Why Some Vegans Crash and Burn

Saturday Nov 8 | BY |
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After our podcast on people coming out as “ex-vegans,” I’ve been getting some questions from readers who are not sure whether a vegan diet can be healthy or not.

Almost everybody I know has a friend who went vegan or vegetarian, but then suffered some sort of health problem or deficiency, went back to meat and now feels “much better.”

These stories, along with famous or semi-famous ex-vegans that come out of the closet, are enough to scare most newbies and convince them to give up a plant-based diet for good.

I think it’s a shame that these vegan “failures” are giving bad publicity to a concept that is otherwise extremely important and powerful: the plant-based diet.

So let’s take a look at why some vegan diets lead to these failures, and how to avoid common mistakes made on plant-based diets.

Why Some Vegans Crash and Burn

Being vegan is really not a health choice, but more an ethical one.

The vegan diet, in itself, can be healthy or unhealthy. It is not by definition a healthy diet, because a vegan could choose to eat unhealthy foods and still call herself a pure “vegan.”

Here are some of the common mistakes that vegans and raw vegans make:

1) Too much fat, especially omega 6 fats

Vegans cut out saturated fats, but often replace it with vegetable oils and other fat sources, which means that their diet is not only high in fat, but also very high in omega-6 fats.

Many ex-vegans have blamed the vegan diet for being too low in omega-3. But research has shown that the real problem is that we get too much added omega-6 fat! We’re told to eat healthy fats, like the foods above, but in fact they are throwing our ratios way off.

Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats promote inflammation in the body. When you eat too much of it, it competes with your absorption of omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory.

Examples of concentrated sources of omega-3 fats include: Nuts, seeds, and oils extracted from them (sunflower, etc.)

2) Too much fat in general

Vegans eliminate unhealthy animal protein, but often replace it with foods that are very high in fat, even higher than animal foods. Raw foodists do the same with an overreliance on nuts, seeds and avocados.

Too much fat in the diet now only promotes heart disease and cancer, but it also affects every aspect of your health negatively. It’s also much easier to gain weight eating fatty foods rather than eating low-fat, carbohydrate-rich foods.

As I discovered while writing my book Raw Food Controversies, a raw food recipe like “Raw Tacos” can contain more calories, more fat, and more sodium that an order of a Big Mac with large fries at McDonalds!

For raw vegans, sources of fats include olive oil, coconut oil, flax oil, avocado, nuts and seeds — all of which are often used in large quantities in every recipe.

For cooked vegans, fat sources that pile up include: all oils, fried foods like fries, chips, donuts, crackers, “Earth Balance” products, coconut milk, vegan cheeses, “sour creams”, and fake meat products like Tofurkey.

Vegans should make the center of their meals low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, and only use higher-fat foods as condiments for flavour, if they are to be used at all.

Raw vegans need to make the center of each meal fruit, and eat plenty of it to meet their caloric needs.

Greens should be consumed for minerals, and fatty foods should be used as condiments, not as the main ingredient in a dish like raw tacos or burgers.

Beware of vegan products such as “Earth Balance” “Toffutti” products, “Daiya Cheese,” “Gimme Leans” “Gardein” products and other dairy or meat replacement.

3) Vegans could be deficient in Vitamin b12

Vitamin B12 deficiencies are common in vegans, especially raw vegans who don’t take any supplement.

Many symptoms can be attributed to a B12 deficiency, including fatigue and failure to thrive.

The standard recommendation is to take a B12 supplement containing 25 to 100 mcg every day, or one containing at least 1000 mcg three times a week. If you’ve been on a vegan diet for a while, you might start with some B12 injections, as low B12 levels can actually prevent absorption from dietary or supplemental B12. Taking an oral supplement later, can be too little too late, so get tested for deficiencies if you are concerned.

Vegans who don’t make these mistakes

Some vegans and raw foodists say that they don’t make these mistakes, but yet still don’t feel right and think they should go back to meat in order to feel better. In many cases, cleaning up your diet, eating whole foods, getting enough calories without too much fat is enough to make a difference. In other cases, more complex factors may be at play.

For example, some vegans, especially raw foodists, overly restrict their diet by eating only a few types of food. This type of nutritional narrowness can lead to some deficiencies, overtime.

Some Tips for a Healthier Plant-Based Diet

Use these tips on any diet!

1) Whenever you make a recipe, just omit the oil or cut in in half, and usually it will taste just as good without it!

2) Avoid using nuts, seeds or avocados as a main ingredient in any recipe. Use them as condiments instead.

3) Eat about one pound of green vegetables a day, either in green smoothies, salads, or steamed vegetables.

4)  Minimize the use of all processed plant foods, including ALL oils, sugar, agave, white flours, etc.

5)  Focus on whole plant foods from the following categories: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains.

6) Cover your bases for nutrients that may be difficult to get through proper supplementation. This includes B12 and vitamin D.

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


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  1. Mike Maybury says:

    I’ve certainly met a lot of ex-vegans too. I cannot normally ask for all the reasons.

    I have recently met a lot of vegans, many of whom eat lots of cakes and pastries! Many of them seem little concerned to avoid white sugar, white flour and other modern refined products.

    Their imitation cheeses are normally have little protein and, in fact, little nourishment, being made from commercial types of fillers. They don’t even taste like cheese in most cases.

