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Veganuary: What does a month without meat do for you?

Now that January is almost over, the big question for those who tried switching to a plant-based diet is: was it all worth it? Tanya Sweeney investigates


John Drummond, Executive Chef at The Gleneagle Hotel, says he can feel the benefits of a vegan diet after taking part in Veganuary. Photo: Don MacMonagle

John Drummond, Executive Chef at The Gleneagle Hotel, says he can feel the benefits of a vegan diet after taking part in Veganuary. Photo: Don MacMonagle

John Drummond, Executive Chef at The Gleneagle Hotel, says he can feel the benefits of a vegan diet after taking part in Veganuary. Photo: Don MacMonagle

It's thought that over 300,000 people in the UK and Ireland participated in Veganuary - a month of following a plant-based lifestyle - this year. But after 31 days and nights of beans, nuts and seeds, without a single steak in sight, was the endeavour worth it?

Among the Veganuary enthusiasts is legal secretary Natalie Colclough, who has fully embraced a life without meat, fish or dairy.

"A few girls in work are vegan, so I thought I'd try it after Christmas," Natalie, who lives with her husband and two sons in Ringsend, recalls. "On New Year's Day, we decided to watch the Netflix show The Game Changers and that was a massive eye-opener."

The documentary highlights the benefits of plant-based eating and highlights the practices of meat and dairy farming, which was enough to prompt Natalie and her family to go vegan.

"We said we'd get up the following morning and finish whatever meat was in the house, but in the end, we couldn't even stomach it. We emptied the fridge and my husband and I stuck to eating vegan religiously.

"The only thing I really miss is eggs - I keep saying I'll have a pot of scrambled eggs this weekend, but even now I'm having second thoughts about that."

In their stead, the family have enjoyed curries made from scratch, plant-based milk, hummus, chickpeas, overnight oats and even vegan chocolate.

"They Happy Pear recipe book has been brilliant," notes Natalie. "We've not been hungry at all. It can be hard to find vegan cheese sometimes, but we've been amazed at how easy it has been to find stuff. Even going out for my birthday last week for dinner wasn't a problem."

Even more revelatory was the effect of a plant-based diet on the whole family after a month.

"We feel absolutely brilliant," adds Natalie. "I feel like I'm sleeping better and I no longer have that 3pm slump in work. My husband used to get a lot of headaches, and now they're gone.

"The first week of Veganuary I did lose weight, but I'm at the stage where I'm now overeating," she adds. "I found vegan sausage rolls, so I had to try them, even though I wouldn't usually eat them.

"And I read somewhere that Offbeat Donuts now do vegan doughnuts, so that's where I'll be at lunchtime!"

Over in Rathfarnham, stay-at-home dad and owner of Booky Wooky, who make custom board books, Ross Good, was prompted to try Veganuary for health reasons.

"I've had four stents in my heart," says Good. "The problem is, I love meat and dairy. I like nothing more than a steak and glass of red wine."

Yet with his cholesterol climbing, Ross decided to incorporate more plant-based foods into his diet.

"It would have been a bit of a shock to the system in parts," he admits. "My sister-in-law is vegan, so she helped out and got me a book called Vegan-ish. It was tricky having to stock up on things like apple cider vinegar and nutritional yeast - things I'd barely heard of before, let alone tried."

Yet once Ross had shopped and prepared, he found preparing meals more fun than he'd anticipated.

"Experiencing new flavours and recipes was really great," he says. "Was it any more expensive to eat than usual? Yes and no. When you're cooking everything from scratch, you can add lots of veggies, which you can buy for cheap in Aldi or Lidl. If you're gong to go out and buy meat alternatives, like vegan burgers, they can add up."

This year, a number of rather convincing meat alternatives have helped carnivores over the psychological hump during Veganuary, and Ross admits they were helpful in that regard.

"The vegan sausages from Lidl were gorgeous," he admits. "Although some of them were loaded with salt and sugar, so you had to check the labels. People automatically think that vegan food is healthy, but a lot of it is still processed."

Still, Ross has also noticed a positive upswing in his physical health. His cholesterol level has dropped, for a start.

"My body fat is slowly going down at a good pace," he says. "My mood is pretty good too."

And so to the big question: moving forward, will he incorporate any of Veganuary's principles into his lifestyle?

"I won't say I'll never eat meat again, but I definitely will keep it going," he says. "It would be interesting to see what happens if you kept it going for three months or so. It's hard to argue with the results."

John Drummond, Executive Chef at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney, was prompted into trying Veganuary after a colleague, Chad Davis, extolled its virtues after adopting a plant-based lifestyle for last January.

"I thought, how hard can it be?" smiles John. "I did think I'd be starving for the first while. I can't remember a day previous where I didn't have meat, fish or dairy.

"I was eating cheese every night, so I wanted to see if I was cut out for it, more than anything. I wanted to see the impact on my body."

And so it was out with meat and in with veggie lasagne, lentils, almond milk and risottos. "I found myself thinking more and more about good food," says John. "In the beginning, my family, who are all carnivores, thought I was mad, but soon they started asking: 'What are you cooking next?'"

Within days, his performance at the gym had improved significantly.

"I started feeling really good," he recalls. "I can't believe how I took to it. There's nothing I suffered with in the first couple of days. If anything, I ate more than usual. I've lost about five kilos, but perhaps only because the picking and grazing of food has stopped. I'd walk through the kitchen and just grab a scone. Now I'd have porridge with water and a bit of maple syrup.

"I did think at the beginning of Veganuary that I would treat myself to a salmon or steak, but honestly, now that I'm here, I'm not all that bothered," he adds.

"I think from here on out, I'll have to eat some meat or dairy for work, but I'll definitely do a few days of vegan eating a week. I feel a lot better than I thought I would."

Aoife Walsh takes a taste from three fast food options you might be considering as part of 'veganuary' – a vegan diet for January.

Irish Independent

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