Recent studies show that animal-derived foods, with our modern factory farming methods, are linked with certain diseases such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer. Not only can this be attributed to high cholesterol levels, but also the modern trend of meat consumption and the production to keep up with it (1).
To keep up with demands for meat, production is altered in factory farms. The meat, poultry, dairy and egg industries—in an effort to optimize efficiency—use drugs, hormones and other hazardous chemicals on animals that get passed onto humans. With these conditions, potent pathogens, that are resistant to antibiotics, are emerging and the potential effect on humans remains a question (1).
Certain diseases that have been credited with meat consumption are Mad Cow Disease, avian influenza (“bird-flu”), E. coli, campylobacter, Salmonella (from eggs) and many more. Instead of the USDA advising consumers from withdrawing from meat consumption, certain actions such as overcooking food and prescribing antibiotics are replacing that option (1).
Eating nutritiously is a common concern for vegans and people considering a vegan diet. Many myths exist that vegans don’t get enough protein, calcium, iron and other essentials. Of course without a properly planned diet, a vegan can be at risk for certain deficiencies. However, people on a regular meat diet are often at the same risk. Here is an examination of the myths and facts a vegan faces and how optimal health can be achieved.
"It is the position of The American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."-The American Dietetic Association (10)
People associate meat as the only substantial source of protein. On the contrary, the majority of plant-based foods can serve as an adequate source of protein, as long as the slightest effort is applied to create a proper balance between diet and caloric intake.
Setting aside all of the obsessions with getting enough protein, excessive amounts of protein has been linked to kidney stones, osteoporosis and possibly some heart disease and cancers (2). On average, most fairly conscious vegans and vegetarians get plenty of protein from their diets. The concern to eat enough protein remains as something that should be closely monitored.
The plant foods that are highest in protein are legumes (beans) and nuts. In addition, many grains and vegetables are a source of protein. Overall, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. Complementary, the practice of combining certain foods such as beans and rice to make a complete protein no longer need to be practiced. New findings have found that these foods can be eaten throughout the day and don’t have to be combined at specific meals(9). Comparisons of different foods and their protein levels can be viewed at SoyStache.
The vitamin B12 is essential to the formation of blood cells and maintenance of the central nervous system. It is also very important for metabolism. Typically, B12 is found in meats and most dairy products (4). Since a vegan diet does not permit these foods, the recommended way of obtaining this essential vitamin is through foods that are enriched with the vitamin. Cereals are usually fortified with B12 or it is usually found in yeast extracts (nutritional yeast is a common ingredient in vegan recipes) (5).
Low levels of B12 can cause anemia, as well as numbness or tingling in a person’s limbs and other neurological symptoms (4). For these reasons alone, it is important that a vegan monitors his or her intake of supplements and fortified foods containing B12.
Although, vegans and vegetarians only take supplements of B12, benefits from this method have been found. By being aware of the requirement, regular usage of supplements protects vegans from risk of B12 deficiency. The Institute of Medicine stated, “Because 10 to 30 percent of older people may be unable to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12, it Is advisable for those older than 50 years to meet their RDA mainly by consuming foods fortified with B12 or a B12-containing supplement(6).”
The body needs calcium to protect the bones and keep them strong. But, the issue turns into the bones being able to keep the calcium instead of increasing calcium intake. Osteoporosis is usually linked to lack of calcium, but many scientists believe that other factors come into play such as activity and exercise in one’s life. The majority of calcium in one’s body is found in the bones, but some may also be found in the blood stream. Not only does calcium help keep the bones strong, but it is also involved with muscle contraction, maintenance of the heartbeat and the transmission of nerve impulses (7).
Since dairy products and some fish are relied on as a heavy source of calcium, other alternatives can easily be overlooked. The number of lactose intolerant people reaches between 30 and 50 million people in America alone. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the main sugar in the milk, lactose (8). In addition to the many leafy greens, beans, tofu and various fruits used as a source of calcium, many juices and cereals are now vitamin fortified (highest being fortified orange juice). It is recommended for people who suffer from lactose intolerance, along with vegans, that leafy greens and fortified calcium be consumed and an optimal amount of calcium can be obtained this way when coupled with regular exercise.
Calcium loss can be a result of: