Veganism and Nutrition: Q&A

What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is simply eating no animal products. No meat. No dairy. No eggs. And some people also include honey.

Is a vegan diet healthy?
It depends. If you only eat potato chips, white bread and fizzy drinks. Then no, it’s not. But if you eat a variety of fruits, veggies and grains, then yes it is. A whole-food plant-based diet has been shown for over a hundred years and in thousands of studies that it is the best way to avoid heart disease, lung disease, brain disease, liver disease, kidney disease, cancers, infections, diabetes, depression, obesity, high blood pressure. Not only will a plant based diet help prevent these diseases, but in many cases it can reverse damage that has already been done because your body is fantastic at repairing itself. So you can change your diet today and lower your risk of dying from these diseases. Furthermore, recent research has actually shown a plant based diet can reverse cell aging by increasing telomerase activity, so food can be your fountain of youth.

Where do you get your protein?
Somehow we as a society have been deceived. We’ve been conned into believing that in order to get protein we need to eat meat, or at the very least, animal products such as dairy and eggs, when the truth is that all plants have an abundance of protein (spinach gets about 49% of its calories from protein, broccoli 45%). Furthermore, we’re under the false impression that more protein is better than less, when the truth is that most people eat more than double the amount of protein required for optimal health and in order to become protein deficient you’d have to also be calorie deficient, meaning that you’d have to starve yourself.

Why are plants good for us and is eating animal protein really that bad for us?
Fruits and veggies have fibre (meat has none), antioxidants, phytochemicals, and they buffer acid and reduce inflammation. They also have a lot more bulk and therefore you can eat a greater volume, which activates stretch receptors in the stomach that say you are full. Animal products require a lot of acid to digest, which can leach minerals out of our bones. Casein, the main protein in milk, induces tumour growth and is a carcinogen when 20% of your diet comes from it. Chemicals in cheese called casomorphins mimic the effect of real morphine in our brains and bodies and keep you addicted to eating it. Animal products are also high in cholesterol and often salt, which increase blood pressure leading to heart disease. High levels of animal proteins interfere with a growth signalling pathway that keeps disease states (cancer, heart disease and diabetes) at bay.

Why do we not know this?
The USDA has two mandates, to promote 1) US agriculture and 2) the health of US citizens. When it was created in 1862, undernourishment was a issue and the idea that these two goals would be in conflict with each other wasn’t considered because overconsumption was only a problem of the wealthy. However, as people had more access to animal products there were more reports of diet being related to disease and the McGovern committee was formed in the US to help Americans avoid heart disease. In 1977, it issued a report of straightforward dietary guidelines that suggested eating more fruits and vegetables and less red meat and dairy products. However, many people on the committee had ties to the meat and dairy industries, who bullied them into changing their recommendations to ‘choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake’. McGovern lost his senate seat, nutritionism was born and we now reduce whole foods to their constituent parts: carbohydrates, fibre, polyunsaturated fats, trans fats, antioxidants, cholesterol; resulting in mass confusion about what is healthy and what is not. Furthermore, although we expect doctors to know what’s best, only 25% of medical schools in the US include a single course on nutrition and even then it consists of less than 1% of the total of hours of training. 6 out of 7 graduating doctors felt that physicians were inadequately trained to advise patients on their diets.

Do you need to take supplements?
Possibly Vitamin D and B12. We can make Vitamin D by exposing our skin to the sun. However, if you spend a lot of time inside, or cover up when you in the sun, then you may not make enough. Also, the angle of the sun during winter months in England is usually insufficient, so unless you travel a lot, then supplementation of 2000 IU once a day is recommended. Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria in the soil, but unless we grow our own veggies and only lightly rinse them, then it’s unlikely that you’ll get enough. 100 mcg daily is more than sufficient. Aside from those two vitamins, people who eat a plant based diet get higher fibre, calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, C, E, thiamine, riboflavin and folate, all whilst consuming fewer calories and less cholesterol.

How to start
  • Pick one meal a day and make it plant-based. Skip the bacon and opt for oatmeal.
  • Stock up on whole food snacks, such as apples, oranges, carrots, or nuts.
  • Add in Dr Gerber’s daily dozen to your diet. You can download the free app.
  • Do a 30 day trial, where you are vegan for 30 days and see how you feel.
  • Watch Forks Over Knives or read one of the following books.

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M Campbell II, MD

Whole by T. Colin Campbell, PhD

How Not to Die by Michael Greger, MD

Proteinaholic by Garth Davis, MD

The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner

The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book by Reed Mangels, Phd

Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

Forks Over Knives

Food Choices