Animal Aid

The nutritional benefits of an animal-free diet

Fancy adding extra years to your lifespan? Want to know the best foods to eat for optimum health? Welcome to the animal-free diet!

Whilst the media may be confused about what food we should eat (on Monday soya is scary, by Friday it's our saviour), science is not similarly confused. A huge body of scientific evidence now shows us that a well-balanced, 100% plant-based diet is the ideal vehicle for the promotion of human health.

Based on wholegrains, pulses, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts, it is these foods that provide all the essential nutrients - vitamins, minerals, essential fats, protein, starchy carbohydrate and fibre - that we must take into our bodies if we want not just to survive, but to thrive! The average Western diet by contrast - based on meat, milk, saturated fat, sugar and salt - is deficient in many essential nutrients.

And if you do not give the body what it needs then you are likely to become ill - evidenced by spiralling rates of diet-related diseases such as obesity, type II diabetes and heart disease. Following a balanced vegan diet means you are at less risk of suffering these conditions.

Moroccan chick pea stew

So what types of food provide the body with some of the key nutrients such as protein, calcium and iron? The problem with protein in the Western diet is actually more to do with eating too much than eating too little! Plant-based diets provide sufficient protein from grains (e.g. rice) and pulses (e.g. beans) and these contain all the amino acids (building blocks of protein) that we need.

What of the mantra that says dairy = calcium = strong bones? Along with exercise, calcium is crucial for bones but green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts and calcium-fortified soya milks all provide calcium, too. Plant foods help the body retain the calcium in the bones - more so than dairy products.

Is red meat necessary for iron? Definitely not! Iron is found in dried fruits, wholegrains and pulses - while vitamin C (from fruits and vegetables) aids its absorption. Obtaining a vital daily source of vitamin B12 on an animal-free diet is often seen as problematic but, in fact, many foods are fortified with it - breakfast cereals, margarines, yeast extracts and soya products. Then there are the seaweeds and sea vegetables for iodine; brazil nuts for selenium and linseeds (flax) and rape-seed oil for supplying the essential (good) fats people mistakenly believe are only supplied by oily fish.

Balanced animal-free diets are rich in taste and variety and can easily provide the body with all its nutritional needs. The tasty recipes in Animal Aid's new booklet prove that saying goodbye to meat, eggs and dairy products is the way forward for health and, of course, compassion.

Laura M Scott, RNutr., MSc Nutrition

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