It seems to be the latest craze: go vegan! Avoid meats, eggs, dairy products, etc! Everyone is doing it - the news if full of stories about celebrities and popular figures who have reportedly dedicated their minds and lives to the vegan diet. Here's a simple example: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20762485,00.html.
What IS the 'vegan' diet? As stated before, it is simply abstaining from all animal products or anything associated with animals. This is the definition in its strictest terms, although today, many people call themselves vegan even if they don't follow these particular restrictions. Anyhow, why the hype about this way of eating? What makes it so special and amazing?
Let's talk about the nutritional evidence. Studies have shown that vegans have lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney stones, obesity, cancer, and more. NOTE however that this is an association, which means that the vegan diet did NOT cause the lower risk of adverse health events. Why does this association occur? Is it because vegans avoid meat and dairy products? The answer is complex, but simply put, the vegan diet is mainly made of fruits and vegetables, which are known to be healthy and have many benefits. However, I want to challenge you with some questions regarding the vegan diet and its supposedly 'miraculous' health effects:
1) What is I follow the vegan diet and eat fried veggies? Also, fruit with chocolate sauce? Is this still the so called 'extremely healthy' diet, as purposed?
2) What if I avoid meats as stated? And, I replace this with jelly beans, chocolate, and beer? Will this diet decrease my risk of cancer and all other health illnesses?
3) What are the reasons for going vegan? Is it religious? Is it because I think that it is the 'cool' thing to do, and everyone else is doing it?
I think the points above do a modest job of illustrating that the vegan diet is not all its made to be in the media and news. Religiously, some people may adopt this lifestyle - and that is perfectly fine. Others may decide to be vegan because they want to show their support and love for animals. I am not saying that any reason for following the vegan lifestyle is incorrect. What I AM saying is that you must now fall pretty into what the media says simply because 'everyone is doing it'.
You need to realize that the vegan diet, if followed by its truest nature, can be very healthy. But this is assuming that you focus on fruits and veggies that are natural (ex. not fried, cooked in butter, etc), and include many whole grains and fibre. But, really, is meat and dairy bad? No. Meat provides iron, zinc, vitamin B 12, and more. Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D, and also provide many other nutrients. What is the lesson to learn? Mainly, that a well-balanced diet is the best way to go. You need not eliminate certain foods just to be 'healthy'. If you eat everything in moderation (yes, including desserts), you will be healthy. If you exercise, reduce stress, and make time to relax, you can reduce your risk for many illnesses. You need not go 'vegan' simply because the media says that this is the best thing to do for weight loss and health. In fact, there are many ways to lose weight, all of which can include eating all foods in moderation.
What I also want you to be aware of is the influence of the news and media on our views. See how the media made veganism seem so wonderful? Each time a celebrity announces that they will eat a vegan diet, they are featured on the front cover of a magazine. Why? Who really cares what the president is eating for lunch? Does it matter what Beyoncé decides to drink for breakfast? No. But the media KNOWS that this will catch our attention, and that doing so will attract viewers. Studies may show that veganism is healthy, but you need to remember that these studies are associations - they cannot prove (nor do they) that veganism alone causes decreased health problems. Remember that we also have to think of genetics, exercise, stress, smoking, alcohol, medications, health history, and more. A healthy diet that includes all foods from all food groups can be balanced and healthy. If you are vegan by choice, remember to include foods that will provide you with enough nutrients and vitamins. If you aren't vegan and were thinking about it, reflect on this post and think about how the media may be influencing your choice. I am not purposing that one way of living is better than the rest. What I AM saying is that we all need to eat healthy foods in moderation and to enjoy food...and we need to be aware of how the media and others may skew our perceptions and beliefs. As always, my message to you is this: be informed before you make a decision, and look for credible sources of information that give you the full picture, not just what the messenger WANTS you to hear.