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9 Health Benefits of Going Vegan

Health + Wellness
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By Karen Reed

You'll hear many people they're going vegan to save animals. There are people who view any form of eating meat or using animal products as cruel and inhumane. This even includes the use of dairy products, which don't kill the animals, although can take food sources away from the young.


However, there are some vegans who opt for it purely for their health. It's not that they're against meat eaters, but that they want to protect their bodies. This can mean cutting out foods that upset their gut or add more, unnecessary saturated fats in their body.

There are science-backed benefits of opting for a vegan lifestyle. Researchers have found that a healthy vegan diet is something worth considering. If you're not too sure yet, then investigate these nine benefits that are completely backed by researchers when it comes to the vegan lifestyle.

1. It's a Nutrient Powerhouse Diet

The vegan lifestyle means that you get plenty of nutrients into your diet. The Western diet with animal products and meat-based recipes is okay, but you can often reduce your micronutrient intake. You can find yourself lacking in the likes of healthy vitamin A, zinc, magnesium and more. While you think you're getting them through your meals, the non-vegan diet is stopping your body from fully absorbing all the nutrients.

With a vegan diet, you stop replacing the fruits and vegetables with the animal foods. Meat tends to take up the bulk of a recipe, which isn't the way it should be. With a vegan lifestyle, you'll get more nuts, peas, beans, legumes, and more.

There's a common misconception that the vegan lifestyle will mean you lose out on nutrients. This can be the case if you don't think about replacing the animal foods properly. Many vegans find they lose out on protein, vitamin B12, calcium and some of the fatty acids. However, with the right substitutions, you can find you get enough.

For example, nuts are good sources of fatty acids and zinc. You can get protein and vitamin B12 from legumes and beans. Don't forget about your dark leafy greens for your calcium intake. You'll be surprised at where some of the nutrients can come from.

If you are worried, there are also healthy supplements. Protein powders (not from whey) are excellent options. You can also get a B12 supplement suitable for your vegan diet. Talk to your doctor if you are worried, but you'll find a lot of support now for your vegan choices.

2. You Can Lower Your Blood Sugar Levels

The Western diet isn't the best for blood sugar levels. In fact, there's a growing concern of people suffering from Type II diabetes. The Vegan lifestyle can help to rectify that. It's all about the types of foods you choose to eat.

Studies show that almost half of vegans have been able to reduce the amount of diabetes medication they need, compared to just over a quarter of non-vegans. This means the diet is helping to reduce the blood sugar levels, helping to rectify some of the damage caused by previous high sugar intakes. The bodies become more sensitive to the insulin, meaning they don't need help or need to produce extra for low levels of glucose.

On top of that, studies have shown that those on a vegan diet have a 50-78% lower chance of getting Type II diabetes in the future. This benefit can be seen in both individuals with no signs and those who have been diagnosed with prediabetes.

This is likely due to the change in food focus. People on a vegan diet focus more on whole grains and fiber-filled foods. These foods break down slowly, keeping the sugar levels down. Chocolate, candies, and other refined foods are usually skipped because they involve animal products in some way. While there are vegan alternatives, people on a vegan diet tend to live a healthier option day-to-day.

3. Reduce the Risk of Kidney Failure

The meat diet isn't the best for the body, especially in a high consumption. Some studies show that those following a vegan diet have reduced the risk of their kidneys not functioning properly. This is usually due to switching the type of protein they consume.

Animal proteins can have a few side effects on the body. Plant proteins may be slightly weaker for the muscles, but they are healthier for the organs overall. They help to encourage properly production levels, especially within the liver and kidneys.

This is something that still needs to be researched in full. However, it's a positive sign for those who have been diagnosed with early kidney damage or problems.

4. Some Cancers Can Be Avoided

The World Health Organization states that about a third of cancers are affected by the diet and other aspects of your control. That means you could minimize the risk of third cancer by taking steps to change your lifestyle. The vegan lifestyle is one that you want to follow.

Legumes have shown a 9-18% chance of reducing the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Meanwhile, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables a day offers a 15% chance of reducing the risk of dying from cancer. There are so many nutrients in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes that they can help to protect the cells. The problem with a meat diet is you either substitute the good for the meat or the saturated fats make it harder for the body to absorb all the right nutrients.

There are also studies that show soy products help to considerably lower the risk of developing breast cancer. This is possibly due to the hormones in meats that can interact with a human's own hormones. Soy doesn't have any of these and this is a substitute that vegans turn to in most of the cases.

Processed meats, smoked meats, and using high temperatures for cooking animal products have all been linked to developing cancer. Dairy products have also shown an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. So, by opting for a vegan lifestyle you instantly cut out all these foods.

Of course, there are other factors involved. You can't eliminate all risks of developing any type of cancer. However, you can reduce the risk of developing or dying from some.

5. You Could Reduce Arthritis Pain

If you suffer from arthritis, you'll want to look at the food you eat. Studies show that a vegan diet can help to reduce the symptoms of arthritis, which includes the pain experienced. This is linked to the inflammation in the body that animal products can cause.

