Claims have been made that the vegan diet has a lot of science backing it up. According to proponents, people on such diets not only lose weight but also stop dangerous diseases in their tracks. While this may be partially true, you are not getting the whole story. They tend to be very selective about the evidence that they promote.
In fact, veganism is a valid choice for some people, providing them with healthy living. And others adapt it for ethical considerations or because it is better for the environment. But there are those who have gone on the warpath where animal products are concerned and who actually lie to persuade others of the benefits of their approach.
Here are the most common vegan tales out there:
You Get all the Nutrients you Need
Vegans assert that they are able to get all their nutrition without resorting to animal sources. This is not necessarily straightforward and it would seem that many vegans have nutrient deficiencies. And we are not talking about things we can do without - significantly more vegans are deficient in vitamins B12, D, and Omega-3 fatty acids than are omnivores. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain and heart health. Even if you don't eat enough fish, you can get omega-3 fatty acids through supplements. However, vegans will not take a supplement of this kind. Vegans have to consume more foods to make sure they get enough essential nutrients.
Vegan Diets are Healthy because you Drop Animal Products
Studies have been done to assess the impact of vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. Those who thump the tub for veganism like to attribute the proven health benefits to the avoidance of animal products. But that's not all there is to it.
If you are following a carefully planned vegan diet, you are cutting out a lot more than just meat.
You are also minimizing a lot of foods that are objectively bad for you - like refined sugars and starches; refined grains; vegetable/seed oils and trans fats. In addition, processed food has generally been kicked to the curb as well.
Considering all the food that has been excluded, I don't find it surprising that vegans do feel better. However, I would like to know how they can pinpoint meat as being the baddie when they have cleared out so much other rubbish as well. Personally, I believe that it is the reduction in processed sugar consumption and processed foods that can be credited with the positive results.
The "Baddies" - Cholesterol and Saturated Fats
The prevailing wisdom for the longest time was that the consumption of animal fats will lead to heart disease and vegans were at the forefront of endorsing this theory. However, plenty of studies that have shown this to be nonsense and the scientific community has slowly but surely begun to change its tune.
Cholesterol and saturated fats have actually been shown to improve the biomarkers for health indicating that those who consume them are actually is less likely to develop heart disease, not more likely. One huge review collated data from over 20 studies that included almost 350,000 people. The conclusion was clear - there is no association between heart disease and the consumption of saturated fat. This was just one of many studies.
How do the vegan proponents respond? By saying that these studies are biased as they are industry sponsored. That claim is bunk.
Vegan - The Only Way to Repair a Broken Heart
This is one of the claims that vegans like to go on about based on studies by Doctors Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish. The results were very good and indeed included some reversal of heart disease, as documented by the participants' angiograms. No question, actually reversing some heart disease is a dramatic accomplishment.
I don't, however, think that any conclusions can be drawn about the vegan diet solely based on these studies, and here is why: Dr. Ornish's method was not only about a dietary intervention but a full lifestyle overhaul. No more smoking, the taking up of meditation and exercise programs were all components, to name but a few. And the diet itself was more vegetarian than vegan. And in the study conducted by Dr. Esselstyn, each participant was prescribed high dose statin drugs.
In either instance therefore, we cannot be certain what factor was mainly responsible for the results. Further study is needed with results that are not as ambiguous.
That Notorious China Study
If you get into a disagreement regarding food with a vegan, be prepared for them to cite The China Study. In this book, authored by T. Colin Campbell, a nutritionist and biochemist, the conclusion is that the primary causal factor for serious chronic disease such as cancer and cardiovascular disease is animal products.
This claim is rather loosely backed by data garnered from a huge study - The China-Cornell-Oxford Project - and also observational evidence from studying rodents.
However, the book came under fire by a number of people who looked at the validity of the conclusions and several books and articles have been published countering the claims made in Campbell's book.
Then there are a number of studies that have been conducted along similar lines using a much more accurate and less biased methodology. Among them, a study in Asia of over 100,000 people that concluded that red meat consumption correlated with diminished risk of cardiovascular disease in males and diminished danger of cancer development in women.
The general consensus among serious scientists is that the China Study was poorly run and that the conclusions drawn by its author do not make sense.
