Nutrition Experts

“You maybe able to be vegan (with your health affliction), but it’s hard…”

“You really need animal protein to give your body the nutrients and strength it needs to combat (insert illness here).”

“Many vegans become severely deficient in key nutrients like iron, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12, so you may need to rethink your diet and add some fish and eggs.”

“My doctor said my whole foods vegan diet will cause me to get sepsis.”

“My doctor said soy causes cancer, and he is never wrong.”

So, this is nonsense I have read on the internet in message boards – though I have heard similar opinions voiced in person by clients expressing fear in staying on a vegan diet with recent medical diagnoses. As a registered dietitian, I firmly believe a diet based solely on plants can treat a variety of health conditions. In the very least, it will not exacerbate a condition when properly planned with the assistance of a trained nutrition professional. Notice I didn’t say, “with the assistance of a nutrition-know-it-all troll on the internet,” because message boards are full of them. Nor did I say “with the assistance of your physician,” because many have little-to-zero training when it comes to nutrition, especially vegan nutrition.

If a doctor tells you your vegan diet is going to cause a blood infection (sepsis), fire your doctor! If she/he doesn’t understand how sepsis occurs, you probably don’t want any type of medical assistance from that person. And if your doctor is still trying to convince you about the unfounded belief that soy foods cause cancer, you should express concern that animal foods contain real estrogen and farm animals are fed a large amount of soy (of the GMO variety). I am certainly not here to knock the doctors, but they are not the nutrition experts (though there are some exceptions of docs who further their nutrition studies). I am a dietitian, and I certainly wouldn’t consult a patient about how to treat a medical condition beyond the scope of nutrition – you know, what I went to school to study.

And let’s talk about those experts you run across on the internet. Message boards can be a great place to meet other like-minded folks or, for the sake of this post, others with similar health problems. But mention that you are a vegan, and everyone turns into a nutrition expert with warnings that you are essentially going to shrivel up and die from a plethora of nutrient deficiencies. The comments that vegans with health problems should just add “a little bit of animal products” back into their diets are absurd on many levels: the primary being that veganism for many of us is not a diet – it is a lifestyle built upon an ethical view encompassing issues like speciesism, food justice, and the environment. So adding some fish to amp up one’s omega 3 fatty acid intake isn’t gonna happen – especially when plants like flax, hemp and chia can provide the same thing.

The bulk of nutrition advice you are going to find on these message boards is far from accurate and even harmful. We all know you can certainly thrive on a diet exclusively of plants. Period. And for those vegans whose motivation is their own health first and foremost, how easy do you think it is for them to question their choice when they are reading comment after comment stating that a vegan diet is going to harm them?

Nutrition is an interesting area to study because, well, we all eat. But just because you eat food does not make you an expert in nutrition. I am using a laptop to write this post – does that automatically empower me with the knowledge to know how to repair this darn thing should it break? No. And as a dietitian, I will be the first to say that not all dietitians know much about vegan nutrition, but that is an issue for another post. If you are vegan and you find yourself with a chronic condition, seek out healthcare professionals who respect your lifestyle. And if you are going to hit up the internet for information, make sure it is sourced by folks with solid credentials who really care about science and nutrition, and not just comments from Joe Blow behind a computer who once read soy gives men boobs and hasn’t touched a vegetable in months.

Ask Anya is a weekly column written by dietitian Anya Todd on vegan health to help educate others on how to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. Anya covers hot topics and commonly asked questions about vegan nutrition. Do you have questions or concerns you would like to see addressed? Simply send Anya an email to [email protected].

Disclaimer: Anya cannot answer any specific questions related to medical conditions or recommend medications and/or supplement brands, questions must be about diseases, nutrition, or healthy vegan diets only.

Photo credit: Mercy for Animals via Facebook