vegan nutrition

How to Respond to the 'Caveman' Argument

the caveman argument vegan veganism health nutrition plant based diet

We’ve all heard it - people referring to the diet of our ancestors as a reason why they don’t think they should try a vegan diet. The logic goes that we should replicate our ancestors’ diet as closely as possible, because if that’s how we evolved to eat, then it must be the healthiest diet. Lots of businesses are profiting hugely from this theory - just look at books and products sold to support paleo diets - it’s a multi-million dollar industry based on the theory that a diet high in meat is best because that’s supposedly what our ancestors ate.

When we’re advocating veganism and come across this argument, there are a number of ways we could look to respond. Of course we could try and debunk these theories, for instance highlighting that our ancestors probably ate much less meat than we thought (only when times were desperate, or even none at all in many instances). Or we could point out that yes we do have canine teeth, but they are even smaller than a plant-eating gorilla’s teeth and certainly unlike any carnivore’s teeth. And gorillas use their canines for display, to fend off other gorillas fighting for dominance, as well as for cracking into tough tree bark and twigs. Or we could talk about how the human small intestine has evolved to be long and coiled, to allow enough time for the nutrients to be absorbed from plants, just like other herbivores. Most omnivores and carnivores have a much shorter small intestine and much stronger stomach acid to enable them to break down meat and digest it quickly.

how to respond to the cavemen argument veganism vegan healthy nutrition plant based diet
how to respond to the caveman argument ancestors plant based diet vegan veganism nutrition health
the caveman argument how to respond vegan veganism nutrition healthy plant based diet evolution

The downside of using arguments like these is that none of us (unless you happen to be an evolutionary biologist) are experts in this field. That means someone else could probably find a counter-argument that fits their theory, and use it to put an end to the conversation and continue to feel like eating meat is the right thing to do.

So what’s the best approach if we want to spread the positive message and help people, animals, and the planet by encouraging the vegan diet? Well, we can simply steer away from the evolutionary history of humans and look at the facts as they present themselves to us now:

How to Best Respond to the Caveman Argument:

We’re lucky enough to have the option to choose a diet that avoids animal cruelty, drastically reduces our environmental impact, is much better for our health, and tastes just as good (if not better). So a vegan diet, especially one that revolves mostly around whole plant foods, is really the most compassionate, sustainable, and healthy choice for us today. Why does it matter what our ancestors ate to survive?

This is a great example of a really positive answer that helps people to build the connections between all the significant benefits of a vegan diet. The more we can spread this positivity, the more people will think of veganism in the best possible light, and will be more likely to consider trying it. And that’s the ultimate goal if we want to make our world as compassionate and sustainable as possible.

What are your favourite responses that you find most effective when talking about vegan diets? Comment below as I’d love to hear your ideas!

How to respond to the caveman argument veganism vegan nutrition evolution healthy plant based diet

Five Easy Steps to Reduce the Plastic You Use

easy steps to reduce plastic use to protect environment oceans wildlife plastic-free

Five easy steps to reduce the plastic you use

It’s a topic that’s gaining more and more attention – our plastic problem. That’s because scientists are discovering the extent of the impact that our relationship with plastic is having on the environment and ocean wildlife. And thanks to social media and documentaries like (my hero!) Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, this sobering message is being brought to the public’s attention. Being aware of the facts is always the first part of any solution, and fortunately the public are responding by making positive changes in consumer habits and we’re slowly turning the wheels of change.

Still, the dream of having a plastic-free society is a long way off, and there are so many more things we can do that can make a huge difference that not many people (including myself until recently) are aware of yet.

So I’ve made a five-step list of everyday things we can do to reduce our plastic consumption and make truly positive impacts on our environment and the wildlife we’re so lucky to share our planet with.

*please note I’ve included some links to companies I use or have heard of, only to make it easy for you to find alternatives to plastic products you might be using. I’m not being paid or sponsored by any of them.

 

1.      Around the house

What better place to start your plastic reduction than at home? After all, that’s where most people use the majority of their plastics. Thankfully, most of us are recycling now, but reducing our use of plastic in the first place is far better, because recycling itself still uses energy and resources, and some plastics (like black plastic and plastic films) aren't widely recycled in the UK.

