Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, asked “that food be your food and food, your medicine.” The vegan diet could be the best option?
Tec Review he consulted four Mexican nutritionists, who agree on one point: the vegan diet always has to be monitored by specialists; if not, there could be risks.
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Vegan diet, beneficial for health?
“The vegan diet completely excludes any food of animal origin ”, he clarifies Anais Karina Ruiz Calderon, has a degree in nutrition from the Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango (UJED).
And the exclusion is total, because not only are eggs, milk and meat out of this diet, but also honey, because it comes from an animal: the bee.
This restriction on the diversity of food groups forces us to consume industrialized substitutes that, although not of animal origin, may not be as good for health.
“They are ultra-processed products that are considered vegan and people buy them with the idea that they are healthy, but the problem is that they do not read the label where the ingredients are specified,” he says.
According to this UJED specialist, these foods, usually made from soybeans, act as meat or milk; however, they have high and undesirable levels of preservatives, artificial flavors, and sodium.
“Others are imitation of cupcakes and desserts, they have neither egg nor milk, but they substitute them with chemicals and a lot of sugar. If they are always consuming this, it will not bring them nutrients, but only empty calories, ”he says.
For these reasons, Ruiz Calderón affirms that a vegan diet, per se, is not necessarily healthy. “You always have to have the advice of a professional”.
Fashion is not synonymous with health
Fernanda Meizoso Calvillo She is a clinical nutritionist and attends hundreds of patients in her office located in San Luis Potosí.
His experience has also led him to have reservations about the popularity of the vegan diet.
“Now it is very fashionable and many times it continues to lose weight, but it doesn’t really help this, because generally foods with more protein of vegetable origin also have many carbohydrates that make you fat, “he talks.
Among those foods, according to Meizoso Calvillo, are beans, which a vegan would have to eat abundantly to reach the necessary amount of protein, but also have carbohydrates, contraindicated to reduce sizes.
It is a complex task to achieve nutritional balance when eating a vegan diet.
Therefore, those who choose it usually consume nutritional supplements, which requires professional vigilance.
“You have to be checking how the liver and kidney function because when the patient is supplemented with an excess of vitamins and proteins, these can cause liver or kidney damage,” he warns.
Meizoso talks that I would never recommend the vegan diet to children, much less to those who are breastfeeding.
“There are vegan mothers who do not want to breastfeed their children and start giving them pure soy milk, but this causes them malnutrition.”
In addition, this expert says that it is not advisable to give children food supplements instead of food of animal origin, because they do not yet have the liver or kidneys developed to support this strategy.
“Studies have also shown that people who stop eating animal products become more depressed and prone to depression and suicide,” he adds.
According to this nutritionist, the vegan diet is not recommended for a person with diabetes, because it tends to become a diet rich in carbohydrates, which generate glucose peaks.
Similarly, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are not favored by a diet rich in carbohydrates, because they generate greater production of carbon dioxide that, when exhaled, causes a sensation of suffocation, according to this expert.
However, Meizoso says that as a nutrition professional, he also provides vegan diets to those who request them. Then you have to design personalized plans so that your health is never at risk.
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A difficult balance to strike
Cecilia Sommer Finkelman, a researcher attached to the Mexican Association of Nutriology (AMENAC), states that although nutritional strategies can supply many nutrients of animal origin, there is an exception: b12 vitamin.
This substance, in addition to helping to keep neurons and blood cells in good condition, contributes to the production of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a genetic substrate present in all cells.
It also prevents a type of anemia, called megaloblastic anemia, that causes tiredness and weakness in people, according to the website of the National Institutes of Health, in the United States.
“It is the only nutrient necessary for humans that is not found in any food of plant origin. So vegan people have to consume it through injections or supplements, ”says Sommer Finkelman.
Another nutrient that the vegan diet might lack is iron, because its quality is higher in animal products than in any other type of food, according to Sommer.
“Foods of animal origin have a type of iron called heme iron that is easier for the body to absorb, that is, it is more bioavailable”
So vegan people usually get iron from sources such as lentils, chickpeas and spinach, but this element is not heme and, therefore, its bioavailability is lower.
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The golden parameter
To clarify more doubts, Sommer during the telephone interview considers it convenient to publicize his nutritional gold standard: the egg.
“Proteins are like pearl necklaces and each pearl is an amino acid, and the protein with all the amino acids that the body needs is found in the egg.”
However, there is no single vegetable that has this nutritional richness, so vegans are forced to make combinations, which must be supervised by health professionals.
“When only vegetable protein is ingested, the patient is faced with the fact that legumes have a limiting amino acid and cereals have another limiting amino acid,” says Sommer.
This means that, by themselves, neither of the two food groups meets the amino acid requirement, which is why Sommer makes the following recommendation.
“Both have to be combined; for example, a bolillo (cereal) with beans (legumes) provides all the amino acids that the body needs ”.
The superfood controversy
For decades there has been a trend to stop consuming foods of animal origin for environmental or ethical reasons, he points out. Isa Karen Czacki Halkin, first secretary owner of the Mexican College of Nutritionists (CMN).
Reviewing recent history, it can be discovered that the vegan diet is the successor to another diet that was also in fashion, according to this specialist.
“About 35 years ago the macrobiotic diet was very similar to the current vegan diet, also full of supplements. But now people also use so-called “superfoods”.
These superfoods are generally seeds and plants with outstanding nutritional properties, although many times not greater than those of conventional foods.
“The current scientific evidence is not conclusive about the health benefits that the intake of the so-called superfoods entails,” reads a study by the Faculty of Medicine of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM).
In addition, bringing them to the table is usually very expensive, since sometimes they come from the other side of the planet, which is not in accordance with the alleged principle of sustainability.
“So if a person on a vegan diet consumes turmeric as a supplement, they should know that this plant comes from India. So what had to happen for there to be turmeric in your house? “
This question points to the entire transportation process in which ships or airplanes surely participated, which generate the damage to the environment that vegans want to reduce based on the origin of their diet. It is paradoxical.
The other option: ovolactovegetarianism
Isa Karen says that many teenagers have come to her office eager to follow a vegan diet, generally motivated by the advice of influencers on the network.
“They want to be vegan, but they are still growing, so it is not the right thing to do. So I look for another alternative that can be an ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet in which they don’t consume meat, but they do consume dairy and eggs ”.
This nutritionist, with 29 years of experience, emphasizes that the vegan diet can only be suitable for people over 20 years of age, because it is not until that age that the body suspends the development started in childhood.
“I had to see the case of a teenage girl who became vegan and started having thyroid problems. So sometimes drastic changes in diet can trigger disease. “
In addition, this CMN nutritionist explains that to have a correct vegan diet it is necessary to spend between 3,000 and 4,000 pesos, which could be achieved with much less money following a normal or ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet.
Isa Karen concludes with a reflection, regarding the importance of food as the foundation of biological existence.
“Sometimes the nutritionist is the last specialist that people with a disease look for, when they were convinced that they had to get to the basics: learn to eat.”
In this way, the maxim said almost 2,500 years ago by Hippocrates, author of the oath that health professionals solemnly pronounce during their graduation, is reaffirmed.