Veganuary Time! 7 Tips to Adopt and Commit to a Joyful Plant-based Life

Veganuary Time! 7 Tips to Adopt and Commit to a Joyful Plant-based Life

Veganuary, the annual New Year’s diet challenge to go 100 percent plant-based, has grown over the last seven years to be a fun way to join others in kicking off the year with healthier resolve. The month-long challenge invites you, not only to make healthier food choices but also to bring greater awareness to living a vegan lifestyle.

Why Join the Veganuary Challenge?

When Veganuary was launched in 2014, 3,000 people joined in. This year marks the first time since its inception seven years ago to have over one million participants, proving Veganuary to be one of the greatest global movements of our century. The goal of the Veganuary Challenge is to grow more awareness about how a vegan lifestyle supports our health and our environment.  You may be simply curious, ready to explore, or already a hardcore vegan. Wherever you stand on your path, Veganuary is about having fun with others while learning more about ourselves and blossoming our passion for a healthy body and a healthy planet.

The Veganuary Challenge helps you grow in compassion for our planet as a whole. While mainstream media still touts fossil fuels as the biggest contribution to climate change, the data shows otherwise: nearly 60 percent of our greenhouse gasses comes from meat production. Check out this report from the Guardian:

The difference in emissions between meat and plant production is stark – to produce 1kg of wheat, 2.5kg of greenhouse gases are emitted. A single kilo of beef, meanwhile, creates 70kg of emissions. The researchers said that societies should be aware of this significant discrepancy when addressing the climate crisis. [READ MORE]

It all hit home for me one day when I asked the grocer about a few particular soy products that i no longer saw on the shelves. He responded that a significant amount of soy production had recently been repurposed for food for livestock. The logic behind this, given the state of our planet, is completely upside down for me. This information helped strengthen my resolve to go vegan.

Tip 1: Understand Plant-Based Versus Vegan

What’s the difference?

It’s pretty obvious when you go to the produce section that you will choose plants. But what about processed foods and prepared dishes, what are their ingredients? When I first became vegan, I mistook these two terms, thinking they meant the same thing. That resulted in a lot of bad grocery choices that I only realized when I got home from the market. Unless a food package is clearly marked vegan, read the label. It’s pretty simple, really: a vegan dish or meal contains no animal products whatsoever. Plant-based can mean anything from partially plant-based, mixed with animal products, to a fully 100 percent vegan meal (no animals).

Think healthy plant-based vegan

Not all vegan diets are healthy, and many nonvegans are quick to point this out. It certainly takes a lot more than avoiding animal products to live a healthy lifestyle. We often see social media influencers online that claimed at one point to be vegan only to quit and blame the vegan diet for its lack of nutrition. Hello! Are these people eating junk? It’s the salt, oil, sugar, and lack of nutrients in processed foods that is to blame! The vibrant health results that come with a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle are key to supporting a true vegan path.

Bottom line? Read labels, cut back on processed foods, and spend more time in the produce section than in the cereal and snack aisle.

Tip 2: Plan Your MealsVeganuary vegan meal planning

The value of meal planning

Meal planning became my best buddy during the Veganuary sprint. Not only did it save me time and stress, but it also ensured that I was getting a balanced diet. Meal planning helps you get out ahead of the bad snacking and fast junk food habits. Start with your grocery list. Make sure you are always supplied with your favorite staples in the pantry. 

This last year of 2023 has been about the AI explosion. I find it a lot easier to go to my AI chatbot* to get a good vegan meal plan or grocery list, as I don’t have a lot of time to write it all out myself. The chatbot also answers any recipe or dietary questions I may have, saving me a lot of time in research. Try creating a preferred meal plan of your own here.

*NOTE: My new AI plant-based vegan bot is still new and learning. if you are not satisfied with your answers, ask again, and tweak for specific information, such as “I’d like an Italian meal plan for this week” or “include snacks” or avoid (or no) chickpeas”. The bot will get familiar with your tastes and grow with you!

Find Go-To Easy Vegan Recipes

I love cooking, but how many of us have time for it? Veganuary has given me the focus I need to plan, shop, cook and eat all the wonderful food my healthy body craves – without worrying about time anymore. A little planning saves a lot of time.

