(This blog/article was lovingly created by Emma Tillbrook, a health and life coach from UK who was once a volunteer at Wellnessland)
A plant based diet is ‘a diet consisting mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, with few or no animal products.’
How does this differ from a vegan diet? A vegan diet excludes all foods produced by or derived from animals- this includes avoiding meat (even chicken), fish, dairy products, eggs and honey. This is a fully, 100% plant based diet approach.
Why do people adopt a vegan lifestyle and diet?
Two sentence summary: It has huge health benefits, avoids animal cruelty and offers a way of reducing an individual’s carbon footprint, especially when it comes to climate change. Plus, vegan food has become more creative and is truly delicious and more available than ever before.
This article will focus largely on a vegan diet with plant based diets interchangeably used so be aware of the distinctions.
What’s your reason?
There are many reasons why people take up a plant based diet; here we will focus on the three main motivating reasons behind people’s actions.
- The health benefits
Two sentence summary: The substantial health benefits that come with changing to a plant based diet are of great importance to people. In terms of some chronic diseases the risk of developing the disease and the symptoms can be reduced along with the benefit of weight some people experience.
Why is a plant based diet healthier?
Research has found that those who ate a fully plant based diet had a lower intake of total fat (including saturated fat), cholesterol and sodium and a higher intake of dietary fibre and polyunsaturated fat (the ‘healthy’ fat) compared to those eating animal products.
The fully plant based diet also scored the highest on the scales predicting positive health outcomes.
Those adopting a fully plant based diet are on average up to 20 pounds lighter than meat eaters. Eating a fully plant based diet can keep excess weight off in a long lasting, sustainable way where you are not counting calories- plus you feel great and have lots more energy!
Chronic diseases and more
Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and Alzheimer’s.
The beneficial effects on these from eating a plant based diet has been heavily researched with incredible results. This includes lowering your risk of developing health conditions and also reducing the symptoms of certain diseases.
- Diabetes- Research suggests that those on a fully plant based diet have a lower risk of developing diabetes with a 50% risk reduction on type 2 diabetes shown in one study. And if you already are diabetic there’s also good news! Plant based diets have been demonstrated to improve blood sugar control in those with diabetes.
- Heart Disease- Those eating a plant based diet have a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease.
- High blood pressure- The likelihood of developing high blood pressure is much lower in those following a plant based diet compared to meat eaters.
- Cancer- Research has found a risk reduction of certain types of cancer (including a 22% lower risk in colorectal cancer and a significantly lower risk of gastrointestinal cancer) for those eating a plant based diet. Red meats and cured meats have also strongly been linked to colon cancer.
- Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline- A plant based diet has been linked to a reduction of cognitive decline and to developing dementia and cognitive impairment. It has also been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Cholesterol- Fully plant based diets have been linked to lower cholesterol levels.
Want to find out more?
Recommended documentary on the HEALTH benefits of a plant based diet: ‘What the Health.’
- The Environment.
Two sentence summary:‘One of the most effective things an individual can do to lower their carbon footprint is to avoid all animal products.’ The production of animal products causes vast waste, deforestation, pollution and the industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
Why is a plant based diet better for the environment?
With climate change an important topic of discussion at the moment (especially with the work of Greta Thunberg- a 16-year-old activist), more and more people are becoming aware of the huge burden the animal produce industry places on our planet.
When we think of climate change we may think of fossil fuels emissions from cars, aeroplanes and other modes of transport, or perhaps of saving water and electricity in the household. The largest contributor to an individual’s carbon footprint often goes unmentioned.
How does the agriculture industry affect the environment?
- Climate Change- Would it surprise you to know that the agriculture industry is responsible for more greenhouse gases on a global scale than all of the combined transportation systems in the world?
- Pollution- In the U.S. the excrement from animals raised for food is far larger than the entire population of the country, with estimates of about 500 million tonnes of manure each year (taken from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency). With no adequate sewage in the processing plants the waste tends to get stored in rivers and lakes, leading to this to being one of the leading causes of pollution in them.
- Land and deforestation- The land used and required for producing animal products is colossal. This is largely down to the land used to produce animal feed such as soybean crops. It also takes almost 20 time more land to feed a meat eater compared to someone following a plant based diet. And deforestation? For the last 50 years over 90% of the Amazon rainforest cleared has been used to graze cattle.
- Water- By changing to a plant based diet you can save approximately 219,000 gallons of water a year. How? It takes a staggering amount of water to produce animal products- 2,400 gallons for just 1 pound of beef. This is in contrast to a pound of tofu which requires 10 times less. This is due to the vast amount of water needed to produce the animal feed, for the animals to drink and to clean the factories.
- Oceans- And it’s not just cattle and poultry products that are harming the environment. Fishing methods used to put the fish on your plate with chips OR fish curry destroy coral reefs and life on the ocean floor, along with killing other animals as a by-product, such as dolphins and turtles.
Want to find out more?
Recommended documentary on the ENVIRONMENTAL benefits of a plant based diet: ‘Cowspiracy’.
