The BBC seem hell-bent on pointing out the dangers of a plant-based diet even though we are living in the midst of an obesity and diabetes epidemic largely caused by poor diets containing meat and dairy foods.
The EPIC-Oxford study published in the BMJ that their scare-story is based on suggests that vegetarians (including vegans) have a much lower risk of heart disease but may have a higher risk of stroke.
Throughout the article vegetarians and vegans are grouped together – and they were in the study too. This is the key flaw. The authors of the study state that “owing to the small number of vegans, vegetarians and vegans were combined as one diet group in the main analyses”.
In fact, vegans made up only 2.8 per cent of the total participants in the study, and only 12.1 per cent of the ‘vegetarian’ group they were lumped into. This means that the results taken from this category are not representative of vegans.
“When we assessed vegetarians and vegans separately, the point estimates [risk] for vegans were lower for ischaemic heart disease and higher for total stroke than meat-eaters, but neither estimate was statistically significant, possibly because of the small number of cases in vegans”.
Neither estimate was statistically significant.
So pretty meaningless – scientists don’t count results that are not statistically significant! Previous studies, including another EPIC-Oxford study, found no such difference for vegans in stroke mortality.
The authors say that vegetarians and vegans in their cohort had lower levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D and long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA) and suggest that may contribute to the observed association. This data was collected 20 years ago and vegans are now a lot more aware of the importance of vitamin B12. Public Health England have also changed their advice to suggest that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement, and hopefully intakes reflect that now. Similarly, omega-3 has gained some attention and vegan EPA and DHA supplements are available.
What is significant is that in the UK there are more than 100,000 hospital admissions each year due to heart attacks: that’s one every five minutes. One of the main contributing factors is a poor diet, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol – but that doesn’t make such a good headline. Don't let stories like this put you off, a varied vegan diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds with a reliable source of B12 will provide all you need!
The BBC have an out-dated view on what constitutes a healthy diet. They probably still think we should all be having a glass of warm milk before bed! Come on Auntie, keep up with the times!
Find out what major health bodies say about vegan diets here.