Vegetarians and Malnutrition

by Ann Marie Michaels on July 10, 2008

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Former Raw Vegan Admits Her Children Were Malnourished

Holly Paige couldn’t understand why her children, Bertie, then four, and Lizzie, three, were looking so drawn and skinny, yet their stomachs were full.

Then when Lizzie smiled at her one day, Holly was horrified to see that her top row of teeth were brown and full of cavities.

‘I couldn’t work out what was going on,’ says Holly, who lives in Totnes, Devon. ‘We all ate exceptionally healthily, with plenty of vegetables, nuts and seeds.’

The problem was that this was all the Paiges ate. They had a strict vegan diet, and ate only raw food.

From the day they were weaned, Bertie and Lizzie had never eaten meat, fish or dairy foods – except a slice of raw goat’s cheese once a month.

‘I’d heard about the raw food diet through a friend and thought it sounded like a really healthy thing to do,’ says Holly, 45.

‘I was assured by the people who devised the diet that we would get all the protein we needed from nuts and seeds, and we also took a daily supplement to replace the nutrients found in animal foods.

‘We also ate pulses, grains and soya; I thought we were on the most nutritious diet possible.

‘But then I started noticing that something wasn’t right. The children were wearing clothes two sizes smaller than they should have been. I have two older children and they never had growth problems or tooth decay. Bertie and Lizzie’s muscles seemed weak and they had problems seeing at night.

‘When we went to the supermarket, Lizzie would grab a pack of butter and start gnawing on it. I couldn’t understand why this well-fed child was behaving like this. I was so brainwashed that the fact our bodies were craving dairy products had passed me by.’

Holly referred to a vitamin book, where she discovered the children’s symptoms were a sign of serious protein and vitamin D deficiency.

She immediately introduced dairy into their diet, and says the change in the children’s health has been ‘remarkable’.

Read the whole story: How a Strict Vegan Diet Made My Children Ill

In a related story, a 12-year-old Glasgow girl brought up by her parents on a strict vegan diet was admitted to hospital with a degenerative bone condition which left her with the spine of an 80-year-old.

Professor Tom Sanders, head of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, warned that while most vegan parents give their children vitamin and mineral supplements, there was a core of hardliners putting their children’s health at risk.

Read the whole story here: Vegan Girl, 12, ‘Has Spine of 80-Year-Old’

A lot of people say raw veganism is a healthy diet. But let me ask you something. If a diet requires synthetic supplementation in order to get adequate nutrients, how can it be healthy?

Another story worth reading is Chris Masterjohn’s story of health decline after he went vegetarian:

In the second year of being vegetarian, I began having several full-blown panic attacks per week that were becoming disabling. I was overall lethargic and apathetic. And then, I went to the dentist and was struck with the final blow.

Fifteen cavities, and two dead teeth needing root canals! How could this be? I had been sure that, since eating animal protein was what caused the body to acidify and leach calcium from bones and teeth, I would be immune to tooth decay. And the phytoestrogens in soy that supposedly help assimilate calcium should have been an extra defense, sealing shut for good the possiblity of a cavity.

Yet there it was. Tooth decay. And not just any tooth decay– massive tooth decay.

Read Chris’s story on his website, Cholesterol and Health.

To me, these stories (and many others which you can find online), make it very clear: we need meat and dairy products in our diet to be healthy. I think you can get along okay on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. But we are simply not built to live soley on plant foods.

And raising children vegan is a terrible idea.

In the words of Nina Planck:

I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.

Indigenous cuisines offer clues about what humans, naturally omnivorous, need to survive, reproduce and grow: traditional vegetarian diets, as in India, invariably include dairy and eggs for complete protein, essential fats and vitamins. There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna July 10, 2008 at 9:06 AM

Hello! I came over here from Rianna’s blog and am enjoying yours. I have phases where I try to be Vegan (usually after reading stuff like Skinny Bitch) but I just can’t keep it up. I don’t like soy milk and margarine; I miss butter and eggs a lot; and I don’t like fake or ‘pretend’ foods like forms of cheese and so on. But mostly it’s because it seems/feels so *joyless*; like going through punishment. I’d wake up sad because I’d suddenly remember that I couldn’t have a cup of tea (with cow’s milk). Yet when i read about the arguments (we are unnatural drinking the milk of another species; dairy and mucus; eating dead flesh; takes ages to digest etc etc, they seem compelling… But after 25 years a vegetarian I am now turned onto Nourishing Traditions as this regime, instinctively, seems sensible and logical and somehow, right. So it was roast chicken last weekend and it was divine. Then cold chicken salad and chicken broth soup on Monday. Mmmmm.

