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A Vegan Diet: Should You Try It?
By Gary F. Zeolla
The following article is excerpted from my book Creationist Diet: Second Edition: A Comprehensive Guide to Bible and Science Based Nutrition, from Chapter Four “Potential Benefits and Drawbacks of a Vegan Diet.”
Background to this Excerpt
Prior to this chapter were “Chapter One: Fruits, Nuts, Vegetables, Seeds” and “Chapter Two: Grains and Legumes.” Those two chapters presented the Biblical and scientific evidence for the healthiness of unrefined versions of these foods. Then Chapter Three looked at “Problems with Restrictive Diets” especially those of raw foods diets.
Then prior to this except from Chapter Four it is first mentioned, “A vegan diet is one that includes no animal foods of any sort, but it includes all kinds of plant foods, both raw and cooked.” This is contrasted with a vegetarian diet, which includes no meat, poultry, or fish but which includes dairy products and eggs.
Then it is said:
“appropriately planned vegetarian diets” can be healthy, even beneficial. They can provide adequate levels of all necessary nutrients. … The key phrase here is “appropriately planned.” A not-so-well-planned vegetarian diet could be detrimental, especially in the long-term.
The chapter then overviews the nutrients that vegan and vegetarian diets can potentially be low in, with vitamin B12 being the most notable, as it is only found in animal foods. Then various claimed benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets are looked at, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. But it is pointed out that studies showing such benefits are generally conducted by comparing those following a vegan or vegetarian diet to those following the “Standard American Diet” (SAD). It is discussed elsewhere in the book that the SAD is, well, sad, in that it is not very healthy.
However, what is not normally done is to compare those following vegan/ vegetarian diets to those following healthy omnivorous diets, which is to say, a diet that includes healthy versions of both animal and plant foods. What is meant by healthy versions of animal foods is elaborated on in the chapters following this one.
But here, in the following excerpt, a common problem with vegan and vegetarian diets is discussed, then a possible solution to this problem proposed.
A problem that is often seen in long-time vegetarians and vegans is a condition known as “failure to thrive.”
“Failure to thrive” is usually mild and unrecognized as such at first. However, there is another side to the vegetarian story that rarely gets talked about, which is the phenomenon known as “failure to thrive” (FTT). Normally this term is used to describe infants who fail to do well or to meet minimum standards for growth and development, due to some shortfall in the standard of care received. However, the term can also be applied to anyone not doing well health-wise when they might otherwise be expected to.
Where vegetarianism is concerned, it means that despite following prudent recommendations for the diet, some people simply do not experience the best health, or, put differently perhaps, “well-being.” This can range anywhere from mild symptoms such as:
· Lassitude or “being hungry all day” and “not feeling satisfied,” as described above; to
· Poor sex drive or poor-quality sleep; to
Behavioral effects such as not being able to get one’s mind off food (not uncommon if one is not feeling physically satiated or otherwise satisfied on the diet), or
· The yo-yo syndrome of not being able to stay on the diet consistently due to cravings; to
· Emotional effects such as a vague, nonspecific loss of zest for life (which is usually more apparent to other people than to the person themselves); to
· Actual deficiencies in some cases (Beyond Veg. Why).
Even a book published by Natural Health magazine (which generally advocates a plant-based diet) admits to this problem:
There is little question that adopting a varied plant-based diet will improve your chances of avoiding such chronic ailments as cancer and heart disease. Animal foods can, however, still play a minor part in your diet, if you so choose. Even some longtime vegetarians have found that eating meat occasionally provides some health benefits. Anne Louise Gitterman M.S., a nutritional counselor specializing in woman’s health, says strict vegetarianism has its limits. ... Gitterman says some of her longtime vegetarian clients experience fatigue, protein deficiencies, and loss of hair (Mayell, pp.7,8).
Many testimonials can be found on the internet of long-time vegans who simply began not feeling good, but the re-inclusion of animal foods into their diets improved their health. In fact, a study of “seventy-seven former vegetarians” found “thirty-five percent of our participants indicated that declining health was the main reason they reverted back to eating flesh” (Psychology Today; Why). And consider the following:
What about organizations that promote a 100 percent vegan diet strictly for health reasons? I think that these organizations can thrive because many people who first make the conversion from a highly processed and animal-based diet to a strict vegan diet typically experience incredible improvement with their health. For a few months or even a year or two, many people can thrive on a strict vegan diet, making it easy for them to believe that they have discovered a diet that will best support their health for the rest of their lives. But then, as most of them predictably become deficient in nutrients that are difficult to obtain from plant foods alone, they usually become confused about why their health is suffering (Chet Day’s; Vegan Diet).
