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Why I became vegan

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After putting up discussions against any argument of vegans for many years on my YouTube channel, the time has come that I have to admit that they probably weren’t wrong in the first place. You may have already learned that I became vegan, but if not I’ll tell you all about it in this blogpost. This is by far my longest article, but I think it’s well worth it. You’ll find I haven’t supported any of my claims with scientific resources. Or at least, I didn’t refer to them as I didn’t really use big claims that I didn’t already know about from experience and education. There will be a scientifically supported article about this in the future though, so no worries!

How it began
My interest in vegetarian diets came in the picture many years ago. Even though I wasn’t a supporter of the idea of vegan diets, I did always find the vegetarian diet interesting. I’ve read some articles and books about it and I thought it was something I would definitely follow in the future. Meanwhile I frequently had questions from followers of my YouTube channel who wanted to learn more about a vegetarian diet and so I had to put some effort in helping them out. I studied the ideas behind it and learned it could definitely be a perfect diet. One wouldn’t have shortages of any nutrient, including vitamin B12. To me that sounded like a good idea for a diet. I didn’t adapt to a vegetarian diet myself though. For some reason I still was afraid to not get everything out of myself not eating meat and fish. Boy did that change.




The hard truth
Not so long ago I was at the breaking point of going vegan though. Out of nothing there was this channel named VeganGains who made quite controversial videos, wasn’t covering his opinion with a coat of sugar and actually used some form of scientific arguments that I’ve always missed from meat-eating counterparts. However, he didn’t convert me as it took more than that for me to follow something I’ve never really had a good understanding of. Besides that I refuse to simply believe things that are said by a random person, without some real good evidence. The scientific arguments that were used in his videos also didn’t have me convinced as I know a thing or two about reading scientific articles and the ones he used often weren’t of the quality I was used to, but more about that later. The way he makes videos also makes it pretty clear that he’s using a slightly indoctrinating method. I think he’s funny, puts a lot of thought and effort in his arguments and knows more about health and nutrition than the average fitness trainer you’ll find on YouTube, but that’s not enough to convince me as I’m a critical thinker and don’t easily give in.

No, the real thing that started to creep up on me where the images of a documentary called ‘Earthlings’ that he displayed in one of the first few videos I watched. The way animals were treated didn’t make any sense to me and as many new vegetarians and vegans can probably relate to, I had a bit more romanticized images of slaughterhouses than were brought to my attention by this documentary. Yes, I know it sounds stupid to think that creatures being killed in a slaughterhouse could be anywhere near romance, but it took me sitting through 95 minutes of violently killing animals in the documentary ‘Earthlings’. This, by all means overruled all the arguments I’ve ever had about veganism being unhealthy. In what world is it morally correct to kill animals and to treat them the way we do in the meat industry? You can have your own opinions regarding this, but it doesn’t make them true. Neither was I right about this topic. Anyway, the shocking truth about animal treatment made me very distant from this whole idea of eating animals and using their products. I started to do my own research and soon discovered it is actually very difficult to find good articles about veganism or even vegetarianism for that matter. The collection of reasons of why I think eating plant-based foods only makes my case a lot stronger though. I can’t solely explain to someone why I choose veganism, because there is much more evidence for an omnivorous diet, probably due to the sole reason that veganism isn’t a popular topic to talk about, not even in science.

Even more shocking may have been the hard evidence showing that meat production alone is the primary cause of the greenhouse problem we have. Deforestation, over fishing and the like are major problems that I don’t want to contribute to either, or at least I want to limit the contribution I have in those issues. When people ask me now why I chose to go vegan, I struggle giving a straight answer as I’m not sure what’s most convincing to me, the animal cruelty, the health benefits or the environmental problems it causes. Obviously it’s not the way I want to treat animals so that should be one of the foremost reasons I would do this. However, as a health professional and someone who has reached millions of people all over the world I can’t deny that health is a very important issue to me also. I can’t simply recommend people to go vegan to save animals from being abused and then recommend something that may be bad for your health. I’m not saying that veganism is bad for your health, but I did need to get some decent evidence to support my advice.

By the way I do think the death of billions of animals on a yearly base outweighs a million human deaths directly related to eating animal-based products though. Sure, it’s hard to categorize this by quantity, but I hate the human arrogance of thinking they are more important than an animal. If you are indeed purely looking at quantity then why would a 160 pound human being be worth more than a 1000+ pound cow? Also, looking at the contribution to the planet (that’s quality in my opinion) then a human being (let alone entire populations of this species) only does harm to the planet and no good. Whereas a cow doesn’t do nearly as much harm to it as we do. Practically everything that’s wrong with this planet is because of our species.