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cheeseslave July 10, 2008 at 9:17 AM

Hi, Anna,

I used to be a vegetarian, too. In college. I did it for health reasons and for the environment and for the welfare of the animals. I was lacto-ovo so I still drank milk and ate eggs — but the house I was living in was a vegetarian co-op. We didn’t have a lot of eggs or cheese or milk on hand so I probably only got one good meal a day living there.

Within a couple of years of being vegetarian, I got very sick. I had full-blown rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory allergies, constant sinus infections, frequent illnesses, and chronic fatigue.

Of course I don’t blame vegetarianism completely — I was also drinking lots of soda pop, and eating a lot of white flour and sugar. And all the antibiotics and junk food I had as a child played a large part as well.

I went on a candida elimination diet and started eating meat again, and within weeks I was on the mend. Within a couple of years of eating sugar-free and wheat-free (and eating meat and dairy again) I was back to being totally healthy again.

I’ve been roasting a chicken or a duck once a week now and I love it. It’s easy and delicious and very nourishing. And economical.

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Noe July 10, 2008 at 10:50 AM

Here, here…vegetarians are so misled.

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dovelove July 10, 2008 at 10:53 AM

This is one of those things I feel passionate about. I want to help others to snap out of their “daze” in this regard. And I feel justified, because I too was harmed by this type of diet — and I didn’t do the soda or other junk food…and I took supplements, ate the seaweed and all. I started as vegetarian, and when that didn’t work so well for me, I thought maybe it’s because I should go all the way — veganism. No, that made my health worse than ever…

I can invariably tell when someone has been on this type of diet for a long time — they look pale and sickly (even some of the top gurus in this area, in my opinion). A local girl here, I’ve seen pics of her before she became a raw foodist, and she was very pretty. Now, OMG, horrible, talk about aging fast…

But almost worse than that is she “floats” around as if this brings her to angel status or something…and I think she joins many with that holier-than-thou attitude. It borders on insanity, many are rabid with their righteousness…at the very least, it’s just plain ole ignorance.

And yeah, it seems that it would be obvious that it’s an improper diet given that so many nutrients are missing from it — and supplementation is an absolute requirement. I don’t see how the advocates of it can breeze right passed that glaring fact…and how they can’t see how sickly skinny it makes them. Again, a kind of “insanity,” a reflection of where we all are when we go to extremes.

Some speak of it as compassion for the animals (for me, that was the original spur, but I was believing it was healthy too), but really it’s trying to put oneself above animals, above Nature. Animals eat animals. In the process of having this compassion for them, we are saying we are above them and wiser than Nature. I personally don’t believe either is true. We’re all precious and sacred.

I was anorexic for pretty much all of my twenties, and then upon moving out of that, I became “vegetarian” after reading a horrible story I got in the mail from PETA. So I also had the compassion for animals — I still do, I adore them, and the way we treat them is unconscionable. But animals, human and otherwise, that eat animals are aligning with Nature. Just the act of eating them is in no way cruel or wrong.

What came to me intuitively, not that long ago, was that my “vegetarianism” and “veganism” was simply a continuation of my original anorexic behavior that I thought I had overcome. I was still acting it out, starving myself, just in another way…

And that’s what I feel most people who are eating this way are doing — subconsciously starving themselves. We feel guilty and ashamed for being what we are — a part of Nature, human animals. In trying to be “spiritual” or “a good person,” we’re going against Nature, starving ourselves, denying and loathing our humanness. That denial, self-hatred, going to extremes and against our basic Nature in so many ways — that’s why our world looks the way it does right now.

I’m loving that so many vegetarians are “waking up” from this…and taking better care of and healing their precious bodies, taking back their power, and being authentic in this way.

Peace,
Dove

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cheeseslave July 10, 2008 at 11:13 AM

Thanks for your post, Dove.

I totally agree with you about vegans looking sickly and pale.

