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Vegan 1-2-3: Health & Nutrition

Vegan 1-2-3: Health & Nutrition

This is the second part of a three-part series, aimed at those who want to learn more about making a transition to veganism. For more information, please read: Vegan 1-2-3: Introduction

Because the dietary culture of our society revolves around meat, eggs and dairy milk, and because animal food industry lobbyists have been influential over the educational resources that many rely on for information about nutrition, it’s understandable that people are uncertain about whether a vegan diet is nutritionally adequate, especially for those who have specific health concerns, food allergies or unusual dietary requirements.

Anyone who has ever done even the most superficial research into health and nutrition knows that there are about as many different opinions as there are public personalities. However, there are certain facts that are beginning to be widely accepted about the health risks related to our high dependency on meat, eggs and dairy, and about the benefits of a diet free from such high-cholesterol, zero-fiber ‘foods’.

The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research. The PCRM describes vegan diets as follows:

“Vegan diets, which contain no animal products, are even healthier than vegetarian diets. Vegan diets contain no cholesterol and even less fat, saturated fat, and calories than vegetarian diets because they exclude dairy and eggs. Scientific research shows that health benefits increase as the amount of food from animal sources in the diet decreases, making vegan diets the healthiest overall.”

T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, has a simple way of explaining the benefits of a plant-based diet:

“The vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented simply by adopting a plant-based diet.”

For more than forty years, Dr. T. Colin Campbell has been at the forefront of nutrition research. Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, he has more than seventy grant-years of peer-reviewed research funding and has authored more than 300 research papers. His legacy, the China Project, is the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted.

In 2009, the American Dietetic Association, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, released a paper explaining their position on vegetarian diets, including vegan diets.

“It is the position of the ADA that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes.”

So, according to these authorities on the subject of nutrition, healthy individuals should have no problem eating a sensible, well-balanced vegan diet, and will likely experience health benefits from such a change. But what about individuals with specific health concerns?

For those who have diet-related health issues, any change in diet should be made with caution. However, this does not necessarily mean that it is not possible for such individuals to adopt a vegan diet healthfully. What it does mean is that such changes should be made carefully, with appropriate attention paid to the specific nutritional requirements of the individual.

Having said this, there may be some people who genuinely want to be vegan, who also have dietary-related illnesses or health conditions, and have not found it easy to adopt a vegan diet, or are hesitant to eliminate all animal products for fear of experiencing unwanted health effects.

The best advice I can offer to people in this situation is to proceed one step at a time, beginning with the animal products that you do not feel dependent on. It’s likely that there are non-vegan foods in your diet which you don’t consider to be essential to your health. In addition, health issues should not stop anyone from eliminating animal products from the rest of one’s life, including leather, wool, silk, down, fur, and non-vegan toiletries and cosmetics.

For those who are concerned about specific aspects of their own nutrition, there are many resources available from vegan dieticians, nutritionists, and MDs. Two great places to start are the websites of The T. Colin Campbell Foundation and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, each of which contains a wealth of information about plant-based nutrition.

Note: If, in your transition to veganism you experience a shift in health that is not positive and appears to be diet-related, it may be that you are either experiencing a detoxification, or you need a change in diet and/or supplementation with a specific nutrient. If you need medical guidance, it is advisable that you seek the help of a professional who respects your values, and understands the benefits of vegan living.

Please look out for the other parts to this series:
What Do Vegans Eat?
Being Vegan in a Speciesist World

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143 comments

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2:15AM PST on Jan 26, 2012

Despite all the "fussing" commentary- I do thank you for the articles as I have made the decision to proceed w/ a vegan diet & ultimately lifestyle for ethical reasons. I am researching how to proceed with the transition to ensure it goes smoothly & I do not have any negative effects due to lack of necessary Vitamins/minerals & proteins. Thank you Angel, I will be looking into the recommended sites, recipes & books.

8:54AM PST on Dec 31, 2010

this is a great series of articles! being Vegan is the best decision I ever made.

