The plant based movement is a crucial one for many reasons: our planet, our health and our attitude towards food and consumerism. Before I get into this post I want to state, for the record, that I am not vegan but that I am probably 78-80% plant based, 90% on some days. I have my reasons for never being 100% vegan, which I’ll get into below, but the general message behind this high percentage is that plants are powerhouses of nutrition. Forget what you’ve heard about the carnivore diet, we know that vegetables are good for us, that pulses and legumes are an incredible source of fibre, that fruit contains many wonderful enzymes and vitamins…there’s no need for me to cite any scientific studies here because it’s just a given, and it’s ingrained (or should be) into our society that plants = power.

I am a passionate environmentalist, and whilst I can’t ignore the evidence that a vegan diet is the best way to make a positive impact on the planet, I also can’t bring myself to ever be fully vegan - and that’s because of my own health journey. From a nutritional perspective, if your body is dealing with anything chronic, if it struggles to get the nutrients out of food because of poor digestion or gut, or if you just feel better and more vibrant on an omnivorous diet then, unless you are willing to out your own health on the line, then it’s tough to take the full plant-based plunge. Personally I know that my body still struggles on a daily basis, but that if I give it readily available nutrients (for example, the proteins in a boiled egg are much more usable to the body than those in some chickpeas), then I’ll feel great.

So what about those that have healed themselves from adopting a vegan diet? Well, the likelihood is that the diet they were eating before hand wasn’t all that great - processed food, too much animal produce, too much sugar etc. By going vegan (the right way, i.e. eating plants and not pretend vegan meats etc), you are naturally going to be cutting out a lot of the crap and introducing so many beneficial nutrients from the vegetables, legumes and fruit you’re now consuming. I am interested in the longevity of veganism, especially when your body might not function as optimally as it should be due to stress, bad sleep or low level inflammation. We know that we can get pretty much all of the nutrients we need from a vegan diet, except vitamin B12, but long term I’d rather by body had it easy - that’s to say, nutrients supplied in readily bioavailable forms, rather than having to scrabble around to make up a deficiency in one meal with an excess in another later in the day - this is especially important if you are trying to heal from an illness.

To someone in absolute peak health then veganism is perfectly appropriate, but it still requires effort and care to be done properly and this is largely down to education: knowing, for example that you need to combine legumes and cereals to make up your essential amino acids. That iodine, found mainly in dairy produce, can also be found in algae and seaweeds. While we are all young our bodies can take a bit of a beating, so to speak, our adrenal glands can work a bit harder to keep everything working, make up for energy loss perhaps not coming from our food, but as we get older we need to pay serious attention to our nutrient intake.

Lastly, do not feel guilty if you cannot be vegan for health reasons. Yes, it will certainly help the planet if you are, but so will being predominantly plant based with some carefully selected animal products, as will cutting down on fast fashion and moving to a more zero waste lifestyle. I may eat a boiled egg for breakfast every morning because it makes my body happy, but I can still make a difference to the world around me in other ways.

Moreover, as a Nutritionist I cannot ignore the healing properties of bone broth and the sooting effect of butyric acid on the gut lining, for example. It’s simply important that we take these things within the context of looking after our bodies and our planet. Over-indulgence is never a good idea, moderation and careful consumption is, certainly, the way forwards.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Grace BayleyComment