2020 vision: are vegans at risk of blindness?

January 15, 2020 6:24 am Published by Leave your thoughts

It’s Veganuary right now – and of course, it’s 2020. There’s been much talk of vegan issues already this month, with one issue seemingly creeping up the news agenda. Lots of potential vegans are, it appears, worried about the risk of deficiencies in vegan diets. They’re concerned about how these might arise, what problems they might cause, and how to counteract them.

2020 vision: possible for vegans?

At Naturally Good Food we believe that it’s possible to have a perfectly healthy vegan diet: one that covers all nutritional bases. However, we also believe that it takes a bit of work to do so. Too many vegans (especially brand-new vegans or time-poor vegans) rely on poor-quality, heavily-processed supermarket alternatives, rather than obtaining their nutrition from essential, raw ingredients. You can eat perfectly happily like the first type of vegan for a time, but in the end, the lack of proper nutrition will catch up with you. It’s these vegans that are most at risk of developing deficiencies – and some of those can be fairly unpleasant.

Let’s take a look, in particular, at the rumoured risk of blindness.

It all began back in 2017, when some rather dubious news outlets pounced upon a story linking veganism and blindness in a patient in France. Other sources were quick to point out the holes in the story – and, as it all calmed down, more moderate voices could be heard. These (for example, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/687996.stm) pointed out that a lack of B12 in a diet can cause sight problems, but that in the case reported on, it was the general poverty of diet that was the problem. As B12 is usually obtained from meat and other animal products, it is possible that vegans may be more at risk of sight problems than meat-eaters – but only vegans who don’t eat a properly balanced diet.

Later news reports then suggested that vegans and vegetarians could have a higher risk of strokes (although a lower risk of heart disease). This research (heavily caveated) was published in the British Medical Journal (see report here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-49579820). Overall, it found that vegans and vegetarians had ten fewer cases of heart disease and three more strokes per 1,000 people compared with meat-eaters. Those on plant-based diets had a 20% higher risk of stroke – and once again, the researchers suggested that this could be linked to low vitamin B12 levels.

The stories have continued to pile up. Some are genuine concerns, while others are clearly driven by a pro-meat-eating agenda. For the vegan movement, even the latter bring a benefit: every rumour, report or concern demands a considered response to set the record straight, while the continual publicity keeps veganism firmly in the spotlight.

People have been eating vegan for decades (and, across the world, for generations), whilst maintaining wonderful health (often, better health than many meat-eaters). If you pay attention to what you eat, and make sure your diet covers all areas, there is no reason why vegans shouldn’t remain in tip-top health.

Here are our top tips for getting enough of three major nutrients in a plant-based diet.

Get enough vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is the vitamin that helps us maintain healthy blood and nervous systems. It’s easily taken in from meat, fish and dairy products. Vegans need to make sure they’re getting enough from other sources: it can be found in fortified breakfast cereals, fortified soya drinks and yeast extract spreads, and can also be taken as a supplement (at Naturally Good Food, we sell it in the form of fortified Engevita yeast flakes from Marigold, for instance).

Get enough iron

Vegans, like everyone else, need iron to make red blood cells. There’s plenty of iron in non-meat products, but it can be harder to absorb it from these than from animal products. Those not eating meat may therefore need to eat more iron-containing products than other people. Choose wholemeal bread and flour, dried fruits and pulses to get enough of this mineral in a vegan diet.

Get enough choline

There have also been recent suggestions that vegans might not be taking in enough choline, a nutrient that’s essential for brain health. To ensure a proper supply of this, vegans need to eat plenty of broccoli, kale and brassicas, lots of soya products, chickpeas and pulses, quinoa, peanuts, mushrooms and potatoes. It’s probably safe to say that this won’t be too much of a stretch for most people……

A balanced vegan diet is a safe diet

A properly balanced vegan diet covers all the bases. It’s not hard to achieve: you just need to concentrate on proper, wholefood ingredients, and avoid too much processed and junk food. Remember that ‘vegan’ doesn’t, in itself, mean ‘virtuous’, if you see it on a label or menu.

Naturally Good Food has been helping vegans eat well for decades! You can see our full vegan range here. You might like to pay particular attention to our wholefoods section too, with its nutrition-rich brown rices, whole grains and pulses, along with the finest dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Our soy products can be seen here.

Whatever diet you’re following in 2020, it should be as balanced as the date itself!

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This post was written by Yzanne

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