Thinking of trying vegan? Why not join Mthatha medical student Athenkosi Bezana and many other South Africans who have already accepted the Veganuary challenge. What are you waiting for? For the month of January, they will be exploring a vegan diet and lifestyle to boost their health.
“I always dabble with veganism but never seem to commit,” says Bezana (23), who studies at the Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape. “As a vegetarian, I would like to see myself transitioning towards veganism [or a] plant-based diet in the near future. Participating in Veganuary will provide me with support and [the] necessary information.”
If you’re a beginner, you probably first need to understand the difference between veganism and vegetarianism. If you’re vegan, you do not eat any meat and animal products. Yes, no meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy or even eggs. A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, excludes meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
Bezana tells Health For Mzansi she has been a little nervous about taking the plunge into vegan territory, citing a love for buttery eggs. This year, though, she wants to commit to the plant-based diet for the good of her health and the environment.
Benefits of the plant life
According to ProVeg International, plant-based diets have become a worldwide phenomenon. And while there is no such thing as a one-size fits all dietary solution, rich and varied plant diets can offer prevention and treatment to a host of lifestyle illnesses, including diabetes and hypertension.
It is no secret that Mzansi is struggling with these illnesses. We’re getting heavier by the day and, unfortunately, sicker too. Just look at the Western Cape department of health study that says at least 25% of men and 62% of women in the country are obese and struggling with weight-related illnesses.
With resolutions set in stone, the world also observes Veganuary, inspired by an international non-profit that encourages people worldwide to try a vegan diet and lifestyle for the month of January. The initiative was founded in the United Kingdom in 2014.
Organisers also describe it as a way of protecting the environment through a plant-based diet, preventing animal cruelty, or at least minimising it while improving the health of millions of people all over the world.
Dr Nanine Wyma, the managing director of the Physicians’ Association for Nutrition (PAN) in South Africa, agrees.
“A whole food plant-based diet has been proven to help with the management and prevention of lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity.”
But isn’t plant-based expensive?
Registered dietician Eunice Mpehlo tells Health For Mzansi that while plant-based diets are beneficial to your health, they do have a bad reputation of being inaccessible and costly.
“Careful, mindful planning and discipline play an important role in following a plant-based lifestyle,” believes Mpehlo, who has a private practice in Gqberha in the Eastern Cape.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive as there are affordable, tasty and nutritious options such as legumes, wholegrains, seeds, fruits and vegetables. A majority of these can be bought in bulk and frozen for future use.”
Mzansi is ready and willing
Meanwhile, Health For Mzansi readers from across the country are ready to go plant-based for the month of January in support of #Veganuary.
Yonela Tibe (28) from uMzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal is participating to raise awareness of the benefits for the environment.
“Eating a plant-based diet is not only beneficial to our health by preventing diseases, but it also plays a huge in saving and protecting our environment.”
While there is no “one-size fits all diet,” Lihle Manci (43) from Pretoria believes plants are a good way to set the tone for his wellness journey in 2022. “I am always looking for ways to improve my health,” he says.
Veganuary’s head of communications is Toni Vernelli. She explains that living a healthier, plant-based lifestyle is easier, enjoyable, and significantly improves your chances of sticking to your healthy resolutions past January.
“Climate change is at the forefront of everyone’s mind and one key solution is at everyone’s fingertips – their fork.”
Vernelli adds, “Although changing our diets is crucial to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it can seem daunting. Signing up to Veganuary makes it much easier as our free pledge is full of helpful tips and advice, including a seven-day low carbon meal plan highlighting simple swaps that slash the carbon footprint of classic British dishes.”
However, before you do take the plunge, Mpehlo believes it is important to consult a medical professional or your dietitian.
“A plant-based diet has been associated with lowering heart disease mortality, supporting sustainable weight management, reducing medication needs, lowering the risk for most chronic diseases, decreasing the incidence and high-risk conditions, including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and hyperglycaemia, and even possibly reversing advanced coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes.”