As January 2020 comes to an end, you probably spent it off the grid, if you haven’t heard of Veganuary. You just need to go on instagram. Search for #veganuary and you’ll be flooded with posts from “influencers”. Did you go Vegan for Veganuary? If so, how did you do? And what about me? Did I go Vegan? Is Veganism really better for your health and the environment? Let’s find out.
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary is a non-profit UK organisation whose aim is to promote Vegan diets. They encourage people to try it, in January and beyond. Since their creation in 2014, they have grown from strength to strength. This January, approximately 350,000 people are said to be taking part. Numerous websites and initiatives have been created to inspire and support people to try the vegan diet and drive corporate change. And this aims at protecting the planet and improving human health.
But are these achievable goals? Personally, I don’t follow Veganuary, and you’ll find out below why.
Is Veganism the answer to saving the planet?
Many claims are being made about the fact that vegan or plant-based diets are THE answer to saving the planet. We currently eat too much meat, and all the animal products we consume have a considerable environmental footprint. Eliminating meat and animal-related products from our diet can reduce CO2 emission. The book “Kiss the Ground: how the food you eat can reverse climate change, heal your body & ultimately save our world”, by Joss Tickel gives a well-researched insight into diet, health, nutrition, and our relationship with food, with each other, and with our planet.
However, embracing a vegan diet is (sadly) not the only answer to climate change. The issue is far more complex than that – but that is going to be the topic for another blog post! So, planet aside for a second, what about the impact that veganism or other plant-based diets have on our bodies?
Are human beings meant to be vegan?
The science on this isn’t all that clear cut. Many articles have been written on this topic, both pro and against. Anyone who is looking for evidence will easily find literature that goes ‘their way’ and serves to reinforce their own beliefs. If you want to find out more about the topic, this article is a good read. It doesn’t give a definite answer and lets the readers decide for themselves. But it’s a useful read in that it sources quite a few studies and academic papers.
Science does agree on one fact though – humans are omnivore. This means that (providing that we are well), we can digest both meat and plant. Having said that, not everyone has the ability to digest everything they eat and therefore eating those foods can have a detrimental effect on their health. Some may poorly digest proteins, fats, or dairy. And often, that’s exactly what I start to explore with my clients when doing an elimination diet.
Another fact to be considered is that being able to digest something doesn’t necessarily mean that our body needs it. So, provided that we follow a balanced diet, we can survive (and thrive) without a whole food group. But eliminating food groups from our diet needs to be done ‘safely’ in order to avoid creating deficiencies and imbalances in our bodies.
The importance of replacing nutrients from the right sources
The bottom line is that human beings need all the nutrients that are in both plants and animal foods. So if we completely eliminate animal foods from our diet, some of the nutrients we are missing out on need to come from other sources. In other words, it’s important to make sure we include those other sources of food in our diets. But what can then happen is that nutrients from such sources may be harder to digest, absorb, or synthesise.
Synthesising refers to the process of transforming one nutrient into something else. Beta Carotene in carrots, for example, is synthesised into Vitamin A. Or Potassium may not be absorbed into cells if our Magnesium levels are not sufficient enough. If our bodies cannot synthesise and absorb some of the nutrients, our food consumption becomes ‘inefficient’. And while we think we’re eating a healthy diet, it might be that it’s not working for us as well as we’d like it.
So eating a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re eating a healthy diet. Not if we don’t take care of eating the right nutrients from alternative sources, and not if the food the nutrients coming from such sources don’t work for our bodies as well as they could be. A lot of vegans, for example, will eat highly-processed diets, which are full of product replacements and high in refined sugar.
What constitutes a healthy diet?
There is no such thing as the ultimate healthy diet. What constitutes a healthy diet for someone may not be healthy for someone else. Dietary requirements also change with age.
- As you get older, you become more prone to dehydration as your sense of thirst is not as sharp.
- Over the age of 50, your stomach produces less gastric acid. This means it gets harder for you to absorb vitamin B-12, which is important to help keep your blood and your nerves healthy.
- With age, our bodies become less efficient at synthesising Vitamin D, especially with limited sun exposure. And that’s why supplements come into the picture.
Key principles of a healthy diet
As mentioned above, there is no one right or wrong answer. There is a healthy diet for you, at this moment in time. That said, there are a few truths, which can guide you:
- a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is essential. You can read more about it in my free guide on vegetables. Ideally, aim for more than 5 portions a day, at least 8 will see you reap many health benefits, especially when it comes to digestion.
- a diet poor in processed foods. Processed foods, whether they contain animal products or plant-based products are bad news. A bit like gluten-free diets were considered really healthy, until food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon. Any product with a label with more than 5 ingredients, especially those whose name you can’t pronounce, stay away!
- a varied and balanced diet: the more food items as you can incorporate in a day, the better. This will ensure you get a wide range of nutrients. This is really key. No one wants to stress about learning about levels of vitamins or minerals or calories. We need some simple strategies. And this is the simplest strategy, but highly effective. Eat a lot of different foods!
As long as a diet follows these principles, it’s a healthy diet. What you then choose to put on the side of your plate, right next to your vegetables, is for you to decide. Your decision can be an ethical one, and that’s often why people decide to become vegan. Or it can be a health-driven one. So if you feel poorly when eating beans (which are a typical vegan protein source), you may decide not to eat them. But the choice is yours.
What about me then?
I follow a paleo type of diet. This means, it is very difficult for me to follow a vegan diet. Because I have excluded from my diet most of the plant-based sources of protein.
That said, I have considerably reduced my meat intake, and I will regularly consume 2 meals a day which are purely plant-based. I seem to be doing well with this and I am currently reading a book called “Eating More Vegan” from Paleo chef Luke Hines. And you can read more about his new 80% plant-based diet.
Would you like some tailored advice to ensure you’re following a healthy diet?
Stay tuned to find out more about why I don’t believe that vegan diets are the answer to our climate change challenge. But when it comes to health considerations, there’s no universal truth that can help you decide whether veganism is for you. What’s important is that if you decide to cut out certain food groups, you still need to ensure you get all the nutrients that your body needs. And don’ forget to avoid consuming foods that may be detrimental to your health. This means that you can only ever assess the choice to go vegan on your individual needs.
As a Health Coach, I can equip you with the knowledge and tactics to figure out what the optimal diet for you is, at this moment in time. So if going vegan is something you’d like to do, you can get in touch for a FREE 20-minute discovery call. I’d be glad to help you with your journey!