Why do people do Veganuary and what are the health benefits?

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As January approaches, many people will be thinking about what kind of changes they can make to start the new year on the right foot.

Going vegan for the month is a popular choice, with nearly 610,000 people taking part in the challenge in 2022, according to Veganuary.

Veganuary, the global organisation encouraging people to try a vegan diet for the first month of the year, said this year that it “hit a new landmark”. In 2021, a total of 580,000 people participated in the challenge globally from more than 220 countries and territories.

The campaign has been backed by celebrities such as Dr Jane Goodall, Joanna Lumley and Venus Williams, as well as Dragon’s Den investor Deborah Meaden, who was an official ambassador for Veganuary in 2022.

Big corporations have also joined in on the Veganuary craze, including Harrods, Superdrug and Volkswagen, all of which signed up to the organisation’s “workplace challenge” this year.

A large number of plant-based products launched by brands, fast food chains and supermarkets over recent years has also made it easier than ever to try going vegan for 31 days.

From an extensive vegan range in Aldi including vegan cheese and spicy vegan chicken burgers, to plant-based Babybel, to Burger King’s vegan nuggets and Papa John’s vegan cheese-stuffed crust pizza, the sheer number of options for vegans is dizzying compared to just a few years ago.

Here’s everything you need to know about Veganuary and whether a plant-based diet is good for you:

What is Veganuary?

Veganuary is a non-profit organisation that launched a challenge of the same name in 2014 to get more people to try a vegan diet for one month. When it first launched, just 3,000 people took part.

Now, the campaign takes place every January with hundreds of thousands of people committing to the pledge to eat a plant-based diet for 31 days.

The organisation promotes going vegan as a way to “protect the environment, prevent animal suffering, and improve the health of millions of people”.

It does this by encouraging people to take its 31-day pledge to go vegan, as well as engaging companies and firms to create, launch and promote new vegan products.

Why is Veganuary so popular?

According to the organisation, there are three main reasons why people pledge to do Veganuary.

Many people try veganism as a way to end their role in animal suffering, which occurs due to certain farming practices. Although many British farmers have made plenty of headway in switching to more ethical and sustainable farming, many animals still suffer under poor living conditions.

Another reason for going vegan is to help reduce one’s impact on the environment. Agriculture is a big contributor to methane emission levels around the world, and the fifth-highest sector for greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the UK research and Innovation (UKRI), the industry is responsible for 11 per cent of the UK’s total emissions in 2020 and majority of agricultural emissions is methane arising from livestock.

Thirdly, many people cite wanting to see if going vegan will improve their health as a reason for trying it out.

Does going vegan have health benefits?

Some studies have shown that having a plant-based diet could have some health benefits. However, having a balanced, nutritious diet has consistently been shown to be the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

A 2021 study published in The BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health Journal found that people who follow a plant-based diet were 73 per cent less likely to contract severe Covid-19.

Pescetarians, who only eat fish as a source of meat, were 59 per cent less likely to become ill than those who eat red or white meat.

Earlier studies have shown that a vegan or vegetarian diet could help cut the risk of heart failure by 42 per cent. In 2017, researchers found that participants who followed a plant-based diet had the strongest association with a lower risk of incident heart failure compared to those who eat lots of red meat, fast food, sweet desserts and sugary snacks.

However, scientists warned in 2018 that poorly-managed vegan diets could leave some people with nutrient deficiencies that have potentially severe consequences.

Vegan and vegetarian diets often lack particular vitamins, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron. Some vegans may find that they need to take additional supplements to replenish these vitamins if their diets can’t provide them.