in particular really took off last year when Google searches for the term soared and even Hollywood took note by announcing that the 2020 Golden Globes, which took place on January 5, would feature an all-vegan menu.

Are There Health Benefits to Going Vegan?

A plant-based diet packed with a variety of fruits and veggies has been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, according to Barbie Boules, R.D.N., the founder of Barbie Boules Longevity Nutrition.

“A plant-based food philosophy is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and hydration," Boules says, adding that adding more plants to your plate also promotes a healthy gut microbiome.

And the health benefits of a vegan diet can be seen even from short-term efforts: In a 2019 review published in the journal Nature, the authors noted improved glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels, as well as weight loss and decreased inflammation for participants who maintained a plant-based diet for anywhere from three to 24 months. Another 2018 study showed participants had reduced total cholesterol after going vegan for just four weeks — aka the length of Veganuary.

What About the Environmental Benefits?

Sure, there are health benefits to going vegan, but a plant-based diet can benefit the planet, too.

A 2018 study published in the journal Nature showed that maintaining a Western diet high in animal products and processed foods at its current rate could cause a spike in food-related climate change contributors — including water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions — by as much as 90 percent by 2050.

Another 2019 report in The Lancet showed a diet rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts (and reduced consumption of red meat, sugar, and refined grains) not only has personal health benefits, but is the healthiest diet for the planet.

In fact, it’s the main reason why the Golden Globes ceremony decided to go vegan last year. “The climate crisis is impossible to ignore and after speaking with our peers, and friends in the community, we felt challenged to do better," the Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Lorenzo Soria said in a statement to the Los Angeles TimesThe decision to serve a plant-based meal, Soria said, was in an effort to take “a small step in response to a big problem.”

So, Should I Try Veganuary?

When it comes to giving Veganuary a shot, there’s really no reason not to up our intake of produce, whole grains, and healthy nuts and seeds. One thing Boules does caution, however, is that you’ll want to commit to planning your meals in order to ensure adequate nutrient intake, especially if you plan to go vegan for good.

“A nutritionally-complete, strict vegan diet requires effort and planning,” she noted, adding that you’ll have to pay special attention to calcium, vitamin D, B12, and omega 3s, which are not adequately found in plants and other vegan foods.

But what about protein? (If you’re a vegetarian, then you’ve heard this one more times than you can count, right?) Beans, legumes, edamame, tofu, and quinoa are all protein-packed options to reach for on a vegan diet, Boules says.

If the idea of giving up cheese forever seems hard to fathom, there's good news. Boules is quick to point out that you can still reap the benefits of incorporating more plants in your life without committing to going full vegan.

“I love the idea of filling half your plate with veggies at every meal, and perhaps making one meal a day totally plant-based,” Boules says.

Moral of the story? Trying Veganuary might be your ticket to better understanding what it means to lead a plant-based lifestyle — even if you end up just going Vegan-ish.