My own process to veganism
After the documentary I watched a few more, but this time more scientifically based ones without showing animals getting tortured. Since I’m rather a man of rationalism I figured I should also try to get a broader picture and not only look at the emotional aspect of it (although that alone would already have been enough to convince me an omnivorous diet is not the way to go). Authorities always say a balanced meal plan (including meat, dairy, eggs and fish) is the best way to prevent health problems. However, I’d rather do my own research on this, since I know those authorities are often years behind in their research, since changing an advice just like that, isn’t so easy for them as they would need to admit they were wrong. This could lead to distrust in the authorities and even the government.

After doing some research I could find more benefits of plant-based foods than I could for animal-based foods. A lot of science does still indicate that cholesterol in eggs doesn’t raise cholesterol in your body. Apart from that I couldn’t really find strong evidence for the other cases that are often made in favor of omnivores. Sure, fish has omega 3 fatty acids that we benefit from eating, but it also often contains mercury these days. Besides, where do fish get their omega-3 from? That’s right, sea vegetables. Now unfortunately I personally dislike the taste of seaweed to give you an example. On the other hand, there are supplements for that which can even be suitable for vegans and vegetarians. A bigger concern to me is the idea of ‘helping’ the problem of overfishing. We destroy the planet and the part that’s under fire the most is the ocean. I don’t understand why governments around the world are so mild against a lot of these practices. Are they really THAT ignorant or downright idiots? How do they see the world 10 years from now? They really think the ocean is going to keep giving us fish to eat? It’s not even about ‘the ocean giving’, this is logics. You can’t expect that the ocean will simply refill itself to conform to our demands. Of course it makes sense as those same governments also think you can pay depths by loaning even more. I’m not an economic, but everyone knows how stupid that is.

Another concern was that you can’t get vitamin B12 from plant-based foods. That could have been a problem many years ago when they hadn’t invented supplements, but with this invention we actually shouldn’t have that issue now. The same is true for vitamin D, which I already took, even with my omnivorous diet. Not only vegans don’t get enough of that, meat-eithers have the same issue. Fact is that most vitamin D sources such as butter, milk and eggs don’t contain enough (or any for that matter) of this nutrient to start with. All of those products are fortified, so it’s not any different from taking a supplement for your vitamin D needs. You can make it yourself if you expose yourself to the sun, but many countries (especially in the Northern area of the world) don’t have sunlight strong enough. You have that problem regardless of being vegan or not.




Corruption
Besides getting a shocking visual of animals being abused and killed, Earthlings and similar documentaries also taught me a different point of view regarding the meat, egg and dairy industry, which perhaps I could have guessed before, but didn’t for some reason. That’s corruption. Why didn’t we get to hear from how our meat and dairy producers (read fluffy, innocent animals) get treated the way they are? Probably because these were secrets kept behind concrete walls. The government doesn’t want us to know how they provide food in the form of meat to us and our children (just a figure of speech as I don’t have kids). The same is true for dairy. I always had a hard time defending my dairy intake when people commented on my nutrition videos on YouTube saying that it’s bad for you. In the Netherlands there was a big milk production right after World War II and it was relatively cheap, so an easy way to supply the Dutch population with foods. That has led to a massive propaganda of dairy products. Dutch nutrition authorities also brought out the advice to eat and drink at least 3 servings of dairy products a day to meet your calcium requirements. Actually they still do that nowadays. Diary also contains lots of components that makes the absorption of calcium very difficult. Therefore foods like kale and broccoli provide a higher net supply of calcium.

Anyway, back to corruption. I’m not a supporter of the way countries are being lead, which you probably already had guessed. My opinion regarding politics is that the smartest, most experienced and honest people in a wide range of sectors should be leading the country as a whole. There should be an equal amount of men and woman, or at least a better balance than it is now, and people of all age groups should be represented in a government. Not one single person making all the decisions either. Most important though, is intelligence. We need smart people at the top, and even though I’m sure that’s partly already the case in some countries, we can’t say that every president, world leader or politician rank highest among their class. You may want to argue this, but to those I have two words: George Bush. I don’t think I need to have any other arguments than that, so with this I rest my case.

With all things in life, I think the government and the media play a big role in messing things up. There is no more war, anger or danger in the world now than it was decades ago. It’s just the media trying to get a piece of all the action that’s going on that’s making us scared. Politicians aren’t best known for their honesty, so why would that be different regarding the way animals get treated in the meat industry. Can you honestly say that you trust your government in protecting these animals from being abused, apart from the fact that they get killed anyway? There’s no humane way of killing animals (including human beings) in the first place, but living a healthy, happy life and suddenly being shot to dead with a single blow to the head still sounds more appealing to me than being put in a small, disease filled space that’s far from one’s natural habitat for an entire lifetime.