Discovering simple vegan recipes makes meal prep a breeze. Making time once or twice a week for batch cooking (even living alone I cook in volume) will save you stress and worry during the week. Simple online searches uncover oodles of recipes, whether you like reading them or watching how-to videos (which I love).  In a hurry? You can go to MyPlant-basedCoach – a chatbot ready to help with all your vegan questions – and simply ask for any kind of recipe you are craving at the moment. From loaded soups to fulfilling salads, these dishes keep me satisfied, energized, and clear-headed.

Tip 3: Educate Yourself on Nutrition

Getting the Right Nutrients

Just making vegan choices may not be enough for your body or clarity of mind. I make it a point to educate myself on how to get essential nutrients like protein, iron, and vitamins.

How I Optimize My Vegan Diet

Through consulting resources such as One Green Planet and tracking my intake of food and drink, I was able to optimize my vegan diet for my specific health needs.  Listening to podcasts like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has helped me stay focused on my goals.

Tip 4: Find Your Community

Connecting with Other Vegans

In the beginning, I started out on my vegan journey alone. I learned not to react to family or friends when they teased me. Yet I had no idea just how difficult – and toxic – that approach was until I started meeting and cultivating more friendships with vegans. Joining a community of like-minded people made a world of difference. From online groups to local meetups, I found support and inspiration from vegan communities.

The Impact of Community Support

Isolating oneself is never a healthy choice. With the encouragement of my new friends, Veganuary has become not just a personal challenge to start the year off with but also a shared experience that empowers me. 

Tip 5: Be Prepared for Eating Out

No vegan restaurants?

When I first became vegan seven years ago (same age as Veganuary), There were no local vegan restaurants. Now, I can find at least a handful, but I also want to spend time with my nonvegan friends, too. Eating out presented its own set of challenges, but with some research and flexibility, I found plenty of vegan options at various restaurants.

Veganuary-challenge

Tip 6: Try New Foods and Recipes

Discovering New Ingredients Rocks

One of the most exciting parts of Veganuary for me has been experimenting with new foods and recipes. Who knew that cashews make tasty cream or kale is a nutritious addition to (m)eatloaf? I have broadened my palate and found new favorites on the way.

My Favorite Vegan Food Discoveries

My move to become a vegan started many years ago when I lived in Japan. I still ate meat and fish at the time, but I gravitated towards unfamiliar ingredients offered in Asian cuisine.. Here are a few of the staples in my kitchen:

  • Tofu. Its versatility, from smoothies to scrambled veggie bowls, makes it an easy protein to incorporate into all sorts of recipes.
  • Greens. Their importance in our health and longevity cannot be emphasized enough. From cabbage to courgettes, vegan recipes that show you how to incorporate greens are abundant on the web. 
  • Rice. After eight years in Tokyo, all I can say is, I love white rice. And despite critics, it makes me feel good. 
  • Beans. They are loaded with nutrients and protein. Uncovering their versatility has been a joy for me.
  • Seasonal vegetables. Food choices vary with the seasons, and in season local veggies always taste the best!

Tip 7: Be gentle to yourself

Imperfection is naturally perfect

Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle is a journey. I have learned to be more compassionate with myself when I slip up. We humans make it a habit to beat ourselves up with self-criticism, which becomes a hamster wheel that does not move forward, blocking progress. Be kind to yourself is not just some pithy line. It really makes a difference in our lives across the board when we relax the inner critic. Every day is a fresh start with new opportunities to do better. 

Why Veganuary is a great challenge

Reflecting on my Veganuary experiences over recent years, I feel a deep sense of accomplishment. I continue to improve my cooking prowess while also making a positive impact on my health and the planet – not to mention all the friends I’ve made along the way.

How to join Veganuary and make your own impact

The way I view food and its connection to the world has been transformed forever and for good. I am excited to continue this journey and share the joys of a vegan lifestyle with others. Won’t you join me? Click here to start!

