Veganuary is a worldwide effort to get people and organizations to embrace veganism. In 2023 alone, over 700,000 people pledged to eat a vegan diet during January, according to the nonprofit Veganuary. In 2024, that number is expected to be even higher.
While only 1% of the U.S. population identifies as vegan, veganism is not as fringe as it once was. A recent Gallup survey found that 50% of respondents were familiar with plant-based meat substitutes, and 40% had tried one.
If you’re thinking about trying veganism, here’s what you need to know about eating a plant-based diet.
What is veganism?
Before you commit to veganism, it’s important to understand what it means. In simple terms, vegans do not consume or use any animal products. This means they don’t eat meat, dairy products, eggs or other foods derived from animals. They also avoid leather, fur and products tested on animals, like certain cosmetics. This is why many people consider veganism a lifestyle rather than a diet.
The goal for many vegans is to reduce harm and suffering to animals, improve their health and reduce the environmental impact of their lifestyle.
Health benefits of veganism
Weight loss. Vegans tend to be thinner than nonvegans. Even when compared with people who follow other healthy diets, vegans still tend to be thinner. Researchers speculate this is because vegans eat more fiber, which makes you feel fuller for longer.
Lower blood pressure. Research shows that a vegan diet significantly lowers blood pressure.
Healthier heart. Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. This is likely because eating animal products, especially red meat and processed meat, is associated with heart disease.
Lower blood sugar. A vegan diet is proven to treat and prevent Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes develops when your body doesn't use insulin well or your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. This often results from a diet high in processed and sugary foods. Switching to a plant-based diet helps control blood sugar and stave off Type 2 diabetes.
Lower risk of cancer. Following a vegan diet can reduce your risk of some types of cancer, like colon cancer. This is because a plant-based diet typically includes a wider variety of vitamins and minerals with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. It also excludes known carcinogens, like processed meats.
Environmental benefits of veganism
Lowers greenhouse gas emissions. According to the climate science website Carbon Brief, 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to meat and dairy production. Beef has by far the largest carbon footprint of all foods. The reason for the high emissions is that cows belch methane gas. In one year, a single cow produces an estimated 220 pounds of methane gas, according to The Humane League.
Saves water. The Humane Society International reports about 70% of the world’s water use is tied to farming. Almost one-third of that is related to animals and growing crops for animal feed. For context, it takes 725.6 liters of fresh water to produce 100 grams of beef protein. On the other hand, tofu requires just 92.9 liters of water, or one-eighth the amount.
Saves forests. Animal agriculture is a leading cause of deforestation. As farmers cut forests to raise livestock, habitats disappear and biodiversity dwindles. The Humane League reports that 135 species go extinct every day due to deforestation.
Preserves oceans. Nitrogen and phosphorus from animal waste can spill into the oceans, causing an overgrowth of algae. This overgrowth consumes oxygen and blocks light from entering the ocean, killing off animal life. Areas of overgrowth are known as “dead zones.” According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the largest dead zone is in the Gulf of Mexico and spans about 6,500 square miles.
Tips for a successful Veganuary
Now that you know the benefits of going vegan, here are some tips for a successful Veganuary:
Try vegan substitutes. For example, if you enjoy cheese, look for a nondairy alternative to satisfy your cravings. This might take some trial and error.
Pack on the veggies. Vegetables are rich in fiber, which helps you feel full.
Eat a variety. This is important for all diets, but especially plant-based diets. A simple rule of thumb is to incorporate every color of the rainbow.
Seek out protein. Beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, tofu and edamame are excellent protein sources.
Check ingredient lists. Animal products are used in many store-bought items, both consumable and nonconsumable.
Stock your pantry. It will be much easier to try out vegan recipes if your kitchen is well-supplied. And you won’t be tempted to stray.
Give yourself some grace. It’s nearly impossible to follow a vegan diet 100% of the time. If you unknowingly eat a slice of bread made with eggs, don’t worry about it. The goal is improvement, not perfection.