Vegan Diet in Perspective
In Primitive Cultures, special foods would be given to both men and women for a period of time before conception would occur. Dr. Weston Price's studies revealed that these foods -- including organ meats, fish heads, fish eggs, shellfish, insects and animal fats -- were rich in fat-soluble vitamins A and D as well as macro and trace minerals. It is recommended that couples planning to have children should eat organic liver and other organ meats liberally, fish eggs and other seafood, eggs and the best quality butter, cream and fermented milk products for at least six months before conception. Organic meats, vegetables, grains and legumes should round out the diet, with a special emphasis on the leafy green vegetables rich in folic acid, which is necessary for the prevention of birth defects like spinal bifida.
It can be very risky for expectant mothers, as well as nursing moms and their babies and children to exist exclusively upon a Vegan Diet. Also, teenagers who burn a lot of calories each day and whose growing bones and bodies still require a full spectrum of nutrients should not adopt a vegan lifestyle. This may be true for adults, as well, if they follow a vegan diet strictly for a year or two or more. Listening to one's body, and eating some "clean" and minimally processed animal foods as needed,10-20% of one's daily protein, is beneficial for most.The vegan lifestyle is one that can be liberating and cleansing. By applying a vegan lifestyle for a time, one finds many different and fun ways to cook creatively outside of the regular North American carnivorous diet, while cleansing and beginning to feel extremely healthy. This paper will objectively look at the Vegan Diet from a nutritional perspective. Is the diet itself a reasonable and sustainable way for one to become healthy and vibrant, fulfilling all a person's nutritional needs and assisting to prevent disease over the long term?
The Vegan Diet
What does a healthy Vegan diet look like? One who is eating Vegan is not eating any red meat, poultry, fish or eggs for protein. One must be purposely eating other good sources of protein such as tempeh, nuts, beans and tofu.1 Silverstone says, in her book “The Kind Diet”, only 8 amino acids are essential (not produced by the body) and so we only need those 8 from the diet and not all at the same time. Beans and Rice can provide these amino acids. Legumes have an amazing effect in the prevention of disease such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. 2 A Vegan also eliminates any dairy products, substituting nuts, seeds, beans and dark green leafy vegetables for calcium. (118 grams of calcium in milk to 120 in chickpeas – and some experts say that the calcium in milk is not absorbed and in fact causes calcium to be pulled from the bones3) Silverstone encourages that adopting a Vegan diet will cause you to, “become stronger, your immune system will work more efficiently as your body releases excess fats and toxins.”4
There is little doubt that eating a vegan diet can and will help a person gain health benefits. By purposely consuming more vegetables and less animal-source proteins, the body automatically receives a break digestively, with more fibre and broader vitamins and minerals from the food taken in. This certainly results in the many health benefits of being Vegan. Studies have shown that those who are Vegan have less incidence of kidney stones, heart disease and some types of cancers. Silverstone looks at the negative effects of a high meat diet: too much saturated fats, which she says increases cholesterol and causes plaque to clog arteries, high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks. Although, among many health care professionals there is much division about whether saturated fats do indeed cause heart disease, or if cholesterol is in fact harmful and necessary to avoid. (The scope of this report is not large enough to cover this topic – please see bibliography for suggested extra reading)
Silverstone is sure supplementing is unnecessary if you are eating a healthy vegan diet 5 - except for B12 and that is only because we have a hyper clean society and so therefore we get no B12 from the dirt on the vegetables that we eat. She recommends only 2 micrograms a day and one should only need to supplement twice a week.
According to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, B12 is available only in meat and animal products. B12 deficiency manifests as fatigue, tingling hands and feet, sleep disorders and manifests fully as depression, dementia, OCD, cancer and heart disease...Vegans and the elderly who don't have enough hydrochloric acid, are shown to have this deficiency. RAW milk products have lots of B12 in them – that is RAW milk because pasteurization makes it unusable.6
Silverstone recommends not to drink black tea with meals, as it will inhibit calcium absorption.
“Most vegetarians are lower in zinc, essential fats, and protein according to a study at the Health Sciences Department of the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Burnaby Canada, which analyzed diets of vegetarian anorexics versus non-vegetarian patients. Low zinc levels leads to loss of appetite and more depression. 7
One might find that animal meat can satisfy the appetite much more than vegan choices. It is more than just the need for more B12 – there are other essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D, zinc, iron, and calcium that are missing as well as essential fats that can not be absorbed well in plant forms.
Silverstone holds that plant sources of Omega 3's are more stable than fish oils and also that they have less saturated fats than fish oils – as she sees saturated fats as being the 'baddies'. 8
Patrick Holford, author of Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, on the other hand sees things quite differently, "We are currently to third or fourth generation with inadequate DHA intakes and experts now think this could have a lot to do with the increasing rates of neurological and mental health problems." 9 India has the most vegetarian population in the world. It also has the highest rate of blindness. A study done in India found that vegetarians rarely have sufficient DHA levels, which can lead to blindness. 10 This is connected to a deficiency in omega-3's since both eye and the brain are built out of DHA. A direct source of EPA and DHA – from fish or algae are therefore really important. We cannot avoid the reality that the most direct source of EPA and DHA is coldwater fish – mainly ones that eat other fish like herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna. We need 300-400 mg of both DHA and EPA a day – and even more if we have a disease of the mind or heart. In order to provide enough of these daily from flax seeds, which are a rich source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – the body must convert the ALA to DHA and EPA – not easily done -requiring optimum amounts of magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B3, B6, biotin and C to convert it. A person would have to consume almost 10 times the amount of ALA to get enough DHA and EPA.
