A Plant-Based Diet for Good Health
A plant-based (vegan) diet that excludes meat and dairy can help to prevent, reduce or eliminate many lifestyle-related conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Freer from the burden of disease, people are able to pursue their goals and live a more enjoyable life.
Making the Change
Human beings are creatures of habit which can be helpful or harmful to our well-being. Some experts say that if we can adopt a positive new behavior for just 3 weeks, that new behavior often becomes a permanent habit. There is no one right or wrong way to change your eating habits. Some people make the change all at once. Some reduce their intake of meat and dairy slowly. Some try a plant-based diet for a few weeks or a few months before making a long term commitment. Some decide not to go completely vegan but to add some vegan meals to their daily or weekly routine.
A well-rounded plant-based diet includes fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes (beans, peas or lentils), nuts and seeds. These food groups provide all the energy, protein, minerals and fats necessary for excellent health. This is especially true when the diet emphasizes raw or cooked foods in their natural, nutrient-rich state, and limits processed or factory-made foods which often have fewer nutrients. While humans can survive on both plant and animal foods, our anatomy is ideally designed to digest plants. Like other primates (chimpanzees, gorillas), humans have the teeth and intestinal system of a plant-eater, which is very different from the anatomy of a meat eater (e.g. lion, wolf). Animal foods contain saturated fat, cholesterol and other substances that can be harmful to health, and contain none of the fiber that is necessary for good health. Protein has been linked in our culture to meat and dairy, however all plant foods contain protein and those who eat enough calories to maintain a normal body weight will consume enough protein to maintain good health.
For the person already in good health who chooses a vegan diet, Vitamin B-12 is the only supplement that is absolutely required. Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient for human health. Vitamin B-12 is not an animal product. In nature, it is made by certain forms of bacteria present in soil or in the intestines of animals. Since vegans do not eat animals, and since modern living conditions limit our contact with soil bacteria, vegans need to find a convenient source for this nutrient. Vitamin B-12 is easy to obtain through over-the-counter capsules, tablets or drops, either alone or as part of a multi-vitamin. It is also added to many food products, such as cereals and soy, rice or almond milks. The front of the package will usually say if Vitamin B-12 has been added.
There are hundreds of important nutrients that promote good health. Any diet, whether it includes animal products or not, can be deficient in nutrients if it does not contain a variety of foods or contains too few whole foods and too many processed foods. As well, certain illnesses or conditions may require diet modifications or extra supplementation. We encourage people to take charge of their own health and seek out multiple sources of nutrition information. We encourage those who have actual symptoms of illness to consult a physician. Finally, we encourage people to identify health professionals who are knowledgeable about, or will support, the decision to eat a plant-based diet.