Is veganism healthier and more eco friendly

There's little doubt that 2018 has been the year of the vegan. But with the sway to a vegan lifestyle only set to become more popular, is it a healthy and sustainable lifestyle choice?                      

What is veganism?

In essence, veganism is the practise of avoiding all products that cause harm to animals. In dietary terms this means exclusing meat, fish, dairy, honey and eggs, but many vegans also identify as ethical vegans and as such avoid wearing anything made using leather, suede, wool, fur or silk.

Get your veganism off to the right start with agave on your porridge instead of honey.

Some confusion occurs when we refer to going plant-based, as many assume vegan and plant-based diets are the same. In fact, going plant-based is an entirely flexible approach that means eating mainly foods derived from plants with very few animal products. In contrast, full veganism is a strictly no animal products for any purpose.

Ethical veganism goes right down to the shoes you wear and making sure they exclude the use of animal products.

Is veganism healthy?

For a long time there was a presumption that cutting out meat and dairy had to mean missing out on vital nutrients. The theory went that without meat in your diet you would lack the protein that only animal sources could provide and thus would feel weak and look pale. There seemed to be no awareness that eating a diet of processed meat and refined carbohydrates actually resulted in lacking nutrients in a similar fashion. Luckily things have moved on; our understanding of a balanced diet has progressed and common sense has prevailed.

Nowadays the accepted norm is that any balanced diet is healthy and that a vegan diet can be just as healthy, if not healthier, than your average carnivore’s. Of course, vegans eating only vegetables will struggle, in the same way a carnivore would if they ate only bacon sandwiches, but add in pulses, nuts, beans and tofu with those veggies and you’re creating a diet that will help you thrive.

Getting your five-a-day on a vegan diet is so easy that you simply do it without thinking and would regularly hit 7, 8 or 9 portions a day. Plus, a vegan diet is much less likely to be high in processed foods and saturated fats.

When you discover how many more plant based foods there are than meat based products, you realise that eating a vegan diet gives you more choice, not less.
There are at least 30 different types of pulses to choose from and that's just one plant based product type.

Is veganism eco-friendly?

When it comes to the link between a vegan lifestyle and its eco credentials, the facts speak for themselves. A recent study by the World Wildlife Fund, titled Appetite for Destruction and written in 2017 (https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/appetite-for-destruction) is your go-to source for evidence and is well worth a read. To pull out some of the most startling facts, the WWF stated that animal farming produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars, aeroplanes and boats in the world put together. Therefore, going carbon neutral, giving up air travel or making the move to an electric car would all make very little difference in comparison to the world’s population going vegetarian or vegan.

This well read WWF report is worth a look if you want to find out more about the impact of livestock farming on the environment.

One of the main reasons for this is how we feed livestock. Currently 75% of the world’s soya is fed to livestock, even though it’s fit for direct human consumption. The tainted logic goes that we use vital resources to grow this soya, which we could then eat but instead it’s fed to livestock, who in turn produce greenhouse gasses and take up vast swathes of land that could be used for crops. Of course, there’s then the energy (and lack of compassion) needed to slaughter the animal, butcher the carcass and finally transport it to supermarkets ready to eat. The inefficiency of this food supply chain is quite staggering.

Water consumption is another overwhelming factor that makes animal farming so bad for the planet. The WWF report states that it takes 15,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef, whereas in comparison you would need just 287 litres to produce 1kg of potatoes.  When you think of it like that, opting to go for a shower rather than a bath and thinking you have helped save the world is ludicrous. Of course, taking small steps in any way is a good thing, but going vegan is always going to help reduce your carbon footprint more than all these steps.

Carbon dioxide emissions are another startling factor - a  diet of meat equates to a 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions per day, per person, compared to 3.8kg for vegetarians and just 2.9kg for vegans (Climate Change Journal, 2014). Overall, these facts alone should be enough to convince anyone to cut down their meat consumption at the very least. The western diet is a problem and as a nation we Britons eat far more animal protein than necessary. The old way of thinking that meat and two veg is somehow the go-to meal for a balanced diet needs to change. In the simplest terms, things can’t continue as they are and a large-scale change in eating habits is essential if we are to have any chance of reversing our footprint on the world’s ecosystem.

