Veganism has been gaining popularity with black folks all over the world. Traditionally seen as a “white person” or “rich person” thing, more black people are adopting the lifestyle. Why? Because black people experience a ton of great health benefits from taking on a vegan lifestyle. Many of which are backed by science and have been proven to alleviate or reverse illnesses and diseases contracted from historically poor dietary choices. With the alarming rate of chronic diseases so high in American black communities, it’s never been a better time to take on a plant-based lifestyle. These are 9 scientifically-backed and historically relevant reasons why Black people should adopt a vegan and plant-based lifestyle.
Reason #1: A plant-based lifestyle has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease in black populations
Heart disease is one of the major killers of black people in American. Not gun violence, heart disease. Heart disease is particularly detrimental to Black women. Nearly 50,000 black women die annually from heart disease (1). Of Black-American women aged 20 and older, 49% have heart diseases (2). High cholesterol and saturated fat intakes have caused enormous amounts of heart disease incidences in the Black-American population. I’m sure everyone and their mama knows someone who suffers from heart disease. This is avoidable. We don’t have to continue the cycle of eating unhealthy “soul” foods and contributing to a shorter life expectancy. One study showed that Black-Americans on a vegan diet had better blood cholesterol levels than Black-Americans who were ingesting dairy products (3). Dairy products are full of cholesterol that can clog the arteries and increase the risk of heart attack. Common dairy-rich foods that black people eat include macaroni and cheese, buttermilk biscuits, and coleslaw full of mayonnaise. Another study found that diets rich in whole-grains, fruits and vegetables help protect against artery disease (4). We, Black-Americans, don’t always get the whole grains, fruits and vegetables that we need. With the consumption of white flour products and processed foods, we are not only preventing healthy foods from nourishing us, we are actively indulging in foods that increase our risk of heart disease. To prevent the risk of heart disease, black people can really benefit from switching to a plant-based, vegan diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and minimal in dairy products and processed foods.
Reason #2: A plant-based lifestyle provides significant weight loss benefits
Obesity is another major killer of black people in America. According to the Center for Disease Control, 37.5% of black men over age 20 are obese and 56.1% of black women over age 20 are obese (5) This means 1 in 3 black men and 1 in 2 black women in America are obese. Obesity is preventable and reversible. Obesity is caused by eating too much and moving too little (6). By eating too much, I mean eating large amounts of processed and unhealthy foods. The soul food diet is full of foods that do not promote the weight loss benefits that plant-based diets do. Plant-based foods provide the body with incredible amounts of vitamins and minerals with very little of the health issues like cholesterol, saturated fats and high calories. A low-fat vegan lifestyle has been proven to show significant weight loss benefits with overweight postmenopausal women, a population that experiences obesity at higher rates than other individuals (7). All kinds of people are taking up a vegan and plant-based lifestyle for weight loss purposes. Fun fact, the only weight lifter that qualified for the 2016 Olympics in America was a vegan! If that doesn’t say something about the health and fitness benefits that come with a plant-based vegan lifestyle, I don’t know what does.
Reason #3: Black people do not need to rely on dairy products to get adequate amounts of Calcium and Vitamin D
The dairy industry in America has effectively convinced the people that diary products are the best way to get calcium and Vitamin D in the body. Even though this has some truth to it, it’s not the full truth. The first thing to know is that only 23-24% of the calcium found in cow’s milk is digestible to the human body (8). On top of that, 74% of African-Americans are lactose intolerant (9). Most African-Americans do not have the enzymes to digest milk which can cause us to inadequately digest the calcium found in dairy products. But don't worry, I have good news. There are several plant-based foods that provide more and a much easier digestible form of calcium. This list includes cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower as well as dark leafy greens like spinach and collards. Another misconception is that dairy products are the best way to get Vitamin D into the body. This is also not entirely false, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Vitamin D is produced naturally in the body and is in fact a hormone. The human body can produce it’s own Vitamin D by exposing the skin to sunlight. One thing that sets black people apart from other groups is our immense amount of melanin. Melanin is a natural chemical product that produces the dark color found in the skin. Everyone has melanin but black people tend to have particularly large amounts of melanin which gives us our color. The melanin in the skin of black people allows us to sit in the sun for longer amounts of time and produce our own Vitamin D naturally. In order to get enough Vitamin D, it is as simple as sitting in the sun for at least 30 minutes a day and perhaps consuming Vitamin D rich sources like fortified foods and vitamins.
Reason #4: Plant-based diets help to protect black women from breast cancer
Breast cancer affects black women in disproportionate ways. 1 in 9 black women are at risk of developing breast cancer within their lifetime (10). Black women have a lower risk of getting breast cancer than white women yet black women face a higher breast cancer mortality risk (11). In essence, while white women tend to get breast cancer more often, black women die more often from breast cancer. The combination of genetics, income and cultural factors create this reality for black women. This isn’t just a Black-American issue. One study found that breast cancer incidences in black women in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to grow because of the adoption of a westernized lifestyle (12) A westernized lifestyle includes a shift from traditional dietary foods towards western style diets. Think the rise of fast food, high meat consumption, and large intakes of sugary drinks and sodas. Although breast cancer has a lot to do with genetics, the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer can be mitigated by eating foods that protect the body from the causes of breast cancer. Foods like brown rice, sweet potatoes, blueberries and green tea are known to be protective against breast cancer (13).
