What Is Veganuary? Everything You Need to Know About This Trendy Food Challenge

Veganuary is here, and more than a million people are giving this plant-based foods diet a try right now.

If you've been toying with the idea of starting a vegan diet, January is the month to do it. Actually, make that Veganuary—a term that comes from a UK-based nonprofit of the same name. Launched in 2o14, Veganuary's mission is to encourage people to consume only plant foods for the month of January. Since then, participation has more than doubled each year, with an estimated 1.3 million people committing to Veganuary in 2019.

Anyone can do Veganuary, and it's no big deal if you're a little late to the plant-based party. But if you're not accustomed to going meat-free, or can't imagine how you'll survive for a month (or longer) without eggs or dairy, you might need some pointers. Here are expert answers to the most common questions about Veganuary, with a few tips for some extra plant power.

Can I get all the nutrients I need from a vegan diet?

First, a quick refresh covering what foods can be part of a vegan diet. "Vegans select from the large variety of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds to prepare meals," says the American Vegan Society website.

Getting all the nutrients you need from those food categories, however, may not be so simple. "The biggest nutrient deficiency concern with veganism is vitamin B12, which is found in animal foods," Florida-based nutritionist and certified personal trainer McKenzie Flinchum, RD, tells Health.

Unless you are eating fortified vegan products to meet your nutrition needs, Flinchum suggests taking a supplement. "B12 deficiency can lead to anemia," she says. "Vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iodine, and iron are other nutrients to pay attention to if you're eating a vegan diet. It's important to eat a large variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, plant-based oils, beans and legumes in order to meet micronutrient needs."

Will Veganuary help me lose weight?

The goal of Veganuary isn't weight loss; the movement began "as a way of protecting the environment, preventing animal suffering, and improving the health of millions of people," according to Veganuary's website. But you might find that you do lose weight—whether you want to or not—if you don't keep an eye on your food intake.

"Rather than focus on cutting out animal foods, focus on what you will add to your diet," suggests Flinchum. And always keep nutrients at the forefront of your mind. "Make sure to replace the animal foods with plant-based foods rather than simply eliminate them," she says. "This is a way to ensure that calorie needs are met."

This mindset should come in handy if you're a committed carnivore; no doubt about it, following a vegan diet is more difficult if you're used to eating meat with every meal. Like Flinchum says, think about what you're gaining (new flavors, new recipes, and a ton of veggies you might not even have heard of before) rather than what you're missing out on.

How can I be sure I’m not eating animal products?

According to the American Vegan Society, "vegans don't consume meat, fish, birds, cow's or goat milk, eggs, honey, or foods made with any of these or other animal products such as gelatin, beef or chicken broths, lard or tallow."

To a vegan newbie, this might seem like a daunting list, but there are just as many—if not more—foods you can eat: all fruits, vegetables, beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, for starters.

Confusion is most likely to come if you're eating prepackaged foods, so you have to get into the habit of checking the ingredients list to make sure there are no animal-derived ingredients. "Vegan packaged foods are labeled with a 'suitable for vegans' or 'certified vegan' logo," says Flinchum. "Additionally, if the product contains dairy, eggs, or seafood, it will be listed under its allergen list."

What should I do if I slip up?

Don't beat yourself up if you accidentally eat something that contains dairy, or you take a not-so-accidental bite of your friend's hot dog. These things happen. (And don't let anyone else make you feel bad about it, either—your diet is your business.)

Veganuary is designed as a challenge, so allow yourself any shortcuts necessary to make the diet work, Philadelphia-based vegan restaurateur Nicole Marquis, founder and CEO of HipCityVeg, tells Health. "Going vegan can be daunting at the beginning," she says. "Make it easy; for example, buy pre-cut veggies if you need to, for easy meal prep."

Another good tip is to carry vegan snacks with you when you're out and about, so you're always prepared with plant-based eats when hunger pangs hit.

What if I can’t cook?

Going vegan for a month doesn't mean you have to suddenly become the next Derek Sarno (a top vegan chef, if you want to name drop this month). You can find a vegan version of pretty much everything you'd eat on a meat-based diet: pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, tacos, pasta… you get the picture. Many restaurants and takeout spots offer vegan options, and you'll find prepackaged vegan foods in grocery stores.

It's also really easy to switch up food items that have similar tastes or textures to meat, says New York City-based vegan chef Anthony Spino. "For instance, jackfruit—the largest fruit that grows from a tree—has the same texture as pork and takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it in," he tells Health. "It's good for you, is a great source of fiber, and can be a great meat substitute in tacos or chili."

But if you want to try a few easy recipes, start with a sweet potato curry or a creamy pasta packed with veggies. You'll soon realize that there's nothing complicated about vegan cooking. It's basically just delicious veggies packed with flavor and texture.

If your attempt to go vegan in January fails, or you decide you just aren't into it enough to keep it going, no worries. Veganism isn't for everyone, and you can always give it a try again or go on a modified vegan diet that's a bit more forgiving.

But if Veganuary inspires you to go permanently plant-based, you're in luck: February is Vegan Cuisine Month—the perfect chance to check out what vegan options for eating out in your local area.

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