There is a clear connection between proteins and fats – they need each other for absorption. Our primitive ancestors survived on a diet composed largely of meat and fat, supplemented with vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts. Studies of their remains reveal that they have excellent bone structure, heavy musculature and flawless teeth. The Agricultural man added milk, grains and legumes to this diet.11
The RDA for protein is, “0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram that we weigh (or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound that we weigh) 12. - which is about 10% of our calorie intake.
Protein is vital – most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids, derived from proteins, thus affecting everything from mood to memory.
A typical day on The Kind Diet might look like this:
- Breakfast : Toast with avocado and tomatoes.
- Lunch: Vegetarian burrito.
- Dinner: Rustic pasta with marinara sauce, pecan-crusted seitan (wheat gluten), steamed broccoli, and garlic bread.
- Snack: Peanut butter treats or a piece of fruit. 13
There are a few problems with this menu plan. The breakfast provides virtually no protein, and will not sustain one's glycemic levels through till lunch. Lunch, if it is chucked full of black beans or chickpeas could be delicious and healthy, but the dinner again only provides a marginal amount of protein. Some will argue that wheat and other grains are a good source of protein, yet we now know that even though many sources may list the protein as being high enough in wheat, for example, “wheat grown in Canada has more than half...as much protein as that grown in England”14 - There are many variables in protein content that makes it very difficult to rely upon. Even microwaving alters the proteins in foods. 15
It is possible to get your protein from vegetable sources-nuts, seeds, beans etc.but it is trickier without the eggs or dairy. For example – 1 CUP of sunflower seeds, has 20 grams of protein -– whereas 2 medium size eggs give you the same amount of protein and it is a better, more absorbable source too.16
Taurine is found in fish, eggs and meat and is an amino acid that is essential for relaxation. Deficiency results in high levels of anxiety, insomnia, depression and even mania. It is necessary to supplement 500-1000 mg daily, if on a vegetarian diet. 17
What about Soy as a solid substitute for animal protein? The Weston Price Foundation states that “High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation (absorbtion) of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking. High phytate diets have caused growth problems in children...."18
- Vitamin B12 analogs in soy aren't absorbed and actually increase the body's requirement for B12.
- Soy foods may increase the body's requirement for vitamin D.
- Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein.
- Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods.
- Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.
In addition, among many other drawbacks to soy, here are a few:
Ideally the Vegan diet contains no processed foods, no sugar and no white flour, thus fulfilling only ideal carbohydrate sources like vegetables and whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice. This is an excellent guideline and is guaranteed to provide more nutrition and vitality. Unfortunately, because it is difficult to attain one's true needs for complete protein, the Vegan can end up craving once the initial cleanse 'high' is over and ends up choosing unhealthy carbs such as pastries and chips.
Weston Price, a dentist who studied extensively in the isolated areas of the world in the 1930's, found that those whose diets consisted largely of grain and legumes, while far healthier than civilized moderns, had more cavities than those living primarily on meat and fish. Skulls of prehistoric peoples subsisting almost entirely on vegetable foods have teeth containing cavities and abscesses, and show evidence of bone problems and TB as well.19
Clearly a Vegan diet is not a suitable diet for most people to embrace over a long period of time. A person looking for a clean, nutritionally dense alternative may wish to explore the Alkaline Diet. An Alkaline Diet achieves great overall health through eating much less meat (and that meat that is recommended is clean – organic, hormone free, raised well). When we look at our chart with Alkaline and Acidic Foods, red meat is included on the acidic side. It is the goal that approximately 25% of the diet contain the Acidic sources of foods, including meats, grains and nuts . This guideline keeps us from consuming too much protein! “Excess protein can damage the kidneys...and contribute to the development of osteoperosis," 20as well as other draw backs like digestive issues and not enough fibre. If there are issues with digestion, the best solution is to address food combining and a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme, rather than completely avoiding the meat.
Along with our whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and legumes, nuts and seeds, most of us are better off if we have some good quality meat, poultry or fish two or three times a week, eggs two times a week and raw fermented dairy products daily. We will feel the better for it. As we are all individuals and different from one another, the key must be to listen to our own body's needs and live accordingly.
Ballentine, Rudolph, MD. Transition to Vegarianism. Honesdale, PA. The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy in the USA,1999.
Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions.Washington, DC. New Trends Publishing, 2001
Holford, Patrick. New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind. Laguna Beach,CA. Basic Health Publications, Inc, 2009
Rowland, David PhD, Cardioprotective Nutrition: A Critical Review of the Scientific Evidence. Self published, 2000
Silverstone, Alicia. The Kind Diet. New York, Rodale Inc.,2009
Resources for finding healthy food choices:
List of many resources including Annual Food Guide:
Sustainable fish choices: www.seachoice.org
1Silverstone, “The Kind Diet”, p 51
2 Ballentine, Transition to Vegetarianism”, p. 97
3Silverstone, “The Kind Diet”, p 39
4Silverstone, “The Kind Diet”, p 1
5Silverstone, “The Kind Diet” page 79
6Fallone, Sandy, “Nourishing Traditions” pg 227
7Holford, New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, pg 369
8Silverstone, “the Kind Diet”, page 75
9Holford, Patrick, “New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind” p 40
10Holford, “New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind”, p 40
11Fallon, Sally, “Nourishing Traditions”, pg 26
14Ballentine, “Transition to Vegetarianism” Page 112
16Holford, “New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind” p 56
17Holford, “New Optimum Nutrtion for the Mind” p 177
19Fallon, Sally “Nourishing Traditions”, pg 27
20Transition to Vegetarianism page113