We tried Veganuary and went vegan for a month. This is what happened. – SF Gate

Click through the slideshow ahead to see what two SFGATE reporters ate while trying out the vegan diet.

Click through the slideshow ahead to see what two SFGATE reporters ate while trying out the vegan diet.

Click through the slideshow ahead to see what two SFGATE reporters ate while trying out the vegan diet.

Click through the slideshow ahead to see what two SFGATE reporters ate while trying out the vegan diet.

We tried Veganuary and went vegan for a month. This is what happened.

In the midst of an extremely indulgent December, after too many holiday parties and Christmas cookies to count, a Washington Post story on Veganuary caught my eye. Going vegan for the month of January was the hottest new trend, the article said. Id heard of Dry January (not drinking for a month) or other 30-day diet-related challenges, but none of them ever appealed to me until now.

As someone who has been mostly vegetarian for five years now (I sometimes eat seafood at restaurants), going vegan didnt sound like too huge of a leap. The health benefits of veganism were persuasive, and doing my part to combat climate change and animal cruelty were even more appealing.

However, I panicked a little when I committed to the challenge and realized Id have to give up some of my greatest loves: cheese, eggs and shrimp. I worried I wouldnt be able to handle Veganuary alone. So, naturally, I made someone do it with me: my coworker Susana Guerrero, a full-on omnivore, for whom this would certainly be much harder.

Here are the difficult and sometimes smelly lessons we learned throughout this monthlong journey.

MW: Um, no one tells you about a certain thing that happens when you suddenly switch over to a vegan diet. It has to do with your stomach. Lets not dance around it: Its gas. Its all the fiber, apparently. It took a full 10 days for my stomach to finally settle down.

SG: I also didnt anticipate how much the diet would affect my digestion. About the first half of the month included frequent trips to the restroom, but once my body adjusted, everything seemed back to normal.

SG: Prior to trying veganism, I wasnt too strict on my diet, but I also had enough willpower to not indulge in junk food often. That changed when I began Veganuary and found myself ordering fried food, pizza and tacos with a frequency which I wouldnt have done had they not been plant-based dishes.

MW: I was surprised to find that vegan substitutes for ice cream, yogurt, and mayonnaise were almost indistinguishable from the real thing. They are just more expensive. A vegan diet can add up fast at the grocery store unless youre cooking basically everything from scratch (which I really tried to do).

MW: Maybe the real worst part, however, was the vegan cheese. Dear fake cheese innovators: please keep trying. Clearly, we are not there yet. Susana and I picked up some vegan cheeses from Whole Foods for an impromptu office tasting: a mozzarella, a gouda, a parmesan and an herby spread.

Lets just say none of these are meant to be eaten on their own. Some truly are not meant to be eaten at all, like the revolting "parmesan" we tried. It smelled like feet cheese and looked like an ogres skin, commented one of my coworkers who was too scared to actually try it (can confirm: it tasted just as bad as it smelled). Its like if Forever21 made cheese, quipped another. Someone described the cashew cheese spread as unsettling; the vegan mozzarella had a really weird texture. Only the Whole Foods brand gouda slices were somewhat less reviled.

SG: I came to despise tofu. Tofu is incredibly delicious but not when you have to eat it week after week. The worst was when I ordered two sad tacos with bland tofu, lettuce, onion and peppers. I skipped the sour cream thats normally served with the item, though my suspicion is that it wouldnt have made the slightest difference in the flavor department. The same thing happened on day three after I ordered a teriyaki quinoa bowl. It came with mixed vegetables, brown rice and once again tofu. I found myself feeling bitter that I couldnt order what I really wanted at a restaurant and instead resorted to the menu section with limited vegan options.

MW: I hated every time a coworker brought in pastries and I had to avoid them. Vegan pastries do exist, and they are delicious, but they are certainly harder to come by.

SG: On day one, I had already messed up: Since I didnt prepare the night before with fresh groceries, I quickly realized that I had nothing vegan to eat at home. Instead, I ate leftover beef tamales. I tried my best to stick it out, but I cheated 15 times (not always on purpose). There were plenty of times when Id go to a restaurant, order a dish and later realize it had dairy or some other non-vegan ingredient in it. In one case, I visited Amazon Gos new Westfield Mall location and picked up what I thought was a vegan bahn mi sandwich. After the first bite, I knew the thick coating smeared on the French roll was none other than mayonnaise.

MW: I cheated during Vegan January two times. Both of those times were out to dinner with friends, because I succumb to peer pressure extremely easily. One instance was after finishing a big hike at Mount Tam. My friends and I were starving, so we hit up Sol Food in Mill Valley, a Puerto Rican restaurant that has really good shrimp I fully intended to stay vegan, but the vegan option (basically just rice and beans) seemed so sad compared to what I would usually get there. With encouragement from some bad influences, I dove straight into a Puerto Rican po boy a.k.a. lots of shrimp and mayo. My stomach was not happy with me after that.

