Veganism sounds great from the outside looking in and I mean how could it not. You see your vegan friends gleefully advertise their colorful meals and hashtag #HealthIsWealth and #CleanEating. They’re in the gym fully suited and booted, working out and posting “before and afters”. It all sounds enticing as you shamefully finish off that Grand Mac from Mickey Ds and wash away the guilt in the shower as you shed tears of cholesterol. We want to eat healthier but finding balance feels too close to temptation so we tell ourselves to go extreme. But before you invest into such a lifestyle, whether as a diet or ethical stance, I believe it necessary to understand more about its effects on the human body as well as the planet.
Without supplements, the human body cannot survive on a plant-based diet and coincidentally, a diet that requires artificial supplementation is by definition, unhealthy. Poorly planned vegan diets may be low in vitamin B12, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iron, zinc, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and iodine, per the American Dietetic Association. We can’t manufacture Vitamin B12 which is an essential nutrient for humans that must come from external sources. No plant foods serve as a reliable(digestible) source for b12 as it’s only found in animal foods – meat, eggs, and dairy. A deficiency can result in anemia, fatigue, diarrhea/constipation, numbness or tingling in your extremities, bleeding gums, depression, lack of balance or even dementia. Symptoms you find in people over the age of 50 who also tend to have lower levels of B12 in their body. B12 is especially important for pregnant people with vaginas as a lack can cause irreversible neurological damage to the child.
Vegans also tend to have lower amounts of taurine, which is essential for cardiovascular function, skeletal muscle, retina and central nervous system. Eating foods such as soy, hemp seed, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth regularly help synthesize taurine but it’s recommended to artificially supplement for sufficient intake. Unfortunately, soy contains toxins called anti-nutrients and contains goitrogens, which lead to depressed thyroid function.
High consumption of products like soy is linked to sexual/reproductive problems in both sexes as well as severe mineral deficiency (calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc) risks. A lack in zinc especially can cause not only a long range of effects but also a “spacey” feeling that vegans might attribute to their journey of consciousness and enlightenment. Quinoa can lead to intolerable stomach pain to severe indigestion due to high amounts of fiber as well as the saponin that coats the grains. Buckwheat lowers blood sugar so diabetics be careful. Those of us who suffer from soy, gluten, nut, rice allergies or thyroid problems face even less options when trying to craft a balanced vegan diet. This is all assuming one has the budget for one in this economy when less healthier options are much cheaper. Buying supplements every month adds up in the long run and you run the chance of buying placebo supplements full of filler.
For our environmentally conscious folk, I completely understand your love for animals or the opposition to ingesting possible toxins they could carry. For mass production, animals are kept under cruel conditions and are bred for quantity not quality; are given growth hormones, and given possible pesticide laden feed. Although there are organic options, it’s hard to have 100% certainty invested in a package label. In a world where everyone seems to have become vegan, greenhouse gas emissions would greatly reduce resulting in reduced global warming. Antibiotics, growth hormones, and chemicals usage would also reduce. But it’s also important to note the effects veganism has on society.
If everyone on the planet became a vegan, 1.3 billion people would lose their jobs according to a 2006 UN report. Approximately 987 million of those people live under the poverty line. High demand for Quinoa forces farmers in Bolivia to sell their llamas to convert grazing lands and buy tractors. The tractors and lack of Llama manure affects the soil fertility and price of manure rises resulting in smaller grains and poorer farmers. Farmers in Mexico are illegally cutting down forests to plant avocado trees due to rise in prices and Mexican gangs extort these farmers. If you like almond milk, 80% of the world’s almond crops grow in California (known for its droughts) and require 1.1 gallons of water for one plant. Almond farmers drill into aquifers to pump out water resulting in possible man-made earthquakes. Almond crops also require pollination so 1.6 hives are brought in annually into an area full of insecticides. Several species of bees are already registered for the first time in the US as endangered including the bumblebee. Without bees, if you may or may not know, humans simply wouldn’t survive.
You start to see multiple correlations surrounding the capitalism side of veganism. There’s also the fact that between rising population, building on and destroying arable land, we simply don’t have enough arable land for everyone to live on a plant-based diet. Some places in the world have less arable land than others forcing them to import majority of their food. Many people would simply die from the high costs of eating a vegan diet.
This isn’t to say veganism should be avoided, because it certainly has its benefits; it’s simply an option that only fits some; not to be used as a moral high ground or trendy political statement. Staying on top of the right balance of nutrients requires knowledge, dedication and… money. Health-wise, some people just can’t afford to give up certain nutrients easily digestible from animals. Whether it be for religious reasons, ethical reasons, or health reasons, it is important to study your body as well as the diet itself to decide what works best for you. You have plenty options.