An increasing number of doctors, dieticians, and professional athletes now recommend a plant-based diet as the optimum way to fuel and protect our bodies. This shift is based on extensive research that has linked vegan diets with lower rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancers.

The Standard Western Diet

As well as containing refined oils and added sugars, the Western diet is typically heavy in meat, eggs, and dairy, and is low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. As a result, we are seeing a growing crisis of chronic diseases, including some of the world’s biggest killers.


Obesity is a serious, life-limiting and life-threatening condition, which makes both heart disease and stroke more likely. More than 38 percent of Americans, 28 percent of Australians and more than 25 percent of Britons are obese.1

Choosing to eat a plant-based diet can be more effective than a standard low-fat diet in managing body weight.2 Studies have shown that vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat eaters, while vegans appear to have the lowest Body Mass Index of all.3

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number one cause of deaths worldwide,4 and animal products are a significant part of the problem. They contain high levels of saturated fat that can raise cholesterol and increase our risk of developing this condition. Conversely, the majority of plants are low in saturated fat and don’t contain any cholesterol, so a diet full of plant products such as whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables can help to lower blood cholesterol and provide a heart-healthy diet.5


Insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated to cause around 14 percent of gastrointestinal cancer deaths worldwide.6 But it isn’t just insufficient plant foods that cause cancer, it’s meat itself. In 2015, The World Health Organization announced they had sufficient evidence from epidemiological studies to classify processed meat as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans.7 This category is used when there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer. In this case they determined that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer and an association with stomach cancer was also seen. Red meat was also classified as Group 2A, which means it is ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans. The strongest evidence for an association with eating red meat is for colorectal cancer. There is also evidence of links with pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a potentially devastating condition and yet in most people it can be prevented, managed or even reversed through simple lifestyle changes.8

‘Plant-based foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, nuts, pulses and seeds, have been shown to help in the treatment of many chronic diseases and are often associated with lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, less hypertension, lower cholesterol levels and reduced cancer rates.’9
– Diabetes UK

In an analysis of 14 available studies, researchers found that ‘vegetarians had a 27% lower odds of having diabetes than omnivores’ and that ‘[v]egans in particular often had the lowest odds of diabetes when compared to other types of vegetarians’. Even at the same body weight as meat-eaters, vegans appear to have less risk of diabetes.10

Global Health

While the food we eat can have a huge impact on our own health, animal farming has the capacity to kill people on a global scale. Antibiotics are widely used to keep animals alive in the squalid conditions on factory farms and – in some countries – to promote their growth. Because of their overuse, diseases are becoming resistant to some antibiotics. Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, has said ‘we face a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and once again, kill unabated’.11

There is Good News

‘…vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.’12 – American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Actually, there is great news! Our genetics are not our destiny, and changes to our diet and lifestyle can prevent the leading causes of death from heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Choosing plant-based foods is a great place to start. Find out more about plant-based nutrition in our Vegan Starter Kit.

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1 ‘Obesity Statistics, Briefing Paper’, Carl Baker, House of Commons library, 20 Jan 2017 []

2 Turner-McGrievy GM, Barnard ND, Scialli AR. A two-year randomized weight loss trial comparing a vegan diet to a more moderate low-fat diet. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Sep;15(9):2276-81. []

3 Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight, and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(5):791-796 []

4 ‘The top 10 causes of death’. World Health Organization, J24 May 2018 []

5 World Health Organization, ‘Healthy Diets’, 23 Oct 2018 []

6 ‘Promoting fruit and vegetable consumption around the world’, World Health Organization []

7 ‘Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat’, World Health Organization []

8 ‘Type 2 diabetes can be reversed in just four months, trial shows’, Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph, 15 Mar 2017 []

9 ‘Vegetarian diets and diabetes’, Diabetes UK []

10 Lee Y, Park K. Adherence to a vegetarian diet and diabetes risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Nutrients 2017, 9(6), 603 []

11 ‘World Health Day 2011’, World Health Organization []

12 Melina, V.; Craig, W.; Levin, S. Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: Vegetarian diets. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. 2016, 116, 1970–1980. []

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