How the Health Argument Fails Veganism

How the Health Argument Fails Veganism

By |2017-11-22T16:03:05+00:00November 30th, 2010|Tags: |140 Comments
When President Clinton went (almost) vegan several months ago, my reaction to the news wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as it might have been. Seeing high-profile people (or anyone for that matter) go vegan for health reasons makes me nervous. First, President Clinton referred to his diet as “strict,” which is not an especially enticing word when it comes to food choices. He also suggested that it was an “experiment,” noting that 82 percent of those who go on low-fat almost-vegan diets see their heart disease reverse. The implication was that, if he turns out to be among the 18 percent who aren’t so lucky, the experiment will be over. That is, his diet is a treatment, not a commitment to an animal-free lifestyle.  
For the record, I expect that President Clinton will see benefits because he’s lost so much weight, and this alone has a powerful effect on heart disease risk. But despite that, I think the health argument fails veganism and animals for several reasons.   
~People who adopt vegan diets for health reasons never seem to be satisfied with just being vegan. They’re inclined to pile on more restrictions like no added oils or no cooked foods, or only whole plant foods, or even no nuts and seeds. If any of those restrictions had actual benefits, it would be one thing of course. But they don’t, and they can actually work against good health for vegans.
I’d love to know where the evidence is that vegans who eat only whole foods are healthier than those who consume some fortified orange juice, calcium-set tofu, olive oil and a little Coconut Bliss now and then. I’ve certainly never seen any. I think people who adopt more restrictive forms of veganism are more likely to run into health problems, not less. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises women to eat a diet that provides at least 15 percent fat—yet some vegan women strive for 10 percent fat or less by shunning all added fats and limiting other high-fat foods.
Researchers with the WHO are also taking a new look at protein needs—and some believe that these needs may be higher than previously believed. That’s not a big deal for the average omnivore, and probably not for the average vegan, either. But for those vegans who eat a raw foods diet or a super-low-fat diet that minimizes higher-protein foods, it could be.
~The ethical argument for veganism pertains to everyone, but health arguments target a very specific population. In a trailer for the book The Engine 2 Diet, one person who went through “the program,” is no longer on it, because “she doesn’t need to be.” That is—like many omnivores—she is in good health and sees absolutely no reason why she should be vegan.
~The health argument is not foolproof. Per my comments about President Clinton above, if people don’t get the intended benefit—reduced cholesterol or weight loss—they don’t have much reason to stick with a vegan diet. In contrast, the ethical argument for veganism always delivers on its promise. It is always the most compassionate choice and it always promotes an ethic of justice for animals.
~The health argument isn’t unique. People who are focused only on the health aspects of a vegan diet are more likely to be enticed by other dietary philosophies that make promises about improved health. For ethical vegans, there is no comparable or alternative way of eating and living.
The counter-argument to all of this, of course, is that getting people to go vegan for any reason is a good thing. It reduces animal use and it helps shift paradigms about food choices—which can eventually open minds to the issue of animal liberation. I’m in favor of most efforts and campaigns that do those things. But here is the problem with using the health argument in this way—it’s that there isn’t any health argument for veganism.
There is, of course, a pretty good argument for eating more plants (lots more plants) and less animal food, but no one has shown that you must eat a 100 percent plant diet in order to be healthy. So to make an argument for a 100% vegan diet based on health benefits alone, we have no choice but to stretch the truth. We have to overstate the benefits of vegan diets, and sometimes minimize or dismiss the risks. And as soon as we stray from the actual facts, our advocacy is on shaky ground.
There is a reason why I recommend only a handful of resources on vegan nutrition, such as  Vegan Health, and the Vegetarian Resource Group. It’s because these are reliable resources that never overstate the benefits of veganism or ignore potential pitfalls. And guess what? They come from health professionals who are ethical vegans.


