Why Go Vegan?: There’s No Bad Side to a Plant-Based Diet
Feb 29, 2016 06:53PM
● By Diana Wierzchos
We have come a long way in understanding how the food we eat affects our health, our mental state and even our emotions, but we may not be as aware of the effects on our climate, water and soil, and on the creatures with whom we coexist.
While some vegans adopt a plant-based diet to nourish their own health, others are motivated when they learn of the suffering of farm animals, and still others react to the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Actually, all those issues are worthy of consideration.
Saving the Earth
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the livestock sector consumes more edible protein than it produces, using 40 percent of the entire world’s agricultural output, and it occupies 30 percent of the earth’s land surface. About 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the livestock sector. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.
Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin of the University of Chicago Department of the Geophysical Sciences calculated that changing from an omnivore to a vegetarian diet reduces a person’s carbon footprint by 1.5 tons of CO2eq—about the same reduction achieved by switching from an SUV to a hybrid.
Producing animal-based foods, such as meat, dairy and eggs, requires far more natural resources than producing plant-based foods. According to Henning Steinfeld, chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch, “about 8 percent of anthropogenic [human-caused] global water consumption is attributable to the livestock sector. It is likely that this sector is the greatest contributor for the problem of water pollution, due to the discharge of animal waste, the usage of chemicals in the plantations dedicated to animal feed and the release of antibiotics.”
While compassion for farm animals has heightened awareness of their environmental impact as well as their living conditions, the United States has no federal laws protecting those animals while they’re actually on the farms where they are raised. Two federal laws cover farm animals during transport and slaughter, but poultry species are excluded, making these protections inapplicable to 95 percent of the land animals of concern.
Meanwhile, Americans consume too much protein, and an inordinate number of Americans suffer from diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, stroke and autoimmune diseases. Research shows a high correlation between rates of these “diseases of affluence” and the consumption of animal protein.
But there is good reason for hope: a growing body of nutrition science shows that a high percentage of these diseases can be prevented, or even reversed, with changes to the diet. According to T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist and coauthor of The China Study, “The same diet that is good for prevention of cancer is also good for the prevention of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and other diseases. That diet is a whole foods, plant-based diet.”
One of the biggest barriers to adopting a plant-based diet is the misconception that it lacks essential nutrients or adequate protein levels—contrary to the fact that many of the world’s health organizations, including the American Dietetic Association, agree that a properly planned vegan diet can provide all our nutritional needs. The growing demand for livestock raised without antibiotics, steroids and hormones has improved animal products, but cooking them still denatures their nutritional value; therefore they lack the full spectrum of enzymatic minerals. Plant-based enzymatic proteins, on the other hand, are intact in the raw and readily assimilated in our system.
John A. McDougal, a physician and nutrition expert who teaches better health through vegetarian cuisine, gives a lot of credence to the euphuism “You are what you eat.” If you are consuming dead, decaying, slaughtered flesh, he says, you should expect to take those qualities into your body. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Research shows that vegans tend to eat fewer calories, weigh less and have a lower body mass index than their meat-eating counterparts.
Another oft-repeated myth is that veganism is expensive, a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge. To investigate this assumption, the U.S. Department of Agriculture compared prices of healthy and less healthy foods using three different price metrics: the price of food energy (dollars per calorie), the price of edible weight and the price of an average portion. They also calculated the cost of meeting the recommendations for each food group. For all metrics except the cost of calories, the authors found that healthy foods cost less than less healthy foods.
Buying groups, community supported agriculture and a growing supply of fresh produce have made veganism more affordable and even present wholesale opportunities. Eating more nutrient-dense food lessens our consumption needs, an effect directly reflected in our weekly grocery bill.
“From a macro perspective,” Campbell writes, “disease lowers the productivity of labor, and if all we seek is economic growth and development, then it is foolish to have a weak labor force and degrade the environment, which is the source of all economics. World hunger could be solved with the diversion of the grains that are (livestock feed) to people. Even more so, the land and resources it takes to make one pound of animal protein can make eight times more plant protein”
Veganism offers a trifecta: what’s good for the animals is good for the planet and good for our health.
Diana Wierzchos owns Destin Nutrition, location at 34940 Emerald Coast Pkwy. For more information, call 850-837-2372 or visit DestinNutrition.com.