Could going vegan be good for you and the planet?

There is no doubt about it. Veganism is on the rise. In 2016 there were over half a million vegans in Great Britain, that’s three and a half times as many as estimated in 2006, and that figure only looks to be increasing further still, as noted by the Vegan Society.

As the vegan movement continues to gain momentum, we consider is adopting a plant-based lifestyle beneficial for both your health and the planet?

Your health

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegan diets tend to be higher in dietary fibre, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins C and E, and phytochemicals (biologically active compounds rich in fruits and vegetables), and lower in calories and saturated fat – great news! Many of these dietary factors are likely to be responsible for the statistics that show that vegans have reduced risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, all of which are linked to cardiovascular disease and mortality (see MDPI on nutrients).

However, there are swings and roundabouts. Vegan diets have also been shown to be lower in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12 – all of which are vital for good health. Considerable care should be taken, as the outcome of long-term nutritional deficiencies can be severe. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency may increase cardiovascular risk factors and is associated with a wide range of neurological disorders. Therefore, when following a vegan diet it is essential that you get enough of these nutrients through specific vegan food sources, and for many, taking supplements is a wise idea. Also be aware that some nutrients are more readily available to the body when consumed in the form of animal products, such as iron and zinc, therefore it is advised that the intake for these nutrients be higher for vegans. Good sources of iron include lentils, beans and most dark green leafy vegetables like kale; see our blog on iron for more information. Sources of zinc include chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and quinoa.

The planet

Many of us take steps to being more environmentally conscious, such as using our own shopping bags and saying no to the plastic straw. However, are you aware of the environmental impact of the meaty meal on your plate?

The statistics on the devastating effects of animal agriculture are pretty shocking. According to the Vegan Society animal agriculture is one of the most significant contributors to climate change, responsible for at least 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It is said to be the most damaging activity the human race carries out. In a time when millions of people are affected by drought every year, the consumption of animal products is responsible for 92% of the water footprint of humanity. On top of that, it is also the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction. Need we say more?

In a nutshell  

We certainly need to face up to the hidden costs of the food we eat, whilst also remaining clued up on the nutritional needs of our bodies. If you are thinking about taking a step towards going vegan, or any ‘restricted’ diet for that matter, a good rule to follow is; if you are cutting something out of the diet that has nutritional value, make sure you are replacing it with something that will give you those nutrients.
A diet rich in fruit, vegetables and wholefoods that have been minimally processed is undeniably beneficial for health and longevity. With special attention to certain nutrients, you can eat a totally plant-based diet that supports optimal health, whilst avoiding harm to animals and protecting the planet.

Fancy taking on the vegan challenge this January? Check out Veganuary.com

And here are some recipes to start you off. – Bon appetit!

By Sarah Martin

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