Why Going Vegan Isn’t As Simple As You Think

Veganism has become increasingly popular over the years, and many people make the switch for health and environmental reasons. Unfortunately, there may be a chance that being vegan might not actually be meeting your intended goals. 

Healthier Choices

Compared to an omnivorous diet, veganism has been found to consistently be a healthier diet in terms of body weight, nutritional intake, and nutritional quality and quantity1, but it isn’t a magical solution to all your health problems. You still have to make healthy food choices. Here’s some things to keep in mind:

Nutritional Content

Things like crispy cauliflower or vegan fries are deep fried and can be high in trans fats, which raise your blood cholesterol levels2. A vegan chocolate chip zucchini muffin from JJ Bean3 might be super enticing, but it still contains a whopping 570 calories4, just over 1/4 of the average daily recommended caloric intake5

Meat Replacements

Meat replacement products may not be as healthy as you think either. Take a look at the list of ingredients in a vegan burger – they aren’t necessarily a bunch of vegetables ground together in the shape of a patty. You might be surprised at how long the list is, and how many things you don’t recognize. The Beyond Meat Burger6 contains just as many calories as a regular beef patty burger, is much higher in sodium, and contains processed ingredients like methyl cellulose and pea protein isolate7 8

Vitamin B12

Vegans are also at risk for being Vitamin B12 deficient, an important vitamin in central nervous system function9. Supplements are often recommended, but synthesis of Vitamin B’s do not necessarily have sustainable procedures10, and it may be possible to receive sufficient Vitamin B12 from fortified foods, like some soy products or plant based milks11 12. It also calls into question the efficacy of a vegan diet, especially when vitamin intake can be supplied by diet alone.

Environmental Impact

Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? If you’re really worried of your carbon footprint, that weekly grocery shop might be having a bigger impact than you think. It is undeniable that the environmental impacts of animal based foods are larger than plant-based foods, but it still requires some thought13. Certain vegan food choices have larger environmental impacts than others, and some can even be largely deceiving.

Imported Fruit

Seasonal fruit and vegetable production is largely dependant on transport. In the UK, fruits and vegetables account for 2-2.5% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and around 10-12.5% of total food related emissions14. Airfreighted produce transporting fruits and vegetables are greenhouse gas intensive and areas like the Netherlands even have energy intensive heated greenhouses14. Fruits and vegetables are also largely dependant on cold storage up until they hit the shelves14.

Land Use

Soy is a predominant ingredient found in vegan friendly foods like soy sauce, oils and meat substitutes15. Agricultural focus in Brazil has shifted away from the destruction of the rainforest to the Cerrado, where the largest area of soy exportation occurs16. The Cerrado – a tropical savanna in Brazil and a massive storehouse for carbon dioxide – is dissapearing four times faster than the rainforest16. However, I think it’s important to point out that in 2014, 75% of this soy become animal feed17

So what’s the takeaway? Choosing to go vegan still requires some thought and effort. Whatever your reasons are, do your research. You might be surprised that your choices have larger consequences than expected on your health and the environment. If being vegan isn’t for you, it also doesn’t have to be absolute. Have a meatless weekend. Order your latte with plant based milk once in a while. Eat local. Every little thing can help your health and the environment.

  1. Comparison of the Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet – https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/3/1318/htm[]
  2. Effect of Dietary trans Fatty Acids on High-Density and Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels in Healthy Subjects –https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199008163230703[]
  3. JJ Bean Coffee Roasters – https://jjbeancoffee.com[]
  4. JJ Bean Nutritional Info – https://jjbeancoffee.com/wp-content/uploads/JJ-Nutritional-Info_FOOD_FEB-8_2018.pdf[]
  5. Dietary Reference Intakes – https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/migration/hc-sc/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/nutrition/dri_tables-eng.pdf[]
  6. The Beyond Meat Burger – https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/the-beyond-burger/[]
  7. Beyond Meat says its burgers are healthier than beef. Health experts aren’t so sure – https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/beyond-meat-burger-beef-health-risks-1.5220777[]
  8. Dietary fibre sources and human benefits: The case study of cereal and pseudo cereals – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043452619300178[]
  9. Vimain B12, Folic Acid, and the Nervous System – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17052662[]
  10. Microbial cell factories for the sustainable manufacturing of B vitamins – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0958166918300740[]
  11. Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet – https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/3/1318/htm[]
  12. Serum concentrations of vitamin B12 and folate in British male omnivores, vegetarians and vegans: results from a cross-sectional analysis of the EIPC-Oxford cohort study – https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn2010142[]
  13. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1[]
  14. Fruit and Vegetables & UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Exploring the Relationship – https://www.fcrn.org.uk/sites/default/files/Fruitnveg_paper_2006.pdf[][][]
  15. WWF and Soy – https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/soy[]
  16. Soy boom devours Brazil’s tropical savanna – https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/brazil-deforestation/[][]
  17. Soy: The Biggest Food Crop We Never Talk About – https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/winter-2015/articles/soy-the-biggest-food-crop-we-never-talk-about[]

1 Comment

I, too, have wondered about the environmental impact of transportation for fruits and vegetables for those of us in a northern climate who are eating in the winter fruit and vegetables which really are not normal for us. Is then a vegetarian diet one we northerners should be eating? All in moderation, as your last paragraph indicates