Dear Dr: Is a vegan diet completely safe and healthy? I have a vegan daughter and granddaughter and I am concerned. What are you not allowed to eat? Are you getting all the vitamins, minerals and proteins you need? Any information you have is welcome.
Dear Reader: Vegan diets have grown in popularity in recent years. Given that the majority of people in the United States are more familiar with diets that include meat, seafood, and dairy products, your concern about your daughter and granddaughter embarking on a plant-based diet is understandable. We are happy to assure you that a vegan diet, done correctly, is not only safe but also healthy.
Let’s start with the basics. Vegans do not eat animal meat, animal by-products, or foods that contain an ingredient of animal origin. Instead, they focus on vegetables, legumes, grains, beans, nuts and nut butters, seeds, fruits, vegetable fats, and a wide range of foods from non-animal sources. These include protein-rich meat alternatives such as tofu, tempeh and seitan, as well as milk alternatives such as oat, soy and almond milk.
Vegans also avoid a number of other foods and foods that sometimes have surprising associations with animals. These include honey produced by bees; Gelatin obtained from cartilage and bones; certain types of soy sauce that use fish in the fermentation process; and even table sugar, which is often filtered with bone charcoal.
It is true that any type of restrictive diet can make it more difficult to get the full range of nutrients you need. For vegans, this means paying special attention to vitamin B12. It is important for red blood cell production, plays a role in nerve cell health, and helps with DNA synthesis. Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal products, so vegans need to take steps to include it in their diet. It’s easy because B12 is available as a vitamin supplement and is added to a wide variety of fortified and fortified grain and soy products. The same care must be taken with the intake of adequate protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, zinc, iron and vitamin D. It may sound complex, but a healthy vegan diet just takes a little more planning.
There is a lot of good news from recent research about people following a plant-based diet. These include a measurably lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer, better blood sugar control, a lower rate of type 2 diabetes, better blood pressure readings, and lower obesity in young adults.
It’s important to note that these studies looked at healthy vegan diets. That means eating from a wide variety of fresh, whole foods. The advice to stay away from highly processed foods applies to vegans. We think the three of you might find it useful to meet with a registered dietitian to discuss the specifics of vegan eating. It will increase your daughter and granddaughter’s understanding and can help alleviate your concerns.