Plant-based diets such as vegetarianism and veganism come with many rewards and benefits, according to the Toronto Vegetarian Association, a non-profit group.
David Alexander is the executive director of the TVA and has been a plant-based eater for about nine years. He took his first steps towards a vegetarian (allowing eggs and dairy) and later vegan (no animal products) diet, when he learned about the low carbon footprint of a meatless lifestyle.
“Methane gas which is released mostly by cattle… is a very potent greenhouse gas. It’s 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide.”
According to researchers from the University of Cambridge, simply cutting back on red meat consumption could decrease the global carbon footprint by nearly 28 million tons per year.
Vegetarianism and veganism also demonstrate compassion and benefit animals by keeping them off the dinner table, and out of harsh and potentially dangerous agriculture facilities, Alexander said.
“There has a lot of, and recently in Canada, investigations into various farms that demonstrate unfortunate conditions faced by animals when we raise them to be killed for food.”
Earlier last month an undercover investigation was conducted by Mercy for Animals Canada. The non-profit alleges the Western Hog Exchange, a pig assembly yard in Red Deer, Alberta, is guilty of animal abuse that includes the beating of injured pigs.
Alexander says the number one reason to go veggie continues to be its many health benefits.
Registered dietitian Vandana Gujadhur specializes in vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and their illness-fighting properties. “There is evidence that people who follow a well-balanced (vegetarian) diet (that includes) all nutrients… can reduce the risks of conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity,” said Gujadhur.
The study conducted by University of Cambridge also found that eating less beef could lower the number of cases of chronic disease by 3 to 12 per cent.
Gujadhur, raised vegetarian and Hindu, stressed that leading a plant-based lifestyle must be done cautiously. “There are a few nutrients they need to focus on… protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc,” she said.
Gujadhur suggests consuming foods dense in those particular nutrients, such as soy, beans and legumes for protein; and flax seed oil and walnuts for omega-3s.
Balance is key when eliminating meat, part-time Humber college instructor and registered dietitian Justine Chan stresses. “If it’s poorly planned you have the risk of deficiency,” she said.