  • Soap The bottles used for our soaps are a significant contributor to our household plastic use and the fiddly pumps or bottle tops are often not recyclable. Did you know there are some awesome brands out there like All Natural Soap Co making soap bars that smell just amazing, and are vegan, cruelty-free and zero plastic? They last longer than liquid soaps, and having an artisan bar of soap by your sink / shower looks way nicer than plastic bottles.

 

  • Shampoo Even shampoo bottles can be replaced by shampoo bars – Friendly Soap make shampoo bars (as well as incredible soap bars) like this lavender and geranium shampoo bar that produce a rich, velvety lather, is gentle to the skin, and nourishes your hair! 

 

  • Toothbrushes / toothpaste We’re supposed to replace our toothbrushes every three months. That’s four plastic sticks every year that are thrown out - times by 65million people in the UK equals far too much plastic in landfill (many toothbrushes are still not recyclable). Try switching to a bamboo toothbrush for a classy clean like these awesome ones by Bristle. And to replace the unrecyclable toothpaste tubes? Try Denttabs that come in cardboard packets, available from Anything But Plastic – just pop one in your mouth with a bit of water and voila – toothpaste! (great for travelling too as not liquid).
  • Cling film Doing your bit by making your own lunches to take to work to avoid the plastic covered meals at the supermarket? Great! But if you’re wrapping your sarnie in unrecyclable cling film then you can go one step further and use paper sandwich bags like the ones by If You Care. I tend to reuse mine for 2-3 days as they’re pretty durable.

 

  • Straws Lots of the best restaurants, bars and cafes are switching to alternatives to plastic straws which is awesome, as they’re listening to our consumer demands! But what about when we make something that would really benefit from a straw at home? Try ecostrawz for when the need arises – they make reusable straws from strengthened glass, titanium, bamboo, and even wheat! A great way to impress any dinner party guest! 

 

2.      At the shops

Wherever we look in town, we're surrounded by single use plastic. But there are ways to avoid it – and the more of us who do so, the more attention the retailers will pay to our consumer demand, and will take more steps to avoid the use of plastics.

  • Fruit and veg Wherever possible, try to grab loose fruit and veg instead of ones packaged in plastic trays. And definitely no need to use those dispenser plastic bags, your veg won’t jump out of your trolley!
  • Bag for life Single use plastic bags are out thanks to the many petitions and campaigns in the UK. But the 10p bags aren’t much better – they tend to get used a handful of times, then start to deteriorate and get thrown away. Some supermarkets do have recycling points for old plastic bags but most end up in landfill. Try a Turtle Bag that look beautiful, will last years, and are made without any plastic at all – some are even made from recycled materials like cement bags that would have otherwise ended up in landfill... double win! 
  • Coffee cups Most take-away coffee cups are infused with polyethylene to make them waterproof and so can’t be recycled, which is why 7 million cups each day get sent to landfill in the UK alone. Why not grab an Ecoffee cup, made from bamboo which is light and lovely to drink from, with no plastic after taste. You could be quids-in too, because chains like Pret, Nero, Costa and Starbucks offer discounts of up to 50p per coffee for customers who bring their own cups.

 

  • Refill shops If you’re lucky enough to be close to a shop that sells in bulk, then take advantage! For example, Zero Green Bristol is a zero-waste shop where you bring your own containers and fill them with loose products ranging from pastas and pulses to toiletries. How cool is that? Find your nearest zero-waste store in the UK on The Zero Waster website. 

 

rapanui organic cotton and bamboo t-shirt sustainable clothing vegan
  • Sustainable fashion Ask yourself this - do you really need new clothes or accessories? In my experience, people honestly don't notice if you often wear the same clothes (or if they do notice, they really don't care. If they do care, do you really want to hang out with them anyway?). If you do need clothes, try second hand either online or in shops - you're much more likely to find something unique! Or if you want to go for something new, try a brand like Rapanui who use organic cotton and bamboo along with sustainable processing, packaging, shipping, and animal-friendly inks for their awesome clothing line. 

