Vegan diets require critical considerations of dietary choices
by Parul Tandon, Krishna Meka, Pavan Bhatt, Rupi Mangat,
Veganism: To be or not to be? This is a question that many students ponder over every day. Is it bad to be vegan? Should you be a vegan and take a stand against animal slaughter? These are just a few of many things to consider before taking up veganism. A vegan diet is an extremist version of the vegetarian diet because it does not consist of any dairy products. It is important to understand how your lifestyle will change and how your body will respond to these changes. Whether you are Irish or Indian, Chinese or Japanese, American or Canadian, you may have chosen this particular lifestyle for nutritional and/or ethical reasons. Regardless of the reason, being vegan has its ups and downs.
A nutritional balance is essential for a good healthy living, which you may or may not get from vegan diets. In order to achieve this balance, it is crucial to supplement this particular diet with lacking nutrients. If implemented correctly, this modified diet can reduce the risk of disease and prolong your life like you never imagined.
So you may be wondering, what nutrients are vegans missing out on? Well, it is widely known that vegan diets usually lack nutrients such as proteins, iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Furthermore, when comparing a vegan and a non-vegetarian diet, individuals on the vegan diet have been shown to have a lower protein intake. This is because in a non-vegetarian diet, protein can be obtained from animal products such as beef, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products. Still considering this diet?
Don’t be discouraged! There are still many sources of protein in a vegan diet. It is just a matter of planning your diet according to the recommended daily intake of protein required. A vegan can obtain protein from nuts, seeds, beans, tofu and soy milk. If you still think you will not be able to obtain enough protein from these sources, why not try a protein shake or one of the abundant protein supplements out on the market.
Another key nutrient lacking from a vegan diet is iron which plays a vital role in carrying oxygenated blood to tissues in your body. Individuals on a vegan diet can maintain recommended iron levels by eating a variety of nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, and raisin bran. In a non-vegetarian diet, dairy products are the number one source of calcium for many people.
Now you may be confident about your iron intake as a vegan, but what about calcium? You might be thinking about how you would get the calcium you need to maintain those strong and healthy bones you’ve been nourishing since your early childhood. With a vegan diet, you can get your calcium intake from dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and firm tofu fortified with calcium. Calcium fortified soy milk and orange juice are also effective ways of obtaining calcium within a vegan diet. If that’s not enough, why not include calcium supplements with those iron ones you bought last week.
Bring on the vitamins. It is essential to realize that vitamins B12 and vitamin D are also important nutrients that vegans must be aware of. If choosing to pursue a vegan diet, one must be sure to consume these vitamins as they are fundamental to one’s body. Vitamin B12 is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system and is only found in animal products and fortified vegan foods. To meet your body’s needs, 2-3 servings of B12 rich foods are required daily. Vegans can consume vitamin B12 fortified soy milk and veggie “meats”, that are soy or tofu based, or vitamin B12 supplements. As for vitamin D, it helps control your heart, nervous system and also aids with calcium absorption.
Vitamin D is the one nutrient not found in vegan diets. But fear not, our body is capable of producing this vitamin. That’s right, just soak up the sun for 15 minutes, 3 times a week. But be aware, during the winter months, you should be taking vitamin D supplements and also drink vitamin D fortified orange juice, soy milk or ready-to-eat cereals. All in all, a properly planned vegan diet can satisfy all of your nutritional requirements and make you a healthier individual.
But wait! If you are missing out on so many nutrients, then why convert to vegan diets in the first place? Well, ethics and religion have a major influence on one’s diet, be it from birth or later in life. Many religions often do not condone meat-eating, some even specifying a stance against the consumption of animals. The notion that all life is equal, and killing any animal is a sin is prevalent in every religion.
In Christianity, “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the ten commandments, which some see as a prescription for a vegan diet. According to Keith Akers, a Christian author, humans are stewards of God’s creation, and taking care of all that live is a “sacred task”. In fact, there is much debate as to whether even Jesus was a vegan, scholars citing that Jesus preached nonviolence and compassion for all animals . Similarly, some sects of Buddhism also teach compassion for all that live, stating that refraining from eating meat would help in the path toward enlightenment.
Hinduism preaches the policy of “ahimsa” (nonviolence), and purity of food offered to God. According to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), partaking of food gotten from “sin”, by killing, one would only be consuming and accumulating sin . Any food, before eaten, must be offered to God. Meat is considered an unacceptable offering, considered to be ‘tainted’. Meat-eating is further viewed as unnecessary slaughter and uncivilized.
According to James Laidlaw, a scholar on Janism, it is mandatory that all followers of the Jain religion adhere to a strict lacto-vegetarian diet, again based on the principles of ahimsa and preventing accumulation of sinful deeds. Anything even remotely associated with an animal or animal product (other than dairy) is strictly prohibited, taking care to not hurt even the smallest of animals. Jains consider a nonviolent nature one of the most important objectives in achieving liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Even some sects of Sikhism prescribe veganism as a way of life. In this way, many of the world’s major religions adhere to vegan diets based on grounds of nonviolence and compassion.
There are many who cite ethics, not religious practice, as reason to be vegans. These people object to the killing of life, and also the abusive treatment of many animals during the killing process. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has brought to the forefront the fragile issue of animal mistreatment in killing facilities, producing evidence of prolonged torture of these animals before death: Hens are stuffed into overcrowded cages, often suffocating within and the beaks are cut off to prevent fighting; cows are dehorned with the use of anaesthetics, castrated and branded; it is said that a million pigs die during the gruelling transport to slaughter houses every year, with a further 420, 000 crippled who do not receive medical help. It is essential to support these activists who prohibit animal cruelty for food. Why, you may ask? Well, isn’t it true that animals also feel pain in similar manners as human?
Aside from religious and ethical issues, a major cause for individuals deciding to pursue or maintain a vegan lifestyle is a result of the many health benefits that go hand in hand with a diet lacking in meats. In a study of 175 343 US men published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, it was found that the consumption of red and processed meat was positively associated with prostate cancer.
In contrast, countries with a high intake of soy in their diet tended to have much lower rates of prostate cancer when compared to countries where soy intake was low. Also, vegans have lower rates of coronary heart disease which can largely be explained by lower LDL cholesterol, probable lower rates of hypertension and diabetes mellitus, and lower prevalence of obesity – all factors that increase with the consumption of meats. Data is also strong showing that vegans are at a lesser risk for atonic constipation, alcoholism and overall have moderately lower rates of cancer than others living within the same community. Lastly, vegans when compared to meat-eaters tend to have a higher life expectancy.
So, if you want to shed a few pounds, add a couple years to your life and maintain a healthy lifestyle, then the vegan diet may just be the thing for you. We would argue that a vegan diet is the ideal choice if taken with the appropriate supplements accounting for the lacking nutrients.