Forget the misconceptions around plant-based diets, here’s why less meat and dairy is better for you.
A combination of concerns around climate, animal welfare, diet and wellness means veganism – a lifestyle that avoids animal foods and derived products – has never been more popular. Between 2014 and 2019 the number of vegans in the UK more than quadrupled, while in January 2021, a record-breaking 500,000 people signed up to the annual Veganuary challenge – double the number in pre-pandemic January 2019.
With World Vegan Day taking place on 1 November, we take a look at some of the more surprising facts around this plant-based lifestyle.
- Veganism isn’t new
Veganism has become much more popular in recent years, but it’s not a new concept. Evidence of people choosing to avoid animal products can be traced back over 2,000 years. The term ‘vegan’, however, was first coined in 1944, when a man named Donald Watson split from his local vegetarian group to form the first vegan society.
- Eating a vegan diet can reduce your carbon footprint by 73%
A study by researchers at the University of Oxford revealed that a vegan diet is “the single biggest measure” an individual can take to reduce their environmental impact. So even if you don’t go completely vegan, reducing your meat and dairy consumption will have a big impact on your personal footprint.
- Each vegan saves hundreds of animals a year
The exact number depends on a lot of variables, such as where the person lives, what their typical diet looks like, and so on, but according to The Vegan Calculator, for every person switching to an all-vegan diet, hundreds of animals are saved every year.
- Veganism also saves water, forests and CO2
Because of the high volume of resources needed to rear livestock for meat and dairy, an individual vegan diet helps to preserve more than 1.5 million litres of water, 1,000 square metres of forest, and 3,300kg of CO2 every year. Did you know it takes a whopping 10,910 litres of water to produce just one pound of beef?
- Vegan diets are protein-rich
The idea that vegans can’t get any protein from a plant-based diet is probably one of the biggest misconceptions around veganism, and one that’s been repeatedly debunked. There are many plant-based sources of protein, often with more protein per calorie than meat. These include lentils, beans, peas, nuts, mushrooms, broccoli, soya products, pasta… the list goes on. The same applies to calcium. Instead of cheese and dairy, vegans get ample calcium from pulses, green leafy veg, soya products and plant-based milks, such as oat, almond or hazelnut (read our guide to plant-based milks here).
- Not all booze is vegan
Wine is made from grapes, beer is made from wheat, and vodka is made from potatoes, so you might be surprised to know that this doesn’t guarantee they’re suitable for a vegan diet. Alcoholic drinks typically go through filtration before being bottled – a process that often traditionally uses animal products such as isinglass (fish bladder), gelatine, egg white or milk protein. This isn’t the case with all drinks, though, so check the label!
- Veganism reduces your risk of heart disease
It’s a common myth that vegans are pale and sickly. The fact is that eliminating meat and dairy from your diet means you have to eat a wider range of fruit, veggies and plant-based products, which is great news for your health. Studies have also shown that diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal products are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
- Some of the world’s biggest celebrities are vegan
Megastars such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Madonna, Joaquin Phoenix, Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron and Alicia Silverstone have all opted for vegan living.
- Veganism hasn’t always been well-accepted
Veganism may be becoming increasingly popular and accepted in the mainstream, but it wasn’t that long ago that society generally turned its nose up at the idea of a plant-based diet. A 2007 study found that of nearly 400 UK newspaper articles published on veganism, 5.5% were positive, 20.2% were neutral, and 74.3% were negative in their view of the diet.
- But the UK is now a major vegan nation
According to The Vegan Society, in 2020 the UK bought a third of all vegan alternatives sold in Europe, plus the UK’s consumption rates of vegan milk, butter, cheese, ready meals and plant-based ‘meats’ are the highest in Europe. In 2018, the UK launched more vegan products than any other nation.
- You don’t need to be 100% vegan to make an impact
Adopting a vegan diet is great for your health and the planet, but for some it may prove a little restrictive. The good news is that you don’t have to commit to strict veganism to feel the benefits of the lifestyle. Just giving up one portion of meat once a week for a year saves nearly 790 bath tubs of water, three tennis courts of forests and the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases as driving from London to Edinburgh.
Reducing your dairy intake has similar environmental benefits. Switching out cows’ milk once a day can save up to 229kg of carbon over the course of a year, according to the BBC, while giving up a weekly portion of cheese saves emissions equivalent to heating the average UK home for 11 days! You don’t need to give up animal products completely, but cutting back or swapping for a tasty vegan alternative can make a real difference to the climate and to your health. Give it a try!
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