We had a number of vegans living at the co-op in college. Not only were they weak and pasty, they were also very cranky. I know because I lived with them. They were emotional and anxious.

I’m not trying to generalize here — they really did seem to be more moody than the average person. This made more sense to me after I read Chris Masterjohn’s story — about how he started having panic attacks after he became a vegetarian. And when he went back to eating meat, his panic attacks went away.

I like what you say too about denial and self-hatred. So true, so true. We punish ourselves with food.

I’ve always been bullish on butter and heavy cream — I never understood that whole low fat nonsense. Never really understood the concept of salads — unless they have a lot of blue cheese dressing and bacon. :-D

A really good book to read is Jeffrey Steingarten’s “The Man Who Ate Everything”. Such an excellent book about how to love food and enjoy it. It’s one of my top 10 favorite books of all time.

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Julie July 10, 2008 at 4:10 PM

Well said, Dove (and Anne Marie too, as always.) I was an overweight vegan for 4 years. I was so hungry and unsatisfied; I ate every carb. in site.

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cheeseslave July 10, 2008 at 4:34 PM

Julie -

So you mean you weren’t a SKINNY BITCH? :-D

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I was just reading about that book. Reading all the bad reviews on Amazon.

It looks so terrible! I actually want to read it just to see how bad it is.

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suvine.com July 10, 2008 at 4:59 PM

There is RAW FAMILY.com and the Gardendiet.com they are raw vegan families

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Julie July 10, 2008 at 8:20 PM

I was just a 20 pound overweight fat Bitch. :) That book just seems awful.

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cheeseslave July 10, 2008 at 9:26 PM

LOL!

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Vadim July 11, 2008 at 8:52 AM

I’m a vegetarian and I think it’s unfair to force either that or veganism on children who can’t make their own choices. People need to eat meat in the developing stages of their life but by the time they’re 18 or so, there are definite benefits for converting to a vegetarian diet.

https://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/meatless-mc-cartney-mondays

But I do think more people who are adults should consider a vegetarian diet because when you’re old enough it is not detrimental to your health. You should all check out my campaign above to get 150 people to commit to meat-free Mondays.

I think if I ever have children I will a vegetarian household but encourage them to eat whatever they want with friends or at school. It’s a choice you need to make and it’s a choice I made when I was 16, not 6.

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cheeseslave July 11, 2008 at 10:22 AM

Thanks Vadim, I agree, children need to eat meat and dairy when they are growing.

I understand what you are trying to do w/ Meat Free Mondays. But maybe instead you could do CAFO Free Mondays. Or how about Farmer’s Market Mondays? Cook a meal from foods that only come from the farmer’s market — nothing from the grocery store.

The reason I say this is that, when it comes to the environment, I don’t think meat is necessarily the problem. Animals raised on small farms on pasture are not bad for the environment — in fact, their manure is good for the land.

And there are lots of processed vegetarian foods out there that take a lot more energy to produce and are much worse for the environment than animals that have been raised on pasture.

For example, milk or butter that comes from grass-fed cows. The cows are raised on pasture. The only processing required is milking, bottling, and, in the case of butter, churning.

Compare that to soy milk or soy margarine — those products are highly processed. They come from factories. And they require monocropping of soybeans — which is destroying our land. Plus they use chemical fertilizers instead of manure from the animals.

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dovelove July 11, 2008 at 1:14 PM

It’s very sad that Paul McCartney doesn’t consider that vegetarianism may very well have contributed to his wife’s disease/death. Wouldn’t ya’ think that if vegetarianism was such a good thing for adults (as I understand, the McCartney’s began this type of diet later in life, as adults) that Linda’s immune system would have been much stronger than those on other types of diets? I was just reading a bit on zinc…

============================

Zinc is one of the most important minerals used by the body for various functions and fortunately, there is a wide variety of zinc food sources available naturally for you to take advantage of. To give you an idea just how important it is, zinc helps in the production of about 100 enzymes in your body, builds you a healthy immune system, maintains your senses of smell and taste and is needed for DNA synthesis.

