Are There Risks To A Vegan Diet?

Last week I nearly went vegan. This is how it happened… I practice yoga. Many yogis are vegan (enlightenment and tempeh are a common pairing). My teacher is my own personal manifestation of Buddha, sent to me to help settle my mind and lengthen my hamstrings. Her poses are bold yet effortless, her tone firm yet compassionate and the dime sized tattoo on the inside of her forearm – understatedly rebellious.

So when she announced she was going vegan, my first reaction was, “Well then sign me up!”, but when I returned to my earthly self, I decided not to.  Though animal products play a supporting role in my diet, they play a critical one.

First off, let’s separate the ethical/moral rationale from the nutritional one. Yes, most factory farms are despicable, and I think it’s honorable to reject these practices, but if you’re not eating animal products (and fish)because of the inhumane treatment of living creatures, there are farms that raise animals with care and slaughter them with dignity. The animals are drug-free and run around like animals do.

So the nutritional argument….

Many people go vegan to detox.  I am 100% for detoxing by eliminating sugar, processed foods, refined grains, dairy (especially if one’s lactose intolerant), and alcohol (though I think the occasional drink is essential for mental health if not digestive). But I don’t believe there is anything about fish (in particular small ones with low mercury) or pasture-raised animals and their eggs, that our bodies find toxic.

We have been eating animals and their offerings quite healthfully for hundreds of thousands of years and in fact physiologically our digestive systems appear to be more like dog’s (carnivores) than cow’s (herbivores).  Lactose intolerance, yes. Gluten intolerance yes. Nuts allergies, for sure. Soy allergies, yes. But meat allergies…. some people may find that it doesn’t suite them, but I have never heard of a true meat “allergy”.

The biggest challenge that I would be concerned about with a strict and long-term vegan diet is that there are critical vitamins and minerals that could easily not be consumed in adequate amounts.

Nutrients Potentially Missing On A Vegan Diet

Vitamin A: The “direct” form is only found in animal products -meat, egg yolks, dairy (though much less so than meat) and fish. The vitamin A found in orange and green vegetables is beta carotene which the body must first convert to the usable form of Vitamin A.  That conversion requires bile salts, which are produced by your liver when you consume fat (making fat essential on a vegan diet). So yes, you can obtain a version of Vitamin A in plants, but you’ll need about 6x as much beta cartonene to equal the amount found in direct Vitamin A.

B12:  This is the nutrient which vegans can potentially become deficient as you can only get naturally occurring B12 from animal products. (There are eight different B vitamins and our body needs them all).  It can take time for the implications of low B12 to show up, with anemia being the most common outcome of very low levels.

Vitamin D: This is another one found only in animal products. Cod liver oil is super high in it, as is shrimp, wild salmon, sardines, full-fat dairy products, and egg yolks. Yes you can get it from the sun, but most of us don’t spend 15 minutes a day, flesh exposed, palms open. Furthermore, the darker your skin, the less D your body will produce.

Protein: You can get some of the components of protein (the amino acids) from legumes, seeds and grain, but meat and fish contain complete protein (meaning they have all the essential amino acids). The amino acids in meat/fish are also in a form that is very easy for most people to digest. Many people find grains and legumes (which contain digestive inhibitors) quite hard to digest. Note too how little meat you actually need to get protein – 4 oz of beef provides 30 grams protein; salmon 25 grams; tofu 8 grams.

Zinc: Red meat is high in it and it comes in a form that many believe is easier for the body to break down than that found in grains and legumes.

How To Get These Nutrients If You’re Vegan

Vitamin A: Eat loads of bright orange veg and fruit (carrots, yams, squash, apricots) and dark green ones (spinach, kale, chard etc) which provides beta carotene that the body can convert to Vitamin A. Be careful taking synthetic Vitamin A supplements, as they can be toxic at high levels.

B12: Unfortunately B12 is not available in plant form.  Spirulina and other sea vegetables, are considered by some to be good sources, but whether that form of B12 can be assimilated into the body, is under dispute.

