In culinary circles, veganism is the new black. Between 2004 and 2019, the United States saw an approximately 300 percent increase in the number of people who consider themselves vegans, bringing that total to about 10 million. In the UK, a 2021 survey found an increase of nearly half a million vegans in just 12 months.
As vegan restaurants and specialty grocers continue to spring up faster than kale, it’s clear veganism is far more than a fad. But a big question remains: is it even healthy? Here are ten reasons many experts have a legitimate beef with vegans.
10 Vegans Fart More
In addition to being unable to enjoy a nice, juicy steak, being vegan literally stinks.
For some time, doctors (and probably those living with vegans) have suspected that a fully plant-based diet causes people to be particularly flatulent. A recent study has confirmed that with an excuse-me-worthy exclamation point: vegan men fart up to SEVEN TIMES more than their omnivorous counterparts.
For the study, 20 men ages 18–38 were assigned two eating plans: a low fat, fiber-enriched Mediterranean-style diet—veggies, fruits, legumes, and a small amount of fish—and a high-fat Western-type diet comprising meats, dairy, eggs, etc. Two weeks later, participants took a two-week break and then spent another two weeks on the opposite diet.
Researchers examined participants’ stool samples and tracked their flatulence by (oh dear) attaching balloons to their rectums. Subjects with the Mediterranean-style diet produced more feces—and softer stools at that, yuck—and farted up to seven times more frequently. Additionally, each windbreaking event contained, on average, about 50% more gas.
Still, some good news for vegans: their overactive guts were found to be healthier than their Western-diet counterparts. However, as a married man who intends to stay that way, I’d rather pass the buffalo wings than pass more gas, thanks.
9 Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky Gut Syndrome…three words that don’t belong next to each other. And it’s something that vegans are exceedingly prone to developing.
Sans meat, eggs, and other animal-based protein sources, vegans tend to get an outsized portion of their protein from legumes (beans, lentils, peas, etc.). The issue is that the specific proteins present in legumes also contain significant amounts of lectins and phytates, two substances known as “anti-nutrients,” because they can inhibit the absorption of actual nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
This inability to properly absorb nutrients leads to intestinal permeability, the formal name for Leaky Gut Syndrome. It’s complicated, but basically, the small intestine’s lining becomes damaged by anti-nutrient accumulation. Over time, the lining’s increased permeability begins to allow undigested food particles, bacteria, and other toxins to seep through the intestinal walls and reach the bloodstream. Fun.
The body responds the way it’s supposed to: it recognizes the foreign invaders and produces antibodies to fend them off. In the process, though, the immune system goes on high alert for environmental triggers. The result can be a broad range of symptoms, including increased sensitivities to certain foods, eczema or skin rashes, achy joints, or even an autoimmune condition.
Omnivores don’t typically develop Leaky Gut Syndrome because animal-derived proteins don’t contain anti-nutrients in any significant amount. If this sounds like medical proof that humans aren’t designed to be vegans, well…it sort of is.
8 Iron-Deficiency Anemia
Both vegans and vegetarians are at significantly heightened risk for anemia, defined by an insufficient number of healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. In fact, the world’s most common form of anemia—iron-deficient anemia—is largely attributable to widespread vegetarianism and veganism. In India, where around 40% of the population is vegetarian for cultural and religious reasons, iron-deficient anemia is a widely recognized public health concern.
Red meat has always been the readiest source for our bodies to produce hemoglobin—iron-rich protein in red blood cells. As with various other animal-based nutrients, non-meat eaters must find alternate ways of obtaining this nutrition. Generally, there’s a sliding scale of omnivorism at play here; it’s harder for a vegetarian to get all the nutrients they need than omnivores and even more difficult for vegans than vegetarians.
Iron is perhaps the most glaring example of veganism’s inherent nutritional dilemma. While many plant-based foods contain a form of iron, it is typically “non-heme” iron—a far less absorbable and, therefore, far less useful form of iron than found in meat.
For that reason, doctors often suggest vegans take iron supplements, despite their tendency to cause nausea. This can be especially important for women, who naturally lose more iron than men through menstruation. In fact, vegan and vegetarian women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are often advised to eat at least some meat, if only for their pregnancy’s duration.
7 Staggeringly Serious: B12 Deficiency
Are you experiencing a staggering gait and balance problems? Numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet, perhaps? Difficulty thinking or memory loss? Or, everyone’s personal favorite, a swollen tongue that may inhibit your ability to lecture omnivores on the moral merits and health benefits of veganism?
