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I have been looking at some of the discussion on Care2 under the 'Real Food' section.  What strikes me as odd is an argument against being vegan that comes up all the time, that people claim they have tried to be vegan and got sick so had to go back to eating meat.

Whilst I'm not a nutritionist, I am vegan and do watch my nutrition reasonably carefully. I can't think of a single thing that is a component of meat that can't be obtained as a vegan diet.

Since this is such a central theme among anti-vegans, I do wonder how much credence can be placed in these claims. With so few people in the 1st world countries in particular choosing to be vegan, it seems that veganism is always targeted as the culprit when people get sick. Compare that to the amount of serious illness among omnivores yet you never hear anyone saying they ought to give up meat, when increasingly health practitioners are recommending people eat less meat.

So what's going on here and how do you answer these critics? 

My personal view is that the majority of people who give up on being vegan are probably not well enough informed about vegan nutrition which is one reason they may get sick.

The other issue is why people become vegan in the first place. Is it possible to maintain a vegan lifestyle if people are taking it up for reasons other than animal rights?

The only thing I can think of that people consume in meat is the chemicals that are flooded into the animal at the time of death, such as adrenalin. People are essentially eating the animals fear when they eat meat. Perhaps there is a stimulus that people get an energy boost that people miss when they give up meat. Maybe it's a sort of healing crisis in giving up meat.

I'm interested to hear what your experiences have been with your vegan pathway. I'd be very interested to see if there are commonalities that perhaps we need to address in these forums if we are going to encourage more people to be vegan without fear.

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My only experience was with someone who claimed that they 'nearly died' when they went vegetarian (not even vegan) and that all their hair fell out. Fortunately I knew this person well and their hair did not fall out. Nor did they die. They did however, give up on vegetarianism. Over time we'd discuss it and eventually he admitted that he 'didn't really do it properly' and 'was taking a lot of drugs at the time'. He would eat meals that were designed around a dead animal but without the animal - that's when he ate. He's pretty embarrassed now looking back.

I think you're quite right though. If the motivation to be vegan is purely a dietary one, or for fashion, health will take a back seat (just as it would on an carnivorous one). Like any diet you have to pay attention to the requirements of the body.

Mostly, however, and sadly, I think its usually an excuse for going back to the familiar (before its been given a chance). Its just a terrible shame that they run down veganism in the process.

I do think veganism is an extremely healthy diet. But vegans are still humans and still breath in cold virus' etc. Everybody is subject to the illnesses around them. So they still need to keep fit, eat well within that diet and be positive. Sounds naff but that's what keeps us healthy I think. :)

My experience is that I've been healthy on a good vegan diet (all other factors being equal) and not so healthy on a bad one. Also rather unhealthy as a vegetarian because dairy does horrid things to my respiratory tract. I've never eaten meat as an adult so can't tell whether that would make a difference, but I did have a certain rather embarassing problem when I was younger that I have no wish to bring back, and that went after I cut out eating animals.

I agree it's a frustrating situation b/c people make uncritical false associations. They don't feel well & b/c they don't know much about the myriad factors that affect health, they assume it's caused by the lack of meat in their diet. I have generally been able to "shut them up" (politely of course) by pointing out that the largest non-partisan org of nutrition pros, the ADA, state explicitly that no human at any stage of life, regardless of lifestyle (so athletes too that means) requires the consumption of any animal products. That can be found on the ADA site. So the people who say they got sick "because" they didn't eat meat are flat out wrong.

First, I hate answering loaded questions (like the one in the thread title). People get sick for all kinds of reasons, some preventable and others less preventable. No diet plan is a guarantee of immortality, and different vegan diets vary enormously in content. Tall tales about people who got deathly ill on vegan diets and miraculously recovered when they added animal products back are probably exactly that--and even if a story isn't an outright lie, one person's subjective experience doesn't prove anything about what is healthy for humans generally. I've spent valuable time posting credible links on other forums (including the ADA link mentioned above) showing there's no rational reason to believe vegan diets cause people to get sick. Usually people ignore it and fill the thread with abusive comments and idiotic links to fad diet sites. Then the moderators either delete the thread, lock it, or use it as an excuse to ban me. I suspect "astroturfing" is going on in many of these conversations, but maybe some of these people aren't astroturfers. Maybe a few of them genuinely ran into difficulty because their particular diet plan wasn't working for them, and the people around them (including idiot doctors) were unsupportive? I know of at least one person like that in real life, and she seemed open to trying again when I gave her some health-related resources. It's harder to judge the sincerity of a stranger on the Internet.

This is so true red dog. I think a lot of it is to do with motivation and the reasons why someone goes vegan. The health arguments don't interest me personally but I know they are one of the top reasons / excuses why people don't go vegan. So I argue health wise, which I find difficult as I'm not that interested in that area. I would like to think I'd still be vegan even if it was a sub-standard diet as opposed to one of the healthiest (see...I still have to get that in... lol).

Sorry if I didn't express my points clearly ... I've actually met two people in real life who ran into real difficulties on plant-based diets. One of them, I think, was looking to a vegan diet as a quick fix for pre-existing health problems but the other one seemed as concerned about animals as anyone else who is learning about these issues. However, this second person also had a pre-existing condition and when it flared up she had no support system and couldn't find helpful information. I didn't try to convince either of them that I had a miracle cure, but I tried to point the second person (the one who was open to trying again) in the direction of helpful resources. In the online discussions, and in the conversation I had with the first real-life person, my goal was to counter the misinformation/faulty assumptions and I found that really frustrating. And on the Internet it's worse because it's not always easy to tell the difference between a serious poster and a troll or astroturfer.

No, no, absolutely not! Is that what you got out of my posts, Roger? Seriously?

