Why going vegan in January could be LESS healthy: Consuming plant-based diet for a month can lead to bingeing on meat-free junk foods, scientist warns
- Thousands of Britons are expected to take up the vegan diet for January
- But scientists warn many won't research before committing to a plant-based diet
- Professor Tim Spector suggested people tend to binge on meat-free junk foods rather than trying new fruit and vegetables
Following the Veganuary craze may be an unhealthy option, a leading scientist is warning.
That is because those who go vegan for a month tend to binge on meat-free junk foods rather than trying new fruit and vegetables.
They will have done too little research about committing to a plant-based diet, says Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, has said people who follow Veganuary tend to binge on meat-free junk foods rather than trying new fruit and vegetables
As a result, many will end up eating meals full of salt, fat, additives and sugar. With dairy in many foods they normally enjoy, vegan burgers and pizzas are often the only options for eating out – while it is easy to snack on vegan sausage rolls.
'There are plenty of very unhealthy vegans, who swap meat and dairy for poor choices of food, and that is a real risk for Veganuary,' Professor Spector said.
'My concern is that many people will end up eating a less diverse diet including just a few unhealthy vegan meals on repeat, rather than getting recipe books, trying new fruits and vegetables and, if in doubt, making soup.'
'There are plenty of very unhealthy vegans, who swap meat and dairy for poor choices of food, and that is a real risk for Veganuary,' Professor Spector said (stock photo)
Top Tips for Veganuary
- Have a vegan sausage roll or burger once a week at most, as a treat
- Be aware that meat substitutes often contain harmful chemicals and preservatives
- Try a new vegetable you’ve never had every week
- If in doubt over what to eat, make a soup using the vegetables in your fridge
- Do not overdo cheap vegan cheese, as it is heavy on carbs
- Top up on protein with lentils, baked beans and mushrooms
- Consider taking a B12 and iron supplement if you may be low on these nutrients
- Try not to compensate for the things you are missing with extra sugary snacks
- Try mixed nuts instead of snacks
Last year 580,000 signed up to the official Veganuary campaign – a quarter of them in the UK – but many more took part unofficially.
In his book, Spoon-Fed: Why Almost Everything We've Been Told About Food Is Wrong, Professor Spector says many who go vegan feel healthier, but that may be a 'placebo' effect – convincing themselves it is doing them good.
There is no evidence that trendy plant-based 'milks' such as oat, soya and almond are any healthier than cow's milk, he says, while vegan cheeses can be full of carbohydrates, which may lead to blood sugar spikes and weight gain.
In 2020, Action On Salt found three in five of the plant-based restaurant meals it surveyed contained at least 3g of salt – half the maximum recommended daily intake for an adult – while one in eight contained 6g or more.
Professor Spector said: 'The general principle of Veganuary is good, but some people might do better by trying to go meat-free first.
'It is important to plan in order to be able to do it properly.'
Dr Toni Vernelli, head of communications at Veganuary, which is a non-profit organisation, said: 'Everyone who signs up on our website receives dozens of healthy recipes, nutrition planners and weekly meal plans that enable them to cook simple but delicious – and most importantly, nutritious – meals.'