If your mum is anything like mine, she’ll have told you that every sneeze, ache or mouth ulcer was down to your lack of animal protein.
“You’d never have got sick if you ate a bit of chicken,” she’s said to me whenever I’ve complained of a cold.
And it looks like she could be right right; a new study has found that vegans take more sick days than omnivores.
It found that we tend to take almost five days off a year and are three times more likely to visit our GPS than meat eaters.
But that doesn’t necessarily have to mean what many critics have taken as proof that plants are nutrient deficient.?
The research is miniscule
Firstly, this was a survey of 1,000 people by throat lozenge kings, Fisherman’s Friend.
Already, that should be ringing alarm bells. If one per cent of the UK population is vegan, that this group is likely to have included less than 10 vegans in the count – a number too small to count for anything concrete.
Also, veganism is a hot topic now and stories like this are guaranteed to whip up a media frenzy about health and sickness…which a traditional (and possibly waning) cold brand might benefit from.
Even if the stats do stack up, they doesn’t necessarily mean we’re more sickly
For a start, many of us who are plant-based are so (at least in part) because we’re health conscious. We know that eating less meat and more fruit and veg is the key to healthy living – and a recent Lancet report confirmed that fact.
I took to veganism initially because I thought it to be the healthiest option – super high in fiber and phytonutrients and low in saturated fats. As I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, I’ve become an eco-warrior and animal rights advocate…but health still plays a massive part in my passion for plant-based living.
As such, I listen to my body far more now than I did back in the day when I’d follow a night on the sambuca with a bacon sarnie.
I definitely take more sick days now but that’s because I don’t believe in flogging my body when it’s run down. I spend so much time thinking about the best ways to nourish it that it wouldn’t make sense to power through a cold if I could just take a bed day. After all, they do say a stitch in time saves nine. Five days a year off sick is literally nothing.
Perhaps we have bigger fish to fry than worry about presenteeism
In my case, I’m also less concerned about keeping bosses happy these days.
I don’t care enough to be concerned with presenteeism when there are bigger fish to fry.
When your life revolves around what I call ‘chronic activism’ – low level lifestyle habits to improve the world (like eating plant-based, worrying that Sally from HR or your editor is going to be mad that you saved the rest of the office from having cold seems rather insignificant.
There’s also an element of privilege to consider
Of course all of this comes with massive privilege.
Loads of people can’t afford to take any sick days because of freelance gigs and zero hour contracts, and maybe there is something in that a lot of vegans belong to a certain demographic (at least in London) which has enough disposable income or support to enable us to stay off work when we choose.
The study also found that younger people were more likely to take sick days than older ones and we know that the meteoric rise in veganism has centered around millennials who have a totally different attitude to career and wellbeing than our parents or grandparents.
Even the British Heart Foundation has rubbished the study.
The charity has slammed tabloid coverage of the study (the Metro warned ‘perhaps carrots should carry cigarette-style health warnings, as it’s emerged that vegans actually take more days off sick than everybody else’), calling it ‘unhelpful’ in the fight to get more people to eat better.
“This coverage had the unhelpful effect of suggesting that a diet containing more fruit and vegetables is bad for your health, despite countless studies demonstrating the opposite,” it said.
It cites a 2016 a study by scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, monitoring more than 130,000 people for thirty years, which found that every three percent increase in calories from plant protein reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 12 percent.
And the BHF also funded that recent Lancet study which concluded that ‘for people in high and middle-income countries, low meat flexitarian or vegan diets which met healthy eating guidelines had positive benefits for health for most people as well as on the environment.
“They calculated that these types of diets could lower early deaths from heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and cancer by around 19-22 per cent.”