By Published On: 26 February 2015739 words3.7 min read

By Daria Zeoli, Guest Contributor

Are you telling the truth about your health?

“I haven’t been sick in five years, unlike my meat-eating friends.”

Have you said something like this? You may have, and you may have meant well when you said it. But today I’d like to discuss how saying such things has the potential to do harm to the movement.

As veganism has crossed into mainstream consciousness, it’s done so as a health topic. “Eat vegan to lose weight, to feel better, to be a vibrant green goddess.” Because of this, non-vegans have the expectation that vegans never get sick, and vegans perpetuate that expectation. It’s as if having a cold or a stomach bug is scandalous: “See? Veganism isn’t healthy. Why should I stop eating animals?” “You look pale. You’re obviously not getting enough iron. I’m gonna stick with my steak.”

Of course it’s important that we take care of ourselves. That goes for everyone, no matter what lifestyle they ascribe to. But because such a large part of being vegan is entwined with what we eat, we are somehow held more accountable.

It’s the end of February, and let me confess to you: I have been sick a couple of times this year already. Not drop-dead, down-on-the-ground sick, but headaches, and cloudiness, and yes, it’s been pointed out that I look even paler than usual (but in my defense, it’s been snowy and freezing for what seems like forever). This has nothing to do with veganism and everything to do with the fact that my immunity tends to be lower during winter – along with my willpower to get to the gym, eat healthy foods, and stay active. I assure you that eating a hamburger or drinking a glass of cow’s milk would not cure my winter ills.

And it goes beyond just a run-of-the-mill cold. Studies show that a plant-based diet significantly reduces a person’s risk of major health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and perhaps even cancer. This is great news! But it’s not an absolute. Reducing risk does not mean “to zero.” You will meet vegans who have heart disease. You will meet vegans who have cancer. This does not mean that veganism is at fault. You will also meet vegans with chronic illnesses: autoimmune diseases, arthritis, asthma, recurring migraines… the list goes on. Does a healthy, plant-based diet boost your chances of lesser recurrences of flare-ups? Yes. But again, nothing is a cure-all 100% of the time. Much as with the ethical arguments surrounding it, veganism does not mean perfection in this case.

There’s also a myth that all vegans are thin. As Dwight Schrute would say, false. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are thin, but some of us are heavier. Our weight should not be a measuring stick for whether we’re “succeeding” at being vegan, and if we don’t correct the assumption that weight loss is a given, we’re going to get the same arguments about veganism not being worth it. After all, people are doing just fine on Atkins and the Paleo diet.

Remember, veganism is a philosophy that is about how we treat and use animals. In today’s world, you can avoid animal products and still have poor eating habits. Hell, you can exclusively eat potato chips and drink soda and still be vegan. Eating junk or eating whole foods is a choice we all have to make. Any benefit to one’s health is just that: a benefit. Just as downing a multivitamin with a glass of water every morning doesn’t make you illness-proof, eating plants doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a picture of health one hundred percent of the time. You may get the flu. You may gain ten pounds. You may have thyroid disease and you may someday get cancer.

So, the next time you want to brag about your health at the expense of the meat-eaters around you, please think carefully about how you are presenting that argument. If you want to change the world for animals, then focus on the animals. While our health has its highs and lows, and while the environment is influenced by endless factors (though, yes, animal agriculture is the biggest), there is one constant in the case for veganism: animals are being exploited every day, and they need our help. That is an absolute where your health, your weight, and your chance of disease isn’t.

By Published On: 26 February 2015739 words3.7 min read

By Daria Zeoli, Guest Contributor

Are you telling the truth about your health?

“I haven’t been sick in five years, unlike my meat-eating friends.”

Have you said something like this? You may have, and you may have meant well when you said it. But today I’d like to discuss how saying such things has the potential to do harm to the movement.

