A 21-day Vegan Challenge

| Posted On Oct 15, 2014 | By:

Vegan Food.shutterstock_198372692Whether you want to improve your overall health, lose weight, demonstrate your compassion for animals, or help the environment, there are numerous reasons to eat fewer foods that come from animals. If you have thought about this before but didn’t know how to start, take a moment to read this story – I hope it will give you some ideas and inspiration to get started.

BMI Chart.CopelandSince the 1920’s, studies have shown that a low-fat vegan diet can help trim excess weight (see the BMI chart on right), prevent diabetes, decrease cholesterol, lower blood pressure, prevent and reverse heart disease, and reduce cancer risk. These are huge benefits that are almost impossible to disregard, but going vegan is not always an easy journey to start. Knowing this, I decided to recruit some of my colleagues in the Chestnut Hill/West Roxbury practice to join me in a 21-day vegan challenge.

I started spreading the word in early August about the great benefits of eating a vegan diet and suggested a 21-day vegan challenge as a group. There was great interest and enthusiasm, but also some apprehension at first. I gave several examples of foods people would be eating and asked the question, “Couldn’t you try doing something for 21 days, if along the way you were getting slimmer, feeling more energetic and discovering new delicious foods you had never even thought about eating before?” And we were off!

How does it work?

A few weeks before the challenge, it can be helpful to visit your primary care physician and have some lab work done. Current weight, blood pressure, blood glucose or fasting lipids are recommended but not mandatory, but the results are significant and can be observed even after 21 days.

Then follow these steps to start the challenge:

  1. Think of three vegetarian meals that you already enjoy. Common ones are pasta primavera, tofu stir fry and oatmeal with fruit.
  2. Second, think of three recipes that you already make that can be adapted to vegan like: vegan chili, bean burrito and veggie burgers.
  3. Third, start exploring. Experiment with vegan recipes off the internet. Check out a vegan cook book from the library. Order a vegan meal at a restaurant.

Some of our vegan challenge team members decided to involve their families and turn this into a family challenge as well. This proved to be a very successful method to try new recipes and create a supportive environment at home. Some of us brought different meals and snacks to work and shared them with the group, which made it fun and enjoyable at a whole new level. We met once per week to share our progress, challenges and recipe ideas.

A Veggie good effort!

It’s simple to plan vegetarian diets that are balanced and contain the nutrients you need. Legumes, whole grains and vegetables are rich in protein and iron. Green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu, corn tortillas, and nuts are excellent sources of calcium, as are enriched soy milk and almond milk. Regular intake of vitamin B12 is important. Good sources of B12 include nutritional yeast, all common vegetarian multi-vitamins, fortified cereals and fortified soy milk.

After 21 days, the collective group realized many benefits: lower cholesterol, lower blood glucose, weight loss, fewer mood swings, and improved esophageal reflux, among others. Our group is now focusing on how to keep this going, knowing a full vegan lifestyle may not be sustainable for everyone. Some individuals have chosen to eat vegan until 6pm or eat animal products only 1-2 meals per week. Whatever you decide at the end of the challenge, you will have a whole new collection of plant-based recipes and hopefully a positive experience you can share with those around you. Please consider trying this at home for your health, for animals and for the planet.

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About Fernanda Copeland, MS, RD, CDE, CSN

Fernanda Copeland is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and sports nutritionist. She joined Harvard Vanguard in 2007 and currently sees patients at our Watertown and Chestnut Hill/West Roxbury practices. Her clinical interests are food allergies, bariatric nutrition, weight and diabetes management. In her free time, she enjoys time with her dog, gardening and spending time outdoors.