Benefits of being vegan: Every year November 1 is celebrated as a world vegan day, it is a celebration day for people who don’t use any form of animal products like meat, eggs, dairy, or even honey. They neither use any form of clothing or accessories that are made out of animals this includes, leather, pearls, ivory, wool, etc. It was first celebrated in 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the vegan society.
The term “vegan” was coined in the year 1944 with the concept of following flesh avoidance, this idea can be traced back to ancient India and eastern Mediterranean societies. Spiritual followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism support vegetarianism and believe humans should not inflict pain on animals.
Over the years this concept has evolved and is now turned into a lifestyle. Several celebrities in Hollywood and Bollywood have embraced veganism and have talked about it on many platforms. Currently, it is defined as a lifestyle that excludes all forms of animal cruelty and exploitation for food and clothing.
Health benefits of being vegan
There are several additional benefits to adopting a plant-based diet. Jeffery Soble, MD and cardiologist at Rush University began his vegan journey 3 years and has shared his insight on the benefits of it. He concluded that vegan diet can help you in reducing weight and cholesterol, lower the risk of diabetes and some types of cancers, and many more.
The general concept of weight gain is when you regularly eat more calories than your body normally needs and do less physical activity. But there is more to it, the type of food that you eat has a larger contribution in adding those extra kilos.
Did you know that most dairy products have hormones called estrone that can promote an increase in body weight? Furthermore, meat contains a significant amount of fat in itself. Since the body has the natural tendency of storing fats, taking your calories from dairy foods and meat can lead to weight gain.
A study by NHANES study found that people who eat meat are 30% more likely to be obese and have high risks of diabetes. Also, it was observed that people who eat meat tend to consume more calories compared to vegetarians.
Several people are switching to veganism believing to shed those extra weights. Many observational studies have shown that vegans tend to be thinner and have lower body mass indexes as compared to non-vegans.
Another paper published by NCBI presented that participants who chose to be on vegan diet had lost more weight as compared to others who followed calorie-restricted diets, even when the vegans were allowed to eat full.
Bottom line is that vegan diets tend to reduce your calorie intake, which makes it more effective in promoting weight loss without actively cutting down on calories.
Reduced Heart problems
Most of the heart problems are linked to diets high in animal products like meat, dairy products, and eggs, all of them are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. These fatty elements slowly build up inside the walls of arteries as “plaque”, the blood flow through these arteries are impeded.
This artery damage is called “atherosclerosis”, a condition when very little blood reaches the other parts of the body, and normal body functions are impaired, setting many diseases most notably heart disease.
Several studies have shown that a healthy vegan diet that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can reverse heart diseases. Also, it has been seen that people following a plant-based diet have fewer cardiac events like heart attack, stroke, bypass surgery, and angioplasty.
Some controlled studies have also shown vegan diets are more effective at reducing blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels as compared to other diets.
A good vegan diet helps reduce high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. All of these factors can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 46%.
Help in fighting some type of cancers
According to WHO, almost 1/3 types of cancer can be prevented by having a healthy diet. For example, eating legumes can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by up to 18%.
Cooking meat at high temperatures creates carcinogens. These compounds include Heterocyclic Amines (HCA’s) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCA’s are creatines and amino acids while PAHs include over 100 different compounds. Essentially, the longer and hotter the meat is cooked more HCAs and PAHs are produced.
HCA’s have been shown to promote tumors in multiple places like the mammary, lungs, colon, stomach, prostate, pancreas, and esophagus. IGF-1 is a hormone found in red meat that is known to promote cancer by inhibiting apoptosis and stimulating cell proliferation.
Another possible problem is how industrialized husbandry practices affect the quality of meat. Pesticides and medications in the feed of the animals make toxic residues in meat.
Frying a fish decreases the omega-3 content and generates HCA’s, oxidized lipids, and trans-fatty acids, all of which contribute to increasing the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Similarly, eggs and dairy are strongly linked to promoting prostate cancer. So, consuming animal products for your daily meals might not be a good choice for you.
Some researchers suggest that eating about 7 to 8 servings of fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of cancer by up to 15%.
Helpful in Diabetes
According to WHO, in 2016 more than 1.9 billion people over 18 years of age were overweight and about 600 million were obese. Some reports have shown that the consumption of a high-fat meat diet leads to accumulation of lipids in the skeletal muscles. This can lead to several disorders like obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Research conducted by the University of Utah Health Sciences showed that a toxic class of fats found in animals known as ceramides can increase the risk of diabetes.
The ceramides interfere with glucose homeostasis which is a state of balance between glucose and insulin. Disturbing this balance can induce insulin resistance and enhance the likelihood of developing diabetes. The research also showed that excess ceramides in human fat cells can cause body cells to become unresponsive to insulin and develop impairments to burn calories.