As veganism has crossed into mainstream consciousness, it’s done so as a health topic. “Eat vegan to lose weight, to feel better, to be a vibrant green goddess.” Because of this, non-vegans have the expectation that vegans never get sick, and vegans perpetuate that expectation. It’s as if having a cold or a stomach bug is scandalous: “See? Veganism isn’t healthy. Why should I stop eating animals?” “You look pale. You’re obviously not getting enough iron. I’m gonna stick with my steak.”

Of course it’s important that we take care of ourselves. That goes for everyone, no matter what lifestyle they ascribe to. But because such a large part of being vegan is entwined with what we eat, we are somehow held more accountable.

It’s the end of February, and let me confess to you: I have been sick a couple of times this year already. Not drop-dead, down-on-the-ground sick, but headaches, and cloudiness, and yes, it’s been pointed out that I look even paler than usual (but in my defense, it’s been snowy and freezing for what seems like forever). This has nothing to do with veganism and everything to do with the fact that my immunity tends to be lower during winter – along with my willpower to get to the gym, eat healthy foods, and stay active. I assure you that eating a hamburger or drinking a glass of cow’s milk would not cure my winter ills.

And it goes beyond just a run-of-the-mill cold. Studies show that a plant-based diet significantly reduces a person’s risk of major health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and perhaps even cancer. This is great news! But it’s not an absolute. Reducing risk does not mean “to zero.” You will meet vegans who have heart disease. You will meet vegans who have cancer. This does not mean that veganism is at fault. You will also meet vegans with chronic illnesses: autoimmune diseases, arthritis, asthma, recurring migraines… the list goes on. Does a healthy, plant-based diet boost your chances of lesser recurrences of flare-ups? Yes. But again, nothing is a cure-all 100% of the time. Much as with the ethical arguments surrounding it, veganism does not mean perfection in this case.

There’s also a myth that all vegans are thin. As Dwight Schrute would say, false. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are thin, but some of us are heavier. Our weight should not be a measuring stick for whether we’re “succeeding” at being vegan, and if we don’t correct the assumption that weight loss is a given, we’re going to get the same arguments about veganism not being worth it. After all, people are doing just fine on Atkins and the Paleo diet.

Remember, veganism is a philosophy that is about how we treat and use animals. In today’s world, you can avoid animal products and still have poor eating habits. Hell, you can exclusively eat potato chips and drink soda and still be vegan. Eating junk or eating whole foods is a choice we all have to make. Any benefit to one’s health is just that: a benefit. Just as downing a multivitamin with a glass of water every morning doesn’t make you illness-proof, eating plants doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a picture of health one hundred percent of the time. You may get the flu. You may gain ten pounds. You may have thyroid disease and you may someday get cancer.

So, the next time you want to brag about your health at the expense of the meat-eaters around you, please think carefully about how you are presenting that argument. If you want to change the world for animals, then focus on the animals. While our health has its highs and lows, and while the environment is influenced by endless factors (though, yes, animal agriculture is the biggest), there is one constant in the case for veganism: animals are being exploited every day, and they need our help. That is an absolute where your health, your weight, and your chance of disease isn’t.

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  1. Naomi February 11, 2020 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    I disagree with you about your “lies” I’ve been A whole food plant based oil/free vegan for many many many years and I never ever get sick, not a cold not a sniffle, not a bug nothing. I seriously believe that you should reconsider the title of your post. We are not lying that we don’t get sick, we really don’t get sick. I do not take supplements of any kind. I don’t eat anything out of a tin can and I don’t eat junk food at all. I make everything from scratch. Packaged vegan food is loaded full of oil and sugars. If you are still getting sick then i suggest you re-evaluate what it is that you are eating.

