Thoughts on Earthlings Documentary, Including Potential Problems
with a Strict Vegan Diet
By Dr. Ben
grateful that my recent blog entry on the documentary Earthlings
generated widespread interest (more than 12,000 unique views within
48 hours of its posting), and that it caused many of our readers
to consider the impact that all of our daily food and lifestyle
choices have on other living creatures.
following comment left by a reader named Mike Lautermilch gives
voice to what I feel is one of the main messages of Earthlings:
we feel we must kill an animal for some legitimate purpose, death
should be instantaneous, unsuspected, and as non-traumatic as
possible. If at any time, for any reason, it looks as though a
quick, non-traumatic death of an animal is not possible to deliver,
then it should be postponed until it IS possible."
confident that Mr. Lautermilch would agree that this philosophy
of minimizing unnecessary suffering is also applicable to how living
creatures should be treated at all times, not just to how they should
be treated in the moment before they are about to die.
of readers wrote in to ask why I believe that it is difficult for
most people to experience their best health while following a 100
percent vegan diet for more than several years.
come to this belief through my own personal experiences and also
through my experiences as a health care provider.
some of the reasons mentioned in Earthlings plus personal
health purposes, I chose to adopt a 100 percent vegan diet in the
summer of 1999 following a 14-day water fast. I stayed on this diet
for close to four years. But I only felt like I was optimally supporting
my health for the first two of those years. The last two years were
marked by low energy, constant cravings for some animal foods, skin
breakouts, and emotional lows that I had never previously experienced.
strict vegan diet consisted of plenty of fresh leafy greens, tomatoes,
bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, sprouts, many varieties of steamed
greens, steamed root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, hard
squashes, carrots, and red beets, whole grains like brown rice and
quinoa, a wide variety of fruits (including avocados), legumes like
chickpeas and red beans, and small amounts of raw nuts and seeds.
I also drank fresh lettuce-based vegetable juices a few times a
did I stick with this diet for the two years during which I suffered
with health challenges? Because I had faith in the books that I
had read on this topic, and in the guidance that a few prominent
physicians had given me. If these doctors and the folks I read about
in books could be healthy on a pure vegan diet for decades, I was
convinced that I could follow their footsteps.
some point during my trials as a non-thriving strict vegan, I found
a series of articles by natural health writer, Chet Day, that outlined
some of the potential
problems with being on a pure vegan diet for the long term.
These articles were a real turning point for my health, as they
helped me to finally snap out of my cloud of unquestioning faith
in people who insist that a pure vegan diet is the best diet for
organic eggs from free-range birds, cod liver oil, and a small amount
of fish to my diet. Over a period of about three months, this minor
adjustment to my diet lifted the quality of my health in a significant
way. My energy came back, my cravings disappeared, I stopped having
skin breakouts, and most notably, I felt physically strong again.
I vividly remember going from being able to do about 3 sets of 10
pull-ups before getting exhausted to being able to do 100 full body
weight pull-ups within 20-30 minutes (in sets, with rest in between
sets). To have my stamina and strength come back in such a short
period of time was a remarkable experience.
after restoring my health by adding a few clean animal foods to
my diet, I discovered that the folks who had originally convinced
me to follow a pure vegan diet actually added small amounts of raw,
organic cheese and, in one case, organic eggs to their meals. To
put it simply, I was astonished that they felt that "sprinkling
a little goat's cheese on my salad" was not an important point
to share with folks who are desperate for comprehensive guidance
on how to recover from serious health conditions.
this day, I cannot understand how some people can pound home the
message of being 100 percent vegan for optimal health while they
include small amounts of animal foods in their diets at home. The
only explanation that I can think of is that they might feel that
by admitting to using small amounts of animal foods, their philosophies
are not as tight as they would like them to be, which might cause
people to take the idea of "everything in moderation"
in the wrong direction. Put another way, maybe these folks feel
that if they say that there is a little room for animal foods, then
people will go from eating small amounts here and there to going
right back to a meat-based, sugar-laden, standard North American
diet, which is clearly not a health-promoting diet. But who knows
what these folks are really thinking - I'm just speculating on what
might motivate such incongruent behavior.
like to add that I know people who I believe have been 100 percent
strict vegans for many years, some approaching two decades. But
the folks I know who fall into this category have always been honest
about health challenges that they have. I respect these people because
I know that they are deeply committed to being strict vegans even
in the face of having health challenges that I believe are partly
associated with being on a strict vegan diet. I can't say that all
of them attribute their health challenges to a strict vegan diet,
but the point is that they are honest about their diet and health.