Vegan Lifestyle: 10 Empowering Benefits of a Vegan Life

Vegan Lifestyle: 10 Empowering Benefits of a Vegan Life

Top 10 personal benefits of adopting a vegan lifestyle

A vegan lifestyle encompasses an entire approach to living, not just a diet. If you are wondering if you can adopt a vegan lifestyle to improve your health, look more closely at a healthy vegan diet. For health benefits, we vegans focus on not just plant-based but also whole foods. 

A vegan diet doesn’t sound too appetizing to most animal product lovers. Changing one’s palate overnight is not easy, especially when you are brought up to believe it’s natural to eat meat and dairy. 

Yet a vegan diet is kinder to your health and to your wallet. You also gain the benefit of knowing that you’re being kinder to animals and the environment. Making the switch isn’t easy. But knowing more about the benefits that veganism provides may help you lean towards more plant-based choices for your own benefit, and perhaps strengthen your resolve if you are trying to commit to a vegan lifestyle.

You need not be hard on yourself if you find making the transition difficult or slow. It’s not necessary to make a complete change overnight. Make the change slowly over time, if you prefer. Just keep in mind that the more plant-based, whole foods you eat, the happier your body and overall health will be.

A vegan lifestyle has many advantages to offer

Here are my top 10 personal reasons why I benefit from my vegan lifestyle:

  1. Vegans (who eat whole foods and avoid processed foods) enjoy better overall health. You can count on having lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body weight, risk of heart disease, and risk of Type-2 diabetes, according to study results from Harvard Health.
  1. A vegan lifestyle is better for the environment. The resources necessary for meat production are unsustainable for the health of our planet. Far more water and land are required to provide one serving of beef than one service of fruit, grains, or vegetables. Consider how much grain a cow or pig must consume to reach adult weight.
  1. Veganism is kinder to animals. Animals raised for meat often live horrible lives, not to mention they all are killed before they die of natural causes. Poor living conditions breeding poor health are the norm for animals produced for meat. Even cows raised for milk production or chickens raised for eggs often endure horrific living conditions.
  1. Adding healthy plant-based choices to your daily food intake decreases your psychological dependence on unhealthy food choices. Your body receives nourishment, which reduces cravings. Vegans don’t need to restrict their calories, because whole foods provide health benefits. Vegans are much less likely to overeat, unless they continue to indulge in processed foods filled with unhealthy oils, fats, and too much salt.
  1. Disease prevention. People who adopt a vegan lifestyle can reverse diseases and enjoy lower incidences of breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, macular degeneration, cataracts, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Check out this interview from Nutrition Action.
  1. Easier body weight control. Vegan populations have lower body mass indices than those that consume meat regularly.
  1. Increased longevity. Those that avoid meat and milk products live an average of six years longer than those that consume those food products. A vegan lifestyle can be a reliable way to ensure you spend a few more years living your life.
  1. Migraine relief. Vegans report having fewer migraine headaches than non-vegans. Those that routinely suffer from migraine headaches can often find relief by adopting a vegan diet.
  1. Fewer contaminants in food. Meat, milk, and eggs can potentially introduce unhealthy chemicals into the diet. Many herbicides, pesticides, and heavy metals can concentrate in animal-based fat. The animals that provide these foods are often given growth hormones and antibiotics that can remain in the products you consume.
  1. A vegan diet can be less expensive. Meat and cheese tend to be expensive food items. Consider how inexpensive beans, rice, oatmeal, and many vegetables can be. That’s not to say a vegan can’t spend a lot of money at the grocery store, but the option to keep food costs to a minimum is there.

Stick with a vegan lifestyle for your own personal benefits

Sticking with a vegan lifestyle requires dedication and planning. The many benefits you’ll enjoy by eating a vegan diet are priceless. The diet can benefit your health, finances, self-esteem, and your waistline. The environment also benefits when fewer animal products are consumed. Consider these advantages and decide if a vegan lifestyle is for you.

If you still are eating a carnivore diet, try having a few vegan meals each week. Notice how you feel 2-4 hours after consuming them. This alone might be a good enough reason to make the switch. If you really want to commit to a vegan lifestyle and are finding it difficult, simply add more plant-based whole foods to your diet. The nutritious effects you will receive will also help you eventually turn away from bad food choices.

 

Is dried fruit good or bad for cancer and diabetes?

Is dried fruit good or bad for cancer and diabetes?

I love fruit. I can eat it in any form – fresh, frozen, dried, you name it – and be in heaven. But people warn me about eating too much dried fruit, especially with diabetes running in my family. Traditionally, many make the assumption that dried fruit like raisins or dates is loaded with sugar. Some commercial brands have added sugars. Dried fruit appears to have a higher concentration of sugar than fresh fruit in general. So, no one would blame you if you were to assume that dried fruit was not as healthy as fresh fruit.

Yet studies looking at the correlation between dried fruit and health risks show promising results for fighting cancer, losing weight, and lowering diabetes risk. Check out the video here:

better than fresh fruit

A review of studies done on dried fruit intake and cancer risk published in Advances in Nutrition, March 2020, shows that eating dried fruit specifically can lower your risk of various cancers. And, amazingly, fresh fruit does not seem to fare as well as dried:

Overall, data presented in this review indicate that increasing dried fruit consumption to 3–5 servings/wk may have health beneficial effects related to risk of certain cancers, including cancers of the pancreas, prostate, stomach, bladder, and colon. No such effect was found for lung or breast cancers. Another, and rather surprising, finding from the selected studies is that the associations between consumption of total/fresh fruits and cancer risk were generally weaker than the associations determined for dried fruit intake and cancer.

It’s exciting to find out that I need not feel guilty about scooping up a big handful of raisins for a snack. I have a raging sweet tooth but cannot afford to indulge it very often. Consuming more dried fruits in the diet helps control diabetes feels like a relief to know. I love using dates in recipes that call for sugar or some sweetener, and now I won’t skimp on the number I use anymore.

Check out Emeril Lagasse’s extra large air fryer with French doors!

Choose dried fruit wisely

With so many brands on the shelves, I’m careful to read the ingredients now. Some fruit brands are nearly impossible to find without added sugars. Did you know that a typical serving of dried cranberries has around 26 grams of sugar in it? No way. Even mango slices, which you’d imagine to be naturally sweet, often have sugar added.

dried fruit and diabetes

A warning about store-bought dried fruit: it’s common to find sulfur dioxide added to store brands as a preservative. The sulfur can cause some irritation like asthmatic symptoms, stomach irritation, or itching for some people.

Dried berries, and in particular blueberries, are loaded with antioxidants. I’ve taken a liking to dried apricots, and they are a good probiotic source.

 

Use a convenient dehydrator at home

A friend of mine just told me that she’s getting a dehydrator. Yes, I am already trying to figure out how to fit one into my pint-sized kitchen. As you can see from the video above, the taste and quality of homemade dried fruit is a richer experience than the dried fruit product offerings we typically see at the grocery stores.

I anticipate with relish how the seasonal fruit varieties will taste dried at home. I want my dehydrator to last and work well out of the box. While the circular model in the video is interesting, I like the look and convenience of a square model.

This one at Amazon is the top-selling brand with amazing reviews:

 

Do you have a favorite dried fruit? Do you like them as snacks or in recipes? Let us know in the comments below!

Menopause relief: 3 easy food tips

Menopause relief: 3 easy food tips

Menopause relief is easier than you think with a few tweaks to your diet. I found recovery from menopausal symptoms only when I finally transformed my diet. While I was mostly vegetarian 10 years ago, I also ate a lot of junk. I am still amazed at how eating junk can affect my hormone swings. Even now, years later, if I eat too much sugar or processed foods, I’ll notice hot flashes come on. I now look immediately to diet choices for my menopause relief.

Menopause relief is for men, too

The following video has three tips for menopause relief. In working with both men and women, I’ve found that many men experience a change in their hormone levels as well. Even though the speakers in the video are speaking to women, I suggest men heed the same advice, and you’ll notice an overall improvement in your energy and focus, too:

 

Dr. Neal Barnard has some great tips to help with menopause relief, and he includes some cooking tips for soybeans. Below are the three tips he offers:

1. Go vegan if you’re not. At least for a week or so, if you’re still on the fence about it all.  Fruits, grains, legumes, V B12 is all you need.

