Is the vegan diet really healthy?

In my original post my position was that vegans could not live a healthy life. This position was due to misinformation. I have edited the post below to reflect my change of heart.

A comment on my blog entry yesterday on SPAM from the folks at Vegan.com has got me thinking. I have heard many things about the vegetarian lifestyle and what it means. Can you truly be a vegetarian and be healthy. Yes. But there is a difference in someone who considers them self to be a vegetarian and someone who is a vegan. The main difference is that vegans don’t consume any products that come from animals which includes honey, dairy, or eggs. This poses the question of whether a vegan can truly be healthy.

Let me start by saying that there are many people who live a 100% vegan lifestyle for the betterment of society, animals and the like. Though I may disagree with these people’s views, I can certainly respect their actions and choices, as they need to do what is right for their own morality. So, on that topic I respectfully agree to disagree. This post is about the health value of eating a vegan diet.

I’m sure there are many who call themselves vegans who are very healthy. But it is difficult to get all of the nutrients that the body needs and still be a true vegan. The biggest concern is the body’s need for vitamin B12, and unfortunately B12 is only found in animal tissue. It is not found in any plant. Though B12 is found in some yeasts and molds, some vegans do not include products made from these in their diets.  So how can you get B12 without consuming any animal products? Most “vegans” supplement their diets with B12 in the form of vitamins or other foods fortified with B12, those supplements contain yeasts or molds.

The body needs B12. One of the most important functions of Vitamin B12 is its ability to work together with Folic Acid in the production of DNA. Because of the way it is able to recycle certain enzymes, it plays a significant role in maintaining the proper functioning of cells, blood and nerves. An imbalance of either Vitamin B9 or B12 can negatively impact the way red blood cells divide and lead to a condition known as pernicious anemia.

Vitamin B12 also works to reduce levels of homocysteine, the amino acids that can damage artery walls and increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease. Vitamin B12 is also responsible for ensuring that nerve cells function properly. It’s also possible that Vitamin B12 can treat symptoms associated with a loss of calcium including osteoporosis and damage to the teeth. This vitamin may even be able to relieve some symptoms of depression. It is proven that mothers who do not obtain adequate vitamin B12 in their diet while breastfeeding can cause severe and permanent neurological damage to their infants.

Another concern in the vegan diet is protein. It is certainly possible to gain protein from vegetables and legumes, but it is very important to make sure that enough protein is included in the diet. This is mainly because animal based proteins are absorbed into the diet much faster than synthesized proteins and plant based proteins. Lack of protein can cause severe health issues which include growth failure, loss of muscle mass, a weak immune system, weakening of the heart and respiratory system and the most severe of health issues, death. There are also numerous issues with the lack of protein that are simply just undesirable, though not necessarily health issues, such as the loss of hair, weakness and lack of energy and decrease in sexual desire.

Although it isn’t still well studied- research shows that iron deficiency is more present in vegans than in the general population.  It is important to note that iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies that’s why many nutritionists and dietitians recommend a daily multivitamin. Because of how common iron deficiency is, it is extra important that vegans supplement. There is also evidence that vegans are at a higher risk for vitamin D, calcium and iodine deficiencies. Once again, bringing up the importance of supplementation. Iodine can be supplemented as easily as using iodized salt.

So, back to the question on whether or not you can live a healthy life as a vegan. The answer is yes, but beware. It is of the utmost importance for vegans to supplement their diet to insure proper nutrition. So for those unwilling to take additional supplements, the vegan lifestyle is not for you. Now before you jump on me, understand that I do believe that you can live a healthy life as a vegan, but what it boils down to is that you simply can’t be a vegan and be healthy without educating yourself thoroughly. To do so would simply be detrimental and foolish. I certainly welcome comments to the contrary.

Vegan Diet: Recipe for Disaster?– chetday.com

B12 Suplement Fact Sheet – National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supliments

Thinkquest Vegitarian Library – Thinkquest Library

Vegan.com – Vegan.com

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2 responses to “Is the vegan diet really healthy?

  1. I know this blog post was made with good and honest intentions, but it ought to be retracted. There’s no vegan I’ve ever heard of who would say yeasts and bacteria aren’t vegan. As the publisher of Vegan.com, and the author of two books on the subject, I can say that these organisms are mentioned nowhere in any legitimate definition of veganism I’ve ever seen. So everything you’ve written about B-12 is incorrect, apart from the fact that vegans do indeed need to take supplements (or fortified foods) to receive this vital nutrient.

    Your material on protein is also problematic. Most vegans get substantially more protein than they need.

    There are certainly possible nutrient deficiencies that can occur on a poorly planned vegan diet, just as meat eaters on a poorly planned diet can develop deficiencies. Anyone interested in vegan nutrition would do well to visit:

    http://www.veganhealth.org

    The above site is put together by a Registered Dietitian, and offers first-rate material. Also, the materials at VeganOutreach.org and my own website, Vegan.com offer a complete background on the whys and hows of going vegan.

    A well-planned vegan diet is delicious, healthy, and incredibly compassionate. Any young person going vegan today, over the course of their lifetime is likely to save about 2000 animals the ordeal of the factory farm and slaughterhouse.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight.

  2. snugglenugget

    Eric, thank you for your comment. YOU ARE RIGHT! The information that I had was incorrect and I was sorely uninformed. Though I just don’t think that a vegan lifestyle is for me, I can certainly see that it is possible to be vegan and healthy. Thanks for opening my eyes.

    I have edited the post to reflect my change of heart.

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