(approx 9 minute read)
It can be a confusing time making the switch to a vegan or plant-based diet, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and much to consider, but it’s like learning to ride a bike, you fall off, learn from your errors, get back on, fine tune your approach and carry on.
The rise of plant-based eating
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll have heard more about the vegan and plant-based movement than ever before, with google reporting huge rises in searches for the term ‘vegan’ and mainstream tv programs, such as This Morning and Good Morning Britain, hosting debates with vegan activists such as Joey Carbstrong, James Aspey and Ed Winters (Earthling Ed)
The number of people who identify themselves as vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014-2019: from 0.25% of the population (150,000) in 2014, to 1.16% of the population (600,000) in 2019, according to the Vegan Society.
In May 2021, a survey by The Vegan Society revealed 1 in 4 Brits had reduced the amount of animal products they were consuming since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Veganuary campaign where people eat vegan for the month of January has grown nearly 10 times in the past 4 years to 582,000 in 2021 from the previous years; 400,000 in 2020, 250,000 in 2019, 160,00 in 2018 and 59,000 in 2017.
Supermarket chains in the UK are responding to this demand stocking more vegan options to keep up with consumers food choices. Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsburys have all launched lines of either vegan ready meals or vegan cheeses, with Tesco taking its commitment to another level by hiring the American chef Derek Sarno as its “director of plant-based innovation”. Derek and his brother Chad Sarno also launched a range of vegan ready meals across Tesco stores in 2017, called Wicked Kitchen, they are still adding more and more plant based products to their successful range all the time.
All Roads Lead to Rome
According to the Veganuary stats from the 2020 campaign more than half the participants signed up for ethical reasons, 37% people chose to sign up to spare animal suffering and 18% for environmental factors with 39% for Health reasons. Each one leads to an understanding of the other, it’s a journey that increases mindfulness and awareness of the food we eat, its origin and production.
Ethics – 74 billion land animals are slaughtered globally each year, most of which are farmed intensively in factory farms where they’re often given so little space that animals can’t even turn around or lie down comfortably, this leads to the overuse of antibiotics, creating resistant bacteria, which could threaten human health. Female pigs and dairy cows are continuously kept pregnant by artificial insemination, which raises questions of morality.
Health/Fitness – Some of the health benefits include a reduced risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, plus an overall increase in energy and longevity. There is a growing number of male and female elite athletes who have switched to a vegan diet to improve their performance and recovery, such as Lewis Hamilton the Formula One World Champion and the tennis super stars, Venus and Serena Williams.
Environment – A report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of the world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C and animal agriculture is responsible for around 1/3 of all Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Studies have shown that increased levels of CO2 not only increase global warming but also reduces the nutrient quality of our plants and protein in pollen for bees, this could put around 150 million people at risk of a protein deficiency in the developing world by 2050.
Find What Works for You
Unfortunately, we use labels in our society, it helps us to define the core values and beliefs of ourselves and others, but it does not always allow for a flexible and balanced approach to life, which is essential for sustainability, unless you define yourself as flexitarian of course.
We must all find a way of living and eating that works best for ourselves, whilst at the same time acknowledging that we can all have a big impact on the world around us by taking responsibility for the food choices we make.
Vegan Myth Busting
There are many myths surrounding a vegan diet and nutrition in general, it’s all too easy for the mainstream media to jump onto the latest piece of ‘click bait’ news that only muddies the water and makes the truth harder for people to find. Here’s a few of the Vegan Myths I’m commonly busting:
- A Vegan Diet is Complicated and Limiting – A diet that encourages you to eat as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as you can seems simple and expansive to me.
- A Vegan Diet is deficient in nutrients – If you eat a colourful and diverse diet, you’ll be maximising nutrients, B12 is the only vitamin that everyone should supplement with.
- Where will I get my Protein? – Protein is made up of amino acids, so either you eat the plant or the animal that ate the plant, either way all amino acids originate from plants.
Protein, Deficiencies and Supplements
It was believed for many years that plant proteins were “incomplete”, but we now know that plants contain all the essential amino acids (protein is built up of amino acids) but they differ in quantity from animal based sources, which is not a bad thing as some amino acids found in large quantities in animal protein have been linked with aging and tumour growth, such as Leucine, which paradoxically is also an essential amino acid for muscle growth.
Vitamin B12 is the only essential nutrient that you won’t find naturally on a plant-based diet, but it is easy to supplement with and many plant-based products come fortified with vitamins such as B12.
The most common deficiencies are; Vitamin B12, DHA (Omega 3), Vitamin D and Iron. Though getting yourself tested first could save you lots of money on wasted supplements, as we don’t all use nutrients at the same rate.
