April 29, 2011

Debunking ‘I Tried the Vegan Diet and Almost Died!’

You probably have heard or seen reports online of people who say “I tried being vegan and almost died” as their reason for why they are no longer attempting to be vegan. Celebrity; Angelina Jolie remarked in a news interview “I joke that a big juicy steak is my beauty secret, but seriously, I love red meat. I was a vegan for a long time, and it nearly killed me. I found I was not getting enough nutrition.” Angelina was obviously not vegan, ever. Veganism is not a plant-based diet. If she understood the ethics behind veganism, she might have managed better. Once someone has their epiphany that we have no right to oppress and enslave other animals for human purposes, they learn how to get their proper nourishment from the plant kingdom, so as not to inflict cruel suffering on sentient animals.

Angelina’s experience was not my experience. I too tried becoming vegan and was successful at it and noticed many of my ailments go away, in fact. I then looked around at other friends who were becoming vegan and all their ailments were disappearing. I watched colitis, arthritis, allergies, asthma, acne, excess weight and many more ailments just vanish! (Not that we became vegan for its health benefits). I've been vegan 3.5 decades. So are people just saying this as a lame excuse so they don't have to change or is there any scientific reason for this phenomenon? I searched the internet and mostly found articles stating how a vegan diet helps to reverse diabetes, arthritis, cataracts, heart disease, etc. For example these articles:
New Scientific study showing how vegan diet helps in Rheumatoid Arthritis. 
Reversing diabetes with vegan diet.
Vegan Diet is heart healthy providing sub-lingual B12 is supplemented in diet to avoid elevated homocystiene levels; linked to increased heart disease.
Other writers say that this is not an uncommon complaint among former vegans, but the Truth is they were never vegan in the first place. Veganism is not a diet, but rather the diet of vegans; those who seek a way of life that avoids participation in animal exploitation. Those who want to live this way will often try to study vegan nutrition and find out what to do to be a healthy vegan. One cannot be reckless and avoid learning which nutrients they specifically need to obtain when switching to a plant-based diet. There are some nutrients that are more difficult for vegans to attain. It is just common sense that anyone who alters their diet should educate themselves on the current studies comparing vegans to general population. However, maybe vegans are different and don't have the same requirements of certain nutrients; we don't know. There are nutrients that flesh eaters also lack and need to ensure getting; as much as plant-eaters or even more so. 

The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada state that ‘properly planned vegan diets are nutritionally adequate for all stages of life, including pregnancy and lactation, and provide health benefits in the treatment and prevention of certain diseases.’ However, poorly planned vegan diets may be low in vitamin B12, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iron, zinc, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and iodine, according to the American Dietetic Association. It’s important to note that the non-vegan diet of the average American is deficient in calcium, iodine, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, fiber, folate, and magnesium, according to USDA Food and Nutrient Intakes by Individuals in the United States, by Region, 1994-96. Recent studies claim that many people; both vegan and non-vegan, are Vitamin D deficient. Demands from excessive protein use vast amounts of minerals and vitamins in digestion leading to deficiencies of certain nutrients, such as B6, zinc, and magnesium. source

A blood test can check vitamin or mineral deficiency. A urine test is used for the iodine check. If you consume seaweed (a B12 analog); a standard blood test may not be accurate for measuring authentic B12. After 25 years of being vegan, I became deficient in B12 which had been reversed with supplementation. After 3 decades of being vegan, I’ve been fine with all other essential nutrients…no problem getting them from whole foods and sunshine exposure. All the calories, protein and nutrients we need can be met on a vegan diet that is supplemented with Vitamin B12. Studies have found that those following a vegan diet should be aware of the following potential deficiencies - and what to eat to ensure you are including sources of them in your diet.

Calcium – dark leafy greens, such as collard, turnip or mustard greens, kale, broccoli, blackstrap molasses, firm tofu processed with calcium sulfate, fortified plant milks and juices, and tempeh. Calcium absorption from these foods has been shown to be excellent. It is interesting to note that cows obtain all the calcium they require for their large bodies and to feed their offspring - from a very limited vegan diet.

Vitamin D – is normally produced in the body after exposure to sunlight on the skin in animal's bodies, including humans. If a vegan does not get regular sunshine exposure, they should eat food fortified with Vitamin D2 (the widely available vegan version of D) or just supplement with D2. There is quite a bit of information stating that (usually animal sourced) D3 is better, but here is a medical study disproving that theory. Of recent years, more and more NEW Vegan Vitamin D3 is being marketed. This is to supply a demand for vegans who want D3, but not from an animal - and don't get enough sunshine.

