Veganism now has a new image as more and more people wake up to the environmental cost of consuming animal products as well as the health benefits of a plant based diet. Not everyone wants to become permanently and fully vegan but trying it out for a month in January – Veganuary – is now a fully fledged trend. And you never know, you might enjoy it so much you carry on into February and beyond. In case you need persuading here are just some of the benefits of a plant based diet to humans and the planet.
Plant Based Diets for the Planet
A 2018 study found that meat and dairy products are responsible for 75% of greenhouse emissions from the EU diet (1). The production of meat and dairy products causes emissions in various ways including the direct emissions from the animals themselves, as well as deforestation to clear land to grow animal feed. Perhaps surprisingly, the study found that emissions related to the international trade of food were marginal compared to other sources.
Other studies confirm that greenhouse gas emissions are significantly less for vegetarian and vegan diets compared to omnivorous diets with the same number of calories (2).
Most nations recommend reducing the consumption of animal products in their National Dietary Recommendations (NDRs) due to the beneficial outcomes for human health (3).
Plant Based Diets and Heart Health
The primary cause of death worldwide is heart disease. Two meta-analysis of over 100 studies found that vegans have a lower body mass index, a smaller waist and lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose and blood pressure than meat eaters (4).
Often low fat diets are used to treat heart disease but evidence shows that consuming a normal amount of fat on a vegan diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other data show that atherosclerosis is decreased when nuts are added to a Mediterranean diet (5). In short, switching to a healthy plant based diet could reduce your risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases (6).
Vegan Diets and Diabetes
A review into the effects of plant-based diets on those with type 2 diabetes found that plant-based diets were associated with significant improvements in emotional and physical well-being, depression, quality of life, weight and cholesterol compared with other diets (7).
Vegan Diets and Cancer
Studies show that vegans and vegetarians have a reduced risk for all cancers and other chronic diseases compared to non-vegetarians (8). Even for patients who have cancer minimizing the intake of animal foods has positive effects on their health outcomes (4).
Vegan Diets for Athletes
Plant-based diets have been shown to be as good as omnivorous diets for strength, anaerobic and aerobic exercise performance in athletes (9,10).
Some nutrients to pay attention to on a plant based diet and where to find them:
Omega 3 fats – pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, avocados and the cold pressed oils of these foods. Tom Oliver’s Omega 3 will supply with you EPA and DHA. NB: these supplements are not vegan.
Iron – lentils, almonds, figs, sea vegetables, parsley, watercress, broccoli, cavolo nero, quinoa, amaranth, oats, rye, blackstrap molasses, prunes, nettles.
Combine iron rich plant foods with vitamin C rich foods to improve the absorption of iron eg: peppers, citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruits.
Tom Oliver’s Iron complex contains iron and vitamin C for maximum absorption.
Zinc – pumpkin seeds, kelp, brown rice, molasses, wheat germ, pulses, tahini, peas, whole grains.
Tom Oliver’s zinc picolinate provides an absorbable form of zinc that supports the immune system as well as many other body functions.
Iodine – sea vegetables such as kelp, dulse, kombu and wakame.
Calcium – green vegetables, almonds, tahini, black strap molasses, carob, dulse, figs, hazelnuts, alfalfa.
Tom Oliver’s calcium citrate is a good back up for those avoiding dairy.
Vitamin D – the best source is sunshine! Also mushrooms that have been left on a sunny windowsill will develop vitamin D. Tom Oliver’s vitamin D3 with K2 is an essential winter supplement.
Vitamin B12 – not found in plant foods so needs to come from supplements or fortified foods such as yeast extract and fortified vegan milks etc. Tom Oliver’s B complex contains B12 along with the other B vitamins in a balanced formulation.
Plant-based diets reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, require fewer natural resources and produce fewer green house gas emissions compared to meat-containing diets. It really is a win-win situation.