A plant based diet isn’t veganism?
You may have read that a plant based diet and veganism are not synonymous. This is true, but the difference did not become clear to me until after I became vegan, and I frequently see continuing confusion on this point, with some claiming that to draw any distinction is pedantic. So before I get into the health issue that is the topic of this blog, I should like to clarify the difference. The fundamental misunderstanding arises amongst those who believe veganism to be a diet, many of whom choose plant-based eating for the health benefits that they will undoubtedly enjoy. If it were in fact the case that veganism was a diet, then to differentiate between the two would indeed be ‘nit-picking’ ( to quote an accusation).
The perception of veganism as a diet can give rise to all sorts of misunderstandings and why wouldn’t it? After all, a diet tends to be something we adopt for our own benefit for a finite time and for a purpose such as losing weight, and let’s be honest – who has not cheated on a diet? Generally, diets are all about us.
Veganism in a nutshell
However, becoming vegan is not simply a new way of thinking about our eating habits, a set of new menus. In fact veganism is not about us at all. Veganism is an ethical stance, an all-encompassing view of the world. Veganism focuses on respect for the beings who share this planet with us, sentient individuals whose lives matter to them, who are not objects to be owned and destroyed as we see fit. They are not ours to use and enslave. To become vegan is to understand and accept this.
This acceptance has profound and far-reaching consequences: vegans stop wearing or using all substances derived from the bodies of others including their skin, feathers or fibres, we stop funding and promoting their suffering and misery through all our everyday consumer choices of toiletries, cleaning materials, entertainment and of course we stop consumption of all substances derived from nonhuman bodies – their flesh, their lactation, their eggs, everything. In short, our every choice attempts to examine whether we are causing harm to others and if we are, we take the path that causes the least possible amount.
Humans are just another species
It is not a quest for personal purity (to quote a criticism I have seen), but rather a conscious admission of our place as just another sentient species, albeit one with the facility to make moral decisions based on the wide range of choices available to us. It is a rejection of the violence that we have been taught from the cradle to accept and support as the norm. Rather than glorying in any perceived feeling of superiority I would suggest that the majority of vegans are only too well aware of their frailties and their own previous mistakes. Having educated ourselves about the needless harm that we have done in our past, we turn our backs on it and seek to share a message that frees nonhumans from humanity’s selfish tyranny.
What’s in it for us?
I always advocate in favour of veganism as a moral issue. The unnecessary taking of sentient lives, the manipulation of their reproductive systems, the destruction of family and social bonds, slavery, captivity, mutilation and the rest of the horror show are the ultimate human arrogance. The essence of veganism is that it’s not driven by self interest. Most vegans I know would be vegan regardless of any benefit that they enjoy as a result. It is, however, useful for us all to have the following links for information.
Plant based eating and health
When one reads the facts it is hard to understand the resistance that meets the assertion that veganism is healthy way to live. As a mother, it breaks my heart that this information was not available to me while my children were small. As adults, we may make our own decisions about the risks we run in the way we live our lives. I may gamble with my own well being – and indeed have done so in the past – but I would never have gambled with the well being of my family had I only known the truth. This is a source of deep regret to me.
As time passes, more and more health authorities stand up to be counted by proclaiming the health benefits of avoiding all substances derived from the bodies of others, providing impressive statistics in respect of reduced risks of contracting killer conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and many others that are currently swamping healthcare systems throughout the world.
The following is a recent summary of links and quotes for your interest.
Links and information will be added to as appropriate material is discovered: –
Links and information
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association):
It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity. Low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fiber and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease. Vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or supplements.
British Dietetic Association:
Well planned vegetarian diets can be both nutritious and healthy. They have been associated with lower risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain types of cancer and lower blood cholesterol levels.
Dietitians Association of Australia:
Vegan diets are a type of vegetarian diet, where only plant-based foods are eaten. They differ to other vegetarian diets in that no animal products are usually consumed or used. Despite these restrictions, with good planning it is still possible to obtain all the nutrients required for good health on a vegan diet.
Australian Government: National Health and Research Council
Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally adequate. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle.https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/the_guidelines/n55_australian_dietary_guidelines.pdf
Dietitians of Canada:
A healthy vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. It may take planning to get enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins D and B12 and omega-3 fats from foods or supplements. A healthy vegan diet can meet all your nutrient needs at any stage of life including when you are pregnant, breastfeeding or for older adults.
There really are no disadvantages to a herbivorous diet! A plant-based diet has many health benefits, including lowering the risk for heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It can also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, plus maintain weight and bone health.
New York Presbyterian Hospital:
Most of the chronic diseases that plague us (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, most cancers, gout, and many more) are related to nutrition.
As a Physician Nutrition Specialist, I recognize that recommending a diet based on fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains is the strongest evidence-based advice for dietary change we have. Not only is there the very well established benefit of a diet with decreased calories and unhealthy saturated and trans fats and increased fiber and healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats, you are getting a daily infusion of many beneficial compounds including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and thousands of other plant compounds which are being actively studied by scientists. With these foods, there is no need for calorie-counting and portion control, which has been very difficult for most people, since you can eat as much as you want and it will still be low in calories. Choosing this kind of diet can help you lose weight, reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, as well as lower your blood pressure.
The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center (UCLA):
Some of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet may include: [d]ecreased blood cholesterol levels;and blood pressure; [l]ower incidence of heart disease, some forms of cancer, and digestive disorders like constipation and diverticula disease; [l]ower incidence of obesity and some forms of diabetes.
The Permanente Journal:
Plant-based nutrition has exploded in popularity, and many advantages have been well documented over the past several decades. Not only is there a broad expansion of the research database supporting the myriad benefits of plant-based diets, but also health care practitioners are seeing awe-inspiring results with their patients across multiple unique subspecialties. Plant-based diets have been associated with lowering overall and ischemic heart disease mortality; supporting sustainable weight management; reducing medication needs; lowering the risk for most chronic diseases; decreasing the incidence and severity of high-risk conditions, including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia; and even possibly reversing advanced coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes.
The Mayo Clinic:
[W]ith a little planning a vegetarian diet can meet the needs of people of all ages, including children, teenagers, and pregnant or breast-feeding women. The key is to be aware of your nutritional needs so that you plan a diet that meets them.
Dr Michael Greger, MD FACLM:
These are the top 15 causes of death, and a plant based diet can prevent nearly all of them, can help treat more than half of them, and in some cases even reverse the progression of disease, including our top three killers.
Walter Willet, MD, DrPH, Chair of Harvard’s nutrition department:
“Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk, an evolutionarily recent addition to the diet,” Willett and his co-author, David Ludwig, of Boston Children’s Hospital, wrote in an article published last September in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics. “[T]he recommendation for three servings of milk per day is not justified and is likely to cause harm to some people. The primary justification is bone health and reduction of fractures. However, prospective studies and randomized trials have consistently shown no relation between milk intake and risk of fractures. On the other hand, many studies have shown a relation between high milk intake and risk of fatal or metastatic prostate cancer, and this can be explained by the fact that milk intake increases blood levels of IGF-1, a growth-promoting hormone.”
NHS (British National Health Service):
With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:
Science supports a low-fat, plant-based diet for optimal health… Taking control of your quality of life starts with consuming a plant-based diet. Filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains is not only your best bet for disease prevention, it’s an easy way to reverse damage already done.