“Women’s health at risk due to rise in meat-free diets, scientist says” warned one headline this week. The scientist, whose research is based mainly on animal foods, asserts that poorly planned vegan diets might leave some people falling short of certain nutrients.
And yet, poorly planned diets containing meat and dairy have been doing this for years!
But don’t be put off. A vegan diet can provide everything you need and protect your health – and there is a vast body of evidence supporting this.
And major health bodies agree…
A healthy vegan diet can provide all the nutrients you need while lowering the risk of all the big killers including heart disease, type two diabetes, and certain cancers.
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), “with good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.”
The article warns how half of young women aged between eleven and 18 are consuming below the minimum recommended level of iron and magnesium.
A quarter of women from this age group, it says, are consuming too little calcium, zinc, and iodine too.
However, the article also claims that only three percent of the UK population are vegan.
So, even if all vegan women were missing out, which they are not, 22 to 47 percent of women who eat meat and dairy are missing out too.
Ironing out the facts
It’s a myth that you need meat to get iron. Iron is found in many plant foods.
Good sources include dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains such as quinoa, wholewheat pasta, and wholemeal bread.
Additionally, it’s found in pulses including lentils, tofu, baked beans, kidney beans, and peas. Seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, and tahini, as well as dried fruit also contain iron.
One of the largest ever studies of vegetarians and vegans, the EPIC-Oxford study, compared the diets of over 18,000 meat-eaters, 4,500 fish-eaters, 6,600 vegetarians, and 800 vegans.
It found that vegans had the highest intake of iron, followed by vegetarians and fish-eaters.
Meat-eaters came out last. But vegans had the highest intake of magnesium, polyunsaturated (healthy) fats, fiber, vitamins C and E, folate, and copper.
Women’s health at risk?
The article suggests that young women are more at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies than men because they may be “more sensitive to the messages put out about how bad” meat and dairy are for the environment.
This patronizing view conjures up the image of a Victorian lady having an attack of the vapors!
The idea that sensitive young women are suffering nutritional deficiencies in an effort to save the planet is very misguided.
And the fact that so many young women are missing out on important nutrients reflects what a poor diet many people have.
But this is not a vegan issue.
In fact, many vegans are quite well-informed on what constitutes a healthy diet.
The article takes a swing in the right direction towards the end because it highlights how eating up to 30 different plant foods a week is good for your gut health.
This is good advice for everyone, not just vegans. It’s also good advice to avoid eating too much junk food.
Do vegans need supplements?
Vegans don’t need handfuls of supplements as the article suggests, but they do need to ensure a regular intake of vitamin B12.
Don’t let the naysayers convince you this is a bad thing. Meat and dairy only contain B12 because farmed animals are given supplements.
Why not cut out the middleman and take your own? It’s easier to absorb and sets you up for a healthy old age!
- Calcium is found in tofu (made with calcium sulfate), fortified vegan cereals, and plant milks. It’s also present in dried figs, kale, sesame seeds, tahini, beans, nuts, and green vegetables.
- Vitamin D (the so-called sunshine vitamin, produced in our skin in response to sunlight) supports your immune system and helps your body absorb calcium. The government says everyone in the UK, regardless of diet, should consider taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter.
- Zinc is found in tempeh, wholewheat pasta, tofu, quinoa, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, lentils, couscous, wholegrain rice, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, and tahini.
- Iodine is found in many plant foods. But the content varies due to iodine levels in the soil in which they’re grown. Good plant sources include sea vegetables (arame, wakame, and nori) and iodized salt. While iodine is found in cow’s milk, this is only because cows are fed supplements and their teats are disinfected with an iodine wash. I’d rather sprinkle some seaweed in my soup, thanks.
A healthy vegan diet is packed with a wide range of nutrients that give you energy, are easy on your digestive system, and support your immune system.
It can also help clear up your skin, improve your mood and lower the risk of many diseases.
And you’ll feel great!
Viva!’s wallchart, What I need each day for good health, tells you the recommended portion sizes for each of the five veggie food groups with all the essential vitamins and nutrients they provide.
Find out why vegan diets are the best, how to eat well, and protect your health here.