For all of you who are looking to live a healthier, more compassionate life, welcome.
You probably know that fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts are good for you. But you may also think that eating nothing but vegetarian food would be difficult or boring. If so, you’re in for a great surprise. Eating healthy food that doesn’t cause suffering to animals or the planet can be easy and enjoyable.
It’s good for your health.
When you choose a whole-foods, plant-based diet, you will quickly appreciate the many health benefits: you may lower your cholesterol, lose weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, or Type 2 diabetes, increase your energy levels, and reduce constipation. You’ll also smell better.
The HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation, noted that if you “go with the flow” in the US, you will eventually become obese. In 2011, in some areas of the country, the rate of obesity was 39% and was increasing at a rate of 5% per year. Risks of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, along with their ensuing complications (eg, behavioral health and quality-of-life problems) often go hand-in-hand and are strongly linked to lifestyle, especially dietary choices. Of all the diets recommended over the last few decades to turn the tide of these chronic illnesses, the best but perhaps least common may be those that are plant-based.
My father died of a massive heart attack when he was just 43, and I was only 17, the second of five young children. I began reading about the connection between diet and heart disease, and eliminated red meat, eating only some poultry, fish, egg whites, and low-fat dairy. In 1989, I visited a turkey farm with my son’s kindergarten class, and we eliminated all meat from our diets, and began to use only low fat dairy and egg whites. In 2002, my 17-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia, and I began to learn about the connection between animal protein, especially milk protein, and cancer, and I eliminated dairy and eggs and went vegan.
It’s good for the earth.
The production of a quarter-pound hamburger requires 625 gallons of water, the destruction of 55 square feet of rain forest, and wastes 50 times more fossil fuel than would the production of the same amount of plant-based food. Up to 16 pounds of grain and soybeans are needed to produce one pound of beef. Of the grain grown in the United States, 80% is fed to animals to produce meat, milk, and eggs. That statistic is even more alarming now that we are also using grain to produce more fuel. Out of the huge amount of pesticide used on these grains, a percentage ends up on the food is destined for animals that are used to produce meat, milk, and eggs. The pesticide concentrates in the bodies of the animals. This pesticide is then eaten by humans, and fed to their companion animals. The other 99% of pesticide ends up in the air that we and other animals breathe and the water that we and other animals drink. The meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Using animals to produce food is bad for the environment.
It’s good for your fellow humans.
Besides costing in terms of water and fuel that much of the world cannot afford, a pound of ground beef is currently $4.10 in the United States, where its production is highly subsidized. It provides 1,152 calories, nearly 91 grams of fat, 78 grams of protein, and no fiber. A half pound of lentils mixed with a half pound of brown rice costs about $1.38 in the United States. They provide 1,587 calories, 8 grams of fat, 88 grams of protein, and 77 grams of fiber. Many scientists now believe that in the wake of a changing climate, the switch to a largely plant-based diet is necessary to avoid famine.
It’s good for your bank account.
Spending less on groceries is great, but the biggest savings are long-term. By avoiding chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, you could save on such procedures as a $57,439 heart bypass operation, take far fewer sick days, and lower your out-of-pocket expenses for doctor visits and prescription drugs.
It’s the right thing to do.
Animals on factory farms lead lives of unimaginable suffering and die cruel deaths. Dairy cows spend years in a concrete stall or filthy feed lot before they are slaughtered. Calves and are quickly separated from their mothers, confined in tiny pens, and then killed for veal after only a few months of life. Baby pigs are castrated without anesthesia, taken from their mothers who are confined in tiny crates, and killed at just 7 months. Chickens raised for eggs are crammed in tiny cages and have their beaks clipped to prevent them from hurting each other due to stress from confinement. These animals are killed with a bolt to the head or a knife. Male chicks are thrown into trash bags to suffocate or ground up alive.
I decided to start this blog because of the questions I have been getting from family, friends, and acquaintances who are considering changing their lifestyles to be healthier, more environmentally sustainable, or more compassionate. Everyone seems to share the same questions and concerns. In fact, they seem to be shared universally. There are a lot of myths surrounding a vegan lifestyle, so I hope to clear some of that up for you. If you are already vegan, this information will help you to ensure that you are eating properly for optimal health.
Myth #1. Vegan diets are lacking in protein.
Vegetables have all the protein you need. There are many vegetable protein superstars. All seeds contain plenty of protein to nurture a growing plant. Seeds include not only sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds, but also legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts), tree nuts, and grains (particularly amaranth and quinoa). Dark leafy greens have protein. In fact, all plants contain at least some protein, and nearly all whole plant foods contain enough protein to satisfy your needs, as long as you are getting enough calories. One great benefit of vegetable proteins over meat is that vegetables come with lots of fiber, whereas animal products contain no fiber. So instead of questioning where vegans get their protein, question where people who eat the standard American diet get their fiber. Please read this article from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine regarding the protein myth.
Myth #2. Vegan diets are boring.
In comparison to many people who eat the standard American diet, vegans actually enjoy much more variety. There are also thousands of delicious recipes you can find online. My favorite websites for recipes are www.vegweb.com and www.fatfreevegan.com. I will also be adding new recipes to this site frequently.
Myth #3. Vegans suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Vegans are deficient in fewer nutrients than the average meat eater. The American Dietetic Association stated in 2009, “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes.” The key, as with any diet, is variety and balance.
Vegans who eat lots of junk food can, like anyone, be deficient in vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, iodine, and iron. This is actually easily addressed. B12 can be obtained from fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, fortified soy milk or a supplement. Zinc is plentiful in legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Calcium is found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, tofu, and dried fruits. Iron is in whole grains, fortified soy milk, leafy green vegetables, blackstrap molasses, legumes, and fruits. If you find you are still lacking in a particular nutrient, you can always add a supplement.
