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The health benefits of taking the Vegan Challenge

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Bill Clinton, Oprah, Ellen, Natalie Portman, Joaquin Phoenix, all of these celebrities are trying and/or living on a plant-based vegan diet. What's this about? Why would they consider doing this? What do they eat?

For years, studies have shown that following a healthy, whole foods, vegan plant-based diet offers marked health benefits over the standard American diet, often referred to as SAD. Why this important health information isn't commonly available is an interesting story. 

Do remember that our Canada Food Guide was written in July of 1942 by lawyers and doctors, neither of which had much in the way of nutritional training, and that the choices for the different food groups were influenced heavily by the wheat, dairy, and meat industries. So we have a grains group (which suggests lots of pasta and flour products), a dairy group, a meat group, and one last group that throws all the fruits and vegetables in together as something you should also choose from.

These groups were not based on what had been shown to make people healthy, vital, and lacking in chronic disease but instead spoke to the general belief system at the time and the want to encourage the use of food products that were being produced by industry and needed to be consumed. 

Often when people try a vegetarian diet, the focus can be a bit too much on wheat, dairy, and the nightshade vegetables, all of which can lead to congestion and fatigue. Wheat and dairy are known to cause congestion, fatigue, brain flog, and a host of other symptoms. For a person to get a sense as to whether wheat and dairy are affecting them in such a way, they must take themselves off both for a period of time, two weeks to a month for example, because of their similar effects. To test just one at a time would allow the other to continue the symptomatology and suggest there was no ill effect from the absent ingredient. 

It's been noted in holistic circles for years that if individuals experiencing arthritis take themselves off the nightshades (tomato, potato, bell peppers, and eggplant) and adopt a diet rich in healthy whole foods, their arthritis symptoms reduce and in some instances their condition reverses completely.

Often when people try a vegetarian diet, over time their heavy use of wheat, dairy, and the nightshades has them feeling tired, congested, and not vital. This gets correlated to the idea that one needs meat or that it's complicated to get what you need from a vegetarian or vegan diet, when in reality that is not so.

It's also important to remember that the study of nutrition, from the perspective of Western culture, is a very young science. In 1942 when the Canada Food Guide was made, doctors involved in its creation had a minuscule amount of nutritional training. Although it's been adapted over the years it seems to hold on to that base structure which in fact was not very strong on evidence to begin with. Taking that into consideration, it's a good idea to look at many sources of information that are being gathered around the world, by people who are willing to go against the grain, as well as looking at other cultures which have strong food traditions and assess their level of health and what might be working and not working for them.

A few sources that can be of assistance with this are:

- "The China Study"  by Dr. T. Colin Campbell -- "recognized as one of the most extensive human-based nutrition studies performed over a period of 20 years with a large population in varied socio-economic conditions, landscape and climate conditions, and with a wide age range."

"The China Study details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes and cancer."

"The research project culminated in a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, a survey of diseases and lifestyle factors in rural China and Taiwan. More commonly known as the China Study, 'this project eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.'"

The findings? "People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease ... People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored," said Dr. Campbell.


- "Diet For A New America" by John Robbins -- John's father and uncle started Baskin-Robbins, the multi-billion dollar cow's dairy ice cream company. John grew up sick and after his uncle died of a heart attack he wondered if diet influenced both their state of ill health. He began researching and investigating nutrition and its impact on human health. By the time his father was ready to hand over the lucrative family business, John had to gracefully decline, explaining that he could not be a part of a system that was clearly harming human health, environmental health through concentrated animal waste pollution going directly into flowing rivers, and animal torture and abuse.

My own story is similar to John's. Not the buckets of cash but that I grew up sick and needed to do my own research and experimentation in order to heal myself. Over time I was able to completely reverse a skin disease, severe eczema all over my body, that I had been told I would have to live with for the entirety of my life. I was also able to let go of many food and environmental allergies, and shift the chronic fatigue I experienced which threatened to have me held back in school and later affected my income due to not being able to keep up with the regular work week. Now I am healthy, happy, vital, and enjoying a vegan whole foods plant-based diet.

Food documentaries are another great source of information. As food politics are becoming an important issue we are realizing the many interconnected levels of our food choices on environment, health, worker conditions, ethics and dynamics in a global economy.

Some good docs:

- Food Matters (www.foodmatters.tv/)
- The Future of Food (www.thefutureoffood.com)
- Raw For 30 Days; Reversing Diabetes  (www.rawfor30days.com)
- Earthlings (www.earthlings.com)
- Making The Connection (www.EnvironmentFilms.org/EF/Making_the_Connection.html)

There are many more but these do tend to stand out as being moving, educational, enjoyable, and well researched. Most of these can be watched online through their websites or found easily in parts on YouTube.

- The book Healthy At 100, also by John Robbins, is available as an audio book in the Toronto Public Library if you are in that area. Checking your local public library system will likely show how many vegan books are available and are of interest to the general populous.

- The Vegan Diet As Chronic Disease Prevention: Evidence Supporting The New Four Food Groups by Kerrie Saunders is another good one.

It is also good for your health to employ the 80/20 rule: 80% of the time you have a good foundation of healthy, whole foods, and 20% you're at a party or a social event or on vacation, and you do whatever feels good and makes sense to you -- happiness, community, and laughter are an important part of health. Studies tracking increased rates of hypertension and heart attack vulnerability have shown a marked lower risk factor when it came to people who had described feeling fulfilled in their primary relationships. In John Robbins' book Healthy At 100, one of the commonalities from communities that had many healthy, vibrant centenarians (members of the population at or over 100 years of age) were their participation in community, their frequency of joy and laughter, and their feeling of being valued as a part of their community. Happiness it seems is very important for health, and when people are too controlling of their food choices and intake they can cause themselves stress and tension which take away from the bodies ability to function and heal. So aiming for 80% of what you take in being good for you and 20% being treats and fun you'll do fine. For many it's the other way around.


Sarah Vaughan is a holistic health practitioner trained in a number of modalities including eastern approach to the body/mind/emotions, colonic hydrotherapy, reflexology, Jin Shin Jyutsu energy work, yogic philosophy, yogic psychology, and applied yogic sciences, as well as permaculture sustainable design, Option Institute belief structure work, and nutrition studies. Currently she is focusing on colonic hydrotherapy as she finds it a powerful form of bodywork that acts as a strong foundation for people wanting to reclaim their health. She works out of The Yellow Brick Road Holistic Clinic in Toronto (www.YellowBrickRoad-healthyliving.com) and volunteers in a few different projects around the city including PigSave (http://torontopigsave.wordpress.com/) -- an amazing volunteer group using art and creative works to highlight the taboo issues of speciesism especially in connection with the deplorable conditions in common slaughterhouses.

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