Many plants including whole grains are rich in the other B’s. To enhance the digestive properties of the grains, make the Bs more accessible, and eliminate the phytic acid in grains which can draw minerals out of you, I highly advise soaking them. This is especially important if you’re eating large quantities, which many vegans do.

Avocados are also super rich in the other Bs.

Though mostly known for its Vitamin C, cabbage has several of the Bs. Click here for a fab cab dish.

Vitamin D: Besides the sun and animal products there is no other way to naturally get D. If as a vegan you can make a small exception, consider cod liver oil capsules, they are exceptionally high in D. The risk with a high intake of synthetic Vitamin D (including the D that’s often added to non-dairy milk), is that at high levels it can be toxic since the body stores it – not a concern with sun-created vitamin D as the body simply stops producing it when it’s had enough.

Protein: Tempeh provides the highest protein of any plant form and I’d recommend it over tofu. (See this post).  Quinoa, is a complete protein, so it’s a great source. Lentils and beans have many of the amino acids though they’re incomplete, so to get the missing ones, eat them with grains. The starch and sugar however, of legumes can be hard to digest, so like grains, soak them for a minimum 5 hours in water + vinegar or lemon juice (or whey), ie anything acidic.

Zinc: Found in beans, whole grains and nuts. The phytic acid, however, in non-fermented soybeans (ie tofu), as well as in grains and legumes, can bind to minerals (including zinc and calcium) in the digestive tract and carry them out, making vegans potentially more susceptible to mineral deficiencies. Eating fermented soy (tempeh) and soaking grains and legumes in water+an acid, will eliminate most of the phytic acid.

Sunflower seeds are exceptionally high in zinc as well as several of the Bs

So my advice: pay close attention to what is right for your body. And if you’re going vegan, know what you could be missing, and then find ways to vigilantly incorporate that into your diet – with food first, supplements second.

Ok, over to you …

Update: After many comments poured in saying,”I am vegan and happy and healthy and you are wrong about there being any “risks”, I wanted to say this: I fully respect everyone’s desire to choose whatever way of eating feels right for them. Just because something feels right for me, it may NOT be right for you and I respect that. What we choose to eat/not to eat is an extraordinarily personal decision – up there with religion and politics.  So if what you’re eating is working for you, keep eating it.  And ignore what anyone else says – including me.

Related Posts

Looking For A Protein That Never Walked or Swam? (All about lentils)

 

Tofu: White-bread of the Soy World? (The case for tempeh)

 

Grains Don’t Want You To Eat Them (An explanation as to why grains are hard to digest and why eating sprouted grains solves this)

 

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  • http://obatkeputihanonline.com/ ayu febriana

    interesting reviews about the vegan diet could be an additional reviewer for the cara mengobati keputihan yang berlebihan secara alami

  • https://annesaeonlane.wordpress.com/ Body Rocker Annes Lane

    Your above quote is particularly disturbing and false. I challenge you to find one ‘humane’ farm. There is nothing humane about killing- and all of the meat you eat has been killed; so how is that humane?

    I hope your Yogic journey helps you realize why so many people go Vegan.

  • Jamie Willingham

    This is the most un-researched articile I have ever read. If you are thinking about going vegan, please do not read this article. Wrong in many ways. My favorite was: humanely slaughtered

  • unvillain

    This article is scientifically deficient. “We are more like dogs than cows.” Um. We are more like gorillas than either, and gorillas are 100% herbivorous. Also, the idea that our bodies require “complete” protein every meal is just not a thing, and too much protein from those easily gotten animal sources leads to a whole host of issues, like kidney disease, atherosclerosis, liver disease, and osteoporosis. You can get a healthful 45-55g of every amino acid you need from plant foods as long as you eat plentifully and don’t calorie restrict. Do elephants, rhinos, or hippos look deficient? Hardly. Also, that b12 thing is a lark too. Where do ou think your meat gets its b12, huh? Animals ont make it naturally. It’s produced by a bacteria that lived in oil and river water. Howevr, because of modern water treatment programs and agricultural practices, we weed the bacteria out before it can get to us – or our livestock. Farm animals are b12 supplemented so you don’t have to. And as for vitamin a? The best sources are from orange veggies- even Brin fat soluble, you’ll get the RIGHT amount of vitamin a by eating a sweet potato- as well as fibre and a bunch of other things that meat, dairy, and eggs lak, not to mention ditching the excess fat and cholesterol.

