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I have absolutely nothing against vegetarians or vegans, and this article is not about bashing anyone’s dietary choices.
There are some ethical and environmental arguments that can be made for avoiding meat, especially factory-farmed.
However, this is about debunking the claims that avoiding all animal foods is important from a health perspective, which is completely wrong.
Humans are omnivores, we evolved eating both animals and plants.
Saying that animal foods (meat, fish, eggs and dairy products) are inherently harmful is simply wrong, and there is a ton of evidence against it.
We’ve been eating these foods for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Most chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many forms of cancer are relatively new.
Blaming new health problems on these old foods simply doesn’t make sense!
If you ever find yourself in an argument with a vegan zealot, then feel free to use the studies and replies listed below.
Don’t forget to bookmark this page if you get into these arguments often!
Disclaimer: Many vegetarians and vegans are intelligent, compassionate people and are truly trying to make this world a better place. But there are many others who use lies and fear-mongering to persuade others to join the cause. That is unacceptable.
Vegan Says: “Red Meat Gives You Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes”
Answer: Two massive studies have looked into this recently, one from Harvard with 1,218,380 individuals, and another European study with 448,568 individuals.
They found no link between unprocessed red meat and heart disease, diabetes or the risk of death. The effect was only seen for processed meat.
- Micha R, et al. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation, 2010.
- Rohrmann S, et al. Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. BMC Medicine, 2013.
Vegan Says: “Meat Makes You Fat”
Answer: High-protein diets (high in meat) have actually been shown to help you lose weight, not gain it. They make you feel so full that you eat fewer calories, while boosting your metabolism.
Many studies show that a high protein intake causes automatic weight loss. Meat (especially lean meat) and other animal foods are the best sources of quality protein.
- Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Protein intake and energy balance. Regulatory Peptides, 2008.
- Weigle DS, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005.
- Leidy HJ, et al. The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2011.
Vegan Says: “Dietary Cholesterol is Bad For You”
Answer: Studies show that dietary cholesterol has no effect on blood cholesterol in the majority of people. It may cause a minor increase in some individuals, but a lot of that is coming from HDL and large LDL lipoproteins, which are good things.
In a massive study of 263,938 individuals, no link was found between eggs (high in cholesterol) and the risk of heart disease. However, this study showed an increased risk in the subset of people with type 2 diabetes.
- Fernandez ML. Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 2006.
- Rong Y, et al. Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. British Medical Journal, 2013.
Vegan Says: “Low-Carb Diets Are Dangerous”
Answer: Over 20 studies have shown that low carb diets are effective ways to lose weight, and tend to improve many important health markers like HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL pattern, blood pressure and blood sugars.
Additionally, we actually have a high quality study that compared Atkins, a low-carb diet, head-to-head against the Ornish diet, a low-fat vegetarian diet. The Atkins diet did better than the Ornish diet on all markers measured.
- Santos FL, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors. Obesity Reviews, 2012.
- Hession M, et al. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obesity Reviews, 2009.
- Westman EC, et al. Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007.
- Gardner CD; et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women. The A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial. The Journal of The American Medical Association, 2007.
Vegan Says: “Saturated Fat Raises Cholesterol and Causes Heart Disease”
Answer: Saturated fat actually raises HDL (the “good”) cholesterol and changes the LDL cholesterol from small to large, which is considered beneficial.
Two massive review studies have been published recently, one in 2010 and another in 2014, that found absolutely no association between saturated fat and heart disease.
- Dreon DM, et al. Change in dietary saturated fat intake is correlated with change in mass of large low-density-lipoprotein particles in men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1998.
- Siri-Tarino PW, et al. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010.
- Chowdhury R, et al. Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2014.
Vegan Says: “The Health Benefits of Vegan Diets Are Due to Avoiding Animal Foods”
Answer: Vegan diets are healthy because they also tend to eliminate processed foods, refined sugar, refined grains, trans fats and vegetable oils. It has nothing to do with avoiding the nutritious animal foods we’ve been eating throughout evolution.
Also, the average vegetarian/vegan tends to be more health conscious than the average meat eater, so chances are that they’re healthier for other reasons than avoiding animal foods.
A study that compared health conscious vegetarians to health conscious omnivores found no difference between the two.
- Baines S, et al. How does the health and well-being of young Australian vegetarian and semi-vegetarian women compare with non-vegetarians? Public Health Nutrition, 2007.