In spite of all the rhetoric from vegan diet teachers, there has never been a civilization in the entire world that has been able to survive on the vegan diet. Every culture depends on some type of animal products to a degree, be it eggs, milk, cheese, or meat (even insects in third world countries). This includes the Hunza people who are often falsely represented as vegan even though they eat dairy and some meat (Chet Day’s; Hallelujah).
Dr. Klaper discusses this condition in an article formerly posted on the Earth Save website. In summary form, his theory is that humans can create certain nutrients that are found in meat, “like carnitine (required for energy production) and some long-chain fatty acids (EPA, DHA, etc., needed for hormone function, membrane synthesis, etc.).”
When people are raised on a meat-based diet, they get these substances from their food, so their bodies stop producing them. Then when they go “cold turkey” (no pun intended) onto a meatless diet, their body is unable to start producing these substances again. And over time, the lack of these nutrients causes the poor health.
Evidence for this theory is that Robbins reports about the “failures to thrive” syndrome, “In my experience, these problems are not encountered in people raised on vegetarian diets from infancy.” For the person who was raised on a meat-based diet, a way to avoid this problem might to be slowly decrease one’s intake of animal foods rather than eliminating them all at once. This would give the body time to adapt to the lack of meat and start to produce the needed substances (Klaper).
I could not find any evidence as to whether Dr. Klaper’s claims are true or not. But as a general principle, it is good advice to make slow changes in one’s diet, as slow changes will give a person a chance to gradually “discover” a new way of eating, rather than having to replace all former foods at once.
Moreover, the opposite is probably true, as well. People who have been vegans for a long period of time could experiences difficulties in resuming meat eating.
I, personally, have been vegetarian since around 5 yrs old. During High School/College I had several friends try it out only lasting a few months or years. Personally, meat makes me feel sick. Not entirely sure why, but I was thinking that maybe it is because I have not eaten meat in so long that my gut has adjusted to the diet that I have been eating. Probably, if I did eat meat, my body would eventually adjust (not sure though). Once I ate some meat in High School at friend’s house because I didn’t want to be “different,” but I became so sick a few hours later in the night that I threw up and had to go home. That was when I told my friends that I had actually not eaten meat for ten years (Anonymous comment on Psychology Today).
Cheating on a Vegan Diet
Eating small amounts of animal foods would solve both the vitamin B12 and possibly the failure to thrive problems. And in fact, this is probably what is happening in people who claim to have been following a vegan diet for many years and are thriving on it.
I believe that people can survive for many years on a strict vegan diet, but almost always with one or more significant health problems. And I believe that some people who are truly thriving without any health problems, and claim to have been strict vegans for many years usually eat some animal foods, even if it is a small amount. The fact is, you and I can never know with certainty what another person eats on a moment-to-moment basis. The only dietary regimen that you can know with absolute accuracy is your own. Even your dog or cat probably eat things that you don’t know about (Chet Day’s; Vegan).
In other words, many longtime vegans cheat on occasion. Not often enough that they no longer consider themselves to be vegans, but often enough so as consume needed nutrients that are missing in their otherwise plant-based diet.
On any given day, how much meat does the average vegetarian eat? Since vegetarians, by definition, don’t eat meat, this question should be boring because of course the answer is zero. This question isn’t boring at all, though, because it has a very specific, very not-zero answer—83.2 grams, about one standard serving….
This first figure—seriously, the average vegetarian in the U.S. eats one serving of meat per day!—comes from a 2003 analysis of data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the late 90’s. The researchers examined responses from a representative sample of nearly 10,000 Americans who had detailed everything they ate over two separate and nonconsecutive 24-hour periods. And vegetarians, it turns out, eat meat. About 40 percent of what the typical American reported—220 grams or so—but meat all the same….
Another survey from the USDA, also conducted by phone, put the number of vegetarians who’ve eaten meat in the last day at about two-thirds. Based on a 1995 survey of wealthy, well-educated Americans from the East Coast, only 1.5 percent said they never eat poultry or fish, but 7 percent called themselves vegetarians. Surveys by Canada’s National Institute of Nutrition put the number of Canadian vegetarians who eat chicken at about 60 percent and red meat at about 32 percent (Daily Beast).
Vegetarians are going to have a cow over this. Oh, wait, they already are.
A new survey [of 1,789 British vegetarians] says more than a third of vegetarians eat meat when they’ve had too much to drink. What’s more, they’re sneaky about it, with 69 percent saying they don’t fess up…
According to a study by the Humane Research Council, many American vegetarians are bad to the bone as well: around 84 percent stray from a strict vegetarian diet (Huffington Post).