  • Kelsey Marie Crookshanks

    Soybean, buckwheat, hemp, chia, and amaranth are also sources of complete proteins….

  • Blake

    Meat of any form is just a filtered down conglomerate of what ever the animal has eaten. I would assume that it doesn’t have a great conversion rate of what was eaten in terms of vitamins and minerals etc.

    You can’t magically create energy, a principle of physics. All that is was already there, there is simply only conversions. Now if you take a cow, born from it’s mother, it eats from the land. The cow can’t magically create new minerals or vitamins, it must convert it into energy and it is used to grow and store fat or any bodily function.

    The eating of meat is a wasteful process in both feeding the cows and the way the cows in-turn convert the food and water. It is a wasteful and unsustainable process which needs to stop. There are currently 70 billion cows approximately on the planet, to 7 billion humans. That’s a lot of wasted food conversion, where we can just take all the water and grain/ feed from the cows and put it to good use, with a higher conversion of nutrients in to products for humans.

    I know this is an old article, but if people think you can’t get all the proper nutrients from a vegan diet than they obviously don’t understand how the world works. They are more concentrated in meat, but when you weigh up the amount of food and water to grow that cow or chicken or whatever your poison is, I guarantee you it would be a laughable percentage of nutrients with what was actually used as total of the food nutrients.

    The meat industry is not there to feed people, it’s there to make money, like any industry. Please don’t support the meat industry.

  • angel

    Thank you for providing a legitimate case from both perspectives. So refreshing to read your post that comes from a place of true consideration and with actual facts. It is so nice to see that a person THINKS! I tried to read some of the comments below and got so turned off by peoples inability to stand outside of their emotions and speak from rationale (and I also understand why.) I think you came from a very fair stance and nothing you said in here should offend anyone. I have concluded that for myself, I try to eat food as close to its natural state with a MAJORITY of my food coming from plants. While I appreciate the humane side of a plant diet, I believe that there is enough evidence to provide that an omnivorous diet is healthy for the body and soul so long as the person has the appreciation for the miraculous nature of it all.

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Here, here!!! Thx Angel :)

  • Tessa

    Hi,
    I am not a vegan but I wanted to point out that there is no such things as an ‘incomplete protein’. It is something that was claimed, never proven and that nowadays is not considered true.

  • Helc

    Saying that animals run around drug-free, like normal animals, is not a realistic excuse to say it’s okay to eat them. HAVE YOU SEEN SLAIGHTERHOUSES? Do you think it’s okay to slaughter animals to eat, just because YOU want to?

  • Mandi

    Great article and love the comments! Except Mark….Mark is a complete idiot! Mark is the reason so many people can’t stand vegans, Mark is the reason vegans get such a bad name, Mark is the reason so many people refuse to listen and are afraid to enter into conversation (learn) about veganism – go Mark….woohoo, you have actually contributed absolutely nothing towards encouraging anyone to try veganism! In fact, you have alienated them so much you have not even achieved encouraging one person to cut back on their meat/dairy intake!

    My own thoughts – I only eat humanely raised organic meat, about once every 2 weeks, sometimes once a month….really, just whenever I feel like it! Fish – usually speared by my husband maybe once a week. Dairy, not really recently because I think I may have recently developed an allergy but prior to this only humane, organic, etc. Eggs, I still eat, from my friends backyard.

    The argument about Vitamin B12 – I am not a complete expert but I did read a scientific paper. For those vegans that argue “we were not designed to eat meat so there is no need to supplement” ….B12, as well as being sourced from animal products was also found in soil and the dirt that was on the vegetables which is how, “if” we were not designed to eat meat, our ancestors obtained B12. The soil these days has been so destroyed that the B12 is depleted and we have all turned into complete germophobes and scrub and peel all of our fruits and vegetables – because we have totally destroyed our immune systems and would get sick if we didn’t! (Well…and that dirt is made up of goodness knows what these days – I certainly would not want to eat it)!

