Vegan 101: Health Reasons for Going Vegan

by JL Fields on June 13, 2011

For well over a year I have obsessively read vegan and vegan food blogs to help me along in my vegetarian to vegan transition.  I had the pleasure of reading about Carrie Forrest’s own transition to a plant-based diet. She has changed her life and improved her health through her diet and she now is now studying nutrition at the graduate level.  I look forward to seeing what Carrie does in the public health movement to encourage plant-based healing and health more broadly!  Here Carrie shares some outstanding research she has done on the health reasons for going vegan.

***

Carrie Forrest is a graduate student in public health nutrition and author of the blog, Carrie on Vegan. After having a career in non-profit healthcare fundraising and earning an MBA, Carrie developed a strong interest in nutrition and wellness. Her journey to veganism began out of a love for animals and later as a cure for her debilitating migraines. Carrie hopes to use her knowledge and experience to inspire others to adopt a healthy, plant-based diet.

Many thanks to JL for hosting the Vegan 101 series on her wonderful blog. I am a vegan of less than a year and I have found the other posts to be inspiring and educational. I am honored to make a contribution to the series on the topic of veganism and health.

As mentioned in my introduction, I am a career-changer to the field of nutrition. I have spent the past several years immersed in all things food and nutrition-related. It was only after I educated myself on the realities of factory farming that I started considering veganism. At that point, I could no longer deny the realities of animal suffering and an omnivorous diet. Finally, on September 16th, 2010, I made the commitment to go vegan.

As a graduate student in public health, I naturally had an interest in the health effects of a plant-based diet as well. I began reviewing the scientific literature on the subject and was shocked by the credible evidence that concludes that vegetarian and vegan diets can prevent chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes (1).

Other conclusions from the research include:

  • Vegans have lower rates of blood pressure than meat-eaters, likely due to lower body mass indexes (2).
  • One study showed an association between beef consumption and fatal ischemic heart disease, as well as showing that cancers of the colon and prostate were significantly more likely in nonvegetarians than vegetarians or vegans (3).
  • Vegetarians have lower rates of coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity. In addition, vegetarians have lower rates of cancer overall and greater life expectancies than nonvegetarians in the same communities (4).
  • A low-fat, vegan diet has been shown to increase dietary factors that could reduce the risk of chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and macular degeneration (5).

One book that does a great job in consolidating the evidence as well as reviewing primary research on the associations between diet and disease is The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. (6). This ground-breaking epidemiological study examined the health effects of a plant-based diets on more than 6,500 adults in rural China.

By controlling for location and diet, Dr. Campbell and his team were able to develop statistically significant associations between lifestyle, diet and disease variables. His research boiled down to the assertion that “the same low-fat, plant-based diet that helps prevent obesity also allows people to reach their full growth potential while working other wonders as well. It better regulates blood cholesterol and reduces heart disease and a variety of other cancers.”

Another book that is a great read on the health benefits of a whole foods diet is Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, M.D. (7). Dr. Fuhrman has extensively reviewed the literature on a plant-based diet and has put it into practice with thousands of patients.

In Eat to Live, Dr. Fuhrman discusses how heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease and depression can all be improved, reversed or prevented by our choice of foods. While so many prescription drugs have unwanted side effects, the answer to our health problems may be found in our pantries and refrigerators.

It was Dr. Fuhrman’s message that gave me hope that by changing my diet to one that was whole foods, plant-based, and low in added sugar, salt and fat, I could possibly decrease my migraine frequency. I cleaned up my diet even more to include a higher number of daily servings of fruits and vegetables. I discovered new and creative ways to enjoy these healthful food items including adding raw greens to my breakfast smoothie, incorporating vegetable juice into my daily routine and making a delicious cashew cream sauce to serve over blanched cruciferous vegetables.

Within a matter of weeks, my migraines diminished in frequency. At this point, I can say that migraines are a very rare occurrence in my life and I cannot express how grateful I am for this positive change. In this way, veganism has given me my life and health back.

In conclusion, I am incredibly grateful for the books, blogs, researchers, medical professionals and advocates who have publicized the important link between a vegan diet and health. There was a time when I realized that I could no longer live life feeling sick and out of control. It wasn’t until I reviewed the evidence that I could heal myself that I made the necessary changes on a daily basis.

If you are yet convinced that a plant-based diet is the answer to many of the health problems that plague us, then I urge you to review the evidence for yourself. Better yet, make the commitment to small changes that include more plant-based foods and fewer or no animal products. The sweet irony is that by choosing to save the lives of animals, we may be choosing to save our own lives as well.

References:

1. Craig, Winston J., Mangels, Ann R. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. (2009). Jul;109(7):1266-82.

2. Appleby PN, Davey GK, Key TJ. “Hypertension and blood pressure among meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans in EPIC-Oxford.” Public Health Nutrition. 2002 Oct;5(5):645-54.

3. Fraser GE. “Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-day Adventists.”

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):532S-538S.

