Veganism: Beneficial or Detrimental?

Veganism: Beneficial or Detrimental?
People all around the world are changing the way they eat and becoming vegan. When a person is vegan, they only eat plant-based foods. These vegans have many reasons for taking this drastic change step, whether from health benefits to protecting the environment. When eating a plant-based diet, one must only eat "fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds." There is controversy about whether this lifestyle is healthy and can provide enough nutrients to a human being. 

Discussing why people become vegan is attractive to Western society since they consume many animal products. History shows that at the beginning of time, humans were only able to eat natural, unprocessed foods and were able to survive. Their diet consisted of a plant-based diet, which "was high in fiber, low in saturated fats, lacking in cholesterol, with carbohydrate in dilute form, rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals, and very low in energy density." This was all they needed to be able to live a good life. They evolved and became the people of today on this diet of plant-based foods. As time went on, the diet of an individual changed. Food is now made in factories, not only on farms. Food was easily accessible, which did not take much work to obtain it. During the troglodyte era, these early humans had to hunt and gather food, using significant energy to get what they needed to survive. Now someone can drive through a take-out window at a fast-food joint and have a whole meal without even lifting a finger. "The industrial revolution and the industrialization of food production and distribution have fulfilled human needs for energy conservation (sloth) and abundance of food (gluttony).

This problem, because of technological advances, led to an increase in diseases in America as obesity, diabetes, and cholesterol levels rose. An experiment was done to see if humans that switched to a plant-based diet that historic humans would have had access to could lower their cholesterol levels, making them healthier. The results showed "that serum cholesterol levels were likely to have been low throughout human evolution and that reintroduction of foods containing cholesterol-lowering components might reduce cholesterol."

High cholesterol is a problem many people suffer from. Their doctors constantly tell them to try and lower their levels which can be done through a plant-based diet. This portrays the health benefits vegans gain, as eating a plant-based diet will help reduce cholesterol, taking them off any drugs that would have controlled this high cholesterol problem. 

Vegans also have increased essential nutrients they obtain from a plant-based diet. At a young age, kids are taught that eating fruits and veggies is great for their health. Since a vegan's diet consists of so much of this nutrient, they "are reported to contain more folate, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and carotenoids" because of this diet. (Phillips) These vitamins help vegans be healthy, happy humans. A study done by the United Kingdom explains how "A well-planned, balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate" to a regular diet consisting of meat and dairy. (Phillips) Vegans should understand nutritional information in the foods they eat to plan their meals, ensuring they are getting all the nutrients they need. Many studies have been done which show a "high intake of plant-derived foods has been linked with a reduced risk of certain cancers" (Phillips). Cancer is a disease many people have been affected by. There is no cure, but this research explains how veganism could help stop cancer before it starts. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables from the earth is natural and can benefit someone's health. Vegans get these great benefits, like a reduced risk of cancer, by severely changing the way they eat, and the public is noticing.

Much research has been done to show the benefits of veganism. Even the World Cancer Research Fund has stated that "…high consumption of plant foods decreases the risk of heart disease and certain cancers".

A survey was done across the United States to see how the public views a plant-based diet. Since many doctors and nutritionists say, "it can be challenging to get enough protein, iron, and B12 (all abundant in meat) and DHA/EPA omega three fatty acids (found in fatty fish)," the public's view of this diet can vary. (Marshall 19) The survey showed how more uneducated and or older people were less willing to change their diet to plant-based when compared to younger and university-educated people.

This can portray how veganism is a new, popular trend starting to come about in America. The older and uneducated crowds have not heard much about it. This survey revealed how people wanted to know more about a plant-based diet. This shows how education is needed to teach people all the positives and negatives this way of life offers. The survey found "largely positive beliefs about plant-based diets held by the survey respondents, viewed in conjunction with other research findings about reduced meat consumption and organic diets, suggests that there is a trend towards plant-based foods." These findings portray how Americans trust this way of eating and think it is healthy even though there can be a nutritional deficit in their health if they consume it this way.

People do not just obtain Vitamin D from the sun; this nutrient is gained through animal products which vegans are entirely cutting out from their diet. "The mineral and vitamin deficiencies that come to the forefront when examining possible problems with a vegan diet are those related to calcium and Vitamin D." Vitamin D comes from animal products, and calcium comes from dairy. These deficiencies can lead to low bone density, leading to osteoporosis. This research portrays how veganism is supposed to prevent diseases but can ultimately start new ones by leading to these deficiencies and diseases explained above. In a recent study, "the calcium levels of vegans were found to be consistently lower than the Recommended Daily Allowance…". Also, vegans "consistently show lower BMDs" than usual. These negative issues can cause the public to be weary when deciding if they want to hop on the bandwagon and become a vegan. 

