Vegan Diets must be done correctly to be Healthy
I am very supportive of people who adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet for health, religious, environmental or ethical reasons. But I object vehemently to zealots who distort science or the support for dietary advice offered to the more than 90 per cent of us who choose to consume animal foods, including poultry and red meat, in reasonable amounts.
Such is the case with a recently released Netflix documentary call What The Health that several well –meaning, health- conscious friends urged me to watch. And I did try, until I became so infuriated by misstatements such as eating an egg a day is as bad as smoking five cigarettes, or a daily serving of processed meat raises the risk of diabetes 51 per cent. To actually say that meat, not sugar is
the cause of diabetes and that milk causes cancer forced me to turn the film off for the sake of my own health. If the nut who made this film just told the truth, many people would consider becoming vegan. But lying about the science only confuses the issues and infuriates those who might otherwise be supportive.
Please understand: I do not endorse inhumane treatment of farm animals or wanton pollution of the environment with animal wastes and misused antibiotics and pesticides. Agricultural research has long shown better ways to assure an adequate food supply if only regulators would force commercial operations to use them.
Nor do I endorse careless adoption of vegetarian or vegan diets just because they happen to be the most recent fad. A vegan who consumes no animal products can be just as unhealthy living on inappropriately selected plant foods as an omnivore who dines heavily on burgers and chicken nuggets. A vegan diet laden with refined grains such as white rice and bread; juices and sweetened drinks; cookies, chips and crackers; and dairy-free ice cream is hardly a beautiful way to eat.
Current dietary guidelines from responsible, well-informed sources already recommend that we should adopt a plant-based diet rich in foods that originate in the ground enhanced with low-fat protein sources from animals or combinations of beans and grains. However, here too, careless beverage selections can result in an unhealthful plant based diet.
A very large study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined the relationship between plant based diets of varying quality and the risk of developing coronary heart disease among more than 200,000 health professionals. The participants, who started the study free of chronic disease, were followed for more than two decades, submitting their dietary patterns to the researchers every 2 years.
The diets were characterized as either an overall plant-based diet that emphasized plant foods over animal foods; a healthful plant-based diet emphasizing healthful plant foods; or an unhealthy plant-based diet. Any of the diets could have included various amounts of animal products.
Healthful plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes as well as vegetable oils, coffee and tea received a positive score; less healthful plant foods such as juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, fries and sweets, along with animal foods received a negative rating.
The more closely the participants adhered to a healthful plant-based diet, the less likely they were to develop heart disease in the course of the study. Those with the least healthful plant-based diet were, on average, 32 per cent more likely to be given diagnoses of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
The team, led by Ambika Satija of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, concluded that “not all plant foods are necessarily beneficial for health.”
The Harvard finding was nearly identical to one from an 11 year European study that found a 32 per cent lower risk of coronary heart disease among vegetarians than among non-vegetarians.
The more detailed Harvard study, which examined adherence levels to a plant-based diet, found that even a slightly lower intake of animal foods combined with a higher intake of plant foods was associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
In other words, you don’t have to become a strict vegetarian or vegan to protect your health. Simply reducing your dependence on animal foods, and especially avoiding those high in fat, is helpful. In fact, a diet that emphasized both healthy plant and healthy animal foods was associated with a coronary risk only slightly higher than a diet based almost entirely on healthy plant foods, the researchers found.
On the other hand, overdoing “less healthy plant foods” and less healthy animal foods such as red and processed meats, the study showed, significantly increased the risk of developing heart disease.
The Harvard findings support the most recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans that urge people to consume large amounts of “high-quality plant foods, “the researchers noted. They added that the recommended diet would also be environmentally sustainable because plant-based food systems require fewer resources than animal-based ones.
The more plants and the fewer animal products you eat, the lower your carbon footprint and the less you contribute to animal suffering. But to be truly beneficial, the plants you choose must be nutrient rich.
Although most of us rely heavily on animal foods for protein, getting quality protein is not hard with a vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs. Pescatarians, who add fish to their diet, get a nutritious bonus of omega-3 fatty acids along with high -quality protein from fish and shellfish.
Those choosing a strict vegan diet–one devoid of all foods from animals–face a greater challenge because the protein in plants is not complete and must be balanced by consuming complimentary sources, such as beans, grains and nuts. A sandwich of almond butter or peanut butter on whole grain bread is totally vegan and an excellent example of balanced protein in a high-quality plant-based diet. Vegans also must supplement their diet with the vitamin B-12.
Short of becoming a vegan, you can improve your diet, protect your health and add variety to your meals with a few simple dietary adjustments. You might choose one day a week to be meatless and gradually add more meatless days while adding one or more new plant-based recipes each week.
Personally, I believe in moderation and try to live my life based on a book by Michael Pollan, titled. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”
If you follow the above suggestions and read his book you will pleasantly surprised at how much more delicious and varied your meals will be.