Protein – Good vegan protein sources are cooked beans, tofu, tempeh, soy yogurt, seitan (wheat meat), seeds and nuts especially hempseed, whole grains, especially Quinoa. There is no problem with getting protein from plants vs. animals; they are nutritionally equivalent. It would be very difficult to be protein deficient because there is some protein in many foods.

Calories – to ensure getting sufficient calories on a vegan diet, include avocados, nuts, seeds and nut butters. For those needing to add more calories, try dried fruit, healthy vegetable oils as a condiment to food and coconut.

Vitamin B12 – is produced by microorganisms in the small intestines of humans and animals. Rather than killing cows to get their B12, vegans choose to get it from a sublingual B12 ‘dot’ or from fortified foods such as Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula Nutritional Yeast or other savory yeasts that are fortified with B12, as well as soy milks, breakfast cereals, or meat analogs that are B12 fortified. A deficiency in Vitamin B12 can result in irreversible nerve deterioration and even be fatal like all other nutrient deficiencies, however we only need minute amounts of B12.

Iron – A vegan diet that includes grains, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, and vegetables is adequate to provide enough iron. Vitamin C helps iron absorption. Some foods naturally rich in both iron and Vitamin C are: broccoli, Swiss chard and other dark leafy greens. Other good sources of iron are: chickpeas, soybeans, rice, blackstrap molasses, pasta, enriched breads and cereals, oat and wheat bran, apricots, boiled lentils, hazelnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried figs, watercress, red kidney and soybeans.

Zinc – good sources are legumes/cooked dried beans, nuts, sea vegetables, and zinc fortified breakfast cereals, soy foods, nuts, peas, and seeds.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids - walnuts and some vegetable oils; soybean, organic canola oil, and flax seeds. Also found in some green vegetables such as brussel sprouts, kale, butternut squash, kiwi fruit, spinach, purslane and salad greens. Purslane is the highest source of ALA in a leafy plant. Our bodies convert the ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) to EPA (long-chain fatty acid). Some vegans prefer to supplement with algae-derived DHA long-chain fatty acid or DHA and EPA long chain-fatty acids, as well, but over-supplementation can lead to raising cholesterol levels.

Once we become familiar with the good sources of nutrients, eating a vegan diet becomes second nature…a way of life…and one that is better for the health of other animals, the planet we all share, and you too! There are plenty of long-time vegans that serve as living proof that the vegan diet is one that we can thrive on, and at the same time not be complicit in the crimes against non-humanity that are prevalent today. Why cause needless suffering when all you have to do is ensure you get all these nutrients instead of blaming the vegan diet?


timgier said...

Thanks for this post. It reminded me of I met a woman back in 1992 who was a vegetarian. Her diet consisted almost exclusively of macaroni & cheese, potato chips (with ketchup!) and an occasional green salad. She never acted or looked very healthy to me.

Veganism as a way of life is about what we don't eat (or wear, or use in any other ways) but a good vegan diet has to be about knowing all those things we should eat.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I should further "debunk" the protein/calorie issue.
It's just impossible to become calorie/protein deficient on a vegan diet.
As long as you're eating meals throughout the day and are eating a normal amount of food you'll meet all of your protein/calorie requirements.
It's so easy.

Yogi Sinzapatos said...

Useful article, thank you.

Check out Canola Oil though. i read an article about it recently, quote & link here:

"The real name for Canola oil is LEAR, or Low Erucic Acid Rape, as it has been extracted from Rapeseed oil. This oil is in fact an industrial oil product which has no place whatsoever in our bodies. In light industry, it is also referred to as penetrating oil. Rapeseed oil is also the source for Mustard Gas, which was used as a chemical warfare agent, and was banned after World War 1 for causing severe blistering of the lungs and skin.

Canola is in fact a Genetically Modified food which has been classified as a bio pesticide by the EPA. Like mercury and fluoride, Canola is also not eliminated from the body."

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/031550_canola_oil_side_effects.html#ixzz1M5qJOexo

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

Hi Yogi -
I changed the canola oil to organic canola oil. I forgot to mention that one should never consume canola oil if it is not organic.

Rita said...

I agree with you. That was always what made me angree - people who tried go vegan and did it completely wrong! Like they stopped eating animal products but did not changed the rest of their diet.