All of the above? Got it. Let’s take a blood test to confirm my suspicion: a B12 deficiency whose symptoms, if not addressed rapidly by elevated levels of this vital vitamin, could very well be irreversible.
Vitamin B12 is only naturally available in meat, fish, and certain animal-based foods. While vegetarians can get a reasonable amount of this essential nutrient by eating eggs (two eggs provide about half of an adult’s recommended daily B12 intake), vegans are out of luck. Instead, they must turn to synthetic forms of B12, such as supplements or artificially fortified food products like grain cereals and non-dairy milk alternatives.
Notably, there’s a genetic condition that places vegans at even greater risk for serious, permanent B12 deficiency side effects. Known as the appropriately acronymed “MTHFR,” the hereditary disorder involves a mutation of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene. The condition inhibits the body from absorbing various vitamin B’s, including B12, making it exceedingly difficult to get enough B12 via artificial supplements alone. Unfortunately, the condition can eventually lead to irreversible dementia.
6 How Healthy Is Too Healthy? Veganism and Disordered Eating
While many vegans choose a strictly plant-based diet over concerns for animal welfare and exploitation, others limit their menus strictly for the perceived health benefits. Unfortunately, in addition to the risks listed above, this very attitude can be a slippery slope into an oxymoronically obsessive unhealthy health-consciousness.
Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder defined by an overabundant fixation on healthy eating patterns. It can result in over-restriction, obsession, and other potentially dangerous attitudes toward food and nutrition. At least one study reports vegans and vegetarians tend to display more orthorexic eating patterns than conventional omnivores. Supporting this finding is that most eating disorder specialists do not recommend restrictive diets—such as veganism or vegetarianism—for those attempting to recover from eating disorders like orthorexia or anorexia.
As it is more “extreme” than vegetarianism, a common-sense takeaway is that veganism tends to attract folks with a proclivity toward obsessive hyper-vigilance. Anyone with a gym membership has, during their twice- or thrice-weekly workouts, seen people that seem to always be there. That’s because they are—they are compulsive exercisers and basically can’t help themselves. Not all vegans can be aptly compared to such behavior, of course, but the parallels are too apparent to be ignored—and behavioral science supports these commonalities.
5 Fat Vegans?
Yes, fat vegans. The dietary restrictions to which vegans adhere not only pose challenges to obtaining adequate amounts of protein and vitamins. But it also brings the flip-side risk of consuming TOO MUCH of certain foodstuffs.
Chief among these food categories is carbohydrates. Here, one of the problems is a pile-on issue stemming from many vegans’ primary protein sources. Since legumes often replace meats, eggs, and dairy products as protein providers, vegans are subjected to the associated drawback of this lentil- and bean-eating bonanza: legumes are exceedingly high in carbs.
“Many vegan alternatives (quinoa, beans, and lentils) actually contain more grams of carbohydrates than they do protein,” says registered dietitian Michelle Hyman, MS, RD, CDN. She explains that consuming more calories than the body can use—whether from carbohydrates, protein, or fat—results in weight gain over time.
And once they’re done grazing on legumes, vegans—like the rest of us—are surrounded by…you guessed it, more carbohydrates. Bread, rice, pasta. Potato chips loaded with salt. Cookies loaded with sugar. Doritos loaded with unidentifiable eight-syllable ingredients. Feeling healthy yet?
It’s simple: when someone purges his diet of entire segments of the food pyramid, he’s left getting his calories elsewhere. Carbohydrates are the most available—and most alluring, and most unhealthy—means of satiating one’s hunger for lack of a nice juicy steak, chicken breast, or even scrambled eggs.
4 Seriously Though: Fat Vegans
Considering that many Western nations are in an unprecedented obesity epidemic—for example, more than 40% of Americans qualify as obese, defined as a body mass index of 30 or above—the difficulties vegans can have maintaining a healthy weight is worth a double entry.
Here, an extension of the protein paradox comes into play: Eating a diet that includes moderate to higher levels of protein has positive effects on satiety and weight management. As noted above, vegans have a harder time finding quality sources of protein that aren’t ALSO packed with weight-gain-centric carbohydrates, canceling out protein’s positive weight management effects. Another protein alternative is soy. But while soy has somewhat less carbs than legumes, eating too much soy can bring hormonal imbalances, specifically an increase in estrogen levels.
