Having supported my husband in reversing heart disease (the drug-free way) over the last 2 years by following a vegan diet and reducing stress, I am rather passionate (but not militant) about a plant based diet, aka vegan. Following a vegan diet has become a fashionable way to eat in the last few months and years. It seems to be a growing trend especially amongst young people. There are many small vegan cafes popping up in London, as well as other cities around the world. We recently spent a most enjoyable afternoon on a 4-hour vegan food tour with friends, one Sunday, eating our way around the streets of Shoreditch, London.
Reasons to eat vegan:
- Caring about animal welfare – many people have been inspired to become vegan after watching one of the circulating documentaries (such as Cowspiracy or Earthling) showing the horrible cruelty of the meat and dairy industry.
- Being motivated by health issues – there is much evidence that eating meat increases the risk of cancer and heart disease. The World Health Organization made headlines in 2015 when it declared processed meat a “carcinogen” that increases your risk of colon or rectal cancer by 18 percent. The routine use of in-feed antibiotics to prevent cattle disease and enhance growth means there are drug residues in the animal’s tissue. Residues end up not only in the meat, but also in other products of animal origin such as milk, eggs and honey.
- Looking great and feeling great – many long term vegans have reported that a plant based diet brought them more vitality by slowing down the ageing process and strengthening the immune system. They also said aches and pains were reduced, and their skin looked younger.
- Concern over farming’s effect on climate change – global warming is impacted by greenhouse gases emitted by vast numbers of cows reared for meat and dairy. Research in 2016, led by scientists at the Oxford Martin School, found that widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would bring down emissions by 63%.
A few months ago celebrity F1 driver Lewis Hamilton announced that he had stopped eating red meat 2 years ago, chicken for nearly a year and recently cut out fish. He’s not the first high-profile athlete to have done this; the Williams sisters, both legendary tennis star, as well as tennis champion Novak Djokovic are vegans.
Bill Clinton became vegan after emergency heart surgery and saw these improvements: “All my blood tests are good, and my vital signs are good, and I feel good, and I also have, believe it or not, more energy.”
While there is plenty of evidence that a low fat vegan diet is successful at slowing or even reversing heart disease (see Dr Dean Ornish) it’s important to remember that vegan food does not inherently imply ‘healthy’; it is possible to eat high fat and high sugar processed vegan foods such as chips, crisps, salted peanuts, donuts and Oreo’s as well as vegan meat and cheese substitutes which are all high in cooked fats, low in nutrients and heavy on the digestion. And sugar, not just saturated fat, has been implicated in the rise in heart disease.
However generally speaking, people who choose a vegan diet are eating a whole foods plant based diet (containing a high proportion of fresh fruit and vegetables) and reaping the many health benefits, including weight loss, lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Antioxidants that are found in fresh vegetables and fruit are the first line of defence, neutralizing free radicals and helping to slow down the ageing process. The UK Government guidelines recommend 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, the NHS is saying ’10 is better’, and the Japanese Government recommend 17!
Two nutrients that need to be supplemented when following a vegan diet are omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B12. The omega-3 fatty acids have profound anti-aging effects in the brain, they support the immune system, and have an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to reduce the development of heart disease and arthritis.
Common knowledge tells you that omega-3’s come from oily fish like salmon and mackerel. However these fish actually obtain their long chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) from tiny microscopic algae plants. In the ocean’s food chain, these amazing algal plants convert the sun’s energy into omega 3’s, the krill eat the algae and then fish eat the krill. The problem with humans coming along and eating the fish, is that oceanic ecosystems are destroyed by overfishing, plus humans also inadvertently consume heavily polluted fish meat. Poisonous metals such as mercury and other industrial chemicals as well as radioactive pollution are increasingly found in the ocean.
The good news is that an algal source of omega 3’s is now available in capsule form, grown in clean environmentally controlled seawater, so bypassing the need to eat polluted fish and conserving the fish populations (see www.nothingfishy.com).
Vitamin B12 also needs to be supplemented and is crucial for healthy cellular energy, DNA, red blood cells and the nervous system.
What we eat is highly individual, based on culture, religion, taste and ethics including choices influenced by our emotional state. This can change during a lifetime, and I believe it is good to remain open to change and not get too fixed. You may want to review the animal products that you regularly consume. Buying organic meat and milk, ensures certain higher animal welfare standards and much smaller amounts of chemical contamination.
There is no doubt about it, eating more vegetables and less animal products is good for you as well as benefiting the animals and the environment. If you have any desire to eat a vegan diet or reduce your meat consumption then a good place to start is by making meat your side dish rather than the main attraction, or maybe have a ‘Meatless Monday’.
Or how about trying vegan this January! You can get great recipes, information and support from www.veganuary.com, a charity that is inspiring people to try vegan for January, and throughout the rest of the year.
Are you going to give Veganuary a go? Post below, I’d love to hear from you and how you are going to improve your health this January.