Let’s Talk Vegan
Is it for everyone?
There is a global movement towards healthier living. About 71% of consumers are demanding healthier alternatives in restaurants, and more people are favoring fresh food over processed food. Some proponents maintain that animal products are harmful to both humans and animals in a fundamental way: meat is killing humans as well as the animals it comes from, and research does bear this out to some degree. Meat is often high in saturated fat, which can lead to health problems. It would seem logical to think that veganism and a vegan diet may be the perfect solution to the global health problem. However, there are also equally vocal opponents of a strict vegan diet because it is nutritionally deficient, and that it is not for everyone. The fact is, there is some truth in both stands.
Before anything else, it is important to define what a vegan diet is. Vegans cut out all animal products from their diets, and this includes dairy products and eggs. They are distinct from vegetarians, which eschew just meat products because they see no ethical harm in consuming eggs and milk. Vegetarians abstain from meat mostly from health reasons, while vegans consider it a philosophy that rejects the consumption of animals in any of its forms.
Opponents of the strict vegan diet base their arguments on the assertion that humans are physiologically omnivores. The typical vegan diet is high in fiber and vitamin C, and low in saturated fat. As a result, vegans tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-vegans, which means they tend to be skinnier. These are all good things. However, the vegan diet is also deficient in certain nutrients that the human body needs to function. For example, 83% of vegans are deficient in Vitamin B12, which can have serious consequences to their cognitive ability, physical functioning, and resistance to disease. Vegans do not have a good source of B12 in their diet, because the richest source of this is red meat, especially beef liver, as well as poultry, fish, milk, and eggs.
Other nutrients missing in the vegan diet include fat-soluble vitamins A and D, calcium, iron, zinc, and essential fatty acids (omega-3 and -6). These deficiencies are especially apparent and serious in children that have been on a vegan diet since birth. The damage is often irreversible.
Vegans defend their life choices by enumerating non-animal products that can provide these nutrients, but the fact is they can only get them in inadequate amounts unless they take supplements or consume fortified cereals. Since these supplements often source the needed nutrients from animals anyway, many vegans refuse to fortify their diets accordingly. As mentioned earlier, vegetarians do consumer milk and eggs, which is why their B12 deficiency (63%) is not as high as those for vegans.
It should also be noted that a vegan diet is not necessarily healthy if it is high in sodium or sugar. A diet of potato chips and other snack foods may technically follow vegan guidelines, but are definitely not healthy. From a nutritional point of view, a vegan diet can only be healthy for some adults if they make an informed decision about what they eat.
Overall, a vegan diet may satisfy ethical and religious convictions, but not nutritional requirements. While some adults are able to function adequately despite these deficiencies if they are reasonably health to begin with, a strict vegan diet can do incalculable harm for babies and very young children.