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Veganuary 2021: Everything you need to know to meet the challenge

It’s the start of the new year and you probably set yourself a list of goals to meet through the next 12 months, from doing more exercise to learning a new language. Veganuary, a global NGO, is encouraging people to take on a specific goal – adopting a plant-based lifestyle throughout the entire month of January.

Image credit: Veganuary.

The organizers have been running the campaign since 2014, and the number of people that take on the challenge has kept on growing. So far, more than 440,000 from around the world have registered this year, breaking last year’s record of 400,000. Still, they predict even more people will join, likely reaching 500,000.

The Vegan Society, a UK charity promoting a plant-based lifestyle, defines veganism as a “way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. This is mean it’s not just about diet, it’s a much broader concept that ties into different lifestyle choices.

Animal products and products tested on animals are found in more places than you might expect, from accessories and clothing to makeup and bathroom items. Even beers and wines aren’t (usually) vegetarian. But nowadays there are affordable and easily-sourced alternatives to just about everything, as supermarkets and shops are expanding their offering year by year.

Carrying out a vegan diet can also have significant health benefits if you do it carefully. Researchers reviewed eleven studies that looked at the effects of a plant-based diet on adults with type 2 diabetes. They found an overall reduction in risk factors associated with diabetes in almost all of them. At the same time, studies have shown greenhouse gas emissions would significantly drop if more people went vegan.

“Veganuary offers people a way to take positive action to protect our health and our planet, as well as help prevent future pandemics. The huge response we’ve had this year shows it’s exactly what many people need right now,” Toni Vernelli, international head of communications at Veganuary, said in a statement.

More than one million people have already completed Veganuary’s one-month pledge since it began in 2014. This has saved 103,840 tons of CO2 equivalent, equivalent to driving around the world 15,000 times, and 6.2 million liters of water, the same as flushing the toilet half a million times, Veganuary estimates.

The NGO published an open letter last week, urging consumers to consider changing their diets for a month to protect the planet. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney, primatologist Jade Goodall, naturalist Chris Packham, Greenpeace, and plant-based companies Quorn and Meatless have already joined the campaign.

“Catastrophic climate breakdown and global pandemics could not be more serious, but they are not inevitable,” the letter states. “If we act now, the future can be better. So, let’s go into 2021 with positivity and a determination to do all we can to protect our planet, its wild spaces and the health and wellbeing of all its inhabitants.”

Hundreds of reports have warned over the years of the environmental and health consequences of an excessive intake of meat and dairy. These are actually the two main reasons listed by the individuals who are joining the Veganuary campaign. The third one is to stop animal suffering, the NGO explained.

Food producers and retailers are replying to the changes in consumers’ demand. Just to name a few, pizza giant Domino’s announced a plan to expand its vegan offering, including alternative-meat pizzas, while Mcdonald’s is reportedly developing a vegan burger. Unilever also set targets to increase their plant-based products.

If you are interested in joining the campaign, Veganuary’s site has all the information you might need, including a free online book with vegan recipes and nutritional advice. But if you feel this is too much, there are other alternatives out there, such as the Meatless Monday campaign, to cut your meat consumption once a week.

What is tofu and is it a healthy alternative?

As plant-based diets are becoming mainstream across the world, tofu is gaining momentum as a healthy and versatile food option.

It might look bland or even intimidating at first, but this protein-rich food is actually easy to cook and it can be very tasty thanks to its ability to take on the flavors of anything you are cooking it with — all while providing you with plenty of important nutrients.

Credit Stephen Downes. Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Tofu is essentially a food produced from condensed soy milk pressed into solid white blocks, a process somewhat similar to making cheese (although contrary to popular belief, tofu is not meant to be a cheese replacement). It originated in China and it has been a staple of Asian cuisines for hundreds or thousands of years, now becoming popular in Western cuisine, particularly for those who want replacements for animal protein.

It is believed that tofu was discovered by a Chinese chef more than 2,000 years ago when he accidentally mixed fresh soy milk with nigari — the liquid or powder that remains when salt is extracted from seawater. Nigari is a coagulant rich with minerals that help tofu solidify and keep its form.

Tofu can be purchased in bulk or individual packages. It can also be found dehydrated, freeze-dried, jarred, or canned — its versatility being one of the main reasons why it has become a favorite of many.

It’s a cheap way to include plant-based protein in a diet, usually costing less than $2 for a two to four serving block. It can be made at home if you really know what you’re doing, but you’re probably better off with the off-the-shelf options.