Veganism is a lifestyle that has been practiced throughout history. Doctors researched a Rastafarian cult formed in Jamaica around the 1960s because they had only eaten a plant-based diet. "Ten Rastafarian men aged 18 to 40 who had been vegans for from two to 20 years presented with evidence of vitamin B12 deficiency". 

Since these people did not eat meat or dairy products, they did not receive enough of this nutrient only found in animal products. The normal range is between 180-1000(ng/l). The highest amount out of all the men was 130, and the lowest was 10(ng/l). This shows how deficient these men were when dealing with the B12 vitamin. The people did not want to take oral B12 vitamins or include meat and dairy in their diet. (Campbell 1618) This evidence shows the downfall of eating a plant-based diet, as these men were nutrient deficient. Another study "presents a provocative new benefit of milk consumption."

In a vegan diet, many discuss the negatives of not getting enough calcium because dairy is cut out. This study tested the levels of Glutathione in a person's diet. It found that the more dairy a person consumed, the higher their glutathione level. Glutathione is an important antioxidant that helps the immune system fight viruses. Dairy in milk also gave the individuals calcium and protein that they might have lacked on a vegan, all-plant-based diet.

Vegans are missing out on this vital antioxidant, which can make them sick more frequently because their immune system is less prepared to fight viruses than someone who gets Glutathione from dairy regularly. Since these facts portray the benefits of a diary, many people may think twice before deciding if they want to cut it out of their diet completely.

Many doctors are weary when answering veganism questions, especially regarding children. Will children that eat an all-plant-based diet be able to grow at the correct rate for their age, considering they are getting enough nutrients from the food they are consuming? The answer is that the "vegan diet…may not supply enough calories per volume of food to support adequate growth".

This fact can cause children eating a plant-based diet to become underweight because there are not enough calories in plant food to support a growing child. The diet is also hard to digest and low in fat. Children need nutrient-dense food, high in calories since they have small stomachs. They can't eat a whole plate of vegetables because their bellies are not big enough for it, but they can eat a piece of chicken, which would give them a high source of protein and calories. It is recommended that people living a vegan lifestyle should embrace nutritional supplements. Many vegans "limit the types of food they eat [and] seldom use supplements."

If a person is considering going vegan, they need to consider the nutrients they will not receive because of their limited diet. Then they should highly consider taking vitamin supplements to replace their nutritional deficit. Since many do not just become vegan for the health benefits but because they are against violence towards animals and for environmental rights, "synthetic preparations are available" in vitamin form to obtain all the nutrients a person needs, and "philosophical beliefs need not be violated." Vegan families can use these supplements to help their growing children get all the nutrients they need to become healthy adults on a plant-based diet.

Many agree the solution to nutrient deficits for vegans is supplements. These supplements can fix the vegan community's issues regarding their strict diet. In a study done, "the consumption of vitamin B12 supplements, which 91% of the vegan subjects consumed, maintained their serum vitamin B12 concentrations within the reference limits" (Elorinne). As shown, a large number of vegans take supplements so they can get all the nutrients they need. They can get enough of the B12 nutrient using this solution. B12 is only found in animal products, so a supplement is the only way for vegans to obtain this nutrient. They can also take supplements to get calcium and iron they might lack because of their diet of no meat and dairy.

Supplements are only one of the solutions to obtaining nutrients an average vegan would miss out on because of their diet. Many vegans research different foods and find substitutions for vitamins in unique products. The study explains that since "vegans do not consume fatty fish, we recommend using vegetable oils rich in LNA (18:3 n-3), such as rapeseed oil, to maximize EPA formation" (Elorinne). This portrays how switching and trading different products to get the most nutrients in a vegan diet beneficially helps to correct a nutrient deficit. Vegans can start snacking on bars high in plant-based protein to obtain the protein they need or would usually get in meat like a chicken. The conclusion of this study stated that "Despite the use of dietary supplements, vitamin D and iodine status was compromised in most vegans" (Elorinne). The human body needs these essential vitamins like Vitamin D to function properly. Without these nutrients, vegans are putting themselves at risk for illnesses. They may feel fatigued and require more energy throughout their day. They should highly consider taking nutritional supplements so their body receives all the nutrients they need.

The Western diet is filled with dairy, starches, and meat. Since America's diet has so many products, heart disease is more common in the United States than in other parts of the world. Doctor William Costello explains:

"…in the mid-1980's1980s state of the 5.5 billion people on earth, 4 billion will never have heard of heart disease. He meant at that time; it was limited to persons living in Western civilization and those populations who could afford to eat milk and dairy products, eggs, meat, chicken, white flour, and processed oils regularly".

People in Western culture consume a significant amount of meat and dairy because it is so accessible. The meat and dairy industry advertises and pushes its products to the public daily. They do this through commercials on television to signs in school stating, "Got Milk?" Since so much of this product is consumed, records have shown it is linked to heart disease, which is an excellent issue in America as it affects many people. History shows how these two products are linked together. From 1939 to 1945, the Germans came in and took all of the people's livestock in Norway. During the Holocaust, the Germans wanted to use the livestock as food for their soldiers. This forced the people of Norway to eat a plant-based diet. They lived off of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. History shows through data that their "death from heart attacks and strokes in Norway plummeted."

This massive group lowered their risk of heart disease by changing their all-plant-based diet. Then "in 1945, animal products became available as well as an immediate return to the prewar levels of deaths from these illnesses". Once they all started eating meat and dairy again, heart disease returned to the population. This evidence directly correlates meat and dairy to heart disease. 

When doing a study in the present day, Doctor Esselstyn found that "Angina heart pain diminished or disappeared as cholesterol levels promptly lowered and both physicians found that x-rays of the heart's arteries confirmed the disease could be reversed." Lowering heart pain and ultimately reversing diseases is powerful. Food is medicine is portrayed through all of these studies showing the curing agents diet has on the body. These include "heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity, hypertension, erectile dysfunction, and dementia."

The Co-President of the Ethical Food Association, Sammy Fries, explains his reason for going vegan. He states, "Initially, it was for more health reasons, but the overlying cause was the ethical impact. The more you look into the vegan trifecta of health, sustainability, and animal rights, the more sense it makes to eat veg" (Fries). He is hopping on board with many other people around the world as he sees the research that portrays the health benefits and environmental benefits of this lifestyle and decides to make the change. When asked if he takes regarding the adverse health drawbacks of becoming vegan, like a nutrient deficit in protein and calcium, he explains that at first he "supplemented protein (mostly because I fell into the protein myth that we "require" much more of the macronutrient than in actuality) b12 and even took a multivitamin" but now he explains that, "Once you understand how to find nutrients it's easy to get a balanced diet without the need for supplements… Calcium is in many plant foods: tofu, nuts, most vegan kinds of milk, kale, collards…" (Fries). He has found vegan foods that can fulfill all the nutrients he is not receiving by avoiding eating dairy or meat and only eating plant-based foods. He enjoys the foods he consumes but is also educated about nutritional information, which helps him gain every nutrient he is deficient in when eating a plant-based diet. Fries have a specific reason for becoming vegan other than the health benefits. He advocates against animal agriculture and is disgusted by the detrimental environmental effects that are occurring because of this action. He explains his feelings on being vegan in the public's eyes by saying, "…it is still somewhat uncommon "coming out" can be tough, but it's much easier now that the public's knowledge is better. Most people know you can be healthy and eat good food while maintaining a vegan/vegetarian diet" (Fries). The public is slowly accepting this lifestyle, and many vegans are joining together worldwide. Being the co-president of the Ethical Food Association has helped him form a social group of vegans. He says, "We stick together to swap recipes, deals, new restaurant reviews, and just a group of people to be there and talk to" (Fries). Subsequently, he has people that are committed to the same lifestyle he is. This support helps him stick to his lifestyle choice as he is not alone in his journey of veganism.

The Ethical Food Association is a group on Florida States Campus that advocates a vegan lifestyle. They explain the harmful consequences of the Western diet to students that need to be educated about this topic. This organization states:

"This group was created to inform FSU students about the consequences of Western food culture and to advocate proactive behavior that is conducive to the wellbeing of the planet, animals, and humans, such as adopting a vegetarian/vegan diet, becoming involved with local agriculture, and choosing ethical food options."

They have a Facebook group that sends out information to their members. They use this mode and media of digital communication through text as they post on a newsfeed. This is a fast and effective way to get out information. They utilize rhetorical appeals like logos and pathos. They use symbols in the facts and research to show their members the harmful effects of the Western diet and the beneficial health effects of veganism. They use pathos as they offer the environmental impact of animal agriculture through visual pictures of abused animals and ecological catastrophes, like water pollution, both caused by animal agriculture. (Kaplan) The genre is to inform their audience, most Florida State University vegan students, but also contains students just interested in this lifestyle. This organization is spreading the word about the issue at hand. 

Veganism is a way of life many take very seriously. As they are eating this plant-based diet, are they hurting their health in the long run? Studies show they are nutrient deficient, mostly in protein and calcium. In contrast, many other studies show they are healthier than the average person as they have lower cholesterol. Also, their chances of getting heart disease and diabetes dwindle because they eat plant-based foods low in bad fats. This controversy of whether this lifestyle is safe to partake in is shown through many different studies. A plant-based diet might be the best or worst lifestyle of the near future.

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