 

3.      Staying hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is something we should all try to do, but buying bottled water is an unsustainable solution. The UK alone uses 13 billion plastic bottles a year. Just over a half of these get recycled - the rest are sent to landfill, are littered (often ending up in the ocean), or incinerated. 

  • Reusable water bottles Grab yourself a bottle that’s made from BPA-free materials and use it again and again for years. Nalgene make really durable water bottles that are BPA-free and look great - perfect for both adventures outdoors or keeping hydrated in the office. 

 

 

 

brita water filter jug sustainable reduce plastic vegan environmentally friendly
  • Water filters – if you want to avoid single-use plastic bottles but are not sure about some of the compounds found in tap water like chlorine and lead, then a simple water filter could be the solution. I use a Brita filter jug and have had it for a few years now. It’s great to keep in the fridge to always have chilled water handy. The money you save on buying bottled water will soon pay for the filters that you need to replace every month or so!

 

  • Refill stations Out and about and running low on water? Loads of restaurants, bars and cafés will be more than happy to fill your water bottle for you. Thousands of establishments across the UK have signed up to the Refill scheme to encourage passers-by to come in to fill up their water bottles for free. Look out for the Refill sticker in their windows or use the Refill app to find them, and they'll welcome you in! Love this idea but still want your tap water filtered? Try the trendy Bobble bottles - the reusable bottles are bpa-free and filter the water as you drink, making tap water tastier and cleaner wherever you are! 

 

4.      Plastic pick-up

If you’re doing all you can to reduce your plastic usage, it can be even more frustrating to see litter strewn across the street by less careful consumers. It certainly is for me. But changing your mindset is the key to happiness and protecting the environment. Rather than just ‘tutting’ and angrily walking past it, why not pick it up and pop it in the bin, or even better the recycling? The way I like to see it is that not only can you have a plastic-neutral day by following the steps above, you can actually be plastic-negative… you ecowarrior!

Beaches obviously benefit massively from litter picking as the plastic will otherwise wash into the ocean, where it can cause visible harm to ocean wildlife (such as getting strangled or caught up in six-pack rings) as well as less obvious harm (breaking down over years into micro-plastics which are then ingested by fish).

But if you don’t live by the coast, litter picking in your town or nearby countryside is still really important. Because lots of the plastic in our oceans comes from litter that has blown into streams or rivers and made its way to the sea. It also reduces the chances of land wildlife like hedgehogs, mice and birds hurting themselves. And if you recycle the litter, you’re helping reduce the amount sent to landfill and saving the energy to make the materials from new. Oh and it makes everything look nicer when it's clean too 😊

Some awesome accounts you can follow for inspiration include:

(let me know in the comments if I've missed out any other great litter picking accounts!) 

 

5.      Petitions

The impact of making these changes yourself is unimaginably positive. But making our voices heard and helping to facilitate policy changes has the potential to make an even bigger difference – think how successful the bans on single use plastic bags and micro-beads have been. Neither of which would’ve happened if it weren’t for petitions and campaigns.

It really only takes a few seconds to sign a petition on the UK parliament website – just search 'plastic' and see which current petitions you’re interested in, then sign and share them to spread the word. At 10,000 signatures the government will respond to a petition, and at 100,000 signatures the petition will be considered for debate in parliament! You could sign and share this petition to ban single use plastic straws and cutlery, or this one calling to install standard microfiber filters in washing machines. While you’re on the website, why not search for other issues that may be important to you, for example perhaps protecting our bee population or protecting race horses from abuse and death.

I'm by no means perfect when it comes to my plastic use and there are still times when I buy products that are either made from or packaged in plastic. But I'm trying my best within reason, and that's all anyone can do! If you have any tips that I've missed then please share them in the comments below. For example I'd love to hear about how you try and reduce plastic use in your office / working environment! 

Should We Believe The Health Headlines?

Vegan lifestyle - learn what headlines to believe when it comes to nutrition news 

Media headlines are notoriously sensationalist when it comes to health and nutrition news - they grab your attention, but they often base their content on very flawed research or completely misinterpret the results. Just Googling a simple nutritional question such as whether we should be drinking coffee, you often find yourself with very conflicting messages, headline media reports, and online ‘experts’ with a vast array of different opinions.

