Plant-based Formula 1

Even if you don’t follow Formula One it is likely that you will have heard of UK’s Lewis Hamilton who won his 4th F1 World Championship making him the most successful British racing driver ever! Personally I don’t have an interest in F1 racing but I do frequently overhear it being discussed in our household, especially when all 3 guys are home.

It was a good day last week for global health, animal welfare and the planet when Lewis announced that he was following a plant-based aka vegan diet. I am so delighted when a mainstream personality makes a stand like this, telling the world that he stopped eating red meat 2 years ago, chicken for nearly a year and recently cut out fish. Having watched one of the circulating documentaries showing the horrible cruelty of the meat industry, how meat clogs up our arteries, what is added to meat products and the global warming effect of greenhouse gases produced by the huge number of cows reared by the meat and milk industry, Lewis decided that he did not want to support that any longer and personally wanted a healthier life. Some F1 trainers did express concern about Lewis’ change in diet mid season, fearing a drop in his performance, but he has carried on his top form without any dip.

At age 32 I think he is making a very wise decision to support himself in this way, and more than likely extend his career at the top. He’s not the first high-profile athlete to have done this; the Williams sisters, both legendary tennis star, as well as tennis champion Noval Djokovic are vegans.

One of the main concerns with following a vegan diet is lack of omega-3 fatty acids. Why are they so important? For starters they 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, which are linked to an inflammatory process.

Common knowledge tells you that they 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. These amazing plants convert the sun’s energy into omega 3’s, 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 plus humans then also inadvertently consume heavily polluted fish meat. Poisonous metals such as mercury and other industrial chemicals are routinely dumped into the ocean. The good news is that this 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. Some omega-3’s can also be obtained from eating walnuts, linseeds, chia and hemp seeds.

A BBC article on Hamilton’s plant based diet shows the suggested benefits, indicating that a vegan diet tends to be lower in saturated fats and so helps to lower rates of heart disease. 

While there is plenty of evidence that a low fat vegan diet is amazing for slowing or even reversing heart disease (see Dr Dean Ornish) it’s important to remember that it is also possible to eat a lousy vegan diet with lots of fried food and sugar; doughnuts and chips come to mind! Sugar, not just saturated fat, has been implicated in the rise in heart disease. Antioxidants, found in fresh vegetables and fruit are our 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 National Cancer Institute recommend 9-13 and the Japanese Government recommend 17!

I like the term “a plant-based” diet as it brings awareness to what is consumed, and as Michael Pollan (food author and journalist) says: “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”

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