Health & Wellbeing, Sustainable Living

Veganism – What’s all the fuss about?

More than 1% of the UK population (542,000 people aged 15 or over) is said to now have adopted a plant-based diet.

But what is a plant-based diet?

A plant based diet consists of only plant foods; a person who adopts a strict plant-based diet will not eat any animal-based foods or products including meat, bone, eggs, milk, butter, gelatine, etc.

What is the difference between a plant-based diet and veganism?

Veganism is a lifestyle choice, one that specifically accounts for ethics and politics. A person who adopts a Vegan diet will refrain from consuming any animal products whatsoever, including clothes and cosmetics. They will reject all products or services that treat animals as commodities, such as hunting and animal testing.

Why I adopted a plant-based diet

My own journey to veganism was not the usual stereotypical one. I have struggled with IBS for a number of years (Living With IBS – Part 1). After multiple inconclusive tests and courses of medication, nothing seemed to make a difference. I decided to take matters into my own hands and research potential solutions. After numerous Google searches, Plant-based diets kept appearing at the top of my search results. I watched various documentaries and read blog after blog before I decided to take the plunge.

In hindsight, I actually found it a lot easier than expected to make the switch. Even after the first few weeks of ups and downs, I was spurred on to continue as my symptoms became increasingly less severe. It’s been over six months now and the results are impressive – my symptoms have reduced from daily to fortnightly.

I have also discovered many other benefits to adopting a plant-based diet, specifically the environmental benefits of adopting a vegan lifestyle. Although I still have some way to go to being totally Vegan, I don’t think I will ever look back and here’s why:

My research into plant-based, vegan diets

During 2016, The Telegraph reported that the number of Vegans in Britain had risen by more than 360% over the past decade. The Vegan Society states that veganism is currently one of Britain’s fastest growing lifestyle movements, but what has led to this dramatic rise?

Animals

The welfare of animals is most commonly perceived as the main reason that people turn to a vegan lifestyle. But why are people so concerned with the welfare of animals when companies are meant to be regulated? Well, 70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide and more than 6 million animals are being killed for food every hour. We have begun to see an increase in reports and documentaries exposing industry leaders who are using brutal and inhumane methods in their slaughter houses and farms.

Animal Aid UK has recently confirmed that they have spent the past 8 years secretly filming in thirteen British slaughterhouses and found evidence of lawbreaking in twelve of them. These films revealed behaviour such as animals being kicked, thrown into pens, stunned and going to the knife while still conscious. In addition, they shot heart-wrenching footage of pigs being burned with cigarettes and workers hacking at the throats of conscious sheep.

I used to avoid articles and documentaries about these incidents because I thought if I didn’t know what was happening, I wouldn’t feel bad about it. After learning the true nature of this industry, I am truly shocked by the extent of the brutality and the living conditions these animals have to endure.

Although regulations are in place to stop these things from happening, there are still many accounts of animals being provided with little space to move, no natural food sources, very little access to sunlight which culminates in a truly horrendous death. Meat and poultry are not the only concerns; ¾ of the world’s fisheries are being exploited or depleted. At the rate that we are exploiting our oceans, we could see fishless oceans by 2048.

Environment

We have all heard about the concerns of climate change on the news over the past few years. Greenhouse gases are the commonly circulated concern, but did you know that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions? This is more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.

So what is animal agriculture? It’s intensive animal farming or industrial livestock production which requires vast amounts of land in order to supply the world’s growing demand for meat. With a shortage of land and an increase in population, livestock and the land for livestock feed, now occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice free surface.

It is thought that in order to feed one person for one year on the following diets, the associated land is required:

• Vegan – 1/6th of an acre

• Vegetarian – 3 x as much a vegan

• Meat Eater – 18 x as much as a vegan

Animal agriculture is also the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. It is widely thought that these staggering statistics will not begin to change course until the demand for meat decreases. Whether you believe it or not, it is getting harder and harder to argue with the scientific facts about the state of our planet today.

In order to lower demand, switching to a plant based diet, or even adopting a vegan diet, is currently one of the most effective changes you can make, contributing to a more sustainable planet.

Health

As previously mentioned, my health was the leading reason I switched to a plant-based diet. But after copious amounts of research, it is also the focus area that I find the most shocking.

I grew up with teachers and parents giving me nutritional advice much like everyone else. I was always advised to eat my 5 fruit and veg a day, to avoid fatty and sugary foods, and to ensure I got enough calcium, iron and protein in my diet. But when it came to it, I never really thought about what was in my food. I would rarely check the packaging for nutritional information and in all honesty I had no idea how much iron or protein I consumed. I opted for a relatively balanced diet including fruit, veg, dairy, meat, poultry and fish.

But increasingly, it has been documented that primary scientists now believe that meat and dairy are some of the leading causes of illnesses including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, 2017 Documentary ‘What the Health’ goes as far to claim the following:

• 1 serving of processed meat per day can increase the risk of developing diabetes by 51 per cent.

• Eating 1 egg per day is just as bad as smoking 5 cigarettes per day for life expectancy.

• Dairy can increase a man’s risk of getting prostate cancer by 34 per cent.

• For women who have had breast cancer, just one serving of whole dairy a day can increase their chance of dying from the disease by 49 per cent, and dying from any disease by 64 per cent.

I am not totally convinced on all of the ‘facts’ but I definitely see the correlation between these food groups and illnesses. We know that livestock are largely fed genetically modified (GMO) corn and soy because of the economic implications of doing so. We also know that livestock production accounts for the market share of antibiotic consumption in the US. So, it makes sense that if you eat meat or dairy that you consume these things as by-products.

In a study published by the National Institute of Health (2017), low fat, plant based diets were said to be greater than twice more powerful at controlling and or reversing diabetes than a typical diet recommending meat and dairy. In fact, participates who adopted a plant based diet saw their cholesterol levels plummet within a few days. Their blood pressure also reduced whilst their vitamin intake and overall nutrition went up. These studies even argued that you can stop and reverse heart disease with a plant based diet and stated that 99.4% of its participants were able to avoid major cardiac events from adopting this diet over time.

One last point to cover is Protein. Since opting for a plant-based diet, I have been inundated with questions about where I get my protein from. It is widely believed that only meat and poultry contain the necessary amounts of protein needs for a balanced diet – but this is a myth. The recommended daily intake of Protein for an adult man or woman is roughly 50grams and the following graph shows how easy it is to consume the required amount on an average day eating a plant-based diet.

 

Copyright of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

Humanity

There are 7 billion people on the planet, with the population growing by 228,000+ people every day. Animal agriculture is responsible for over 25% of all water consumed by the population in the world today. To put it into context, humans drink 5.2 gallons of water and eat 21 billion pounds of food each day. Whilst worldwide, cows drink 45 billion gallons of water and eat 135 billion pounds of food each day.

Food poverty is also becoming an ever increasing problem around the world and it is hard to see a way of resolving it. But did you know that we currently grow enough food to feed 10 billion people? Well this food isn’t going to the people who need it the most. Worldwide, at least 50% of all grain is fed to livestock due to the demand for meat. And most staggeringly, 82% of the world’s most malnourished countries occupy the largest space for livestock. What’s worse is that this livestock rarely feeds its country but is manufactured for the sale and consumption across western countries only.

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