Veganuary is a growing, worldwide phenomenon in which hundreds of thousands of people try dropping animal products from their diet for the month of January.
This year, people from over 200 countries are taking part, with over 800 new vegan products and menus being launched. There are a wide of range of reasons for this. But what are the health and healing benefits of going vegan?
For humans, eliminating meat products from your diet and replacing them with balanced plant-based alternatives brings a number of immediate health benefits.
How does it work?
A balanced whole-foods vegan diet has more beneficial nutrients than the average omnivore’s diet, with studies reporting more fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, folate and Vitamins A, C and E.
Although it’s certainly possible to be a fat vegan, numerous studies have shown weight loss benefits and the slowing or reversing of Type 2 diabetes in people who go vegan.
Vegans tend to have lower body mass indexes than non-vegans, better blood sugar numbers and improved kidney function.
Several randomised controlled studies have found that vegan diets are more effective for weight loss in obese people than omnivorous weight loss diets.
In terms of cancer, dropping meat from your diet reduces your risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 18%, and gives you a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from any cancer.
Some research suggests that soy products also offer some protection against breast cancer.
Eat for a healthy heart
In terms of one of Australia’s big killers, heart disease, studies suggest going vegan brings a seriously lower risk (around 42%), with blood pressure down a massive 75%.
The interlinked risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar are all improved by going vegan, with the consumption of additional whole grains and nuts adding to the positive benefits of removing meat.
There are also studies that show statistically significant reduction of arthritis pain (including rheumatoid arthritis) from going vegan.
While it’s easy to get enough protein on a vegan diet (many of the widely quoted studies from the 1950s were done on rats, which have higher protein needs than humans), you do need to think about your iron intake (particularly women, remember to combine iron-rich foods with Vitamin C to make it more bio-available), get enough calcium (soy, brazil nuts, tahini etc) and avoid too many processed foods (one of the tempting risks of veganism going mainstream, if you shop in supermarkets).
If you want to try going vegan beyond January, remember to supplement Vitamin B12 with easily-found spray, tablets (or vegan foods fortified with B12) before this vitamin eliminates naturally from your system and leaves you at higher risk of stroke. As humans, we don’t need much B12, but we do need it (many omnivores are also B12 deficient).