Answering vegan questions

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Published 3.24.2020: It's rare that anyone uses the contact email on this site There used to be a form until it was discovered by scammers. At that point the only thing to do was delete the form.), but recently a vegan reader did so and ask to argue with me.

I'm not interested in arguing with anyone, however, I thought I'd take the time to answer his questions here. Before beginning, I'm going to begin with my oft stated disclaimer: I am not any sort of medical professional, and I don't play one on the internet. Nothing written here should be construed in any way as medical advice.

In addition, I don't care what or how you eat. If you're happy being vegan, I'm happy for you. I understand that for some veganism is a matter of ethics, and I can respect that (actually, some vegans would say that ethics is he quintessential aspect of veganism, otherwise it's just plant based eating).

My definition remains that a healthy diet (and I'll add lifestyle) should require no supplementation (or fortification of foods). That's my personal opinion, not some universal law.

Vegan societies?

The first point our correspondent raises is my factual observation is that there has never been a vegan society. He allows that this is true for humans to the extent that we know the history of human societies, but may not be true for all of our ancestors. There may have been vegan populations that existed and died out that we just haven't found traces of yet. I think that's a weak point.

In fact, it suggests that a non-vegan diet creates a more durable society or genetic stock, which is surely not what he meant me to infer. It's a "you can't prove a negative" argument, which only demonstrates there aren't facts to support the position.

Humans descended from tree living primates who likely survived on fruits, but they also (like their closer monkey cousins) might eat bugs as well. We are related to apes and gorillas (both of which eat a lot of plants, but also eat bugs and the occasional meat), but we are evolution went in a different direction.

Humans are true omnivores, and can make a meal of almost anything. It's how our species thrives across the globe in vastly different climates and terrains. We do not have the physiology of herbivores or carnivores. We can live without meat, we can live without fruits and grains. Neither option offers optimal health, but we survive. This is a strength of our species.

To B12 or not B12

He then asks about B12. His personal anecdote is that he's been vegan for over 15 years, never supplements, and he's fine. I'm happy for him, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

Hoping to get B12 from dirty vegetables is a fool's mission, and risks exposure to pathogens and disease. It is not a way to maintain a healthy level of B12. Duckweed might be a plant based B12 option.

Many foods, especially those marketed to vegans are fortified with B12 and other essential nutrients, so that would be one way to ingest B12 without a supplement.

Most adult vegans were not raised vegan, that's a choice they made as adults. Omnivores tend to build up a bodily reservoir of B12 that can mask a deficiency for years.

Let me restate the disclaimer above: I am not any sort of medical practitioner. Anything I wrote about B12 and the effects of deficiency is the results of googling, something any reader can do for themselves. As I type this I am "social distancing" along with most of the rest of my state (in the US) and internet connectivity is iffy. So what follows is based on previous notes and reading.

What I've read about B12 deficiency is that it develops over time, particularly if you grew up eating meat and then stopped. As with any condition, every body's response will not be the same. However, risks include damage to the heart and to the brain.

Dr Gregor at nutritionfacts.org has a number of videos and blog posts are B12. Gregor himself is a long time vegan and he firmly states the need for vegans to supplement with B12. In fact, Gregor gave an entire talk about how vegans develop heart disease… which was all about B12 deficiency leading to elevated homocysteine levels.

I'm not a medical professional or vegan, Gregor is both. And Gregor's advice is to take the B12 supplement. If I were going to give veganism a go (and there are specific potential diagnoses where I would, in fact, choose do that), I'd take the damn supplement and be done with it.

Bottom Line

Veganism isn't a natural or best human diet by my definition because supplementation is required. My definition of a healthy diet precludes required supplementation. Healthy veganism requires supplementation of B12 and sometimes other nutrients (For example, Dr Fuhrman recommedns 5 or 6, but he sells supplements).

If you're happy and healthy being vegan, I'm happy for you. To stay that way, take a B12 supplement. The pill version is small, inexpensive, and easily obtainable. There's no reason to risk your heart or your brain.

Finally, I do appreciate receiving the email, which if nothing else, prompted me to sit down and write this piece.

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