As a result, vegans can feel boxed in by their own veganism. Not only are they swearing off eating animals or animal-based products, but they also must strike a delicate balance among the limited number of foods they DO permit themselves to ingest.
Stories abound about vegans frustrated by being overweight. One blogger recalls his mother asking his wife: “If being a vegan is so good, why is Michael still fat?” While non-dietary factors like genetics certainly play a role in someone’s body type, many vegans soon learn that abandoning animal-based products by no means guarantees them a lean physique; in fact, it can be even more challenging to get and stay trim while vegan.
3 GM-Oh, No: Meat Substitutes
Many vegans have chosen a so-called clean diet that includes heaping helpings of not-so-clean chemicals.
Plant-based meat substitutes are a prime example of trading Grade-A beef for Grade-A bullshit. Items like Impossible Burgers are chock full of unnatural, unsavory ingredients to help mimic the taste and texture of actual meat.
Take, for example, the oh-so-wholesome-sounding tertiary butylhydroquinone, a synthetic preservative used to prevent discoloration in processed foods. The FDA places limits on TBHQ because studies in lab animals link it to cancer. Or perhaps you’d prefer some scrumptious magnesium carbonate? Vegans will take comfort knowing that, in addition to helping their I Can’t Believe It’s Not Pork! retain its color, it’s used for flooring, fireproofing, and fire-extinguishing compounds. At least your tumor won’t burst into flames!
Another faux-meat fav is propylene glycol, an odorless, colorless liquid used as a moisturizer in plant-based meat alternatives. It’s also used in e-cigarettes and as the primary ingredient in antifreeze. Hot!
But still…that Beyond Burger looks beyond delicious, right? That’s probably because many fake red meats use Red #3, a coloring banned in cosmetics by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for its cancer-causing capabilities. But no worries: it’s still legal to put it in that chemical concoction you’re cooking up.
2 And the Award for “Least Sustainable Food Product” Goes to…
No, not steak. And yes, we all know cow flatulence produces significant amounts of methane. But per National Geographic, “Cows and hogs release methane into the atmosphere, but it’s by far mostly human activity that’s driving up levels of this destructive greenhouse gas.” Nobody’s warding off climate change by swearing off meat.
Rather, pretty much the worst food item for the environment is…almonds. And a big contributor to almonds’ popularity is almond milk, which now rivals soy milk in terms of non-dairy milk popularity.
Almonds are, simply, AWFUL for the environment. The reason is a confluence of wrong crop, wrong place. Eighty percent of the world’s almonds are grown in drought-stricken California…which makes zero sense considering almonds are among the most water-intensive crops to produce. In fact, California’s almonds suck up as much water each year as Los Angeles—the country’s second-largest city—uses in THREE.
Driven largely by almond milk sales, this insane misappropriation of the world’s most precious resource—water—is only getting worse. The global almond milk market size was estimated at $5.9 billion in 2019 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 14.3% through 2025, at which point it would exceed $13 billion.
1 Culinary Catastrophe: The Ruination of Eleven Madison Park
In 2017, New York City’s Eleven Madison Park, originally founded by legendary restauranteur Danny Meyer (of Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Café fame), was named. Far from a hackneyed Tripadvisor or Yelp gimmick, the distinction is no joke: the annual Top 50 list reflects a poll of more than 1,000 independent culinary experts, who each cast 10 votes for establishments they’ve recently enjoyed.
Then it went vegan. And since then, to say that the reviews have been unkind would be putting it palatably. In Eater, Ryan Sutton writes that the revamped restaurant “doesn’t yet appear to fully possess the palate, acumen, or cultural awareness to successfully manipulate vegetables or, when necessary, to let them speak for themselves. That beet cooked 18-ways tasted like pretty much any other beet, a reality that’s tough to digest when you have to put down a massive non-refundable deposit to find that out.” That deposit he references is a whopping $335. That’s a lot of cabbage for… well, cabbage.
The New York Times put it even less appetizingly. “Almost none of the main ingredients taste quite like themselves in the 10-course, $335 menu,” writes influential foodie Pete Wells. “Some are so obviously standing in for meat or fish that you almost feel sorry for them.” Ouch.
Finally, the kicker: it turns out Eleven Madison Park is operating a secret “restaurant within a restaurant” that—you guessed it—serves meat. Mmmmm…hypocrisy.