What is a vegan diet?
Like a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet does not include any kind of flesh products from animals, poultry, fish or insects. However, a vegan diet also does not include any products from animal sources, like dairy products, eggs, honey or fish roe. Vegans do eat fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds.
Why eat a vegan diet?
There are dozens of benefits to eating a vegan diet, but they generally fall into four main categories: Weight/health, animal welfare, environment and spirituality.
A vegan diet is generally very low in calories and fat. Because the diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds, you can eat a lot of delicious food without gaining weight. It is very, very rare to find an overweight vegan. If you're worried the food won't taste delicious at all, give it a try for 30 days - studies show that it takes 30 days for your taste buds to change ... and then you really will find fruit and vegetables delicious!
Beyond weight loss, studies show that most health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, and even some autoimmune diseases are highly correlated with a fatty diet. Because the vegan diet is generally so low in fat and calories, vegans almost never suffer from these diseases. The vegan diet is also 100% cholesterol free by definition, as cholesterol is only found in animals foods. One caveat, though, is that as the vegan diet has become more popular, many stores are carrying vegan junk foods, like vegan cookies, doughnuts, cheese and sausage. While these are healthier than their non-vegan counterparts, they still are very unhealthy overall, so you must be careful not to overindulge in vegan treats and fake meats and cheeses.
Animal rights activists have often garnered a bad reputation for their extreme tactics to draw attention to the plight of animals in our food factory farms. Indeed, most of us want to assume that "it can't be that bad, or the government would step in." But the truth is that it really is that bad - helpless animals are kept in cramped, unsanitary conditions where they are routinely left in pain, diseased, tortured or even slaughtered while still alive at the hands of our fellow humans. About 12% of cows, for example, are still alive when they are slaughtered. It's absolutely unconscionable. If you're tempted to stick your head in the sand on this issue, please don't. None of us would ever stand up for dogs or cats going through the same suffering - it's practically a moral imperative that we educate ourselves so we can make informed decisions.
As research is pouring in about our environment, and particularly the causes of global warming, the animal livestock industry is coming out as a leading cause of our world's tremendous carbon footprint. The United Nation's agricultural organization reported that livestock are responsible for 18% of the world's carbon footprint - more than all transportation combined. The University of Chicago concluded, in a groundbreaking study, that an individual would have a bigger effect on their carbon footprint if they went vegan instead of turning in their Hummer for a Prius. The livestock industry is also a major contributor to water pollution, air pollution and soil erosion. With these facts at hand, those of us who care about the environment are realizing that we can't buy a hybrid car and recycle our glass but ignore our food choices.
Changing your diet can make a huge impact on your weight, your health, the lives of animals, and the environment. Get educated, make informed decisions, and you'll realize why so many people are giving up meat and dairy for a long life of veganism!
Sarah Taylor is the author of Vegetarian to Vegan and Vegan in 30 Days. She has a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell, and has worked with Joel Furhman, MD, as a motivational speaker and trainer. She can be reached at [email protected]
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