  1. Dave Rolsky November 30, 2010 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Generally, when I talk to people about veganism and they ask about health, I say that veganism is "healthy enough". A well-rounded vegan diet with appropriate supplementation is a good diet. It probably isn't the perfect diet, but who knows what that is? Advocating any diet as a perfect diet is ridiculous.
    All this is in the context of advocating that people move towards veganism for ethical reasons. I, and Compassionate Action for Animals, the animal rights group I work with, always stick to the ethical argument as a means of persuasion. I try to talk about health only when someone I'm talking to brings it up.

    • Janice Hamilton December 5, 2010 at 5:28 am - Reply

      I think there are health benefits of being a healthy vegan, especially one modulating more towards being raw vegan. Health benefits don't happen over night, it takes time. When I had depression and a skin rash eating more raw foods didn't take it away over night but over two to three months. I have been vegan 17 years and meat free for 26 years, I am healthy and slim. You say, 'but no one has shown that you must eat a 100 percent diet in order to be healthy', think about the benefits when you are older, I am not going to die of cholesterol related disease, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, obesity etc. These things don't happen over night either they are a life time of eating meat and dairy. As for protein I get more protein than any meat eater from spirulina as it contains 3-4 times more protein than meat and is more easily digestible.

      • Alexandra May 30, 2011 at 5:26 am - Reply

        Janice, this is excatly what the article is NOT saying.  Veganism is not a magical diet that enables you to escape arthritis, cancer, diabetes, etc.
        Gosh, did you even REAd what she was saying?  This is exactly why people can dismiss everything you say about veganism – because you make grand statements that can be easily disproven.

        • Catie August 13, 2012 at 10:26 am - Reply

          She obviously did read the article and disagrees with it. I also disagree with it. There have been scientific studies that have shown a vegan diet has health benefits for the cardiovascular and digestive systems. Your response to Janice was both rude and meaningless. She voiced her opinion and simply because it doesn’t coincide with your beliefs doesn’t mean it’s wrong or that she deserves to be berated.

    • Jona December 7, 2010 at 10:54 am - Reply

      That is close to how my own approach tends to be. Though I haven’t used the “healthy enough” slogan – I think I’ll reuse that from now on. 🙂

      My experience is also than most people don’t need much convincing that there might be some positive health aspects with going veganism (most people need to eat more greens, fruit and so on) because they already tend to believe that. So I mainly focus on answering any worries about negative aspects that might crop up. Questions on B12 and so on. Acknowledging such issues in a non-dramatic way and giving practical advise how they can be easily handled works well I think.

      • Jona December 7, 2010 at 10:55 am - Reply

        Lots of typos, sorry. Got. To. Write. Slower. 🙂

  2. kay November 30, 2010 at 11:18 am - Reply

    You know the vegan "scene" is getting big when one group of vegans that aren't that different from another set of vegans are arguing with each other over which aspect of veganism is more important. 
    Many people became vegan long before studies were published and celebrities chimed in. So I find it hard to care what the WHO thinks is the right amount of fat in a woman's diet, even if I think they're right. 
    It's nice that we have different diets to choose from within the vegan umbrella. I think it's silly that someone would eat an entirely raw food diet but if it works for them then great. 
    Preaching moderation from within veganism is also an interesting perspective. People who become vegan (wether they stick with it or not) are probably not moderate people to begin with.
    There is also psychological aspect to cutting out certain foods rather than cutting down. Humans are better at cutting out than cutting down. I'm surprised that this doesn't get mentioned as much. 
    I look forward to the end of this debate. But not before all the vegan RDs and DRs get into a room for a final showdown.     

    • Mark Osborne June 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm - Reply

      Your point about cutting out being easier than cutting down is an excellent one.

      Taking the leap to a vegan diet forced me to totally reevaluate what I was eating both at home and in restaurants. Before going vegan I was trying to eat healthy without really knowing how. Going vegan opened up a whole new world to me as I had to find alternative foods to replace those that I had cut out and I was inspired to do the research to find out what it meant to eat healthfully.

