“Oh, You’re Vegan… Are You Sure That’s Safe?”

“Are you sure you’re getting enough protein?”

“Are you sure you’re getting enough protein?”

Having been vegan for 21 years now, I’ve heard this concern for my health expressed many times and in many different ways. “Are you getting enough protein?”, “You know that you have to be careful about iron, right?”, “Are you aware that all that soy in your vegan diet will destroy your thyroid? It happened to my mother’s boyfriend’s brother-in-law’s second cousin.”, etc. I find it interesting that these unsolicited health tips are usually expressed by folks who regularly spend time soaking up nutrients at modern-day bastions of health, like Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s. But they’re the experts, right?

Actually, it’s been quite awhile now since the real American and Canadian nutrition experts have taken a clear stance on the safety and health implications of veganism.

Here’s what the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has to say:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

And Dietitians of Canada has weighed in:

  • A vegan eating pattern has many potential health benefits. They include lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Other benefits include lower blood cholesterol levels and a lower risk for gallstones and intestinal problems.
  • This eating pattern can take some extra planning. Vegans must make sure that enough nutrients like protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins D and B12 and omega-3 fats are included.
  • A well planned vegan diet can meet all of these needs. It is safe and healthy for pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies, children, teens and seniors.
  • A variety of plant foods eaten during the day can provide enough protein to promote and maintain good health.

Don’t be thrown off by the fact that The American Dietetics Association and Dietitians of Canada stress that vegan diets should be well-planned. After all, they should be! No doubt about that whatsoever. But diets that include animal products should be equally well-planned, and this is something that is usually forgotten by Johnny Next-Door when he decides to go on a tirade about the health risks of your vegan diet (all the while trying not to spill his chips and soda in his excitement over the issue). A poorly planned vegan diet can result in deficiencies of nutrients like iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, calcium, zinc and/or omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, a poorly planned omnivorous diet can result in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, intestinal problems and/or certain types of cancer.

So, the next time Johnny Next-Door decides to blast your dietary choices (armed with the nutrition expertise he garnered from Yahoo! News the night before), let him know what we nutrition professionals really have to say about the issue. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to embrace the fact that a vegan diet does need planning and care. Of course it does! Every diet needs planning and care. Right, Johnny?

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