Being Vegan Isn’t Being Healthy
Here are some things to watch out for if you want it to be
There are people out there that despise vegans enough that there is now a term to describe them: vegaphobes. These people surely rejoice every time an article or a study comes out that points out a potential health issue linked to veganism. It’s not helped by the number of articles and blogs exploring the benefits of a vegan diet, often without acknowledging the potential risks associated with it.
A more grounded, middle-of-the-road approach is probably to acknowledge that veganism isn’t inherently healthy. One could easily start eating Oreo cookies and Pringles chips for a month and call themselves vegan. A vegan diet means that animal products are a no-go, not that you suddenly eat more reasonable amounts of food with a well-balanced diet. There’s enough vegan fast food out there that this should be starting to be obvious by now.
Similarly, a diet that incorporates meat is not immediately unhealthy. The Mediterranean diet has long been heralded as one of the healthiest diets, and it is definitely not vegan.
At the same time, a well-balanced vegan diet has a large number of health benefits in addition to being better for animals and the environment. Meanwhile, it’s no secret that eating meat is simply not sustainable, but it’s also generally less healthy than veganism. The Mediterranean diet may be healthier and more sustainable than most other diets, but it’s mostly because it’s well-balanced and includes less meat than most people consume, and most people eat way, way too much meat.
It’s easy to see why any diet that reduces this excess can have a positive impact. It’s important, then, to understand how you can have a diet that eliminates animal products while making sure you have all the nutrients you need to be healthy.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency is perhaps the most important thing to look out for. Since the easiest source of B-12 is animal products, it is a common deficiency for vegans. It’s particularly dangerous because the negative neurological effects can have long term impacts that can be hard to reverse. Thankfully, you need minuscule amounts of it in your diet, and many sources of fortified food will provide you more than you need. This includes many plant-based drinks, cereals, and even some chocolate. It’s also not a bad idea to consider taking vitamin B-12 supplements, just to be on the safe side.
An important mineral to maintain a strong bone structure throughout your life, calcium intake is also something that vegans should be careful about. Much like B-12, the easiest way to get enough calcium is from animal products, which makes it a bit more challenging for vegans. Thankfully, it’s found in many foods, and as long as you’re aware of it you can easily make sure you eat enough. Sources of it include kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage. It’s also possible to get your daily intake from grain if you eat enough of it, so feel free to eat some more bread and pasta. Much like B-12, many foods are also fortified with it.
A chemical element that is an essential requirement, iodine deficiency affects up to two billion people worldwide. Vegans are particularly susceptible to it because foods such as cabbage, kale, and broccoli impede iodine absorption. Thankfully, there is an easy solution to iodine deficiency, and vegans have the same solution as everyone else: iodized salt. A WHO recommendation for every country, it’s likely that simply switching to iodized salt will be enough to satisfy your needs, especially if you use it to cook for yourself. If you buy a lot of prepared food, you may want to consider ordering sushi occasionally, since seaweed is a great source of iodine. There are also people who will tell you that iodine will affect the taste of your food, but research mostly shows the opposite.
B-12, calcium, and iodine are the most common deficiencies for a lot of vegans, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch out for other needs. People will also often stress these other needs beyond reason, so it’s good to know where you stand with your diet.
It seems like proteins are all the rage these days. There are guides everywhere telling you which sources of protein you can use to build more muscle, right alongside articles telling you it’s very important to make sure you eat enough of them. The fact is, you need very little protein, as little as 50 grams for a 140 pounds person (63.5 kg) or 70 grams for a 200 pounds person (91 kg). So, with that being said, as a vegan, you can find proteins in foods such as rice, oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, lentils, soy (soy beans, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc.), and a multitude of others.
It’s easy to get proteins, just don’t think that munching on any of these foods will build your muscle mass. If that’s what you want, exercise is the solution. Many world-class athletes are vegan, so don’t let that stop you.
Particularly relevant these days, as everyone spends much of their days trapped inside, vitamin D intake is largely dependent on the sun. It’s also found in animal products such as eggs, margarine, and fatty fish, which would usually help a bit with the lack of sun exposure, especially at certain times of the year. Thankfully, once again, this is a known fact, and you’ll find plenty of plant-based drinks that have been fortified with vitamin D. Normally, this should mostly concern you if you are not often exposed to the sun, have darker skin, or tend to cover yourself when out in the sun.
Important for cardiovascular health, as well as a myriad of other things, omega-3 fatty acids should be an integral part of any diet. Often found in fish oil, omega-3s can be had from a number of other sources. These include flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, as well as canola (rapeseed) oil, soybean oil, and walnut oil. Again, you’ll find many foods that are fortified with omega-3s if this is something you’re worried you’re not getting.
So, then, the secret to a healthy vegan diet is a varied diet that includes different types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and a few fortified foods. It’s possibly the reason why so many people tout the benefits of veganism on health: a lot of people don’t have a varied diet to begin with. Hence, a switch to a diet that forces you to think about what you eat will push you towards more healthy foods. Then again, it’s entirely possible to ignore this and eat unhealthily, but that’s also easy to do on an omnivorous diet.
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