A vegan and a meat eater walk into a bar.
The bartender asks, “What will it be”?
They both say, “Aberlour 18, neat”.
The bartender asks, “Isn’t this supposed to be a joke about how silly Vegans are”?
The meat eater looks over and says, “Clearly we are both smart enough to know how to order a drink, maybe the jokes on people who don’t learn anything from Vegans and just laugh at them”.
For some strange reason nutritional philosophies divide us almost as much as politics do.
Instead of yelling across the rows and bashing someone’s dietary choices, perhaps we can listen to a little bit of their side and learn a few things.
Here are 4 things you can learn from vegans:
1. Protein comes from more sources than animal
When most of us think of protein we think of a slab of dead animal that has been charred on a grill and slapped on your plate. In reality, protein is just amino acids and amino acids can most certainly come from animals, but it can also come from plants.
Now, there are some aspects to plant based proteins one needs to consider. For example, almost all plant foods are missing one or more of the 9 essential nutrients. This means that if you rely solely on plants for your protein needs you need to be smart about the sources and get a wide variety of sources in to consume a complete profile of amino acids in your diet.
Related: 3 Things You Can Learn From IIFYMers
If you are simply using plant based protein to supplement your otherwise carnivorous life style then you don’t need to worry about it. For example, if you have 3 oz of chicken (roughly 25 grams of protein) at lunch and one cup of lentils (15 grams of protein) you don’t need to sweat the lack of complete amino acid profile in the lentils, your chicken has you covered.
Often times you can actually supplement the protein in your diet with vegetables, legumes, and other plants at a much lower cost than buying more meat. You can get lentils for around $1.79 a pound when bought in bulk at most stores, this is often much less than 15 grams of protein from a lean chicken breast.
Additionally, there has recently been a big push by several food companies, such as Beyond Meat, that are striving to use plants like peas and lentils into meat substitutes that taste and have the same mouth feel as animal meat.
While these products haven’t quite hit mainstream and the cost per pound is still exorbitant compared to conventional meat, this will be something we see more of in the future and are decent protein alternatives.
2. Gains are good, but so is health
When you boil nutrition down to its basics there are two main principles: quantity and quality.
When we talk about growing muscle tissue or losing fat tissue the quantity piece reigns supreme. There is no way around the fact that the quantity of food you eat (i.e. calories) is the main driver of weight gain and weight loss.
Now while excess fat that arises from too much quantity can affect your health in substantial ways we know that food quality can also directly impact health. For example, it is well known that consumption of moderate amounts of trans-fatty acids substantially increases your risk of several chronic disease including heart disease, independent of total calorie intake and body weight1,2,3.
Conversely, it is incredibly well documented that diets rich in fruits and vegetables appear to convey health benefits beyond their low-calorie status4.
One of the main lessons we can learn from Vegans is that a diet rich in plant based foods can dramatically increase the quality of the food you eat and reduce the amount of low quality food you consume.
While it is possible to be a vegan who lives on vegan cupcakes and Sour Patch Kids, by focusing on plant based, most people who adopt a vegan diet consume more fruit and vegetables than their carnivorous counterparts5.
3. The quality of your food can help control calories
As mentioned earlier, the quantity of the food you eat is the biggest dietary factor of gaining or losing weight. If you are in a cutting phase or someone trying to lose weight maintaining a caloric deficit requires either constant vigilance of measuring and tracking your food or choosing food that are not energy dense and make it hard to over consume calories.
If you take the bulk foods on a vegan diet (fruits, vegetables, and high protein plant foods) you see that most foods fall into the low energy density end of the spectrum (figure 1). This makes controlling calorie intake much easier than if one consumes a diet higher in foods that fall on the high energy density end of the spectrum (figure 1).
Now again, it is possible to over eat on vegan foods like nuts and oils, but the main idea is foods that often make up the bulk of a vegan diet often make it substantially easier to control calorie intake. Show me the last person who become overweight eating broccoli and lentils …
4. The ethics of your food are worth considering
Let’s leave the gloves on and not get into a war of Vegans vs Meat Eaters. Instead, let us take a lesson from our bar going friends from earlier and learn a few things from the core of the vegan message. The main one being that many of us are too callous with how we view our food.
A large majority of us walk into the store. Pick up nicely wrapped packages of meat, check out, go home and grill up some nice hamburgers and give little to no thought as to where our dinner is coming from. This is something we should really consider more of, for a variety of reasons.
There are some issues with factory farming that need consideration. As the most intellectually evolved species on this planet, it is part of our duty to do the best we can by other creatures while still sustaining our own health and happiness.
Clearly there is a need for animal based products in our diets, that is how we evolved, and as such we currently still rely on animals to provide sustenance.
That being said, it is our obligation that the animals we use to sustain our species ought to be well cared for during their lives and current factory farming practices need to be improved to provide better living conditions for many of our livestock.
Additionally, the lives of these animals should be ended as humanely as possible. Based on the current state of animal slaughter across the globe, we can make improvements on this as well.
There is also an abundant amount of waste from the animals we use for consumption. The less prime cuts of meat are often discarded, and many usable parts of animals go wasted. We should to strive to eliminate that waste.
You do not need to “go vegan” to appreciate that the meat we consume comes from animals who at one point were alive and some thought and care should be put into how that food goes from a life to our dinner.
- Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease.
- Intake of trans fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease among women.
- Trans fatty acids – A risk factor for cardiovascular disease
- Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies
- Lifestyle factors affecting fruit and vegetable consumption in the UK Women's Cohort Study