  3. beforewisdom November 30, 2010 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Many of the vociferous ex-vegans were interested in AR.
    Nina Planck, from that famous New York Times article stated that she was into animal rights.  I'm not a 100% sure, but I am mostly sure that Lierre Kieth was political.   I think the Voracious Ex-Vegan probably gave lip service to the political side too.  
    I went vegan in college after reading the health and environmental arguments in Diet For A New American.   Years later I still am vegan, though the IN YOUR FACE  AR vegans I worked with in a college food co-op are enthusiastic omnivores again.   The loudest AR vegan of that bunch was once put on review for sticking "Meat Is Dead" bumper stickers all over the co-op.  Before I left that job she went full omni.
    I don't think you can generalize  about one group being more prone to becoming ex-vegans and be completely right.

  4. beforewisdom November 30, 2010 at 11:25 am - Reply

    People who adopt vegan diets for health reasons never seem to be satisfied with just being vegan. Theyu2019re inclined to pile on more restrictions like no added oils or no cooked foods, or only whole plant foods, or even no nuts and seeds. If any of those restrictions had actual benefits, it would be one thing of course. But they donu2019t, and they can actually work against good health for vegans.

    Guilty as charged.  I started off as a teenager looking for that special diet to make me superman.  I went that route.   I learned the hard way that letting yourself have that teaspoon of oil,sugar, salt etc.. gave me enough comfort to stick with a regime more so than being a perfectionist.  Years later I'm still vegan and I stay that way partially for the animals.   

  5. Dustin Rhodes November 30, 2010 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Thanks for this post, Ginny. I have thought, and have been saying, this for years: that there is no health argument for veganism. I am always surprised how much that angers so many vegans who insist that it's nothing short of a cure for death itself.
    My partner and I (we went vegan at the same time) always tell people–and it's the honest-to-goodness truth–that nothing changed when we went vegan. We literally experienced….nothing. A decade later, I still believe our real life experience is a good sell as far as health is concerned. And we aren't health nuts or overly careful either. About the only thing we avoid are trans-fats.
    In my opinion, the people who seek perfect health, and try to avoid the human experience, are setting themselves up for supreme disappointment. No matter the diet.

    • Ashley August 13, 2012 at 10:40 am - Reply

      I did experience health benefits after going vegan, including less-severe periods, breast ‘reduction’ and the disappearance of previously spotted and diagnosed breast cysts, and fewer mood swings. My iron deficiency disappeared and I had many more regular bowel movements. My cholesterol went down by somewhere around 25 points.

      I was only 16 when I made this change and these changes occured within a couple of months. It was basically from one blood donation to the next. I was considered “healthy,” but I am a lot healthier since being vegan.

      It doesn’t have as much to do with a vegan diet as it does with “knowing what I am eating.” I pay attention to hydrogenated oils, palm fats, etc. and rarely eat premade foods. Being vegan forced me to evaluate my nutrition and start reading the labels of everything that I buy.

      In that respect, it does seem likely that many people would experience health benefits from going and staying vegan. The increased plant nutrition and the introduction of many new, healthy foods into the diet could definitely help many with high cholesterol and other health issues related to poor nutrition.

      That said, I went vegan for the animals, not for my health. It was just a surprising side effect of veganism. Since then, I have been much more ‘into’ my health, but that was just a natural development that happened as I got older. I’m still vegan and very healthy *within* that lifestyle, but not solely because I don’t eat animals.

  6. beforewisdom November 30, 2010 at 11:30 am - Reply

    I posted President Clinton's CNN interview to a web board I read that has nothing to do with veganism.   Some people started making ignorant comments and then a surprise came.  The owner of the web board, a very prominent woman in her community posted that the women in her family have genes that predispose them to dying young from cardiovascular issues.  She stated that she was impressed enough by President Clinton's interview to give a plant based diet a try and told the board that similar posts from me would be most welcome as far as she was concerned.      If this woman doesn't go 100% vegan or stay vegan it would be no loss to the animals as none of these things would have happened otherwise.

