If you are totally new to veganism, please read “The Plant Plate” first. This vegan eating guide by RD Ginny Messina will tell you all that is necessary for being a healthy vegan. That guide basically shows how I eat.
If there’s one thing the media can be counted on to do with regularity, it is bashing veganism by conflating it with eating disorders. Every time an ex-vegan blogger or celebrity shares their story about why they stopped being vegan, usually with horror stories about how sick they became, the media and many people jump at the chance to portray veganism as an extreme, unhealthy diet that will ruin your health.
It almost always seems the “vegan” in question was mainly motivated by health fanaticism, and had an eating disorder. Besides this, they were usually a devoted follower of one or more quack gurus who advocate a variety of unnecessary restrictions and practices that have nothing to do with veganism. The only things these restrictions do is make it harder to follow a vegan diet than it should be. They do not make it healthier.
Unfortunately, overly restrictive eating has become a little too common these days in the vegan/plant-based community due to the many gurus who advocate some or all of what is on the list below. It’s time to set the record straight about what really constitutes a healthy vegan diet/lifestyle. However, instead of “here’s what you need to do to be a healthy vegan” kind of post with health tips virtually everyone already knows, I thought I would do it from the other direction. So in the interest of making a vegan diet as easy, practical, healthful, and science-based as possible, here are 10 things that aren’t necessary for being a healthy vegan:
1) Eat only organic
Contrary to what you may have heard, organic isn’t necessarily healthier. Yet many vegans are very committed to eating mostly or nothing but organic due to the belief that conventional foods are laden with disease-causing pesticides and toxins.
The scientific evidence however doesn’t consistently show that organic is healthier. Organic foods also have pesticide residue on them, both natural and synthetic. The amount of pesticide residue is generally minuscule, and much of that can be washed off before consumption. The only thing going organic is almost certain to do is make your vegan diet/lifestyle more expensive.
As far as organic being better for the environment, that is controversial and beyond the scope of this post.
2) Go gluten-free
If you don’t have celiac disease or wheat allergy you don’t need to give up wheat or gluten-containing foods. Strangely, some vegans who don’t have celiac disease adhere to this as if gluten was a form of meat. They could be missing out on a lot of nutritious foods by going gluten-free. To make matters worse, gluten-free products are often more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts. Save your money and ignore this fad.
On second thought, you actually do need to detox. Fortunately, if your liver and kidneys are functioning properly, this is being done for you automatically. As far as “detoxing” through diet goes, this ritual often seems to be the common denominator of those who become “vegan” as a result of being health-obsessed. All-too-often, I stumble upon a vegan health blog that recommends a juice fasting regimen and/or worthless supplements to help the body “detoxify”. This is pseudo-scientific garbage. It’s a great idea for most people to eat or even drink more fruits and vegetables, but they won’t help you remove “toxins”. If you believe you’ve been poisoned, skip the juice bar and seek medical help.
4) Give up soy
This is very similar to going gluten-free in which a perfectly healthy food is demonized for no good reason. Unless you have a soy allergy, there’s no good reason to avoid soy foods. The idea that eating soy foods will give men feminine traits is hooey. If you don’t have thyroid issues, it’s very unlikely that soy in moderation will interfere with your thyroid.
5) Eliminate processed food 100%
I don’t believe that eating healthy should mean completely abstaining from processed foods. Of course, “processed food” isn’t easy to define, but foods that contain a lot of sodium, added sugars, or other additives is a good approximation. Eating a mostly whole food diet is a good idea, but I don’t think that should mean you can’t occasionally eat processed food like meat analogues for convenience. Studies don’t show that eating some processed foods will ruin your health if your diet is healthy otherwise.
6) Spirulina supplements
This type of supplement, which is derived from cyanobacteria(blue-green algae), is largely marketed toward athletes, vegan and non-vegan alike as an “energy booster” or “recovery” aid. It also supposedly has a plethora of other amazing health benefits that the “ambassadors” who push these magic pills on social media will be quick to inform you of. And it’s all nothing but hot air. I often call it “The Pond Scum Scam”.
