either softbound or Kindle/Nook/etc. eBook at Amazon
11 The health benefits of a plant-based diet.
people who come to veganism find it while pursuing better health or
weight loss goals. While it’s true that achieving better health or
weight loss remains a popular preoccupation, the fact remains that
veganism is at its core a philosophy and practice that rejects the
commodification of other animals and seeks justice and compassion for
all species, in the words of Vegan Society founder Donald Watson, as
far as is possible and practicable. While what vegans eat (and do not
eat) is undeniably central to a the practice, veganism is not a diet:
it is a social justice issue and its scope encompasses much more than
simply what we eat. That said, many people come to veganism through the
door of health improvement and that is both understandable and their
prerogative. Someone who adopts the dietary habits without the other
aspects of veganism - for example, avoiding purchasing products that
are made from or tested on animals and withdrawing support from
industries that exploit animals, like circuses or rodeos - would be
called plant-based. This is not an insult or a judgement; this is not
trying to kick anyone out of a club. This is simply being clear on the
founding principles of veganism. Such people are still creating enormous
good in the world and deserve acknowledgement for that. In fact, many
people who start out as “health vegans” deepen their ethical
convictions as they learn more and grow to become powerful voices of
compassion for the animals.
Now, regarding health and body size claims: you may have heard that
vegans are all slim, we don’t get cancer or diabetes, that we look many
years younger than our chronological age and we never get sick.
(Honestly, depending on who’s around you, you may have heard the
opposite as well.) Too often, in our zeal to persuade non-vegans to
give up meat and animal products, vegans may make health claims that
are not grounded in fact or currently available research. Additionally,
as veganism has grown in popularity, different diets are being promoted
under the plant-based umbrella, from fruitarianism to low-carb, raw
foods diets to high-carb, low-fat to high-fat, all with promises of
being the Ultimate Health-Promoting Diet. In this cacophonous and
fraught landscape, especially with social media’s pervasive influence
on our lives magnifying our anxieties about not being slim or healthy
enough, it can feel very stressful and confusing. It can also be
difficult to sort fact from fiction.
I think the first thing to do is remind yourself that veganism is not a
diet. Second, it is very reasonable to want to look and feel how you
feel is your best, so modifying your diet to best pursue those goals is
understandable, but bear in mind that different individuals have
different needs for optimal thriving. In other words, some people might
feel their best by emphasizing carbs like potatoes and pasta; others
might flourish on primarily raw vegetables. And many of us do fine as
“just” vegans, remembering again that baseline of veganism from a
dietary standpoint is not about eliminating foods and ingredients that
are deemed unhealthy, but avoiding consuming anything of animal origin.
I say “deemed unhealthy” with the caveat that there is no final word on
what is and is not healthy and in what amounts. Take rice, for example:
for a high-carb vegan, rice can form basis of one’s diet; to a raw
foodist, rice is not a natural part of the human diet. Fruitarians eat
loads of melons, mangos and bananas; to a low-carb vegan, that is too
much emphasis on sugars.
Putting all that aside, there are certain things we know about a plant-based diet and human physiology. For example:
• You may lose weight. In a study with research subjects eating the same amount of calories, vegans had the lowest mean body mass index.
• You may be more “regular” and have a reduced risk of diverticulitis. High-fiber, water-packed foods help bowel movements progress through the digestive tract more easily.
• Your hypertension risk is reduced.
The lower saturated fat content of most vegan diets is also associated
with lower blood cholesterol concentrations, incidence and mortality
from stroke and ischemic heart disease.
• You may have a moderate protection against cancer overall as well as certain other cancers, like prostate. The phytochemicals in an array of plant-based foods provide antioxidants that can be protective against certain cancers.
• You may have a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes with a low-fat vegan diet, which improves beta-cell function and insulin resistance.
None of this, of course, is a guarantee, nor does it imply anything
about vegans who face health challenges. Vegans come in all shapes and
sizes, vegans get sick, and vegans are mortal. Our point is that vegans
are not bulletproof and we should stop repeating exaggerated and
spurious health claims. For more reading on this subject, please
consider reading Even Vegans Die: A Practical Guide to Caregiving, Acceptance and Protecting Your Legacy of Compassion and checking out co-author Ginny Kisch Messina’s wonderful and educational blog.
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Intro: Welcome new vegan!
1. Finding your way in an imperfect world
2. Make peace with making mistakes
3. Find community
4. Don't overload on disturbing videos and content
5. Develop your vegan voice and assertiveness
6. Stay strong against social pressure and gain resilience as a vegan
7. Learn how to cook, even just a little
8. Technology helps you over hurdles
9. Listen to vegan podcasts
10. Take advantage of other resources
11. The health benefits of a plant-based diet
12. Don't let yourself get famished
13. Expect that your digestive system might take a little while to get straightened out
14. Untangle and tame food cravings
15. A primer on vegan kitchen appliances, tools & gadgets
16. Bring joy to your vegan practice
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