Following the recent addition of the plant-based nutrition course available at SNHS we thought it was a perfect time to outline the ins and outs of veganism and plant-based diets.
The dawn of the vegan is upon us as more and more people convert or head towards a more plant-based diet. Whether for ethical, environmental or health purposes, the vegan movement is taking a firm place in society in becoming a mainstream way of life.
A well thought out vegan or plant-based diet provides us with all the necessary nutrients a body needs to fulfil a healthy life. Veganism and plant-based diets are often contested as a well-rounded diet with claims that they lack certain minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients. These claims are unfounded however, as with any diet one must balance out what is on the daily menu in order to ensure the body is receiving everything it needs; everything necessary is available, it just needs to be incorporated. Western diets are often far more unbalanced than a well-planned vegan or plant-based diet – processed foods, drinks, red meat, high salt content, high sugar content, preservatives, low nutrient content – all of which, when eaten on a regular basis, is terribly unhealthy. Contrary to popular (uneducated) belief, a good vegan or plant-based diet is suitable for any person at any stage of life.
Research has linked vegan and plant-based diets with assisting in lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. It also boosts energy levels and reduces inflammation as well as the risk of chronic diseases, plus vastly improves gut health. Going vegan/plant-based is a great opportunity to learn more about nutrition and cooking, and improve your diet. Getting your nutrients from plant foods allows more room in your diet for health-promoting options like whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables, which are packed full of beneficial fibre, vitamins and minerals.
The most difficulty people have about making the switch is that they are unwittingly addicted to the salts and sugars present in most non-plant-based foodstuffs. Processed food tastes so good because of the unnatural additives that people consider it an impossibility to remove from their lives.
And meat? Meat is not particularly healthy for us unless it is of the highest, purest, freshest grade – straight out of an untouched by human hands or chemicals, piece of land abundant in high-nutrient lushness, straight to your plate. And how often does that happen? Er, never. The meat we buy in supermarkets has been fed hormones, chemicals, foods which animals were never meant to eat, locked in small spaces with little to no sunlight where they cannot effectively develop muscle, etc, etc. The animals themselves are utterly unhealthy when slaughtered. They are then often processed, they may have colouring added to them to make them look the colour we are led to believe they ought to be, they have preservatives added to make them last longer on the shelves, they have other things added to bulk them up in order to use as little meat product as legally possible but still call it meat, and so on and so on.
If all of the things which pass through or are added to an animal before you receive it were put on a plate and handed to you, you would not willingly ingest any of it. Yet we are more than happy to ingest the host disguised as acceptable food! Unfortunately for us the food industry is big business and our health is often prioritised as second to the importance of the revenue generated by mass produced foods. We have to recognise this for ourselves and come up with a new plan to defy this ugly and inhumane system; how about veganism, or a more plant-based diet?
For the planet
Avoiding animal products is caring for our planet. If everyone stopped eating meat and purchasing anything derived from animals it would make a huge positive impact on the environment. The reduction of your carbon footprint made by cutting out animal products would be significant; the crops needed to feed the animals, the transportation involved, the factories producing the products, the water required for the livestock, the space required for the livestock, cash crops, and any other processes involved would all be greatly reduced and so therefore would deforestation, habitat loss, species extinction. Malnutrition in poor countries would also be affected positively as they would not have to continue utilising the space in their countries for cash crops but could grow food for themselves. Considerably lower quantities of crops and water are required to sustain a vegan diet, making the switch to veganism or a plant-based diet is one of the easiest, most enjoyable and most effective ways to reduce our impact on the environment.
For the animals
If preventing the exploitation of animals is something that you aspire to be a part of this is an excellent reason to become vegan or move towards a plant-based diet. I have outlined a few of the reasons to avoid meat in the wellbeing section above but the suffering caused by the dairy and egg industry is possibly less well publicised than the plight of factory farmed animals. The production of dairy products necessitates the death of countless male calves that are of no use to the dairy farmer, as well as the premature death of cows slaughtered when their milk production decreases. Similarly, in the egg industry, even ‘ethical’ or ‘free range’ eggs involve the killing of the ‘unnecessary’ male chicks when just a day old.
