Can plant only diets compete in terms of nutrition?
Previously in our debate of vegan vs. omnivorous diets, we have explored issues including animal welfare and the environment. These issues in of themselves may not be directly connected to health, but the fact of the matter stands that without careful consideration and respect for nature, of which we are the custodians, we ultimately pay the price with our health. But, putting these factors aside and focusing exclusively upon our own personal health, we ask: which diet is more beneficial in living long, strong and with energy?
Omnivores can eat what vegans can’t match
The fact that an omnivore can eat anything is something of a slam dunk as not only do they have the option to eat everything a vegan can, but they can also enjoy the benefits of animal produce. To compare one diet that can include rich nutritional sources to another that cannot is no match at all.
Looking at food purely in terms of nutrients there is no way of denying that animal products are beneficial to health as they are rich sources of calcium, carnosine, creatine, DHA, EPA, iron, magnesium, omega-3, protein, selenium and zinc as well as vitamins B3, B6 and D. Some of these nutrients are exclusive to animal products. Creatine is converted into an energy source for the brain and muscles [1-4], whilst carnosine acts as an antioxidant that protects the cells of the body against free radical damage that contributes to the degenerative processes [5-7]. Both can only be found in animal produce.
Vegan campaigners often claim that some nutrients occur in equal measure in both plant and animal sources, but on closer inspection this is revealed to be false with the plant source equivalent often nutritionally inferior – protein being a key example. In most cases, if you examine the protein content of any milk alternative (oat, almond, rice, soy etc…), you will find that the protein content is often a fraction to that of dairy. But even when protein quantity appears to be comparable in quantity (e.g soy milk), the quality is not equal to that of dairy milk. Protein is a construction of long chains of amino acids, with each amino acid acting like a nutrient in its own right. Protein from dairy sources contain what is referred to as a complete amino acid profile – i.e containing the nine essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the body and therefore must be supplied via dietary sources. Vegan diets are thereby lower in levels of the amino acids lysine, threonine, tryptophan, and methionine.Similarly, the body is far less efficient at converting ALA, the plant form of omega-3, into an active form such as DHA and EPA which are found primarily in animal foods like fish and eggs.
The adverse health effects resulting from these series of deficiencies include anemia and tiredness/fatigue [8,9] as well as greater susceptibility to osteoporosis and sarcopenia in old age.
“Your diet is toxic”
It is impossible to present an argument based upon the nutritional benefits that can be gained from eating a plant-based diet because, as mentioned before, these foods are not exclusive to veganism and can also be eaten by omnivores. Therefore the basis of the vegan argument must rest upon presenting the flip side – i.e that the consumption of animal produce poses greater adverse risks than beneficial effects upon our health.
Indeed it can be argued that the majority of our health issues are brought about by eating foods of animal origin. With the exception of sugar and plant oils, the fatty junk food and chocolate that has lead to the obesity epidemic and heart disease is derived almost universally from animal sources. However, this argument does not hold up as the true cause of these health issues is not necessarily the food sources themselves but rather the quantity of consumption and the sedentary lifestyle that often goes hand in hand. Obesity and heart disease are just as much a symptom of poverty and poor education in that respect.
The one supposed smoking gun was a World Health Organisation report published in 2015 that linked the consumption of processed meat with cancer . The report said that the daily consumption of 50g of processed meat (eqivalent to approximately one and a half sausages), increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. It also mentioned non-processed red meats, which it said were “probably carcinogenic”, but there was limited evidence to support this. Due to the strength of the evidence, processed meat has been classified as a carcinogen in the same category as cigarettes, alcohol, asbestos and plutonium. However, this classification does not relate to the size of the risk (i.e eating processed meat does not present the same health risk of smoking).
Processed meat includes foods like sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef jerky, ham and canned meats that are prepared using additives such as salt, sugar, nitrate, erythorbate and phosphate. But any food with an ingredients list like that, whether it me meat or plant-based “meat substitutes,” would be best avoided in favour of clean and natural foods. Just because a food product is of plant origin does not mean that it is healthy.
Soy, which is a primary source of protein for many vegans, is promoted as a healthy alternative whilst secretly garnering the reputation as one of the world’s most toxic crops. Not only is the vast majority of U.S. soy a genetically modified variety, copyrighted by life science company Monsanto, but studies suggest that chemical compounds within soy may have implications for human health in terms of potential relationships of endocrine disrupters and urogenital abnormalities thought to be increasing in incidence in boys and men . This goes some way towards explaining why the use of this ingredient is not often clearly advertised but rather buried in the ingredients list. Soy is no health food.
Thriving as a vegan is not impossible
Living long, strong and full of energy on a vegan diet can be challenging but it’s not impossible. 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 .
Busy modern life can act as a hindrance in planning any diet and for vegans supplementation can play a crucial role in attempting to address the balance and make up for any nutritional short fall . We are also lucky enough to live in a time where we are seeing great strides in plant-based food development. Food ingredients companies like Roquette, as well as brands including Sun Warrior, Dr Zac’s, BodyMe and NutriStrength are all companies making award winning strides as they work towards making the choice of eating a vegan diet just that little bit easier. So ultimately your diet is your choice.
 Creatine: a review of efficacy and safety. Graham AS, Hatton R. 1999 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10609446
 Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians. Burke D, Chilibeck P, Parise G, Candow D, Mahoney D, Tarnopolsky M. 2003 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14600563
 Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Rae C, Digney A, McEwan S, and Bates T. 2003 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1691485/
 The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores. Benton D, Donohoe R. 2011 – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/the-influence-of-creatine-supplementation-on-the-cognitive-functioning-of-vegetarians-and-omnivores/E2D37729902DDFA6CFC85767AD0421FC
 Use of carnosine as a natural anti-senescence drug for human beings. Wang A, Ma C, Xie Z, Shen F.2000 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10951108
 Carnosine: a versatile antioxidant and antiglycating. Reddy V, Garrett M, Perry G, Smith M. 2005 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15872311
 Antioxidant activity of carnosine, homocarnosine, and anserine present in muscle and brain. Kohen R, Yamamoto Y, Cundy K, Ames B – http://www.pnas.org/content/85/9/3175
 Women cutting red meat could be risking health – http://www.healthgauge.com/read/women-cutting-red-meat-may-be-risking-health/
 Could tiredness be due to vitamin B12 deficiency? – http://www.healthgauge.com/read/could-tiredness-be-due-to-vitamin-b12-deficiency/
 Amino Acid Composition of an Organic Brown Rice Protein Concentrate and Isolate Compared to Soy and Whey Concentrates and Isolates. Kalman D – http://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/3/3/394/htm
 Processed meat linked to cancer – http://www.healthgauge.com/read/processed-meat-linked-to-cancer/
 Exposure to genistein during gestation and lactation demasculinizes the reproductive system in rats. Wisniewski A, Klein S, Lakshmanan Y, Gearhart J – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12629420
 Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82.
 Supplements essential for vegans – http://www.healthgauge.com/read/supplements-essential-for-vegans/