Reason #5: The Consumption of plant-based foods can prevent several kinds of avoidable cancers in black people (breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers)
For Black-Americans, the 2nd leading cause of death is cancer; following heart disease (14). Various cancers affect black men and women at alarming rates. According to Cancer.org, 1 in 6 black men will develop prostate cancer within their lifestyle, 1 in 9 black women will develop breast cancer within their lifetime, 1 in 21 black people will develop colon cancer within their lifetime, and 1 in 13 black men will develop lung cancer within their lifetime (15). Despite popular belief, these cancers are “avoidable”. By avoidable, we mean that with the integration of healthy lifestyle and dietary factors, breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer can be prevented. The ability for plant-based foods to prevent avoidable cancers is a well-known and well-researched fact. Dozens of studies have proven that a plant-based lifestyle can not only prevent but reverse avoidable cancers like breast, colon, prostate and lung. One study found that 90% of colon cancer deaths are attributed to dietary factors (16). The same study cited that Vitamin A intake is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. In addition, there is strong evidence for the consumption of fruits and vegetables and its protection against lung cancer. With respect to prostate cancer, one study in Hawaii suggested that animal fat may be a compelling cause of prostate cancer (17). The rate of various cancers in the black community is alarming. A great way to prevent and protect against them would be to increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and decrease the consumption of animal products.
Reason #6: Preventable diseases negatively impact the black family
Many of the health issues that affect the black community exacerbate each other. Obesity, heart disease, cancer and stroke can sometimes happen hand-in-hand by creating a health snowball effect that leads from one disease to another. By decreasing the incidences of these health issues in the black community, we help take the stress off of families that may not be able to afford costly health treatments and time away from work. When it comes to these diseases, it is often the wage earner in the family that is most affected (18). If the primary earner of the household is experiencing health issues and can no longer work, this puts strain on black families in a socioeconomic and social sense. It is in the best interest of black families to support their loved ones to make healthier eating choices in order for the primary wage earner to continue to economically support the family.
Reason #7: Plant-Based diets can help mitigate against getting type 2 diabetes
Do you know someone with diabetes? I do. I have 3 generations of diabetics in my family. All have type 2 diabetes; the kind of diabetes that can be prevented by diet. It’s important to note that there are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is hereditary but type 2 diabetes is brought on by diet. One study found that a plant-based diet was associated with reduced amounts of diabetes in Black-Americans (19). This is important because Black-Americans have a higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes and experience a disproportionate mortality rate because of it (20). On the flip side, one study showed that a whole-foods plant-based diet that is rich in beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds is highly beneficial for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes (21). There are plenty of plant-foods that have been proven to help folks with diabetes. The list includes brown rice, sweet potatoes, kale, and spinach.
Reason #8: Soul food culture contributes negatively to the health and wellbeing of Black-Americans
I know no one wants to hear this but hear me out. Soul food is not healthy for the black community. We have to go back in history to understand why that is. Soul food was originally made from the scraps that slave owners would leave their slaves on the plantation (22) This includes pig feet, oxtails, animal organs like liver, and pig intestines. Our ancestors had to make do with what they had and consequently made incredible dishes out of the scraps and remains they were left. This tradition of turning scraps into delicious food, is what started what we now know as soul food. For those in the back, we’re in 2018. This isn’t the 1700’s anymore. Most Black-Americans have at least some access to grocery stores and healthy options. We no longer have to indulge in foods that negatively impact our health, contribute to chronic diseases in our community and reduce our life expectancies. If you’re missing soul food, there are hundreds of vegetarian and veganized recipes that create the flavors of traditional soul food minus the harmful health impacts. I have a list of 25 vegan and soulful recipes right here.
Reason #9: Black health can be improved with a supportive community focused on healthy plant-based eating habits
We all need community and someone to believe in us. For a lot of black folks, they find this community in churches and other religious institutions. I have good news; some churches have caught on to the negative health issues their community faces and have committed themselves to helping their community find healthier options. Churches in the Bible Belt (the southeastern USA) have been partnering with health organizations to launch healthy eating programs to reduce the health disparities in the black community (23). This has worked wonderfully. One church-based health program showed that of the 3,700 people in 50 black churches in North Carolina, 23% reported eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day since the program's launch (24). This is a great improvement and step towards better health in the black community. When we are encouraged by our community to make healthier choices, it can be a real motivator towards making those changes.
Diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer are the number one killers of Black-Americans. It's time to make changes that benefit our health and longevity. The holiday season is almost over and the new year is approaching. It’s not too late to take this information and make better choices in the coming year. Small steps every day can contribute to the prevention and perhaps treatment of many diseases that ail our community. If you’re looking for recipes to try or more support, look no further. You can check out the recipes section of this blog and find tons of delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas. If you want more support and coaching, you can book an appointment with a plant-based lifestyle consultant and get on the right track. Start today, eat well, be well, live well.