How does taking out all animal products from your diet affect your body and your environment?  We dug into the research, as well as the principles of Chinese Medicine, to find out more about plant based living.

A vegan diet consists of eating only plant-based foods, cutting out all animal products such as meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy, whether it’s for ethical, environmental, or health-related reasons. It turns out, plant based diets appear to have significant benefits on weight reduction compared to omnivorous diets. In a meta analysis involving a total of 1151 subjects, individuals assigned to the vegetarian diet groups lost significantly more weight than those assigned to the non-vegetarian diet groups.  In addition to weight loss, research has shown that engaging in a vegan diet can help control certain chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

There are many individuals who adhere to a vegan diet for ethical and environmental reasons.  One assessment found that the global warming potential of a Mediterranean diet is almost twice as high as a vegetarian diet, mainly as it contains meat, dairy products and fish, which have some of the highest global warming potentials per kg of food produced. Ethically, there are many individuals who believe that harming animals for food (especially with some of the cruel practices found on factory farms) is unnecessary to live a healthy life.

While the weight loss potential, along with the environmental, ethical, and health benefits of the vegan diet are quite evident, there are some important factors to consider from a Chinese medical point of view. According to Chinese Medicine, red meat and other animal products are essential in keeping the quality of our blood healthy and strong.  This is particularly true for women, who go through monthly cycles of blood loss and need the nutrients to supplement blood production.   Athletes are another group who need a rich supply of blood to innervate the muscles and help repair tears and strains.  While one can use plant based foods to build blood in the Chinese dietary model (such as cooked dark leafy greens), it will take a lot more of those foods to do the same job as animal products.

It is also important to recall the principle of the ‘middle way,’ in Chinese medicine, as in avoiding the extremes.  This idea in relation to dietary philosophy might bring to mind the words of Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  In fact, this way of eating is reminiscent of many Asian diets throughout history, with rice being a staple of many meals, and meat taking a side role in broths, or small pieces in a dish otherwise full of seasonal vegetables.

Whatever your dietary philosophy is, remember that FOOD IS MEDICINE.  Ultimately overall, it is beneficial to have a varied diet with lots of REAL food, fresh and cooked with care.  Whether we are hoping to heal ourselves, our planet, or our fellow earth dwelling creatures, it’s important to flush out what we believe and what we want to achieve, and work with a professional who can help us eat in alignment with our bodies and our worldview.