IN THE NEWS: Is it time for you to go vegan?

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IN THE NEWS: On FEB 7, 2017

IT'S the fastest growing food trend of the past 12 months, but is going vegan right for you? Here are the pros and cons.

HOW TO GO VEGAN

While some may want to try the cold turkey approach to giving up meat, for others, easing into it may be a more manageable approach.

"Increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, lentils, legumes, soy-based foods, for example tempeh and tofu, nuts and seeds at each meal and snacks," Bradford says. "Eat more whole, real foods that are as close to nature as possible and reduce the intake of processed foods."

And don't think sacrificing meat needs to mean sacrificing flavour, Bradford says.

"Start experimenting with new foods, new flavours and new cuisines," she says.

"Try meals like a flavoursome Indian dahl, chickpea, tomato and spinach curry, Moroccan chickpea and raisin tagine with couscous, lentil patties with wholesome salad with tahini dressing, satay tofu and nut stir-fry or chia, banana and almond milk smoothies."

To get the right hit of nutrients, the nutritionist recommends each day aiming for two cups each of green leafy vegetables, other colourful vegetables, protein-rich plant foods (lentils, legumes, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, kidney beans), wholegrains (freekeh, oats, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, wholegrain cereals, quinoa, teff), calcium-rich plant foods (fortified plant milks, calcium set tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, tahini paste), plus two serves of fruit, healthy fats, 2 tsp of linseeds and chia seeds and take any required supplements.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Brisbane nutritionist, Rachael Bradford says, "Generally people who follow purely plant-based eating with no animal products generally have lower blood pressure, are at a healthy weight, have lower risk of developing diabetes and cholesterol problems.''

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

"Eating a vegan diet can be a little more tricky in meeting some vital nutrients," Bradford says.

"There are certain nutrients that are at risk of deficiency with plant-based eating, for example vitamin B12, iron, calcium, as they are found plentiful in animal products and are more easily absorbed.

"With careful planning, however, these can be adequately met with other plant-based alternatives."

Bradford also recommends considering your circumstances, before engaging in a vegan diet.

"All people can thrive with more plant-based eating, however special groups, such as babies and children, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, need more support and care when following vegetarian or vegan eating to ensure their additional needs are met," she says.

"People with a history of an eating disorder also need more support from a health professional to ensure they remain flexible with their approach to plant-based eating, that is healthy and well-balanced and meets all their nutritional needs."

HOW TO GET VITAL NUTRIENTS

•Vitamin B12 – only found in animal products and vital vitamin for the body. All people on plant- based diets should choose foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 and take a supplement of cyanocobalamin (100 - 250mcg) daily

• Calcium – lower in nut milks, so look for nut milks that are fortified with calcium and choose plant foods that are high in calcium (almonds, tahini, kale and Asian greens, hard tofu). Choose nut milks that have at least 120mg per 100ml

• Iron – is poorly absorbed from plant foods but the absorption can be increased by eating a vitamin C-rich food with each meal (eg squeeze of lemon juice, tomato, kiwifruit, berries, broccoli, capsicum)

• Zinc is an essential mineral and can be found in wholegrain breads and cereals, wheatgerm, legumes and green vegetables

• Omega 3 fatty acids – vital for brain development and heart health. Include 2 tsp of flaxseeds (ground, oil), chia seeds and eat walnuts, while some breads are fortified with omega 3 fatty acids. There are some omega 3 supplements derived from algae that are suitable.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

The United Nations has identified animal agriculture as "one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems", including global warming, loss of fresh water, rainforest destruction, spreading deserts, air and water pollution, acid rain, soil erosion and loss of habitat.

Animal agriculture alone represents 14.5 per cent of global, human-induced greenhouse gas emissions – more than all the world's planes, trains and automobiles. Cutting out or back on animal products can slash an individual's greenhouse gas emissions by as much as half.

Replacing meat in your diet with plant-based foods can also save thousands of litres of water, with one-third of fresh water globally diverted to meat, egg and dairy production. Eating vegan for a week, can save as much water as if you'd stopped showering for almost six months, according to the Water Footprint Network.

Meat production is also responsible for the destruction of habitat, with swathes of forest bulldozed or burned to graze cattle or grow crops to feed animals in factory farms, says Australia's leading animal protection organisation Animals Australia. While in the ocean, the fish population could collapse by 2050 unless current fishing rates are reduced, the UN warns.

By comparison, a plant-based diet requires one-third of the land needed to support a meat and dairy diet, uses less water and fossil fuels, and produces less greenhouse gas emissions.

ANIMAL ETHICS

In their new book Taste For Life, Animals Australia claims animals in factory farms suffer in extreme confinement until they are slaughtered. "Mother cows suffer separation from their newborn calves so that humans can drink their milk," the organisation says.

While The Vegan Society states: "The production of dairy products necessitates the death of countless male calves that are of no use to the dairy farmer, as well as the premature death of cows slaughtered when their milk production decreases. Similarly, in the egg industry, even 'ethical' or 'free-range' eggs involve the killing of the 'unnecessary' male chicks when they are just a day old."

LONG-TERM SUSTAINABILITY

Meat-focused, Westernised diets are incredibly resource heavy, with livestock consuming much more protein, water and calories than they produce. Studies indicate that a varied vegan diet needs only about a third of the land needed for conventional Western diets.

And while thousands of people around the world struggle with hunger each day, 3.5 billion humans could live off the food currently fed to livestock.

According to The Vegan Society, "Quite simply, we do not have enough land to feed a growing population on an animal-based diet.

"The world's population is increasing and viable agricultural lands are diminishing. If we are to avoid future global food scarcity we must find sustainable ways of utilising our natural resource base. Industrial livestock production is unsustainable."

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