But sometimes, cheating vegans do fess up, and they do so publicly:
When people hear the word “cheater,” they might think of gross celebrities who’ve cheated in relationships, or kids who’ll never actually know how to spell since they’ve cheated on every test ever. Those kinds of cheaters are pretty bad.
I’m a cheater, too–just of a different kind. I am a vegan, but that is just 95 percent of the real story. The other five percent is kind of a lie. I’ve been vegan for years, which means I don’t eat or use any animal products at all–no meat (obviously!), no poultry or fish, no milk products, no eggs, honey, leather, fur–you get the idea. Some of my good friends are vegan, too, which makes it easy. We cook together, we sip soy milk together, it’s like a big happy scene.
Thing is, without my vegan posse, things get a little more complicated and I . . . cheat….
I didn’t want to be the no-fun militant vegan at my friend’s party! And if you think I only cheated that once, you’re wrong. Like most cheaters, my cheating wasn’t a one-time deal (Gurl, ellipses in original).
As more and more people, including athletes and celebrities, openly admitting they cheat on their vegetarian or vegan diet, one has to question the claim the vegetarian move is on the rise. Olympian Venus Williams admits she has cheated on her vegan diet. She is not alone. Actor and singer Jared Leto admits in a Rolling Stone interview he is also a “cheating vegan.” In fact, confessing you cheated is now a brand new trend. Yep, cheagan is the newest name tag to adorn (National).
Confessions of a Cheating Vegan. I myself am a vegan of sorts and I’m here to tell you that it’s not an easy life – that’s why it’s OK to cheat…
You’re OK when you can cook your own food (really), but going out is hard. Most restaurants offer very limited, unappetizing fare for people who don’t eat meat or dairy. Grocery stores, while better than they used to be, still aren’t great.
And you have to get used to that sickening silence on the other end of the line when you tell the person who’s inviting you to dinner that you don’t eat meat, cheese, fish, soup made from beef stock, or anything else he or she was planning to cook.
The way I handle that is…I cheat. I’ll order fish in a restaurant and eat what I’m served in someone else’s home. And when I go to a ballgame, I declare hotdogs a vegetable for the day. Mostly, though, I’m a vegan (Alternet).
Not only is it okay to cheat, but vegans are probably better off if they do so. A small amount of animal foods on occasion would go a long way towards preventing the potential drawbacks of a vegan diet.
Frankly, most of the pure vegans that I know personally do not appear to be particularly healthy. My pure vegan friends all have kind of dull skin and hair, most have dark circles around their eyes, and they all seem to get colds and flus more often than I do. They seem rather tired and listless much of the time, too; almost depressed. My vegetarian friends who also consume milk, cheese, eggs, and sometimes fish seem much, MUCH healthier to me, and have more energy (anonymous comment on Psychology Today).
What all of this means is, though the potential drawbacks of vegan and vegetarian diets can be overcome, it is not easy to follow them, and there are no clear-cut benefits when all factors are taken into account. This is probably why “84% of Vegetarians and Vegans Return to Meat.” Moreover:
The proportion of true vegetarians and vegans in the United States is surprisingly small. Only about 2% of respondents did not consume any meat – 1.5% were vegetarians and 0.5% were vegans. These finding are generally consistent with other studies.
… the fact that five out of six vegetarians go back to eating meat suggests that an all-veggie diet is very hard for most people to maintain over the long haul (Psychology Today).
Therefore, it must be asked if the difficulties of following a vegan or vegetarian diet is worthwhile. Only the reader can answer that question for yourself.
Creationist Diet: Second Edition:
A Comprehensive Guide to Bible and Science Based Nutrition
Note: All bolding in quotes is added.
Alternet. Confessions of a Cheating Vegan.
Beyond Veg. Why “failure to thrive” on vegetarian diets is rarely talked about.
Chet Day’s Tips. Hallelujah Acres Research Cast Doubt On “Ideal Diet. By Greg Westbrook.
Chet Day’s Tips. Vegan Diet: Recipe for Disaster? Dr. Ben Kim.
Daily Beast. Why Drunk Vegetarians Eat Meat.
Gurl. Confession: I Say I’m Vegan, But I Totally Cheat.
Huffington Post. Surprising Number Of Drunk Vegetarians Secretly Eat Meat.
Mayell, Mark. 52 Simple Steps to Natural Health. New York: Pocket Books.
National Hog Farmer. Stylish ways vegans justify eating meat.
Psychology Today. 84% of Vegetarians and Vegans Return to Meat.
A Vegan Diet: Should You Try It? Copyright © 2018 by Gary F. Zeolla.
Disclaimers: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet, exercise, or health improvement program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.
The above article was posted on this site June 1, 2018.
It originally appeared in the free email newsletter FitTips for One and All.
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