  7. Dustin Rhodes November 30, 2010 at 11:38 am - Reply

    @BeforeWisdom I think you are correct; I too can name a lot of "politcal" vegans who reverted to omnivorism for one reason or another. The reasons why are psychologically complex, to be sure. But I do think what Ginny is writing here is equally true: the path of the health nut rarely finds a true destination. It's one journey after another after another. And honestly I think your vegan journey might be more the exception than the rule (the fact that you've stuck with it!), but of course I have nothing to back that statement up. 

    • beforewisdom November 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm - Reply

      Dustin, not having numbers is exactly why I keep bring up this point in replies to Virgina's contention.   I don't think the generalisation could be made that "health nuts" are more likely to quit than politically motivated vegans.   The numbers just aren't there and I have seen plenty examples of people quitting from all walks of life.   There are many health enthusiasts who aren't OCD perfectionists who do know when to stop.   Just like there are many people into alternative politics who do know how to handle themselves in a healthy way.

      • Ginny Messina November 30, 2010 at 3:49 pm - Reply

        BW, I agree with all your points. However, this post is meant to be a follow-up of my previous 2 posts. Part of my concern about the health argument is that it tends to promote more restrictive types of vegan diets (not always, but you have to admit that it often does) and this increases the risk that people will not meet nutrient needs.

        The other big concern is–do we really want to base our advocacy on a rationale that isn't quite true? I read a whole lot of claims for health benefits for veganism that go way beyond what the research actually shows. Again, I know that some might say that's okay–as long as it gets people to go vegan. I'm just betting that you are not one of the people who would say that!

        • beforewisdom December 2, 2010 at 5:58 am - Reply

          No, I would not say that spreading false information is okay as long as it gets people to try vegan diets.  Aside from being wrong, that kind of thing only destroys the credibility of vegan activists.
          I think there is a vegan health argument that is backed up, your point about being able to eat *some* meat on a plant based diet notwithstanding.    That amount is pretty small.  I *think* people who advocate that promote no more than 4 ounces a day.   That is about 2 – 3 thick slices of cold cuts.
          My issue with the comments you and Dustin make is that you seem to be pinning a bum rap on people interested in health.   I've pointed out that the public ex-vegans, at least most of them, have been political.  Dustin even agreed that many of the ex-vegans he knew were political.  There was even Rob Coronado who went to jail for his direct action AR and decided that he deserved to eat cheese.  Yet both of you keep stating that people in this group who try vegan diets are more likely to quit.

  8. beforewisdom November 30, 2010 at 11:40 am - Reply

    A few years ago the leaders of an animal protection group started writing essays warning vegans about overstating the health arguments   People could get health benefits by not being 100% vegan.  In those same set of essays that organization also endorsed flexitarianism, stating that every reduction in the consumption of animal products helped animals.  One of their famous lines is to answer a person who complains "I could be vegan except for X" with "then don't give X up, but eat vegan the rest of the time.
    So, where is the problem with people who would never be vegan otherwise, being 90% there as the result of a health argument?

    • Ginny Messina November 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm - Reply

      There is no problem with it. But this is the argument that it is better for your health to eat a mostly plant foods diet–which is probably true. The problem lies in trying to make the case that it is necessary to eat a 100% plant foods diet to be healthy, which is probably not true.

  9. Meg November 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    Hi Beforewisdom,
    The problem is not with people cutting down their consumption of animal products. The problem is them continuing to use animal products. And if we overestimate the health benefits of a vegan diet, we not only lose credibility and confuse people about what it means to be a vegan, we distract from veganism itself which is a philosophy against animal exploitation and cruelty (including for non-dietary reasons), not just some diet.  
    While I wish everyone would actually be vegan, of course, a part of me is very glad to see certain people dropping the vegan label (sometimes in favor of labels like "nutritarian") when what they are/were doing is not veganism as it has nothing to do with animal exploitation and usually limited to just diet. I feel like that's much better than misusing labels, as many have done to describe Bill Clinton as "vegan".
    We can definitely still promote whole foods, plant based diets on their own merits and while letting people know that that itself is not veganism. And, yes, there will hopefully be people who will cut down their animal consumption as a result. But I think the only argument for veganism that holds up and promotes consistency is that it is wrong to unnecessarily exploit and kill other animals. So, that should be our focus when promoting veganism. 

