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Vegan diet not good for you?

health and fitness Updated: Sep 05, 2010 17:31 IST
Rochelle Pinto
Rochelle Pinto
Hindustan Times
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Angelina Jolie recently stated that being a vegan nearly killed her, and she would never give up red meat again. The diet, which advocates staying away from milk, milk products and meat, has sparked a heated debate among health experts. Nutritionist Jyoti Lalwani explains that the movement started as a revolt against processed foods and “unethical” food practices.

“Vegans believe that milk is not meant for adults, it’s meant for young ones for whom it is an early source of nutrition. They also don’t eat meat because that’s taking a life; even eggs are out of the question,” she says, adding, “For these people, fruits and vegetables provide the main source of nutrients.” But she agrees that this kind of diet is deficient in proteins and certain vitamins.

“You need to get the right amount of calories and proteins. Quite a few vegans fall short of proteins because they don’t eat meat or drink milk. They need to then increase their intake of dry fruits, pulses and add sprouts or chana to their diet.”

The more extreme vegans even stop eating wheat because they avoid all processed food. “Another thing you miss out on is vitamin B12. There is no source of it in a vegetarian diet. The lack of this vitamin could lead to muscle weakness in old age.” Vegans are advised to take B12 supplements along with their meals.

Adopt it with care
On the upside, the high intake of fibre and natural water through fruits and vegetables helps flush toxins out of the body. While Lalwani isn’t completely opposed to the diet, nutritionist Madhuri Ruia is set against it. “It’s unnatural and no human being can survive healthily on this diet,” she insists, adding, “It accelerates muscle wasting, giving you a gaunt look which is unhealthy and puts you on the fast track to ageing.”

She adds, “Some people believe that spirulina is a replacement for B12, but it isn’t. And since the body needs a synthesis of vitamins and minerals to function properly, you are interfering with your natural bodily functions.” While arguments for and against the lifestyle persist, all dietitians agree that it is unsafe to adopt this diet without the advice of a professional.

“I’ve had some patients referred to me by doctors because they adopted this diet on their own and fell very ill,” says Lalwani. “If you’re going to persist in adopting it, especially if you are not used to this lifestyle, then only do so after consulting a dietitian.”