Veganism on the South’s Healthier Horizon

As a state renowned for its predilection for fried chicken and barbecue, it might come as no surprise that state obesity levels are at 31.4%, making Georgia the 20th most obese state in America (with adult diabetes rates here at 12.1% and hypertension at 36.2%). This represents a fall from figures of only a few years ago, which have come from the implementation of healthier food being served in schools and the availability of parks and green spaces in communities, as well as a diminishing trend for the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks (despite Atlanta being the global headquarters for Coca-Cola).

It seems, however, as if an even healthier approach to eating and drinking might be on the South’s horizon: veganism is on its way to be a fully-fledged lifestyle choice (yes, even here), and not just due to environmental concerns.

Startling Statistics and Saturated Fats

Statistics show that 73.5 million (31.7% of) adults in the United States have high cholesterol and fewer than 1 in 3 of those affected have their cholesterol levels under control, doubling their risk of heart disease and increasing the chance of stroke due to the build-up of this waxy, fat-like substance on the walls of their arteries (a distinctly unpleasant thought). A massive contributor to cholesterol is poor diet, where a considerable amount of saturated fat is consumed which is mainly found in animal products, such as meat and dairy. Therefore, by adopting a vegan (or plant-based) diet, a large proportion of saturated foods are eliminated and – like magic – cholesterol levels lowered.

Fats and More Fats

There are four main types of fat:

  • Saturated fat: as mentioned above.
  • Polyunsaturated: not so good and to be eaten in moderation.
  • Monounsaturated: the best fat, the one which should be most consumed, and
  • Trans fats: found naturally in small quantities within milk and meat products, but mainly from industrial process, not good, and should be avoided.

It is from essential-fatty acids that most of those highly praised and talked about Omega 3 and Omega 6s are absorbed (think fish, but think – especially in this case – also vegetables and grains, including flaxseed oil). Because such a huge proportion of bad fats are found in animal products, by switching to an animal-free diet vegans declare that you are not just benefitting the planet but serving your own body as the temple it should be, as well. As much as veganism can be maligned for nutritional deficiency and the need to supplement certain B vitamins no matter how fastidious you are, on the basis of diminishing bad cholesterol they are very much “onto something”.

Diets and Battling the Bulge

Ideal cholesterol levels are a combined total of less than 200mg/dL (where LDL is less than 100mg/dL, HDL is 60mg/dL or more, and triglycerides are less than 150mg/dL). If you are aged 20 and above, every five years you should have your cholesterol levels checked by a physician through a simple blood test called a “lipid profile” (when they will also look at your triglycerides, a fat that provides energy), as you don’t necessarily know whether or not your cholesterol is high until severe complications arise (not a desirable scenario). Being overweight, eating unhealthily, and not exercising enough all contribute to high cholesterol, as does smoking. If your cholesterol is found to be high, in addition to a change of lifestyle, you will probably need to be put on prescription medication to help lower it as well (for example, statins, which can be further combined with cholesterol absorbers; not always a cheap addition, but deals like a Zetia coupon help to make this decision affordable).

Studies have concluded that cholesterol levels rise and fall in accordance to the state of a country’s economy and accessibility to healthcare. With awareness about the dangers of high levels of bad cholesterol first majorly promoted in the 1980s, since then cholesterol levels have been dropping (due in no small degree to the multiple “diets” that proliferated over the decades); but clearly not enough, or certainly not in Georgia (though Southerners knew all that cornbread would catch up with them eventually). Veganism, therefore, offers a very real and effective alternative established by and for oneself, which leads to restoring or maintaining health.

Clean Eating and Exercise

In 2006, only 1.4% of Americans were vegan. This rose to 2% by 2012 and just four years later there are now 6% nationwide who identify as vegan. Although most people go vegan in protest against the barbarism present in much of intensive industrial animal agriculture (protest against such promoted by the recent Netflix movie Okja), the health benefits of a vegan diet are compelling. In addition to lower cholesterol, rheumatism in joints has been said to decrease, skin clear up, and an overall feeling of wellness increase (long gone are those painfully sleepy mornings). This has worked miracles for the health industry, and indeed the food industry (the plant-based meat market estimated to be worth $5.2 billion by 2020). Anyone for a tofurky sandwich?

Of course, exercise coupled with these clean- and green-eating dietary changes will help lower your cholesterol no end. Aim for at least two and a half hours a week (just over twenty minutes a day) of exercise – whichever form that might take, suitable to your body. You don’t have to become the next yoga bunny looking forward to a vegan raw energy bar à la some Californian blonde in order to reap the benefits of cutting out animal products from your diet (though some are lessening the blow of certain foodstuff deprivation by adopting a “veggan” approach).

In reality, tackling health issues and depressing statistics on the state of the average American body all comes down to common sense. As philosophers and ancestors have said for generations, before obesity or cholesterol were even words: “moderation in all things”.