Those who avoid animal-derived foods, namely vegans and vegetarians, claim their diet is best in terms of both its moral and physical aspects. While the first one is a matter that lies within the dimension of beliefs, the diet’s effects on health are controversial. Definitely beneficial in some ways, it can turn out to be destructive in others.
Image Credit: shutterstock.com / natalia bulatova
Vegetarians: people who abstain from animal flesh, be it pork, chicken, seafood or something else.
Vegans: people who do the same as vegetarians but also exclude dairy products, eggs and the like from their menu.
In the U.S., around 7 million people are now converted to vegetarianism, and this figure is expected to grow, as it has recently skyrocketed: within three (sic!) years it has increased by the whopping 600%!
For some people, being a vegetarian or vegan is a matter of stance. For others, it is a trend to follow. Whatever the reason, the dietary changes that are implied by it are a double-edged sword.
The pros of being vegetarian/vegan are touted in every nook and corner of the Internet, and these claims are usually backed by scientific research. There is no doubt that a diet rich in nutrients and fibers supplied via bunches of veggies and fruit daily is beneficial to health: plants are the basis of any healthy diet, and the fact that the diet in question means the overwhelming majority of calories come from plants is definitely an advantage.
However, there are also downsides, which are rarely mentioned.
One of the most commonly used arguments against going vegan is that you do not get enough protein this way. This is not exactly true, as protein is found in many plants in abundance, with legumes being protein champions. It means a combination of vegetables and, say, beans can be a good substitute for a meat-rich dinner.
Still, there are dangers that lurk in vegetarian waters. One of the most dangerous of them is the possibility of B12 deficiency. Scientific evidence suggests that B12 deficiency rates are really high: among pregnant woman, the prevalence makes up around 62%, in children 25 to 86%, and 11 to 90% among seniors.
With such figures to be used as an argument, it is quite evident that most vegetarians do not get enough B12, and vegans are at even higher risk. While vegetarians have at least something to eat that contains decent levels of B12, like dairy and eggs, vegans are deprived of sources of the vitamin.
Why is it dangerous?
B12 deficiency can manifest in a number of ways, varying from fatigue to paralysis. Among its symptoms are irritability, impaired memory, mood swings, psychosis, etc. Those who do not receive enough B12 with food are more likely to develop dementia, depression, cardiovascular diseases and other health problems.
It is of special importance to provide your body with enough B12 when you are pregnant. Otherwise birth defects, such as those involving the spinal cord and/or the brain, may develop.
How much do I need a day?
For an adult, it is 2.4 mcg a day. If you decide to stick to your guns and abstain from animal flesh, eggs and dairy, take supplements to compensate for the deficiency. Supplements are not that effective, actually, and some of them even proved dangerous, but this concerns mostly the general population, i.e. not only vegetarians and vegans, so if your menu lacks meat and other animal-derived products, supplements are certainly an option to consider.
How prevalent is vitamin B12 deficiency among vegetarians? – Academic.oup.com/journals