Many of us will then leave it at that – believing that the jury must be out on that particular question. Or worse still, we can often take some of these headlines too literally and change our habits to damaging effect. But don’t you sometimes just want to sift through the rubbish and find out what evidence we should actually believe? Well, the main thing to realise is that there is a kind of hierarchy of scientific evidence, which should dictate how much notice we give any particular article / headline. 

1.     Youtube videos, blogs, personal anecdotes – obviously anyone could say anything without being held accountable so this is a very unreliable source of information

2.     Expert opinion – someone with the title of Dr or Prof writing an editorial or letter without the specific research to back it. Obviously experts are in a better position than most to comment, but unless there is good research to support their statements, they could easily be mistaken or their opinion could be out-dated

3.     In vitro studies – these are studies that use isolated molecules, cells, or tissues in a test tube or petri dish to show how a mechanism might work. This can allow the components being studied to be observed more closely and conveniently than if they were in vivo (in humans or animals). However, this does not replicate the same conditions as if it were in vivo, so there is no telling that the same results would occur in the body. 

4.     Cross-sectional studies – this is a type of observational research that looks at data collected from a population (or a sample population) at a specific point in time.  They can show if there is an association between two factors, but it’s impossible to say what is causing that association. For example, cross-sectional data may show an association between caffeine consumption and insomnia. It would be tempting to conclude that caffeine therefore causes insomnia, but can it rule out that maybe people who already suffer from insomnia simply tend to drink more caffeine to get them through the day?

5.     Case control studies – this is another type of observational study, but where researchers compare patients with a disease or outcome of interest (cases) with patients without the disease or outcome (controls). They look back retrospectively to compare how frequently the exposure to a risk factor is present in each group to determine the relationship between the risk factor and the outcome.  

6.     Cohort studies – Working the other way round now, researchers observe a group of people without the disease or outcome of interest, to see who develops the disease or outcome over time. Using the caffeine example, none of the participants would have insomnia to start, then the researchers would observe who developed insomnia over time and whether this was associated with consuming caffeine. This can therefore give us a better idea of causality.  

7.     Randomised controlled studies  - Now the research is getting very high quality because bias is minimised. Participants are randomly assigned to two (or more) groups to test a specific treatment or intervention. The experimental group receives an intervention (e.g. caffeine pill) and the control group receives either no intervention or an alternative intervention. Ideally this alternative would be a placebo (such as a sugar pill) so that the participants do not know which group they are in to reduce bias – this is known as ‘blinding’ the trial. ‘Double blinding’ the trial means even the researchers don’t know which participants receive the treatment so they cannot even unintentionally influence their outcome.

8.     Meta analyses and systematic reviews – these are the 'gold standard' of research and we should base our answers on the outcomes of these, where they exist. They take a defined research question, and use systematic methods to identify all of the relevant studies that meet the strict quality criteria. Meta analyses then combine the results from these numerous studies to estimate the overall effect of a treatment / intervention. This provides us with an average result of a number of studies amounting to a large number of participants - sometimes tens or even hundreds of thousands. 

 

Now that you know which types of evidence to look out for and which to ignore, how can we go about looking for these kind of research papers? Well, they tend to be published as part of scientific journals, which are available online. If you type Google Scholar into your browser, you can use this search engine specifically designed to browse scientific journals for free. Here are some great tips on how to get the most out of your searching. Unfortunately, many journals require a paid subscription to view the full articles. However, every paper has an abstract (an outline of the research including their main findings) available to view which usually provides enough information to answer your question. If you wanted to then go on to read the paper in full then you could check whether your local library has access to the journal, or if you are studying then check if your school, college, or university offers access.

But, perhaps most importantly, you now know whether to take a media headline or online article seriously. If they refer to, for example, just one cross-sectional study, then you should take their interpretation with a pinch of salt. If however they base their news on a meta-analysis, then you can be pretty sure that this is some of the best evidence we have available on a given topic. 