2. Lower your oil intake. for the time being, and it doesn’t have to be forever, just cut out your oils. If you are eating processed foods like frozen pizza if it has more than 3 grams of fat, then there’s extra oil you don’t need. Take a week to pay attention to your diet, making it a point to eat only plant-based for a week and cut out oil wherever possible. Then check your symptoms and see how you feel!

3. Include soybeans in your daily food intake. There are a lot of different soybean products to choose from in addition to Dr. Barnard’s suggestions. I am a big fan of tofu.

What do you do for menopause relief?

Leave a comment below if you enjoyed this video! Do you have tips of your own to share?

Buttercup squash is simple and delicious

Buttercup squash is simple and delicious

A buttercup squash has been sitting on my kitchen counter since before Christmas. Lately, with extra cooking time on my hands due to the pandemic, I’ve been going a bit crazy testing out different ways to cook veggies. I began doing the same thing in my head with the buttercup squash. 

I finally split it open. It looks too good to cover up with spices. Sure, it’s a popular vegetable for tempura and curries. Today, I think I’ll go back to basics with this tasty squash. 

Buttercup squash has plenty of taste by itself

When I remember its Japanese name, kabocha (pumpkin), I remember a simple, tasty way of cooking and eating buttercup squash, Japanese style. My friends in Tokyo had a saying:

“The more Japanese cuisine you eat, the more delicate your taste becomes.”

I suppose a lot of foreigners in Japan (like my friends at the time) consider this a way to defend bland flavors. Yet I found it to be true. Flavors like seaweed and soy were alien to my younger, parochial taste buds. My knowledge of winter squash varieties was pretty limited, only remembering the longer butternut and acorn squashes from my childhood days. These squashes also have thick skins, so they are not typically good to eat. 

My first taste of kabocha, buttercup squash, was simply divine. The outer skin is thin and is fine to eat. In the picture below some of the skin is removed, but you don’t have to. This squash is thicker and sweeter than the winter squashes I grew up with, almost a cross between a yam and a pumpkin. Buttercup is rich in vitamins A and C, and plenty of fiber, too. 

Buttercup squash cooked traditionally in Japan

I found it tough to get used to some of the odd cooking smells in Tokyo in my first few months of living there. I couldn’t imagine the buttercup squash being any good, as it was simply boiled with a big hunk of kelp.

Kelp is a thick seaweed that is often used in Asian cooking for flavorings and soups. I could find nothing appetizing of the look or smell of kelp. Yet somehow, the flavor it added to the squash was enjoyable – and delicate. I was hooked.

Kelp was fine as a flavoring, like a bay leaf, I thought. At first, I would set it aside if it found its way to my dish. But over the years, I’ve come to realize and value the nutritious impact of sea veggies, and look for them, including kelp, as staples in my kitchen.

Leftover buttercup has many uses

Since I live alone, I usually look for the smallest squash I can find. Buttercup squashes can be quite large, and a lot of food for one person. If you use this recipe, you can keep the cut-up cooked squash in a large container for almost a week and serve it in various ways. I like it cold or hot, and sprinkle roasted sesame seeds over it for an added boost of vitamins. 

I like to use the cold cut up pieces in salads. Leftover squash can also be thrown in at the end of a stir fry with other vegetables and/or rice.  Blend it up with broth and sauteed onions for a quick buttercup soup. Add it to a curry. The bold, sweet flavor of buttercup lends itself well as a complement to many dishes. 

Buttercup squash made easy

Buttercup squash made easy

Buttercup squash has a bold, sweet flavor that complements many meals from spicy curries to this simple, boiled or steamed version.

  • 1 small buttercup squash (seeds removed, cut into cubes)
  • 2 pieces kelp
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  1. Put all ingredients into a large pot. If steaming, put steamer tray in the bottom of the pot.

  2. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the squash. If steaming, fill up as far as the tray. Remember to check frequently so you don't run out of steaming water.

  3. Boil for about 15 minutes, longer if steaming, or until tender when pierced with a fork.

  4. Serve as a side dish with or without a little of the stock.

I also adore buttercup squash roasted or as tempura. But I try to stay away from fried foods or cooking too much with oil. This simple recipe gives me just as much satisfaction as recipes that call for oil.

Have you ever cooked buttercup squash? What’s your favorite way to prepare it?