Are Vegan Diets Dangerous? Hint: No.

A study on vegans and dietary deficiencies has been getting a lot of press lately, but the findings really aren’t as scary as the press release made them sound.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, didn’t really have much that was new or exciting to say about the vegan diet. Vegan registered dietician, Ginny Messina R.D., broke down the study’s findings. Any long-time or self-educated vegan, is probably familiar with most, if not all, of what they talked about.

There were two areas where vegans specifically can benefit from supplements. They found that vegans who don’t supplement B12 with pills, drops or fortified foods, will most likely become deficient. That’s true and nothing new. They also found that vegans can take an algae supplement, if we are worried about becoming deficient in the fatty acids DHA or EPA.

The other potential deficiencies they found in vegans are also common among all Americans. Young vegan women, like all young women, are at higher risk for iron deficiency. That’s because young women lose iron every month during menstruation. Young women should all be making sure to eat enough iron-rich foods or supplement, if they’re not eating enough iron to meet their needs.

They also found that some vegans don’t eat enough calcium or vitamin D. That’s an issue, but another one not unique to vegans. In fact, as many as 64 percent of Americans don’t get enough calcium. Since only two percent of Americans are vegan, that’s a whole lot of non-vegans who aren’t meeting their needs. Around 75 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Everyone should talk to their doctors about whether they need calcium or vitamin D supplements.

I recommend giving Messina’s piece a read. It breaks things down in a very common sense way. It’s a nice contrast to the the study press release and the alarmist tone of most mainstream stories based on that press release.

The long story short is that yes, vegans do need to keep an eye on what we are eating. So do all people. Vegans need to focus on B12 more than other Americans, but as Messina points out, “while there are ways in which a vegan diet–like any diet– can fall short of nutrient recommendations, nothing in this paper suggests that a vegan diet is dangerous or ill-advised.”

Unfortunately, most doctors aren’t very knowledgeable about vegan diets. When I was pregnant, I had to educate my OB about B12, for example, and most of the general practitioners I’ve seen also don’t know much about vegan health. That’s because most medical students get almost no nutrition training at all, unless they seek it out. That means it’s up to us to bone up on nutrition.

If you’re vegan and not sure about how to navigate the glut of nutrition information out there, there are a few resources that I find very helpful. You guessed it: Ginny Messina is my go-to for vegan nutrition information. She’s great at breaking down the latest nutrition news and giving it to you straight. I’m also a big fan of Jack Norris, R.D. He’s also a pro at sharing level-headed takes on nutrition news. His other site, Vegan Health, is a wealth of research-based information on vegan nutrition. If you’re worried about a specific nutrient, Vegan Health is a great place to find your answers.

Is a vegan diet dangerous?

A vegan diet is dangerous, if you’re an avocado.

Thinkstock

106 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
Neville B.
Neville B2 years ago

Please remember that human biochemistry is not uniform (by race, gender, age, locality, etc), including levels and even presence of e.g. enzymes, and continues to change, and so this meat-is-necessary generalisation is based on shifting evolutionary ground.

Dear Lee Rowan, love that perspective shift!

SEND
Neville B.
Neville B2 years ago

Hmm.. another cage-rattler?

In the sense that it causes some people to become arrogant extremists, like their opposite numbers on the carnivore side, yes it's dangerous. Physiologically, it's down to individual medical health, and that applies to most 'diets'.

My diet's omnivorous, but I take top-up supplements anyway. I avoid over-processed, GMO and anti-biotic and/or steroid 'enriched' foods, that I believe are or may be dangerous, to me and the planet, and aim for sustainable and cruelty-free foods on a moral compass.

Dear Christine D., I like your post, but what we were 'meant to do' as animals and what we can aspire to as humans is different. Please note that we have an atrophied appendix, which would (very probably) have been used for further processing of plant material from the caecum. Fungi and bacteria make B12, and plants can't store it, so either we got it from animals, fungi or fermented plants (most fruit have a low level of fermentation going on, though I don't know how much), or our appendices housed bacteria that created it from (further) vegetation processing.




SEND
Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron2 years ago

simple put: it depends.
For some it is, for others its not. Best way to know is to experiment and try for yourself. Though some may be more expensive than others depending on your wallet, so keep track of that too.

Historically, places with high vegetarian population are in more tropical zones where plant matter is available year round, so humans didn't all evolve to handle a vegetarian diet. Each ethnic group handles each diet differently, and each individual handles each differently then another.

SEND
 .
.2 years ago

After reading the article in question: Vegan diet IS dangerous. You're just downplaying it quite a lot.

Oh sure you can survive on a vegan diet (with supplements) but the study showed that even among others with severe deficiency, Vegans are statistically far worse off.

This is pretty bad. You might want to consider going Vegetarian and not Vegan. We aren't cows.

SEND
Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

SEND
Paul Lundbohm
Paul Lundbohm2 years ago

Eating meat is healthy if you do it right.

SEND
Sian L.
Sian L2 years ago

Its much easier to go vegan from vegetarian than I ever thought. It has made me improve my diet a lot compared to how I used to eat as a vegetarian and I get better at it all the time. The shocking thing is I don't miss cheese. The important thing is to observe the affect of dietary changes on how you feel. Every human body is different, and one's beliefs about health and food are key factor too. The latest nutritional advice changes all the time, that is the nature of science and very little research is unbiased. In 5 years time the advice will be very different. Nutrition is an area where its not that hard to be better educated than your doctor, its OK to take responsibility, instead of blindly following doctors' instructions.
I love being vegan and I highly recommend it.

SEND
Karen C.
Karen C2 years ago

I wish to be vegan, or lacto-ovo vegetarian in the future. Right now I am a vegetarian, but my mom still makes me eat fish :(

SEND
Carol S.
Carol S2 years ago

Bottom line, it requires taking supplements.

SEND