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Why I don’t Recommend a Vegan Diet (Especially for Women)


Vegan diets have gained popularity for their ethical and environmental benefits. And I especially see more and more women become vegans. 


What Is a Vegan Diet? A vegan diet is a plant-based eating approach that eliminates all animal products. People following a vegan lifestyle, avoid not only meat and fish but also dairy (all milk-based products), eggs, honey, and other animal-derived ingredients. The primary focus is on consuming plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.


People go vegan for different reasons: some people believe that going vegan can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, especially heart disease. And it’s true that there are some studies that do support the idea of a vegan diet being able to lower the risk of long-term health conditions, it’s not that straight forward: always check who were the people who participated in these studies and especially what kind of diet and lifestyle did they have BEFORE participating and then what did the diet consist of during the study. Anyone who’s been eating a typical SAD (Standard American Diet) and who starts to eat a lot more vegetables and whole food and stops eating industrial animal products will likely hugely benefit from this switch. So for me it’s all about the right balance.


Other people are vegan because of their spiritual or ethical beliefs. In any case, it's a decision I totally respect.

HOWEVER, if you go vegan because you think it is the healthiest way to eat, let me tell you: it's not and it’s not even a better choice for the environment. 


Now hear me out! Let's look at the facts:


Researchers have linked veganism to a weakened immune system, nutrient deficiencies, and mental health issues. (Source)


Protein Quality & Quantity: Meeting your protein quota as a vegan is possible, but it requires a lot of work and planning, and you’ll definitely need a plant-based protein powder to help reach an adequate intake. Unlike animal-based proteins that have all the essential amino acids your body requires for good health and hormone production, most plant-based protein sources lack one or more amino acids found in animal products, potentially affecting the body's ability to synthesize hormones effectively. Leucine is one of these amino acids that’s often lacking and it’s essential for building muscle. 


Goes without saying that the plant-based protein sources don't contain as much protein as animal sources: in order to get as much protein from chickpeas as from a small piece of meat (about 100g net weight), you'd need to consume about 2 cups of chickpeas (approx 500g)! Go back to my article on protein intake as we age here.


Antinutrients Inhibit Absorption

Also, beans and legumes always contain higher amounts of carbs and anti-nutrients like phytic acid, lectins, tannins and saponins which cause digestive distress for many and bind to important minerals like zinc. These anti-nutrients can also hurt your gut lining and cause food sensitivities. So eating plant based proteins exclusively or most of the time can deplete your body of minerals. Compared to an equal amount of animal protein, fewer amino acids end up being absorbed by the body - potentially up to 10% less.


Too Many Carbs

How well your body reacts to carbohydrates can vary from person to person and I don't want to shame carbs all the time, they're definitely not all bad. But let's be honest: most people are eating way too many carbs for the amount of exercise/movement they're getting. In a vegan diet they can be even more easy to overeat...

When these high-carb foods are a big part of your diet, they can quickly increase your blood-sugar levels, especially if they don't have enough fiber and protein to slow down sugar absorption. 

Even healthier vegan foods like legumes, fruits, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes can increase blood-sugar levels. These spikes in blood sugar are often followed by a drop in energy, leaving you tired and hungry.  

Over time, these blood-sugar spikes and crashes can lead to various health issues, including insulin resistance. With this condition, your cells become less responsive to insulin's effects, requiring higher insulin levels to manage blood sugar. Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes and various other health problems, including weight gain, heart disease and PCOS. 



Lack of Essential Fatty Acids

Your body needs Omega-3 fatty acids so that it can lower inflammation. It is in fact THE most important ally to keep your brain and heart healthy. There are different kinds of omega-3s:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in foods like flax, chia, hemp and walnuts. 

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in wild-caught fish. 

While ALA is important, your body first needs to convert it into EPA and DHA, but it doesn't do it very well: only 5-10% of ALA turns into EPA and even less (about 2-5%) turns into DHA. So you can see that even if you eat a ton of the seeds that are praised to be high in Omega 3, you’re actually not getting much of the critical anti-inflammatory EPA and DHA. If you eat wild-caught seafood on the other hand, you are directly getting these omega-3 fatty acids without relying on the conversion of ALA. 

Vegan Omega 3 in the form of algae oil is not comparable as it only contains very little EPA. 


Cholesterol: Your body needs cholesterol to make all of your sex hormones. Although your body can synthesize its own cholesterol, a diet entirely devoid of animal products will definitely impact your ratio of good and bad cholesterol. Just to give you an example: my cholesterol levels were the worst I’ve ever had when I was a vegan. Most of my clients have too little “good” and too much “bad” cholesterol and that’s because they are eating too many carbs and not enough fatty fish like mackerel, herring and sardines that are not only rich in EPA and DHA, but also cholesterol. 


Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies 

Besides long-chain fatty acids and amino acids, vegans often lack these nutrients:  

  • Vitamin B12: animal protein is the only sufficient source of Vitamin B12, which is essential for proper cell function, formation of blood cells and brain function. Deficiency usually results in anemia (fatigue), impaired brain function (poor memory), symptoms of mental disorders (depression) and a smaller brain. You may argue that Spirulina has vitamin B12, it is not biologically active in the same way as the B12 found in animal products. The B12 analog in spirulina can actually interfere with the absorption and utilization of true B12, potentially leading to a deficiency over time.

  • Vitamin D: It's hard to find in plant foods, and your body can make it from sunlight, but many people don't get enough sun. Low vitamin D can affect your bones and immune system. Let’s be clear: the vitamin D2 that you find in some yeasts and fungi is not bioavailable. Like with all plant sources of vitamins it needs to be converted so that your body can actually do something with it.  

  • Iron: Plant-based iron (non-heme iron) isn't absorbed as well as iron from animal foods (heme iron). Vegans might need to eat more iron-rich plant foods and pair them with vitamin C to help the body convert non-heme (plant) iron into a more soluble form, making it easier to absorb. Now before you go eat tons of spinach, brace yourself: spinach is very high in another antinutrient: oxalates. And these oxalates actually prevent the absorption of iron and calcium amongst others. They also create crystals and cause kidney and gallstones and inflammation in general. Cooked spinach is definitely a better option but still. Check my article about iron deficiency for more details. 

  • Zinc: Plant-based sources of zinc often have phytates that make it harder for your body to absorb zinc and other nutrients. 

Deficiencies in these nutrients can also impact your skin health and the ability to repair and maintain its elasticity.


  • Creatine is known for supporting muscle strength and energy production (ATP). But it is also concentrated in the brain. The same way that our muscles require energy to work, our brain needs energy too! While creatine can also be produced by our liver, studies have shown that vegetarians or vegans tend to have lower amounts of creatine in their muscles. One study placed people on a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet for 26 days and found that their muscle creatine levels had significantly decreased.

  • Carnosine is an antioxidant that’s concentrated in your muscles and brain. It is known to reduce damage caused by elevated blood glucose and may have strong anti-aging effects through its antioxidant function

  • CoQ10 - Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that’s key to keeping our cell activity healthy. A coenzyme Q10 deficiency may put a person at risk for migraines, heart disease and other medical issues (found in organ meats and fatty fish)


Phytoestrogens and Hormone Mimicry: Some plant-based foods, particularly soy products, contain compounds called phytoestrogens. High consumption of phytoestrogen-rich foods might disrupt your hormone balance.


One study found that vegans and vegetarians had a higher risk of hip fractures compared to meat-eaters. Vegans also had more overall fractures, leg fractures, and fractures in other parts of the body. Researchers believe this increased risk of fractures was because vegans got much less calcium and dietary protein. (Source)



vegan burger image

Fake Foods 

If you’ve come this far in my article, you’ve probably already concluded that getting all your nutrients and being healthy as a vegan is tricky. It requires a lot of knowledge, dedication and preparation. Now, the food industry has already picked up on this new hype of course and has come up with a wealth of fake convenience foods that are praised to be so healthy for you and they even claim a neutral carbon footprint - this is also called greenwashing: using self-made labels and questionable health claims to sell a product. Just like in old times we’ve been programmed to choose “low fat” products for our health that actually have double the amount of sugar and other unnatural ingredients to make up for the loss of fat. 


Veggie burgers, chicken substitutes, vegan bacon, cheese, pizza, cheesecake, plant based ice cream, protein shakes and energy bars -these vegan meat alternatives have a ton of other unhealthy ingredients: they can contain genetically modified (GMO) soy, wheat protein sprayed with glyphosate (highly inflammatory and extremely hard to digest) overheated vegetable oils that cause inflammation and often include additives and preservatives like artificial flavors, colors, and stabilizers to improve taste, texture, and shelf life. 


Increased Risk of Food Sensitivity

Food  sensitivity can affect anyone, but it's more common among vegans who regularly consume highly reactive foods containing gluten, soy or lectins.  This frequent exposure increases the likelihood of developing food sensitivity. Symptoms can include digestive problems, skin issues, headaches, and weight gain.  

 


Can a Vegan Diet be Healthy? If you want to be a vegan, it's doable but you need to be strict with your diet and take supplements to do it right. I definitely recommend that you get help from a professional to help you set up your routine and make sure you're covering your nutrient needs.


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