When "Vegan" Doesn't Mean Healthy

Today, I'm fighting a common thought that's prevailed in society: avoiding animal foods will automatically make you a healthier person.

We may all know some vegans, vegetarians, and others (pescetarians?) that are on a plant-based diet.  To clarify, I'm not doubting all the political and environmental reasons that some people choose to eat a more plant based diet, because as Bobby Brown once famously said, "that's their prerogative."  Instead, what I'm after is proving that the idea of solely cutting out animal products from your diet is not necessarily going to make you healthier in the long run.  

Somehow I don't believe Bobby Brown was ever a pescetarian..

Somehow I don't believe Bobby Brown was ever a pescetarian..

The best way to think about food is on a spectrum. On one end, you have the food that's not processed at all (think raw vegetables, fruits), and on the other end of the spectrum you have food that's been highly processed (think Cheerios, Twinkies).  Now, some of the problems with plant based diets come when people solely omit animal products, but still have the majority of their food come from the more processed end of that spectrum.  Solely taking meat out of the equation still leaves you with a "meat-free" western diet - a diet that is high in sugar, processed food, and metabolic diseases.

For example, you could eat cereal with almond milk, bagels, and other calorie dense foods for breakfast that may still fit your animal free diet....but that doesn't mean you should.  Instead, oatmeal with fruit, a green salad, or brown rice and beans on a tortilla is probably what you want to be after.

With all that said, there's still the fact that humans are omnivores for a reason - we need to eat a wide variety of different substances.  Many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need come from a variety of sources (yes, this includes meat).  In order to stay healthy, and your energy levels high, here are a few vitamins and minerals you may need to supplement with if you're currently on (or are planning to start) a plant-based diet:

Vitamin B12 - this substance is a product of bacterial fermentation and is only found in reliable amounts in animal foods.  It is critical for energy, hormone optimization and overall health.  Therefore, if you're on a plant based diet you will need to eat fortified products such as grains, non-dairy milks, and nutritional yeasts.

Calcium - while this mineral is often found in green leafy vegetables, tofu, legumes, and nuts, some compounds in plant-based diets can actually hinder its absorption.  Supplementation or fortified juices can be great alternative sources.

Iodine - as plant-based diets tend to rely on soy for protein, it's important to note that a large intake of soy-based foods may compromise thyroid function. Kelp, sea vegetables, asparagus and iodized salt are all good sources of iodine.

Vitamin D2 and D3 are as good for you as a Saturday night in watching this sports classic..

Vitamin D2 and D3 are as good for you as a Saturday night in watching this sports classic..

Vitamin D - contrary to what many think, there are actually two forms of Vitamin D - D2 which is animal free, and D3 which is animal-derived (I'm actively trying not to make any Mighty Ducks jokes here..)  Ensure that you're either supplementing if you're not getting enough sunlight, and that you're eating fortified foods as well.

Zinc - while zinc is found in many foods that plant-based dieters may consume, it's absorption rate from those foods then to be much lower than from animal foods.  Furthermore, compounds in coffee, tea, and calcium supplements may block the absorption of zinc from the foods you are eating.  Avoid those substances around the times that you're supplementing with zinc, and make sure you're eating enough quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, almonds, and peanuts.

you need to make sure you're still eating enough quality food.  

In the end, plant-based diets can be a wonderful way to lose weight and live a healthier life, but you need to make sure you're eating quality food.  At the same time, you need to be honest with yourself about your energy levels, your health, and how you feel on an everyday basis.  

Suffice to say, with proper planning, a plant-based diet can be tremendously healthy....the key words there being, "with proper planning."

Are you on a plant-based diet?  If yes, when did you make the switch?