McDonalds sells vegan burgers, Gordon Ramsay offers dairy-free pizza and frozen food brand Iceland has a plant-based burger. No wonder supermarket chain Waitrose has declared 2018 the year veganism went mainstream.
There are many ethical and environmental reasons to go vegan, of course. There’s also a longevity argument for giving up meat and dairy, which goes like this; over-reliance on animal products has led to a global health crisis with epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Therefore, cutting all animal products from our diet should make us healthier.
In The China Study, the seminal book which launched the ‘plant-based for health’ movement, author T Colin Campbell says, ‘the idea that whole foods, plant-based diets can protect against and even treat a wide variety of chronic diseases can no longer be denied… We now have a deep and broad range of evidence showing that a whole foods, plant-based diet is best for the heart… cancer… diabetes and autoimmune disease… our kidneys, bones, eyes and brains’.
Our Kale & Cocoa aim is healthy longevity. So shouldn’t we just go vegan? We don’t think it’s as simple as that. Veganism itself is an ethical decision. We know that many people make a successful transition to veganism, and Annabel was vegan for two years, in her twenties. But we live in a culture where meat-eating is still the norm, and we have to balance many factors in our lives, including our meat-eating families.
Many of the largest research studies into diet and longevity emphasise the importance of eating more plants. But they don’t advocate veganism per se. These meta-analyses show that upping your intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses and grains, while reducing your intake of meat and saturated fat drastically improves health.
Two new reports on health and longevity published this week have confirmed just that.
Dr Walter Willetts, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Medical School, was quoted at the Unite to Cure Conference as saying, “We have just been doing some calculations looking at the question of how much could we reduce mortality by shifting towards a healthy, more plant-based diet, not necessarily totally vegan, and our estimates are about one-third of deaths could be prevented.” That’s a pretty strong claim.
A study published on Monday listed five simple ways to live a longer, healthier life: up to 12 years longer for men and 14 for women. The research, compiled by Harvard academics and published in the journal Circulation, analysed the records of over 120,000 Americans. It found that these simple lifestyle changes could have a huge impact on longevity:
- Not smoking
- Managing weight
- Regular exercise (30 minutes moderate exertion a day)
- Drinking moderately (no more than one 150ml glass for women each day, or two for men)
- A healthy diet: defined as ‘rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains and low in red meat, saturated fats and sugar’.
It is this balance between what we eat most of (plants) and what we eat occasionally (animal products) which makes most sense to us. We pack our diets with plant-based foods when we can, but don’t avoid animal products altogether. (We do try to eat organic meat and dairy though – quality not quantity).
This week’s recipe is typical of our approach. It’s packed with vegetables and plant protein and can be vegan or not, depending on your preference. I add cheese if I’m serving it to my teenagers because I know they prefer the taste. But the cheese can easily be replaced with a little nutritional yeast* to make the dish fully vegan.
RECIPE – PLANT-PACKED MAC ‘N’ CHEESE serves 4, generously
- 300g wholewheat pasta (fusilli works well)
- 1/2 a butternut squash, deseeded
- 75g cashews
- 50g (vegetarian) parmesan or 2 tbs nutritional yeast
- 250ml milk (plant or dairy)
- 2 tbs chopped sage
- squeeze of lemon
- 2 courgettes, cubed
- 2 red peppers, de-seeded and cubed
- olive oil
- 100g of grated cheddar
- 4 tbs breadcrumbs
- 50g almonds
- 1 tbs chopped sage leaves
- 1 tbs olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Cover the cashews with hot water and leave to soak. Put the butternut squash into a roasting tin, cut side down and roast in the oven for one hour, or until the tip of a knife slides into it very easily.
While the squash is cooking, toss the courgette and red pepper with 1 tbs olive oil and season well. Roast for 20 minutes. Cook the pasta for two minutes less than the packet instructs, until just al dente. Drain and rinse the pasta in cold water.
Make the ‘cheesy’ sauce by scraping the cooked butternut squash into a food processor, along with the drained cashews, 200ml of milk, parmesan or nutritional yeast. Blitz until you have a smooth, loose sauce, then stir in a squeeze of lemon and the sage. Add a little more milk if it’s too stiff. Season well.
Stir the sauce into the pasta, add the roasted courgettes and red pepper and tip it all into an oven-proof dish. You could refrigerate or freeze the dish for later at this point. When you are ready to bake, top with cheese (or stir together the vegan alternative topping and sprinkle that over).
Bake at 180C for 25 minutes until the topping is browned and the pasta is piping hot.
*Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that is sold as a food supplement. It usually comes in yellow flakes. It’s full of B vitamins (so useful if you are cutting down on animal products) and has a slightly cheesy, nutty flavour. I buy it in our local health food shop.
There are loads of other delicious plant-based recipes on the blog. Check out: