Monday, October 10, 2016

Why I went vegan, and why you should as well

I've eaten a standard Western American diet for all twenty-six years of my life. Eggs, dairy, meat? You betcha, all day every day. But a couple of months ago in mid July I decided to go vegan cold-turkey (no pun intended)--that is, no more eggs, dairy, or meat. My reasons for this life-altering decision will be articulated below, but let the reader be aware that this is not something I had ever considered--it's not something that I mulled over in my mind and went back and forth on. A vegan lifestyle was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, the words "vegan" and "vegetarian" always elicited pejorative reactions from me. These lifestyles were always seen by me to to be less masculine and unnecessary. In fact, I bet many of you, upon reading the title, prematurely rolled your eyes and muttered something under your breath--I was that guy too. But, I was wrong.

So, why did I go vegan? Well, to be honest, I really just watched one documentary. That's it, just one. It wasn't Earthlings, though everyone should watch it. And it wasn't Forks over Knives, though everyone should watch it as well--if they care at all about their health. No, the documentary I watched was Cowspiracy, which, sorry to be redundant, you should definitely watch. I watched Cowspiracy and walked away a vegan, it's as simple as that.

Moreover, as I subsequently began to research more and more about veganism, it wasn't the statistics in Cowspiracy that kept me motivated and drew me towards a vegan diet, it was the health benefits. So now my main reason for being vegan is that I want to live as healthy a life as possible while simultaneously doing all I can to help the environment. And to be honest, nothing has been so easy. Despite what you might think, it is not hard to go vegan, and no, I don't at all miss meat, cheese, milk or eggs.

So, that's why I went vegan--nothing too interesting. The more pertinent question, though, is why you should go vegan.

Health, Wealth, and Prosperity
When I used to picture a vegan, antecedent to going vegan, I would picture a scrawny, wimpy, pale little weakling who was most likely nutrient deficient. That couldn't be farther from the truth. It turns out that a vegan lifestyle is the healthiest lifestyle for a human being. According to this study from the National Institutes of Health, which studied the nutritional quality of vegan, vegetarian, and different varieties of omnivorous diets, the results, "indicated consistently the vegan diet as the most healthy one."

Also, the demographics with the highest life expectancies (called blue zones) tend to be societies where meat and animal products are rarely consumed. For example, in 1949 the people of Okinawa, Japan--the historical demographic with one of the highest number of centenarians--ate virtually no meat. Their greatest consumption of meat was fish, yet their dietary intake of fish constituted only one percent of their overall dietary intake, and their overall consumption of animal products constituted less than four percent their total dietary intake (see here) [1].  Currently, the demographic with the highest life expectancy are the Adventist vegetarians in Loma Linda, California. Being vegetarians, they obviously don't consume meat and yet they have the greatest longevity of any demographic recorded to date.

So, if populations that eat little to no animal products have better health and longevity, does this imply that the more animal products you eat the less healthy you are? Well, that's what the data show.  Populations that eat a westernized diet tend to have more incidences of cancer and circulatory diseases, than those that don't.

But, why is this the case? Well, it's because many of the contents in animal products are carcinogenic, and the dietary cholesterol--only found in animal products--and trans fatty acids contribute to atherosclerosis--the number one killer in America. The latter should be uncontroversial, so let's survey the former.

Scientific studies have found many things that feed cancer, and many of these these are either found exclusively in animal products, or are found in the highest amount in said products.First, it was recently discovered that cancer cells feed off of cholesterol (see here and here). High LDL cholesterol levels are produced from high dietary cholesterol intake, which only comes from animal products--our bodies already produce all the cholesterol we need, and we actually have no need for dietary cholesterol. Second, cancer also feeds off of the amino acid methionine. This has actually been known since the 1970's. See, methionine is actually necessary for humans, but large quantities of methionine can actually feed cancer cells and help them metastasize. And what foods tend to have the highest levels of methionine? Animal products. Third, estrogen has been found to be carcinogenic, and has been linked to breast and prostate cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society has labeled estrogen a type I carcinogen--which means it's known to cause cancer. Obviously, cow's milk contains incredible amount of estrogen, but it turns out that there's also excess estrogen in meat and eggs. [2] Fourth, high levels of a growth factor in our bodies called IGF-1 are also responsible, and necessary, for helping cancer metastasize and spread. And where can these dangerously high levels of IGF-1 come from? Well, not only is IGF-1 present in animal products, but consuming animal protein causes our liver to secrete a bunch of IGF-1(see here and here).

So the point here is that eating animal products makes you much, much more susceptible to cancer and other diseases. This is why the more plant-based a population's diet is the less their incidence of cancer and circulatory diseases. (Heck, even going vegan for only two weeks can significantly reduce and reverse cancer cell growth, see here.) And this is why this study states that, "vegan diets seem to confer lower risk for overall and female-specific cancer than other dietary patterns." Thus, it seems that if one desires to be healthy and flourish, then going vegan is the way to go.

Eating meat is destroying the environment
The other main reason that should persuade the rational individual to go vegan is regarding how animal agriculture is negatively affecting the environment. To list a few figures:

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the exhaust emissions from all human transportation combined, which is 13 percent (see here). 
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for at least 80 percent of US water consumption (see here). 
  • 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of beef (see here, here and here). 
  • Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction (see here, here and here). 
  • A farm with 2,500 dairy cows generates as much waste as a city of 411,000 people (see here). 
  • We could see fishless oceans by 2048 due to overfishing (see here). 
  • For every pound of fish caught, up to five pounds of unintended marine species are caught and killed as by-kill (see here). 
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91 percent of rainforest deforestation (see here).
  • One to two acres of rainforest are cleared every second (see here).  
  • Each day a person who eats vegan saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, the equivalent of 20 pounds of CO2, and one animals life (see here and here).
There are many other daunting statistics that could be listed here. The point is that eating meat and consuming animal products is literally destroying the environment we live in, and you can't call yourself an environmentalist and consume animal products at the same time. You can literally make an impact on the environment right now by going vegan.

"But, like, where do you get your protein, dude?"
When people think about vegans, or going vegan, usually their first thought centers around nutrient deficiencies, such as protein. However, it turns out that vegans and vegetarians have about the same amount of protein intake as omnivores. It's said that male adults (like myself, I think) only need around 60 grams of protein per day. Speaking from  experience, I get in about 110 grams of protein without even trying to. It's really not that hard--plant protein is everywhere--just ask vegan Torre Washington (left).

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[1] In fact, since 1949 Okinawa has begun to eat more of a westernized diet--i.e. more animal products--and as a result their longevity has decreased and their circulatory diseases have increased.
[2] This might be one reason why, on average, vegan men have higher testosterone levels than omnivores.


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