brings me to an important point: if you are thriving on a strict
vegan diet (no animal foods ever, including eggs and dairy), I am
happy for you. Truly, if I could thrive on a 100 percent vegan diet,
I would go back to it this instant. How could I not after having
you wish to adopt a strict vegan diet because Earthlings
has moved you to do so, I wish you the very best, and I hope that
you thrive in the short and long term.
hope that if you develop chronic health problems like low energy,
skin breakouts, weak teeth and gums, brittle hair, weak nails, or
unusual emotional instability, you do not stick to a 100 percent
vegan diet over the long term just because someone has told you
that you are just detoxing or that you just need to work at handling
stress in a healthier way. Yes, it is possible to experience beneficial
cleansing reactions while on a strict vegan diet, but there is a
difference between cleansing over a range of a few days to a couple
of years versus having long standing health problems related to
malnourishment. And malnourishment can happen with any type of diet,
including a strict vegan diet.
line on this point: don't let another person's opinion overpower
the realities of your health status; if you are having health problems
while on a strict vegan diet, look to make some adjustments that
make sense to you. By all means, try to make non-dietary lifestyle
adjustments first, like getting more sleep or regularly engaging
in meditation/prayer/relaxation sessions. But if you continue to
have health problems despite going through a fair trial of such
lifestyle adjustments, please don't ignore the possibility that
some dietary modifications may help you like they have helped me,
dozens of people who have visited my clinic for guidance on this
issue, and many other former strict vegans.
follows is a list of nutrients that people on 100 percent vegan
diets stand a greater-than-normal chance of becoming deficient in
over the long term:
compounds found in algae are known as vitamin B12 analogues, and
are not reliable substitutes for real vitamin B12.
B12 that is produced by bacteria that live in your intestines is
mainly produced in your large intestine (colon). Since absorption
of nutrients occurs in the upper third of your small intestine,
most vitamin B12 that is produced by intestinal bacteria cannot
make it into your blood to nourish your cells.
foods are the only reliable concentrated dietary sources of naturally
occurring vitamin B12.
and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids that are not found in plant foods,
with the exception of seaweed. Yes, your body is capable of converting
an omega-3 fatty acid called ALA, found in many plant foods, to
DHA and EPA. But the conversion from ALA to DHA and EPA is not always
an efficient process for some people. For more information on this
topic, view the following article: Making
Sense of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
are no plant foods that contain vitamin A. A variety of plant foods
contain antioxidants called carotenoids that can be converted to
vitamin A in your blood, but there is evidence which indicates that
carotenoids are not always efficiently absorbed, which can result
in a vitamin A deficiency if you do not eat any foods that contain
actual vitamin A. For more information on this topic, view the following
Foods that Contain Vitamin A.
and Saturated Fats
cholesterol and saturated fats are needed by your body for many
important functions. For more information on this topic, view the
Healthy vs. Unhealthy
Fats and Oils
there are small amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats in plant
foods, a strict vegan diet is typically low in dietary cholesterol
and saturated fats, unless palm oil and/or coconut oil are staples.
your body can manufacture cholesterol from other nutrients, if your
saturated fat intake is low, you stand a good chance of having low
blood cholesterol, which can increase your risk of suffering from
a variety of health challenges, many of them related to endocrine
dysfunction, as cholesterol is needed to manufacture reproductive
and stress-related hormones.
Iron and Calcium
vegans who regularly eat whole grains that have not been soaked,
fermented, or sprouted stand a higher-than-average risk of developing
mineral deficiencies, the most common of which are zinc, iron, and
grains that are not soaked, fermented, or sprouted have high levels
of phytic acid in their bran, which can bind onto these minerals
in your small intestine, preventing them from getting absorbed into
your blood stream.
on my personal and professional experiences, I have come to believe
that a predominately plant-based diet is a health-promoting diet
for the vast majority of people in our world. By "predominately
plant-based," I mean fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, properly
prepared whole grains, legumes, and small amounts of nuts and seeds.
Add to such a diet small amounts of clean animal foods, and I think
you have a well balanced and nutritionally complete diet for most
you wish to avoid all flesh meats for reasons cited in Earthlings,
then perhaps you can consider organic eggs from birds that are humanely
treated as your source of animal-based nutrients. If you can tolerate
dairy products, you can also consider organic varieties, preferably
those that are raw and from cows, goats, or sheep that are allowed
to live in relative peace.
beyond the realm of our food choices, let's remember that the clothes
and shoes that we choose to wear, the accessories, furniture, and
toys that we choose to use, the pets that we choose to acquire/adopt,
and the entertainment that we seek are choices that can also contribute
to unnecessary suffering of animals.
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