Updated: Oct 11, 2020
When I first transitioned into what was then a vegan lifestyle and diet my family and I still consumed a lot of ‘alternative’ foods, plus, without really thinking about it, a lot of high fat foods. Our catalyst for choosing a vegan lifestyle was originally spurred on for our children, for animal rights and for ethical reasoning. As we researched further and explored this way of life, we realised that eating just plants can be amazing for our personal health as well. While we had already eliminated all animal products from our diet; meat, eggs and dairy we realised that we could refine our diet and lifestyle further for better health. We wanted to represent a vegan lifestyle in the best, most optimal way we could, to encourage others along this path. What we found was that following a ‘Whole Food Plant Based Diet’ should be our goal, but also that eating this way is about so much more than just a ‘diet’, it’s a life style, a way of being in this world.
There are many reasons why you might choose a whole food plant based diet, like I mentioned, we chose the path for ethical reasons to begin with, now I am passionate about all of them!
Health, environment, social and food Justice, ethics and animal rights; we can have so much positive effect on a number of issues we face as a society just by changing the food on our plates.
The reason for adopting this way of life can be a mixture of some or all of these reasons. Perhaps the most common reason to become a vegan is for ethical reasons, veganism is often classified separate to a wfpb diet as it more of an ideology then a diet. While those transitioning straight to a whole food plant based diet specifically often cite health as their main focus. I passionately believe that we need to emphasise both avenues as they are equally important. Many vegans I interact with are not healthy and many people on a wfpb diet waiver with their food choices believing that from a health only perspective they can. In my experience regardless of the reason you start eating this way you will slowly begin to embrace all of the reasoning, I believe that when you open your mind and heart to these perspectives that the others will align also.
To me a “Whole Food Plant Based Diet (or lifestyle)’ is a diet consisting of primarily whole foods, in as close to their original state as possible. This includes as large of a variety of different plants as possible and eliminates any animal products. While also reducing or ideally eliminating processed foods, things like; cereals, white flours, confectionery, refined sugars, added fats, and added salts. To consume plants and plant products in their most ‘natural’ and ‘whole’ forms.
The reason we recommend a ‘Whole Food Plant Based Diet’ for optimal health is that the overwhelming evidence enforces this. In his book ‘How Not To Die’ Dr Michael Greger writes, “The best available balance of evidence suggests the healthiest diet is one that minimises the intake of meat, eggs, dairy and processed junk and maximises the intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils), whole grains, nuts and seeds, mushrooms, and herbs and spices – basically, real food that grows out of the ground”. Dr Michael Greger runs a non-for-profit called ‘Nutrition Facts’, his team read through thousands of research papers every year to offer us the best in unbiased, evidenced based information on how to live a healthier and happier life, and is an excellent source of information for people interested about learn the facts on their health.
In fact eating this way is not just healthy, you can go a long way to preventing and even reversing many leading causes of death. “A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar …” (Harvard School of Public Health), in fact life style intervention studies carried out by Dr Caldwell Esselstyn Jr have proven that a by adopting a whole food plant based diet alone you can reverse heart disease (99 percent of compliant patients avoided further major cardiac events). Amazing that just by eating plants and leaving animals alone we could all be living free of many modern diseases.
Though limited studies have been completed in Australia, an American study states, “Most deaths (in the USA) are preventable and related to nutrition, The number one cause of death and disability (in the USA) is diet”, while we in Australia may believe we are in a different category to the USA the truth is our health as a nation is on the same trajectory. In a 2015 study the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that 38% of deaths and illness could be attributed to risk factors including tobacco use, overweight and diet, the largest contributors, with cancer and heart disease at the top of the diseases. The AIHW also state that, “Overall (only), 5% of adults had a sufficient intake of both fruit and vegetables”. What were we all told as children and now tell our own children, ‘Eat your vegetables’, yet very few of us are actually doing it despite knowing just how important it is? Adopting a whole food plant based diet will go a long way to turning these statistics around. Your health, life longevity and quality of life can all be improved by changing the way you eat.
