More and more people are becoming aware of the effects of their dietary choices on the wider world but sometimes they are left asking – Is it safe to be vegan?
So many of us our brought up eating meat and dairy on a daily basis. We’re lead to believe that these “healthy” foods will help us to grow strong and protect us from ill health. Is a vegan diet safe? The short answer – it depends!
You see, asking “is being vegan safe?” is like asking “is it safe to ride a bicycle?” It all depends how you do it.
It is worth noting at this point that their is currently a lack of data about the long term effects of a vegan diet. This does not mean that a vegan diet is safe or unsafe. Instead, it simply means scientists cannot say for sure.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT A VEGAN DIET
Vegans Struggle with their Protein Intake
Possibly the biggest myth surrounding the vegan diet is that it leaves you protein deficient. Whilst it is true that getting enough proteinas a vegan requires a little more thought, it is far from difficult.
There are countless plant based sources of protein and with just a little planning and knowledge they can easily be incorporated into your diet. Many people find that after switching to a vegan diet they consume protein from a wider range of sources then ever before.
You Need Meat and Dairy to be Healthy
There is simply no need to eat animal products to stay healthy. Meat and dairy products can contain a broad spectrum of nutrients that makes hitting your RDA of certain vitamins and minerals easier however these nutrients come at the expense of a life and alongside a whole host of toxins and carcinogens.
All of these nutrients we once needed from meat can now be found in plant based foods. Don’t believe you can be strong on a vegan diet? Check out longtime vegan bodybuilder Torre Washington
Following a Vegan Diet Automatically makes you Healthier
Possibly the most dangerous misconception we see. It is certainly true that a vegan diet full of fruits, vegetables and a wide range of nuts, grains and pulses will be healthier. Unfortunately, a vegan diet high in processed foods and low in wholefoods can pave the road to ill health.
A recent study has found that those who follow an unhealthy vegan diet rich in refined foods are over 30% more likely to develop heart disease then those whose diet is rich in wholefoods. Yes veganism is a fantastic choice to reduce animal suffering and help fight climate change but it is not an automatic ticket to good health.
THE RISKS (AND HOW TO EASILY AVOID THEM)
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 helps your body create DNA and red blood cells as well as a host of other functions. An essential nutrient, you are unable to produce your own B-12 so must ingest it with food. Adults are currently recommend by the World Health Organisation to consume 2.4mcg of B-12 per day.
As B12 is primarily found in meat and dairy products, vegans need to take special care to ensure that they receive enough. Symptoms of B12 deficiency can include weakness, nerve damage, vision loss and mental health issues such as memory loss or behavioral change. Deficiency symptoms can take up to 5 years to develop so it is well worth taking action before these symptoms appear.
The good news is it’s easier then ever to meet your daily requirements of B12 as a vegan. Most plant milks are now fortified with B12 as well as many cereals. Nutritional yeast is a fantastic addition to most foods and contains a high amount of B12. Additionally, you may wish to take a supplement to ensure that you are easily reaching your needs.
Iron is essential in the transportation of oxygen in the body and the synthesis of DNA. It is recommended women consume 15mg of iron per day and men consume 9mg per day. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia resulting in hair loss, weakness, brittle fingernails, impaired immunity and apathy.
If you are eating a healthy and well balanced vegan diet there is no need for you to worry about your iron levels. There are many plentiful plant based sources of iron. Spinach, lentils, kidney beans, tempeh, almonds, peas and pistachios are all fantastic plant based sources of Iron.
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Vitamin D plays an important role in a number of our bodies fundamental processes including absorbing calcium, promoting bone health and supporting cell growth. A vitamin D deficiency can result in a low mood, increased body weight, digestive problems and even rickets.
The bad news for UK vegans is that the best sources of vitamin D are sunlight and animal products. Studies have shown that vegans have lower levels of vitamin D then vegetarians, pescetarians and omnivores. Whilst it is possible to get plenty of vitamin D from a short time in the sunlight, UK vegans may wish to consider eating more vitamin D fortified foods during the winter months or even take a supplement.
Too little Omega-3/Too much Omega-6
Omega-3 and omega-6 are fatty acids that are both essential for our overall health. The potential risk of a vegan diet is consuming too much omega-6 from processed foods and not enough omega-3 from whole foods. This imbalance can cause an increase in inflammation in the body and promote increase the risk of heart disease.
Increasing your intake of omega-3 can have numerous benefits on your overall health. Healthy hair and skin, mental well being and a reduction of inflammation across the body are all benefits of consuming enough omega-3. We’ve written more on the subject here.
Is a vegan diet safe? Absolutely. All that is needed is a little forethought and planning. One amazing aspect of veganism is how it encourages people to reassess their food choices and to aim towards a healthier lifestyle.
As with any lifestyle, the important thing is a well balanced diet containing lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, pulses and nuts. We would recommend that you take just 5 minutes to think over your nutritional needs and if they are being covered.
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