Vegan Lifestyle: Choice and a philosophy.
Choosing a vegan lifestyle begins by making a decision to completely stop eating meat as well as dairy and switch to an entirely plant-based diet. It is similar to vegetarianism, but with a smaller scope of what is acceptable. It is not just about meat, but animals in general. Vegans also avoid animal by-products like honey as well as products made from animals, such as silk, fur and leather. Soaps and certain cosmetics that may contain animal by-products are also on the “do not use” list for vegans.
Like vegetarianism or other specialty lifestyles, there are many reasons people choose to become vegan, such as animal rights, health, weight loss and more. One of the most effective ways to lower your personal carbon footprint is to avoid animal products. This is simply because there are a lot of natural resources that go along with meat production. There is a significant amount of water and energy that goes into raising animals for food, and the vast amounts of grain necessary to keep them fed can contribute to deforestation and habitat loss.
A plant-based diet is rich in protein, iron, calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals. Sources of these nutrients tend to be low in saturated fat and high in fibre, which leads to lower rates of heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes. Eating a variety of foods is an important key to good health when living a vegan lifestyle and should include legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as a lot of leafy greens and whole grain products.
At its core, veganism is a philosophy and way of life that rejects animal cruelty and exploitation. Those that subscribe to a vegan lifestyle can become part of a culture. Sometimes, some people treat veganism almost as a religion unto itself, although the principles of being vegan are not expressly written in any religious texts. As it stems from vegetarianism, some of the same beliefs regarding animals and health tend to overlap. The difference is that veganism has stricter guidelines of what can and cannot be eaten.
One unique aspect of the vegan lifestyle is raw veganism. It is a diet that combines the principles of the vegan lifestyle with raw foodism, which is the act of eating only unprocessed, uncooked foods. A raw food vegan diet does not allow for foods to be cooked at temperatures above 48º C (118º F) and all foods consumed must be free of animal meat or by-products.
There can be several reasons people choose to adopt a raw vegan lifestyle: Better health, spirituality, protecting the environment, or a combination of these. Raw veganism is an extreme lifestyle that takes a lot of dedication and willpower to maintain.
A raw vegan diet includes:
- Nuts (or nut paste)
- Grains or legumes
Those that practice a raw food diet believe that cooking and other various processes of food preparation destroy essential vitamins and minerals, thereby disrupting a food’s delicate balance of micronutrients. It is also a belief that dangerous chemicals are being produced when heat interacts with the proteins, carbohydrates and fats contained in natural food. Also, as traditional processed foods already contain added chemicals and enzymes, eliminating as much of these as possible from the diet means you are consuming food in its purest form.
As far as spiritual health is concerned, many people believe that eating food that is uncorrupted and organic leads to a better connection with one’s spirit. By choosing a raw vegan diet, you are respecting Mother Nature and God and connecting with the earth and all of its biodiversity. Some people believe that this brings them closer to a spiritual connection.
Other benefits of a raw vegan diet may include:
- Weight loss
- Better digestion
- Increased energy
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Improved skin quality
This type of diet is often low in sodium, high in fibre and potassium, and contains high levels of healthy phytochemicals. This all leads to lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, a raw vegan diet has been linked to lower levels of total plasma cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, leading to better health.
Pros and Cons
Many people that choose a vegan lifestyle may have concerns about the long-term effects on their overall health. David Katz, MD, MPH, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center, identifies some of the pros and cons of a vegan lifestyle:
- Lower risks of obesity, stroke, diabetes, cancer and heart disease
- Lower body mass index (BMI)
- Reduced risk of cognitive impairments like dementia
Dr. Katz also states that vegan diets can lead to “more years in life, and more life in years.” It can lead to a longer, healthier life full of energy, which is good for people at all stages of life, from childhood to old age.
The disadvantages associated with a vegan diet include not getting enough of the required nutrients our bodies need for optimal health. For example, vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the synthesis of our red blood cells and nervous system function. Although we don’t need to eat vast quantities of it to avoid deficiency, vegans must find other sources to get a sufficient amount of B12. Nutritional yeast and fortified non-dairy milk and cereals are a good alternate source of B12. Unless supplements or plant-based sources are included in the diet, vegans may also become deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. These are commonly found in fish, and are essential for both body and brain health. Ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnut are among the top plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Other concerns for people on a vegan diet are vitamin D and protein. Daily supplements, combined with time in the sun and adequate plant protein, can lead to a picture of overall health!