    Just because you supplement your vegan diet does not make you “not a true vegan” Just because you supplement does not mean that you do not believe that we were not meant to eat meat – it means that you have done your research and have learned that in this day in age – whether you are vegan or not – it is very difficult to obtain some nutrients from food alone.

  • Leo Wright

    Hey Greg, I’m Leo. I have been vegan for about a year now and I may have some vitamins I’m deficient in that I can’t quite identify. After reading quite a few comments, and this article, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not impossible to restore my health while staying true to being vegan, but a matter of how? I’m experiencing white gums, and bleed everytime I brush my teeth (keep in mind I’m pretty good with my dental hygiene) and it just seems to be getting worse, my skin also seems to be getting paler. To add on to this I live in Montana and the sun light gets limited in the winter. I know I need to visit a doctor it’s just in the works. What I’m wondering now is if you guys as a whole have suggestions as far as my vegan diet goes to get my nutrition a little boost befoe I go in. Much love, Leo.

  • Tierney Young

    Thanks for the informative article. I am headed to India for a month to detox, mentally and physically and will be on a vegan diet at the facility I am going to. I was thinking to try and continue it when I returned home but really wanted to understand what vitamins I might be missing. I have been told by many nutritionist that there are just some vitamins you can not get, and depending on your body type, can not process with out consuming fish or meat protein of some kind but was curious if there is a possibility around it. I am still researching but really appreciate your knowledge.

  • Donnie Vortex

    Perhaps eating meat should not be a personal decision. After all, it involves the taking of a conscious life which is subjected to suffering from start to finish. We have got to the stage now, where we don’t consider cruelty towards pets to be a personal decision that someone makes towards their property, but a concern for others to get involved in.

    So, I dispute both the ethics of your decision and your right to make it.

    Having sifted through a lot of information and misinformation before taking the decision to become a vegan, it became clear that there was no essential nutrients that could not be found in non-meat sources, or commonly available fortified products. There are however untrue claims such as on the subject of B12, or coenzyme q10.

    Please don’t muddy the waters by trying to rationalise your decision to us. A decision which, again I will state cannot be left up to individuals. If you want to eat meat, you’d best eat your own arm, because that’s all you have the right to.

    Transition to a vegan diet is hard primarily because so little is understood about it. So thank you for spreading some information on the subject. So few understand that they may need to seek out a source of B12 for instance, as I did with a small jar of a fortified marmite-like substance which lasts ages.

    The yogic tradition is based on the principle of ahimsa, [harmlessness] and veganism is a big part of the teaching. I’m a little surprised that someone who seems to be coming from a yogic angle would engage in these sorts of arguments. No doubt had you chosen to be vegan you would be telling us all about the benefits of that right now, rather than the risks.

  • LexesFitness

    Also, just because someone feels happy and healthy doesn’t mean that their actual body is healthy. That being said, everyone’s bodies react to things differently– what may be healthy to one person may be unhealthy to another, which may make the particular diet or lifestyle not maintainable. If you enjoy it, you’re healthy, and happy, then right on! If not, then its not for everyone. I’m also writing a blog post on this!

  • J

    The only debatable vitamin on this list is B-12. Recent science is studying the B-12 debate and it may appear that B-12 is reabsorbed in our body by our own storage of it. Breast fed children have the best reserve of B-12 and as long as we balance our other vitamins our body should be able to recycle its own storage of it. Not to mention Cooking meat kills the bacteria which B-12 is a bacteria. Most people cook their meat and do not eat it raw where the B-12 would be destroyed. Unless you eat it cooked rare of course.

  • Sheena

    B12 is NOT ‘in animals’ B12 is from bacteria, it’s found especially in dirt. Did you even bother to fact check?

  • Kate

    Don’t forget low iron. After 11 months on a vegan diet, I just found out I’m severely anemic. And I thought I was doing everything right. I included tons of beans, legumes, sweet potatoes, dark green veggies etc. Still, for the first time in my 44 years, I’m anemic and feel horrible. No energy and extremely lethargic.

