As my journey in mindful living has progressed I have discovered the benefits of mindful eating. For me a large part of mindful eating is actively choosing foods that align with my values and those values led me to embrace a vegan diet. If you are interested in my journey to veganism, the benefits of a vegan diet, or how to transition your diet keep reading.
Why Follow a Vegan Diet
There are many health benefits that come with a vegan diet, for me they became noticeable about 30 days into the dietary change. My skin became consistently clearer since the one month mark; fewer surprises on my face when I get up in the morning is always a good way to start the day. I have noticeably higher energy which is wonderful for moving my projects along and generally just getting stuff done. The biggest and most unexpected benefit has been the significant reduction in the monthly period pain I experience; with each cycle the pain reduces by half of that of the previous cycle, and in case you’re not sure how big of a deal that is for me, I have previously been hospitalized for out of control period pain. I am not certain whether it is the reduction in hormones from the dairy I no longer consume, the reduced amount of inflammatory foods or the inclusion of more fibrous plant foods but I am so incredibly happy to be experiencing these improvements in my health. That is my personal story but here are the top 10 health benefits of going vegan.
Top 10 Health Benefits of Going Vegan
Vegans typically have:
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower rates of type 2 diabetes
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Lower risk of cancer
- Boosted immunity
- Improve rheumatoid arthritis
- Lower BMI
- More energy
- Vegans on average live 6 years longer
(More health benefits at Positive Health Wellness)
One man who has dedicated his life to getting the hard facts about diet and health is Dr. Michael Greger, you can watch his lecture Preventing the Most Common Diseases with a Plant Based Diet. Don’t be turned off by the ‘lecture’ element this is a very smooth and witty talk that presents the facts and will help you to make educated choices about what you eat.
This is tough to read, but if it’s hard for you then it’s a lot harder for the animals. Unfortunately the short lives that animals raised for food live is well below the standards deemed appropriate for our pets. Animal agriculture is often exempt from standard laws against animal cruelty. For the specific Australian practices the following facts have been sourced from Animals Australia.
Chickens – The most factory farmed animals in Australia are chooks, with over 500 million slaughtered annually, most of which lived their short lives on factory farms. Their living conditions consist of being packed in with many other chickens, given very little light and no access to the out-doors. Chickens raised for meat are bred to grow three times as fast as they would naturally, which leads to their bones becoming weak and breaking as they cannot support their own weight.
Cows – When raised for meat cows will either live on pasture or in a factory feed lot. Mutilations without anesthetics are common these include de-horning, branding, and castration. Before slaughter cows are held in feedlots (confined spaces) cramped with many other cattle and are fed grain. Grain is unnatural for their digestive systems which are designed to process grass. Cows are sent to their deaths at 16 months old however in the wild they can live to be 20 years.
Pigs – It is common practice for piglets to have their ears, tails, teeth and balls cut off without anesthetic. Many female pigs or sows can spend their entire lives in a sow stall, meaning they are completely confined in one position as baby making machines. These sows will never see day light and are unable to even turn around, let alone display normal nesting and mothering behaviours. If you want to see exactly what this looks like in Australia check out this documentary: Lucent. Warning this is a tough watch so bring tissues.
Fish – Fish have nervous systems so hooks cause tremendous amounts of pain as the fish are still alive. When fish are caught in nets many are crushed under the weight of each other. Fish caught in nets also experience a pressure change coming from deep water to the surface which causes decompression, resulting in their organs exploding whilst the fish are still alive. Fish farms are intensive and have high rates of disease. Fish farming requires a greater number of fish to be caught from the ocean to feed the farmed fish. Ocean fish live in polluted water and fish like tuna contain high levels of mercury. Trawling nets scrape up everything including coral, deep sea plants, dolphins and sharks.
Eggs – 12 million Australian hens are caged for their eggs, which means these hens have less space than an A4 sheet of paper to move on. They cannot stretch, move or behave naturally. When these birds are chicks their beaks are usually burnt down with no anesthetic. Free range is unfortunately not much better as there is no definite meaning or law for what constitutes ‘free range’. Many free range birds are packed into sheds where they are also unable to move as they would naturally. All male chicks born to egg producing farms are killed as a byproduct of the industry either by suffocation or through being ground up alive. In nature hens produce 10-15 eggs per year but in farms they are bred to produce as many as 200. When a hen can no longer produce eggs she is killed which normally happens after approximately 18 months of life.
