Updated: Jul 23
Every January since 2014, the non-profit organisation Veganuary encourages people to try a vegan diet for the month of January and beyond. Read on to learn more about this initiative and the potential benefits of eating more plant-based.
In keeping with last week’s article, we’re going to discuss another new-year-themed topic: Veganuary. Last year, Veganuary had 629,000 participants sign up from 228 countries worldwide—98% of which would recommend it to a friend. If you are interested in ways to improve your health and your diet-related ethical and environmental impacts, read on!
What is Veganuary?
As touched upon already, Veganuary is a non-profit organisation that encourages people to try a vegan diet through January and beyond. They have four main aims:
Increase participation in Veganuary, by encouraging vegan diets
Increase corporate outreach, by working with brands, restaurants, and supermarkets, helping them to create, launch, and promote new vegan items
Raise awareness of animal suffering on farms and at slaughter, and all the reasons to eat a vegan diet
Grow the global movement to take collective action to change the world for the better
Veganuary is clearly a successful initiative—growing from 3,000 participants in their first year to 629,000 in 2022—but let’s chat about whether this initiative can offer any benefit for human health and environmental sustainability.
Health Effects of Vegan Diets
In a recently published meta-analysis of 11 randomised controlled trials (1), vegan diets outperformed omnivorous diets for a range of cardiometabolic risk factors, significantly lowering:
Body weight and body mass index (BMI)
Haemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar control)
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (a measure of cardiovascular disease risk)
Vegetarian and vegan diets also tend to lower other cardiovascular risk factors, such as the heart-disease-causing agent known as apolipoprotein B, and the measure of inflammation known as C-reactive protein. In fact, colleagues and I just published a review paper on this exact topic in the journal Nutrients—check it out (2)!
Figure 1. Graphical Abstract from my paper in Nutrients, summarising the effects of vegan and vegetarian (plant-based) diets on biomarkers of cardiovascular disease in randomised controlled trials (2)
Do these changes in risk factors affect actual risk for chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer?
A recent meta-analysis of 13 large studies including nearly a million individuals—the largest of its kind—reported a significant 15% and 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease for vegetarians compared to non-vegetarians, respectively, whereas vegans experienced an 18% lower risk for coronary heart disease (3)
In the same study, vegetarians showed evidence for reduced stroke risk compared to non-vegetarians, including significantly reduced risk in both Asian studies included
Vegetarians have also shown significantly reduced risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight, metabolic syndrome, certain cancers, and death from any cause in other large studies (4, 5), with broadly similar results reported for vegans (4)
Vegan Diets and Environmental Sustainability
Plant-based diets also offer considerable environmental benefits:
A 2018 study that included data from approximately 38,700 commercial farms across 119 countries, reported that animal agriculture (including aquaculture) uses approximately 83% of the world’s farmland and contributes approximately 56 to 58% of total food-related greenhouse-gas emissions, while only providing 18% of global calories (6)
The same paper found that if all consumers moved to a plant-based diet, land use could be reduced by 76% and food-related greenhouse-gas emissions by 49%
This is largely because livestock emit a lot of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) when digesting food (7), but also because raising, housing, and feeding livestock uses up so much land (e.g., 80% of the world’s soy is grown to feed animals!)
Therefore, it makes sense that vegan diets are associated with the least amount of greenhouse-gas emissions compared to other diets (8).
Figure 2. Global greenhouse-gas-emission savings associated with different diet types (Source: The Conversation: Which diet will help save our planet: climatarian, flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan?)
Switching to a more plant-based dietary pattern—whether that’s vegan, vegetarian, or more in line with a flexitarian or Mediterranean-style diet—is beneficial for a number of important health outcomes. In addition, diets high in plant foods may offer substantial benefits to the environment. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you want to take the Veganuary plunge, or transition to a more plant-rich diet. If so, head to their website, where you can find recipes, eating guides, and more.
In addition, memberships with Training121 are now live—drop us an email at [email protected] to get signed up if you have not already.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s article. Until next week!
Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH
Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121
Founder of Just Health — Instagram: @just.health.info
Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.
(1) Termannsen AD, Clemmensen KKB, Thomsen JM, Nørgaard O, Díaz LJ, Torekov SS, Quist JS, Faerch K. Effects of vegan diets on cardiometabolic health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obes Rev. 2022 Sep;23(9):e13462. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9540559/pdf/OBR-23-e13462.pdf
(2) Elliott PS, Kharaty SS, Phillips CM. Plant-Based Diets and Lipid, Lipoprotein, and Inflammatory Biomarkers of Cardiovascular Disease: A Review of Observational and Interventional Studies. Nutrients. 2022;14(24):5371. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/24/5371
(3) Dybvik JS, Svendsen M, Aune D. Vegetarian and vegan diets and the risk of cardiovascular disease, ischemic heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies [published online ahead of print, 2022 Aug 27]. Eur J Nutr. 2022. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-022-02942-8
(4) Le LT, Sabaté J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 2014;6(6):2131-47. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4073139/pdf/nutrients-06-02131.pdf
(5) Appleby PN, Thorogood M, Mann JI, Key TJ. The Oxford Vegetarian Study: an overview. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3 Suppl):525S-531S. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/70/3/525s/4714981
(6) Poore J, Nemecek T. Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers [published correction appears in Science. 2019 Feb 22;363(6429):]. Science. 2018;360(6392):987-92. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29853680/
(7) Nabuurs G-J, Mrabet R, Abu Hatab A, Bustamante M, Clark H, et al. Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses (AFOLU). In IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2022. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_Chapter07.pdf
(8) Chai BC, van der Voort JR, Grofelnik K, Eliasdottir HG, Klöss I, Perez-Cueto FJA. Which Diet Has the Least Environmental Impact on Our Planet? A Systematic Review of Vegan, Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diets. Sustainability. 2019; 11(15):4110. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/11/15/4110
Meta-analysis: This is a type of study that combines the results of a number of other studies that look at the same thing, and produces a summative estimate of the effect or association of what’s being studied. For example, a meta-analysis of five studies looking at smoking and lung cancer would combine the results from all five studies into one overall result, with the intention of providing a better estimate of the true effect of smoking on lung cancer.
Randomised controlled trials: Also known as RCTs, these are a type of intervention study where a group of recruited individuals are randomly assigned to groups within a study. One rationale for randomisation is to reduce bias, that is, to evenly distribute among groups any factors that may influence (or bias) the result of interest. For example, if we have a group of 100 people who will either be given a multivitamin or placebo and followed for 10 years to see how many in each group dies, we would randomise so that each group is on average similar for factors like age, physical activity status, smoking status, and so on. If we didn't randomise, there's a greater chance that one group may end up being different enough from another group such that the results of the study may be biased, e.g., one group could have a lot more smokers or sedentary individuals, which would likely influence the outcome of interest (death).
Statistical significance: This is a term to describe the likelihood of whether a finding in a study is a “real” finding, or if it is the result of chance. Statistical significance is denoted by a p-value, which is usually set at a significance (alpha) level of 0.05. This means that if a result is significant at this level (p < 0.05), we can say that the probability of getting a value as or more extreme than the observed value (under the assumption that the null hypothesis is true) is less than 5%.