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Health Issues

We don’t need to eat animal products to be healthy, plant-based foods can provide all of the essential nutrients we need.

As the NHS Live Well Guide states:

‘With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.’

But as well as being nutritionally balanced, numerous studies around the world have now confirmed that the vegan diet has many health benefits.

Heart disease and stroke

Heart disease remains a major cause of death in the UK and other countries where eating large amounts of animal products is considered normal. This is largely because animal products are usually high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which are known to block arteries, leading to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Plant-based foods, however, tend to be low in saturated fats and are cholesterol-free, which may explain why vegans are known to have a far lower risk of these diseases. Vegans also tend to have a healthier body weight, which may also be a factor.

Cancer

A number of animal products have been linked to an increased risk of particular cancers. For example, the World Health Organization has publicly stated that processed meats – such as bacon and sausages – cause bowel cancer, and that other red meats probably do as well. A powerful growth hormone known as IGF-1, which is found in dairy products, is also known to make tumours grow faster.

By contrast, people eating a 100 per cent plant-based diet have been found to have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, including bowel, prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers, which are some of the most lethal cancers in the UK.

Infectious disease and antibiotic resistance

Farmed animals have become a reservoir for numerous serious and infectious diseases, especially those on crowded, filthy factory farms that provide the perfect environment for spreading them. These include campylobacter, salmonella, MRSA, E. coli and meninigitis, all of which can spread to humans through direct and indirect contact with animals or products derived from them and can cause serious harm or even death.

Farmers are aware of this and often give their animals food laced with antibiotics in an attempt to reduce the risk. In fact more antibiotics are given to animals worldwide than to sick people. But routinely dosing farmed animals with antibiotics is causing some bacteria to become resistance to them, making them much more dangerous to both humans and animals.

You can read more about farmed animals and disease in our report Is factory farming making you sick?

Fish

A popular modern myth is that fish is necessary to human health because it is the only source of vital omega-3 fats, but this isn’t the case. Tom Sanders, Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at Kings College London states:

We have studied omega-3 fatty acid levels in vegans for over 30 years and shown that vegans can make DHA (long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) from alpha-linolenic acid. Rich sources of alpha-linolenic acid include soybeans including soya milk and tofu, walnuts, rapeseed oil, flaxseed and dark green vegetables such as spinach.’

Despite its reputation as a health food, up to 30 per cent of the fat in fish can be saturated. The fats also act like a sponge, soaking up toxins – including mercury and cancer-causing dioxins – from polluted oceans.

You can read more about the health risks associated with eating fish in our report Dark Waters.