The Truth about Zinc Nutrition

The downside of taking these high zinc foods is that no matter how much of them you take in, only a mere 15%-40% of the zinc actually gets absorbed by your body overall. This is especially true for non-meat zinc food sources. Dietary fibers and phytic acid in your brain prevents the absorption of zinc in your body. Phytic acid found in your brain forms a complex with the zinc that you take in, and this compound is insoluble so that it cannot be absorbed readily by your body. Whole grains are a better source of zinc than refined grains as they have the ability to produce enzymes that can destroy phytic acid. On the other hand, the zinc you get from eating meat is four times more bio-available than in grain foods.

Source: http://www.nutritional-supplements-health-guide.com/zinc-food-sources.html

================================

“one of the most important minerals”

“builds you a healthy immune system”

“zinc you get from eating meat is four times more bio-available than in grain food.”

As for the environment, how about adding to Cheeseslave’s excellent list, a No-Baby-Making Monday :) The real problem is overpopulation mixed with all of our other extremes.

Peace,
Dove

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cheeseslave July 11, 2008 at 2:37 PM

It is sad that Linda McCartney died so young. She was only 56.

Breast cancer has also been linked to iodine deficiency.

That is interesting about zinc — the fact that it is 4 times more bioavailable from meat than from grains.

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Lune July 12, 2008 at 9:54 AM

I suffered under a vegetarian diet too, let alone a vegan one.

I think the appeal for raw foods is that it can give you a good cleanse and you feel brilliant but then after that you go into decline. Raw foodies don’t realise that it means raw dairy and raw meat too. You can eat raw meat without worrying about parasites if you freeze it for at least 14 days.

Traditional diets included raw liver etc. in their diets – esp. for pre-pregnancy women.

a great post, thanks CS !

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cheeseslave July 12, 2008 at 10:04 AM

Yes I agree Lune. It’s not sustainable over the long haul.

Some raw foodists do eat raw meat and raw dairy. There is a local place here in LA called Rawesome. They have a lot of raw organic produce but they also have lots of raw dairy, eggs, and lots of meat and fish. They sell things like beet kvass, too, and kefir and ceviche and sauerkraut. And coconut oil and raw honey.

It’s interesting too because that woman in the article — she did end up incorporating raw dairy into their diet.

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Ian July 14, 2008 at 6:38 PM

Yes, cheeseslave, that is a good point. Raw foodists do consume fish, milk, cheese, and honey, all in the unpasteurized state, which interestingly enough puts them beyond the range of vegans and vegetarians.

What disturbed me about this article is that women assumed that she was getting adequate protein sources from the nuts and seeds she was eating. Nuts and seeds (walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, etc.) are comprised of about 70% fat, with only about 15% each of carbs or proteins. Eating that much raw fat (which has the fat splitting enzyme “lipase” in quite an abundance) only ensures mass weight loss.

What people fail to realize is the you can ingest all the protein in the world that you desire from whatever source is necessary (meat, eggs, fish, dairy, etc) but if you don’t have the enzyme “protease” to break it down to be utilized by your body, then it really won’t do you any good.

Complete proteins for raw foodists can be found in spinach, hemp seeds, spirulina, lamsquarters, dandelion greens, and to a lesser degree, kale. WIth the exception of kale, all of the above have the 9 essential amino acids needed to sustain adequate protein levels in the human body. Rotating the above sources is probably the best way to ensure adequate nutrients. I believe the above family was simply misinformed.

The phrase Holly utters “I was assured by the people who devised the diet that we would get all the protein we needed from nuts and seeds” shows me that she’s more apt to blame others for her lack of initiative of doing her own homework concerning the diet/path/lifestyle.

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cheeseslave July 14, 2008 at 7:20 PM

Hi, Ian,

Thanks for commenting.

While I agree with you that foods like spinach, spirulina, lambsquarters, and dandelions are very high in nutrients, it is my understanding that they are not adequate by themselves as they lack, for one thing, vitamin B12.

They used to think there were vegans in India who managed to live healthfully and had adequate B12 from plants — without meat/dairy products – however, read this:

“It is true that Hindu vegans living in certain parts of India do not suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. This has led some to conclude that plant foods do provide this vitamin. This conclusion, however, is erroneous as many small insects, their feces, eggs, larvae and/or residue, are left on the plant foods these people consume, due to non-use of pesticides and inefficient cleaning methods. This is how these people obtain their vitamin B12. This contention is borne out by the fact that when vegan Indian Hindus later migrated to England, they came down with megaloblastic anaemia within a few years. In England, the food supply is cleaner, and insect residues are completely removed from plant foods.”

