Wishing you a vegetarian New Year
The term ‘vegan’ was first coined by Donald Watson in 1944, when he co-founded the Vegan Society in England. It was first intended to refer to a ‘non-dairy vegetarian’, but by 1945 its remit had expanded to also include the abstinence of consuming eggs and honey.
Interest in veganism has increased sharply over the last decade, especially in the latter half. More vegan stores have opened, and vegan options have become increasingly popular in supermarkets and restaurants worldwide.
Veganism involves abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the ‘commodity status’ of animals. However, it can be further subdivided into three categories of: dietary veganism, ethical veganism and environmental veganism. Dietary veganism revolves around the individual not consuming meat, eggs, dairy products, and any other animal-derived substances; while an ‘ethical vegan’ is someone who follows a vegan diet but also extends the philosophy into other areas of their life, opposing the use of animals for any purpose. ‘Environmental veganism’, refers to the avoidance of animal products on the premise that the industrial farming of animals is environmentally damaging and unsustainable.
Vegan diets have not been without controversy, notably around their impact on human health. A vegan diet can potentially lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity (the metabolic syndrome) as well as ischaemic heart disease.
Compared with a standard non-vegan diets, vegan diets tend to be higher in dietary fibre, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, and phytochemicals; and lower in dietary energy, saturated fat, cholesterol, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12. However, as with any poorly planned diet, an unbalanced vegan diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies that nullify any beneficial effects and may cause serious health issues. Some of these deficiencies can only be prevented through the choice of fortified foods or the regular intake of dietary supplements. Vitamin B12 supplementation is especially important, because deficiency may cause anaemia and potentially irreversible neurological damage.
Perhaps the dawn of a new decade is the right time for us all to contemplate reducing our own intake of red meat and dairy produce? The more stoical of us might even consider a vegan diet for a month by signing up to the ‘Veganuary movement’ (https://uk.veganuary.com). Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.