Vegan diet: Benefits of a plant-based diet now backed by science
Doctors and health organisations around the world are now recognising that a balanced, plant-based diet has many health benefits
One of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals, The Lancet, endorsed a plant-based diet as the best choice for human health and planetary health. Photograph: iStock
Myself and Dave have been eating a wholefood plant-based diet for more than 16 years. We had grown up as meat-eating, dairy-swilling jocks and ate whatever food our mom put in front of us. It was only when we went travelling and discovered different ways of eating, beyond the classic meat and two veg, that we started to move our diets towards being plant-based, and realised just how much the food we ate could impact our wellbeing.
We felt so good eating a plant-based diet that we returned to Ireland with a dream of starting a vegetable revolution. We bought a fruit and veg shop in our hometown of Greystones, called it The Happy Pear, and embarked on a mission to make the world a healthier and happier place.
However, back then, eating a vegan diet was practically unheard of and people were highly suspicious of it – unable to understand how anyone could survive without consuming any animal products.
Some medical professionals, researchers and even qualified dietitians are funded by the meat, dairy and egg industries to help them promote their products
Since then, things have changed a lot and the move towards plant-based eating has grown exponentially. We have witnessed the benefits that eating a plant-based diet has had on so many people’s lives – from the many customers who have visited our cafes and shared their stories with us, to the thousands of people worldwide who have taken part in our online courses.
We know it can be confusing for people to know what to eat these days, especially when some medical professionals, researchers and even qualified dietitians are funded by the meat, dairy and egg industries to help them promote their products. Often, these paid professionals will portray a healthy plant-based diet as “dangerously deficient” in vitamins and minerals that are easily available without eating animal products, including calcium (which cows get by eating plants), vitamin D (made by your own body when you are exposed to bright sunlight) and vitamin B12 (which is made by soil bacteria).
The truth is that industrialised livestock production means that most of the meat sold in the shops comes from animals who were given supplements of all three of these important nutrients, and more.
The good news is that the benefits of a plant-based diet are now being embraced by the global medical community. Building on the work of pioneers in the field of plant-based nutrition, such as Dr Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr Dean Ornish, doctors and health organisations around the world are now recognising that a balanced, plant-based diet has many health benefits.
Over the years, we’ve been delighted to form friendships with medical professionals, including Dr Esselstyn and representatives of the newer generation, like Dr Michelle McMacken and Dr Alan Desmond. These clinicians continue to impress us with stories of how plant-based nutrition has benefited their patients and transformed their medical practices.
The American Heart Association now strongly endorses a plant-based diet to help prevent and treat heart disease, stroke, obesity, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes
For us, a pivotal moment came in January of this year, when one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals, The Lancet, endorsed a plant-based diet as the best choice for human health and planetary health. For the EAT-Lancet Report, an independent panel of about 40 scientists, doctors and health experts reviewed decades of evidence on diet and human health. They defined the best diet for human health as “approximately half a plate of vegetables and fruits, the other half should consist primarily of whole grains, plant-protein sources and unsaturated plant-oils”. They recommended that small amounts of animal-sourced proteins, like meat, eggs and dairy, should be considered as purely optional.
Healthy eating guidelines
The EAT-Lancet version of a healthy diet is definitely plant-based and is completely consistent with healthy eating guidelines published by other expert groups, like the World Cancer Research Fund. In the United States, the American Heart Association now strongly endorses a plant-based diet to help prevent and treat heart disease, stroke, obesity, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
The plant-based medical movement is also growing on this side of the pond. In March, we were honoured to speak at the Mater Hospital, alongside a panel of esteemed medical professionals at a conference set up by Plant-Based Doctors Ireland. We met lots of enthusiastic GPs there, eager to learn about the science that supports a wholefood plant-based diet as the optimal diet for human health.
So, the next time you hear a doctor or dietician who is funded by the meat, egg or dairy industry telling you that those foods are really healthy and you should just eat more of them, pause for a second. Ask yourself, ‘Whose interests do they really have at heart? Are they motivated by my health and happiness, or do they just want to sell more meat, eggs and dairy?’.