Danger - Animal Protein
Vegans love bringing out the "fact" that animal proteins are dangerous. But the studies they rely on to back them up are primarily conducted on rodents who take in particular proteins on rarefied diets. These studies are not a good representation of natural rodent conditions, let alone humans.
Most studies of humans tend to come up with results completely opposite to those in rodents. As a point of fact, just about every controlled trial testing the effects of plant and animal protein in humans has proven that it is good for health. High protein eating plans have been proven to rev up the burning of fat, curb appetite and allow for effortless weight loss. It can also be helpful in those who need to gain muscle, who have high blood pressure, who need to strengthen their skeletal structure, etc.
The studies are coming out in favor of us eating more meat, not less.
The Body Was Made to be Herbivorous
Despite the fact that we have canines that allow us to rip and tear meat, in conjunction with molars that allow us to grind plant matter, there are those vegans who believe that we were meant to be herbivores. The fact is that humans were meant to be omnivores and are quite capable of living off both meat and plants.
In fact, if you compare the structure of the human digestive tract to strict carnivorous and strict herbivorous animals, you would find that we don't fall into just one category or the other. We are omnivores.
Simple biochemistry also begs to differ with the "human herbivore" argument - if this is true, why is it that we cannot survive as vegans without needing to take a B12 supplement of (since B12 is not found in anywhere near sufficient quantities in plant sources).
Meat Induces Deadly Diseases
The typical Western diet is pretty new and with its broad adoption, chronic diseases seem to have followed soon after. But there is nothing new about eating meat, it has been on the menu for millennia while diseases like cancer and type II diabetes have only been on the uptick in very recent times.
Let's just analyze diabetes and heart disease - two illnesses caused by eating meat, according to the vegans.Two separate studies encompassing a massive sample of nearly 1.3 million people could not find any link between the use of unprocessed red meat with either of the two dreaded diseases.
There are review studies that found a somewhat feeble link between red meat consumption and an increased risk of cancer for men. In this instance though, it is probably the way the meat was cooked that was the deciding factor, rather than the meat itself.
Vegetarians Live Longer, Healthier Lives
There are an abundance of studies that back up this premise. But what needs to be remembered is that it is also common, in these studies, to come up against something called the "healthy user bias".
What this means, basically, is that vegetarians tend to be more conscious of health issues in general and tend to make better choices when it comes to health. Their diet is only one part of a healthy lifestyle - not only will they cut out meat but they will also not smoke or drink and will get more than enough healthy veggies and fruits. They are also more likely to exercise and manage stress.
I've got to wonder what would happen if meat eaters were as health conscious as well. A researcher wondered the same thing and found participants, both meat eaters and vegetarians, who were health conscious (they were customers of a particular health-food store) to study. Guess which group won? Neither - they both came out the same, meaning meat consumption was not a factor.
Low-Carb is Deadly
A vegetarian really despises a reduced carb diet and it's hardly surprising - such diets are pretty much exactly opposite to what they are allowed to eat.
One particular randomized, controlled study compared four different diet groups but the results we are interested in are the Atkins (high protein, low carb) and the Ornish (low fat and vegetarian). At the end of a year those on the Atkins:
- had better weight loss results
- had much better blood pressure readings
- saw a much bigger increase when it came to good cholesterol
- lost almost double the number of blood triglycerides.
It was also found that those doing the Ornish diet were double as likely not to finish. The conclusion is that Atkins is simpler to follow.
That study blew what vegans thought they knew out of the water. It is clear now that the vegan diet is the inferior one.
There is a Lot of Data in Support of Vegan Diets
Talk to any vegan and they will claim that there are numerous studies that prove them right.
While some studies have been done there is only one properly controlled scientific trial that I am aware of, that isolated diet and ran a comparison. In this study, a low-fat diet based on vegan principles went up against a diabetic diet based on ADA principles. The participants had adult-onset diabetes.
After 74 weeks:
- The vegan group did lose a little more than the other - 3.1lb more.
- Small benefits were found in the total cholesterol and HDL for the vegan group.
- There were no notable differences in important health markers like blood pressure, blood sugar level and BMI.
It must be said that both lead scientists who conducted this study are themselves vegan so there is no bias against vegan eating there. This makes the results even more surprising and, really, nothing to write home about for vegans.