In this article
What is a vegan diet?
Those who follow a vegan diet, also called a plant-based diet, do not eat animal products. This includes meat, dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin. But veganism expands further than a diet.
The vegan society defines it as follows:
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
For instance, vegans don’t wear clothing made with animal materials (like leather and wool). Or buy cosmetics that were tested on animals, or support entertainment that relies on exploiting animals, like bullfighting or SeaWorld.
Vegan diet benefits
An ever-growing bank of research highlights the health risks linked to meat, dairy, and eggs, and the benefits associated with a plant-based diet. Many experts agree that going vegan could help you live a longer life.
1. Reduced risk of cancer
In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) named red meat a Group 2 carcinogen, meaning it probably causes cancer in humans. WHO put processed meat (like bacon and pepperoni) in the Group 1 category. Meaning it is carcinogenic to humans. Tobacco smoking and asbestos are also in the Group 1 category.
Even small amounts of meat could increase the risk of cancer. An Oxford University study from earlier this year found that eating just three rashers of bacon a day could increase cancer risk by 20 percent.
Professor Jane Plant, a geochemist who has survived cancer six times, maintains that dairy is also a carcinogen. She believes her plant-based diet helped put her breast cancer into remission twice.
2. Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
Meat typically contains high amounts of saturated and trans fats, which can increase blood cholesterol. Cholesterol can cause fatty deposits in the blood vessels, which increases the risk of stroke, peripheral artery disease, and heart disease. Plant-based foods, by nature, contain no dietary cholesterol. A diet high in fat and cholesterol can raise blood pressure, making cardiovascular diseases more likely.
A 2018 study by the Cleveland Clinic found that eating red meat could increase the risk of heart disease 1,000 percent more than a plant-based diet.
3. Reduced risk of diabetes
More and more research is finding that a plant-based diet could reduce the risk of developing diabetes or even reverse the disease altogether.
A recent study, which included more than 2,000 adults, found that individuals who increased the number of fruits, vegetables, and nuts in their diet, lowered their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 60 percent more than those who didn’t.
It’s even possible to reverse diabetes by adopting a plant-based diet. This concept is backed up by research. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) recommends an online program that helps diabetes sufferers adopt a plant-based diet to reverse their condition. The National Institute for Diabetes and Endocrinology in Slovakia is trialing a whole-food, plant-based program to help reverse the condition.
4. Improved mood
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) highlights a study on its website that looks at the eating habits and moods of 3,486 people over five years. The study found that participants who ate whole, plant foods reported fewer symptoms of depression.
A different study found that vegetarians typically experience more positive moods than meat-eaters. Nutritionist Geeta Sidhu-Robb spoke to Cosmopolitan about the study, which was published in Nutrition Journal. The elimination of long-chain fatty acids, predominantly arachidonic acid, which is present in meat and is associated with symptoms of depression, means you are less at risk of suffering from it. Vegan diets also have more complex carbohydrates present, which increase the feel-good hormone serotonin in the brain.
Vegan beauty benefits
Products that are made with plant-based ingredients but also processes that don’t involve animals are considered vegan. Beeswax, honey, lanolin, collagen, and keratin are some common non-vegan ingredients to look out for.
5. Boycott animal testing
Most people are against experiments on animals. A survey by Naturewatch Foundation found that 99.5 percent of British people support a ban on cosmetic animal testing. While most are against the practice due to the stance that it is cruel to animals, animal testing is also unreliable.
Many experts agree that tests on animals cannot accurately predict human response to a product. More than 95 percent of pharmaceutical drugs test as safe and effective on animals but then fail in human trials, according to PETA.
Yet, the practice is still common in the beauty industry. Since veganism does not allow for the exploitation of animals, buying vegan beauty products guarantees that you’re not supporting animal testing.