The fact that we don’t know what is really going on in the meat factories and in the dairy industry worries me and I think the business men and women responsible for these actions pay a good amount of (tax?)money to have the government cover their ass. Why would THIS be different than any other industry that’s going on? I mean, the health care sector is also rather a business than it is about getting and keeping people healthy these days. Why is it that we spend more money on buying medication that only treats symptoms rather than prevent these symptoms (which are often easily avoided by good lifestyle choices). You really think that the meat, dairy and egg industry wants to help you and only wants what’s good for you and the planet? Or might it be that their main concern is to become filthy rich? No more questions your honor!




Health reasons
After a lot of arguments about ethics and politics, let’s go back to where it all started for me. Namely, to improve my own health and to set an example for other people who want to live a healthy life. All the arguments that were used against me now make sense to me. Why drink milk that’s needed for a calf to grow up to be a massive cow. Not only that, the antibiotics and growth hormones used to protect dairy cows from getting sick worried me. A hospital hygienist with which I’ve spoken a couple of times during my time as an intern on the Pulmonary unit of a hospital also spoke about his concerns of using antibiotics so often. In a few years there is going to be a huge increase in deaths due to momentarily easy to treat diseases such as urinary tract infections. Not many people die of such an infection nowadays, but because our body gets in so many antibiotics, both prescribed by doctors as well as from nutrition, the bacteria become resistant at staggering speed.

Another argument against drinking milk that was brought to my attention many times was that milk-drinking countries have the highest prevalence of osteoporosis, which is a bone disease that leads to weak, brittle bones that easily break. My argument so far has always been that the lack of vitamin D due to weak sunlight was the reason we didn’t bind calcium properly and therefore, the incidence of osteoporosis was high among those who live in the Northern region of the world. I’m not sure if this argument still holds up though. Despite having many people comment on this by saying that dairy also contains lots of components that work against the absorption of dairy, I would like to do some more research on this myself to give you a clear, scientifically based answer.

There are definitely beneficial substances in meat, dairy, eggs and fish such as ‘heme’ iron, zinc, calcium (dairy), B vitamins (most particularly B12) and, well that’s about it. Some may argue protein, but you get all the protein you need with any diet you use that doesn’t drastically decrease calorie intake. In the Western world a shortcoming of protein is rather unique and hardly a problem for most people. If it is a problem though, it mostly has to do with not eating enough to start with, not with the nature of foods. So the protein argument never really was an argument in the first place. Don’t ever bring it up again please. I was aware of this even before I went plant-based, so there is no bias in that whatsoever.

Iron can be found in great quantities in nuts, seeds, dried fruits, some in whole grains and legumes. These are all non-heme sources though, meaning it’s not easily absorbed as heme iron. Regardless, vitamin C helps take up this trace mineral and since vegan diets promote vitamin C products to start with, you already removed one of the limiting factors of iron uptakes. Another thing is that vegans often get a lot of iron (in net weight) from their diets, even more so than omnivores. That accounts for another reason why iron deficiency isn’t your main concern. Women tend to have a shortage of iron though, but that’s regardless of what diet they follow. You should always pay some extra attention to this trace mineral as a vegan, but you would have to do that with any diet as a shortage will have major consequences for your health. The same story is true for zinc. These are also nutrient deficiencies that are not limited to the vegan peeps out there, but are a problem for many meat-consumers too.

Calcium was already briefly discussed, but the fact is that many plant-based foods have lots of calcium. Since vegans eat much more of those types of foods and since plant-based calcium doesn’t have as limiting factors as milk does, the uptake of calcium is probably no problem for vegans. Especially not if they used fortified products such as orange juice, almond milk or soy milk with added calcium.

B12 is a different story in that you can’t get it from plant-based foods. Get a supplement and your problem is solved. Get your blood work done every now and then to find nutritional deficiencies early on, then tread them and you should be okay.

he steps I took to become vegan
After all this research and watching documentaries I figured the only logical and moral solution was to stop taking animal-based products altogether. Honestly I’m not a person who struggles with being disciplined about a diet (although it’s rather a lifestyle), nor do I care what others think. In fact, I love to defend controversial topics that most people don’t agree with. I live with my parents and my older brother, so the biggest issue was that I would have to bring it to them that I wouldn’t be eating with them. This wasn’t that big of a deal as it turned out though. I already cooked for myself quite often and ate at separate times already most of the time. I have been cooking since I was around 17 years old (almost 24 now) and I truly enjoy it, so having to prepare my own meals every day was not exactly a punishment.
I started by quitting milk and replaced it with almond drink. It helps me to easily meet my calcium requirements and besides it’s fortified with vitamin B12. It’s never a bad thing to get certain important nutrients from various sources, so with the B12 fortified almond milk and B12 supplementation I think I’ve covered myself on that nutrient. After that I simply started cooking vegan meals for myself and ate together with my family a couple of times a week only. I used to eat meat and poultry on my bread and I quit with that too obviously. The only meat I ate the past five weeks or so was during dinner maybe three times a week maximum for the first two weeks and then it decreased and didn’t eat any animal product for the last two weeks of the transition period.




