10 Takeaways From My 30-Day Vegan Challenge
Well, here we are! I made it to the end of my 30-day vegan challenge. Seriously, this was an eye-opening experience, I learned A LOT. It taught me so much about food, nutrition, and overall wellness. I am a firm believer that food is medicine and, after completing this challenge, I am more convinced of this than ever.
So let’s cut to the chase: while I enjoyed the vegan diet, and will most likely continue a plant-based diet, I will not be labeling myself nor following a vegan diet. Moving forward, I will be including the occasional animal products. Before you start judging me, Let me explain why.
Pros of my 30-Day Vegan Challenge:
- Less clean-up: It’s easier to cook and clean up after yourself. Just a lot of peels, pits, and bean cans.
- Less Waste: You can compost almost everything you’re cooking/eating (minus produce stickers, cans, and bags of rice I composted EVERYTHING!)
- Explored new recipes and foods: Eating vegan forced me to try out new recipes and foods. For instance, I had never cooked with seaweed or collard greens and found out it’s 1) super easy 2) super tasty 3) super good for you!
- Increased fiber intake — I ate so much fiber during this challenge. The downside, as you can imagine, especially at the beginning, was bloating and gas.
Cons of my 30-Day Vegan Challenge:
- Need to supplement your diet with Vitamin B and Omega-3s Fatty Acids, (DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)), both of which your body needs but can’t obtain from plants.
- Not always convenient: It’s hard to maintain when you’re visiting family members who aren’t vegan or who don’t already eat a mostly plant-based diet.
- Just because a store-bought product is labeled ‘vegan,” doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
- Veganism is a relatively privileged diet.
- Not the most environmentally friendly diet as I was led to believe for a long time.
- My iron levels dropped.
30-Day Vegan Challenge: Lessons Learned
OK, so let me break it down a bit for you.
1. There is no such thing as a one-diet fits all solution.
Each of us will have different dietary needs throughout our lives. A Navy Seal at the peak of his military training, for instance, is going to have very different dietary needs than a pregnant woman. Not to mention that some people may have allergies to dairy products, gluten, or certain greens. So please, refrain from judging someone who doesn’t follow the same exact diet plan as you do. Everyone’s journey is different.
2. Educate yourself.
You have to be smart about how and what you’re feeding your body. Whether you’re vegan or not, you should educate yourself on how diet and nutrition can impact your overall health and well-being.
For instance, most people are aware that lack of sunlight can cause a deficiency in Vitamin D. But, did you know that about 26 percent of the general population is living with a vitamin B12 deficiency?
This deficiency is “caused by either inadequate intake, inadequate bioavailability, or malabsorption.” In fact, about 80 percent of vegans are deficient in B12. This is because B12 can only be found in animal products.
What is B12?
Often referred to as the “energy vitamin,” Vitamin B12, a water-soluble vitamin, is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis.
Vitamin B12, shares the National Institutes of Health, “is a nutrient that helps keep your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all of your cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, a blood condition that makes people tired and weak.”
B vitamins in general play a vital role in maintaining good health and well-being. These vitamins have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism.
Chances are if you’re eating a varied whole foods diet you’re most likely obtaining the daily recommended amount of Vitamin B in your diet. But, if you’re a longtime vegan or vegetarian, as mentioned above, you may want to consider supplementing your diet with B vitamins. (Note: please speak to your health professional before adding supplements of any type to your diet.)
Another nutrient your body needs but can’t seem to obtain from eating solely plants is Omega-3 DHA/EPA (you can read more about that here).
What about iron?
Iron, reports Harvard Health, is a “major component of hemoglobin, a type of protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to all parts of the body. Without enough iron, there aren’t enough red blood cells to transport oxygen, which leads to fatigue.”
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults 19-50 years?
- 8 mg daily for men,
- 18 mg for women,
- 27 mg for pregnancy (9 mg for lactation)
Different Forms of Iron
- Heme iron is only found in animal foods such as meat, poultry, and seafood. Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron.
