Veganism under the microscope: 7 potential pitfalls
While there can be health considerations associated with any diet, it's crucial to remember that veganism is not inherently dangerous. In fact, when planned well and executed with attention to nutritional needs, a vegan diet can be quite healthy. However, like any eating pattern, there can be potential pitfalls and challenges associated with veganism. In this essay, we will explore some of the dangers of veganism, as well as ways to address them.
1. Nutritional deficiencies
One of the concerns often associated with veganism is the potential for nutritional deficiencies, not only in essential nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, but also creatine, choline, carnitine, carnosine, and taurine. Animal products are primary sources of these nutrients, and vegans need to be proactive in ensuring they get enough of them.
Vegans can take supplements in order to make sure they have adequate levels of these nutrients, as well as incorporate fortified foods into their diet. I'd recommend having a yearly test to assess these nutrient levels for better accuracy in supplementing.
Please note that if a plant is high in a certain nutrient, you need to make sure that this supplement is efficiently absorbed by the body (also called bioavailability). For example, green leafy vegetables are high in iron, but this iron is poorly assimilated by the body.
2. Protein intake
It's often difficult to reach the recommended amount of protein on a vegan diet, which should be at a minimum of 0.8g of proteins per kilogram of lean body mass. However, this recommendation is higher as you get older – estimated at 1-2g per kg – as digestion becomes more difficult and the need to preserve muscle and bone mass increases.
Furthermore, unless you are well versed in how to combine your proteins, your body may miss some essential amino acids that are only available in animal products.
Learn how to combine your proteins, perhaps with the help of a nutritionist.
3. Digestive issues
Individuals transitioning to a vegan diet may initially experience digestive discomfort, including gas, bloating, and constipation, due to the significantly increased fibre intake.
Try to transition into a vegan diet gradually so that the digestive system adapts. Consider taking digestive enzymes to help with the process.
4. Health concerns
There are a number of concerns linked to long-term veganism, such as brain fog, depression, fatigue and exhaustion, hair loss, muscle wasting, dry skin, and acne.
With a proper vegan diet, duly and sufficiently supplemented, these issues shouldn't appear. Always make sure you do regular blood tests and supplement accordingly.
5. Limited food choices
There is a perception that a vegan diet offers limited choices, which can lead to a monotonous or unenjoyable eating experience. There is also the risk of moving from a plant-based vegan diet to an ultra-processed vegan diet, which would prevent the benefits of this natural diet.
Veganism can open up a world of new and exciting foods and flavours. If you are willing to explore a variety of plant-based ingredients, cuisines, and cooking methods, the diet can be diverse and very enjoyable.
6. Social and practical challenges
Just like any other restrictive diet, social situations, dining out, and finding vegan options may be challenging, leading to feelings of isolation or inconvenience.
Veganism is becoming increasingly popular, and more restaurants and social gatherings are accommodating it. Communicating dietary preferences and planning ahead will help navigate these social and practical challenges.
7. Ethical and environmental concerns
Many people choose veganism more for the environmental impact than the health one. For this reason, I'd like to highlight the following points:
Agriculture and land use
Large-scale plant-based agriculture has a substantial environmental footprint because clearing land for crop cultivation often leads to deforestation and habitat loss, which harms ecosystems and contributes to climate change.
Solution: Preferable farming practices, such as organic farming and regenerative agriculture, can help mitigate these concerns.
The extensive crop monocultures in the production of vegan foods lead to soil degradation and a loss of biodiversity.
Solution: Promoting crop diversity and supporting local, small-scale farmers can help counteract the negative effects of monoculture. Encouraging sustainable farming practices, like crop rotation and agroforestry, can also improve soil health.
It seems that when eating plants, no animals are harmed, but this isn't true – billions of bugs, insects, and rodents are killed so that the crops can be harvested.
Solution: There isn't much we can do about this as we are harvesting their food.
The cultivation of crops for plant-based diets can be water-intensive, with some areas experiencing water scarcity due to agricultural demands.
Solution: Adopting water-efficient farming techniques, using rainwater harvesting, and choosing plant-based foods that require less water can help reduce this impact.
Transport and globalisation
The globalisation of food production has led to the long-distance transport of many plant-based products, which can result in greenhouse gas emissions.
Solution: Supporting local and seasonal produce can minimise the environmental impact of transportation. Additionally, reducing food waste and making more efficient use of resources can help offset emissions.
Fertiliser and pesticide use
Vegan crops are not immune to the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, which can have adverse environmental effects.
Solution: encouraging organic and sustainable farming methods and supporting practices that minimise synthetic inputs can mitigate this issue. Additionally, consumers can make informed choices by seeking out organic and pesticide-free products.
Resource-intensive plant-based alternatives
The production of some plant-based alternatives, such as highly processed vegan meats and dairy substitutes, may be resource-intensive and involve environmentally questionable practices.
Solution: Opting for minimally processed plant-based foods and prioritising whole foods can reduce the environmental impact of veganism. Sustainable alternatives and local production can also be more eco-friendly.
In conclusion, while veganism is often celebrated as an environmentally responsible choice due to its reduced reliance on animal agriculture, it is not without potential environmental challenges. However, many of these concerns can be addressed through conscious consumer choices, support for sustainable farming practices, and increased awareness of the environmental impact of various food production methods.