How do I eat tofu?

Tofu is excellently paired with things like soy sauce or curry sauce, but any strong flavors will do. Image credits: Charles Deluvio.

Fir thing you need to know: on its own, tofu is pretty bland and flavorless. This is exactly why so many people are put off by it. But just because it’s bland on its own, doesn’t mean it’s bland when cooked. Tofu is a flavor magnet: anything you cook it with, it will suck the flavor right from it. This makes tofu really versatile for any flavors you prefer. Tofu can also be steamed, grilled, baked, pan-cooked and even fried, especially in the air fryer — which again, makes it all the more versatile. Some people even prefer to freeze it to give it a more exquisite, meat-like texture.

The fact that it has a high-water content makes it necessary to first drain and press the tofu to take out the excess liquid. You can just use dish towels and cookbooks to press and expel water. Otherwise, it won’t absorb all the flavors and will take a firm texture when you cook it.

After you have pressed it, then cut the tofu into whatever shape and size you desire before you start cooking, such as slices, cubes, or slabs. Tofu will absorb whatever sauce, marinade, or spices you add so there’s no need to let it sit for too long while cooking.

You can find raw tofu in the refrigerated section at the supermarket or as pre-baked and seasoned. There are actually different types of tofu available, including silken, soft, firm, and extra-firm. Silken is sometimes used for things like omelets, or even smoothies and desserts, soft it’s great for soups and stews, while firm and extra-firm are used for baking and frying at high temperatures.

Tofu needs to be stored in the refrigerator. Unopened packs remain good for five to seven days after the “sell by” date listed on the package. Freezing is also an option, lasting up to six months. But before you do that, better drain the excess liquid and wrap it in a freezer bag.

How healthy is tofu?

Credit kattebelletje. Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Overall, tofu has a lot of proteins and contains all the essential amino acids that the body needs. But that’s not all. Tofu is an excellent food from a nutritional and health perspective as it provides a wide array of vitamins and minerals, fats, and carbs. Recent studies have consistently found that sources of plant protein such as tofu are linked with better health and increased longevity.

Soybeans used to produce tofu have natural plant compounds called isoflavones, which can attach to and activate estrogen receptors in your body. Studies have shown that people who consume large amounts of isoflavones have lower blood pressure and better blow flow in the arteries.

Depending on which type of tofu you end up buying, it may also be fortified with vitamins or minerals, such as calcium, Vitamin D, or Vitamin B12. These are nutrients vegetarians and vegans often don’t get enough of, but these are very useful in all balanced diets.

Tofu salad. Image credits: Anh Nguyen.

Tofu is made from soybeans and most of them as grown in the US and are genetically modified (GMO), which some see as controversial. Although GMOs are controversial, research has not found them to be harmful to human health so far. However, research on the impacts of GMOs on human health is not always conclusive, so if you want to be extra safe, you have the option of buying non-GMO or organic tofu brands.

Can tofu reduce heart disease risk?

There aren’t that many studies yet that have looked at the effect of tofu on heart health. But research has shown that high consumption of legumes such as soy can lead to a lower rate of heart disease. Tofu also has a small amount of saturated fat, which makes it a good choice for the heart.

The already mentioned isoflavones that soybeans reduce blood vessel inflammation and improve their elasticity, which is good news for the heart. A study found that a dose of 80mg of isoflavones per day for 12 weeks improved the blood flow of people at risk of stroke by almost 70%.

At the same time, a study in postmenopausal women found that a high intake of soy isoflavone can lead to several heart-protective factors, such as improvements in waist circumference and good HDL cholesterol. Tofu also has saponins, which is thought to have protective effects on heart health.

Can tofu reduce risk of cancer and diabetes?

Several studies have looked at the effects of tofu on different types of cancer. Research showed that women that eat soy products at least once a week have an average 50% lower risk of breast cancer. This is likely due to isoflavones. Exposure to soy during childhood and adolescence is believed to be most protective. Higher intakes of tofu have been also linked to an up to 61% lower risk of stomach cancer in men and women. A review of several studies recently linked a higher soy intake to a 7% lower risk of cancers of the digestive system. Lower risk of prostate cancer was also found due to the higher consumption of soy.

The soy isoflavones were found to boost sugar control as well. A study on postmenopausal women found that consumption of 100mg of isoflavones per day lowered blood sugar levels by 15% and insulin levels by 23%. Another study showed that taking isoflavones every day for a year improved insulin sensitivity.

