A question that we constantly get asked and the answer is it most certainly should be. Of course, you could quite happily be vegan and eat nothing but vegan junk food and lead a very stressful completely sedentary life in which case it would be quite the opposite, so in this article we want to address the question is it healthy to be vegan?
By delving a little deeper in to our past, looking at how we have evolved and how, although we are living longer, we are living sicker and ask is this caused by our diets and if so can we change it.
So what is health?
So maybe the first thing we should ask is, what it means to be healthy? Isn’t that obvious I hear you ask, well maybe but let’s look a little closer. Optimum health shouldn’t just mean the absence of illness and disease but should be measured by the overall level of well-being.
Positive health is also sometimes known as functional health and can be broken down simply in to 3 categories. The absence of any ill health so the lack of any disease or illness and any signs or symptoms thereof.
Overall performance, to be able to perform at your highest level both physically and mentally. Longevity linked directly to what we call health-span so living longer but living longer healthier without illness or disease.
So shouldn’t we strive to live every day with optimum functional health? Research has shown that our diet is the largest single contributor to achieving this goal. To live with a profound sense of well-being characterised by a consistent level of high energy with a clear sharpe mind and the desire to achieve and maintain a level of physical and mental fitness. To have an awareness of what our bodies needs are at any given point in time.
This level of optimum health will afford protection from the major killer diseases of our generation cancer and heart disease, it will aid resilience against disease and will actually increase lifespan and more importantly health span.
So asking what is health at its most profound level the answer should be that it is not only the absence of illness, disease or pain but the joy to be able to feel at one with yourself and your surroundings to have an appreciation that your body is functioning well on all levels and has afforded you the opportunity to experience the many pleasures that this world has to offer with high levels of energy and a clear mind.
Ok so maybe this sounds a little to profound but the science has shown that by having an optimum plant based diet and combining it as far as possible with a healthy environment and including a level of regular exercise a very high percentage of disease can be prevented
Healthy eating – avoid the propaganda look at the science!
Let’s go back again and look at us, humans. Of course we can’t jump in to our time machine and go back half a million years to see how we have evolved but we can get a very good idea by looking at the science and we can at the very least assess where we are now. We are made up of approximately 55-65% water, 15-30% fat, 15-20% protein and 5%minerals and other nutrients.
These figures of course will vary depending on sex and age but was does not alter is that every single molecule in or body comes from the food we eat and the water we drink. I’m just going to say that once again, every single molecule in our body comes from the food we eat and the water we drink, how then can we think we are going to achieve optimum health without optimum nutrition.
The typical western diet of today is now so far removed from the optimum intake and balance of nutrients that it is no wonder that our health is suffering. So has it always been this way, well no, of course our species has faced many other challenges in the past but actually being poisoned by their food wasn’t one of them.
Until only a few hundred years ago our ancestors had spent hundreds of thousands of years being hunter-gatherers and then tens of thousands as peasant farmers eating only natural unrefined, unprocessed food without the man-made chemicals that are added today.
So why did our diet change so dramatically so quickly? well of course it was driven by the industrial revolution and the need to feed the increasing labour numbers cheaply and easily. This new diet consisted of fat sugar and refined flour. Flour was refined so that it would not get weevils (a flour bug) that feeds on whole grains and so it would last much longer just like refined sugar and saturated fat.
These foods were cheap to produce and “energy providing” and were basically considered as cheap fuel for the workers. Of course it didn’t take long for health to start to decline and in fact people in the west had actually started to be smaller than in previous generations and were suffering from classic vitamin deficiency foods such as rickets and scurvy. However around the turn of the century things started to change with the understanding that protein was a factor in food required for growth.
The importance of minerals and vitamins was established and illness such as rickets and scurvy eliminated as these vitamins were added back in to the diet, however what we ended up with is the current western heavily refined diet of high fat, protein and sugar.