(http://www.westonaprice.org/tour/vegtourindex.html)

I do not know of a single vegan traditional culture with excellent health.

Do you? If so, can you name one?

I’m not trying to be argumentative — I’d just really like to know.

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Ian July 15, 2008 at 4:39 PM

Some clarification, only because it is necessary:

I am uncomfortable grouping people into “cultures”, like a “traditional vegan culture”, as I would rather see them as individuals (whether they are “healthy” or “unhealthy”). This viewpoint supports the laws of nature concerning natural selection, and also supports the Law of Adaptive Secretion of Enzymes, a sore spot of documented science against naysayers of the raw food path.

What’s odd about the stories above, is that they take individual anecdotes (stories about 1-3 people at a time) and then make a little bit of a leap by stating “this raw/vegan/plant diet is not natural for everybody”, simply because it didn’t work for the individual. I tend to find this type of evidence on overload in the “shortsighted” department.

The “Holly” story above didn’t mention B-12 as the problem, which is why I didn’t address it. The human body can store B-12 up to three years, at that time would probably then need reinforcements. Are there raw plant sources? Sure … dulse, for one, and maca root, as well, have B-12. Also, fermented items like Kimchi, Kombucha, and sour kraut are some others. The question may be the abundance of B-12, which is probably less in volume for the above items than it is for dairy or meat.

However, my understanding of this issue is that B-12 deficiency may be an absorption problem, not necessarily a consumption problem. Both dairy and meat (if pasteurized and cooked) do cause excessive mucous buildup and luekocytosis (ie- influx of white blood cells) upon ingestion, which definitely causes the body problems with absorbing nutrients. Raw foodists that I know (though not many vegans, sadly) understand this issue and tend to play it on the safe side by going with the fermented items instead.

We also have to keep in mind that “veganism” as a “movement” started in England in 1944 as a political protest, not a health crusade. It just so happened that indigenous societies outside of the Western spectrum (like in India) practiced something similar without slapping a catchy name-tag on it. What’s even more ironic, is that a militant from the Western vegan movement would lambast an Eastern Hindu from India for eating bugs! “You’re not vegans! You’re eating the poor oppressed fruit flies!!”

Or something like that ….

I hope that answers the questions you had!

Ian

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cheeseslave July 15, 2008 at 7:06 PM

LOL! Thanks, Ian.

You reminded me of a story… I lived in a vegetarian co-op in college. There were some vegans living here, and I remember one vegan girl who said she would not eat honey because “The bees are oppressed.”

I always thought that was absurd.

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Lynda August 24, 2010 at 4:17 AM

VEGAN INTRUDER ALERT :)

I stumbled across this article here by accident and just thought I’d chip in with a few things.

A lot of the cases of malnutrition on vegan diets aren’t based on people following balanced diets, but more complicated diets such as raw veganism and fruitarianism. i.e. there was a story of a baby that died where her parents fed her oranges. Uh, that’s not a vegan diet. That’s called just eating oranges.

Raw veganism is very strict and people can end up obsessing over the ‘rawness’ of their food rather than what nutrition it has. i.e. omitting nuts (often the main protein source for many raw vegans) because the nuts may have been steamed during the shelling process.

I don’t mean to be judgemental about the lady in the article (Holly Paige), but raw veganism is incredibly hard for adults to practice, let alone children. When I went raw vegan for a while, I was logging all my nutrition and it was extremely hard to get anywhere near the RDA for zinc and iron. Holly should have noticed the warning signs sooner (didn’t the kids ever get taken to the dentist?).

“A lot of people say raw veganism is a healthy diet. But let me ask you something. If a diet requires synthetic supplementation in order to get adequate nutrients, how can it be healthy? ”

Just for the record, a lot of non-vegetarian/non-vegan food is fortified with anything from vitamin D, B12, iron to all the B vitamins. But I kind of agree, 100% raw vegan isn’t optimal (and seldom manageable) for many reasons.

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LeahS July 11, 2011 at 7:39 PM

dang, that’s sad. Some people seem able to pull it off though. I wonder what the difference is.

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Alisue July 26, 2011 at 10:44 AM

Wow…that is unreal…..

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