6. Natural ingredients
Up to 60 percent of the products we apply to our bodies are absorbed by the skin and end up in the bloodstream. Many cosmetics brands use phthalates and parabens in their recipes. These ingredients can interfere with development and reproduction and cause neurological issues. The nervous and immune systems can also be affected.
While not all vegan beauty brands use natural ingredients, a growing number of them do. Companies like Zuii Organic use real flowers, essential oils, and plant extracts to make their vegan cosmetic products.
As well as sidestepping the health risks linked to chemical ingredients, natural ingredients can provide health benefits. Oats have anti-inflammatory properties and can treat skin irritations like eczema.
7. Healthier skin
A plant-based diet could boost your beauty regime by helping your skin stay healthy. An increasing number of studies are linking dairy to skin problems like acne. Dairy products contain growth hormones and are also treated with artificial hormones, which can interfere with the human body’s hormone system. Some experts also believe that dairy can disrupt insulin levels, making acne more likely.
Suggested read: Must-watch Vegan Documentaries List
Vegan fashion benefits
Following a vegan lifestyle means not buying items featuring leather, suede, wool, or silk. But don’t be fooled, the vegan fashion industry is bursting with innovation and style.
8. Boycotting the leather industry
Wearing a vegan clothing piece means you won’t be supporting the leather industry. Besides the animal welfare issues linked to the livestock trade, raising animals for leather (and food) leaves a considerable mark on the planet. Raising livestock accounts for 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in September 2018 that “the greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined.”
Leather is treated with 250 different substances, including cyanide, arsenic, chromium, and formaldehyde. These substances pollute waterways and raise the risk of disease for workers and local communities.
Vegan leather is just as durable and stylish as its animal-based counterpart.
9. Not supporting the wool industry
It’s easy to believe that wool can be collected without harming the animal. However, studies reveal that animal cruelty is rampant in the woold sector. Shearers are paid by the volume of wool collected, not by the hour. This often encourages the aggressive handling of sheep. The animals are beaten, and when injured, their wounds are sewn up without pain relief.
Vegan alternatives to wool include hemp, linen, and organic cotton. Bamboo, seaweed, and wood are also used to make cruelty-free clothing.
10. Becoming more sustainable
Many vegan fashion brands prioritize sustainability in their designs. Some footwear brands use food waste to make their vegan leather sneakers. Some use pineapple leaf fibers, which are a by-product of pineapple harvests and would otherwise go to waste. Using these fibers offers extra income to farming communities and saves the waste from being incinerated, which creates toxic emissions. Some also use apple peels thrown out by the juicing industry to make apple leather shoes.
Suggested read: Is synthetic leather vegan?
Vegan benefits for the planet
A plant-based diet uses vastly less water than a meat-based diet.
11. Fewer greenhouse gas emissions
Animal agriculture is one of the major generators of greenhouse gas emissions, which worsens climate change. UNEP has named meat “the world’s most urgent problem,” saying that, “Our use of animals as a food-production technology has brought us to the verge of catastrophe.”
Producing half a pound of beef generates the same amount of emissions as driving a car 9.8 miles. Producing half a pound of potatoes is only equal to driving a car 0.17 miles.
A 2016 report found that if the world went vegan, the planet’s food-related emissions would drop by 70 percent by 2050.
12. Smaller water footprint
Animal-based diets are incredibly water-intensive. According to UNEP, a bacon cheeseburger requires more than 3,000 liters of water to produce. In contrast, a vegan meat burger requires 75 to 95 percent less water.
Major meat publication Global Meat News admitted to animal agriculture’s impact on the planet last year. It stated that 92 percent of the planet’s water footprint is linked to agriculture, with livestock making up one-third of the figure. “On a per gram of protein basis, beef’s water footprint is six times that of pulses,” Global Meat News wrote.
Someone who is following a vegan diet has half the total water footprint as a meat-eater.
13. Less deforestation
Raising animals for food requires vast amounts of land and deforestation. The beef industry was blamed for the current Amazon fires since farmers intentionally burn down sections of the rainforest to make room for herds.
