From allergies and protein to Vitamin B12 and miscellaneous health conditions, there a lot of health-related reasons people think they can’t adopt a vegan diet. Thankfully, help is at hand! We spoke to vegan dietician and nutritionist Amanda Benham about four of the top myths about vegan diets.
Allergies and intolerances – “I can’t go vegan, I’m allergic/intolerant to nuts/ soy/ wheat/ gluten.”
Amanda: Lots of people with food allergies go vegan. There is no one plant food that is essential to eat, so food allergies or intolerances should not normally prevent anyone from going vegan. Vegans are all vigilant about what they eat, so avoiding certain foods becomes second nature to all vegans. Of course having multiple food allergies makes eating well more challenging for anyone, so seeking professional help is recommended.
Vitamin B12 – “I don’t want to become Vitamin B12 deficient as a vegan.”
Amanda: The discovery of vitamin B12 in 1948 is what has enabled the dream of the human race adopting a vegan diet to be a possible reality. There are no plant foods that are reliable sources of vitamin B12, but some processed vegan foods (such as some soy milks, some “fake meats”) have added vitamin B12, and supplements are readily available. It was once thought that fermented foods and spirulina contained vitamin B12, but it has been found that they contain inactive analogues which are of no use to us.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient and a deficiency can have serious health impacts. The infants of women who are pregnant or lactating and not supplementing can rapidly become deficient, which can cause irreversible negative impacts (such as intellectual impairment), so it’s vitally important that women of child-bearing age pay attention to vitamin B12. Vegans who do not regularly consume at least 3 serves of B12-fortified foods every day should take a B12 supplement, preferably daily. Simply getting tested for deficiency regularly is not a recommended option, as by the time a deficiency is detected, damage has already been done.
It is also worth noting that serum B12 levels are not a reliable indicator of B12 status, and either ”active B12” or homocysteine levels should be checked at the same time, to help with the interpretation of the results.
Protein – “What about protein, and complete proteins? It’s all too complicated when you’re a vegan.”
Amanda: Vegans who eat a whole food plant-based diet composed of legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit should have no trouble obtaining adequate good quality protein. The need for protein is actually a need for essential amino acids, which our bodies use to make the different proteins we require. Of the essential amino acids, it is lysine that is most likely to be in short supply in plant-based diets. Legumes (such as beans and lentils) are a good source of lysine and it is recommended that all vegans include these in their daily diet.
Miscellaneous health conditions – “I have diabetes/ coeliac disease / Crohn’s disease/ etc – it wouldn’t be healthy for me to go vegan.”
Amanda: I cannot think of any condition that would make it impossible for someone to be on a vegan diet. For some people it will be more challenging than others, and I recommend that anyone with health conditions that require dietary restrictions consult a dietitian for assistance with meal planning and ensuring that their diet is nutritionally adequate.
Amanda Benham is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist who has over 20 years’ experience in been helping people adopt healthy plant-based diets. She is available for consultations via Skype (worldwide), phone (Australia-wide) or face-to-face (in Brisbane, Australia). Find out more by visiting her website at: humanherbivore.com