- The prevention of animal cruelty.
Two sentence summary: 150 million animals are slaughtered every day for the sake of providing food for humans. Factory farming and other methods involves overcrowding, mutilation and barbaric, unimaginable cruelty against defenceless animals.
Why is a plant based diet better for animals?
The answer to this question is the most obvious. Aside from the daily mass killing of over 150 million animals, the actual suffering can be argued to occur during their lifetime.
The introduction of factory farming methods to the agriculture industry led to heavy competition and the quality of life for the animals to drop into the inhumane, as a way to keep costs low.
Animals live in extremely over crowded conditions. Living under these unnatural conditions results in increased stress and violence for the animals. Instead of providing appropriate movement space to reduce the problem, farmers turn to mutilating animals to reduce the physical harm from the overcrowded conditions. Cows have their horns sawed off or amputated, without anaesthesia. Poultry have the pointy part of their beak sawed off, an area that is incredibly sensitive with nerve endings on the inside and is also done, without anaesthesia. In some instances, birds have been unable to eat or drink following this painful amputation.
- Poultry- Beak amputations are not the only issue poultry face. Selective breeding and growth techniques have been used to produce ‘broiler’ chickens who grow 4 times faster than chicken did in the 1950s. This puts severe strain on their cardiovascular system and causes leg issues. Somewhat less documented is the killing of 6 billion male chicks each year, who are usually only a day old, due to them not being useful to lay eggs. Little thought goes into their death- rubbish bags are filled with them until they suffocate to death or they are thrown, still alive, into a machine grinder.
- Pigs- Pigs used for breeding often spend their whole lives in crates restricting any type of movement and only just big enough to accommodate the pig when fully pregnant. To avoid them biting one another their tails are cut off and teeth clipped.
- Cows- In addition to the afore mentioned overcrowding, cows produce four times more milk than in the 1950s. This results in health problems such as odder inflammation causing infection. From the cows affected the milk produced has a higher number of ‘somatic cells’ otherwise known as ‘pus’.
Want to find out more?
Recommended documentary on the ETHICAL benefits of a plant based diet: ‘Earthling’. (WARNING: This is not easy watching as it contains graphic footage gained from undercover filming at factory farms).
There are many compelling reasons to adapt a plant based diet. Which one appeals the most to you and would make you think twice about adding more plants to your diet or making bigger changes?
If you’re wondering about how you would change to a plant based diet read our article detailing how to successfully make the transition easily.
Clarys, P., Deliens, T., Huybrechts, I., Deriemaeker, P., Vanaelst, B., De Keyzer, W., ... & Mullie, P. (2014). Comparison of nutritional quality of the vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diet. Nutrients, 6(3), 1318-1332.
Crowe, F. et al. “Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 97, Issue 3, 1 March 2013, Pages 597–603.
How to transition to a plant based diet.
- Know your options.
These days it feels like there are countless names for the diets people eat that vary the degree and regularity of them eating, or not eating, animal products. It can be overwhelming and confusing, however it can also be useful if you are beginning this transition as a fully fledged meat eater. Below is a basic definition of the main ones.
Flexitarian- Eats mostly a vegetarian diet but sometimes also eats meat.
- Reducetarian- Reduces their meat consumption (largely due to awareness of the health and environmental reasons along with reducing animal cruelty).
- Plant strong- Eats primarily a plant based diet.
- Veganish- Eats mostly a plant based diet but is ok with not being perfect in their diet.
- Pescetarian- Eats fish and dairy, but not meat.
- Vegetarian- Does not eat meat or fish, does eat dairy products (eg cheese, milk)
- Vegan- Diet is fully plant based and avoids all animal products including dairy and honey.
There’s also even a phrase to describe someone who eats vegan all the time but deliberately messes up to eat old comfort foods such as ice cram or pizza- a ‘Chegan’!
- Go at your own pace
It’s rare for someone to go from eating meat and animal products all of the time to changing overnight to a strict vegan diet and never making any mistakes. So just take your time.
Go at the pace and level of change that feels best for you. Maybe it’s a case of first giving up red meat, then whenever you’re ready giving up chicken and fish- or whatever order is best for you in whatever timescale feels right.
‘Meatless Mondays’ can be a way to step in the right direction where for just one day of the week you abstain from meat.
- Know your ‘Why’
What is your personal reason for why you’re wanting to move towards a plant based diet? Is it for health reasons? Environmental reasons? Ethical reasons in relation to animal cruelty? Whatever it is keep reminding yourself of why this is important to you and why you want to make these changes.
To learn more about the reasons behind adopting a plant based diet we have another article on why people adopt a plant based or vegan lifestyle.
- Know your food
Research the food groups you care about not consuming, learn how to read food labels so that you know which products may contain hidden traces of the foods you’re wanting to cut out. For example, Haribo tends to contain beef or pork gelatine. Look into the different ways to prepare and cook various foods like chickpeas, lentils and perhaps unfamiliar vegetables.
