This was something I wrote a few months ago in response to somebody’s blog that suggested all vegetarians and vegans were “pasty, pale, anaemic and protein-deficient eccentrics, who chose to deliberately deprive themselves of good health”. Obviously, I responded and I like to think I presented an honest and dignified rebuttal, based on fact. I just wanted to share this post with my readers before I delete the document, whilst carrying out my dreaded ‘computer spring clean’.
Having studied nutrition in quite some depth, I can tell you that the idea of vegetarianism or veganism devitalising and prohibiting an individual from living a healthy lifestyle, is utterly ridiculous.
Veganism deprives the body of nothing more than dietary cholesterol .I’ll begin with the most common misconception; protein.
Soya is one of nature’s complete proteins, rich in all 20 amino acids (inclusive of the 9 essentials amino acids) required by the body (Reference 1), hence, why it is so popular among vegetarians. It is low in saturated fat and in fact, helps to reduce LDL cholesterol . In addition, Soya protein is one of the most efficient and easily-digested proteins for human beings. The proteins that this foodstuff provides have the highest possible PDCAAS value (on par with casein and egg whites), as evaluated by the FDA and FAO. Unsurprisingly enough, it is actually rated more highly than the protein-packed meats, like beef. Especially when considering the other disadvantages of meat, dairy and eggs, it demonstrates that soya has an overall greater benefit to the human body. Just like soya; amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and spirulina are all complete plant proteins. In addition, these plant sources contain a higher concentration and variety of vitamins and minerals (essential for good health), are devoid of cholesterol and better yet, they do not spend years rotting in your colon and ultimately contribute to bowel cancer, like meat does.
Amino acids can also be found in a variety of legumes, beans, grains and lentils, of which most hold an equally high PDCAAS value. In addition, goji berries are nutrient-rich gems and they definitely don’t fall short in the ‘protein department’. They are a complete protein, carrying one of the highest levels of antioxidants and all 9 of the essential amino acids.
Moving on to ‘mineral deficiencies’; iron and magnesium tend to raise the most concern when talking about vegetarianism/veganism, as these are all-too-often associated with foods like red meat and fish. In actual fact, these minerals are readily available from a multitude of plant sources. Foods such as kale, broccoli, nuts, apricots, figs, spinach, sea vegetables and beans all provide rich sources of iron. Some of the richest sources of magnesium available(including animal-derived sources) are, in fact, almonds and cashew nuts.
As a matter of fact, vegetarianism is seen by many doctors to be the optimum diet, as human beings are just not able to process the amount of meat that most people deem as being part of a ‘healthy’ and ‘normal’ diet. Naturally, humans would not have the constant supply of industrially-reared meat – we would have to go out and hunt for it. In these more primitive times, it would be expected for a tribe or family of people to consume meat once a fortnight, if at all. In today’s industrialised society, people have been completely removed from the killing ‘act’ and as a result, there is no longer any connection between the food they eat, other than the price and where to find it in the supermarket. Similarly, dairy would not have even existed in our diets back then. We are the only species on this planet to consume milk from another animal and it happens to be one of the most common allergens among human beings. If you were to cut out the middle man, the continual strain, the hormones and the false pregnancies that the dairy cow is made to endure in the modern world, you would quite literally be breastfeeding with the calves in order to get your daily pint.
To further this argument, the supposed benefit of dairy’s high calcium content is turned on its head when it comes to the body’s utilisation of this vital mineral. The high concentration of protein found in dairy products causes the stomach to secrete acids in order to break it down. This, in turn, requires the body to find ways of neutralising this excess acid and with calcium being such an alkaline mineral, it is the major element used to carry out this function, (Reference 1, 2, 3) meaning that the net gain is reduced. Protein does, however, aid bone health but not in excess. Plant sources that are rich in calcium and better absorbed, include spinach, kale, broccoli, black-eyed peas, blackstrap molasses, sesame seeds, coconut water, chickpeas and figs. I agree that vegans do however need to watch their calcium intake carefully, as whilst I refer to the above, adequate intake is still essential and this is often not ‘watched’ rigorously enough. Research has proven that whilst an adequate supply of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and zinc are pivotal to bone health, it is physical activity in your youth that plays the biggest role in determining a person’s bone strength.
I am a vegan on ethical grounds (modern-day farming is the one of the most callous practices imaginable). There is no agenda other than profit. Whether you choose free-range or caged hens/eggs, the fate of the animal is no different (Reference 1, 2). There are many similar frightful and sickening farming methods used within the dairy and wool industry, which people don’t know or think about but I’m not going to go into all this now.
I do not judge other people, nor do I preach and expect people to follow suit. I like to inform, given the right time and situation but generally, I respect other people’s opinions, as long as they respect mine (whether we agree or not). However, with veganism, you get even more stigma about nutrition and health. I realise, of course, that things can be more difficult on a vegan diet but funnily enough, the majority of vegans are in better health than their meat-eating counterparts, because whilst meat-eaters like to tell you what you’re not getting(being a vegetarian/vegan), they forget to think about what they’re not getting. They assume that because they eat everything, they’re getting everything. Needless to point out, this is very rarely the case.
There is only one nutrient that cannot be obtained from a solely plant-based (vegan) diet and that is vitamin B12. There has been speculation suggesting that B12 is not an essential vitamin, of course, assuming you are getting an adequate intake of all the other B vitamins in your diet. This train of thought is due to some of the various functions of the B vitamins overlapping, and thus replicating the roles of certain vitamins within the vitamin B complex. (Reference 1). Nevertheless, vitamin B12 should certainly not be neglected and is still an essential vitamin that is available in a variety of fortified vegan sources, including breakfast cereals, cereal bars, vegetarian ‘meats’, soya foods and non-dairy milks.
All in all, vegetarians and vegans are not deprived of any food groups, vitamins or nutrients and because (probably due to such ridiculous myths) they are more conscious of what they eat, they tend to lead healthier and more energetic lifestyles by comparison.