A RDA (recommended daily allowance) for nutrients was conceived yet these levels are only for the avoidance of deficiency diseases and fall way short of what is required for optimum health. So why has this diet persisted for so long, why aren’t the masses willing to listen to the science and embark on a plant based whole food diet that would guide them back towards optimum health – propaganda!
It’s not healthy to be Vegan – we need to sell our meat and dairy!
Part of the problem is propaganda, we are bombarded by clever marketing telling us what we must and must not eat. We are lead to believe that as long as you have a well-balanced diet you will get all the nutrients that you need.
But this well-balanced diet that we are being sold is a myth. Survey after survey has shown that even those people who think that they eat the “well-balanced diet” that they are advised to are falling well short of the ideal intake of nutrients and more worryingly are consuming far too many anti nutrients.
Let’s very quickly take milk as an example, we have been told for years that milk is an essential source of calcium, iron and protein and without it we would likely be deficient.
However, the truth is that milk really isn’t a good source of minerals, many are found in much higher levels in fruit and vegetables.
Magnesium for example is essential for the absorption of calcium and is required at a level of approx. 2:1, milk has a ratio of 10:1 meaning that the vast majority will not be absorbed and can lead a build-up of calcium and a shortfall of magnesium leading in turn to arthritis, osteoporosis and other illnesses.
Vegetables such as kale, carrots even cabbage, nuts such as almonds even figs all give us these nutrients. But it’s not just the mineral imbalance it’s the ant-nutrients as well, hormones and antibiotics are added to the food chain all of which and up in your glass of milk.
In fact research now is indicating that the high level of dairy consumption in the west is in direct correlation to high levels of breast and prostate cancer, and in this article, we are not even talking about the animal’s welfare!!
So what do we mean by anti-nutrients? Well think of it like this, it’s not just what you eat that is essential but what you avoid. It’s a fact that since the 1950’s over 3000 different man-made chemicals have made their way into our food, this combined with the hormones antibiotics and pesticides that are utilised can actually stop good nutrients being absorb or utilised.
In fact many diseases are now caused by an excess of these anti nutrients, something we will look at in more detail in another article.
The medicine of tomorrow – Our diet today
The idea that nutrition plays a vital part in our health is not new, in fact in 390bc Hippocrates said “let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food”. Dr Linus Pauling the only main to have won two unshared Nobel peace prizes said, “optimum nutrition is the medicine of tomorrow”.
In 1903 Thomas Eddison said “The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease”.
So what is this optimum diet?, well all the research clearly shows it should be plant based, organic and as raw as possible. Choosing organic foods whenever possible is optimum and by supporting this movement we are helping minimise the damage of chemical pollution. Eating raw and organic is the most natural and beneficial way to eat. Raw food retains more phytochemicals, (more on them another time) and enzymes both of which are reduced by cooking.
But that is plant based not vegan, yes that is true but any animal products retained within a plant base diet are not there for any additional nutritional purpose (other than vitamin B12 and this is something that we would recommend supplementing).
Plant based tends to be put forward as it is perceived as an easier option than vegan and as such an easier “sell”.
However other than B12 supplementation a full (optimum) vegan diet is absolutely as healthy as it gets. We only have to look at cancer thrivers such as Kriss Karr to see the benefits of a vegan diet. So is it healthy to be vegan? All of the research shows yes absolutely but for a last word let’s just see what a few of the major health organisations say.
What the experts say
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietics US says that an appropriately planned vegan, diet is healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. A vegan diet is appropriate for all stages of the life from pregnancy through to old age. Vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity.
The British Nutrition Foundation says that a well-planned, balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate and finally The Dieticians of Canada say anyone of any age can follow a vegan diet even pregnant women. A well-planned vegan diet is high in fibre, vitamins and antioxidants, it’s also low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
This combination protects against chronic diseases and is one of the reasons that vegans have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer than non-vegans. Vegans also have lower blood pressure levels than non-vegans are much more likely to retain a healthy weight.
So is it healthy to be vegan? I think you know the answer by now!