- Did you know – Animals in factory farms are fed feeds supplemented with vitamins and minerals such as B12, due to nutrient deficiencies in the soil and their feed.
- Did you know – Just because you eat meat doesn’t mean that you’re not deficient in nutrients. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition analyzed 70 athlete diets. Every single diet they tested was deficient in at least three nutrients.
How to get started
- Find a strong WHY – If you’re going to make a big life changing decision then you need to have a strong reason behind it to keep you on track.
- Take it slowly – Our bodies need time to adapt to new sources of nutrients, and our minds need time to reprogram our long-held habits and belief systems.
- Strive for Progress not Perfection – It’s better to do a little than nothing at all. Perfection doesn’t exist, vegans aren’t perfect, and we all die eventually, no matter how much kale we eat.
- Connect with others – Attending Vegan events such as Vevolution will inspire you and connect you with likeminded new friends, to support your journey.
- Vegucate Yourself – Watching documentaries is a great way to educate yourself on the reality of animal farming. Such as Land of Hope and Glory which focusses on farming practises in the UK.
Checking Food Labels
It can be a confusing time when you decide to transition to a vegan diet. You make the decision for whatever reason; health, ethics and or environment and then you go shopping, only to realise just how many products that we buy have additives derived from animals in their ingredients.
Luckily these days in the UK all ingredients that are considered a potential allergen or intolerance such as gluten, wheat, milk, cheese and eggs are usually labelled in bold in the ingredients of a product, which makes them easy to spot.
- Purely Vegan products will usually have the ‘Vegan’ label on them
- Products marked Vegetarian, may actually have all vegan ingredients but might be produced in a factory where they handle dairy products, which means they can’t officially call it vegan due to potential cross contamination.
- Look out for products that sneakily add milk powder or egg white powder into the ingredients.
For a full Vegan Label Reading Guide visit https://veganuary.com/starter-kit/vegan-label-reading-guide/
Confused by Dietary Terminology?
- Vegan – A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
- Plant Based – Is a diet based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, but with few or no animal products.
- Organic – Organic farming in general features practices that strive to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
- Fair Trade – Fair trade is a foundation whose stated goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions.
- Lewis Hamilton (Formula 1 World Champion)
The F1 champion originally ditched animal products in 2017, after watching What the Health.
“If you can’t bear this with your eyes, don’t put them in your mouth. Go plant-based.”
- Will. I. Am (Iconic Musician and Producer)
In January 2018 Will. I. Am announced that he was now following a vegan diet and was part of the ‘VGANG’ for health reasons.
“I am tired of being pimped by food companies, and then eating bad, poisonous food, and feeling bad in the morning … I don’t want to be diabetic and in and out of the hospital because I’m eating the pimp’s food.”
- Alicia Silverstone (Actress)
Long-term vegan Alicia Silverstone has been promoting a plant-based message for years – through her book The Kind Diet, as well as the advocacy work teaming up with animal rights organizations.
“Being able to do something that is good for the Earth, good for the animals and good for you all at the same time seems like such a no-brainer.”
- Moby (Musician and Writer)
Moby a vegan of over 30 years, switched to the lifestyle back in 1985 for his love of animals, he did not want to be involved in anything that leads to or contributes to their suffering.
“This year 100,000,000,000 animals will be killed by and for humans. You have a choice: support the suffering and death, or work to end it,”
- Miley Cyrus (Actress and Performer)
The singer and actress is a vegan for both ethical and health reasons. When she’s not on stage, she’s standing up proudly and loudly for what she believes in, Animal Rights and the rights of those in the LGBT community.
“By not consuming animal products over the years, I have protected myself from preventable diseases and saved the valuable lives of animals that would be turned into breakfast, lunch and dinner!”
- Kat Von D (Tattoo artist, model, musician, TV personality, and entrepreneur.)
Kat Von D is an ethical vegan to the core – and takes a positive approach to sharing that message with those who will listen. She owns a Vegan makeup range and was part of the narration team for the vegan film documentary Dominion.
“Years of cultural programming has taught us to love some animals while eating others, when in all reality, all animals are sentient beings with the capacity to feel both physically and emotionally”
Whatever direction you take or reason you choose to explore a plant based or vegan diet, it’s important to remember that all of your choices make a huge impact on the world around you, be the change you wish to see in the world.
To find out more about me and what I do visit https://theplantpoweredpt.com
My book ‘Plant Powered’ is available on Amazon here…
Plant Based Nutrition 2E (Idiot’s Guide) by Julieanna Hever and Raymoind Cronise.
SWINE – Documentary on Anti-Biotic use in farmed animals https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUYhAJ6MDrc