4. Fraser GE. “Vegetarian diets: what do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009 May;89(5):1607S-1612S. Epub 2009 Mar 25.

5. Dewell A, Weidner G, Sumner MD, Chi CS, Ornish D. “A very-low-fat vegan diet increases intake of protective dietary factors and decreases intake of pathogenic dietary factors.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2008 Feb;108(2):347-56.

6. Campbell, T. Colin. (2006). The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. Texas, Benbella Books.

7. Fuhrman, Joel. (2011) Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. New York, Little Brown and Company.

Please note: the information in this article is not intended as medical advice. Consult your physician before making any changes to your diet.

***

Great stuff, Carrie!  I truly appreciate the time and effort you put into researching and writing this piece for new vegans and vegan-curious folks!

Readers, how has your health improved on a plant-based diet?

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  • Merle

    I thimk she means colon not color

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Great catch, Merle. Thanks! I’ve made the edit.

  • eva @5fruitsNveggies

    i just added Carrie on Vegan to my blog reading list….i am just in that phase of converting to more vegan–so carrie speaks to me

    • http://twitter.com/carrieonvegan Carrie

      Thanks Eva and keep up the good work!

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Good luck with your transition, Eva!

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Good luck with your transition, Eva!

  • http://dietdessertndogs.com Ricki

    Thanks for the great article and resources! The evidence really is overwhelming. . . and I do think many people are going more plant-based for health reasons. Yay!

  • http://twitter.com/AprilJMoore April Moore

    Great post. I went vegan in 2009 because of the health concerns regarding animal products. I can’t imagine ever going back! Eliminating dairy was the best thing I could have done for treating my endometriosis. Dairy aggravates inflammation and I’ve been pain-free since 2007 when I gave up milk products. Since going veg, I have clearer skin, more energy, weight loss, and more muscle tone (I eat way more protein as a vegan than I did when I ate meat)! My husband has experienced much of the same as well and my son’s asthma is pretty much a thing of the past. During this process, I’ve also learned a lot about factory farming and animal welfare that I’ve tried to live as vegan as possible by not buying leather, cosmetics tested on animals, etc. Going vegan has by far been the best health decision I’ve ever made.

    • http://twitter.com/carrieonvegan Carrie

      I love your comment, April, and ditto for me, “going vegan has by far been the best health decision I’ve ever made.”

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      April, thank you so much for sharing this. Inspiring!

  • Elizabeth @ RunWithSneakers

    Great post!  I gave up dairy about a year ago (had already been eating vegetarian).  Within one week of no dairy I felt a huge boost in my energy level.  The change was so dramatic that I’ve never really wanted to eat dairy again, even though I loved eating cheese and yogurt.  I do not miss them one bit.
    Eating whole, plant-based foods has given me more energy and I have seen a big (and unexpected) improvement in my skin, hair, and nails.

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Yes! Me too on all of the above!

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Yes! Me too on all of the above!

  • Susan

    Great post! I am not yet 100% vegan, but most weeks I can get really close. All of my breakfasts, lunches and snacks are vegan. It’s dinner with the family that remains the challenge a couple of nights a week. In March of 2010, I was diagnosed with IBS-C. More than anything else, intense pain in my mid to upper back was the most physically debilitating symptom. Swelling/bloating in my upper abdomen prevented me from wearing my regular underwire bras. I had to wear my running bras to be at least marginally comfortable. (It really limits what type of tops you can wear.) I read “Eating for IBS” and found a little relief switching my diet to those recommendations, but continued to have flare ups. As JL is a good friend and has always been a diet and fitness role model, I started dipping my toes into the Lake of Vegan, learning lots and feeling much better. My goal this year is to come off all 3 prescriptions. I’ve already stopped one and halved the dose of another which I think I’ll be able to end soon as well. Very happy.

    • http://twitter.com/carrieonvegan Carrie

      Your story is incredible, Susan, thanks for sharing! Good luck with your journey.

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Way to take control of your health, Susan!

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Way to take control of your health, Susan!

  • http://eathikesleeprepeat.blogspot.com Mountain Girl

    Good for the animals, and good for us. Going vegan is one of the decisions that I am most proud of.
    Keep up the great series.

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Me, too! I’m proud and I’m amazed how good it is for me…and for the animals!

    • http://jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Me, too! I’m proud and I’m amazed how good it is for me…and for the animals!

  • http://twitter.com/therawproject Christine

    Another wonderful post in the vegan 101 series, thanks! I’ve noticed a lot more energy, easier weight management, better skin, and being sick less since going to a high-raw vegan diet.

    • Susan

      Funny you should bring that up. I just realized the other day that I haven’t had a cold in over a year and I usually get one at least once or twice a year that lasts a week or more.

      • Elizabeth @ RunWithSneakers

        Yeah, me too.  Not so much as a sniffle for over a year, since eating a strictly vegan diet. Isn’t that awesome?!

  • http://veggiesara.blogspot.Com Sara (The Veggie Eco-Life)

    Really interesting reading! Thank you!

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