VEGANISM & HEALTH
By Jordan Ayres
Going vegan has an unlimited amount of health benefits! It reduces one’s risk of diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, premature death and much, much more! I am, by no means, a medical professional. Therefore, to explain these points, I’ve gathered some of the best resources so you don’t have to!
When following a proper, balanced vegan diet (full of fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and soy products), you can find your health being tremendously transformed.
Dairy and meat products contain excessive amounts of saturated fats. By reducing/eliminating your intake of these foods, your health will benefit from it, especially when it comes to weight and cardiovascular health. In fact, the American Heart Association (heart.org) insists on limiting saturated fats – which is found in butter, cheese, red meat and other animal-based foods. Decades of scientific research and tests have proven it can raise your “bad” cholesterol and put you at much higher risk for heart disease and other health issues.
A vegan diet is also usually very high in fiber, which promotes healthier bowels and helps fight against colon cancer! Many health experts and doctors have encouraged fiber intake for many reasons.
The Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.org), a health-care company with over 3,300 physicians, scientists and researchers agree that a high fiber diet is essential to normalizing bowel movements, maintaining bowel health (by lowering one’s risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon [diverticular disease]), decreasing “bad” cholesterol levels due to the soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flax seeds, etc. (which helps lower total blood cholesterol levels by ‘lowering low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that high-fiber foods may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation’.) and can help control blood sugar levels (reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes), as well as aiding in achieving a healthy BMI.
A balanced vegan diet also promotes magnesium intake through the digestion of nuts, seeds and dark leafy greens. Healthy magnesium levels have proven to increase energy, calm nerves/anxiety, aid with digestion, relieve muscle aches/spasms, regulate calcium, potassium and sodium levels, play a role in preventing migraines and osteoporosis, and is an important key to heart health (draxe.com).
Vegan diets also have plenty of sources for potassium, such as beans, dark leafy greens, potatoes, squash, avocados, mushrooms, bananas, and more. ‘Potassium balances water and acidity in your body and stimulates the kidneys to eliminate toxins. Diets high in potassium have shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.’ (nursingdegree.net) A proper vegan diet ensures these benefits!
They are also beneficial when it comes to the vitamin folate intake! (ods.od.nih.gov) Peas, beans, nuts, and fortified whole grains all have this vitamin. This B vitamin is an important part of any healthy diet. Folate helps with cell repair, generating red and white blood cells, and metabolizing amino acids.
Basically, you can get any necessary vitamin and mineral from a vegan diet. Even B12 can be obtained through fortified cereals, fortified soy milk, hemp milk, and nutritional yeast! Many people on omnivorous diets are also B12 deficient, so it is important to stay on top of it and even take all natural supplements if you must!
Even the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has promoted a vegetarian lifestyle over an omnivorous one, and has sourced vegan foods with many health benefits, and proves them being especially prominent in preventing cancers. (pcrm.org)
There is also a myth that vegans are deficient in protein. Which, it is exactly that. A myth. There are many plant-based sources of protein, which are healthier and easier to digest than animal products. It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often much, protein (vrg.org). Protein can also be obtained from soy foods like tempeh and tofu.
There is also no need to worry about an iron deficiency, as that can be consumed through sea vegetables, tofu, nutritional yeast, dried fruits, beans, nuts, leafy greens, and enriched breads, cereals and grains. Seitan is also a wonderful cholesterol free food which is high in protein and iron! Seitan is low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat!
For a quick list of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients; I have included a small section from “Vegan Planet” by Robin Robertson. This is a wonderful source for furthering your vegan lifestyle! You can purchase this book directly off of Amazon.com.
"KNOW YOUR NUTS & SEEDS
Most of us know that nuts and seeds are important sources of protein, but did you also know they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients as well? In addition, although most nuts and seeds are high in fat, most of that is unsaturated fat-- the "good" fat we all need. Here's a look at some nutrient content of some nuts and seeds.
Almonds: high in calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc, almonds also contain folic acid, phosphorus, and iron and are about 18 percent protein.
Brazil Nuts: Rich in calcium, magnesium, thiamine and potassium, Brazil nuts contain significant amounts of vitamin B6, zinc and iron.
Cashews: They contain high amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron
and zinc, as well as phosphorus and potassium.
Chestnuts: They are a good source of calcium, potassium, B vitamins, magnesium
Coconuts: High in fiber, coconuts contain a good amount of calcium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, zinc
Flaxseeds: Especially high in protein, and rich in essential fatty acids, flaxseeds also contain good amounts of calcium and phosphorus.