Much of the health effects of tofu boil down to animal protein vs plant protein. Studies have consistently found that plant protein is typically healthy in a number of ways. Here’s what a recent review found:

“Higher intake of total protein was associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality, and intake of plant protein was associated with a lower risk of all cause and cardiovascular disease mortality. Replacement of foods high in animal protein with plant protein sources could be associated with longevity.”

Can tofu also cause problems?

It’s generally considered safe to eat tofu and other soyfoods every day. Nevertheless, you might want to moderate the intake if you have estrogen-sensitive breast tumors due to tofu’s weak hormonal effects and if you have a poor thyroid function because of tofu’s goitrogen content.

A recent report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that soy and soy isoflavones pose no concerns for thyroid function or breast and uterine cancers. Nevertheless, if you have any concerns regarding eating tofu or implementing changes on your diet, it’s always better to discuss it with your doctor.

A meat-free America would significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: Pexels.

How greenhouse gas emissions would drop if all Americans went vegan

What would a society without animal agriculture look like? That’s what a pair of scientists recently investigated for the example of the United States. They found that if all Americans went vegan, there would be far fewer greenhouse emissions spewed into the atmosphere. At the same time, the researchers found that without meat or dairy, the country’s food supply would be unable to meet the population’s nutritional requirements.

A meat-free America would significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: Pexels.

A meat-free America would significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: Pexels.

About a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are sourced from agriculture, most of which are due to producing meat. On a global level, the livestock sector currently accounts for 14.5% of GHGs which is more than all cars, trains, and airplanes produce combined.

Meat production also promotes resource scarcity, such as poorly managed water use. Depending on where it’s grown, one pound of beef requires between 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water. Additionally, livestock requires animal feed sourced from crops, implying more deforestation, soil degradation, water and air pollution.

“The world’s over-reliance on factory-farmed livestock to feed the growing global demand for protein is a recipe for a financial, social and environmental crisis,” says Jeremy Coller, leader of the FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) group.

“Intensive livestock production already has levels of emissions and pollution that are too high, and standards of safety and welfare that are too low.”

Vegan doesn’t necessarily mean ‘green’

According to the recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, if all Americans were vegan, agricultural greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by 28 percent. However, a population of 320 million vegans still isn’t light on the environment. More cropland would be required, with negative consequences for the environment.

The two researchers, one from Virginia Tech and another from the USDA, first estimated the impact of converting all land currently used for livestock production into cropland. The transition implies far more agricultural waste is produced — things like corn stalks or potato waste which are now fed to livestock. All this excess waste would add two million tons of carbon to the atmosphere. The demand for more cropland coupled with a dwindled supply of animal manure would cause a significant uptick in fertilizer production, adding 23 million tons of CO2 per year.

It’s for this reason that an all-vegan American population would reduce greenhouse gases by only 28 percent even though animals are now responsible for 49 percent of the country’s agricultural emissions. Overall, agricultural emissions would drop from 623 million tons to 446 million tons a year. In the grand scheme of things, an all-vegan diet would only reduce total US GHG by 2.6 percentage units. What’s more, without meat in their diet, the American population runs the risk of not meeting nutritional requirements for calcium, vitamins A and B12, and a few key fatty acids.

“Overall, the removal of animals resulted in diets that are nonviable in the long or short term to support the nutritional needs of the U.S. population without nutrient supplementation,” the authors concluded.

This study shouldn’t be taken as the last word on the matter, though. Perhaps developments in the future, like synthetic meat or other protein-rich foods, could genuinely support an all-vegan American populace, as extreme as that may sound. At the end of the day, even a meat-free weekend could have a significant positive impact on the environment. Lower meat consumption would cut food-related emissions by 29%, vegetarian diets by 63%, according to a report called The Future of Food: The Investment Case for a Protein Shake Up released by FAIRR.

Already, many Americans, millennials in particular, have chosen to cut down on meat drastically. In 2014, 400 million animals were spared because people ate less meat. Twenty-five percent of US consumers decreased their meat purchases from 2014 to 2015, and meat alternative sales grew from $69 million in 2011 to $109 million in 2015. The market for protein-rich meat substitutes — food made from tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, seitan, quorn and the likes — is expected to grow by 8.4% annually over the next five years.

