I went vegetarian for the animals, then realised I should be vegan for the rest of the animals that I didn’t consider the first time around. However there is another compelling reason I stick with it other than the health and well-being of others – my own health. There are a lot of vegan success stories around about controlling and effectively “curing” type 2 diabetes, overcoming obesity and heart disease, avoiding cancer, and managing arthritis by eating a vegan diet… Why is a vegan diet healthy? A quick glance at the numbers reveals a lot.
Nutrient composition of plant and animal-based foods per 500 calories of energy:
Nutrient Plant Foods* Animal Foods** Cholesterol (mg) - 137 Fat (g) 4 36 Protein (g) 33 34 Beta-carotene (mcg) 29,919 17 Dietary Fibre (g) 31 - Vitamin C (mg) 293 4 Folate (mcg) 1168 19 Vitamin E (mg_ATE) 11 0.5 Iron (mg) 20 2 Magnesium (mg) 548 51 Calcium (mg) 545 252
* Equal parts tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas, potatoes.
** Equal parts beef, pork, chicken, milk.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. “USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, 2002.
- Holden JM, Eldridge AL, Beecher GR, et al. “Carotenoid content of U.S. foods: an update of the database.” J. Food Comp. Anal. 12 (1999): 169-196.
- Campbell TC, Campbell II TM. “The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health.” Dallas, Texas. Benbella Books, 2004, pp. 230.
Clearly the nutrient value in plants is much higher. You will also notice that that if you eat sufficient calories on a vegan diet, you get plenty of protein, enough to match an animal-based diet to within a gram. The idea that vegans are protein deficient and weak is a myth. Sufficient protein in combination with a much higher intake of vitamins and minerals means a big health boost. As I rockclimber, I have plenty more stamina on a vegan diet and can climb for much longer periods without getting tired. I also generally require less sleep and rarely get ill.
In my pre-vegan days, I had some relatively minor (but irritating nonetheless!) reoccurring conditions, such as: hayfever, hives, sinusitis, bronchitis, colds, menstrual cramps, pimples, easy weight gain. In particular, hayfever and sinusitis were a frustrating nightmare – every season change, my immune system would go on high alert, I’d be sniffling and sneezing with the slightest gust of wind, one thing would lead to another, I’d end up catching a cold, I’d take antihistimines or cold’n'flu medication, and I’d feel like a disgusting, dehydrated mess. Some folks say such allergic conditions are due to not being breast-fed, others say it’s an inherited condition. In my case, it could be a bit of both.
I still had all these problems when I was briefly lacto-ova vegetarian. The hayfever and sinusitis reduced dramatically when I cut out eggs and dairy products. Nowadays I only get hayfever or catch colds when I’m highly stressed. (For example: the only severe hayfever and consequent cold I caught since I’ve been vegan was when I travelled interstate to the funeral of a friend following her seemingly sudden suicide. I was stressed, ate more junk food than I had in a while, and generally didn’t sleep well for at least a month.)
Moderate stress can still bring on a few pimples, which I have always been prone to, but, traumatic events aside, I’m free of hayfever, colds, bronchitis, menstrual cramps, and the rest of it. My husband-to-be, on the other hand, has one health complaint, quite different to my own. He is gluten intolerant and has had a life-long chronic problem with his intestines, that at times can be quite painful. The severity of the condition has been reduced on a vegan diet, and to reduce inflammation further he reduces spices in his food and drinks a bitter Chinese herbal medicine brew occasionally.
Once the body and taste buds adjust to an all-plant all-the-time diet, (which usually takes a few weeks to a few months, depending on how much of a habitual animal you are!), the diet is incredibly satisfying. Physically, the energy boost is quite amazing. Intellectually, you know you aren’t contributing to future disease and long life, and you’re also protecting the environment and not sustaining violent animal industries. Taste-wise, you begin to enjoy the food more, because without saturated animal fat on everything your tastebuds become more sophisticated and discerning of other flavours. Combined with the easy digestion that a higher fibre diet brings, the increased metabolism and hunger makes food more satisfying, and you can also eat and snack more frequently without so much worrying about getting fat! New vegans sometimes get over-enthusiastic about trying new foods and put on some weight, but a bit of exercise can balance that out quickly enough.
Going vegan is one of the simplest changes you can make, and one of the most rewarding. Changing habits is hard sometimes, but the actual process of veganism is simple. Once you are doing it, it’s a stunning to realise how easy it is. It can be a fight eating out when restaurants aren’t friendly about it, but really, in a service industry they should be willing to serve a customers interests all the time. If they’re not, take your business elsewhere, and take your friends with you! Personally I prefer to stick to home-cooked meals, vegan cafes, or veg-friendly places with good veg-menus. That way, you can be sure of what you’re eating, both of the quality of food and what it contains. I have a few favourite places to eat out, where the staff often recognise me, which has quite a few benefits besides good quality food with a vegan guarantee: quick service, friendly conversation, and taste-testing freebees! Not to mention I found someone to make me and my husband-to-be a very fancy, gluten-free, vegan wedding cake!
Of course, it is possible to be unhealthy on a vegan diet. If you live on deep-fried food, coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes, you’re not likely to avoid many health problems. If you only eat one or two foods, you will get ill. But there are thousands of edible plants, so a limited diet is quite unnecessary when there are hundreds of plant foods that will suit your tastes, if not thousands. However, veganism is about the animals first, and not contributing to the violence, mess, and pollution of the industry. Human slavery was abolished for itself and for the welfare of the slaves, not to make the slave-owners feel better about their own state of being. Similarly, animal products are avoided for the animals, not to make the consumer feel better about themselves. For many people, the health of the animals is the primary concern, and the only concern. For others, the health of the animals leads to thinking about their own health, or vice versa.
But, as the table above indicates, eating plants can easily be better for you as well as reducing the demand for animal industries, as well as reducing your ecological footprint. So, if you’re going to deep-fry something, make it a potato! Or, better yet, make leek, potato, and quinoa soup like I did last night. It’s a meal that’s healthy, compassionate, and well-deserving of an OMNOMNOM or two! 2-3 leeks browned over medium heat in splash of sunflower oil, add several diced potatoes and as much quinoa as you want, simmer in vegetable stock until well-cooked, with a bay leaf and your favourite herb, (dry or fresh, try thyme or oregano), then blended until smooth (optional). (Optional: stir some greens into the hot soup before serving, until they wilt, like chopped spinach, kale, or rocket.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Yum!
& Happy Persian New Year &/or Baha’i New Year &/or Happy Easter &/or Happy Esbat &/or just have a happy long weekend!