Hazelnuts: Also known as fillberts, they are high in fiber and a good source of calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, and E.
Macadamia Nuts: They are rich in magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, thiamine, and niacin.
Peanuts: Rich in protein (about 26 percent) peanuts are an excellent source of niacin and contain other B vitamins- thiamine and riboflavin- as well as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron.
Pecans: High in fiber, pecans are a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. They also contain small amounts of vitamins A, B, C, and E.
Pine Nuts: a rich source of fiber, pine nuts contain iron, magnesium, potassium and folic acid.
Pistachios: Pistachios are a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B6 and C.
Pumpkin Seeds: Extremely high in protein (29 percent), pumpkin seeds are rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and B.
Sesame Seeds: They are rich in iron, calcium
and vitamins A, B and E.
Sunflower Seeds: Rich in omega-6 fatty acids, sunflower seeds are a good source of calcium, iron and other nutrients.
Walnuts: An excellent source of vitamin E, copper
and magnesium, walnuts also contain potassium, vitamin B6, thiamine and essential fatty acids."
For more information on vegan health benefits, you can watch documentaries like Forks Over Knives, What The Health and Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, or read up on the subject online or through many different books. Consulting with your health-care provider or a certified vegan nutritionist is also a wonderful idea, and among the best kind of ways to get your facts right! Research, research, research!
You should also understand as well why animal products are bad for your health. New studies compare a diet of animal protein to being as harmful as smoking cigarettes. The World Health Organization declared processed meat a "carcinogen" that greatly increases one’s risk of colon and rectum cancer by 18%.
However, it isn’t just processed meats that are dangerous for our health.
“A vast array of studies from top universities and independent researchers has found that eating chickens, cows, and other animals promotes cancer in many forms. Large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat-eaters, the most common forms being breast, prostate, and colon cancers. A 2014 Harvard study found that just one serving a day of red meat during adolescence was associated with a 22 percent higher risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer, and that the same red meat consumption in adulthood was associated with a 13 percent higher risk of breast cancer overall….Meat is devoid of fiber and other nutrients that have a protective effect against cancer. Meat also contains animal protein, saturated fat, and, in some cases, carcinogenic compounds such as heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are formed during the processing or cooking. Meat also contains hormones, which increase your cancer risk.” -(bustle.com)
Animal products, such as meat, eggs and dairy all contain cholesterol and saturated fats, which are linked as causes towards some of America’s top killers (heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and various types of cancer). Saturated fat is present in all meat and fish, even poultry cooked without the skin.
The American Diabetes Association published a study that provide evidence to the fact that people who consume animal products are 22% more likely to develop diabetes than those who limit their intake. Saturated fat has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive decline; not just cancers.
“Meat-eaters are three times more likely to be obese than vegetarians, and nine times more likely than vegans. On average, vegans are 10 to 20 pounds lighter than adult meat-eaters. Vegetarian diets are also associated with higher metabolic rates (around 16 percent faster for vegans compared with meat-eaters).” (bustle.com, peta.org, 21 Day Weight Loss Kickstart by Neal D Barnard, MD.)
Meat also carries the highest risk of foodborne illnesses!
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 70% of food poisoning is caused by contaminated animal flesh. Foodborne diseases, (E. Coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, etc) cause an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States annually. Animal products are often tainted with fecal contamination during slaughter or processing. According to a Consumer Reports study, 97% of raw chicken in U.S. supermarkets is contaminated with bacteria that could make consumers noticeably ill.
“To make cows grow at an unnaturally fast rate, the cattle industry feeds them pellets full of hormones. While low levels of naturally-occurring hormones are found in various foods, many scientists are concerned that the artificial hormones injected into cows especially cause health problems in people who eat them. And while organic or hormone-free meat might be a better option, you're also not eliminating your chances of ingesting the naturally-occurring sex hormones present in the animals when they were killed. The sex hormones progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen are all naturally occurring in animals, whether they've been given artificial hormones or not — so when you eat those animals, you're also eating hormones.” (bustle.com, huffingtonpost.com)
For even more reasons as to why eating meat can be detrimental to your health, you can read plenty of articles that summarize health studies, grab some books from your local library, or speak with a health professional. We have given you the basics here, but it is important to expand your knowledge. In fact, as stated above, it could kill you if you don’t.