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Angel Flinn, Gentle
Because the dietary culture of our society revolves around meat, eggs and dairy milk, and because animal food industry lobbyists have been influential over the educational resources that many rely on for information about nutrition, it's understandable that people are uncertain about whether a vegan diet is nutritionally adequate, especially for those who have specific health concerns, food allergies or unusual dietary requirements.
Anyone who has ever done even the most superficial research into health and nutrition knows that there are about as many different opinions as there are public personalities. However, there are certain facts that are beginning to be widely accepted about the health risks related to our high dependency on meat, eggs and dairy, and about the benefits of a diet free from such high-cholesterol, zero-fiber 'foods'.
The Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research. The PCRM describes vegan diets as follows:
Vegan diets, which contain no animal products, are even healthier than vegetarian diets. Vegan diets contain no cholesterol and even less fat, saturated fat, and calories than vegetarian diets because they exclude dairy and eggs. Scientific research shows that health benefits increase as the amount of food from animal sources in the diet decreases, making vegan diets the healthiest overall.
T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, has a simple way of explaining the benefits of a plant-based diet:
The vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented simply by adopting a plant-based diet.
For more than forty years, Dr. T. Colin Campbell has been at the forefront of nutrition research. Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, he has more than seventy grant-years of peer-reviewed research funding and has authored more than 300 research papers. His legacy, the China Project, is the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted.
In 2009, the American Dietetic Association, the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, released a paper explaining their position on vegetarian diets, including vegan diets.
"It is the position of the ADA that 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. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes."
So, according to these authorities on the subject of nutrition, healthy individuals should have no problem eating a sensible, well-balanced vegan diet, and will likely experience health benefits from such a change. But what about individuals with specific health concerns?
For those who have diet-related health issues, any change in diet should be made with caution. However, this does not necessarily mean that it is not possible for such individuals to adopt a vegan diet healthfully. What it does mean is that such changes should be made carefully, with appropriate attention paid to the specific nutritional requirements of the individual.
Having said this, there may be some people who genuinely want to be vegan, who also have dietary-related illnesses or health conditions, and have not found it easy to adopt a vegan diet, or are hesitant to eliminate all animal products for fear of experiencing unwanted health effects.
The best advice I can offer to people in this situation is to proceed one step at a time, beginning with the animal products that you do not feel dependent on. It's likely that there are non-vegan foods in your diet which you don't consider to be essential to your health. In addition, health issues should not stop anyone from eliminating animal products from the rest of one's life, including leather, wool, silk, down, fur, and non-vegan toiletries and cosmetics.
For those who are concerned about specific aspects of their own nutrition, there are many resources available from vegan dieticians, nutritionists, and MDs. Two great places to start are the websites of The T. Colin Campbell Foundation and the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, each of which contains a wealth of information about plant-based nutrition.
Note: If, in your transition to veganism you experience a shift in health that is not positive and appears to be diet-related, it may be that you are either experiencing a detoxification, or you need a change in diet and/or supplementation with a specific nutrient. If you need medical guidance, it is advisable that you seek the help of a professional who respects your values, and understands the benefits of vegan living.