‘Should I go vegan?’ All your questions answered
You know the vegan and plant-based movement is on the rise when mainstream TV programmes, such as This Morning and Good Morning Britain interview activists including Joey Carbstrong, James Aspey and Ed Winters (Earthling Ed).
Things are changing. Fast. The number of people in the UK who identify themselves as vegan has more than quadrupled in the past four years; from 0.25 per cent of the population in 2014
to 1.16 per cent in 2018 – about 600,000 adults, according to the Vegan Society.
Participation in the Veganuary campaign – where people go vegan for the month of January – grew by 183 per cent in 2018, with 168,500 participants, up from 59,500 in 2017. It’s projected to hit approximately 300,000 this year.
Supermarket chains in the UK are responding to this demand. Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s 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, also launched a range of vegan ready meals called Wicked Kitchen across Tesco stores in 2017.
REASONS TO CHANGE
According to Veganuary in 2018, 43 per cent of people chose to sign up for ethical reasons, 39 per cent for health reasons and 10 per cent for environmental reasons (with eight per cent ‘other’). Each one leads to an understanding of the causes behind it, and it’s a journey that increases mindfulness and awareness of the food we eat, its origin and production.
Seventy-four 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 round 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.
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. A growing number of elite athletes have switched to a vegan diet to improve their performance and recovery, such as F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton and tennis superstars, Venus and Serena Williams.
Animal agriculture is responsible for around one third of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that increased levels of CO2 not only increases global warming but also reduces the nutrient quality of our plants and protein in pollen for bees. These facts alone could put around 150 million people at
risk of a protein deficiency in the developing world by 2050.
VEGAN MYTH BUSTING
There are many myths surrounding a vegan diet which makes the truth harder to find. As the Plant Powered PT, here are a few I’m commonly busting:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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. This is not a bad thing, as some amino acids found in large quantities in animal protein, such as Leucine, have been linked with ageing and tumour growth, which paradoxically is also an essential amino acid for muscle growth.
Vitamin B12 is the only essential nutrient that you won’t find naturally in 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 that animals in factory farms are given food supplemented with vitamins and minerals such as B12, due to nutrient deficiencies in the soil and their feed?
CHECKING FOOD LABELS
It can be a confusing time when you switch to a vegan diet. You make the decision for whatever reason 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, whereas products marked ‘vegetarian’ may contain 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, too.
KNOW THE TERMINOLOGY
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.
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 farming in general features practices that strive to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
A foundation whose goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions.
Whatever direction you take or reason you choose to explore a plant-based or vegan diet – or not – it’s important to remember all of your choices make a huge impact on the world around you. Be the change you wish to see.
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 re-programme 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 and connect you with like-minded new friends
VEGUCATE YOURSELF – Watching documentaries is a great way to educate yourself on the reality of animal farming
For a full Vegan Label Reading Guide, visit veganuary.com and search for ‘Vegan Label Reading Guide’