Have you heard of Veganuary? It's a pledge to eat a vegan diet for the month of January, touted by such celebrities as Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Beyonce. For those who are curious about vegan and plant-based eating, it's a great catalyst to cutting meat, dairy, and eggs out of one's diet.
I'm all for the spotlight shining on meatless-ness and plant-based eating, whether it is in the form of Ellen Degeneres talking about animal activism or Justin Timberlake dressed up like a block of tofu. However, I'm mixed on the efficacy of a month-long "challenge" to eat differently, whether it's vegan, Whole 30, or a 28-day clean eating plan. The problem with such dietary "challenges" is that without proper research or motivation, people can become discouraged, bored, or overwhelmed with the dietary demands, and at the end of the challenge go right back to their old way of eating.
All I'm saying is that if I had a dollar for every time someone told me "I tried going vegan once. It was terrible. I couldn't wait to grab a Philly cheese steak." I would be able to buy an entire new wardrobe from Lululemon.
Here's the problem as I see it: it's January. People want to try something new, they want change, they want to lose some weight and feel energized. This is all great, except when they are on Day 16 and feeling deprived while eating a taste-free soy-based "ham and cheese" sandwich or sapped of energy from simply cutting meat out of their diet and eating only starches and vegetables. That's generally when I hear these declarations about how horrible vegan eating is, how crappy they feel, how much they miss bacon.
There are many great reasons to eat a plant-based diet, from health issues to environmental awareness to a love of animals. I am here to tell you, though, that it's not an "all or nothing" deal. Small, sustainable steps are much, much better than partaking in a drastic, and ultimately discouraging dietary challenge.
If you are interested in transitioning to a vegan or vegetarian diet, or if you want to simply eat less meat, I have some advice for you.
It's very difficult to go directly to a meatless diet if meat is part of most of your meals. Instead of drastic measures, try eating vegetarian one day a week; Meatless Monday, say. Research shows that going meatless for even one day a week is beneficial to your health, and lessens your environmental footprint.
Hands up if you grew up in a "meat and potatoes" household. Most of us did, which can make meatless meal planning a challenge; we tend to cook what we know. It's time to rethink that plate, and instead of creating a meal around meat, focus instead on beautiful, colourful produce, grains, and meatless protein sources, such as beans, legumes, nuts, and yes, even tofu.
Vegetarian meals are the norm in many countries; think Indian, Asian, and North African cuisines. This is a perfect opportunity to try something new and treat your taste buds to a flavour explosion. Try my Cauliflower Kung Pao, my Perfect Pad Thai, or my Roasted Squash and Chickpea Coconut Curry for easy dinnertime ideas.
Nothing saps energy more than a lack of protein, and there are many vegetarian sources: quinoa, beans, legumes, hemp, chia, nuts, and tofu all pack a good protein punch. Did you know that one tablespoon of hemp seed has more protein and iron than a slice of bacon? Or that a cup of black beans has three times the amount of protein as a slice of turkey breast? You might be surprised at the protein content of non-meat items.
If the thought of never eating steak again has you feeling depressed and overwhelmed, then you need to come up with a plan that works for YOU. Many people adopt a "flexitarian" lifestyle or follow the 80-20 rule; 80% of the time eating plant-based diets, allowing for animal products the other 20% of the time.
Whatever you choose, I won't judge. But I promise you, adding meatless meals to your diet will increase your energy and make you feel great, as well as helping to reduce your environmental footprint. If you have any questions, I'm always happy to answer them.