  10. HD November 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Before I went vegan, I was 60 pounds overweight, at risk of diabetes, had high cholesterol levels, anemia, and insanely high blood pressure for a 22 year old. I went vegan for ethical reasons and, yet, it changed my whole life from a health standpoint.  I also never attempted to limit myself re: fatty foods either.  I desired to eat healthy because I enjoyed no longer having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or anemia, but I think the fact that I am comfortable downing a pint of Coconut Bliss occasionally has actually helped me maintain the health I'm in.  I am always surprised when people make comments about my weight loss (over 60 pounds), but then talk about how much I eat or what I eat.  "You must have good metabolism."  When I say, "No, not really. I just … eat a lot of vegetables and grains, limit REFINED carbs, and have ice cream when I get a sweet tooth." 
    I mean, I understand in a sense why people have such an eschewed view of eating, but I don't understand how people will willingly starve themselves, count calories, take pills, eat non-fat stuff (like, I have a coworker who eats those junk breakfast bars every morning, but won't eat an avocado because it's "Fatty"), but they won't simply realize that food is there to nourish and sustain you.
    I think you're onto something about the using veganism to lose weight is just another attempt to restrict one's diet.  After my "transformation", a few people I knew attempted vegan diets, but failed because it was just "another diet".

  11. Cherie November 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    I always advise anyone going raw, to get enough calories, number one; and number two (and this goes for cooked food eaters as well), eat YOUR GREEN  LEAFY VEGETABLES.  Please!  🙂

  12. Happy Herbivore November 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    just today I blogged about how I went vegan for vanity–to be skinny, to have clear skin and for my health (I'd had a cancer scare)–and in the process, my whole world shifted into focus and the reasons I stay vegan (for the environment, animals, etc) is long and vast. I've had dozens of people comment saying they had a similar story, so i think it's unfair to discount that sometimes people who become vegan for vanity or "health reasons" or anything other than "animal rights" might stay vegan because of those. For me, veganism is a three-legged stool… and by the way, my veganism with added restrictions (no added oils, mostly whole plant foods, no nuts and seeds) has had drastic health benefits for me and so many others (with lots of science and personal life examples to back it up) in fact ALL the vegan doctors out there (McDougall, Fuhrman, etc) all support the low fat vegan diet… . I really liked this website, and now–not so much.

    • Ginny Messina November 30, 2010 at 1:20 pm - Reply

      Lindsay, I agree that some people who go vegan for health reasons will stay vegan or embrace the ethical considerations for veganism and said as much in my post. That is certainly a good argument in favor of presenting a health rationale for going vegan. My question, though is this–since there isn't really any science to suggest that a vegan diet is the healthiest (or only truly healthy) way for people to eat, do we want to say that it is? Some people might say yes–anything to get people to go vegan. I'm not sure I agree with that.

      And since the bulk of the evidence suggests that including some plant fats in your diet is better for people than going too low with fat , the restrictions that many health-oriented vegans recommend are probably not the best idea. And they make a vegan diet look that much more difficult.

      • Cherie November 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm - Reply

        "They" make a vegan diet "look" difficult?  I'd say closed-minded people, who can't imagine a meal without bread or grains; without meats; without slabbing butter, sour cream, or cheese on their plates may have issues with making changes, but it's all about THEIR mindset, not how someone else applies general health advice and feels good doing so.  If using vegetable broth and no oil or eating a vegetable raw *faints* doesn't appeal to someone, that merely shows how limited THEY are in their minds, that they can't imagine doing something different than what they're used to, that another culture or way of life exists (like, not steaming, baking, boiling, frying everything to oblivion and adding salt to further dehydrate yourself). 
        And someone can get a good amount of healthy plant-based fats without eating overtly fatty foods, without eating oils and other processed items as well.  I'd hardly say that an item that must be processed/extracted, clarified/filtered, and bottled to be used is necessary to sustain a healthy human body.  Your choice if you want to use oil, but to say it's unwise to NOT use it is a bit of a stretch if you ask me.

