Why are there less vegan men than women? Are outdated gender stereotypes holding men back? It’s time to debunk the myths – from the daft to the downright dangerous – and reveal why going vegan is a good choice for men – as well as everyone else.
I asked my colleagues at Viva! to tell me who their favourite vegan activists are, to see what the gender split would be. Most of the names were men, with Joey Carbstrong, Earthling Ed and James Aspey being the most popular.
Joey Carbstrong was recently on ITV's Good Morning Britain arguing with Piers Morgan about whether or not 'milk is murder'. Earthling Ed encourages dialogue with farmers on the morality of eating animals, while James Aspey took a vow of silence for an entire year just to raise awareness of the planet’s voiceless victims – animals. These ‘celebrity’ activists are followed by thousands of people on social media and while the movement’s headliners are largely men, it’s the opposite for vegans as a whole.
Vegans on the rise
The number of vegans is rising rapidly – up 360 per cent in the last decade – but how many are men? Surveys suggest that around two thirds of UK vegans are women while only a third are men. Why do vegan women outrank men by a ratio of 2:1? Are men worried that they’ll be seen as less masculine if they don’t eat meat? Have they bought into the old saying that real men eat meat?
The idea that meat somehow increases virility couldn’t be more wrong. Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as steak, can clog up the arteries leading to and from the heart and block blood flow to other vital organs. In fact, impotence can be an early warning of heart disease.
Former firefighter and triathlete, Rip Esselstyn – son of the famous heart surgeon, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn – slams the myth that meat is good for sex, saying: “…the canary in the coal mine when it comes to heart disease is an underperforming penis”. Men might love steak, cheese and bacon… but they don’t love you back!
Meat and full-fat dairy foods have been linked to fertility problems in men, with those eating the most having fewer and slower sperm. Men who eat the most fruit and vegetables have been found to have higher quality sperm that swim faster. It follows that for men wanting to start a family, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains – which means more antioxidants, vitamins, folic acid and fibre – may be a good and inexpensive way to improve fertility.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in British men, affecting one in eight at some point in their lives. Again, the food they eat can affect their risk. Scientists at Loma Linda University in California looked at over 26,000 men and found that those with a vegan diet had a 35 per cent lower risk. Professor Gary Fraser who led the study, said: “This new research, funded by World Cancer Research Fund, makes a significant step in linking a vegan diet to reduced prostate cancer risk”.
Heart of the matter
Men appear to be more susceptible to heart disease than women. Around 2.3 million people in the UK are living with heart disease and over 60 per cent of them are men. Of course, stopping smoking and taking regular exercise helps but so does changing the diet. Research from Oxford University found that the risk of hospitalisation or death from heart disease was a whopping 32 per cent lower in people who avoid eating meat and fish. A vegan diet can assist weight loss, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, manage or even reverse type 2 diabetes and ultimately reduce the risk of heart disease – one of the UK’s biggest killers.
The fat man of Europe
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UK has become the ‘fat man of Europe’, with one in four adults now being described as obese. Obese men are five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, three times more likely to develop bowel cancer and more than two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from high blood pressure – a major risk factor for heart disease. A low-fat vegan diet can help you lose and maintain a healthy weight without worrying about portion control.
Chicken ain't all that!
Fact. Did you know that chicken contains more fat than protein? Forget white meat and try replacing chicken with chick peas to help shift that spare tyre.
Good nutrition is important for mental health too. A number of studies suggest that vegans suffer less stress and anxiety than meat and dairy-eaters and that reducing animal foods can offer significant mood benefits. When feeling down, there may be a temptation to reach for pies, chips, crisps, puddings, cakes, chocolate, sugary drinks and alcohol but… Fresh fruit and veg, wholegrains such as oats, wholemeal bread and brown rice and healthy fats in nuts and seeds, really can help you beat the blues it seems.
Acne may produce external scars but its damage can be less visible, causing distress, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence. Body builders who use steroid hormones or whey-based supplements to stimulate muscle growth are more prone to acne. These hormones increase oil secretion in the skin which can lead to blocked hair follicles and large, pus-filled spots. As two-thirds of the cow’s milk you buy is taken from pregnant cows, when hormone levels are sky-high, it follows that avoiding dairy could also help combat acne. American actor, activist and playwright Woody Harrelson says: “I was about 24 years old and I had tons of acne and mucus. I met some random girl on a bus who told me to quit dairy and all those symptoms would go away in three days”. He followed her advice, found she was right and has never looked back!
Cooking up trouble
The BBQ is a popular male domain, where sausages, burgers and hot dogs are often burnt to a crisp! The World Health Organisation says that processed meat causes bowel cancer and red meat probably does, too. One reason is because cooking meat at high temperatures produces harmful compounds linked to cancer. Bowel cancer is the second most common one in England and the third most common cause of cancer death, after lung and prostate cancer in men. The good news is, you don’t have to eat carcinogenic food – just stick a vegan sausage, burger or Portobello mushroom on the grill!
Beef up vegan style
But can you keep fit on a vegan diet? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t build muscle by eating muscle (meat). Muscles develop by being used and the best diet to fuel this is a wholegrain, vegan one. It provides all the good stuff such as complex carbohydrates, antioxidants and fibre, while avoiding the undesirables – saturated animal fats, animal protein and cholesterol, all linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers. Find out how to beef up without meat here.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out the new wave of vegan athletes – and particularly the 51-year-old ultra-endurance athlete, Rich Roll, who Men’s Health magazine said may well be that world’s fittest vegan! Last September, Rich ran 40 miles and swam six miles across the 26 islands of the Stockholm archipelago as part of the gruelling Ötillö Swimrun World Championship, one of the toughest endurance races in the world. No one is asking Rich where he gets his protein!
Just as a vegan diet is the healthiest diet for infants, children, women and older people, it is also the healthiest diet for men. There’s no magic bullet in meat or dairy that benefits men’s health. In fact, the opposite is true – these are the foods that harm. Do yourself a favour and try something better. Oh, and one more thing, people find compassion very attractive!
If you want help or advice on going vegan, contact Viva!Health or sign up to our free ‘30 Day Vegan’ meal plan here: 30dayvegan.org.uk