Dangers of reading nutrition stories in the Daily Mail

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Today’s daft news award goes to the Daily Mail – again. The headline says “Dangers of a vegan diet: Why a plant-based diet can crush your energy, skin and make you depressed

The article goes on to warn us that “Vegans who don’t get enough vitamin B12 and protein can have a nutritional deficiency which causes them to feel tired, depressed and develop acne”.  

The article claims that ex-carnivores who have replaced burgers for beans and cheese for pasta are lacking key nutrients: vitamin B12 and protein.

Protein

So where do vegans get their protein? It’s a tired old question asked by people who think that meat and dairy are the only reliable source. They forget, entire populations avoid meat and/or dairy and humans have been thriving on plant-based sources of protein for thousands of years. If you eat enough calories from a well-balanced vegan diet, it is very difficult to go short of protein. Protein deficiency is rare in industrialised countries and is far more associated with disease or ageing than dietary choices. 

In general, men need around 55g and women 45g of protein daily. That’s about two palm-sized portions of tofu, nuts or pulses. Most people find it very easy to eat that much. The UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that most UK adults eat more protein than they need. There’s no advantage to eating more than you need and too much animal protein is harmful.

Vitamin B12

The article claims that fatigue or exhaustion occurs due to the lack of vitamin B12, which can be found in eggs, fish, poultry and cheese. B12 is an important vitamin and vegans should take a supplement, but so should everyone over 50 according to US government advice. The Daily Mail  article says that nutritionist expert Lorraine Kearney suggests taking a B12 supplement or adding nutritional yeast to your dishes to make up for the essential vitamin. Both are good vegan sources of B12 and much easier to absorb that B12 from animal foods. Don’t forget, the only reason meat and dairy contain B12 is because the animals are fed a supplement.

The article says “Missing those essential nutrients can lead to acne, fatigue and even make you depressed, while feeling bloated and gassy could be from eating too many protein-high beans”. But hang on, aren’t we supposed to be missing out on protein?

Acne

Cutting out dairy foods can actually help combat acne as cow’s milk and dairy products are shown to increase the risk. A large-scale study from Harvard’s School of Public Health shows that those consuming the most milk, suffered most with acne. Other studies show that bodybuilders who take steroid hormones or whey protein supplements are more prone to acne – it makes sense. Cow’s milk is usually taken from a pregnant or recently pregnant mothers so has significantly high levels of hormones in it.

Fatigue

Next year Viva! will be launching a new sports campaign and we’ve been talking to vegan athletes including marathon runners, bodybuilders, swimmers and more. They all say their energy levels have increased hugely since going vegan. What’s going to make you feel more sluggish – a cheeseburger and chips or a falafel and hummus salad wrap? It is nonsense to say that vegan diet leads to fatigue.   

Depression

It’s also simply wrong to say that going vegan can lead to depression – a number of studies show the opposite is true! A 2015 study showing that vegans report less stress and anxiety than meat and dairy-eaters said: “A strict plant-based diet does not appear to negatively impact mood, in fact, reduction of animal food intake may have mood benefits”. More research shows that plant-based diets can help you beat the blues and that vegetarians experience less negative emotions.

A 2012 study looking at the effects of changing to a vegetarian diet on a group of meat-eaters found that mood scores didn’t change for the group continuing to eat meat and fish, but in those eating a vegetarian diet, mood score improved significantly after just two weeks.

Hot air

We fart because we lack the ability to break down certain foods in the gut so the bacteria that inhabit our guts do it for us. A large number of healthy foods contain these complex carbohydrates that we can’t fully digest: most beans, most vegetables and wholegrains. But don’t ditch the beans! These complex carbs are essential for health; they act as prebiotics to the good bacteria in our large intestine, feeding them. The bacteria that make the stinky hydrogen sulphide component of farts are present in much lower numbers in those with a healthy vegan diet, than those on a meat and dairy diet.

It’s a sloppy piece of journalism – conflicting advice, not properly fact-checked and they even misspelt the name of one of their nutritionist experts! Going vegetarian or vegan offers tremendous benefits to health (including mental health) as well as the environment. All major health bodies (including the World Health Organisation, the World Cancer Research Fund and Public Health England) are shifting their advice towards more plant-based eating. Isn’t it about time the Daily Mail stopped giving such bad advice?

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