It is unmistakable that a well-planned vegan diet is actually a healthier alternative, but there are certain fundamentals that need to be considered when going vegan. While it is true that vegans are at a disadvantage with regards to convenience and easy access to healthy meal options locally, it is improving rapidly and the following information can help if you get yourself into a conversation where you need to defend your vegan choice.
We have often heard that nutrients that are ‘only found in animal products’ are essential for health and normal development. Is this true?
Let’s compare a meat blend versus a plant blend head to head – the plant blend includes equal parts of tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas and potatoes, and the meat blend is equal parts beef, pork and turkey. The plant blend contains no cholesterol and virtually no fat – the meat blend may have more protein, but remember that the protein from meat and dairy has more sulphur amino acids (methionine), so this is not a positive thing. The plant blend actually contains Beta-carotine, fibre and Vit. C, where the meat blend has none at all – and the plant blend also contains more folate.
If you look at nutrients like iron, calcium and magnesium, the plant blend has way more than the meat blend, and the iron found in meat is actually carcinogenic. So the nutrients that people claim are essential are in fact detrimental to human health. The Heme Iron in animal foods has been shown to cause cancer and the cholesterol and saturated and trans fats cause heart disease and diabetes. It is clear that the most important nutrients are actually found in plant foods.
Vegans are actually better at getting nutrients! Vegans are commonly low in three nutrients; calcium, iodine and Vit B12; but omnivores (meat eaters) are inclined to be low in eight nutrients, including calcium, iodine and Vit B12, as well as fibre, folate, magnesium, Vit C and Vit E. Calcium deficiency is not a ‘vegan only’ issue.
But how can both vegans and omnivores be deficient in calcium? Because neither vegans nor omnivores include enough calcium-rich whole plant foods like beans, legumes and leafy greens in their diet.
Calcium, it seems, is only effective if eaten in food, not supplements. Researchers have found that taking calcium supplements offers no reduction in hip fracture risk; in fact, an increased risk is possible. Randomized controlled trials showed a 64% greater risk of hip fractures with calcium supplementation compared to just getting a placebo sugar pill.
On another talking point, Vegans definitely get enough protein. Protein is a common talking point for the anti-vegan faction, but protein can be found in many plant foods and it appears that animal protein is in fact terrible for human health. Because animal proteins have more sulphur-based amino acids in them, animal proteins metabolise into sulphuric acid in your body, creating a metabolic acidosis. This state of metabolic acidosis is obviously responsible for changing body pH (acidity), but it also increases inflammation in the body, which increases aging and affects enzyme activity. This puts immense strain on your kidneys and can also play a role in diabetes.
What about supplements? Should we supplement or should we go ‘natural’? Unfortunately with the world being as complicated as it is and so vastly different from our ‘caveman’ days I believe that a simple answer is not possible, but I can give you an uncomplicated recommendation.
From the research I have done and from my experience with patients our lives are just so crammed full of things to do and tasks to complete that balancing our responsibilities often supersedes the need to balance ones diet. The 4 problem nutrients I believe we should be supplementing are Vitamin B12, Iodine, Omega 3 and Vitamin D. Provided that you eat a variety of whole plant foods, your other nutrient requirements will be met as well.
So as you can see a properly planned vegan diet is definitely healthier, and hopefully these basics can help you on your way to a healthy, happy, vegan lifestyle.
To learn more check out this incredible video by Dr Greger, author of "How not to die" - https://nutritionfacts.org/video/food-as-medicine/