November 1st is World Vegan Day. Worldwide, many people celebrate by attending festivals, potlucks, and advocating for veganism.
A vegan diet is entirely plant-based – no animal products or byproducts are eaten. Some vegans eat honey, while others do not. Vegans also avoid purchasing products made with real feathers and leather. Many vegans follow a plant based diet because they value animal rights and the environment, and wish to align their morals with their purchasing power. Some reasons vegans cite for their choices:
- Animals raised for meat, dairy, and eggs often live in conditions that restrict access to sunlight or having living in extremely close quarters, resulting in stress to the animal.
- Cutting down on animal product consumption can help to save large quantities of water used to raise livestock and their feed.
- Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is occurring at an ever-increasing rate. Wood-related production contributes to this trend, but the World Bank found that animal agriculture is responsible for “91 percent of Amazon destruction, with one to two acres of rainforest being cleared every second.”
- Approximately 75% of the world’s fisheries are either exploited or depleted due to fishing, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Vegetarianism, pescatarian, & flexitarian diets
Vegetarianism, on the other hand, is mostly plant-based but also includes dairy and eggs. Pescatarians do not eat meat, but they do eat fish.
Sometimes people use the term “flexitarian” if they are trying to eat a mostly plant-based diet, but sometimes include animal products. For example, they might aim to purchase mostly plant-based foods at the grocery store, but will have animal products if they are out to eat or on special occasions.
Reasons that vegetarians and pescatarians cite for their diet choices include some of the same points noted above, but may also include:
- Health issues, such as heart conditions, may be benefited from a decrease in saturated fat found in animal meat.
- Reducing their overall food bill by reducing or eliminating the purchase of meat.
- They simply don’t like the taste of meat.
I don’t want to stop eating meat, but I love animals and care about the environment. What do I do?
- Support local farmers! Buy local, from farmers you know and trust to have humane agricultural practices.
- We are fortunate to live in an area with access to fresh, local meat from cows that graze in pasture and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
- Eat meat, but eat less. Stick to 3-4 oz portion sizes. Try to eat meatless meals several times a week to cut down on your environmental impact.
Are there any risks to eating a plant-based diet?
- Vegans may need to supplement B12 in their diet, because this vitamin is primarily found in animal sources. Some cereals, soy products, and plant-based milks are fortified with B12.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are only found in fish, fish oils, and some specialty egg/dairy products. ALA is a plant source of omega-3’s, found in flaxseed, canola oil, and walnuts. Our bodies can make EPA and DHA from ALA, but this process is very limited; research suggests that only 10% of ALA consumed is converted to EPA & DHA.
- This is important to consider if transitioning to a completely plant-based diet. Including fatty fish like salmon or mackerel 2-3 times per week or taking a supplement will help you to get enough of these essential fatty acids in your diet.
How will I get enough protein?
- A well-rounded vegan diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, beans/legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- This type of diet may require more planning and cooking than an omnivorous diet, in order to get enough protein and calories
- Plant protein sources include beans, legumes, nuts and nut butters, seeds, soy (soy beans/edamame, tofu, tempeh, TVP), & seitan.
- Most healthy adults need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. A 40-year-old, 150 lb person would need approximately 55 g of protein per day.
- The NHANES survey from 2007-2008 found that the average American male eats 102 g protein per day, and the average female eats about 70 g. Many people are consuming more protein than they actually need.
What are the health benefits of a plant-based diet?
- Saturated fat comes from animal products and tropical oils such as palm or coconut oil. A plant-based diet is generally low in saturated fat.
- A plant-based diet is high in fiber & naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
- If you are preparing more meals from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you are likely eating far less sodium than you would if you were eating pre-packaged foods or processed meats and cheeses.
Try this (surprisingly) vegan ramen recipe for an easy & cozy weeknight meal:
Link to watch Earthlings documentary: http://www.nationearth.com/