Doctor debunks study's claims that veganism is bad for women's health 'The idea that sensitive young women are suffering nutritional deficiencies in an effort to save the planet is very misguided' - Media Credit: contrastwerkstatt/Adobe

Expert Debunks Claims Vegan Diet Is Bad For Women’s Health

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5 Minutes Read

“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.

Dark leafy green vegetables are part of a healthy vegan diet

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.

Be reassured

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.

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The Author

Emily Baker

Emily is a journalist based in Devon, where she reports on issues affecting local people from politics to the environment. She has also written features on feminism for Polyester Magazine.

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Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
5 months ago

“ Meat and dairy only contain B12 because farmed animals are given supplements”. WHAT! All animal foods contain Vit B12: Bi-valves, fish, wild meats, eggs, forage fed livestock etc.

If you cant’t get your facts right don’t publish so called authoritative articles.

Matt
Matt
5 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

It is routine to give B12 or Cobalt (the precursor to B12) to livestock and chickens raised in industrial systems (which most are) to insure adequate levels of B12 in their flesh and excretions. You weren’t aware of that Roland?

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Well aware of that thank you Matt. Which is one of a multitude of reasons why I don’t advocate consumption of industrial livestock. The statement in the article implied that Vit B12 is only present due to supplementary feeding. Not true. I know of no non industrialy farmed animals that receive supplements of any kind. ( Rather like humans that live on a natural diet ).

Matt
Matt
5 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Exactly, humans that live close to the land drinking fresh water on a natural plant based diet have no need to supplement B12. The only reason we need to do so is due to us living in an unnatural environment. It is not from lack of meat eating which is often the reason touted in the press.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt

A few points and then we’ll call it a day.

No Plant Only society that has lived close to nature is known to me.

I know of no evidence that shows it is possible to obtain sufficient B12 from dirty water alone.

Spring and Glacial water contain few bacteria so would rule out societies,( of which there are many) that rely on these sources,

Jack Norris is a vegan dietician for whom I have a great deal of respect. Read his views on B12.

The view that the whole of humanity at any point in history relied on water for B12 is absurd.

As I’ve mentioned to you before, uncontaminated spring water in glass bottles is freely available so cut out the supplements and give it a try.

Matt I don’t have a problem with people who don’t use animal products, in fact it would suit my purposes if there were more. It’s modern veganism ( a belief system ) and some of the absurd claims being made that makes me angry.

Matt
Matt
5 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Without addressing every point, take a look at Jainism if you want evidence for long term strict veganism. B12 is in water and soil, abundant in natural environments. It can only be synthesized by bacteria and archaea. Ask yourself this question where do animals get B12 from? Human beings are animals, great apes to be precise. Unless you have forgotten. The need to supplement B12 is due to our modern unnatural living environment.

But B12 deficiency in vegans is a good talking point for those that don’t know why it’s an issue in the modern world. Here is the rub, B12 deficiency is an issue for omnivores too.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Jainism isn’t vegan, they use dairy.

Herbivores absorb B12 via the large intestine. (humans can’t ).

Great Apes are not hominins and are separated by approx 14 million years of evolution ( common ancestor 7million years ago ). All Great Apes consume animal foods ( insects, molluscs, small reptiles and sometimes larger mammals ).

B12 deficiency in non vegans is mostly due to medical treatment of digestive tract disorders, most notably Proton pump inhibitors. B12 deficiency is extremely rare amongst healthy non vegans.

Matt
Matt
5 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Many Jains are strict vegans.

Humans absorb B12 through our stomach. We’re not ruminants.

Humans are still classed as great apes dude, google it. Also Richard Dawkins disagrees with you.

40% of people in the US are deficient in B12. You think that is a small number? I guess people should eat more factory farmed B12 supplemented meat and never mind the cardiovascular disease. Or maybe they should just take B12 themselves due to their unnatural environment?

IAm ThatStrange
IAm ThatStrange
5 months ago

Some doctors will lie as they know that they would loose money. Dr Greger pretty much verified this.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
5 months ago

So any of the multi thousands of nutritionists, doctors or research scientists that advocate animal foods as a sensible part of diet, are liars or on the make, whilst Dr Gregor who makes a living by advocating Plant Only Diets is telling the truth? Not biased are we?

Matt
Matt
5 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

When doctors tell people that it’s okay to eat a little meat, that is not for medical but societal reasons.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Doctors and dieticians are only going to give advice based on nutrition and health. The only societal advice they are likely to give is “Don’t eat garlic if you’re going on a date”

Matt
Matt
5 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Not true at all. Doctors and dietitians give advice to people based on culture, religion, tradition, their own personal bias, and also what they believe people are capable of doing. Most doctors have close to zero nutritional training. But they are trained to write scripts for pharmaceuticals. If you want to understand what the optimal diet is you need to take it back to first principles. That’s where nutrition science comes in.

When a doctor says that it’s okay to eat a little meat that is not the same as saying that meat is healthy. It’s because the doctor either doesn’t have a fundamental grasp on nutrition, or he/she believes through their own experience that their patients are incapable of quitting meat altogether. So they say: “It’s okay to eat red meat once in a while.” While at the same time prescribing you a pill to lower your cholesterol.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Believe it or not, as someone from a naturopathic family I’m inclined to agree with a lot of what you say, however it baffles me as to why one highly qualified nutritionist considers animal foods as essential, yet another does not. Who’s right? Oh and by the way what’s cholesterol?

Matt
Matt
5 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

It’s pretty clear that nutritionists that say meat is essential are wrong. Because meat is filled with inflamitory compounds. Neu5Gc, TMAO, heme iron, saturated fat, it’s high in sulfur containing amino acids. Study after study show the benefits of eating plant based diets. You’d need to be blind to not see that pattern. Usually the first person somebody lies to is themselves when it comes to giving up luxuries, so people are generally happy to believe good things about their bad habits. The only people you can really trust is someone that loves meat, looks at the data and then gives it up for health reasons. That is someone whom is able to overcome their own bias.

Can you name a single chemical only found in meat that is essential for human nutrition?

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