  • janiceimo

    So just going to comment on the Vitamin A issue… I’m a vegan that records what I eat on Chronometer so I can make sure that I am getting all the nutrients that I need and I was actually brought here by typing into Google “is it possible to get too much vitamin A”. On cornometer it said that today I was over my recommended amount of vitamin A and I have noticed this many other days. So I DID MY RESEARCH and found that it is fine to go over if the vitamin A is being consumed primarily by foods, but if your taking a supplement and you go over, it can lead to health problems. So LONG STORY SHORT as a vegan you have absolutely nothing to worry about especially not with vitamin A. The only thing a vegan should ever worry about is B12 which many meat and dairy consumers are deficient in. Your body also LOSES the hormone to absorb B12 when you turn 40 so EVERYONE should be taking B12 supplements once you’ve turned 40 or in some cases even before. But for a B12 hack for vegans or even non-vegans, use Nutritional Yeast as it has high levels and is a sufficient source of B12 . I am also in Nutrition in University and am in my 3rd year so I have knowledge and education to back this up I’m not just some hardcore vegan or person who gets THEIR FACTS off of GOOGLE! NOT a wise thing to do as even of you research a “cough” it pretty much lists off all the viruses, diseases and even fatal illnesses that you could have. Lol.
    Thanks, REALLY hope you read this!!!
    -Nutrition Student

  • Sarah

    This article is so silly lol. Comical

  • Rana Sans

    If what we choose to eat is a personal decision then you are clearly forgetting someone. The victim, the animal who didn’t want to die for your 5 minute meal. Just admit that you’re too selfish to give up eating flesh, stop making shitty excuses and let’s move on.

  • Rosie

    I’m a meat eater and will remain so. I was a raw vegan for a number of years but came to the realisation that nature intended for me to eat meat and nature as far as I’m concerned knows best. Every living thing on this earth was put here as a food source to sustain another. While there are some dodgy practices out there which I do not support in any shape or form even in my purchases, overall humans are the most compassionate in killing their prey. Most animals start eating their prey while it is still alive. It is instinct in all, to try to hang onto life but if you watch herds in the wild, once one of them is caught and being eaten the rest just go back to grazing within a close proximity. The problem with this earth today is the out of proportion human population.

  • margie777

    I have adopted the vegan lifestyle though only 4 months into it. I was vegetarian before. You do have to learn a lot about what to eat, but so far my energy levels are great and I feel so much better about not participating in the torture of sentient beings. I know that you can be healthy eating almost anything as long as you exercise, sweat and have a good attitude, but I was tired of closing my eyes to the horrors that bring animal products to the table. I don’t really miss anything, though I thought I would miss cheese, turns out things taste pretty good without cheese. I found this egg brand called “Happy Eggs” and I looked into the company and it does seem those chickens have a pretty good life, but where did those chickens come from? The baby brothers of all those chickens were thrown into a shredder live, so there really is no such thing as humanly produced animal products. I also gave up leather and the like. Now when I see someone carrying a big name brand leather bag I just feel sorry for them because it would seem they are a little behind the times and not enlightened at all. Leather is not cool, it is a symbol for being stuck in the dark ages. We do not need it anymore. As for Yoga, I have to say I don’t do trendy workouts and yoga is trendy and seems to have lost it’s meaning. Yoga is non violence and well, it’s more just about trying to be cool now. No thanks. Many yoga enthusiasts are hypocrites and anytime you are trying to be cool, well your just not. Of course I am 50 now, so it took me a long time to get the message. I was a big hypocrite for years. I thought I loved animals, all the while participating in the horror. I will never be a militant vegan because that’s just not me and I have also noticed that sometimes vegans lie about the health benefits of being vegan to get people to switch and that’s not right either. People should switch because it is the right thing to do. Though if you just have to eat meat, I would suggest wild caught fish or smalll farm bison and stay away from dairy and eggs because there is more torture and death in their production.