- Key TJ, et al. Dietary habits and mortality in 11,000 vegetarians and health conscious people: results of a 17 year follow up. British Medical Journal, 1996.
Vegan Says: “Red Meat Gives You Cancer”
Answer: It is true that processed meat is linked to increased risk of cancer (especially colorectal cancer), and also unprocessed red meat in some studies.
However, this appears to be more related to the way meat is cooked. Burning red meat can cause carcinogenic substances to form.
Two recent reviews on the relationship between unprocessed red meat consumption and cancer found that the link was weak and inconsistent for men, and nonexistent for women.
Processed meat is unhealthy, but unprocessed, gently cooked red meat is not. However, if you’re really concerned, then you can still eat chicken and fish, which have not been linked to cancer.
- Alexander DD, et al. Red meat and colorectal cancer: a critical summary of prospective epidemiologic studies. Obesity Reviews, 2011.
- Alexander DD, et al. Meta-analysis of prospective studies of red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2011.
Vegan Says: “The China Study Proves That Animal Protein is Harmful”
Answer: One book that many vegans like to cite as proof that all animal foods cause harm, is called The China Study.
This book was written by T. Colin Campbell, a vegan biochemist who conducted a massive study on the relationship between diet and disease in China.
However, he interpreted the data from his study in a highly misleading manner, which led him to find correlations that didn’t exist in reality.
Other professional epidemiologists (such as Harvard’s Walter Willet, MD, PhD and Frank Hu, MD, PhD) that analyzed the same data didn’t find any correlation with cancer or heart disease risk.
There is also another study from Asia with almost 300,000 participants, that actually found that meat was linked to reduced risk of death, reduced risk of heart disease in men, and reduced risk of cancer in women.
- Frank B Hu and Walter Willett. Reply to TC Campbell. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010.
- Lee JU. Meat intake and cause-specific mortality: a pooled analysis of Asian prospective cohort studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2013.
Vegan Says: “It is Possible to Get All Necessary Nutrients From Plants”
Answer: There are many nutrients that can not be gotten from commonly consumed plants. This includes vitamin B12, Omega-3s like DHA, as well as vitamin D3.
However, it is possible to get these nutrients from supplements, fortified foods or supplemental foods like algae.
Studies show that up to 83% of vegans are deficient in B12. Their vitamin D levels are also 74% lower, and Omega-3 levels 53-59% lower, compared to omnivores.
- Hermann W, et al. Vitamin B-12 status, particularly holotranscobalamin II and methylmalonic acid concentrations, and hyperhomocysteinemia in vegetarians. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003.
- Craig WJ, et al. Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2010.
- Rosell MS, et al. Long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in plasma in British meat-eating, vegetarian, and vegan men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005.
Answer: Many vegan proponents claim that dairy products contribute to osteoporosis. They claim that protein is “acid forming” and that increased acid in the blood leeches minerals from the bones.
However, a massive body of evidence, from both observational studies and randomized controlled trials, shows that dairy is one of the most beneficial foods you can eat for healthy bones.
Although dairy is not needed for bone health, the claim that it is harmful is the exact opposite of what the data shows.
- Chan GM, et al. Effects of dairy products on bone and body composition in pubertal girls. The Journal of Pediatrics, 1995.
- Baran D, et al. Dietary modification with dairy products for preventing vertebral bone loss in premenopausal women: a three-year prospective study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 1990.
- Prince R, et al. The effects of calcium supplementation (milk powder or tablets) and exercise on bone density in postmenopausal women. Journal of Bone Mineral Research, 1995.
- Wadolowska L, et al. Dairy products, dietary calcium and bone health: possibility of prevention of osteoporosis in women: the Polish experience. Nutrients, 2013.
Take Home Message
People can thrive on low-fat, low-carb and everything in between.
As with most things in nutrition, this depends entirely on the individual.
The biggest thing that all successful diets (or “ways of eating”) have in common is that they eliminate processed foods.
This is true of vegan diets, low carb diets, paleo diets and the well studied Mediterranean diet.
As long as the diet consists of whole, single ingredient foods, then it doesn’t matter whether the majority of calories comes from plants or animal foods.
If there are any other vegan/vegetarian myths that you’d like to see debunked, then please post them in the comments below!