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Let’s Talk About Veganism

Mar 17, 2019
Ashley Ann Lawrie

Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market

If there is one topic in the health and fitness industry that divides people most, it would probably be veganism. If you haven’t heard, a vegan diet is a 100% plant based diet. It is also associated with an entirely animal cruelty-free lifestyle. So no leather, no fur, and no products that have been tested on animals. Though not all vegans choose to make the vegan lifestyle choices.

If our ancestors were hunter gatherers, then when did we make the switch to an animal-free diet? Where did it all begin and why do some of us eat this way? Read more to find out!

In the Beginning…

Veganism, or strict vegetarianism, can actually be traced back as far as the time of Buddha and Pythagoras (famous philosopher and mathematician). It took time for the plant-based diet to really take hold, but in the 1800’s, people began to swear off animal products like eggs and dairy, creating a new category of dairy-free vegetarians.

In the 1940’s, a man named Donald Watson got 6 non-dairy vegetarians together to discuss plant-based/animal-free food choices. They wanted to make a more clear distinction between vegetarians and a fully plant-based diet. They went through a few different words like vitan and benevore before finally landing on vegan, which takes the first 3 and final 2 letters of vegetarian.

Since then the vegan movement has grown in popularity, with numerous documentaries like Forks Over Knives, being produced to showcase the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet.

Eats Plants – Save the Planet

As humans have taken over the planet and the number of us has increased, we have created massive farms and complex shipping routes to deliver the food we need to stay alive, to entertain guests, and to drool over while watching Chef’s Table on Netflix.

This has created a massive industry worth just over 100 billion dollars in Canada. Unfortunately, along the way we have sacrificed the health of the planet. Human needs for energy and food have created massive amounts of carbon dioxide that is being pumped into the atmosphere, and it is changing the climate of the whole planet. Although our energy needs make up over 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural activities come in second at 11%. In fact, if the emissions from cows were seen as a country, they’d be the third greatest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.

With such massive factory farms being put up across the world, our overproduction of meat from livestock is becoming a climate issue, and not just a health issue. In November of 2018, The Economist released a video which explained how a worldwide vegan movement could massively decrease greenhouse gas emissions. It brings up a few important points about how things like water consumption would be decreased, and the overall health of the population could be improved. You can watch it by clicking the hyperlink on “released a video”.

So Does Veganism Makes Sense for Human Health as well as Climate Health?

It seems to make sense for us to move to a more plant-based lifestyle if we want to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but does it make sense for optimal human health? In many of the plant-based-promoting documentaries, they typically follow an individual who is riddled with disease and taking countless medications. After following a vegan protocol, they get off of all of their meds, and many of their health issues have gone away or have been drastically reduced.

Sounds pretty great, right?

It is! There are a few things to be understood, though, before making the switch to a fully vegan diet.

First of all, you will have to become very familiar with all of the foods that may use animals or animal by products in their production. The obvious ones like steak, eggs, and milk are easy to pick out, but some wines use fish bones and animal proteins in the production process, and even some pastas have animal by-products in them. So research is key.

Include vitamins and minerals on a vegan diet in your research. Vitamin D and B12 are 2 major vitamins that quickly become depleted on a vegan diet. These are both essential to you health and deficiencies in either of these can have critical effects.

Calcium, which is readily available in greens like kale and spinach, can also quickly become depleted on a vegan diet. After 30 our body harvests calcium from the bones to be used elsewhere. Most vegans, although they are eating their dark leafy greens, still are not meeting their calcium requirements and this can lead to brittle bones and increased risk for fracture. Calcium from plants is also harder for the body to absorb, so supplementing is your best bet to keep calcium levels high.

Vitamin A, the carrot vitamin, which is important for numerous bodily functions, but most notably eye health, is also a vitamin you will have to pay special attention to. When you consume a vegetable like a carrot, your body actually only gets 0%-4% of the vitamin A from the carrot (in comparison to liver, which your body absorbs 100% of the vitamin A).

Vitamin A, the carrot vitamin, which is important for numerous bodily functions, but most notably eye health, is also a vitamin you will have to pay special attention to. When you consume a vegetable like a carrot, your body actually only gets 0%-4% of the vitamin A from the carrot (in comparison to liver, which your body absorbs 100% of the vitamin A).

Going vegan certainly has its benefits, but research and consulting with a dietician to help ensure you are getting enough of the protein, fats, and vitamins and minerals that you need is crucial.

Should We All Go Vegan?

We are all individuals and we are all able to make dietary choices for ourselves based on what works for our lifestyle and our health goals. Including more fruits and vegetables is certainly something we could all be doing, but do we need to go fully plant-based? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

For a few more resources (both for and against) on the vegan diet, check out these articles and links:

Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states: a cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults
Vegetarian diet and mental health: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses in culturally diverse samples.
Association of vegetarian diet with inflammatory biomarkers: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.
Will Going Vegan Make You Healthier (from the BBC)
When Your Kindergarden Goes Vegan (from The New York Times)
Vegetarianism, depression, and the five factor model of personality

 

 

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