  2. Ben January 13, 2019 at 5:19 am - Reply

    Sorry, this is a silly post, why assume others are lying just because it doesn’t match your experience? Since I became vegan (though I did become more health conscious in general at the same time), I definitely stoped getting sick — yes, for over 5 years. That is unusual for me, so the change was remarkable

    “Don’t lie” sounds reasonable, but I have no reason to doubt people who report health benefits (even extreme ones) from going vegan

  3. Maryann Farrell September 27, 2018 at 11:10 am - Reply

    I think that a lot of vegans start eating healthy and then continue their research like I did and add other, better things to our diet. I stopped eating meat 23 years ago. I had very little dairy during those years. Maybe a slice of pizza once a month and a teaspoon of cream in my coffee everyday. But what has helped me get sick less. Is that I started using supplements every day. I do one teaspoon of Lauracidan every day, iron tablets, vitamin D, coq10 and and probiotics, B 12 shots once a month with the synthetic injection. I also used mastic gum and broccoli sprout supplement when I had a stomach issue in the past and skipped the antibiotics. I’m still adding vegan supplements to my routine, but on an every 3 day basis. I am faithful to a daily few, but I break up the chewable B’s, calcium, zinc and vitamin E in the every 3 day routine. I can’t take too many supplements every day or it gives me an upset stomach. I have two kids, one autistic that spreads all her germs everywhere and I avoid almost every assault she brings home with Lauracidin every day. I also drink cashew milk strawberry probiotic 3-4 times a week. So I think when we become aware of taking care of our bodies and add additional supplements. It really helps more then just skipping meat and dairy, because that stuff is filled with antibiotics and hormones we really need to get away from. I don’t eat meat because I love all animals, but I get a bonus of a healthy body. Also you still need to get your usual check up. Women your paps, mamo’s, men the colon cancer checks, etc. so I believe it’s a way of life and not just veganism. Although veganism is the best diet i believe. You need to make sure your eating a variety too. Vegans can have a junk food diet too.

  4. Joyce July 27, 2018 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    I dont agree at all about illness. I have been vegan for 3 years. I have not had one stomach bug, I dont get migraines anymore, I dont get nauseous unless I’m car sick, I dont get those horrible pains in my belly, I can wash my food so I have not had even a trace of food poisoning. Perhaps you should re-evaluate exactly what you are eating or be checked for underlying issues. I’ve been exposed to so many sick people and in closed offices with zero windows. They all passed it back and forth for months. I lightly oughed for about a day, got a little stuffy, took some Oreganol P73 and poof…gone. They were so gross for so long that I filed a formal complaint to Safety,and Management.

  5. Gregory April 2, 2018 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    I’ve been a vegan since May of 2017, so this is my first winter as a vegan and I’ve had 4 colds back to back. Each one lasting about two or three weeks, so I have been sick all winter and not able to go to the gym or do many of my long walks that I love so much…This has never happened in my life and I’m no spring chicken at 57. I usually catch a cold once a winter season and sometimes not at all. I have been a strong supporter of the whole vegan movement and thought I would never go back to eating animals, but I did and this makes me very sad. I need to know why this is happening because I don’t want to support the meat and dairy industry, but I also can’t function if I’m always sick…

  6. TEDx February 9, 2018 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Silly article. Of course vegans and vegetarians still get sick…many still eat junk food. BUT once one learns to fuel the body @ near perfection w/ 100% organic plant foods then there’s little chance of any sickness. Since learning and then implementing the optimal diet — arthritis gone, psoriasis gone, headaches gone, colds,fevers, flus gone!

    And let’s be real Daria — You’re article is NOT helping “the movement” so I’d guess this may be nothing more than an industry article trying to confuse folks that veganism “is only about the animals”! As they know and hopefully any intelligent “animal advocate” would know is that main & sidestreet America couldn’t careless about animals as they consume them in record amounts. IMHO — It is not bleeding hearts that will change this paradigm BUT healthy hearts! w/ sites like NutritionFacts.org leading the way!

  7. Sarah February 9, 2018 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Though it’s not fool proof it is a way to ease up on the sickness that tears through people every flu season. I got the flu twice last year. So easily. This year I’ve come into contact with a lot of sick folks and have only come away with slight hints of a sickness. And I absolutely attribute that to my diet. You are what you eat. If you eat the flesh of crowded/herded animals all raised just to die, you become one. You consume their energy. That energy gets passed on to your body where you are more prone to illness because it settles in with all the mucus meats and cheese put in your body. I care about animals yes. But I care about my family maybe even more. So I will continue to tell people about my health when and if they ask and lead by example. I won’t be afraid to tell anyone my personal findings because of the supposed “reputation” of veganism. I don’t need anyone to believe me or follow my lead, but I definitely will speak my truth.

