Expert debunks claims vegan diet is bad for women’s health

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“Women’s health is at risk from the proliferation of meat-free diets, says a scientist,” a headline warned this week. The scientist, whose research is mainly based on animal foods, claims that poorly planned vegan diets can leave some people deficient in certain nutrients.

And yet ill-planned meat and dairy diets 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 huge amount of evidence to support this.

A healthy vegan diet can provide all the nutrients you need, while lowering your risk of all the major killers, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), “with proper planning and an understanding of what constitutes a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.”

The article warns how: half of the young women between the ages of 11 and 18 consume below the minimum recommended level of iron and magnesium.

A quarter of the women people in this age group, it says, also consume too little calcium, zinc and iodine.

However, the article also claims that only three percent of the UK population is vegan.

So, even if all vegan women were missing something, what they are not, 22 to 47 percent of women who eat meat and dairy are also missing out.

Smoothing out the facts

It’s a myth that you need meat to get iron. Iron is in many plant foods.

Good sources include dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains such as quinoa, whole wheat pasta and whole wheat bread.

In addition, it is found in legumes, including lentils, tofu, baked beans, kidney beans and peas. Seeds such as pumpkin, sesame and tahini, as well as dried fruits also contain iron.

One of the largest ever studies on vegetarians and vegans, the EPIC-Oxford Study, compared the diets of more than 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 were the last to come out of the bus. But vegans had the highest intake of magnesium, polyunsaturated (healthy) fats, fiber, vitamins C and E, folate and copper.

Dark green leafy 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 being spread about how bad” meat and dairy are for the environment.

This one condescending view conjures up the image of a Victorian lady having an attack of the fumes!

The idea that sensitive young women suffer from 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 many people’s poor diets.

But this is not a vegan problem.

In fact, many vegans are quite knowledgeable about what constitutes a healthy diet.

The article moves in the right direction towards the end, as it highlights how eating up to 30 different plant foods per week is good for your gut health.

This is good advice for everyone, not just vegans. It is also good advice not to eat 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 that this is a bad thing. Meat and dairy only contain B12 because farm animals are fed supplements.

Why not take out the middleman and take your own? It’s easier to absorb and prepares you for a healthy old age!

  • Calcium is found in tofu (made with calcium sulfate), fortified vegan grains, and plant-based milks. It is also present in dried figs, kale, sesame seeds, tahini, beans, nuts and green vegetables.
  • Vitamin D (the so-called sunshine vitamin, which is 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 found in tempeh, whole wheat pasta, tofu, quinoa, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, lentils, couscous, whole wheat rice, cashew nuts, sesame seeds and tahini.
  • Iodine occurs in many plant foods. But the level varies due to the iodine content in the soil in which they are grown. Good plant sources include sea vegetables (arame, wakame, and nori) and iodized salt. Although iodine is found in cow’s milk, it is only because cows are fed supplements and their teats are disinfected with an iodine detergent. I’d rather sprinkle some seaweed in my soup, thanks.

Do not worry

A healthy vegan diet is packed with a wide variety of nutrients that give you energy, ease your digestion and support your immune system.

It can also help clear your skin, improve your mood, and lower your risk of many diseases.

And you will feel great!

Viva!’s wall map, What I need every day for good health, tells you the recommended serving sizes for each of the five vegetarian food groups with all the essential vitamins and nutrients they provide.

Find out here why vegan diets are best, how to eat right and how to protect your health.

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