        • Ginny Messina November 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm - Reply

          Well, that process that you described doesn't apply to olive oil, and there is definitely a pretty compelling body of evidence to suggest that it has some health benefits. But I agree that oil is hardly an essential food in a healthy diet. My point really is that it's okay (and probably good for you) to include some higher fat plant foods in your diet. So why add additional restrictions to a diet that don't improve on its health benefits? After all, our goal is to help as many people to go vegan as possible.

          • Cherie November 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm

            Sorry, but I don't call "eating as many fruits and vegetables as I want" to be restrictive.  Maybe someone would feel that way if you had an emotional attachment to something, but considering I eat 30% more calories than the average person, I get to enjoy a lot more!  Pass the pineapple.  🙂  If I ate oils (which I don't think have any health benefit, and I've been there done that with including them versus not, and also many other things, like grains), I would probably have the same boring life of trying to limit my caloric intake so I wouldn't gain a pound, or waiting for all of those grains, legumes, nuts, oils to digest for 3-4 hours.  I'd rather eat and go for a run an hour later.  🙂
            Why do you think that because I or any other person doesn't eat oil (or whatever) would inhibit your goal to help people go vegan?  Do you think that because I do something, I try to dictate that other people do the same?  I really don't understand.  Can you clarify?
            Again, what you consider a restriction isn't for me; it opened up an entirely different world.  I have been an omnivore; I have been a cooked & raw vegan; I have been a raw moderate-fat-eater vegan; I'm less restricted now than I've ever been.
            I'd ask that you consider there are different view points on what constitutes a road block or restriction or not.  Some people are addicted to bread; others have never had it in their lives.

          • Ginny Messina November 30, 2010 at 2:35 pm

            I'm really talking about the image that we create for vegan diet and the importance of making it seem as mainstream as possible. As well as the fact that more restrictive versions of vegan diets increase the risk that people will fail when they go vegan–and that's not good for vegans or for the animals who depend on us to promote veganism as widely as possible. As a dietitian and an animal rights activist, I want to promote a type of diet that will be as realistic and as safe for as many people as possible.

          • Cherie November 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm

            Well, I'll always be honest with people on what type of abundance of fruits & vegetables I have felt best on.  🙂  But I'm happy to show someone where to find a cooked vegan junk-food cookie as well, if that's what makes them happy and living a more animal-friendly lifestyle.  😀

          • Ginny Messina November 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm

            As long as you're not hiding the cookies from them, I think you're doing your job as a vegan advocate. 🙂

          • Racquelle January 5, 2012 at 10:09 am


            Just curious; do you not eat any grains, nuts or legumes at all or am I misunderstanding?

    • Christina Arasmo Beymer February 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm - Reply

      Ginny is an RD, who is vastly more qualified than an MD regarding nutrition. McDougall is very unhealthy looking. I used to live in Santa Rosa. There are some extremely unhealthy vegans following a low fat diet. I’ve seen their graying teeth and dark circles under their eyes. I’ve read about their depression. I met children who are so frail who had all their front teeth rot out on a vegan diet. All in Santa Rosa under the guidance of a vegan MD. Horrible. And there are very healthy vegans, like me, who eat good fat such as avocados, nuts and flax oil, take my B12 under the tongue, D3 and other supplements because the thought of eating animals and drinking their juices is revolting. There’s plenty of people on a Paleo diet who are very, very healthy and all their numbers back it up. The vegan diet is for people who want to align their hearts with their actions, and once you do that, the universe will assist. That’s my take on it anyway.

