is a vegan diet safe?


Is a vegan diet safe? Ugh. The proverbial can of worms. Shall I go there? I suppose I shall. Anytime we try to do something different from the masses, we meet opposition. I don’t like to argue. I just know what I know and I’m happy to share should someone care to listen. I am not usually the one who brings up the subject, but it does come up. So what do you do if someone is grilling you, lecturing you, scolding you, chastising you, shaming you…for choosing to feed yourself or your family a vegan diet? You could certainly retaliate with a healthy dose of the same medicine, but I’m not very good at that. Somehow I get all bent out of shape and end up irritated and having said nothing meaningful at all. For me, the best way to address confrontation is by turning the tables – a little exercise in gently bringing your opponents to your conclusion on their own. I am obviously over simplifying in my example conversation below. I’m sure not every Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan would cooperate quite so well as the one I’ve invented here, but it gives you a general idea of one way to approach answering questions in a non-confrontational style. An appeal to the facts rather than the intellect. And this is generally not the time for convincing them to join you, just set their minds at ease to get them off your back. They may see the wisdom of your ways some day 🙂 .

a conversation about the safety of a vegan diet.

Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan: I’m worried about you (and more importantly your kids) getting enough protein on a vegan diet. How can it be healthy not to eat meat and dairy? How will you get enough protein and calcium?

Super-Stealthy, Table Turning Vegan: I really appreciate your concern for my (our) health. Let’s assume for argument sake that I couldn’t get the protein and calcium I need without eating meat and dairy, what do you think would happen to me? Would I get some kind of disease?

Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan: I don’t really know. You just…we just…protein and calcium are important for building muscles and strong bones. {And the award for successfully, albeit partially, “educating” (a.k.a. brainwashing) the public at large goes to the meat and dairy industries…no applause please.}

Super-Stealthy, Table Turning Vegan: Yes, protein and calcium are important for building muscles and strong bones. Do you know what protein is? {Trying not to sound condescending of course…}

Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan: Not really. I just know we need a lot of it.

Super-Stealthy, Table Turning Vegan: {This is where you get to blow their minds with your nutritional wisdom!} Protein is one of various combinations of 22 different types of amino acids. Regardless of the type of protein ingested, it is broken down into its individual amino acids during digestion and then assimilated by the body into the proteins it needs for various vital functions. There are 14 non-essential amino acids (they are produced by the body, so they do not need to be ingested) and 8 essential amino acids (they must be consumed for the body to properly form all of the various forms of proteins it needs for survival). Whether you get all 8 essential amino acids at once or through various foods is irrelevant as the body doesn’t use them without breaking them apart first anyway. Eating a variety of unprocessed plant foods provides all of the 8 essential amino acids and in sufficient quantities (assuming you are also consuming sufficient calories). Modern research has not only discredited the idea that single plant foods do not have “complete” proteins (many/most do) but also the idea that plant foods must be correctly combined in order to give the body what it needs (not necessary – you don’t need a PHD in nutritional science or a fancy app to calculate your protein intake – you just need to eat a wide variety of plant foods). I hope that helps you understand protein a little better.

What about calcium? Do you think cow’s milk is the best or only way to get calcium?

Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan: That’s what they tell us.

Super-Stealthy, Table Turning Vegan: Yes, “they” do. And there is calcium in dairy. A lot of it. It is designed to support the rapid and massive skeletal growth of a calf in its first year of life. As humans, this excess calcium causes an imbalance of calcium to magnesium, two minerals which must be balanced for the body to operate properly, so the magnesium needed to balance the excess calcium is pulled from the bones, weakening them. In addition, dairy is an acid forming food, meaning that it robs the body of other essential minerals to maintain a proper pH. Consuming dairy is counterproductive. Research has conclusively shown that osteoporosis and other degenerative bone diseases are less common (in fact almost non-existent) in countries that consume little to no dairy. Calcium is available from many plant sources, particularly leafy greens, seeds, and nuts. Added bonus: these sources of calcium are properly balanced with magnesium and are alkaline forming foods.

So far we haven’t really noted any down sides to eating a whole-foods plant-based diet. Let’s see if we can figure out what diseases are directly linked to a whole-foods, plant-based diet to see what the big risks are. Do plant foods cause heart disease?

Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan: I don’t think so.

Super-Stealthy, Table Turning Vegan: Are plant foods linked to increased risk of cancer?

Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan: Never heard of such a thing, so probably not.

Super-Stealthy, Table Turning Vegan: Do you think there are some down sides to eating a standard American diet?

Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan: Apparently. We’re a pretty unhealthy bunch overall. {OK, now I’m really dreaming about how easy this conversation is going down…}

Super-Stealthy, Table Turning Vegan: You’re right. The standard American diet is heavy in animal products. Animal products have cholesterol and high amounts of saturated fats, both of which are directly linked to poor cardiovascular health (among other things). Plant foods do not have cholesterol or high amounts of saturated fats, but they are high in fiber, which has been directly linked to heart health. Animal products have also been directly linked to increases in cancer cases. Plant foods are full of phytonutrients and antioxidants that protect and repair the body’s cells, lowering the risk of cancer.

Well-Meaning, Concerned Non-Vegan: OK, I guess you’ll probably be OK. Just be careful.

Super-Stealthy, Table Turning Vegan: You betcha. Right back at ya. {Translation: Let me know when you realize your health is going down the tubes and I’ll show you how it’s done 😉 .)

There are certainly more arguments from different angles that you may be faced with, but these are the biggies that seem to me to be the most important to address. Most of the rest seem purely for the sake of argument or ignorance. If you’d like a quick laugh, the article titled Top Ten Common Vegan Questions (and Answers!) from a couple years back on One Green Planet cracked me up :). Happy debating!


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4 thoughts on “is a vegan diet safe?

  1. Greta Ripley

    The issue is that often different people need different things. I know several people that did well on a vegan diet, but when they got pregnant, their body suffered. Their teeth suddenly sprouted cavities, their bones broke, and later after the long term, their health went downhill.

    I agree that the SAD is poor. I also agree we eat way, way too much meat and dairy. But I also think there needs to be more balance. It can be difficult when you are the one faced with permanent bone loss at the age of 23 because of your “healthy” vegan diet. The ones that I have seen that have done well with it, follow a strict plan making sure they eat enough. It can be easy to under eat on those types of diets as the food is as readily available.

    If you watch your caloric intake carefully, calculate your protein intake and supplement with Vitamin D, calcium, and others that you may lack from cutting whole food groups from your diet, often you can be very healthy. Sadly, not everyone has the time or resources to do that, and we see a lot of people that look like they are on death’s door, and then explain they have have been a vegan for about a year or so.

    There are cases of children, especially with raw vegan, dying and suffering from malnutrition, as well. So, watch carefully and if you need a supplement, don’t let pride fight it.

    If you are a believer, realize that Jesus ate fish, bread, figs, as well as lentils and other foods. Milk is often also spoken of in the word of God as a blessing.

    “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:” 1 Timothy 4:3, 4, KJV.

    1. Jessi Post author

      Thank you for your opinion. Yes, everyone is different. Yes, there are many different interpretations of a “vegan diet,” not all of which are healthy (i.e., you can’t eat french fries and oreos everyday just because they are vegan and call it a healthy diet). I certainly can’t address why your friends developed health problems without knowing how they ate and/or what other factors influenced the development of their conditions, but I am sorry that they struggled.

      If something I have written makes it seem as though I believe food choices affect salvation, I apologize, as that is not the case. It is by faith through grace that we are saved and not because of the choices we make about what to eat or not to eat. I am simply sharing what I know about a whole-foods, plant-based lifestyle as I have seen it help so many people.

      Yes, Jesus ate meat. Yes, in Genesis 9, God gave Noah and his family permission to eat meat. It was a necessity as plant life would not have been ready to sustain them after such a catastrophic change in the environment. Also, with post-flood climate changes, living off plant foods would no longer even be possible in some areas (e.g., the Arctic). However, unless you believe in some sort of evolutionary process whereby human beings changed and suddenly needed animal protein to survive, it follows that if people lived animal-protein-free prior to the flood, it is still possible to do so. There is no biblical command not to eat meat and whether you do or do not has nothing to do with eternity. However, permission to do something does not always equate with the best choice. Although also highly debated by biblical scholars, by the same logic we also have permission to drink wine, but for someone who struggles with limiting intake of alcohol, the choice to accept permission can be the choice that ruins their lives.

      I very much agree that we must be wise when it comes to our health and listen to our bodies. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but regardless of what you eat, you don’t just wake up one day and die from malnutrition. There are signs leading up to complications and death. I think it goes without saying, but to anyone else reading this: if you or your children are experiencing declining health issues, regardless of what type of food you are eating, it would be wise to see your personal care provider before it escalates.

      So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God – 1 Corinthians 10:31

  2. Darci

    Bravo!! Well said and thank you for helping the rest of us out with some research & verbage to give us some confidence in the debate! It’s funny, I have found myself not wanting to invite people over b/c we are vegan (or tell them for fear of a tongue lashing of “concern”) but the meals are SO GOOD!


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