Are all vegans healthy?

Achieving optimum health is a personal choice for vegans, says DR PAUL PALMER. Here, he offers some simple guidelines

In my first article for the SAVS newsletter, I would like to address an issue with which I’m sure most vegans are quite familiar. Have you ever heard someone say ‘but I know a vegan who got cancer’, or ‘I have a vegan friend who is fat’, or something along these lines? These kinds of comments can be really frustrating, because although vegans are commonly referred to as being much healthier, these statements are also true. Some vegans are unhealthy. How can this be?

The fact is that vegans can be very unhealthy. The word ‘vegan’ just means that the person doesn’t consume any animal products (which I am all for!) but it doesn’t factor in macronutrient ratios, antioxidant consumption, fibre consumption etc. In essence, there are those who become vegan for ethical reasons and do not worry about the health issue as much, which is a personal choice with individual consequences.

My goal is to help those who want to achieve their optimum health in an easy, sustainable way and this can mean saying some things that people don’t want to hear. For instance, coconut oil is not a health food and should be used sparingly. In fact, any oil! Now don’t get me wrong; some awesome vegan food contains oils and I love it, but I keep it infrequent and try to use oil in only one of my meals in the day, if at all. Oils that occur naturally – like in nuts and avocado – are okay, but this is where we need to discuss macronutrient ratios.

Macronutrients are your proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and many vegans have heard of the 80/10/10 ratio – 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 10% fat as a percentage breakdown of the total calories you eat in a day. Now for some perspective on fats (oils)… Did you know that one gram of fat yields nine calories of energy, while one gram of carbohydrate or protein only yields four calories of energy? It is the energy density of fats and oils that throws the natural 80/10/10 ratio out of balance and can lead to illness, disease and weight gain in vegans.

The aim, for those who want to put health first, is to stay on a high-carb diet keeping as close to 80% of total calories as carbs from whole plant foods (rice, quinoa, beans, potatoes, fruits etc.). If you were to look at a fruit-based raw vegan compared to a raw vegan consuming nuts, avocado and seeds daily, you would find that the percentage calories from fat is much higher in the vegan consuming way more nuts and seeds etc. While these foods are great, they should not feature as the majority of calories for meals.

The fundamentals when aiming for optimum health as a vegan should be simple. At least 80% of your calories should come from a variety of whole foods. This will keep the healthy carbohydrates coming in as well as fibre and antioxidants. Limit the usage of refined carbohydrates (sugar sweets, candy cakes etc.) and oils, as mentioned – while they do help to keep people on track (because everyone loves a treat), they must be limited. Also, remember to remain properly hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day (a good indicator is the colour of your urine – the more it looks like water the better).

Just using these easy guidelines will definitely start improving your vegan journey. Please feel free to email me paul@vegansociety.org.za or any one of our volunteers at hello@vegansociety.org.za for guidance. This lifestyle is about enjoying the health benefits of being a compassionate eater so let’s strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be. This way, we can, through our vitality, inspire others to do the same.

Dr Paul Palmer is a practicing chiropractor in Johannesburg. He has completed a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell University and consults with his plant-based nutrition clients via video conferencing. Dr Paul has proudly taken up the Health and Nutrition portfolio for SAVS and hopes to spread his healthy message far and wide.
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