Oxford University researchers completed the most comprehensive analysis of farming’s impact on the planet earlier this year. They looked at data from approximately 40,000 farms in 119 countries and found that beef production requires 36 times more land than plant-based protein like peas.
The researchers stated that if everyone were to go vegan, global farmland use would drop by 75 percent, freeing up landmass the size of Australia, China, the EU, and the U.S. combined.
14. Save the seas
A 2018 report published in the journal Current Biology discovered that 87 percent of the world’s oceans are dying.
Many people are doing their part to save the seas – ditching plastic straws, bringing their shopping bag to the supermarket, and choosing plastic-free produce. However, your diet could have more to do with the ocean; half of the plastic found in the ocean comes from fishing nets.
Suggested read: Why do people go vegan?
Overfishing is also impacting the oceans’ fish stocks. Some experts agree that the world’s oceans could be empty of fish by 2048. Even land-raised meat can harm the oceans. The pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used on feed crops enter and pollute waterways. Factory farm runoff and livestock grazing is also a major contributor to river and lake pollution. According to Cowspiracy, animal agriculture creates 70 to 90 percent of freshwater pollution in western countries.
15. Saving the bees
Often forgotten about but ever-important is honey. Following a vegan lifestyle means going without this ingredient. And this could have an impact on bee populations. Bees are widely considered to be the most important species on the planet. Approximately 250,000 species of flowering plants rely on bees for pollination. Without bees, fruit and vegetable stocks would deplete.
It takes more than 550 bees to gather 1 pound of honey from roughly 2 million flowers. Bees will fly 55,000 miles to make a gallon of honey. The average bee will make only 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its life, and bees rely on this as their primary food source.
Thankfully for honey-lovers, there are plenty of vegan alternatives out there. You can also use maple syrup or agave nectar.
5 steps to a vegan lifestyle
Going vegan has never been easier.
1. Go meat-free on Mondays
Not sure where (or when) to start? How about Monday? Ditching meat for one day a week can help make the transition seem a little less intimidating. It allows you to try new foods and reduce your impact on the planet. The more Mondays you have meatless, the easier it may be to add more days each week.
2. Watch documentaries
It’s 2019, so the media we consume has a large impact on the choices we make. Documentaries are some of the most popular mechanisms for motivating people to go vegan. It took just 15 minutes of “Dominion” to convince a café owner in Idaho to turn her business vegan. Called “the scariest movie ever made,” the 2018 film features hidden camera footage and uncovers the dark side of animal agriculture.
Kip Andersen’s “What the Health” looks at the link between diet and disease, and his 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy” unravels the environmental issues tied to animal agriculture.
There’s a vegan-focused documentary to suit everyone.
3. Read up
Not a film buff? A thought-provoking book could be your ticket. “How Not To Die” by Michael Greger considers food medicine. The New York Times bestseller studies how diet can cause or prevent disease.
“The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell also highlights the health benefits of healthy, plant-based eating. Jonathon Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” looks at what it means to eat animals in a modern, industrialized world.
“The Sexual Politics of Meat” by Carol J. Adams explores the role of feminism within the meaty, dairy, and egg industries. “Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety (Thinking Twice About the Meat We Eat)” by Moby and Miyun Park opens a conversation about how our food choices impact the world around us, including animals, workers, public health, and the planet.
4. Fall in love with food
There’s no need to go hungry on a plant-based diet. For every food you loved as a non-vegan, you can make or buy an animal-free version. Get your hands on some plant-powered cookbooks.
5. Connect with the community
Surrounding yourself with supportive, likeminded people is a great way to keep motivated during your vegan journey. Jump online and join some local vegan Facebook groups, which are perfect for recipes, tips on vegan living, and sharing memes.
Subscribing to a plant-based publication is a great way to stay in the loop and hear about the latest vegan news. It could also offer you daily reminders on why going vegan is essential to you, and how your choices can have an impact.