The ethics of eating animals can be complicated and deeply personal depending on your background, culture and taste buds. Some believe that eating animals is part of being human, that animals are here for us, that we have always eaten animals and simply need to for good health – so the ethics is irrelevant because we must. I personally believe that human history shows us that there have been times that humans have needed calories from animals to survive, but that the vast majority of research teaches us that we have in fact always eaten a plant predominant diet. The consumption of meat has only ever been opportunistic or born out of complete desperate necessity. Humans simply aren’t designed to bring down an animal let alone have the biology to eat and digest raw flesh. From our primitive beginnings the hunting and capture of an animal for calories would far exceed the energy needed to acquire a kill. Then we look at how we would preserve a body after a kill, humans have a very low tolerance to decaying and rotting meat. Think about any of the apex hunters in the wild, these animals are designed to hunt, their whole make up and biology geared to it, including the ability to digest rotting meat and the ability to chase down prey.
Consuming calories to survive is very different to consuming calories to thrive, we have evolved past the opportunistic kill, past the desperate search for calories, we have an abundance on offer to us like never before. In fact in the ‘Western World’ we have an excess of calories.
Many cultures and tribal practices of the past respected the gift an animal was giving, sacrificing them only when needed, connected to the life that was being lost. If we think about how calories form animals are produced today, factory farming and even organic, grass fed, or free range, these systems reward quantity, efficiency, and yield. These are not systems designed for the benefit of an animal. These are some of the most trusting and intelligent beings on the planet, that we (humans) have preyed upon, genetically manipulated, imprisoned, and enslaved to a short life as a product. No longer a being on this earth but a commodity to be capitalised on for profit. We have lost all connection to these animals as even being an animal, children’s story books depict a carefree life of for the farm animal, yet we never show them how they are actually treated, in fact we never show anyone how they are treated, produced, birthed, butchered, and with good reason, we simply don’t want to know! We can’t think about it, out of sight, out of mind, or if something does come to air we say, ‘not in Australia through’ or ‘my meat isn’t produced like that though’, the truth is that animal exploitation and cruelty is here, in Australia as much as anywhere in the world, we might be better at hiding it, normalising it but it is consistent with world wide practices. “Since only female chickens lay eggs, male chicks who have no commercial value to the egg industry are routinely gassed or 'macerated' (ground up alive). As a result, every year some 12 million male chicks are killed in the first day of their lives as waste products of the Australian egg industry.” (Aussie Farms). While beef cattle live out an average of 18 months before slaughter (regardless or the source), a life cut very short as the average age of a cow can exceed 25 years, a sad reality which makes me think about we treat our own pets. We will spend thousands of dollars on them over their years, food, vet bills, grooming and would be devastated if anything happened to them, or if they suffered a premature death. Why the disconnect between two lives – a dog or a pig, a cat or a chicken.
There are between 7-8 billion people on this earth, many of them comfortable and privileged like myself have access to a glut, an excess of food, while an estimated 805 million suffer form chronic hunger. In Australia alone we throw away 1 in 5 shopping bags of food and about one third of food grown is sent to waste before it even reaches the consumer. We currently produce enough calories to feed 10-11 billion people worldwide, however majority of this food goes to feeding livestock not hungry people. Producing calories through livestock is extremely inefficient, not only in terms of wasting calories, but also the environment. In Australia over 50% of all green house gas emissions are produced by livestock, 52% of methane (25 x more harmful) and 62% nitrous oxide (almost 300 x more harmful). We use 20 times more water and at least 7 times more land to produce calories from livestock the plants. We could care for all life with more compassion, equality and an open heart and mind by taking the animals off our dinner table, a small price to pay for the wellbeing of our fellow man, other animals and the planet – our home.
I am so passionate about all of it, from the dairy cows and bees, to the future world of my children. Vegan or Whole Food Plant Based – I say Both! Not only can a plant based diet and lifestyle be better for your health, it can go a long way to feeding the world, create more gentle connection to all life on this planet and restore much of our natural environment.
JAMA. 2013 Aug 14;310(6):591-608. Doi: 10.100/jama.2013. 13805. The state of US health, 1990-2010: burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Cat. no. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW. doi:10.25816/5ebca2a4fa7dc