THE BLOG

Vegan Eats (or How to Tackle the Global Obesity Crisis)

08/01/2014 12:58 GMT | Updated 09/03/2014 09:59 GMT

N.B. Please add Macka.B as co-author

"Well me no eat no meat no fish no cheese nor no egg

Nothing with no foot no eye no wing nor no head

Nothing with no lip no ears no toe nor no leg

Prefer fruit and vegetables instead"

Excerpt from: 'Wha me eat' - by Macka.B, on food for thought, and why he chooses to be vegan.

What and how much we eat, how we live and our levels of activity, are all important factors determining our health. Governments seem averse to being seen as 'nanny states' in regards to public health and diet recommendations. However, the growing obesity crisis clearly shows that the profitable global commercial food and drinks sector has the upper hand.

Worldwide, one in three people are now overweight or obese. In the UK, 64% of adults are overweight and obese. Proportions are similar in North America and Australia. The highest increase in number of people developing obesity is in developing countries such as Mexico and Egypt, and other countries where incomes are rising.

Obesity increases the risk of a range of diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes and heart and coronary disease. Children growing up around obese people are more likely to gain too much weight. In some cases, quality of life for those living around and caring for obese people may also deteriorate significantly.

The causes of weight gain are well known. They include inactive lifestyles; a high consumption of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods; heavily promoted and easy availability of unhealthy foods and fast food outlets; high intakes of sugary soft drinks and fruit juices; and adverse social and economic conditions, particularly for women in developed countries.

Equally, we know that regular physical activity; more dietary fibre; and a healthy balanced diet high in fruit and vegetables are protective factors against obesity and other diseases. A recent study found an 11% lower risk of early death for people consuming more than 569g of fruit and vegetables a day compared to people consuming less than 249 g/day. The association mainly explained fewer mortality cases caused by heart disease. People with higher body mass index benefited even more from the protective nature of eating more fruit and vegetables.

Many governments go beyond the UK recommended intake of '5-a-day' (fruit and vegetable portions). But these education programmes are having limited impact: even in Japan, many people are missing WHO targets on vegetable intake. All governments and most public health advocates have "healthy" eating advice strongly biased towards eating animal products. These products may be linked with obesity due to relatively high total and saturated fat and salt content, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and high calories. The NHS Eatwell Plate is such a biased example: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Documents/Eatwellplate.pdf.

A new approach is needed, if there is going to be a healthy eating revolution. Whether we're shopping, cooking or eating, we've all struggled between the 'tasty' and the 'healthy' choice. So the time is here for delicious, attractive healthy eating advice that positively entices us all. Why not promote appetising meals and recipes which are centred and based upon the rainbow of healthy vegetables and fruits we know we ought to eat? This is where vegan food plates and pyramids can help everyone.

Any healthy diet will be centred on vegetables, with plenty of fruit and whole grains, and pulses such as beans, peas and lentils. Those of us on plant diets will likely include fortified plant-based milks and products daily as well. Whatever our ethics, we're best to use fats and sweets (preferably natural sweets such as dried fruits) and processed foods sparingly. This recipe for health isn't 100% guaranteed protection against obesity - but overweight and obesity is far less common in vegans than in the general population.

In addition to health and generally lower body mass index in vegans, plant-based living has many other benefits. We help other animals, as they are no longer raised, used and killed to satisfy 'luxury' habits. We help the environment as growing crops take up a lot less land, water and energy than inefficiently letting nutrients pass through farmed animals first. From a food security perspective vegan diets go further than meat-based diets, as food sufficient to meet the calorie needs of 3.5 billion humans is wasted by the global animal farming industry each year.

And finally, good vegan food is delicious, nutritious and a world of difference opens up when you eat new flavours and dishes you may never have tried before. Go on then, tackle that belly and take the Vegan Pledge in January or visit the Guide to Vegan Living for more information.