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Helen Bennett Harvey promises that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Vegging Out is a recipe for a new way of life. Or at least a new way of eating. Pull up a chair. Contact me at:

Friday, March 5, 2010

But is it good for you?

As I wrap up week 2 as a vegan, I feel ever more confident that I could do this on a permanent basis--and be happy. But while I feel certain that veganism is good for the planet and for other living creatures, I have reservations about how good it is for me.

Vegan diets have some clear health benefits: low in saturated fat, high in fiber. Lots of fruits and veggies. But last week, a friend of mine who is in medical school told me flat out that he doesn't know any doctors who would advocate veganism as a healthy diet.

In my post a week ago, I questioned the health effects of soy. From what I can tell, the research the still very mixed on whether soy is good or bad for you. This has me concerned, as I'm finding that soy has a way of sneaking into many of the things I eat now.

A family member also brought to my attention the concept of complete proteins--a phrase I'd never even heard before. Wikipedia tells us: "A complete protein is one that contains significant amounts of all the essential amino acids that must be provided to the human body because of the body's inability to synthesize them." Apparently, those who consume meat, eggs and dairy needn't worry about getting complete proteins, but vegans require different combinations of foods to achieve them.

According to the Savvy Vegetarian, food combinations such as legumes with grains, nuts or seeds provide complete proteins. Some sources say it's sufficient to simply eat a variety of these foods during the day, while others suggest strict food combining is necessary. Fortunately, many of these desirable food combinations are intuitive to begin with. Rice and beans, whole wheat pita and hummus.

The Vegan Society Web site says vegans must also be concerned about finding sources of Vitamin B12, Iodine, Vitamin D2 and Omega 3.

From what I can tell, it very well may be possible to eat a vegan diet that satisfies one's nutritional requirements. But it just seems like it takes a lot more work than I would prefer to dedicate to it.

Of course, nutrition isn't confusing only for vegans. The thinking on what constitutes a healthy diet seems to be constantly evolving (think low-fat vs. low-carb). I've always subscribed to the theory that you should eat a wide variety of foods to be healthy, and ignore the trend diets. But becoming a vegetarian, and now a vegan, has cut into that variety dramatically. I'm wondering if I should consult a professional to ensure a vegan diet can meet my needs.

An unrelated observation:
Helen and I both agree that after a few weeks of being a vegan, all of a sudden being vegetarian seems totally easy and mainstream. Like, people seriously still eat meat? And what on earth was I complaining about before? Nothing to eat at restaurants? That's silly!

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Anonymous Rich said...

Hi Lauren,

I understand your confusion, or at least your question, regarding the health aspects of a vegan diet. But, I do have to say that your friend is incorrect. I'm sure you could find many M.D.'s who will advocate for a vegetarian or vegan diet.

In fact, you might direct your friend to check out PRCM. Founded by an M.D. their board is also replete with a list of prominent people with that suffix after their name. Check it out:

T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. Cornell University
Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. The Cleveland Clinic
Suzanne Havala Hobbs, Dr.PH., M.S., R.D. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Henry J. Heimlich, M.D., Sc.D. The Heimlich Institute
Lawrence Kushi, Sc.D. Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente
Virginia Messina, M.P.H., R.D. Nutrition Matters, Inc.
John McDougall, M.D. McDougall Program, St. Helena Hospital
Milton Mills, M.D. Gilead Medical Group
Myriam Parham, R.D., L.D., C.D.E. East Pasco Medical Center
William Roberts, M.D. Baylor Cardiovascular Institute
Andrew Weil, M.D. University of Arizona least 5 M.D.'s and a couple of R.D.'s as well as the others.
And of course, Dr Neal Barnard is an M.D.

That said, there are a lot of ways to include foods that will give you everything you need from a nutrition standpoint in a vegan diet. As you get older (I should know) you will probably want to include supplements for B12 and stuff like that, but that is a ways off!

Seriously, quinoa is one of the best plant based foods for providing a lot of nutritional value.

Quinoa is very nutritious. Its protein content is very high (12%–8%) and unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron as well. Quinoa is also gluten-free and easy to digest.

There is also some studies to suggest that the recommended daily requirement for protein for humans is actually much more than our bodies really need. I believe PCRM has some onfo on this as well.

Ok...I have stood atop my soapbox long enough! I just wanted to say that you are doing an admirable job and that you needn't worry too much about whether or not it is healthy - it is.

My very best to you and your wonderful vegan buddy Helen!

March 06, 2010 1:23 PM 
Blogger Carole said...

Lauren and Helen,

Dr. Mehmet Oz also supports veganism and raw foodies!

here are his challenge links that may offer some helpful suggestions

March 07, 2010 7:08 PM 

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