Marlene Watson-Tara, author of the definitive vegan cookbook Go Vegan and dedicated health counsellor and teacher, looks at some of the reasons behind the growing popularity of veganism for World Vegan Day.
World Vegan Day is an annual event celebrated by vegans around the world every 1st November. The event was established in 1994 by Louise Wallis, then Chair of The Vegan Society in the UK, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the organisation and the coining of the terms “vegan” and “veganism”.
The benefits of veganism for humans and the natural environment are now well recognised, with many high-profile celebrities endorsing it as a way of life. The word vegan comes from the Latin word Vegetus, which means strength of mind and body, and there is much evidence to support veganism as a way to improve both physical and mental wellbeing. Many sports stars have grasped veganism as a way of life including tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton, footballers Jermain Defoe and Jack Wilshere and former world champion heavy-weight boxer David Haye.
So what is fuelling this movement towards veganism?
For the animals
Ending the exploitation of animals is not the only reason for becoming vegan, but for many it remains the key factor in their decision to go vegan and stay vegan. Having emotional attachments with animals may form part of that reason, while many believe that all sentient creatures have a right to life and freedom. Specifics aside, avoiding animal products is one of the most obvious ways you can take a stand against animal cruelty and animal exploitation everywhere.
Save the environment
Many people have adopted a vegan lifestyle because it’s better for the environment. Meat-based diets use more resources, including land, water, and energy to produce food, and create twice as many greenhouse gas emissions than the production of plant-based foods.
Improve health and physical fitness
We are living in difficult times. The need to understand health and have the skills to lead an earth friendly way of life has never been so important. The health benefits of a vegan diet are plentiful with a focus on wholegrain, beans, vegetables from land and sea, fruits, nuts and seeds. Many of these foods offer fibre, antioxidants, and several essential nutrients. Consuming fewer animal-based products means a decrease in saturated and trans-fats, which can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.
The body uses amino acids to build and repair muscle and amino acids are the building blocks of protein. All plants contain protein, which builds and maintain body tissue. Plant-based protein sources contain fibre and complex carbohydrates which make them a more powerful fuel for the body. Plants can help to improve cardiovascular health, overall endurance and muscle growth, while also providing more energy and reducing recovery time after physical exercise.
Improve mental health and wellbeing
Managing mental health and wellness is an issue regularly reported in the media. There is no one cause of mental illness and often it is unclear. According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Connecting the gut and brain to mental health is a fascinating area of research. The gut-brain connection is now recognised as a basic tenet of physiology and medicine. There is no shortage of evidence that what we eat is an important factor in a variety of neurological diseases. What has been discovered is that gut bacteria play a significant role in psychology and behaviour as well as digestion.
The human gut contains almost 95% of the body’s serotonin, “the happy chemical” neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, social behaviour, sleep, memory, and sexual desire. A lack of serotonin is an important factor in depression. Production of this essential chemical depends on the micro-organisms in the gut that are nourished by our diet. Our physical condition can either help us manage our mental state or exacerbate the stress we encounter. The key to this mystery may be inflammation. The foods which most exacerbate inflammation are those that are mostly present in processed foods. These include simple sugars, fructose, dairy foods, eggs, alcohol, meat, hydrogenated fats, palm oil and some fruits and vegetables such as tomato and pineapple. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants, a plant-based diet, has a profound benefit in stress reduction. Eating a diverse and balanced vegan diet can produce profound changes in the gut biome within days, and our mental wellbeing.
Recent NHS research has highlighted that that one in three people in the UK are obese, and there has been much publicity about the risks of being overweight during this pandemic. People are seeking a better understanding of what different foods do to their bodies in the desire to lose weight. One path to sustainable weight loss and good health is to eat a wholefoods plant-based vegan diet. Grains are a major source of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals and a US study has found that some cultures that have based their dietary principles on grains, beans and vegetables have no weight issues until adopting a standard western diet.
Marlene Watson-Tara has been expounding the benefits of a vegan way of life for decades. Her recent book Go Vegan is packed with nutritional advice and tasty recipes, and she and husband Bill have launched the online MACROVegan Health Coach Course, focused on providing a learning experience for everyone who wants to contribute to a healthy world. Unlike other similar courses on plant-based nutrition, this course delves deeply into the ancient history of this approach to understand the impact it has on our world today.
With the start of National Vegan Month beginning on the 1st November, now is a good time to look more closely at joining the movement towards a healthier lifestyle.