  13. Nicole November 30, 2010 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    I am a great example of why vegans can't use the health aspect of veganism to prop up their reasons about why to be vegan.
    I've been vegan for more than eight years.  In the last year and a half I've gained more than 20lbs, and there's no way I could convince any non-vegans I know that my diet is healthier than theirs.  A serious injury prevented me from exercising for about a year, during which time my diet, although vegan in every way, was rubbish.  I  made poor choices – I had an enormous sweet tooth and when I tried to avoid sugar I ended up eating too much fat.  Because walking was nearly impossible at times, I resorted to the easiest, most processed foods I could easily get to.  If I had tried to tell somene my diet was healthier than theirs just because it's vegan, I would have looked like a really big fool.
    I've met several people who went vegan for dietary reasons, and not one of them ever stayed vegan or went back to being vegan.  Only one of these persons has said that she was healthier as a vegan, but for her own reasons has remained an omni.
    At the AR conference LetLive in Portland this last June, one of the speakers at a panel said that overstating the benefits of veganism only harms those we're seeking to help – the animals themselves.

    • Ginny Messina November 30, 2010 at 1:41 pm - Reply

      That's how I feel about overstating the benefits of vegan diets–I think it can never serve the animals well in the long run. And I know *many* vegans who are overweight, even without having had an injury.

      • Ron January 13, 2011 at 11:35 am - Reply

        It should be clear that simply being vegan does not automatically make someone healthy, as it has to be done right – because are merely taking away something (animal food) that the body does not require.  But that doesn't mean there isn't a health argument for being vegan if it is done right – as humans were never designed to eat animals to begin with (as our anatomy shows).  And thus what do not require cannot be necessary for health – and its inclusion can actually be harmful – as is shown by its link to numerous degenerative diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.).  Having said all of that, the health argument should not be made alone, but in conjunction with all of the other strong arguments in favor of it, particularly moral and environmental – as they all feed on each other – and which together make for an even more powerful argument for being vegan, which is difficult to refute.  

  14. Dave Shishkoff November 30, 2010 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Thanks to Meg for bringing up what i think is the most important point: veganism is actually a philosophy. Yes, this is lost on most people who call themselves 'vegan', but it's important to be familiar with some of the basics.
    For example, 'vegan' isn't some nebulous term. It has a definition (and was coined in 1944), and the Vegan Society of the UK works to promote a meaningful vegan message (unlike many other 'vegan' organizations….some of which confuse the term, and would have people thinking that veganism is little more than the opposition of factory farms…) Here's the definition:
    [T]he word "veganism" denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
    Clearly, this isn't a 'diet'. Doing so is like reducing feminism to a single issue, like 'equal pay'. (If someone agreed with 'equal pay' but no other feminist principles, are they a feminist? I would say no..) It states clearly that veganism is an anti-exploitative philosophy, and of course the application of this wherever practical and reasonable.
    I don't mean to be harsh, but it's simple linguistics. And if someone doesn't agree with this, why would they even want to refer to themselves as a 'vegan'?
    When this is understood, the 'health argument' also become moot..eating plants because they're 'more healthy' completely overlooks what veganism is all about – respecting other animals. I wish this got more discussion… Very few groups ever mention or discuss the origin of veganism (hurray for Friends of Animals for being one such group to embrace our roots!)
    Thanks for all your work, Ginny! Fantastic and essential blog. =)

    • beforewisdom December 2, 2010 at 5:48 am - Reply

      Or to put it briefly the word "Vegan" as coined by Donald Watson in 1944 refers to a person with a particular ethical belief ( ) as opposed to a person who does not hold that belief who eats a vegan diet.

    • Amy August 7, 2012 at 10:51 am - Reply

      Hi Dave (and all), a question:
      When people ask me about diet restrictions (say, before a business lunch or visiting an acquaintance), I usually claim “vegan,” despite the fact that I should probably only say that I “eat foods that are not animal-derivatives.” Part of this is that it’s a shorter label, but part of it is that sometimes I’ve gotten in weird misunderstandings about what constitutes an animal. (ie, “Well, I don’t eat animal products.” “No problem, we have lots of fish…”) And, typically because of the publicity around veganism, I don’t usually have these misunderstandings when I answer “vegan” instead.
      I’m trying not to poach a label, so I try to clarify if people ask me further questions. What sort of thing do you encourage “plant-eaters” to do so that we can still get the efficiency of the “vegan” name, without diluting it for true vegans?
      Thanks and best, amy

  15. Amy November 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    For me personally it is all about avoiding harm. I'm a Buddhist and I want to practice compassion to animals and to people. I'm sick of all the "diet wars" too.