Just eating more veg and less meat each week can make a difference. Why not try Meat Free Monday.

Of course, the solution is not an immediate dictate that we are go vegan overnight (although that would be great!); it’s about taking small steps. Start by making sure one meal a day is vegetarian, such as introducing Meat Free Monday each week. You can then stretch yourself to go vegan on Mondays and slowly reduce meat to a once or twice a week treat. Before long, this flexitarian approach will leave you feeling healthier and hopefully feeling less guilty about your carbon footprint as well. Going fully vegetarian, or even vegan, is a small step from here.

To go back to the WWF study, they assert that if everyone reduced the amount of animal products that they ate to meet their nutritional requirements, the total agricultural land required would decline by 13%. That means nearly 650 million hectares – or an area 1.5 times the size of the European Union – would be saved from agricultural production. So imagine the area that could be saved if we all went vegan..!

Getting started on your vegan adventure with Real Foods

Convinced? If you’re ready to make the move to veganism then Real Foods can help. The key to success is good planning. This is especially the case when it comes to going vegan because you need to make sure you have a store cupboard full of protein sources and key ingredients to pack a flavour punch.

Pulses - dried beans, peas and lentils - are an excellent source of protien and come in so many wonderful varieties.

One of the only vitamins that is hard to naturally eat as part of a vegan diet is vitamin B12, and that’s simply because  it occurs primarily in products from animal sources; however, nowadays many soya drinks will have the vitamin included. Stock up on Apro Soya drink (https://www.realfoods.co.uk/product/12105/fresh-soya-drink) for your morning cuppa or cereal and you’ll be getting vitamin B2, B12 and D. Vitamins B2 and B12 contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue and Vitamin D contributes to the normal function of the immune system.

Protein-packed ingredients really are the key to vegan success and they don’t come easier, cheaper and more adaptable than chickpeas. Real Foods dried organic chickpeas (https://www.realfoods.co.uk/product/880/organic-chickpeas) make stocking up easy and also ensure you can go plastic-free to help with your eco-friendly quest.

Chickpeas ORGANIC

You’ll have heard of tofu, but Seitan is another ingredient to add to your vegan shopping list. This meat alternative is wheat-based and so it’s a more substantial, heartier texture but that does mean it’s not suitable if you are gluten-intolerant. This Biona seitan pieces in soy and ginger (https://www.realfoods.co.uk/product/24398/organic-seitan-in-soya-and-ginger) is already perfectly flavoured and ready to use. Try it with stir fried vegetables and rice noodles for a quick and easy mid-week vegan stir fry.

Protein Rich Homemade Vegan Seitan Recipe

Seitan is relatively easy to make yourself. Why not try our recipe for yourself.

Flavour is key and so a well-stocked herbs and spices cupboard is a great place to start. An assortment of dried herbs and spices, plus a freezer of pre-prepared fresh herbs offers a good base. Balsamic vinegar, Marmite (yes, good news lovers, it really is vegan) and soy sauce will add depth and umami flavours to your stocks and sauces. Bragg Liquid Aminos (https://www.realfoods.co.uk/product/1408611739/liquid-aminos) make an excellent, non-gmo soy sauce alternative that’s vegan and is also packed with 16 essential amino acids too.

Of course, being vegan might be healthier and more eco-friendly but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a treat or two. As the vegan lifestyle becomes ever more popular, brands are developing a whole range of vegan products for a naughty treat or two, including chocolate and full on sticky toffee puddings. If chocolate spread is your gulity pleasure, then this La Vida organic and vegan chocolate spread is a must-buy: https://www.realfoods.co.uk/product/36403/organic-hazelnut-chocolate-spread-vegan.

Hazelnut Chocolate Spread Vegan, FairTrade, ORGANIC