Soy, almond milk or rather lentils? Seven claims about vegan or vegetarian food under the microscope

Is it dangerous to raise children vegan? Seven health claims about a meat- and dairy-low (and climate-friendly) diet under the microscope.

Maarten van Gestel

It is a message that is not fun for everyone, but which is increasingly supported by science. If you want to reduce your impact on the environment and climate, it is best to consume little or no meat and dairy. One of the largest meta-studies on this topic, first published in the journal science, says avoiding meat and dairy is “the best way” to reduce your carbon footprint. Beef sometimes has a ten to fifteen times greater climate impact than a vegetarian alternative, such as tofu or beans.

But can that also be healthy, such an (almost) vegan or vegetarian diet? Seven health claims about a meat- and dairy-restricted (and climate-friendly) diet.

1. Man is a carnivore. Eating meat is part of a healthy diet.

This is true and false at the same time, says health and nutrition professor Jaap Seidell. “We were developed as omnivores, which means that as a species we traditionally have meat and plants in our menu.” Humans indeed need all kinds of substances that are in meat and plant foods. Whoever completely stops consuming meat and dairy risks deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, iron and calcium.

“But many of these substances can be easily obtained from plant-based foods and meat substitutes,” says Seidell. According to the Nutrition Center vegetarians are fine if they eat enough vegetables and fruit, legumes, nuts and whole grain products, especially if they sometimes consume milk, cheese or an egg. Anyone who doubts whether he is getting enough nutrients – vegetarian or non-vegan – can fill in the Eetmeter app from the Nutrition Center.

You can also turn the carnivore claim around, Seidell adds, because current meat consumption has little to do with that of people of the past. For Seidell’s grandfather, meat once or twice a week was normal, only later did meat become the norm almost every day.

2. Vegans should take B12 supplements

This is true, confirm both the Nutrition Center and the Association for Veganism. “You normally only get B12 from animal products,” says nutritionist Martine van Haperen, who works for the Association for Veganism and ProVeg. “It is also added to many meat and dairy substitutes, but you have to eat a lot of it per day to get enough.”

Vegans can buy a B12 supplement at the drugstore, “just the cheap ones from the house brand”. Vegetarians, who occasionally drink milk or eat cheese, or pescatarians, who occasionally eat fish, often get enough B12.

3. Meat and dairy substitutes are often unhealthy

Some do, some don’t. The Consumers’ Association indeed established in 2020 that many meat substitutes contain too much salt. Experts also recommend that you pay close attention to what you buy, as some meat substitutes contain good nutrients, and others much less, such as a cheese schnitzel.

Roughly speaking, you can distinguish between more and less processed meat substitutes. A vegetarian burger is highly processed, a block of tofu or tempeh less. The more processed a product, the more nutrients are sometimes lost. On the other hand, extra nutrients are often added to those meat substitutes, such as B12, which is not in tofu. The Nutrition Center therefore recommends that you alternate.

With dairy substitutes, it’s smart to be vigilant about coconut fat, such as in coconut milk and yogurt, Seidell says. That contains a relatively large amount of saturated fat, which can raise the cholesterol in your body. “Go for soy instead.”

4. Vegetarians and vegans don’t get enough protein

This is not right. According to the Nutrition Center, the average person gets too much protein, about one and a half times as much as you need. Vegetarians and vegans are recommended to consume 20 to 30 percent more protein, since the body absorbs vegetable proteins less well. “But if you eat enough legumes, such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, and sometimes a meat substitute, you can easily get enough protein,” says nutritionist Van Haperen.

With dairy substitutes, pay attention to how much protein they contain, advises Van Haperen. For example, soy milk is more nutritious than oat, rice or almond milk, which sometimes contains up to three times less protein.

5. Vegetarians and vegans risk iron deficiency

Not really either. Iron is a point of attention for vegans and vegetarians, says Van Haperen, especially for women who are menstruating. “If you eat a varied plant-based diet, with vegetables and legumes, you will quickly get enough iron. Lentils, for example, are rich in iron, kale is too.”

Image Getty Images/RooM RF

However, people absorb iron from plants less easily than from meat, for example up to twice less with spinach. “But there’s a trick to this,” Seidell says. “When you also get vitamin C, iron is well absorbed.” For example, vegetarians can take a kiwi after eating. Or a bell pepper with food, it contains more vitamin C than many fruits.

6. Milk is good for everyone, right? What about the calcium?

Calcium is indeed an important nutrient for bones. According to Van Haperen, calcium can also be obtained from leafy vegetables, “but then you really have to eat a lot of it every day, more than most people would.” Her tip is to consume two or three servings of a dairy substitute, such as soy milk, with added calcium every day. If you don’t like that, Seidell says, you can also take (cheap) supplements.

7. It’s Dangerous to Raise Kids Vegan

This is a tricky claim. Raising children vegetarian is not difficult, say all experts. In fact, many vegetarians seem to raise their children in a healthier way than parents who eat a lot of meat, for example.

According to De Vries of the Nutrition Center, it is important for (strict) vegans to pay extra attention to nutrients from pregnancy. “Because your child is growing, you want to prevent shortages. Raising a child vegan is possible, but our advice is to consult a dietician.” Most supplements are also suitable for children.

Lobke Faasen, dietitian and founder of De Write for Life, a proposed plant-based alternative to the Wheel of Five, says the main problem with vegans is that they sometimes don’t eat enough. “Plant foods often contain fewer calories, so you have to eat more volume than you are used to.” That’s also her primary advice for parents of vegan children: “Make sure they eat enough and you’ll go a long way.”

Incidentally, the extra attention for nutrition for children does not only apply to vegans, emphasizes Van Haperen. “It is extra important for all growing children that they eat a varied and healthy diet. Whether they are vegetarian, vegan or meat eater.”

Soy, almond milk or rather lentils? Seven claims about vegan or vegetarian food under the microscope
Source link Soy, almond milk or rather lentils? Seven claims about vegan or vegetarian food under the microscope

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