The bottom line is that, as noble as it may sound, going vegan might not work for everyone at the population level. This is a complex task to assess which upcoming studies might elucidate further. The study also suggests that while a vegan diet significantly lowers greenhouse gas emissions, overall, the effects are not as pronounced as most people think. That’s not to say cutting back on meat isn’t very important, we have to add. To avert potentially catastrophic man-made climate change, the most important ‘low-hanging fruit’ is urgently phasing out fossil fuels.

Is Dairy Addiction Real? Here’s what science says

Dairy Addiction is one idea toted not only as a notion, but as a fact by a significant number of vegans, especially ones that do not link to any reliable source (if any at all) to provide any evidence to the conclusion they have reached. So I decided that I will take it upon myself to find out whether or not the scientific literature agrees with this.

First things first though, WHY do these people believe that Dairy products are addictive? Well, YUM Universe, a known vegetarian blog, sums it up like this:

The answer is casomorphins—protein fragments, derived from the digestion of the milk protein, Casein. The distinguishing characteristic of casomorphins is that they have an opioid effect. ”

Casomorphins, or in the case of milk, Beta-Casomorphins, are indeed a form of opioid found in milk. And yes, Opioids are addictive, so that must mean milk is addictive and we can just close this case, right? Well… not quite.

One study of milks effects on rats published in 1981 called Opioid Effects of Beta-Casomorphines mentioned that they found “none of the peptides displayed opioid activity.” This is not the only study either, as another study published in 1994 which focused entirely on this idea of the addictive qualities of milk named “An Assessment of the Addiction Potential of the Opioid Associated with Milk” concluded with the line “Ingestion of milk products containing β-casomorphin is not likely to become the focus of an addiction.”

This is not even the last of it, as there is even a case report of a woman in Germany who drank 4-5 liters of milk a day. The report wanted to know if the woman’s consumption of such high quantities of milk was pathological. It concluded that based on the fact that the woman did not have any withdrawal symptoms in the absence of milk that Milk drinking in this patient did not have the characteristic physiological, behavioral and cognitive phenomena associated with dependence and nondependence producing substances.”

Opioid containing foods go far beyond casomorphins as well, as there is Gluten Exorphin in wheat, Soymorphin in soy, and even Rubiscolin found in spinach. I see no argument that spinach and tofu is addictive by anybodies standards ever.

Now am I saying that dairy products are NOT addictive? Of course not, they certainly are in a sense, but this is not due to casomorphins. Milk is a high fat food, and as any nutritionist knows, foods high in fat, sugar, and salt can be addictive the same way drugs are. This was actually a survival mechanism in the past, as since food scarcity was an issue, it was better to consume foods that were higher in essential nutrients needed for our survival, such as fatty, sweet, and salty foods.

But this is not a milk-only issue. You can easily state this for any other high-fat, sweet, or salty foods, including avocados, fried lettuce, mangoes, nuts, juices, vinegar, and anything you add salt to. Literally ANY food that is sweet, fatty, or salty has the potential to be addicting, which is why these three food types are such an issue to anybody suffering from Binge Eating Disorder, otherwise known as a Food Addiction.

Tons of food can be addictive, but I can safely say that casomorphin, or food opioids at all, do not play any role in that.

84% of American Vegetarians Relapse after one Year

A study conducted on 11,000 Americans found that the vast majority of vegetarians relapse totally or partially after only one year. A third of them relapse after only three months.

People are starting to understand that you can have a healthy vegetarian diet so many are switching to vegetarianism. However, at least in America, most of them relapse after only one year. Image via Always Foodie.

Vegetarianism is the practice of intentional abstaining from the consumption of meat (red meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal), as well as any other byproducts obtained through animal slaughter. Vegetarians typically consume dairy products (lacto-vegetarianism) and eggs (ovo-lacto-vegetarianism). The difference between vegetarians and vegans is that vegans don’t consume this products, and don’t consume any animal-derived products (like honey for example).

People can become vegetarians for many reasons; many choose to do so out of respect for sentient life, either due to moral or religious beliefs. Others believe it is healthier, and recently, many choose to do so because of environmental reasons – diets with low or no meat are much more sustainable and could solve many environmental issues.

But many believe that the recent surge in vegetarianism is just a fad, and it won’t last… and there seems to be a lot of truth to that; according to a new report put out by the the Humane Research Council 84 percent of vegetarians and vegans return to eating meat in less than a year. This also seems to fit in with previous studies, which showed that the ratio of ex-vegetarians to vegetarians is three to one.

