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  • Writer's pictureMaija Tweeddale

Vegan or Dry: Which January challenge is best if you're 40-something?

Vegan or Dry for Janaury health kick

Are we just far enough away from Christmas to be contemplating the start of the new year with aspirational virtue?  As compared to coming out the other side of Christmas when perhaps we have more of a sense of urgency for change (maybe even panic), particularly in relation to the waistline and the Christmas fug.


I hope I can help you reinforce the good intent of the former category and lessen the impact of the latter category 😉 with a bit of commentary about two popular choices for a New Year health kick and what will give you ‘best outcome for effort’ for balancing mood, creating stable energy and improving the quality of your sleep.


Veganuary

I’m all for eating plenty of veg and plant foods in all their natural forms, not least because the fibre present in these foods feed the intestinal bacteria that rid your body of excess circulating estrogen - which is crucial for hormonal balance - and it helps moderate your blood sugar ebb and flow to support a more stable mood and energy.  You also need them for the array of antioxidants and phytonutrients they contain that are so essential for your body to function well.


However, optimal wellness requires that we get breadth and depth of nutrition from as wide an array of natural food sources as possible. 


There are a number of essential elements that we need in our diet that come from animal-source products and are very hard, or impossible, to get from plants.  This is either because the plants don’t contain them in the first place, they’re not readily available from the plant version or our bodies don’t convert the plant version to the version we need very well. 


The combination of animal-source and plant nutrients provides superior support for detoxification and provide longer lasting satiety, which may mean you eat fewer calories overall.  Considerations that are often at the top of our list post-Christmas. 


Because the protein and many other essential nutrient factors are more readily useful in, or only avilable from, animal-source food it’s easier to maintain your musculature, bones, skin health, brain function, energy production, nervous and immune systems by including them in your diet.  This means you're better able to both be active and restful, and at the right time of the day for each.


These are important considerations as we seek to keep our own body strong or help our kids grow robust ones. If you prefer not to eat meat then I strongly recommend including eggs, full-fat unsweetened dairy products and fish on a regular basis.


As an aside, what I find particularly galling about the rise in the popularity of veganism is food manufacturers clamoring to produce the most awful frankenfood in vast quantities and promote said products to the masses as ‘health food’.  Good quality plant-based food should be immediately identifiable back to an actual plant, and not a derivative, isolate or ester of. 


A useful rule of thumb is “good food goes off”.  Unless it's fermented or dried, if it’s shelf-stable plant-based it’s more likely to be ultra-processed junk.



Dry January 

Oh I do enjoy a bit of bubbly over the festive season! And I do try to keep it for the celebratory side of things, rather than the "I survived the shopping malls / children's Christmas pagents / I made all the mince pies by hand" side (you can probably buy a T-shirt to say whatever your Christmas nightmare is!) But, if you’re sitting in the 40+ bracket like me and worried that perimenopause is turning you into a shrieking, sweaty, anxious mess then reducing alcohol should be a very strong consideration.


Alcohol reduces melatonin, disrupts your circadian rhythm and worsens hot flashes and night sweats, all of which culminate in a bad night’s sleep.  It shrinks your brain (yikes! And especially in the area that deals with stress response), damages your gut lining, promotes release of histamine and stimulates your appetite, but not usually for a bowl of broccoli.  It makes it harder to build bone and muscle and it negatively impacts the way we process estrogen.


All of which, when our age begins with a 4, we really need to be doing things to improve.


Even the idea that you’re getting important antioxidants in your glass of wine doesn’t really have legs.  It’s a ludicrously small amount of red wine that serves a positive purpose - more like two to three tablespoons, not two to three glasses.  “No!”  I hear you cry.  Yep, ‘fraid so.  Sorry to be the bearer of that disappointing news. 


The best plan really is to eat the grapes before they’ve had all the goodness squashed out of them.  Even better, have them alongside some lush cheese and dry-aged meats.


Being alcohol-free might feel hard because it can still be a tricky statement to make socially.  In that case, Dry January is the perfect time to reduce or go without.  It definitely lends an air of legitimacy to a choice that can come with a feeling of deprivation or social torment.  You’ll be doing it with millions of others and there are plenty of support tools to help you keep the momentum and track your progress.



The recommendation

In my opinion, reducing alcohol is by far a superior health choice than reducing important food groups, especially if you’re in your 40s. 


This is the decade where the impact of our health choices is much more immediate than before - that bullet-proof cloak of our youth is starting to fray. Regularly committing to the small changes that make a big difference to your energy, mood and sleep quality will go a long way towards giving that cloak a new lease of life.


If you’re considering a 'health kick' to start the year I’d say the best one is to fully embrace Dry January and to boost the amount of veg you eat with the addition of fairly straight-forward strategies like meat-free Mondays, 7-a-day focus (5 fresh veg + 2 fresh fruit) and seeing where you can eaily stop or swap out an item of processed food.  That’ll get your year off to a truly cracking start!


If you want to get started with a tailor-made plan for your body and lifestyle with the support that you need to improve your energy, balance your mood and create a body that thrives, whether it’s a personal deep dive to feel like yourself again or to work out a plan of action that would help the whole family check out how to work with me here


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