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.

Comments (4) Add yours ↓
  1. Hannah Warren Urology Registrar

    I have observed with great interest the attitude shift toward veganism over the past decade.

    I have always been in awe of my headstrong younger sister who proclaimed aged 12 in the depths of Dorset countryside she was going to be vegan – and 13 years later is still going strong. Attitudes to this decision ranged from incredulous, to concerned to bizarrely aggressive (I have never quite understood why people react in this way). I don’t remember one single positive reaction!

    Initially my parents made her present research on how she would get all the required nutrition (the vegan society website is a great resource here). Although initially it all required quite a bit of thought (fortified breakfast cereals vs toast and marmite – high in Vit B12 – for breakfast) but we all soon settled into an easy routine. My sister certainly has in no way suffered for it: she is happy, healthy, athletic and has long since grown taller than her big sister! In my n=1 experiment here, I think one can be perfectly healthy following a vegan diet.

    There is a much greater awareness of the vegan argument now than there was even 10 years ago, from the ethical to environmental reasons mentioned above. Even beyond the growing number of people who identify as vegan, many are consciously trying to reduce animal products in their diet. Now declaring you are vegan is often met with admiration and encouragement – very different to a decade ago!

    All this consumer pressure means that there are more and more delicious vegan foods coming onto the market – Oomph!, Beyond Meat, plus old favourites Cornetto, Richmond sausages and Ben & Jerry’s all have vegan lines now – and these are just those I’ve discovered in the last year. Many restaurants now have highlighted vegan options (in the UK at least, much of Europe lagging behind) making it easier and easier to choose vegan. Why not dabble?!

    January 6, 2020 Reply
  2. Bill Dunsmuir Consultant

    The sub distinction of environmental veganism is important. In keeping with the sentiment to reduce meat consumption for all the reasons described above, we should also be mindful to source our food locally. Fruits and vegetables flown in from the southern hemisphere is a “climate crime” that often goes by without comment. Check those ‘origins’ before you buy your stuff in the supermarket!

    January 7, 2020 Reply
  3. Culley Carson Distinguished Professor

    Veganism is an admirable goal but as was mentioned it needs to be done carefully and with sopped knowledge of dietary balance and with some vitamin supplements when necessary. In the US a couple was arrested for keeping their newborn and toddler on strict vegan diets without looking at the needs for calcium, protein and vitamins costing the life of the newborn and having a 3 year old weighing only 7 pounds. Similarly, the vegan diet may have some deficiencies that should be addressed and the diet should be undertaken only with the knowledge and guidance of a nutritionist or physician’s assistance.

    I very much agree that the best of the vegan approaches is with local produce and other foods for the planet, but also for the local farmers that we all depend on.

    Go vegan, but with care!!

    January 7, 2020 Reply
  4. Krishna Consultant Urologist

    What a wonderful thought at the advent of year 2020.
    I agree Prof. Carson’s opinion that one should not become
    Extremist in any walk of life. It should be balanced. One should be cautious about nutritional requirements and if there
    is any sign of deficiency that should be corrected with appropriate nutritional supplements.
    Although vegan food can fulfil all the nutritional needs in majority some individuals may need some non-vegan foods/
    Suppliments
    to correct deficiencies and there is nothing wrong in that.
    I also like to endorse the idea that it will help ecology of the planet and help future generations. Vegan ideal should be
    extended to ethical issues as suggested by Prof KIRBY.

    January 8, 2020 Reply

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