What It Means To Be Vegan
A plant based, or ‘Vegan’ diet is a diet that contains no foods of an animal origin. So that doesn’t just cut out meat. It cuts out eggs, dairy, fish, and honey as well. A Vegetarian is a less strict plant-based diet where you can eat eggs, dairy, and honey, but you can’t consume flesh so no poultry, fish, beef, lamb, or pork. It’s not for everyone, but there’s no doubt that there are many proven health benefits.
Why Someone Decides To Follow A Plant Based Diet
There are different reasons a person might choose to cut out meat and animal products from their diet. They might not like the taste of meat. It could be for moral reasons where they feel it is cruel to animals. It could be for environmental reasons. Some people choose to cut out animal products for health reasons. The bottom line is it’s a personal choice and you should never comment on another person’s dietary choices unless they ask you to. Similarly, you should never try to ‘convert’ a person to your way of eating just because you disagree with their opinion.
What You Should Know About A Plant Based Diet
Like I said, a plant-based diet does have a lot pf health benefits which I’m going to discuss.
Weight Loss And Maintenance
The first question a lot of people ask is “Will it help me lose weight?” The answer is probably yes. I don’t say 100% yes because it’s important to note that just because you’re on a Vegan or Vegetarian diet this doesn’t mean your diet is 100% healthy. There are plenty of Vegan friendly foods out there that are highly processed and full of sugar, salt, saturated fats, and artificial ingredients. Theoretically you should be able to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. That is if you stick to whole, minimally processed plant foods. One study showed that a vegan diet led to a decrease in insulin resistance and a reduction in body fat. The study group saw a significant loss of visceral fat which is the more harmful type of fat that gets stored around the internal organs (AKA belly fat) (Kahleova et al., 2020). These results are because plant-based diets are full of fibre. You will easily get you minimum of 25-38g of fibre in every day. Your Gut will be a lot healthier too. You get fibre from fruit, vegetables, nuts & seeds, and wholegrains. These basically makes up the bulk of a healthy plant-based diet.
Another benefit of a plant-based diet is that it has been shown to reduce total cholesterol by about 15-30% (Yokoyama, Levin and Barnard, 2021). This is once again due to the fibre which basically mops up excess cholesterol in the arteries lowering the risk of stroke and heart attack. A healthy plant-based diet is also usually lower in saturated fat which is another culprit for increasing cholesterol. Plant stanols and plant sterols are found in plants, they help lower cholesterol too.
The next question people ask about a plant-based diet is if it will reverse Diabetes. First you need to realise there are several types of Diabetes and Type 1 Diabetes which is also known as juvenile or insulin dependent Diabetes has no cure yet. Type 2 Diabetes is the one that is caused by an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle. You can reverse Type 2 Diabetes if you change your diet and lifestyle for the better, but that doesn’t mean you have to go completely pant based. By cutting back on animal product that are high in saturated fats like red meat, pork, cheese, cream and any deep-fried foods or highly processed foods. Also cut back on sugary drinks, sweets, buns, cakes, biscuits, desserts, and takeaways. Increasing plant-based foods, especially fibre rich foods and becoming more active you can reverse Type 2 Diabetes (McMacken and Shah, 2017).
Reducing Carbon Footprint
Finally, there’s the big issue of climate change and how to cut back on your carbon footprint. The fact is a plant-based diet is technically better for the environment. There are some foods that are not of animal origin, like palm oil and coffee (sorry!) That also have quite a high carbon footprint. Ireland Imports most grains and exotic fruits an vegetables such as Avocados are imported. If you want to cut back your carbon footprints you should try to buy your fruit and veg from your local farmers market when you can or make sure that the Origin is Ireland. Basically, the more you cut back on animal products and try to consume locally grown vegetables, fruit and grains the more you’ll be doing for your healthy AND the environment.
How To Eat A More Plant Based Diet Without Cutting Out Your Favourite Foods!
Some tips to cut back on animal products is have one or two days in the week that are ‘meatless’ I have some great meat free recipes for all the family. They’re so good you won’t miss the meat!
You could try adapting recipes and adding less meat. For example, you could try making Bolognese with half mincemeat and half cannellini beans. This would increase the fibre, lower saturated fat and salt and lower the carbon footprint of the meal all in one go!
So, if you got anything from this blog it should be that Nutrition is not black and white. You don’t have to have an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. If you enjoy a nice juicy steak but want to improve your health, then don’t cut out the steak. Just don’t have it more than twice a week! Try to get away from the mindset that every meal needs meat!
Kahleova, H. et al. (2020) ‘Effect of a Low-Fat Vegan Diet on Body Weight, Insulin Sensitivity, Postprandial Metabolism, and Intramyocellular and Hepatocellular Lipid Levels in Overweight Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial’, JAMA Network Open, 3(11), p. e2025454. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.25454.
McMacken, M. and Shah, S. (2017) ‘A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes’, Journal of Geriatric Cardiology : JGC, 14(5), pp. 342–354. doi:10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.009.
Yokoyama, Y., Levin, S. and Barnard, N. (2021) ‘Lowering Cholesterol With a Plant-Based Diet’, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine [Preprint]. Available at: https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/lowering-cholesterol-with-a-plant-based-diet (Accessed: 4 November 2021).