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Vegan Diet Problems

With various studies in support of the vegan diet, many want to know the pros and cons of veganism. Here are the problems that one might face in the long run.
Bhakti Satalkar Mar 23, 2019
Did You Know?
The very word 'Vegan' was coined by the founder of the Vegan Society: Donald Watson. In an interview he said the following in reference to this term, "the beginning and end of 'vegetarian' - because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion."
Veganism is a lifestyle that many people opt for―mostly due to ethical reasons rather than reasons associated with health―which includes following strict vegetarianism. While vegetarians do consume dairy products, vegans don't even do that!
In fact, they don't even consume honey or use animal-based products such as leather, silk, wool, or fur. Cosmetics made of animal products are completely out of the question!
It's quite commendable how vegans, in spite of being surrounded by the world that eats, wears, and survives on animal-based products, manage to stick to their commitment towards consuming and promoting a lifestyle that consists of only plant-based foods and products of consumption.
To their advantage, many studies have also been published that claim this diet to be way more healthy and rewarding compared to the omnivore diet. However, since every coin has two sides to it, many health experts have also suggested that a vegan diet may pave way for many nutritional deficiencies among consumers.

Problems Associated with Following a Vegan Diet

Before we begin to list the health and nutritional issues that may come along with being a vegan, it is important for you to understand that these troubles may arise only if proper care is not taken by these dieters.
Many of the deficiencies may be curbed by careful use of supplements and adequate consumption of the right kind of foods. The probable reason as to why many of the following problems may occur is only because of not following a well-planned diet.

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

Animal foods happen to be the main source of vitamin B-12 which is necessary for the production of red blood cells in the human body. The lack of this vitamin may cause anemia.
Because it becomes a little difficult to extract the required amount of vitamin B-12 from a vegan diet―unless required supplements, cereals, and fortified soy products are not included appropriately in the diet―most vegans are susceptible to this deficiency.
Mayo Clinic states that because vegan diet is rich in vitamin folate, it successfully masks the deficiency of vitamin B-12, thereby, making it difficult to detect until severe symptoms begin to show in the person.

Pregnancy and Infant Health

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Nursing infants of mothers who adhere to a strict vegetarian or vegan diet throughout their pregnancy and while breastfeeding might also experience serious B12 - related deficiency effects." These effects may include development delays, anemia, general weakness, and failure to thrive.
It has also been observed that those infants have also been affected where the mother was not symptomatic at all. Therefore, it is important for a vegan mother to consult a healthcare specialist to minimize the potential risks associated with following this diet during pregnancy and nursing.

Bone Health and Calcium Deficiency

For those who are non-vegans, dairy is an important source of calcium in the diet, which is necessary for bone health. According to the EPIC-Oxford study conducted in 2007, those eating a vegan diet had a 37% higher fracture rate as compared to meat-eaters.
However, after adjusting factors including age, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, body mass, rate of physical activity, marital status, births and hormone replacement, vegans still had a 30% higher fracture rate. It was after adjusting the calcium levels in the vegan participants, that their fracture rate was pretty much the same as their counterparts.
Thus, vegans should ensure adequate amount of calcium intake which is possible by consuming dark-green leafy vegetables, soy or rice milk (calcium-fortified), tofu processed with calcium sulfate, and the like.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Some clinical research indicates that our body requires adequate amount of vitamin D for the calcium and protein to be absorbed effectively. When it comes to dietary sources, fortified milk, fatty fish and chicken eggs that have been fed vitamin D are great sources but aren't an option for vegans; hence, there may be a possibility of vitamin D deficiency.
Although exposure to sunlight is a natural way to get the necessary vitamin D, vegans who live in areas with minimal sunlight may have some problem. It should also be noted that exposure to sunlight has been linked with the risk of cancer, which is why the American Academy of Dermatology cautions those who expose themselves heavily to sunlight for vitamin D.
Therefore, it is best to include vitamin D supplements in your diet. Vegans can also opt for mushrooms or yeast exposed to UV rays and fortified soy milk.

Deficiency of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

It is needless to say that omega-3 fatty acids are imperative for human health. With fatty fish and eggs being the primary source of these, vegans are susceptible to a deficiency.
Although there are suitable sources such as canola oil, walnuts, ground flaxseed, soy oil, and soybeans, Mayo Clinic states that, "conversion of plant-based omega-3 to the types used by humans is inefficient"; therefore, vegans must consume fortified products and/or supplements to get appropriate amount of these essential fatty acids.

Iodine Deficiency

According to a study in the US National Library of Medicine, where urinary iodine excretion was assessed in vegans, lacto- and lacto-ovovegetarians, and those on a mixed diet, it was observed that 80% of the vegans suffered from iodine deficiency, having iodine excretion value below 100 microgram/liter, in comparison to 9% of those on a mixed nutrition.
This becomes a matter of concern for those vegans who do not consume iodized salt or sea vegetables. Lack of iodine may cause goiter. In fact, it would be interesting for you to know that consumption of excessive amount of sweet potatoes, soybeans, and cruciferous vegetables may also promote goiter, as stated by Mayo Clinic.
"Iodine deficiency during pregnancy and early infancy can result in cretinism (irreversible mental retardation and severe motor impairments)", states the UK Vegan Society. Consumption of seaweed or one-fourth teaspoon of iodized salt daily, will eliminate these risks. Iodine supplements for vegans are also available in the market as an alternative.

Other Potential Risks

Deficiency of other essential vitamins and minerals including zinc, protein, and iron have also been associated with following a vegan diet. However, like the aforementioned deficiencies, these too can be curtailed by consuming a well-planned, balanced diet.
Mayo Clinic states that iron and zinc obtained from plant sources are not as easily absorbed by the body as is the case with animal sources. Therefore, the recommended iron intake for vegetarians is almost two times the recommended value for nonvegetarians.
It is suggested to consume foods rich in vitamin C along with iron-rich foods to increase the iron absorption in the body. Zinc and protein can be obtained from foods such as whole grains, soy products, nuts, legumes, lentils, seeds, and wheat germ.
Whereas, dried beans, dried fruits, peas, enriched cereals, lentils, whole-grain products, dark-green leafy vegetables, etc., are some great sources of iron for vegans.
When it comes to diets, there is no "one size fits all", and yes, risks and deficiencies are a part and parcel of any diet. What highlights these cons all the more is the lack of options that vegans have as compared to the non-vegans.
Because they have to choose from a selective range of foods and supplements, it becomes difficult to ensure that all their nutritional needs are being met properly. Note that excessive consumption of certain food items may also cause health problems.
It is highly recommended to consult a trusted healthcare specialist and a registered dietitian to chalk out a well-planned diet to avoid health problems associated with the lack/excess of certain food items that form a majority of the vegan diet.
Disclaimer: This is meant for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a replacement for expert advice.