MW: Eating out was definitely my biggest challenge: I didnt want to force anyone to go to a vegan restaurant with me. I hated that after a Saturday night spent out in bars, 99 percent of drunchies were off-limits (thank god fries are vegan). I hated the time that I went to Arizmendi Bakery with my friend for lunch and she was SO SURE they offered vegan pizza only for me to discover she was wrong. I watched her eat pizza heaping with mozzarella while I ate a slightly sad vegan poppyseed muffin.

SG: Maintaining a vegan diet when youre trying to eat with a group of non-vegans was rough, and imposing my newfound diet restrictions on them wasnt working out too well. I knew I was going to cheat in the days leading up to a birthday dinner, when I found out wed be having Greek food at an impossible-to-get-into restaurant in Palo Alto. It was too good a place to pass up. We shared grilled octopus and a whole fish and I regret nothing.

MW: Once Id gotten over the initial adjustment period, I was surprised to find how good veganism made me feel. No mac and cheese food comas. No bloating after a big meal. Even vegan food that felt indulgent still didnt feel too heavy. I also side-stepped getting sick what felt like 30 different times, despite the chorus of chunky coughs I heard in my office every hour throughout the month and I am usually someone with a very weak immune system.

Homemade dish by Madeline: Chorizo chickpea tostadas from Bon Appetit made vegan, using soyrizo and vegan yogurt.

Homemade dish by Madeline: Chorizo chickpea tostadas from Bon...

SG: With so many vegan restaurants around the Bay Area and an array of vegan grocery items that are available, it seems like trying out the vegan diet has become much easier and accessible than ever before.

At the same time, being vegan is difficult, especially if you're just starting out like me. Even when I tried my hardest not to mess up, Id wind up eating something that wasnt 100 percent vegan. You have to really read the fine print or in this case, the full list of ingredients especially for those premade store items.

MW: Being a strict vegan is very, very difficult. Animal products are in EVERYTHING. But switching from vegetarian home cooking to vegan home cooking was actually quite easy. I didnt find it limiting in fact, I found it expansive. I used Vegan January as an opportunity to explore different cuisines and cooking techniques I generally found cooking vegan at home was more rewarding/successful than trying to eat out, anyway.

Cuisines I had never attempted before because they seemed complicated became accessible to me with some great cookbooks: Sweet Potato Soul by Jenne Clairborne taught me how to cook Southern soul food; Bryant Terrys Afro-Vegan introduced me to Caribbean and African food. And my well-rounded, go-to bible for the month was Isa Chandra Moskowitz's "I Can Cook Vegan. I learned how to cook beans from scratch, and I even learned how to make (vegan) doughnuts this month!

MW: The day after Vegan January ended, the first thing I ate was a fried egg for breakfast. Later, I had ice cream (which my stomach did not love), and then fish tacos. The food was great, but even better was the feeling of freedom I no longer had to restrict myself.

SG: Weeks leading up to the finale of Veganuary, I knew that I would be eating an In-N-Out cheeseburger. I was partially worried about consuming beef since it was something I hadnt even had on my cheat days. But on Feb. 1, I inhaled a cheeseburger and fries like there was no tomorrow.

MW:Going forward, I think I will continue to cook mostly vegan at home, since it was so eye-opening and also made me feel so much healthier. But I cant afford too many pricey vegan alternatives, so Im going back to regular yogurt. And for eating out (which I dont do more than a few times a week), Ill be as pescatarian or as vegan as I want.

SG: Nearly a week after the diet ended, Im happy to have tried the diet and am impressed with the options available, but I dont think I could ever fully commit to being vegan. Of course, there were many interesting takeaways from the experience that Id like to continue: having less red meat, eating more greens throughout the week and kicking traditional milk to the curb by switching to oat milk instead.

Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya. Pictured is the Candlestick sushi roll.

Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya. Pictured is the Candlestick...

SG: Of all the vegan restaurants I visited, my standby was Loving Hut. Not only were the dishes flavorful, but it was also the best bargain I found. Three items from the hot table cost about $12 compared to the average $20 I spent at other places. Below are our favorite meals this month.

Loving Hut: Yellow potato curry, steamed kale and white rice

Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya: Candlestick roll (spicy tofu, cucumber, seaweed pearls, shichimi togarashi, and fire yes, fire)

Oren's Hummus: Pita falafel

Vegan Mob: Barbecue shrimp, collard greens, mac and cheese and potato salad

Shangri-La: Lentil soup and a heaping plate of flavorful vegetables and beans

Aburaya: Japanese fried chicken with cabbage and miso ranch

Susana Guerrero is an SFGATE digital reporter. Email:Susana.Guerrero@sfgate.com| Twitter:@SusyGuerrero3

Madeline Wells is an SFGate editorial assistant. Email: madeline.wells@sfgate.com | Twitter: @madwells22

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We tried Veganuary and went vegan for a month. This is what happened. - SF Gate

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