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Kirby is a 40-year old physical therapist and father to Colleen, a shy girl of ten. Kirby has seen all too many patients who can’t move, talk or walk, ad victims of stroke or heart disease. When his own father – a meat-lover – suffered a stroke while in his 40s, Kirby decided it was time for a change in his and his family’s diet. Colleen has been on a vegan diet since birth, but Kirby’s mother – who lives with them – thinks that Colleen isn’t getting nutrients needed by a growing child. So when Kirby isn’t looking, she sneaks in a hamburger or cooks a meat-based dish for her only grandchild.

So, who’s right?

To answer that, let’s take a look at what exactly is a vegetarian, or vegan.

There are actually several types of vegans:

  • Semi-vegetarian: You can still eat animal products but more selectively, eating only chicken and fish, but no red meat.
  • Pescatarian: You avoid red meat and poultry but still eat fish and seafood.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: You skip all meat, fish and poultr but include dairy and eggs in your diet.
  • Vegan: The purists. They solely follow a plant-based diet, meaning no animal products at all – not even eggs or dairy products.

Like Kirby, a lot of people switch to a vegan diet for health reasons, which is basically to live longer and lead more active lives. Others have become vegans due to religious belief, concerns about antibiotics, preservatives, and hormones in meat products. And recently – especially in young women – concerns about the environment.

So in light of these reasons, are the vegetarians right? Yes and no. Let’s see what science has to say.

Hip, hip, hooray!

In a paper by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that summarized the results of studies on vegan diets, vegan diets do have the following benefits:

  • Cardiovascular diseases: Compared with other vegetarians, vegans are thinner, have lower total and LDL cholesterol, and modestly lower blood pressure. Vegans – compared with omnivores – eat greater quantities of fruit and vegetables which are rich in fiber, folic acid, antioxidants, and phytochemicals which in turn are associated with lower blood cholesterol concentrations, a lower incidence of stroke and a lower risk of mortality from stroke and ischemic heart disease. Vegans also have a higher consumption of whole grain, soy, and nut – all of which provide significant protection to the heart.
  • Osteoporosis: Results of studies suggest that drinking soya milk is good for bone density and postmenopausal women, as long as they get their recommended amount of calcium.
  • Diabetes: According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), various clinical research studies have shown that a plant-based diet reduced the risk of Type-2 Diabetes, as compared with a non-vegetarian one. So stock up on their yummy gluten!vegan| Longevity Live
  • Cancer: Non-vegetarians had a substantially increased risk of both colorectal and prostate cancer than vegetarians. Since meat-eaters tend to be more obese, this increases the risk of cancer. Vegans on the other hand tend to be thinner and have a lower body mass index (BMI) and they’re more protected against cancer. The fact is, fruits and vegetables have all these lovely phytochemicals that act together to inhibit the growth and proliferation of those nasty cancer cells.
    Check out these winners:
    Prostate Cancer: Tomatoes and legumes or beans and soy milk
    Stomach cancer: Legumes
    Colorectal cancer: Allium vegetables (onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, etc)
    Cancer of the mouth, esophagus and lungs: Most fruits and veggies

So far – in view of these points in favour of a vegan diet – Score 1 for Kirby!

Granny weighs in

But grandma and her nutritionist pals also have a thing or two to say. On the opposite side of the ring, nutritionists caution against the pitfalls of a vegetarian diet. In 2016, an Italian baby was hospitalised for severe malnutrition. The 14-month-old baby – who weighed only as much as a 3-month-old baby – was raised on a strictly vegetarian diet without dietary supplements. The doctors also had to perform a heart operation as the child also had a congenital heart problem aggravated by dangerously low calcium and hemoglobin levels. Also in other parts of Italy, two other vegan-raised infants were hospitalised for the same symptoms of very low calcium and hemoglobin.

What is missing in vegetarian diets? Apparently, a lot. Take away the meat and you take away these important nutrients:

  • N-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA) that are found in fish, eggs and seaweeds are important in maintaining a healthy beating heart and clear eyes and brain functions. They can also be found in flaxseeds, but the body doesn’t absorb it as easily as in fish sources. Vegans can take DHA supplements although with caution as these can actually raise your cholesterol levels, prolong bleeding time and impair your immune system.
  • Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium for bone strength. Vegans were found to only have one-fourth of the required Vitamin D intake compared to non-vegans. Although Vitamin D2 can be found in light-exposed mushrooms, Vitamin D from plants is not as readily absorbed as that found in fish, milk and egg yolk.
  • Iron is an important component in our blood and carries oxygen from the heart. Beans and grains and tomato sauce can contain some amounts of iron but they aren’t as readily absorbed as with meat sources.
  • Vitamin B12 is for healthy nerve cells, production of DNA and RNA, and helps folic acid and iron work better together. Symptoms of severe deficiencies can include disorientation, dementia and poor concentration. In children, severe deficiency causes apathy and failure to thrive. There are no reliable plant sources of this vitamin, but it can be found in milk, yoghurt and some B12-fortified cereals.
  • Zinc: Some grains and cereals contain phytates, which seem to bind zinc and render it unavailable. Zinc is important for the immune system, healing abd breaking down of carbohydrates. Symptoms of zinc deficiencies are poor growth and delayed sexual maturation in children, hair loss, and impaired immune system. Tofu and tempeh from soybeans as well as other beans and nuts are the best bet for vegans concerned with zinc deficiency.

Aha! Granny knew it!

The pros and cons of a vegan diet do seem to even up the score for Kirby and Granny.

The truth is out there. The benefits from a vegan diet are well known – weight loss, lower risk for cancer, stroke and heart disease. The bad rap about going vegan seems to come from poor information and education.

The final word comes from the American Dietetic Association: “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.”

Final verdict: Vegan diets can be healthy if you plan your meals to provide all the right nutrients.


This article is a guest post, written by M Pimentel. M is a happily married Filipino mother to three wonderful little daughters, aged 8, 5 and 4 months old. Her daily life is a struggle between being the Executive Content Director for Project Female and deciding who gets to watch television next. She specializes in creating and editing content for female empowerment, parenting, beauty, health/nutrition, and lifestyle. As the daughter of two very hardworking people, she was brought up with strict traditional Asian values, yet embraces modern trends like Facebook, vegan cupcakes, and the occasional singing cat video.


Wanna know which celebrities are vegan? Find out here!

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