Is veganism the optimum nutrition of the future?
Healthy veganism has never been so comparatively
good for you, so easily available, so delicious and so popular.
The Vegan Society have seen a massive rise in popularity during
their Diamond Jubilee as they celebrate 60 years since Donald Watson
first created the word vegan (from the beginning and end of vegetarian)
and founded the educational charity.
Books such as The Animal Free Shopper and Plant Based Nutrition
and Health have been published, new studies commissioned, new
initiatives for chefs started, new products such as vegan fishless
smoked salmon created and theres been celebrations at events
all over the world.
The national newspapers, particularly the Guardian have featured
stories warning about the unsustainability of the present system
of things. Not only are modern meat and dairy production methods
threatening human health they are threatening the planet with
devastating consequences. If the emerging cultures follow in our
footsteps the results will be catastrophic.
Looking at The Facts
The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada agree
that well planned vegan diets are a great idea. They issued a
report to clarify their position on Vegetarian and Vegan diets
in June 2003.* J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103:748-765.
The paper reviewed the latest scientific data related to key
nutrients for vegetarians, including protein, iron, zinc, calcium,
vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, n-3 fatty acids,
and iodine. They concluded A vegetarian, including vegan,
diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients.
In some cases, use of fortified foods or supplements can be helpful
in meeting recommendations for individual nutrients.
Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets
are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during
pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Vegetarian
diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower
levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well
as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium,
folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals.
Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices
than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic
heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels;
lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2
diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.
Their advice to Health professionals is Dietetics professionals
have a responsibility to support and encourage those who express
an interest in consuming a vegetarian diet.
So what attracts people to veganism?
The ADA found that Common reasons for choosing a vegetarian
diet include health considerations, concern for the environment,
and animal welfare factors. Also economic reasons,
ethical considerations, world hunger issues, and religious beliefs.
The Vegetarian Society experience is that the biggest percentage
(over 40%) say they were vegetarian for health reasons. With the
rest divided between animal welfare and the environment
a minority cited not liking the taste of meat as a reason.
This is somewhat ironic considering many vegetarians merely substitute
meat with other saturated fat rich animal products such as cheese.
Many meals are based around starchy simple carbohydrates rather
than complex carbs and are often protein poor.
Amongst members of The Vegan Society a much higher percentage
cite animal welfare and the environment for adopting a purely
plant based diet. Health is more often a secondary concern rather
than a primary one for vegans. Many vegans typically benefit from
a reduction in saturated fats from animal products such as dairy
and increased intake of phyto-nutrients from plant foods. However
they often still consume undesirable amounts of hydrogenated fats
from convenience vegan foods (such as the infamous Holland &
Barrett vegan porkless pie) or inhibit their intake of essential
Omega 3 by consuming too much Omega 6 rich sunflower oil found
in vegan staples such as shop bought hummus. Like the vegetarians
many vegans also typically consume white pasta/rice high simple
carbohydrate meals with some kind of sauce on vegetables. There
are also a surprising number of vegans who smoke and drink heavily
Despite these often less than optimum diets, in dietary analysis
studies vegans are always at least comparable to healthy eaters
and vegetarians and many studies suggest they are healthier.
The Vegan Society maintains that providing Vegans ensure adequate
sources of complete protein, green leafy vegetables, vitamin B12
and maintain a balance of EFAs there is no reason why they
cant avoid many of the major killers of the 21st century
identified by The World Health Organisation.
Nutritious and delicious
In her new cookbook Vegan by Hamlyn (ISBN 0600609154) city-based
nutrition therapist Yvonne Bishop-Weston BSc Dip ION MBANT says
Far from being difficult or extreme, veganism is easy, straightforward
and delicious a great way to achieve optimum health and
a clearer conscience. She clarifies all the important vegan
sources of all the nutrients that you need to earn you above average
People are taking meat and dairy out of their diets without
fully understanding what they need to replace them with so from
a health perspective thats what we have focused on.