- Non-heme iron is found in plant foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens. Non-heme iron is less easily absorbed, generally ranging from 2-13%.
Moral of the story, ALWAYS do your research before starting a new diet!
3. Not all vegan foods are healthy.
I won’t go into too much detail here but I do want to mention that just because a product is labeled “vegan” does not necessarily mean it’s the healthiest option. Call me a food “purist” but I really try to avoid processed vegan foods. I know it’s a great alternative for animal products but whenever I flipped these products over to read the ingredients, I was pretty disheartened. Personally, I find it to be healthier to eat whole unprocessed foods, even if that means you eat animal products every so often, rather than a processed mixture of plants, flavoring, palm oil, carrageenan, xanthan gum, etc. (FYI, I’ll be writing about the Impossible Burger in more detail shortly, I have mixed feelings on this).
4. Time management.
I decided to cook most of our meals throughout this challenge. This was fun, as it allowed me to explore new recipes and ingredients but if not planned properly could also be a bit time-consuming. I was able to find some super easy and quick recipes that I turned to time and again throughout the challenge (click here to check out my favorite recipes). Note: I would double the recipes so we would have plenty of leftovers. This way I didn’t have to cook every single day.
Note: Ronna Welsh has some great tips on how to eat well even if you’re pressed for time and have limited ingredients in your fridge/pantry. You can listen to my conversation with her here.
5. Pain in the a** when visiting family and/or friends.
During my 30-day vegan challenge I ended up eating dinners before going out to events or just bringing along my own meal. This was definitely cost-effective (and the healthier option for the most part because I knew exactly what I was eating) but not necessarily the most convenient. And, honestly, I felt bad making my friends change their diets and dinner plans at my expense. (I have great friends/family who provided vegan options whenever I would come over! 🙂
6. A privileged diet.
First of all, most vegans have to add supplements to their diet (B12, omega, etc.). And let’s be real here — supplements can get pricey! It’s not the end of the world if you can afford it but for those of you trying to monitor your budget, just know, the cost of these supplements add up. This, unfortunately, makes a strict vegan diet for someone with less financial freedom more difficult to maintain in a healthy and balanced way.
Secondly, not everyone has access to fresh produce. Today, approximately 23 million people are living in food deserts. According to USDA, food deserts are defined as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers. Meaning, their access to affordable fresh produce may be limited. So, the very idea of going vegan, even if they wanted to, may just not be possible.
“We can’t expect people to live off instant rice and ramen noodles for the sake of animal welfare. If families can’t find or afford nutritious options in their area, it’s obvious they’d feed their families animal products. …One of the most effective ways of promoting veganism in communities of color is by fighting for more access to plant-based options.”
According to Nzinga, here are two ways you can take action:
- Reach out to organizations that work on food security and see how you can help. (Respectfully) ask store clerks in inner-city grocery stores why their produce selection is so limited.
- Instead of expecting low-income communities to live off affordable, nutrient-void vegan options, work to get more fresh fruits and vegetables into these areas.”
7. Veganism may not solve our environmental problems.
I think one of my biggest takeaways from this 30-day vegan challenge, for me, was learning that veganism may not be the most environmentally friendly diet, as many of us have been led to believe. Rather, throughout my research, I came to the conclusion that if we want to truly make a difference, that we absolutely must change our current industrial farming practices.
One possible solution? Regenerative Agriculture
What is regenerative agriculture?
“Regenerative Agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
Specifically, Regenerative Agriculture is a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density. Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter.” 1
Why this matters?
“Soils are the basis of life. Ninety-five percent of our food comes from the soil,” shares Maria- Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General of Natural Resources.
According to the FAO, “unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960 due to growing populations and soil degradation.”
Final thoughts: A strict vegan diet is not for me
Although I thoroughly enjoyed my 30-day vegan challenge, moving forward I’ve decided that a vegan diet is not for me. Many people love it and it works great for them, and I am so glad. But personally, I plan on sticking to a primarily plant-based diet with an occasional side of animal products.
What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment below, would love to hear from you.
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This post has lovingly been edited by Susan Farley.
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