 

One person I knew in university had Crohn's disease and she said her condition had gotten worse when she'd tried a vegan diet--I don't remember for how long and I don't know what specific foods she ate. She told me her bloodwork had shown some of her nutrients were depleted, but I think she was aware that better planning could have helped her solve the problem. This happened centuries ago, and I don't know exactly what her doctors said to her, but I got the impression they weren't interested in helping her solve the problem and I got the feeling they intimidated her into going back to the conventional diet she'd been raised on because they didn't have the expertise to suggest any other solution. And as I said, that person was open to trying again with a better plan and better advisors (not me). I don't know the outcome because we never kept in touch after that school year.

 

The other person was a fad-diet follower and I don't know if she had an official diagnosis or not. She told me she'd followed a vegan diet for some time in the hope of improving her health and that she felt much better after she finally went to McDonald's and ate a hamburger. Again, I don't know how long she ate vegan or what specific foods she ate. I told her there was probably some other way she could have solved the problem but she responded with statements about hormones and blood types. We had a falling out after that and never kept in touch so I don't know the outcome. I didn't mean to imply that I accepted her argument against vegan diets (at least for people with certain blood types). But I believe she was a real person who had real health problems and that misconceptions about blood types may have played a role in leading her to misinterpret her experience and never give veganism another try.

I think that there is a great deal of social conditioning against vegan diets which is one of the reasons why people are so reluctant to try.  What does strike me as curious is that increasingly evidence casts doubt on the health benefits of meat, particularly from animals raised and killed in the dreadful conditions that are prevalent.  One person who was very interested in discussing vegan diet with me at work the other day, said that organic meat was from animals that are killed without being confronted with watching other animals killed before them and is very quick.  I expressed doubts, but she was quite sure although she said she should check.  In fact in Australia animals for human consumption have to be killed in an Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service approved facility, which basically means an abattoir.  And the whole purpose of cattle for meat and other animals is to make a profit, so can't see farmers taking the extra expense of killing animals as she thought they were killed.  Reading some of the comments in other sites I wonder where these stories originate.  I agree Roger that there is very active astroturfing going on.  Perhaps the meat industry is the new tobacco industry when one considers the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming that is leading to superbugs and so on.  Although I have been prepared to find out, I have been unable in any forum to find evidence of the actual need for meat for any health reason that can't be obtained from non-animal sources.  Yes there are bad vegan diets as well as healthy ones the same as any diet, but generally there seems to be a lack of support for people who wish to go vegan and this seems to be an inhibitor.  I have assumed the best way to challenge this view is to be an exemplar personally, and try to help people who might be struggling.  I'm not the most diligent person when it comes to making sure I eat a healthy vegan diet but to me the thought of eating meat is not acceptable, and so I'm taking more care as a result.  This is a very slow way though to try and influence people to try being vegan.

I have a friend whom I believe is genuinely against animals for food.  She ate no meat for 4 years but then collapsed one day & had a serious health scare (I don't know all the details).  Her doctor determined she was deficient in heme iron which is not contained in animals products, eggs, milk, etc., but only in meat.  She tried supplements but remained ill.  I can't say there is not psychological effect once a doctor targets meat deficiency & claims that is why one is sick, but I know she truly wants to find a way to stop eating meat.  I committed to finding the answer for her and would hate to come up empty.  Any guidance to doctor/nutritionist who may have encountered a problem like this is appreciated.

Catherine, it sounds as if your friend got a bad doctor. From everything I've read, a person's ability to get and absorb enough iron seems to be an individual matter and these problems affect flesheaters just as often as they affect other people (see http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=2581). Supplements take a long time to work but so do foods.

 

I don't know how anyone would go about proving (or disproving) that there's some group of humans on the planet who absolutely can't survive without animal products in their diets--you'd have to prove they'd tried every possible combination of vegan foods and/or supplements, something most people wouldn't be willing to do if they were sick and under pressure from families and doctors.  

Further to what I said earlier, I don't think you can take responsibility for your friend's difficulties with doctors. As you said, you don't even know exactly what happened. For all we know she could have some health problem that's totally unrelated to diet and the doctor could have missed it. I think all you can do is support her in finding more reliable sources of information--it's not up to you to come up with the solution.  

catherine case said:

I have a friend whom I believe is genuinely against animals for food.  She ate no meat for 4 years but then collapsed one day & had a serious health scare (I don't know all the details).  Her doctor determined she was deficient in heme iron which is not contained in animals products, eggs, milk, etc., but only in meat.  She tried supplements but remained ill.  I can't say there is not psychological effect once a doctor targets meat deficiency & claims that is why one is sick, but I know she truly wants to find a way to stop eating meat.  I committed to finding the answer for her and would hate to come up empty.  Any guidance to doctor/nutritionist who may have encountered a problem like this is appreciated.

Thanks so much for the thoughtful response.  I did anticipate that it might be a very difficult situation because, as you said, she would have to be willing to experiment with a long list of possible supplement/food plans all the while feeling at risk.  I have not eaten meat in close to 30 years with no health problems & I have never before encountered anyone advised by a doctor as such.  I really appreciate your advice.  Thanks again--very kind of you.



red dog said:

Catherine, it sounds as if your friend got a bad doctor. From everything I've read, a person's ability to get and absorb enough iron seems to be an individual matter and these problems affect flesheaters just as often as they affect other people (see http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=2581). Supplements take a long time to work but so do foods.

 

I don't know how anyone would go about proving (or disproving) that there's some group of humans on the planet who absolutely can't survive without animal products in their diets--you'd have to prove they'd tried every possible combination of vegan foods and/or supplements, something most people wouldn't be willing to do if they were sick and under pressure from families and doctors.  

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