While it is true that spirulina is nutritionally dense, and that NASA has done some research on it, there’s nothing unique to it that you can’t get from other plant foods for a lot less money. There’s also the potential for contamination and vitamin B12 analogue issues with this type of supplement, not to mention the unpleasant “fishy” taste some users complain about. Even though I’ve never tried them, the pseudo-science used in the promotion of these expensive supplements always left a bad taste in my mouth. Ignore the hype and just eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and eat trail mix or an energy bar after a vigorous workout.
7) Go 100% raw
I’ve already covered rawfoodism in “My Position on Rawfoodism“, but it deserves to be mentioned here because many of the “vegans” with eating disorders who fail at “veganism” were actually rawfoodists. It just really bothers me how much rawfoodism is intertwined with veganism these days.
As a former rawfoodist, I believe rawfoodism has little to do with health and is more about attaining some bizarre, quasi-spiritual level of “purity”. It’s difficult to find a justification for this kind of diet that isn’t based on some form of pseudo-science or the naturalistic fallacy. It’s even more difficult, in my experience, to stick to this diet. People who are drawn to this diet are often extreme perfectionists.
I keep hoping this dangerous fad will go away, but for some reason it continues to linger on as a thorn in the side of the vegan movement.
8) Give up all oil including olive oil
Already covered this here, but this also shows no sign of going away in spite of the potential for this to alienate the many millions of Mediterraneans, Hispanics and millions of others who love their olive oil. Besides this, fat helps you feel full and also helps you absorb fat-soluble nutrients. The tiny number of doctors and researchers who advocate this approach all seem to live in this bubble that is impervious to the latest scientific research which contradicts them. In moderation, fats like olive oil are healthful, and won’t ruin the health of vegans who eat a healthy diet.
9) Buying a Vitamix
The purchase of a Vitamix is often thought of as an important milestone in many a vegan’s journey. I don’t have one, or any blender for that matter, and neither do many other vegans I know, but some vegans can’t live without it.
Unlike other things on this list, there’s nothing wrong with purchasing a Vitamix or blender to make smoothies or prepare meals, it’s just that I don’t see it as being absolutely necessary. It’s great if you have one, but it’s also great if you don’t have one. I can just as easily eat my vegetables in salads, soups, sauces and pasta dishes without one.
10) Eat “clean”
“Clean eating” can loosely be thought of as combining most of what is on the list above. It can sort of be thought of as an umbrella term for eating organic, all-natural, whole food, and additive-free, often with a good helping of raw foods. Note that I didn’t say “animal food free” – “clean-eating” in essence has nothing to do with veganism or eating 100% plant-based for that matter. Granted, some health vegans may think of their diet as the ultimate “clean” diet because to them animal foods are totally “unclean”, but this ignores the fact that most “clean eaters” are not vegan.
“Clean eating” overlaps to a large degree with rawfoodism, and has similar motivations in that it’s based on an obsession with purity.”Clean eating” is also interrelated with detox pseudo-science, since if you should fail to adhere to your strict “clean eating” regimen for even one meal, all you gotta do is “detox” to reverse all the supposed negative health effects the toxic food caused. Since so many different, and mutually contradictory dietary approaches are embracing the “clean eating” trend, it can’t be rigorously or universally defined. Indeed, except to the extent that it implies a health or purity obsession, or an embrace of pseudo-science, “clean eating” is almost meaningless.
Besides all this, “clean eating” smacks of dietary elitism, and the sooner we get rid of this annoying term, the better.
These are just a few of the things vegans don’t have to do to be healthy. I could have listed many more, but I didn’t want to go on forever. I chose to list these not just because of how common they are but also because of how they increase the chances of failing at veganism. To the people who continue to advocate things on this list: Please stop making veganism more complicated than it has to be!
If you think I missed any big ones, feel free to mention them in the comments.
Followup to this post: 5 More Things That Aren’t Necessary For Being a Healthy Vegan
The 5 biggest mistakes vegans make with their nutrition
Vegan Diets and Orthorexia: How Should Activists Respond?
It’s seitan, not satan: Why ‘clean eating’ and other unnecessary restrictions harm veganism and individuals