However shes quick to point out its not a preachy
Extra ten years of healthy living?
In Plant Based Nutrition and Health (ISBN 0907337279) by Stephen
Walsh PhD he gets far deeper into veganism with recommendations
backed up with over 50 pages of references based on human studies.
No use has been made of any information obtained by harming
animals and I regard such procedures as both unethical and irrelevant
to recommendations for humans. He claims that the full potential
of plant foods is largely untapped and the right choices can add
ten years of healthy living to your life.
New breed of vegans
Books such as these and better choice in the shops and in restaurants
have attracted new people to veganism who are attracted by the
health benefits rather than just the ethics.
These new vegans refuse to settle for second best they
want flavour, value for money and they are not prepared to compromise
their familys health for their beliefs. They have looked
at the facts and wont be brushed off with a dismissive misinformed
health professional telling them that they need to have cows
milk to get calcium or meat to get iron and protein.
Even the growing number of Flexitarians who have
mainly vegan diets but occasionally eat a little organic meat
or fish mean that GPs and dieticians will need to keep abreast
of all the latest facts rather than just settling comfortably
for what they read in advertorials and food industry sponsored
To help Doctors keep fully informed there is a health section
on www.world veganday.com with all the latest health news. The
Vegan Society think the Government is spot on to encourage the
eating of more fruit and vegetables in their Just Eat More
(fruit and veg) Campaign that kicks off this Autumn. Weve
been encouraging people to eat more fruit and vegetables for 60
years says one spokesman.
Treat the Cause not the Symptom
Almost every day now there is another report that verifies the
route to optimum health may be not in expensive designer drugs
but in better, more nutritious diets.
A study published in BMC Medicine suggests that cannabis could
protect against viruses that lie dormant in the body and cause
cancer. (The Times 15/09/2004)
A carotenoid found abundantly in spinach could help the body
fight prostate cancer, according to new findings on neoxanthin
from scientists in Japan. (http://www.foodproductiondaily.com
Scientists from the US department for agriculture led by Agnes
Rimando suggested that eating blueberries might help prevent clogged
arteries, heart disease and obesity.(The Guardian 24/8)
In a study of middle-aged men, high intake of linoleic acid,
an unsaturated fatty acid found in certain plants and vegetables,
seemed to lower the risk of prostate and other cancers, Finnish
researchers report. (Reuters 24/8)
New trials in the pipeline to test curcumin on humans for treating
symptoms of cystic fibrosis and grapefruit extract (the great
anti candida treatment) being used to destroy MRSA. (BMJ.com 17/8)
Scientists in Israel have found that pomegranate juice slows
down the damage caused by cholesterol, reduces blood pressure
and more than doubles the levels of antioxidants in the blood.
According to the American Association for Cancer research, pomegranate
extract helps to fight skin cancer and scientists in Holland have
tested pure pomegranate seed oil on breast cancer patients. It
is also claimed that drinking a daily glass of pomegranate juice
can help to protect unborn babies, as it contains the recommended
daily allowance of folic acid. (Daily Mirror 29/7)
A two-year study in Denmark has found that drinking two glasses
of soy milk a day could protect post-menopausal women suffering
from osteoporosis from developing lumbar spine bone loss. The
researchers say that many women have been looking for alternative
treatments following adverse press coverage of HRT. (Daily Mail
(Maverick) Professor Jane Plant says there is strong evidence
that dairy products promote breast cancer in women and prostate
cancer in men. Speaking at a lecture on diet and cancer, she said:
"My advice is don't have any dairy products in any form whatsoever.
Just cut them out completely." (Press Association 17/3)
With headlines like these its no wonder more and more people
are being drawn to veganism and clear that health professionals
need to be very sure of their facts before just repeating what
they hear from the British Nutrition Foundation and using the
BNFs balanced plate as a gospel guide to optimum