felicitycurtain

An informed view of all things food

The 22-day vegan challenge – if it’s good enough for Beyonce…

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Last year she was chosen as the cover for Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people issue, and this year she’s hoping to influence the world’s dietary decisions.

That’s right, Beyonce’s back on the vegan bandwagon.

Although she’s quick to stress that she is not strictly vegan, Beyonce and husband Jay Z made headlines in 2013 after announcing their plans to take part in a ’22-day vegan challenge’. Apparently they were so pleased with the results, they quickly partnered with their trainer and exercise physiologist Marco Borges to launch 22 Days Nutrition, a vegan meal delivery service.

The theory is, it takes 21 days to form a habit. Add an extra day in to “Boost energy levels, feel healthy, look and feel younger, and lose weight.”

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But is 22 days of animal-free food the key to good health and weight loss?

In short, not really.

Weight loss will occur if there is an energy deficit – i.e., if less energy is consumed than expended. Queen Bey once disclosed her favourite foods as “fried chicken, fajita tacos, BBQ burgers, BBQ ribs, fried shrimp and Po’boy sandwiches.” Although I doubt she indulges in these foods often, it’s fairly obvious that steering clear of deep-fried, high energy foods like these is a step toward improved health.

In general, animal products are higher in energy and fat than plant foods, so upping your intake of fruits, vegetables and legumes is a simple way of filling up without taking in too much energy.

But that’s not to say animal foods all relate to weight gain. Despite the persistent confusion surrounding dairy foods, their consumption has no link to overweight or obesity. In fact, consuming the recommended 3-4 serves of dairy foods a day is linked to greater weight and body fat loss in those on a weight-loss diet.

And meat? Well, on average, we Australians eat too much of it, too often. Despite all of the reasons to eat red meat – it’s a good source of protein, iron and vitamin B12 – eating too much has been linked with a number of cancers. A standard serve size of red meat is 65g cooked, but the average steak size is between 200-350g.

On average, over a third of Australian’s energy intake comes from discretionary foods, such as cakes, biscuits, lollies and chips. While they might not be a part of the 22-day vegan challenge, plenty of discretionary foods still qualify as vegan. Oreos, for example are animal free. Check out this list of ‘12 surprising vegan foods’, including unusual suspects like Doritos and Pop Tarts. The point is, just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy. That vegan cheesecake you’re always seeing on Instagram, for example. It may well be gluten, dairy, AND sugar free, but it’s also probably just as high in energy as a conventional cheesecake, because of the large quantities of nuts and coconut oil it contains.

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One clear advantage of the diet, however, is the increased awareness it requires of what can be eaten. Being restricted to animal-free foods means less reliance on packaged foods, and more attention to ingredients.
But while it might increase your creativity in the kitchen, going vegan might call for a lot more thought and preparation – no more cans of tuna for an easy lunch.

Foregoing whole food groups like meat and dairy also means you must be diligent to ensure you’re eating a wide variety of foods to meet your requirements. Dairy foods are known to be a rich source of calcium. Although the mineral is also found in foods like tofu, green leafy vegetables, soy milk and nuts, it is far less concentrated. To equal the amount of calcium in a glass of milk, you would need to eat 5 handfuls of almonds!

Avoiding red meat can make iron and vitamin B12 requirements a challenge to meet too. Although there are plenty of plant source of iron – green leafy vegetables, legumes, tofu and iron fortified cereals – they are admittedly not absorbed as well as that found in red meat.
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, such as eggs and dairy foods. B12 plays a role in red blood cell production, and is important for maintaining healthy nerves, and for our brains. Vegans can find B12 in fortified soy drinks, and those ‘faux meats’ like sausages and burgers. Without these, it is advisable to take a supplement.

All in all, there are valuable lessons to be had from a vegan challenge. But while it might seem that cutting out animal products is the answer to our dietary woes, veganism isn’t the magic bullet. In reality, the message is even simpler, but probably not so sexy. “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much”, to quote the much less sexy, but eminently wise, Michael Pollen.

And besides – before you get excited about eating the same meals as Bey, the meal service is currently only available within the United States, and costs nearly $800 AUD for 22 days.

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