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Ethical Nutrition: Is Veganism the answer?

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You might remember my last blog post where I discussed two of the most important aspects of diet and lifestyle today: nutritious food and ethical eating. To continue the discussion on ethical eating, I’d like to spend some time on a question I’m often asked by my clients: ‘Is veganism the answer to ethical and nutritional problems?’

 

Is Veganism an ethical and nutritious solution?

For many thoughtful people, veganism may seem like a good solution to problems with health, the environment, and animals. According to the UK Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK has grown by over 350% in the last decade. Have you heard of Veganuary? Last year a record-breaking 168,500 people made the pledge to be vegan for the month of January!

Veganism is becoming increasingly popular and increasingly fashionable, but before you decide to become a vegan this coming January, lets consider some of the nutritional and ethical problems.

One of the most significant deficiency in a vegan diet is Vitamin B12, a complex vitamin with a unique absorption mechanism. Vitamin B12 is not found in any plant food, but it is found in animal foods. A Vitamin B12 deficiency is serious and could result in nerve damage, anemia, fatigue and dementia, as well as heart disease or pregnancy complications. It is very important to include B12-fortified foods in your diet (and eat enough of them each day!) or to include Vitamin B12 supplements to ensure optimal health while on a vegan diet.  You might like to read this open letter about the importance of Vitamin B12 from health professionals and vegan organisations.

Another significant deficiency in a vegan diet is Choline. In fact, one nutritionist, writing in the British Medical Journal, warns about a potential choline crisis in the UK.[1]

Choline is crucial for healthy gut, brain and nervous system and without sufficient choline there is greater risk of Alzhiemer’s disease and liver disfunction, as well as mood disorders, muscle spasms and poor cognition. Because choline is also significant for healthy reproductive systems, it is especially important during pregnancy and women who are pregnant or intending to become pregnant should make sure to include this in their diet.

The easiest way to include choline in your diet is to eat liver and egg. Chicken liver pate is full of nutrients and is delicious to eat spread on thick toasted sourdough. Eggs are so versatile as well and they are one of nature’s superfoods as well as giving you lots of choline! You might like to read article on the risks of nutrient deficiency on a vegan diet—especially for pregnant women, their developing babies, and children.

 

Eating healthily with a plant-rich diet

If you are going to cut animal products out of your diet, you will need to do a bit more work to ensure you get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs. It is often much easier to focus on a plant-rich diet, which includes some nutrient-rich animal foods. We shouldn’t underestimate the nutritional value of ethically sourced meat alongside a plant-rich diet.

So, think about increasing the amount of vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds you eat while reducing the quantity of animal-based foods such as meat, fish, eggs or milk. Make sure you also include protein in every meal. Try to reduce meat-based protein and replace it with beans and legumes (which are great in casseroles and stews) or tofu (which is a perfect addition to stir-fries). You might like to look at Delicious Ella  (a vegan food-blogger who is also on Instagram) or the Food Medic (a doctor and nutritionist who also has an Instagram account) for some new ideas!

Eating a plant-rich diet is important because that is where most of our micronutrients and beneficial phytochemicals are found. However, only animal produces can give a reliable source of Vitamin B12, choline and a complete range of essential amino acids which are so important as the building blocks for enzymes, muscle, certain hormones, tissues and organs in our bodies. It is very important to make sure you are including this kind of micronutrient-dense food in your diet.

 

Eating ethically with a plant-rich diet

While veganism may seem like an answer to many environmental problems, it is important to look more closely at some of the ethical benefits of eating responsibly sourced meat. One recent study from 2017 looked at the impact of removing farmed animals on food supply adequacy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. [2] The researchers noted that animals are an invaluable part of our food supply chain and supply micronutrients that cannot be found elsewhere. They write:

When animals are allowed to convert some energy-dense, micronutrient-poor crops (e.g., grains) into more micronutrient dense foods (meat, milk, and eggs), the food production system has enhanced capacity to meet the micronutrient requirements of the population.

Animal foods are some of the more micronutrient dense foods available to us and our ancestors have been eating grass fed organic meat for thousands of years but perhaps not every day! Our ancestors used to use the whole animal (heads, troughs and all) and nothing was wasted. There are many lessons for us in this! We eat ethically on a plant-rich diet that also includes meat and we buy 1/2 a lamb and a big box of beef directly from a farmer that we trust. This way we get given a wide variety of cuts which we it so that it lasts a long time and there is no waste.

How to eat ethically and healthily with a plant-rich diet:

  • Aim for a plant-rich rather than just a plant-based diet. You might like to start out with one or two days a week that are meatless.
  • Consider supplements (e.g., supplementing with vitamin B12)
  • Choose fruit and vegetables that have no pesticides – organic is always best! Bear Grylls says he reminds himself to only eat organic by thinking of all other fruits and vegetables coming ‘with added pesticide!’
  • Choose animal products from animals that have been humanely reared and try to eat the nutritiously dense such as liver.
  • Try to shop locally as much as you can, from environmentally sensitive and organic farms and farmers markets.
  • Consider growing your own food. Salads and no-dig gardening is popular and you might find you enjoy!
  • Aim to reduce food wastage. This is important while eating a plant-rich diet because large industrial-scale farms use copious quantities of water to irrigate crops and contributes to water scarcity

I hope this helps you think about eating ethically and nutritiously! I will look forward to talking to you more during consultations and just a reminder that there is a slight increase of £5 in 2020.

 

Every blessing,

Emma

 

Emma Maitland-Carew – Registered Nutritional Therapist

Dip.ION, mBANT, CHNC Registered Practitioner,

Metabolic Balance® Coach, HeartMath Coach.

 

[1] Derbyshire E. ‘Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom?’ BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2019;bmjnph-2019-000037. doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2019-000037

[2] Robin R. White, Mary Beth Hall, ‘Animals in US agriculture’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nov 2017, 114 (48) E10301-E10308. https://www.pnas.org/content/114/48/E10301.full#sec-1

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