The following statement is taken from the abstract of a paper published by the American Dietetic Society entitled: Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets in 2009:
It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stage of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. xix
This statement highlights the crucially important fact that we can get all twenty of our essential amino acids, plus the fatty acids, minerals and vitamins we need for healthful living, from a judicious combination of nuts, seeds, oils, grains, pulses, legumes and fruit. The only thing that today’s plant-based diet does not provide in sufficient quantities for adult humans is Vitamin B12, which we have traditionally obtained either from the soil we consume with our plant foods, or from animal sources. Vitamin B12 is created by bacteria, not by animals, and can be obtained in a vegan diet either by eating supplemented food, taking it as a daily vitamin pill or by way of an injection. Omega-3 fatty acid intake can be assured by taking a small amount of flaxseed oil each day.xx It is easy to get all the nutrients we need from a vegan diet and we need look no further than the millions of people worldwide who are living healthily on plant foods alone to see this is true. Any doubts we have in this regard can be easily allayed through personal research or by talking with competent professionals.
For those of us who live in Australia, here is a list of health practitioners who can help: https://www.veganaustralia.org.au/vegan_health_practitioners xxi
Good information about a vegan diet, can be found here: https://www.veganaustralia.org.au/live_vegan and by browsing these two sites as well: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) https://www.peta.org/ xxii; and Animal Liberation https://www.animal-lib.org.au/ xxiii
On the local front, I would encourage all Australian vegans, and those thinking about it, to join Vegan Australia http://www.veganaustralia.org.au/ as a matter of course. It’s a wonderful national asset.
In my own case, when I became vegan I had a full set of blood tests to give myself some baseline data, and I continue to do this annually. It’s the sort of check most people over 50 should do anyway and to date my results have been within the normal range for everything, including Vitamin B12.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55 recommend that adults consume at least two serves of fruit and five to six serves of vegetables per day.xxiv A serve is half a cup of vegetables or a cup of salad and most vegans would eat these amounts as a matter of course. And note the use of the words ‘at least’ because this implies that the optimal amount is unknown and my guess is that eating more fruits and vegetables than these small amounts will provide additional benefits.
There is a lot of published data that suggest we should, at the very least, cut consumption of animal products to a minimum if we want to enjoy better health. For example, The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/ in Australia draws attention to the link between red meat consumption and colorectal and renal cancer. There is also evidence to suggest that substituting one serve of nuts for one serve of red meat every day may result in a significant reduction (19%–30%) of cardiovascular disease risk.xxv
The utterances from official bodies such as the NHMRC invariably err on the side of caution, as they should, but everyone who has a vegan diet can be buoyed by a growing body of evidence that it is the healthiest of all. It is the diet that health economists can only dream about for the general population because they know the trillions of dollars that would be saved across the globe if its nutritionally complete, low fat, high fibre characteristics were widely adopted.
And while it may be true that small amounts of lean meat from free-ranging animals, those which have enjoyed a varied diet, can be beneficial to human health, today’s fatty, factory-farmed supermarket meat is a vastly different proposition, coming as it does from sick, unhappy, abused animals that get no meaningful exercise. Even the cattle that graze most of their lives in paddocks are ‘finished off’ in feedlots where they are crowded together and fed a high-energy diet of wheat, barley and growth hormones to make them gain weight rapidly.xxvi
To compound matters, feedlots, like so many farms, often have no shade, which in Australia’s hot environment is just another example of the thoughtless cruelty we have come to expect from the meat industry. Then there are the diseases such as tick fever, footrot, enterotoxaemia (pulp kidney), bovine respiratory disease, blight (pink eye), feedlot bloat, acidosis, liver abscesses and botulism (a bacterial disease that causes paralysis) which are caused by stress, dehydration, transportation, inadequate food and the feedlot environment.xxvii And these animals are yet to face the dreadful brutality of the slaughterhouse where so much cruelty occurs ‘outside the guidelines’.xxviii Are these really practices anyone would want to support, health matters aside?
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United States pork industry loses $275 million a year because of
…severe short-term stress just prior to slaughter…all this may result in biochemical processes in the muscle in particular in rapid breakdown of muscle glycogen and the meat becoming very pale with pronounced acidity (pH values of 5.4-5.6 immediately after slaughter) and poor flavour.xxix
Under the same conditions, sheep, cows and turkeys will also produce equally unpalatable meat.xxx This shows us quite clearly what terror does to animals at a physical level and how it affects their flesh, which people then go on to eat. More importantly, it means we can set aside any fanciful notions that animals about to be murdered are unaware of what is about to happen to them. They know they’re about to die and they’re terrified, in just the same way you or I would be. That, I think, is worth dwelling upon.