The standard American diet (SAD) is typically deficient in far more nutrients than the diets of vegans. That’s because Americans consume too much processed food, fast food, and junk food, from which the micronutrients have been removed. The standard American diet is deficient in calcium, iodine, vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber, folate, magnesium, and potassium. In fact, 98% of Americans eat potassium-deficient diets, and 95% of Americans don’t get enough fiber, and over 92% of Americans are deficient in one or more vitamins. That doesn’t mean they are receiving less than the amount they need for optimal health. That means they receive less than the MINIMUM amount necessary to prevent deficiency diseases. Up to 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. All of these deficiencies can be traced to the fact that Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.
Americans consume too many calories. Almost 2/3 of Americans are overweight. They get too many macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein) and too few micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals like antioxidants). In addition, half of men, ages to 65 to 74, and 39% of women, ages 75 and older, must take expensive statin drugs just to stay alive on the SAD.
And it’s no wonder. While the meat and dairy industries try to promote their products as the perfect food, meat, eggs, and dairy are deficient in:
- Carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are your body’s primary intended fuel—ask any endurance athlete. Carbohydrates are essential for your brain, red blood cells, and kidney cells. There are no carbohydrates in meat. Dairy has no complex carbohydrates.
- Minerals. Meat is deficient in potassium, calcium, and copper. Dairy is deficient in iron.
- Vitamins. Meat is deficient in folate and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. Meat is not even particularly high in vitamin B12, and meat-eaters at least as likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency than vegetarians or even vegans. Dairy is not a natural source of vitamin D, either. It’s added as a supplement.
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Commercially available meat and dairy are deficient in omega-3s.
- Fiber. There is no dietary fiber in meat or dairy. Fiber provides the bulk for the stool, controls blood sugar and cholesterol, and detoxifies cancer-causing chemicals.
Meat, eggs, and most dairy has too much:
- Fat. The fat in meat, eggs, and dairy promotes obesity, type-2 diabetes, artery damage, heart disease, and many forms of cancer.
- Protein. The excessive amount of protein in meat, eggs, and dairy overworks and damages your liver and kidneys.
- Acid. The acid must be neutralized by your bones causing bone loss, osteoporosis, and calcium-based kidney stones.
- Sulfur. The sulfur-containing amino acids in meat, eggs, and dairy cause foul-smelling body odor, breath, and flatus, and promote heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and shortened longevity.
- Cholesterol. Cholesterol is only found in animal foods. Excess accumulates in your arteries, skin, tendons, and all other tissues.
- Toxins. Toxic chemicals concentrate in food supply as they rise up the food chain, and they concentrate in meat, eggs, and dairy.
- Pathogens. Pathogenic viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites live in meat, eggs, and dairy. In the US, there are approximately 76 million cases of food-bourne illness annually, much of it directly related to meat, egg, and dairy consumption.
- Antibiotics. Approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by the meat, dairy, and egg industries to make animals grow faster or to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions. This has caused antibiotic therapies to be less effective in treating human illnesses, and has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant “super bugs.”
- Hormones. Most U. S. cattle are implanted with synthetic hormones. In 1989, the European Economic Community (EEC) placed a ban on hormone-treated U. S. meat, preventing U. S. meat products from being sold in any European nations. The risk of breast and other cancers increases with the uncontrolled use of hormones in meat.
- Carnitine. As with cholesterol, your body makes all the carnitine you need. The bodies of other animals also make all the carnitine they need so if you eat their flesh, their carnitine can end up in your gut. Within 24 hours, certain gut bacteria metabolize the carnitine to a toxic substance called trimethylamine, which then gets oxidized in your liver to trimethylamine-n-oxide (TMAO), which then circulates throughout your bloodstream. TMAO may increase the buildup of cholesterol in the inflammatory cells in the atherosclerotic plaques in your arteries, increasing your risk of cardiac surgery, heart attack, stroke, and death.
- Choline. Eggs, milk, liver, red meat, poultry, shell fish, and fish are all high choline, and gut bacteria can turn choline into TMAO, too. Choline consumption is associated with developing prostate cancer, spreading it, and a significantly increased risk of dying from it. Men who consume one egg every three days (or more) have an 81% increased risk of lethal prostate cancer. Harvard researchers speculate that the TMAO from high dietary choline intake may increase inflammation and this may promote progression of prostate cancer to lethal disease.
- Neurotoxins. The cooked flesh of cows, pigs, chickens, and fish contains a class of chemicals called beta-carboline alkaloids such as Harman, also spelled harmane. These beta-carboline neurotoxins have been implicated in a number of human diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, tremor, addiction, and cancer.
Myth #4. My family and friends will never accept this diet.
When I met my husband, his diet consisted of meat, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, bread, and cheese with the occasional addition of canned baked beans, bagged salad, apples, oranges, and bananas. The first step we took was to add more variety in the form of healthy foods. In addition to grilling chicken breasts for himself, he would grill squash and eggplant for me. Slowly but surely he began to find a love of many new foods that now he can’t live without.
Once he began eating more healthfully, it wasn’t hard for him to stop eating meat. Then, I started to experiment with cheese alternatives and dishes with no dairy; almost all of which he now loves and asks me to make on a daily basis. Today, he enjoys a vegan diet, and in the process he has lost weight and lowered his cholesterol by over 30%.
I encourage anyone who is interested in the idea of a vegan diet, to simply start by experimenting. Start by taking advantage of the hundreds of online resources out there for those who are interested in changing how they eat. For me, I felt great as a vegetarian, but feel even better as a vegan. I do spend a lot of time cooking, but it has been exciting to try so many new and healthy recipes. My health aside, it also feels really good to know that each meal I make is cruelty free.