Going vegan can not only help type 2 diabetics but also eliminate any chances of developing it. Vegans tend to have low blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity, and almost 50 to 70% lower chances of developing type -2 diabetes.
One study showed that about 43% of participants following a vegan diet were able to reduce the blood sugar-lowering medication. Some studies also revealed that substituting animal protein with a plant protein can improve kidney functioning.
Helpful in Arthritis
Arthritis is a condition that causes tenderness and stiffness in one or many joints of the body. It occurs in two types, first is osteoarthritis that involves wearing away of the cartilage that caps the bone in joints, and the other is rheumatoid arthritis in which the synovial membrane that protects the lubricant joint becomes inflamed.
There are several risk factors for arthritis including family history, age, previous joint injury, and obesity. Diet can also be added as one of the risk factors that can lead to developing arthritis.
The Arthritis Foundation suggests that foods that are high in saturated fats can increase inflammation in the body and can make joint pains much worse among people suffering from arthritis.
Researches showed that red meats like beef, bacon, lamb, etc have high inflammatory markers like interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), and homocysteine. These markers commonly worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Few studies have shown that choosing a plant-based diet has positive effects on people suffering from different types of arthritis. A 6-weeks study conducted on 40 arthritic participants concluded that participants in the vegan group experienced more improvements in terms of pain, joint swelling, and morning stiffness than those in the omnivorous diet group.
A study by the University of Oxford implies that a vegan diet can be the “single biggest way” to reduce the negative impact on the planet. The study has unveiled some interesting facts that can be beneficial for the environment.
The researchers found that cutting meat and dairy from the diet can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 73%. Also, if everyone stopped eating meat and dairy, the global animal farming land can be reduced by 75 % which is an area equal to the size of the US, China, Australia, and the European Union combined.
A new study published by the Journal Science showed the detrimental effects of animal farming on the environment. This study included data on nearly 40,000 farms in 119 countries.
It showed that meat and dairy production is accountable for about 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse emissions. While the products themselves just provide 18 % of calories and 37% of protein levels around the world.
Eliminating meat and dairy from meals would not only result in a significant drop in greenhouse emissions but also free up a lot of agricultural lands, which is one of the primary causes of mass wildlife extinction.
Water scarcity is also a rising problem, more than half a billion people around the world are affected by water scarcity. Only 0.014% of all water on earth is both fresh and easily accessible, 97% of the water on earth is saline while the other 3% of water is not easily accessible.
An article published by vegan Australia showed some shocking data about freshwater used to make just 1 Kg of meat. It said about 15000 liters of water is used to make 1 kg of beef, 10,000 liters for sheep, 7000 liters for pork, and about 4000 liters for butter and cheese each. Compared to vegan products, 1kg of rice needs roughly 832 liters of water, lentils about 2500 liters, and tomatoes around 214 liters.
According to the Stockholm International Water Institute, if animal products are consumed at this rate, the world will run out of freshwater by 2050.
In 2017, the United States alone spends roughly 3.5 trillion dollars on health care, this makes up around 11000 USD per person and the numbers keep rising since most people are living a sedentary lifestyle and becoming more dependent on animal products for their nutrition.
As discussed in the previous section, there are several diseases like diabetes, heart problems, obesity, cancer, etc that are linked to animal products. Since these health conditions are expensive to manage, it puts additional pressure on government spending and ultimately the taxpayer has to bear the cost.
While this is a similar condition in some developed countries, the condition in less developed countries is entirely different. According to WHO, every more than 20 million die because of malnutrition and almost one billion people suffer from chronic hunger.
Most of the food that is required to sustain livestock can be directly used to feed the world’s hungry. An average of four pounds of grain and other plant protein is equivalent to one and a half-pound of beef. Almost 80% of starving children live in countries that have a food surplus, it’s because the extra grain produced is fed to livestock instead of people.
According to the World Economic Forum, this food shift can feed an additional 350 million people every year and save billions of dollars spent on health care.
The sales of plant-based food industry are around 14 billion in the US alone and are estimated to generate a tax revenue of 13.5 billion in the next 10 years. Also, sales in the USA are growing at an average of 9% every year.
In the current Indian market, vegan alternatives might be a bit heavy on the pocket because of the low numbers of people following vegan diet but the prices will eventually go down as more and more people adopt this healthy lifestyle.
If you want, you can try making some vegan alternatives yourself. Instead of buying them like making your own coconut milk or almond milk at home would be cheaper than buying from the market. Learning new ways of combining beans and veggies for meat alternatives will not only be cheap but also retain maximum nutritional value from your meals.