Whether or not a vegan diet is healthy, is one of those things that I’m certain most vegans get asked on a more than regular basis. This is great, as it gives us a chance to dispel the myth that veganism is not a nutritionally adequate choice. Today, I would say that an increasingly common opinion about the vegan diet is that it is healthy, in that it does not contain foods that we usually associate with being unhealthy, for example burgers, steak, cheese and other high fat foods. Along side this, however, is the common opinion that a vegan diet either does not contain vital nutrients or does but takes a lot of planning to get them.
I do not have the space to give a full account of where to get all the nutrients we need from a vegan diet, nor do I need to. If you eat anything approaching a varied diet there are only a few things you need to watch out for and these are easily available.
It is also worth mentioning that when researching vegan nutrition it is easy to find out that vegans are typically lacking in some nutrients, and then to make the presumption that in a vegan diet it is harder or takes more effort to be healthy than on an omnivorous diet. But that’s an unfair assumption, because in actual fact there are many things that most omnivorous people are deficient in.
“The diets of about 100 vegans were recorded for a week and were found deficient in calcium, iodine and vitamin B12. Using the same standards, though, the standard American diet is deficient in 7 nutrients! The diet of your average American is not only also deficient in calcium and iodine, it’s deficient in vitamin C, vitamin E, fibre, foliate, and magnesium as well.” Michael Gregor, M.D, on the USDA Food and Nutrient Intakes…1994-96. www.all-creatures.org/health/vegandiets
Iodine is something that a lot of vegans and non vegans in the UK and round the world are deficient in. Iodine is needed by the thyroid which controls your metabolism and usually comes from the soil – but in many areas there is not enough in the soil and so there is a reduced amount in plants. Iodine is also found in some seaweeds. A common source of supplementary iodine is iodised salt which is very common in some countries, for example all salt in Canada is iodised by law – in the UK it is less common, but still available.
Vitamin B12 is needed for red blood cell formation, neurological function and some other processes. It is something that it is not possible to get reliably from plants. It was thought to be in tempeh, miso and sea weed but it was found that this was an inactive form of B12 that was of no use to humans. Ultimately all animals obtain their vitamin B12 from bacteria in one way or another.
Reliable vegan sources of vitamin B12 are fortified foods including non dairy milks, meat substitutes, breakfast cereals and some yeasts (Marmite has 100% of RDA of B12 in every 6.6g serving and is the most fantastically delicious thing in the whole world! [Ed. - this is what we call unbiased journalism]) alternatively you can take supplements which are available from many online stores and health shops.
Raising vegan children and being vegan during pregnancy is often thought to be very hard, or even impossible, but this is also untrue.
As humans can get everything they need from a vegan diet, there is no reason that a mother cannot give her child everything she needs during pregnancy, and there’s every reason to suppose that it will give them the best start in life. Some vegan mothers may have been told that it is dangerous to be vegan while pregnant. This can be put down to fear of the new by health professionals, and is upheld by stars in the limelight, who treat veganism more like a fad than the moral baseline it is. There have been many many vegan mothers who have had healthy, happy children who grew up to be healthy, happy adults.
It is often said that a vegan diet is healthier than one containing animal products. It is perfectly true that vegan diets can be very healthy but so can diets containing animal products. The idea that a vegan diet is healthier than one containing animal products is true when comparing veganism to the omnivorous diet that many people have, perhaps even the average diet of the UK. However, then to say that a vegan diet is healthier than one containing any animal products is a big and unreasonable jump. The fact of the matter is that veganism is no healthier than an optimal omnivorous diet, by which I mean a diet where animal products are not eaten to excess.
However the assertion that we could eat animal products and still be healthy is beside the point. The fact that we can eat a plant based diet, and still be perfectly healthy, is the only relevant factor. It means we should.