What it brought me already
By the time I post this article I’ve been fully vegan for about 2 weeks I think. During that time my house mite allergic reactions have become less. My nose isn’t as stuffed as it used to be, which I mostly prescribe to the lack of dairy in my diet. It also may have to do with the anti-inflammatory components plant-based foods have in contrary to the more inflammatory-causing animal produce. I also feel a lot happier for some reason, which could have a physical component to it, but probably the fact that I feel I’m doing something good for the entire planet every day plays a part in this too. I feel way more energized than I used to be and I also feel my endurance went up. Regarding actual strength I haven’t seen much difference. My explosiveness has gone up, but I still lift similar weights, albeit that I don’t feel sore all the time, something that was indeed the case with my omnivorous diet.

Something that I also had was gastric reflux, which I haven’t had for weeks now, and thick mucus from dairy and other animal-based products is also completely cleared. To me these are already life changing… well, changes. Even though they are small issues, they help improve the quality of life. Especially being able to breathe normally through my nose without having to use corticosteroids to keep my nose open, is a huge improvement. Why use medication if nutrition can solve the problem. I think nutrition is the most powerful medicine there is, especially if it comes to preventing a massive amount of illnesses. That’s always been my vision, but now I’ve added that I think the plant-based diet is best for that.

What’s next?
I’m using veganism and plant-based diet interchangeably in this blogpost for a reason. I prefer plant-based diet as it doesn’t label me as much as a person, but besides that I’m not completely vegan in that I still have leather jackets, shoes and belts. Some might say that’s hypocritical, but you must know I already had that before I started to take interest in veganism. Not eating meat already is the best contribute you can do to animal welfare and the environment. Hereby I can guarantee I won’t buy any new clothing that has been made from animals, but I can’t change my past.
Then why not give away your jackets, belts and shoes you’re asking me? Because it helps me remind how I used to think and I think that puts things in perspective and makes me vulnerable. Vulnerability is a good potion to arrogance I think and that way I hope I won’t judge others for not making the choice to go vegan. However, if people ask me where I got the jacket or shoes I will simply state that they shouldn’t get it. When these clothes are ready to get replaced I definitely get vegan products. In fact, I already am sponsored by ANI, a brand that supports veganism and has some amazing ‘barefoot shoes’ which I adore and often wear. A lucky coincidence as I already was affiliated with them before I became vegan.

Another thing that I have to do now is to make sure the food I eat, like bread, doesn’t contain animal products. However, these are the smaller steps and I think I already took a huge leap to change my opinion about this particular subject completely. If I go to a restaurant now I’ll probably have to settle for vegetarian meals as most restaurants don’t ‘do vegan’. Not everyone in my social circle is vegan, but luckily (?) my social life is close to non-existent so I won’t have that problem too often.




For those who are being criticized for making a drastic U-turn, here are some inspirational words. Don’t be afraid of people calling you stupid because you change your mind about something so suddenly and drastically. It takes courage, intelligence and critical thinking to do such a thing and none of those characteristics are by any means negative. So far I’ve mostly had positive reactions on my lifestyle change and most people think it is admirable and a great sign of showing commitment and empathy. In fact I think it’s something I would proudly bring up during a job interview as it shows indeed commitment, discipline and great character to make these kinds of choices. Most people you’ll meet will greet you with respect and admiration as long as you’re cool about it yourself. Don’t push your beliefs upon others and if I accidently did that by writing this, please let me know via my contact page, so I can set things straight!

Conclusion
I’ll continue looking for better scientific support for the choice I made. So far I haven’t had extremely convincing studies as it’s hard to find articles about veganism in the first place. And if I do find articles, I can also find articles that disprove the theory put up in the ‘pro-vegan article’. For me the environmental and animal welfare arguments are strong enough to dismiss meat-eating. This is a great journey with plenty of challenges and learning moments. In the past few months I’ve learned a lot of new things about nutrition and that makes me a more complete personal trainer and nutritionist. Plant-based diets, the way I look at it now, is by no means an ‘all-curable intervention’ that protects us from every known disease, but it seems very promising.
Most of the time I don’t like to base my thoughts on anecdotes, but there are a lot of beautiful anecdotes about people feeling more energized, happier, reversing heart disease (also partly supported by scientific articles) and so on. If you are on the edge of trying out veganism I can definitely recommend trying it. You can always go back. Unless you don’t give it a shot, that is.

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