You will need to make sure the diet is rich in the right nutrients for this benefit. One of the downsides of the vegan diet is reducing the probiotic yogurts. You'll need to find vegan alternatives, as the studies involved probiotic-rich vegan foods.

People in the studies followed a vegan diet for six weeks. They saw better energy levels and lower pain levels, especially in those who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Those who eat a plant-based diet can add more good bacteria. This helps to battle against the bad bacteria in the gut that causes the inflammation within the body. Most who followed a vegan diet also found they ate fewer foods their bodies were sensitive to, reducing inflammation and increasing the number of nutrients absorbed into their body.

6. There's a Lower Risk of Developing Heart Disease

Heart disease is a silent killer and is a major problem. It's one of the main killers in women around the world and part of the risk factors is linked to your diet. Those who eat more meat are more likely to consume saturated fats. These will increase the blood pressure and cholesterol levels, putting more strain on the heart, affecting the arteries, and disrupting the blood flow.

People on a vegan diet showed a 42% decreased risk of dying from heart disease. In fact, those on a vegan diet showed a 75% decreased risk of having high blood pressure, which is a precursor to heart disease. The cholesterol levels in vegans were also much lower than in a meat eater.

The lower blood sugar levels also come into play. Insulin resistance and high glucose levels affect the whole body. The metabolism becomes sluggish and confused, so calories are stored when they should be. The blood pressure is then affected, which can cause problems for the heart. If the vegan diet can help with the blood pressure levels, it shouldn't be that surprising that it can also help to prevent heart disease.

On top of this, vegans are more likely to eat foods that are good for the heart. Whole grains, nuts, and vegetables have all shown benefits for the heart muscle.

7. You Can Lose More Weight

If you're overweight, you may want to reduce the number of animal products you consume. They are higher in fats, which means they're higher in calories. There are high chances you've seen diets suggest cutting out certain meats, dairy products, and a few other animal products. Those on a vegan diet are more likely to consume plant-based food and see more weight loss.

Studies do back this benefit up. Over an 18-week people, vegans were able to lose 9.3lbs more than their meat eater counterparts. Other studies show that vegans are more likely to be thinner. And you just must look at the celebrities to see the benefits. The likes of Gwyneth Paltrow follow raw vegan diets and have kept their trim shape.

The studies with weight loss also factor in meat eaters on a calorie-restricted diet. The meat eaters would need to reduce portion sizes, and this could lead to them feeling hungry. Meanwhile, vegans could enjoy more food because it was naturally lower in calories. They didn't get the hunger pangs, which meant cravings disappeared. This helped to stick to the diets to lose weight.

8. Improve Physical Fitness Levels

There are many people who will tell you that the vegan diet isn't good for those who like to train and do exercise. This is often due to the claim that vegans don't get enough protein. Of course, if you eat a balanced and varied vegan diet, you will be able to increase the amount of protein you consume.

Studies have shown that vegans have an improved physical fitness level than meat-eating counterparts. It's not just about the protein levels for stronger muscles, but about the other nutrients to help support the recovery period. A vegan is more likely to recover in a shorter space of time, which helps to get back to training sooner and look after the whole body.

Vegans are also less likely to suffer injuries. They don't consume the foods that can weaken bones and tissues. They are also more likely to lose weight, which puts less strain on their bodies.

Some studies show that vegans are also more flexible and have better endurance levels. This will be linked to the lack of saturated fats and the extra nutrients to support the health of joints and heart.

Of course, this really is only the case when a balanced diet is followed. Vegans can need to use supplements to ensure they get enough calcium and protein to support their physical stance.

9. You'll See Lower Cholesterol Levels

You consume cholesterol through the foods you eat. People only consume cholesterol through animal products, whether through meat, eggs, milk, or other products. You don't get cholesterol from plant-based foods. This instantly tells you that vegans are going to have lower cholesterol levels than vegetarians and meat eaters.

Bad cholesterol levels can lead to blocked arteries and a higher risk of heart disease. Your doctor will encourage you to take steps to reduce the levels of the body, which means looking at changing your diet. The vegan lifestyle can help considerably.

Your body will naturally create the good cholesterol levels, so there's no need to worry about them. The vegan diet just helps to keep those levels to a minimum, protecting the body naturally.

Is a Vegan Diet Right for You?

There will be many people telling you to follow one diet or another. It can be difficult to choose. A vegan diet does have its health benefits, and these aren't just random claims by your vegan friends. The diet can help to prolong life, reduce the risk of various diseases, and support exercise levels.

You will want to follow a healthy and balanced vegan diet. It's important to look at all the nutrients you're consuming to make sure you get enough protein, vitamin B12 and more to gain all the above benefits.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Positive Health Wellness.

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Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What's stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?

I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.

This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...

Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?

It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story was originally published by The Guardian, and is republished here as part of the Covering Climate Now partnership to strengthen the media's focus on the climate crisis.

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