“In the US, the population of current vegetarians/vegans sits at approximately 2%, while approximately 10% of the population are former vegetarians/vegans and about 88% have never been veg. This study, published by HRC, looks closely at that 12% of the population that identifies as either current or former vegetarians/vegans, and tries to better understand what makes people lapse, and in turn, what factors might help keep people veg. The findings presented here offer a lot of possible avenues for new strategic thinking in veg advocacy, and how we might move the vegetarian/vegan diet from the margins more towards the center”, the abstract of the paper writes.

So why is it that so many people fail in this attempt? Well, some of the reasons are pretty intuitive – while it’s very possible to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, it requires significant planning and specific decision making to compensate for the void left by the lack of meat. The fact that people are used to eat meat and feel certain cravings is also significant, but this survey revealed another interesting cause: the lack of social support.

Falafel – one of my favorite vegetarian dishes. Seriously, try it out – it’s awesome! Image via Smith’s Vegan Kitchen.

More often than not, when people go vegetarian, they encounter social opposition from their friends. Sadly, instead of being supportive, the social groups are often counterproductive, and people simply don’t like it when their friends think badly of them – and this shouldn’t happen. Being a vegetarian shouldn’t carry a stigma anywhere, let alone a developed country like the US. That being said, there’s a growing trend in veganism and vegetarianism in the U.S. that’s already starting to change mentalities.

Even though people often relapse from vegetarianism, they usually don’t go back to the “eat ’em grill ’em” mentality. They tend to find a middle ground, eating less meat than previously and focusing more on eating sustainably and ethically raised animals.

In many underdeveloped or developing countries, eating meat is still seen as a symbol of prosperity, so it’s unlikely that vegetarianism will develop in the near future. But in the developed world, things are starting to change. People now know that with just a big of focus, you can eat healthily and ethically. A special case is India, where an estimated 450 million people are vegetarian (40% of the country’s population).

Leaf - Great Organic Vegan Food

Eco-Friendly Choices in Los Angeles

For those looking for an eco-friendly meal in the Los Angeles area may be interested in these 3 vegan restaurants:

Leaf

Leaf - Great Organic Vegan Food

Leaf – Great Organic Vegan Food

Open daily from 9 am to 10 pm, Leaf (11938 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, California) offers reasonably-priced vegan and raw foods from the finest and freshest ingredients available. This community-conscious eatery, food coop, and raw-food academy is also a leader in the green restaurant movement, using organic ingredients and environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies, To-Go materials, and paint and furniture. The expansive and health-conscious menu includes appetizers, salads, soups, raw wraps, burgers, raw entries, juices, smoothies, and desserts that are all 100 percent vegan.

Cru

Cru - Pure Vegan Food - And "Scrummy"

Cru – Pure Vegan Food – And “Scrummy”

On the east side of Los Angeles, vegan and raw food enthusiasts are flocking to Cru (1521 Griffith Park Avenue, Silverlake, California) in the heart of the arts community. Offering a one-page menu of 100 percent vegan and gluten-free options created from the freshest, locally-grown produce, Cru specializes in appetizers, soup, salad, light entrees, and decadent desserts, as well as daily specials. Although a bit more expensive than Leaf, Cru offers an elegant atmosphere for gourmands. If you are considering an evening at Cru, pick up your favorite bottle of wine since this restaurant is BYOB. They do offer free corkage. Cru is open from noon to 10 pm daily.

RFD

RFD

RFD – Fantastic Organic Leafy Pizza !!

Real Food Daily is as close as one can get to an organic vegan chain restaurant. With 3 locations in West Hollywood (414 N. La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, California), Santa Monica, and Pasadena, RFD offers a wide variety on its nutritionally-balanced, plant-based menu designed for optimal health using the principles of macrobiotics. Ninety percent of the food at RFD locations is grown organically by local farmers. One of the primary focuses at RFD is the purity of the food, so the handling and the preparation of all food ensures that any meal from RFD fits the strictest of ethical, health, and religious guidelines.

Each of the Real Food Daily locations has a distinct personality, but the design and the furnishings are carefully chosen with an eye to sustainability and environmentally-friendly materials. All 3 restaurants are open from 11:30 am to 10 pm daily and offer a Sunday brunch menu from 10 am to 3 pm. Each RFD restaurant also offers convenient online ordering and delivery.

Whatever your budget or your tastes, Los Angeles has a green vegan offering to make your mouth water. You can get fantastic flights to Los Angeles see what fantastic deals you can get here and you will be enjoying fantastic Organic Vegan food in no time.