 

A Rookie's Guide To... Sprouting

Vegan lifestyle - sprouting - a delicious and healthy addition to many vegan dishes

Sprouting has got to be one of the most satisfyingly easy things to do. You essentially just take a seed, grain, or bean, and induce the germination process, resulting in handfuls of 'mini plants' that are really healthy and amazingly versatile. You can grow them any time of year, just on your windowsill. They hardly take up any space, and don't need any soil, so you don't even get your hands dirty! Depending on the seed you use, they only take 3-5 days to mature, so you can be munching down your home grown creation within a week. 

Health Benefits of Sprouts:

The nutrients vary depending on which seed you decide to sprout. But most sprouts are a great source of antioxidants, many vitamins and minerals, fibre, and protein. Allowing the seeds to germinate also neutralises the phytic acid, meaning the iron, zinc and calcium are more easily absorbed. So sprouts are incredibly nutrient dense. In fact, one cup of mung bean sprouts has 3.6g of protein - not bad for a quick snack with only 30 calories. 

How to Eat Sprouts:

  • Raw in a salad, with a simple dressing
  • Give an extra nutrient boost to your smoothies
  • Provide some added crunch and colour to sandwiches / wraps
  • Chucked in to a stir fry for the last 30 seconds of cooking
  • A nice garnish on almost any dish

What You Will Need:

  • Seeds or legumes - available from most health food shops (ask staff if unsure)
  • Large glass jar with lid
  • Small piece of cheesecloth / breathable cloth
  • Elastic band

How to Grow Sprouts:

  1. Soaking. Inspect the seeds and discard any broken ones. Fill a glass jar 1/4 full with the seeds, then rinse and drain. Then top jar up with water, screw on the lid, and leave seeds to soak. Refer to the table below for the soaking times of some of the most popular sprouting seeds. 
  2. Rinsing. After soaking, drain the water, and rinse the seeds thoroughly, until the water becomes clear. Then instead of using the lid, stretch the cloth across the top and secure in place with elastic band. Turn the jar upside down at a 45 degree angle, and place in a bowl, so that excess water can drain, but air can circulate into the jar through the mesh. 
  3. Harvesting. Using the timings in the table below, repeat the rinsing process at least twice a day until the sprouts have reached up to 2 inches tall, or until they have sprouted greens. When they're ready, rinse and drain one last time, then keep in the jar with the lid back on in the fridge for up to 2-3 days. 
Vegan sprouting guide

As with any fresh produce that is consumed raw, there is a chance of food-bourne illnesses such as E coli. or Listeria, and if present in the seeds, these bacteria grow well in warm or humid conditions. Therefore it is advised to buy high quality seeds and not to eat raw sprouts in pregnancy, infancy, or old age. 

Vegan Life Hacks: Dinner Parties

Vegan life tips: dinner parties

The key to getting the most out of dinner parties as a vegan or vegetarian is to try to make sure not to cause any inconvenience at all. This way you can avoid any awkward conversations, or worse yet, the last-minute dash to the shop to try and find a vegan meal for one! Here's how to properly relax and enjoy the evening without having to even think twice about your diet:

1.     Offer to bring a dish.

Call ahead – good friends will probably know what you do / don’t eat, but it’s still nice to offer to bring something to save them having to prepare a separate meal for you. Make something truly delicious for other guests to try and you may even get them thinking about cooking more veggie food!

2.     If your host is keen to cook for you, provide recipes / ideas.

Your host may want to cook something vegan for you, in which case you can offer to send them some recipes, to save them time trawling the internet for suitable dishes. Go for easy, quick recipes with cheap ingredients, so you know your host isn’t slaving away for hours or breaking the bank to cater for you. 

3.     Bring a vegan dessert.

Even if your host is happy to cook for you, there’s a good chance they may forget dietary requirements when it comes to pudding. Bringing some tasty vegan cookies or brownies is a lovely gift to bring to a dinner party for your host to keep, and can be more personal than a bottle of wine. And if their dessert turns out to be steeped in butter, cream, or eggs, I’m sure they'll be happy to share some of their gift with you!