A lot has been coming up in the vegan world recently, where popular vegan influencers have voiced that they are no longer vegan. Some have been vegan for several years, promoting the lifestyle and helping others transition to veganism then, all of a sudden they began to experience different health issues (from poor digestion to declining health). How can this be? Is the vegan diet to blame? Were these vegan influencers not following their own protocol? Have my own views on the vegan lifestyle changed?
Let’s take a step back for a moment and talk about why people become vegan. Since we are all unique individuals, it is relevant to say that everyone’s reason is different. Some go vegan for the animals, for the planet, for their health, or for any other calling that they may have. From what I have seen, many of the vegan influencers on YouTube went vegan for the animals or their health first. Both are valid and practical, but can manifest as very different diets. The following scenarios are just two of the most common forms of eating that I see, but are by no means the only ways that people eat. Those in it for their own health may focus on whole foods or dive into “clean eating” routines, fasts, cleanses or other practices that focus on detox or restricting certain food groups. Those in it for the animals can also have a health-focused diet, but are also more likely to eat just about anything so long as it is vegan (fries, cookies, cakes, pizza, etc.).
When you change your diet, your microbiome (those healthy bacteria living in your gut to help you digest food and give you energy) changes too. Now, I don’t know these YouTubers personally, but have watched many of their “What I Eat In A Day” videos and if those are accurate, I can see why some nutritional deficiencies might arise...therefore leading to the need to consume animal products in order to meet their nutritional needs.
Let’s start with the fasters.
These folks started off with a standard idea, backed by science. Fasting under medical supervision has been shown to be beneficial for many health conditions. The main point being “under medical supervision”. When anyone wants to fast, no matter how long or for what reason, they should be cleared by a doctor and supervised by a team of health professionals (dietitian, doctor and psychologist to name a few). There are not only physical effects of fasting, but also psychological and chemical changes that occur. When fasting (whether water or juice fasting), it is never a good idea to do it alone or unsupervised. The other issue is that these influencers fasted more than once and in different ways. If done improperly, this can lead to some major nutritional deficiencies and imbalances, not to mention hormonal and gut changes.
Now for the detoxers and cleansers.
If you have followed my social media for awhile, you may know that I am not a huge fan of detox diets or cleanses. I have my own personal preferences about them on several levels, but the science is just not there to back it up either. One beautiful thing about the human body is its ability to detox itself! That is what our kidneys and liver are for. Eating foods to support these organs is one thing, but drinking a special juice or eating a certain salad every day has not been proven by research to be effective at detoxing. Any diet that promotes a way of eating that is not sustainable long term, is not healthy. Sometimes, these diets can be beneficial in certain situations (like finding an intolerance or sensitivity or readjusting the gut microbiome) but again, should be done under medical supervision (dietitian and physician).
With all of this being said, and without drawing conclusions on someone’s life that I know very little about, I would have to say that these people got too strict with what they thought was a healthy lifestyle. By eliminating otherwise healthy foods and not allowing room for anything but what the diet calls for, it is a recipe for failure.
My goal as a dietitian is to help people find a way of eating that supports both their lifestyle and their nutritional needs.
Do I promote a plant-based vegan diet? Yes, of course! But, I also know that many are not ready for to be vegan and some people take smaller steps than others. The main thing I teach is adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans into daily meals for ultimate digestion and longevity.
Do I think that everyone should be vegan? In theory, yes absolutely I think it would be an amazing thing for the world. But, in practicality, no. If more people ate a plant-based diet, and our food system changed so that access was not so difficult I think it would be much easier for more people to go vegan. But if everyone can start with simply one plant-based meal daily, they are already making a huge difference in their own life, in the lives of animals, and the protection and preservation of this home we call Earth.
Question of the day:
What is your biggest struggle when trying to add more plants to your daily meals?