About ten years ago, my friend tried a raw vegan diet. She came over to my apartment with a plant based dessert and a snazzy new haircut (even ten years ago, we didn’t use words like snazzy, but let’s just go with it). Bursting with energy, she declared, “I have never felt better!”
I believed her, but that night I still drank far too much red wine and ate ravioli as a snack.
It has been a slow growing journey for me to not only believe the headlines when it comes to diet, but also to notice the impact that those headlines have in my body. I think this is true for all of us. When I declared the difference cutting out dairy has made in my life, my mother commented, “But what is the point of living without cheese?”
I get it. Food is intensely personal. Food is how we connect to our past and how we make decisions about our future. Food tastes good (or at least it should). Many people have trouble cutting back on animal products and it is understandable. For years we may have been told they are the pillars of health and wealth.
Things have changed.
Health and Animal Products
In 2015, The World Health Organization (“Who?” My partners likes to ask, a joke I fall for every time) declared processed meat a carcinogen. Not that processed meat could cause cancer, but that it probably causes colorectal cancer. Just four strips of bacon a day increased the lifetime risk from 5-6% which is a fair amount when talking about something like cancer.
Another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2014 found that one serving a day of red meat in adolescence or early adulthood had a 22% higher risk of perimenopausal breast cancer. Each serving per day led to a 13% higher risk of breast cancer overall.
And it isn’t just cancer. The National Cancer Institute of Maryland conducted the largest study so far to link both processed and unprocessed meat to an increase in death rates from nine diseases. These include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and lung disease.
It isn’t just the animals themselves that are the culprit. It also includes animal products, such as eggs and dairy, which could be as harmful as smoking, according to a study that measured the impact of protein consumption on longevity. The harmful effects of animal protein were almost completely wiped out when the protein came from plant sources, such as beans and legumes.
If longevity is not enough of a benefit (understood by a woman who used to dance to songs like “We only have tonight”) then there are a host of other interesting reasons to take a look on the vegetarian side of life. You may gain some healthy bacteria in your gut from the indigestible carbohydrates in plant protein sources. Vegetarians are also far more likely to have lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure and lower BMIs. It may make your pants fit better and your doctor’s visits less stressful.
While many people may argue that “humans need meat” the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics wrote almost ten years ago (back when my friend was showing off her raw pie skills): “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
We all have friends and family members who eat very differently from the way we do. We all have the right to choose.
Beans are sounding really good right about now, though…