  2. Sandi says:

    Interesting info, thank you. Good for people to know.

    Lately, I’ve been eating meat, because I’m cooking for a friend who works very hard & requires good meat when he’s working that hard. I’m not feeling so good. I’ve always done best as a Vegetarian. I am now stopping eating meat & return to the way I’ve eaten for years. I’m eager to see how my health & energy levels will then be.

    The info you gave, as the ideal way for a Vegan to eat, is the way I used to eat, along with an occasional egg (from our own properly fed, happy, free-range chickens) & sometimes a bit of chicken or fish, according to what my body tells me it needs, at that time.

  3. Cath says:

    As a nutritionist, the story of the unsuccessful vegan is a common one. However, I’ve yet to meet an ex-vegan whose diet was ideal. They all think they’re doing the right thing with their diet, but when they do a food diary, the truth comes out and there is always a reason. I love the article above. It captures the most common reasons. Another common reason people fail to thrive on a vegan diet is that they just don’t eat enough. Their stomach is used to smaller meals because meat, dairy and eggs are so calorie dense and in order to get the same number of calories on a low fat vegan diet, they need to eat so much more volume. Any one will feel tired and lethargic or develop deficiencies if they’re not eating enough calories. There are also other less common reasons that require careful management – specific health issues, digestive issues, deficiencies in the soil their food is grown in, etc.

  4. Fred Daugert says:

    ALLRIGHT Kevin:
    I have always been interested in you and Dr.Gerson.My dad passed away 3 years ago and I even tried to get him to watch the video you (and others) made but he has been deeply immersed in the dominant paradigm (allopathic medicine) and nothing was done so he passed away (from melanoma).My stepmom (my dads wife) is the same way
    (both smokers for decades)…I am trying to get her to do a cleanse for smoking a la Brenda Watson but I don’t think shes listening…she needs an inhaler to breathe.I am a vegetarian and did I ever crash after the hundreds of hours of work at the golf course (March through October). I’m a week into November and I’m still tired.I’m basically macrobiotic and I think I will avoid cancer but so many in my family just never listen to weird Fred.
    Why do you really think the patches are better (I use twinlab dots 5000mg split 4 ways)?

  5. Medoh says:

    Tip #6 is misleading or else I’m misunderstanding it. I believe you meant to say “without supplementation” rather than through supplementation. If not please clarify this for me.

    Moreover, I am so glad you made this further contribution to the discussion for those of us who have had to alter our commitment to be vegan. In my mind, it all comes down to one’s health and own body. We are all different.

    Somewhere along the way I had read a raw vegan dies was a cleansing diet, or one meant to be temporary and also returned to when needed. Meanwhile we can alter our diet as our own bodies dictate.

    I have been 90% now perhaps 50% raw vegan for 4 years. My process of trying to gain weight by broadening my diet on my own has been difficult and have finally gone to a good doctor to do a full blood work-up on me (you can guess who that may be, Kevin!). I am so greatful for having done so! What a difference.

    Kevin and Fred, please know how appreciated your contributions are. Thanks so much!

  6. Joelle says:

    Hi thanks for this awesome article Frederic, I just have a question about daiya cheese as its all the rave now and sometimes I’ll have it, why is it unhealthy, why should we avoid it?

  7. I am 77 years old. 14 years ago I was extremely ill, taken in by my brother and his family because of weakness. I had skin cancer for years, now they diagnosed an abdominal tumor and wanted me in surgery within days. I had seen Dr. Loraine Day on TV a few months earlier, I really didn’t want to lose any organs, and I delayed surgery and got her DVD and did exactly everything she said to do. I sprout, yes I use seeds, grains and nuts, and even cashew cheese works fine. Within 4 months I was able to return to my home and at 4 1/2 months a cancer lesion on my face fell off. I stayed on the program 3 full years before I chanced a visit back to the doctor. No tumor. By then I also had no arthritis, which I’d been diagnosed with at 30, and no asthma, which I had from age 3. Mind you, for 14 years. I haven’t even had a cold. I also follow Dr. George Malkmus, who recovered from cancer exactly like I did and has been vegan for 40 years, and I occasionally add B12 because he encourages it. I use flaxseed oil in place of butter and you know that’s high in omegas though it needs to have been kept refrigerated. I also put freshly ground flax seeds in my smoothies.

    I have followed several people thinking they could recover from cancer on special programs but whose advisers had them also on some meat. All have died. Every last one. The only ones I know who are healthy today are those who eliminated animal products.

    I don’t know what all this is about as far as ceasing to be vegan. I don’t care, but I think if a person has cancer they better exclude animal products. Just to let you know, at 77 I can do anything I could do at 25 and I’m NOT kidding. I’m on no prescriptions

  8. JFC says:

    I’ve been vegan for 26 years and consider it one of the best decisions of my life (my doctor agrees). I lost 25 lbs and kept it off all these years!

    Here’s a short video to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice and why the number of vegans has doubled in the US in less than 3 years.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE

    Also, here’s a link for everyone who wants to join the revolution: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/step-by-step-guide-how-to-transition-to-vegan-diet/

  9. Fat does not cause heart disease and cancer. In fact animal fat helps prevent heart disease.
    Processed sugar, grain and seed oils cause heart disease and cancers.
    Do your research.

  10. Tieta says:

    Very well said. Thanks Frederic.

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