Following a plant-based diet is easier than ever, with more compelling reasons to take the leap. The author of 5-Ingredient Vegan shares recipes and explains why.
If you’re just starting to explore veganism, here’s a quick overview. What is a vegan (sometimes known as plant-based) diet, and how is it different from a vegetarian diet? Vegans avoid all animal products, including eggs, dairy products and even honey. Vegetarians avoid meat, fowl and seafood, and are often in it for the health aspects. Ethical veganism goes beyond diet—animal welfare is the top motivation for this designation. Concern for animal welfare means that any animal-derived products, including leather and wool, are avoided. Environmental issues weigh in as well.
As for food, the ideal vegan diet is based on fresh produce, whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts and seeds. Often in the mix are nondairy milks, soy foods, and, for some, meat and cheese alternatives. Even if you’re not planning to go full-on vegan, anyone can benefit from enjoying plant-based meals on a regular basis. They’re delicious and satisfying, and you just might feel more amazing than you ever thought possible.
GREAT REASONS TO GO VEGAN
Those who have embraced the vegan lifestyle appreciate knowing that their food choices can be not only tasty and healthful, but compassionate and humane as well. Choosing plant-based foods has been highlighted as a hopeful way to mitigate the alarming deterioration of the environment and increase food security. Here are some specific reasons to go vegan.
FOR YOUR HEALTH
Research has shown that populations with primarily plant-based diets suffer from a fraction of the ailments that afflict meat eaters. These include heart disease, certain forms of cancer and adult-onset (type 2) diabetes. Other benefits include:
- Studies have shown that eating foods high in fiber and complex carbohydrates can help reduce the risk of heart disease. In addition, plant-based proteins are more likely to reduce cholesterol levels, while animal protein raises them.
- Vegetarians, and especially vegans, tend to have lower overall rates of obesity, not a small point to make at a time when 60 percent of American adults are overweight, with some 300,000 yearly deaths from obesity-related diseases, including hypertension, kidney disease, osteoporosis and arthritis. A well-planned diet centered on whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits provides a feeling of fullness that keeps the body fueled and satisfied for hours and staves off cravings for empty calories that lead to weight gain.
- Plant-based foods are less likely to cause virulent food-borne illnesses caused by E. coli, salmonella and listeria. Children are especially vulnerable where food-borne illness is concerned, as their immune systems may not be developed enough to withstand the dangers of contaminated meat products. Note that this isn’t foolproof, however. Some plant crops are contaminated from animal agriculture runoff, so it’s important to pay attention to recalls no matter where you are on the dietary spectrum.
- If you’re intrigued by the promise of longevity, studies conducted on Seventh-day Adventists (who advocate a plant-based diet) have shown that they typically live an average of seven to 15 years longer than meat eaters.
- Farmed animals are fed a steady diet of antibiotics and often hormones that have no place in their system, let alone yours. There have been many well-researched articles on how this practice can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans, and it’s alarming.
FOR ETHICAL REASONS
For ethical vegans, the driving motivation is compassion toward all sentient beings. Animal agriculture often is unimaginably cruel. Each year, tens of millions of animals are confined, overcrowded and disfigured. The human factor counts as well—slaughterhouse workers have one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs on the planet.
Some people wonder about dairy cows—after all, they “don’t have to die.” That may be true, but without going into the grueling details, mother cows have the toughest lot imaginable. If you want to learn more, films like Peaceable Kingdom, Earthlings, and Vegucated are eye-openers, and sometimes life-changers. And consider the fact that humans are the only species that drink the milk of another species, and the only species that drink milk after being weaned.
FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
- Getting most or all of your nutritional needs from plant-based foods means that you’re “eating low on the food chain.” Consider the following:
- Reducing the demand for animal products lessens the need for pesticides used to grow animal feed as well as antibiotic residues in the environment and in the food that’s consumed by humans.
- The raising of livestock depletes enormous land and water resources and contributes to the loss of millions of tons of irreplaceable topsoil each year. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, as compared to 390 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
- Animal waste is a major pollutant for soil, water and air.
- From the practical standpoint of food security, animal agribusiness cements a system that feeds those who already have enough to eat. Vast land resources are given over to grow grain used to feed animals—land that could be used to grow food for direct human consumption.
- Finally, a crucially important fact is that animal agriculture is a major contributor to the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. According to a groundbreaking 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector emits up to 18 percent of global, human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and, according to the report, “mapping has shown a strong relationship between excessive nitrogen in the atmosphere and the location of intensive farm animal production areas.” Deforestation for farm animal production has had devastating repercussions for the environment as well. Study after study has shown that animal agriculture is the second leading cause of greenhouse gases, not far behind fossil fuels.