What is Veganism?
Veganism is so much more than a diet that consists solely of plant-based foods. At its core, veganism is a lifestyle and philosophy that shows compassion for animals, the environment and people.
Individuals following a vegan lifestyle avoid all animal-based ingredients not only in the foods they consume but also the clothes they wear and the cosmetics and self-care products they use.
Veganism should not be confused with vegetarianism or following a plant-based diet as both may include small amounts of animal products (eggs, milk, honey, etc.).
How many Vegans are there in the world?
It’s hard to know the exact percentage of the world population that follows a vegan diet but what we do know:
Veganism is on the rise for a multitude of reasons:
1. Health and Wellbeing
According to the World Health Organisation, the first step to healthy eating is to ‘eat a nutritious diet based mainly on foods originating from plants, rather than animals.
A vegan diet may be more beneficial for heart health compared to other diets as those following a vegan diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) as well as lower serum total cholesterol levels compared to meat-eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians. Vegans also tend to have lower blood pressure compared to meat-eaters (this is linked to vegans having a lower BMI).
2. Environment and Sustainability
Biodiversity is critical to human and global health and the loss of biodiversity is faster today than at any other time in human history. The global food system (producing more food at lower cost) is a primary cause of this loss in biodiversity as natural ecosystems have been converted for crop production or pasture.
Animal farming is also a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions thereby contributing to climate change. Animal farming has a disproportionately high negative effect on biodiversity, land use and the environment. If global dietary patterns change to be more plant-based this reduction in biodiversity could start to be reversed.
In fact, if the world went vegan this could potentially be hugely beneficial. According to a study published in PNAS in 2016, a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoid climate damages of $1.5 trillion (US).
3. Farming Practices and Animal Welfare
Animal welfare and reducing animal suffering is a primary reason many individuals adopt a vegan lifestyle. Unfortunately animal farming (factory farming, free-range and otherwise) is not cruelty-free and almost half of Brits (47.8%) who eat meat feel hypocritical for loving animals while eating others, according to a survey commissioned by Future Normal and The Vegan Society.
According to Mintel, sales in vegan cosmetics were up 100% in 2021. Vegan cosmetics are products that contain no animal ingredients and should not be confused with “cruelty-free” cosmetics that may contain animal-derived ingredients like honey, lanolin and collagen but are not tested on animals. Look out for cosmetics products that are both ‘vegan’ and ‘cruelty-free’.
Did you know?
If every UK family ate one less meal that included meat a week, this could have the same environmental benefit as taking 16 million cars off the road!
Will a Vegan diet provide all the nutrients I need?
Yes, this is entirely possible but requires some research and a little meal planning on your part to ensure you are consuming a wide variety of foods to obtain adequate amounts of all the nutrients you need. However, a vegan diet may result in a deficient intake of vitamin B12, iron, calcium and zinc among other nutrients and in some cases additional supplementation may be recommended by your healthcare practitioner.
If you are considering adopting a vegan lifestyle, consult a nutritionist or dietitian to help support you through this transition and to ensure your diet is balanced, nutritious and tailored to your unique nutritional needs.
Food supplements should not be used instead of a varied balanced diet & healthy lifestyle.
For references, click here.