In this series I am going to be sharing my (long) journey to veganism. I’m breaking this topic into three parts; health, environment, and the animals. I want to take a minute to remind readers that throughout this series I will be referencing my experiences and the things I have learned during my journey. I will offer what has been helpful to me, but I am not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV so ALWAYS do your own research before making any lifestyle changes if you are worried. That being said, I AM excited to share in this first post all about health, plant-based eating, and how this journey started with me just wanting to feel better.
Growing up I dealt with digestive issues periodically. It’s a joke on my dad’s side of the family to have stomach problems, not exactly what I was hoping to have passed down to me, but such is life. It got considerably worse in college. I started to feel like no matter what I ate I did not feel good. I decided to speak with a doctor, went through tests and consultations, only for them to “discover” that I was lactose intolerant, leading me to drastically cut back on my dairy intake. And when I did have dairy, I would take lactaid pills to help it digest better, although it was not uncommon to be uncomfortable for a few hours after eating cheese or milk or whatever dairy product it was. Reducing my dairy intake helped tremendously but I still relied on lactaid pills quite heavily. I share this piece of my journey because now I realize it was a starting point to paying attention to my body more, although it would take quite some time for me to really listen. Dairy was the first step towards eliminating animal products from my life, but it would take me years to connect the rest of the pieces.
Why did I feel better?
Immediate effects of not consuming dairy products that most people notice first are digestive issues improving. Dairy is linked to a whole host of frightening health issues. Numerous studies have found connection between the intake of dairy and:
· Higher rates of bone and hip fractures
· Problems with acne
· Diminished male reproductive potential
· Premature puberty
· Stimulating the growth of hormone-sensitive cancerous tumors
· Increased risk of asthma
· Increased risk of Parkinson’s disease
· Elevated blood pressure
· Recurring canker sores
· Increased risk of heart disease
I was never super jazzed about meat growing up, other than chicken tenders, which was my dining out choice for an embarrassingly long time. Red animal meat never tasted good and I hated the texture. I moved to cutting out all meat except fish, feeling better and better as I went.
Why did I feel better?
Research is continuing to show that animal protein is linked to many life-threatening diseases such as:
Some studies even show that there is more of a harmful connection between protein EXCESS rather than deficiency and that can be a factor in the development of disease. What is in that protein is particularly concerning as well considering the, "pharmaceutical industry sells 80% of all antibiotics made in the United States to Animal Agriculture." Eating meat protein of any sort means you are likely consuming the residues from drugs. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified processed and/or red meat as a carcinogenic, which means it can lead to or promote cancer. The level one classification given to meat is the same risk category given to smoking tobacco or asbestos. Just like it took years for us to fully understand the damage of smoking tobacco we are slowly learning the damaging effects of meat consumption.
This leads us to the ultimate burning question “but where do you get your protein?” That seems to be the biggest concerns folks have when they hear about a vegan, plant-based lifestyle. But actually, “excess protein is stored as fat or turned into waste” instead of making us bigger and faster like the predominating protein myth tells us. In fact, “the average omnivore in the US gets more than 1.5 times the optimal amount of protein, most of it from animal sources.” The best part about a vegan plant-based lifestyle is that just eating a lifestyle full of whole foods from a variety of food groups will provide you with the protein you need.
So where DO I get my protein? Lots of places!
- Brown rice
- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu)
- Seeds (hemp, chia, flax)
Don’t worry, if elephants, rhinos, and hippos can find enough plant-based nutrients to stay strong I know you can too!
The last thing I was hung up on before the official jump to veganism and plant based eating was fish. I grew up in Northern Minnesota, which means I grew up fishing. I had somehow categorized fish as less sentient than other beings (a concept to be discussed in future parts of my journey) and could see more health benefits so I clung to it. But in terms of health what pushed me over the edge with fish was the discovery that eating fish was eating pollutants, like plastic, that are making their way into our oceans and waters across the world.
According to Blue the Film,
“As plastics break down, it makes it way to the very base of the food chain. Plankton, the smallest of all marine creatures, suck in water to feed and particles of polystyrene accumulate in their tissues. Plankton, full of plastic, is then eaten by larger and larger creatures, until it’s sitting on our dinner plate… We don’t understand the full impact of microplastics on marine ecosystems and the potential human health risks yet. But early research suggests plastics may disrupt endocrine function, which many lead to cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children.”
Mercury is the usual concern people know about when consuming fish but more recently it’s been shown that chickens ingest almost as much toxic waste as fish,
“Because we continue to feed farm animals to other farm animals in the United States—slaughterhouse waste, blood, and manure—not only may mad cow prions be found in meat, but also there are these persistent lipophilic organic pollutants, or “PLOP,” such as pesticides and polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins. Animal products can also contain other neurotoxic substances like methyl mercury and lead, because the industrial PLOP accumulates in fat tissues, the lead accumulates in bones, and so, when farm animals are fed meat and bone meal, the toxins biomagnify, bioaccumulate up the food chain.”
When people think of a vegan lifestyle what is often feared is all the foods one “gives up” instead of the focus on what there is to gain. The health benefits for me have been obvious. My stomach is better now than it has been my entire life.
I was unaware of the health benefits of cutting out animal products until sometime after cutting them out of my life. I was purely trying to listen to my body. And sometimes that means experimenting with what you eat. There are many of us who could benefit from not eating a certain food anymore, but we won’t know we feel better until we try. Stopping the consumption of animal products made me realize how miserable I had become, especially when having dairy, which makes sense because I’m not a baby cow anyway!
I hope that is a helpful introduction into the benefits of a vegan lifestyle, and a little more into my journey with plant based whole food eating. As always, if anyone has questions, wants more information, or help starting their journey reach out to me!