Every year we read about how legions of people have decided to abstain from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products in a phenomenon that’s become known as Veganuary. As consumers become more and more aware of the ethical, environmental and sustainability issues caused by animal agriculture, they’re voting with their wallets and turning to a diet that either eschews animal products altogether or at least cuts them down significantly. Moreover, while there’s fierce debate on the subject, mazny animal loving veggiephiles believe that a vegan diet is conducive to better health and a longer life, on top of all the ethical benefits.
Do vegans live longer? On average the data suggests that they do. Let’s take look at why…
A caveat: It’s possible (and really easy) to be an unhealthy vegan
Before we go further, it’s important to address the fact that giving up animal products doesn’t necessarily guarantee a healthier diet and a longer life. There are many healthy omnivores, just as there are many unhealthy vegans. One could live on nothing but potato chips and cola and be technically vegan… but nobody in their right mind would argue that this is a healthy diet. And with the range of vegan-friendly meat substitutes and processed convenience foods on the market, it’s arguably easier than ever to become an unhealthy vegan.
This is why many use the qualifier “wholefoods plant based diet” when discussing the virtues of a plant based lifestyle. Here are some of the reasons why people on this diet may live longer than their omnivorous counterparts.
They don’t eat processed meat
Processed meats like sausages, ham, salami and pepperoni have been classified by the World Health Organization as Type 1 Carcinogens. That’s the same category as cigarettes. While it would be a fallacy to suggest that a slice of ham is as harmful as a cigarette, it’s safe to say that anything carcinogenic is best avoided.
Their diet has much less saturated fat and salt
Saturated fat and sodium are associated with a range of chronic illnesses including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and even some forms of cancer. Broadly speaking, plant based foods are high in fiber and low in saturated fat and sodium.
They get plenty of phytochemicals in their food
Have you ever stopped to wonder why all of the best cancer fighting foods are plants? Plant based foods like fresh veggies and fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, complete proteins and amino acids. They’re also full of phytochemicals, which have been linked to the prevention and treatment of a range of chronic diseases including cancer.
They generally eat more wholefoods
By and large, processed foods are best avoided. They’re often filled with artificial colors, flavors, hidden sugars and salts and all kinds of other compounds which can stimulate the body’s inflammatory response. And there are multiple links between inflammation and cancer. Vegans generally eat more wholefoods and fewer processed snacks.
If you want to live longer, it’s not just about what you don’t eat, but what you do eat. Even if you don’t give up animal products altogether, try and increase your intake of plants and wholefoods while reducing your reliance on processed convenience food.