Dairy – In order for you to have that cup of milk or slice of cheese, a lady cow is forcibly impregnated by artificial insemination every year, because only pregnant cows can produce milk – just like only pregnant ladies can produce milk. When the cow gives birth to her baby, it is taken away from her either immediately or after just one day. This calf is then fed milk replacer, as humans will be drinking the milk that is made for the calf. If the calf is female she will be raised to live the same life as her mother, if it is a boy it will either be raised for meat production or slaughtered as a calf as a waste product of the industry. The dairy cow is also fed hormones to help her produce extra milk and she is impregnated every year to keep her breast milk flowing. The intensive life of a dairy cow is only 5-7 years long compared to the 20 years she would have lived naturally. To be totally honest if I am not okay to drink chimpanzee milk which is a lot closer to human milk, then I don’t want it from any animal. I get my calcium from green leafy vegetables and tofu instead.
I can understand that in past environments throughout history human beings didn’t have many food options but we are not living in the paleolithic times or in a barren land. In 2016 most people have access to rice, beans, fruit and vegetables and most of us have access to even more fancy meat and dairy substitutes to help the transition. In this day and age most of us do not have to take the life of another being in order to live, we do it for other reasons such as taste, or cultural practice but for me neither taste nor my ancestry were good enough reasons to take a life, or to pay someone else to take a life for me. Since I am not willing to eat a cat or a dog or anything from their reproduction cycle I am equally unwilling to do so from any other animal.
The following facts have been sourced from the United Nations
The process of raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transport (cars, planes and trucks) combined. Raising animals for food uses up 30% of all land surface, which includes the forests that are being cleared to turn into land to grow crops to feed the animals. Unfortunately this means that ancient rain forests like those in the Amazon have reduced by 70% in order to raise and feed livestock.
The amount of waste that is produced from animal agriculture is crazy and it is destroying the planet. Animal excrement en mass, antibiotics fed to these animals, chemicals and fertilizers that go on their feed and hormones all have to go somewhere. This waste is often untreated and most of it drains into the water ways and oceans. All these chemicals and animal poop pollute the rivers and oceans creating massive dead zones in the sea. All this animal waste in our water ways makes people sick with disease-causing pathogens. Gene Baur, from Farm Sanctuary talks about the waste production just from dairy farms, stating that:
“Dairies in California’s Central Valley alone produce more waste than a city of twenty-one million people-that’s more than the populations of London, New York, and Chicago combined”.
On the other hand choosing a vegan diet is more sustainable as it requires less resources and creates much less pollution. To produce a vegan diet requires only 1100 litres of water per day compared to 15,000 litres for the production of a diet that includes meat. A vegan diet for a small family can be sustained on just one acre of land or less per year however the average meat eater consuming 124 kilograms of meat per year requires over 20 times that amount of land (Source: The Vegan Box).
How to Transition to a Plant Based Diet
Get Educated – Before I changed my diet I did loads of research. With knowledge you can make the most informed decision that is right for you. You want to know why you’re making this transition and how you can go about it. Firstly get educated as to why you want to change your diet, is it for your health, for the animals? If you have a reason which is aligned with your values then the change becomes a great deal easier and it tends to stick. One of the first talks I ever watched about the subject is called 101 Reasons to go Vegan presented by James Wildman. This talk is a non-judgemental, factual and interesting presentation to begin your learning. My other favourite is Making the Connection a great little doco about how veganism benefits the many aspects of human life.
Food Swaps – When you begin you don’t want to feel deprived of your favourite foods so learning how to replace the foods you eat every day with the vegan equivalent is a must. I spent the first month trialing and swapping. Some things were easy to change like swapping milk chocolate to a dark 70% chocolate (check that yours is dairy free) and some things were a little harder such as changing the milk in my coffee from cows to a nut/soy milk. It took a few weeks for my taste buds to adjust but after two weeks it was my preferred choice. I also found that I could make raw cashew nut cheeses at home or buy vegan cheeses at the store. Lentils are a great swap in dishes that contain mince meat such as lasagnes, pies and spaghetti. For a more detailed list of vegan food swaps check out 6 Simple Vegan Swaps.
Cook, Share and Eat – Google is about to become your best friend. There are so many amazing vegan recipes online that you can try. The best thing about a dietary shift is getting to experiment in the kitchen! Start with recipes you already love and aim to veganize them. Invite friends over to cook with you or to be your taste testers and you don’t feel like cooking there is usually either a vegetarian or vegan cafe in the local area. I have found that Indian, Thai and Japanese restaurants often have one or more vegan dishes on the menu too (but be sure to call ahead).
Plants are exceptionally nourishing, cause little to no harm for animals and use the least amount of land and water to produce. Since changing how I eat I have added many more nutrient dense foods to my plate, vegetables forever! I would love to hear your opinions below. Are you making the transition to a vegan diet? If you are a vegan what helped you the most to make the change and has your health improved at all? Share it below.
The idea that some lives matter less than others is the root of all that is wrong with the world. – Dr Paul Farmer