More people today have chosen to make the switch to vegan eating for various reasons. Some people choose to eschew animal products out of a deeply-held belief living creatures are fellow sentient beings not to be exploited by humankind. Others choose vegan living out of concern for the ongoing welfare of planet earth. Still others do so to benefit their health, or they make the switch for a combination of reasons.
Researchers at the Loma Linda University School of Public Health recently discovered those who switch to vegan eating have higher levels of healthy biomarkers when compared to their peers. While scientists have long suggested cutting back on red and processed meats to improve health outcomes, this study indicates taking a hard pass on meat products altogether may benefit human health most. Here’s what everyone needs to know about this recent discovery so they can make the most informed dietary choices for maximum wellbeing.
What Are Biomarkers?
Biomarkers refer to biological molecules found in blood and bodily tissues which indicate either health or disease. Technically, even human body weight and blood pressure are biomarkers which indicate anything from a propensity for overeating to hypertension . Other biomarkers include levels of different nutrients and chemical markers in the blood such as creatinine, which is often measured to assess kidney function.
Researchers at Loma Linda measured biomarkers found in plasma, urine and adipose (fat) tissue . The clinicians measured these biomarkers in 840 individuals who fell into five categories:
- Vegans. Those who never or rarely consume any animal products including eggs and dairy products.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians. These people eat eggs and dairy at least once monthly, but consume no meat, including fish.
- Pesco-vegetarians. People who consume fish at least once monthly, but who otherwise abstain from meat.
- Semi-vegetarians. These folks eat meat such as poultry at least once per month. Some abstain from red meat, others eat it rarely.
- Non-vegetarians. People who consume any kind of meat at least once per week.
What the Researchers Found
The researchers at Loma Linda found vegans had the highest level of phytonutrients in their blood and other tissues studied. Phytonutrients are nutrients found in plants of different colors. Each color of plant has its own phytonutrient profile, and vegans, who must carefully combine plant-based foods to get adequate amino acid and caloric intake, understandably consume higher levels of these substances across the board .
One category of phytonutrients are the caretonoids, substances found in orange, yellow and red fruits and veggies like strawberries, peppers and lemons. Research indicates these nutrients possess strong anti-cancer fighting abilities as well as aiding in healthy vision .
Another type of phytonutrients are the isoflavones. These substances produce a powerful anti-inflammatory effect which may help alleviate chronic pain conditions . The third types of phytonutrient are the enterolactones, which help maintain healthy hormonal balance.
In addition to higher levels of phytonutrients, vegans also had the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids available in the blood. Omega-3’s keep the brain and nervous system happy and functioning well and can help stave off disorders ranging from depression to breast cancer.
Surprisingly, the pesco-vegetarians scored more or less evenly with the lacto-ovo vegetarians. As expected, those who fell into the non-vegetarian category demonstrated the lowest levels of these important nutrients in their blood and tissues.
Scientists know that the long, carbohydrate chain fibers found in plants such as Jerusalem artichoke promote the growth of helpful bacteria strains in the gut. Conversely, consuming fatty animal tissue like pork and other heavy meats like beef inhibits the growth of helpful microbes in the intestines . Researchers believe a link exists between this bacteria, or microbiome, and the development of diseases such as certain forms of cancer.
Other Reasons to Go Vegan
More reasons exist for going vegan or at least switching primarily to a plant-based diet other than protecting human health. The raising of livestock contributes to 18 percent of the world’s carbon emissions . Additionally, raising beef for cattle has led to the deforestation of vast swatches of the rainforest and destroyed native plant species humankind will never recover.
Furthermore, raising livestock damages the planet’s drinking water supply and other aquatic environments. Raising cattle, pigs and even chickens takes an enormous amount of drinking water humans could utilize otherwise. When natural disasters such as hurricanes strike, agricultural runoff enters drinking water, ground water and oceans. Human water supplies dwindle, and habitats such as coral reefs suffer immeasurable damage .
Many vegans refuse to eat or use animal products due to their belief animals are sentient beings capable of feeling pain and emotions like humans do. And scientific research supports the idea of animal sentience. Mark Bekoff, Ph.D., argues animals possess the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological ability to experience emotions. He also states animals’ ability to make intentional decisions based upon environmental stimuli further testifies to their innate intelligence .
Human beings have taboos against cannibalism stretching across nearly all cultures. While many vegans don’t consider eating meat tantamount to dining on human flesh, they nevertheless consider the practice brutal. Anyone who has observed animals such as cows rescued from slaughter find it difficult to argue the beasts do not feel gratitude toward their saviors.
Tips and Tricks for Making the Switch
For those thinking of making a switch to more plant-based eating or even converting to veganism, here are some tips for getting started:
- Shop the outside aisles of the grocery. While it is possible to find convenience vegan foods, many contain high levels of salt, sugar and artificial flavorings to make them taste more like meat. Aim to spend at least 50-60 percent of your dining dollar in the produce section stocking up on colorful fruits, vegetables and in the bakery seeking healthy, ancient grains such as quinoa and amaranth.
- Study up or take a cooking class. Tons of classes exist to help folks make the switch to plant-based eating. Many community centers offer such classes as do several online academies dedicated to healthier eating. People can also do their own research online — poring over recipes is a fun way to eat up an afternoon (pun intended).
- Step out of your comfort zone. Never tried tempeh? You’re missing out on a probiotic treat! Take a weekend morning and shop a farmers market or local health food store to explore flavors never experienced. Finding a new foodie fave puts a smile on anyone’s face.
Vegan Eating for a Healthier Body and Planet
The science points toward making the switch to vegan eating in order to enjoy maximum health. In addition to looking and feeling better, those who make the switch to plant-based eating do their part to save the planet and the animals humans share it with. Making the switch is the right thing to do for so many reasons — make a healthy choice today by choosing to dine cruelty free.