It’s worth mentioning that just because something is ‘vegan’ this does not necessarily make it healthy. Oreos, Hersheys chocolate syrup, red bull energy drink, sour patch kids- all of these are actually vegan. These are just a few examples of highly processed foods, some may be high in sugar, that you could eat as a vegan diet. Try and stick to non processed foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. For example, an apple you eat looks like it does when growing naturally. However, in terms of apple pie the apple has been processed with added ingredients and does not resemble how it looks when in nature.
- Add foods rather than taking away
To ease the transition you could consider beginning by just adding in a plant based item to each of your normal meals. This could be a piece of fruit with breakfast, some chickpeas or hummus with lunch or a portion of tomatoes with dinner. Starting by adding in plant based items can help when it comes to moving away from animal based products as it seems more familiar to eat these plant based items.
- Change one meal at a time
When you feel ready you could choose one meal to make fully plant based. Research some recipes and choose the one that sounds the most delicious and appealing to you that you would be excited or intrigued to try. Breakfast tends to be an easy choice with this as oatmeal can be made easily, cheaply and using a variety of extra ingredients to suit your flavour preferences.
You can then move to introducing snacks or two plant based meals to your routine. This can help make it easy when the majority, or all, of the food you choose to eat is plant based.
- Plan and prepare in advance
Prepare and plan however you see best in what would help you most making the change. Maybe this is researching recipes to make, creating a shopping list and buying food to make sure your kitchen is well stocked to prepare plant based foods. Perhaps it’s easier to dedicate a few hours on a particular day every week to prepare ingredients (eg chopping vegetables) or batch cooking meals and freezing them. All this can help make life easier for when it comes to choosing what to eat later.
What works for someone else (or even everyone else) may not work for you so remember to not be too hard on yourself, go at your own pace, educate yourself around the topics of giving up meat, fish and dairy and see which resonates with you and your beliefs. Give yourself credit for thinking about and making these beneficial changes for yourself, the earth and animals! Go at your own pace and make changes when the time feels right.
Why are animal products bad for you?
Eating meat in the majority of places is a societal and cultural norm. We grow up eating it with our friends and family, at school, at work, in social settings. We see it as normal and don’t question it or even think twice about the process of how our delicious bacon sandwich, chicken tikka curry and roast dinner actually got to being on our plate.
Sometimes it takes a shift in perspective in how we view the meat and other animal products we consume. Below is some information on what’s been found that may cause you to look differently at your favourite animal products.
Animals flesh has been found to be contaminated with faeces, blood and various other bodily substances. The main cause in the United States food for poisoning is from animal based food.
To make animals grow faster and help prevent disease occurring animals are regularly dosed with antibiotics, hormones, chemicals and steroids. When American beef was investigated by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures it was found to increase ‘risks of breast cancer and prostate cancer’ due to the amount of hormones found.
Worryingly the FDA has found that chicken meat in the U.S. contained arsenic. This is due to arsenic often being added to chicken feed to kill parasites. Factory farms also use food contaminated with pesticides to feed their animals which then ends up in the products we later consume.
And perhaps the worst and most frightening findings are to do with processed meat. This is very different to fresh meat and contains multiple chemicals, many of which are are harmful to health. Eating high quantities of processed meats (such as sausages, salami, cured bacon, canned meat) over a long period of time can result in obesity, high blood sugar levels and has also been linked to developing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. This is due to it containing approximately four times the amount of sodium and preservatives as fresh meat.
Processed meat has also been named as a definite, group 1, carcinogen. This puts it in the same group as tobacco and asbestos. You can deicide if eating them is worth the risk.
Did any of these surprise you? Knowing some the hazardous substances that we consume through meat can make people re-evaluate their eating choices. Would you choose to have a glass of water and add steroids, growth hormones and other horrible bodily substances?
Eating meat in the majority of places is a societal and cultural norm. We grow up eating it with our friends and family, at school, at work, in social settings. We see it as normal and don’t question it or think twice about the process of how our delicious bacon sandwich, chicken tikka curry and roast dinner actually got to being on our plate.
If you’re someone who loves or even just likes animals, maybe you get emotional watching beloved animals die in movies (‘Marley and Me’ perhaps?) or the idea of a (specific) dog being kicked (with a boot/ more dramatic) makes certain emotions rise inside you, or you love pets and maybe have or grew up with a household pet?
There seems to be a divide between the horror on inflicting cruelty to our beloved household pets to the mass slaughter and barbaric treatment of those raised for the food we eat. It’s almost passive blindness, ignoring it or seeing it as so ingrained in culture we just don’t think twice before eating our favourite meat dishes. (diff reason or eg?).
I remember reading that someone couldn’t claim to love animals if they still ate meat. The distinction was they loved pets. I read this when I was eating meat and considered myself an animal lover and it struck me. I knew that if I educated myself on the true, hidden story preceding eating my beloved (used word already) crispy duck pancakes, bacon sandwich, spaghetti bolognaise I would have to take a second look at the food that seemed so normal to me.