  8. Mandie October 13, 2017 at 6:37 am - Reply

    Hi there,

    I totally relate to your post. I havent been unwell atall for two and a half years and been vegan for 1 and a half. i put that down to leaving work and working from home although I was also saying to myself its because Im vegan. Since coming back from my summer holiday in September ive been unwell three times in six weeks, every two weeks for a week to be exact! I dont understand why and its the same feeling you have described above, fuzzy head and fatigue and basically feeling unwell. Although last time I have a cold too. I thought it was a lack of B12 but i just dont know. I eat very healthy plus run. I feel so well the other times so I just am confused. Friends (non vegan) will say its down to my diet which i obviously dont agree with. Thanks so much for posting and making me feel im not alone :-)

  9. Foxistry June 4, 2017 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    I was chronically sick prior to becoming a healthy vegetarian. My diet now consists of whole foods and grains, fresh vegetables, no artificial junk and lots of water!! No soda, no fast foods, no canned foods, no fruit juice (Home made 100% fruit juice is fine). Vegetables also need to be cooked the correct way. When they are fried to death for example, it will lose all it’s valuable nutrients.

    Along with a healthy diet, I maintain proper hygiene to decrease the risk of contracting illness. I don’t smoke, abuse alcohol or drugs. Mindfulness meditation plays an important role in my life too. What you think is what you are! Taking a walk in nature is a good stress reliever too.

    In most cases your mental health determines your physical health and vice versa. It’s advicable to try maintain a balanced lifestyle.

    I agree with you to a point, however, even though I maintained a healthy lifestyle during my meat consumption days, I was still contineously ill. I felt run down, constipated, extremely tired, with severe headaches and nausea every single day, until the day I completely cut out meat. Which was the only change I had made to my lifestyle and I haven’t been sick ever since (no headaches, tiredness, nausea, colds or flu ever since I stopped eating meat). It is a fact and my family also noticed.

    Perhaps every situation is different but in my case it is completely true and I will stand by my revelation.

  10. Dee May 7, 2017 at 8:50 am - Reply

    I have now been Vegan almost 1 year on May 23rd. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and it cleared on my eczema and most of my acne. Unfortunately since November 2016 I have been hit hard with sinus infections once a month. I honestly think when you’re around so many dirty people at malls or outings you’re bound to get sick in the SF Bay Area. 😞 There are constant foreigners traveling in an out of here bringing their strains of germs etc. this also goes for Americans going across seas to do business and bringing back airbourne illnesses in airplanes and such. I juice a lot and eat lots of raw foods, but we don’t stop to think that whoever picked our strawberries or kale probably was sick and rinsing them in water doesn’t do the trick. I mean bacteria is everywhere.

  11. justin September 29, 2016 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    I have been vegetarian for 5 years+ vegan 3 months now and haven’t been sick over 5 yrs. I believe eating more greens have boost my immune system. prior to my lifestyle change, i would get sick a couple of times a year. Yes and I do brag to my meat eating friends as they’re constantly sick. no lie.

  12. marta March 23, 2015 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    Well said! I totally agree. I keep repeating just the same…

  13. Ursula2007 March 2, 2015 at 9:11 am - Reply

    I totally agree with your article. That said, I’ve been a vegan for 5 years, and I’ve never been seriously ill in all that time! That may have more to do with the fact that I don’t have a lot of contact with humans, however.

    • Daria Zeoli March 7, 2015 at 6:56 am - Reply

      Thanks for reading and for commenting, Ursula! And kudos on your good health… or maybe you’re minimal contact with humans? ;-)

  14. Matt in AZ March 1, 2015 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Great post! Thanks to Ginny for sharing it.