A plant-based diet requires only one third of the land needed to support a meat and dairy diet. With rising global food and water insecurity due to a myriad of environmental and socio-economic problems, there’s never been a better time to adopt a more sustainable way of living. Avoiding animal products is not just one of the simplest ways an individual can reduce the strain on food as well as other resources, it’s the simplest way to take a stand against inefficient food systems which disproportionately affects the poorest people all over the world.
To be vegan
You would need to avoid all meat and animal produce; all dairy, eggs, animal fats, but the good news is there are some fantastic replacement recipes for ingredients that are often needed to complete a dish, such as vegan cheeses, nut butters, etc. The main difference between a plant-based diet and veganism is that vegans adopt an entirely animal free life – as in, they will not purchase any leather goods including bags and shoes, belts, etc. as well as within their diet, a plant-based diet does not imply that no meat is ever eaten, however that is often the eventual aim.
Foods you can enjoy and start to experiment with
Whole foods: natural foods that are not heavily processed. That means whole, unrefined, or minimally refined ingredients.
Plant-based: food that comes from plants and doesn’t contain animal ingredients such as meat, milk, eggs, or honey.
Eat a varied selection of the following, daily
Fruits: any type of fruit including apples, bananas, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits, etc.
Vegetables: plenty of veggies including peppers, corn, avocados, lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, greens, cucumbers, etc.
Roots: root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, beetroot, etc.
Whole grains: grains, cereals, and other starches in their whole form, such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, whole wheat, oats, barley, etc. Even popcorn is a whole grain (not the microwave version, go for making it yourself in a big pot – with a lid!).
Legumes: beans of any kind, plus lentils, pulses, and similar ingredients.
There are plenty of other foods you can also enjoy— including nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, whole-grain flour and breads, and plant-based milks. However, these may need to be eaten in moderation due to their high-calorie content.
If you feel like making the change then don’t feel pressured to going all-in on the first day. Try making a shift in the plant-based direction by experimenting with meat-free versions of your favourite meals and dairy-free breakfasts for example. Look online, there is extensive plant-based recipe material out there to help build up slowly by extending your meal portfolio, you’ll soon see that the challenge is as good as the way you will begin to feel! When you order food in a restaurant try to choose a vegan or vegetarian option. Going vegan or plant-based is easier than ever before with these becoming increasingly mainstream as more and more people from all walks of life discover the benefits of living this way.
It’s time to ask ourselves: if it is now possible to live a life that involves delicious food and drink, delivers better health, leaves a smaller carbon footprint and avoids killing other creatures – then why don’t we?
If you are interested in learning more about plant-based nutrition then this is the course you have been waiting for!
School of Natural Health Sciences Plant-Based Nutrition Course:
Our Plant-Based Nutrition Course provides a very comprehensive overview of the vegan diet. Aimed at therapists qualified in nutrition (from the school or elsewhere) this course provides the theoretical and practical foundation to support the transition to solely plant based living. The course may also be used for ‘self-help’ for individuals wishing to change their diet for themselves and their families.
The many health and environmental benefits of choosing plants are highlighted, with particular emphasis on heart health, weight management, and prevention of chronic disease in addition to optimising the ‘gut microbiome’. (Your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes. The gut microbiome plays a very important role in your health by helping control digestion and benefiting your immune system and brain health). The implications of leaving meat, dairy and fish off the plate is discussed, and sources of at-risk nutrients including iron, calcium, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids are given. Specific emphasis is placed on the importance of following a varied and balanced diet that meets energy (calorie) needs for physical and mental well-being.
Valuable guidance is given to therapists who will be helping clients make the transition to the vegan diet, with step-by-step implementation plans, food swaps that can be made at home, and practical advice on balancing meals. The value of food fortification is touched upon, and tips for preparing meals with mixed (vegan/non-vegan families). Popular topics include probiotics, phytates and oxalates, essential nutrients for athletes and members of the public over the age of 50. The remainder of the course is dedicated to practical skills, including kitchen equipment, herbs and spices, thickeners and gels, and tips for making sauces and soups from scratch. Two lessons are dedicated to recipes, with a concluding lesson on planning the ‘nutrition consultation’ for your clients.