I felt the need to write this after reading yet another article about how veganism is inherently unhealthy. The article (from a paleo blog this time) spouted off a “fact” from a study which found that 68% of vegetarians and 87% of vegans are deficient in B12.
Wowza! Judging from that info, I would have to say that veganism is pretty darn unhealthy. After all, our bodies do need B12 for cell metabolism, making DNA, creating red blood cells, and more.
But let’s take a closer look at this study. For starters, it only included 66 vegetarians, 29 vegans and 77 omnivores. Of this small pool, the study only looked at people NOT taking vitamins. Pretty much any educated vegan today knows that you’ve got to supplement with B12 in some way, be it vitamins or fortified nutritional yeast. Considering that fact that there are NO reliable vegan sources of B12 (even algae and gut bacteria), it is actually pretty amazing that only 87% of the vegans were deficient in B12 instead of all of them. It must be all that B12 we get from fortified foods, or maybe those vegans still had some stores in their guts from when they ate meat or from their last dosages of a B12 supplement.
Here is what infuriates me with this sort of fact-spouting. Bloggers, health gurus, and the likes set out with a preconceived idea that they want to prove. Then they go through the evidence and cherry pick whichever seemingly-trustworthy source supports their idea.
There is no shortage of studies on the web which can support whatever you want to prove – no matter how outlandish. Just go to Google Scholar and do a search. You will eventually find one study which supports your hypothesis – so long as you are willing to overlook the dozens of other studies which might show otherwise.
If I wanted to prove that vegans are not at risk of B12 deficiency so long as they are taking supplements, I could just as easily spout these studies published in reputable journals:
From the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
52% of vegans and 7% of vegetarians were classified as B12 deficient, BUT when we take a look at the vegans who were taking a B12 supplement, there is “no significant difference” in B12 levels between the vegan supplement users and the non-supplement omnivores.
From the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
Researchers found that the vegetarians met their B12 RDAs from food and vegans nearly met their intake through food. The vegans and vegetarians taking B12 supplements exceeded their B12 RDAs.
What’s the point I am trying to make here? That there is no such thing as an objective viewpoint on the web. Yes, citing scientific studies does help put some authority behind the “facts” which are being argued. But don’t take a single study as evidence that all vegans are doomed to suffer from B12 deficiency (or, contrarily, that vegans don’t have to worry about B12).
Yes, most vegans (and vegetarians!) probably do need to worry about B12 levels. But, since you can get a month’s supply of vegetarian B12 vitamins for about $2 (like this B12 from Deva), vegetarians and vegans certainly aren’t doomed to a deficiency.
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