6:10PM PST on Nov 16, 2009

Ok now that the grammar police has come can we please stay on topic people!!!

1:36AM PST on Nov 15, 2009

I wish people had some love for their own language and were able to express themselves clearly. No language is static and there are always local influences and new words. What bothers me are the use of jarring words when an acceptable alternative exists.

However, when the word "unhealthy" exists and is clear in its meaning, there is no need to make up words such as 'unhealthful'. I don't know whether this is some localised blogging language, but it is similar to using the very cumbersome "adventuresome" when you mean 'adventurous' which is perfectly clear.

It is not surprizing that many teenagers have difficulty stringing a sentence together ~ fortunately not all of them. Hopefully the next generation's communication will be understandable and not further degrade.

1:50PM PST on Nov 6, 2009

I am pleased to say that I became a vegan a little of 6 months ago, after being a vegetarian for about 20 years. I am now 37. I initially gave up meat and then dairy for reasons relating to animal welfare but know feel even better knowing the personal health benefits I will gain. I have almost finished reading the China Study and have been quite blown away by its contents, and have a great abundance of confidence now that I am doing the right thing for my body as well.

Jeanette - Australia

8:31PM PST on Nov 3, 2009

Angel Flinn
Nov 3, 2009 6:08 PM

Earlier, I wrote, among other propsitions, this:

But "plant-based" does not and ought NOT equal either (a) purely vegetarian or (b) too widely pant-based (so that it includes much sweet or citrus fruit or nuts, the lot of which is unhealthful for humans).

I ought to have expanded that proposition:

But "plant-based" does not and ought NOT equal (a) purely vegetarian or (b) too widely pant-based (so that it includes much sweet or citrus fruit or nuts, the lot of which is unhealthful for humans) or (c), except seldom in very warm or hot weather, nightshades (tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers, tomatiollo, "ground cherry," black nightshade).

6:37PM PST on Nov 3, 2009

Angel Flinn
Nov 3, 2009 6:08 PM

Whoops. Another typing error. See the "not" put in all-caps in the corrected text that follows below

But "plant-based" does not and ought NOT equal either (a) purely vegetarian or (b) too widely pant-based (so that it includes much sweet or citrus fruit or nuts, the lot of which is unhealthful for humans).

6:33PM PST on Nov 3, 2009

Angel Flinn
Nov 3, 2009 6:08 PM

THAT is a much better statement, Ms. Flinn. Maybe your problem is much that you need a good editor who is a master of English usage and logical syntax and also a biochemistry/physiology/bioenergetics expert. I would volunteer, but I seek true humility, that most elusive milieu.

Most, maybe near-all allopathic physicians, even far too many "naturopaths" and homeopaths and chiropractors, do not apprehend the health-virtues of a plant-based diet. But "plant-based" does not and ought equal either (a) purely vegetarian or (b) too widely pant-based (so that it includes much sweet or citrus fruit or nuts, the lot of which is unhealthful for humans).

I feel pleasure in not having to respond negatively this time (to your most recent post). I do not find pleasure in uttering harsh criticisms. I have cherished the debate John Carbonaro and I had.

Cheers. Truly, cheers.

6:08PM PST on Nov 3, 2009

"A professional who respects your values, and understands the benefits of vegan living" is not the same as a physician who is not objective.

It is quite possible to be objective, while also respecting another's values.

My point is that some physicans, nutritionists, dieticians and other health practitioners DO NOT respect the values of veganism, and therefore WILL NOT provide advice that is objective. Many are completely uneducated about plant-based nutrition, and so, they will offer advice that does not take into account the many benefits of a plant-based diet.

5:54PM PST on Nov 3, 2009

This is not a good day for my typing.

I must correct another typing error of my first comment of earlier today----an error of the 1st snetence of the 2nd paragraph of Part 3 of that comment, posted
Nov 3, 2009 4:43 PM:

Ms. Flinn puts an alternative to those who suffer symptoms when THEY shift top vegan diet: "supplementation with a specific nutrient." But if you need supplements, your diet is failing you.

Sorry.

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