  16. PythagoreanCrank November 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    It's nice to finally see somebody (especially a science professional) admit this is with all the overstated claims frequently employed to bait & switch people into veganism.

  17. Christina Arasmo Beymer November 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    Thank you! Yes, for love only. Not for "rights" or "ethics" but when done for love those are the people who never stop and always are so healthy. This is what I have found. I do feel that this is so, is in spite of my new beliefs that I think some people are genetically predisposed to require meat, or they think they need it. I also have ideas about cholesterol being too low. Just as there's a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol, the opposite is true with SLOS and there are varying degrees. Someone with SLOS needs dietary cholesterol, from what I could gather. Incidentally, there's not much difference in thinking you need meat and actually needing biologically. Either way,  they should not be shunned, they need to be embraced to help end factory farming. Thank you again! Yes, it's not for your health, it's for the animals health! 

  18. Christina Arasmo Beymer November 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    I meant for love of animals, seeing yourself in them. I am so happy that I am healthy on this diet or rather "live it" It ain't raw, it's not low fat, when I want to drop weight, I avoid bread and white stuff, but I lost 60 lbs after 4 years as a vegan. I gained 20 back due to slacking a little, and also gaining muscle (lifting heavier and eating more to support it). At 140 lbs. I look 120 lbs. and I still fit most of my skinny clothes. But I'm back at it. VeganBodyBuilding helped me initially and I suspect I'll be back there since the people are awesome and very helpful rooting you on!

  19. Jamie November 30, 2010 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Yes, yes, yes! Love this post so much! I love the point about whole foods & restrictive diets making it harder for some to get enough nutrients and the benefits of fortified foods. Thanks for the link.

  20. Jerome F. Falcon November 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    The health argument regarding veganism is, in fact, relevant, just like the environmental and ethical arguments, not more and not less.
    That being said, the healthiest diet for human beings is called low-fat raw veganism (fruitarianism).

    Thank you for opening up your heart.

  21. Chris Canicosa November 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Dear Ginna,
    You are right about one thing, there are cravings for sugar, oils, cooked foods, spices, fats etc. Drug addicts have cravings for their chosen drug. just because you crave it, doesn't mean it's good for your health. 
    Let's cut to the chase. Stack up a LowFatRawFood Vegans blood analysis and body composition VS.   a non-vegan, HighFatVegan, cookedVegan, SAD lifestyle.  I suggest you do the study, crunch the numbers. Then publish it on this blog!
    I am healthier now at 49 than I was in my 20's! My blood work and body composition proves it. 
    Chris Canicosa!

  22. […] In a previous entry I warned of an impending bubble burst when all the bad arguments vegans throw around so willy nilly will cause an artificial inflation of vegans who will eventually fail and become disenfranchised for being duped. The counter anecdotes and knee-jerk mockery have subsided and it was an embarrassing display to witness. The cleanup crew is getting in gear though and Ginny Messina RD writes: How the Health Argument Fails Veganism. […]

  23. Amanda November 30, 2010 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    I think all of the arguments for veganism have validity but some are more persuasive to certain populations than others. Since I left Houston (a city of 4 million) and moved to Marshall Texas (a city of less than 30 thousand) my husband and I have convinced more than a dozen people to try a vegan diet. We did so primarily using "The China Study" by T. Colin Campbell, "Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease" by Caldwell Esselstyn and a few other resources. All of which are filled with solid evidence of the benefits for an animal free diet. If it weren't for the health benefits (which we have both experienced ourselves) there would be no vegans in Marshall except for us. Am I failing the animals by encouraging people to adopt a vegan diet for health reasons? Using an ethical argument here would not only be ineffective it would be counter productive. This is a place where hunting is considered noble and cattle ranching is glorified. Yet using the health argument works. It also brings many of them around to the ethics eventually. If not, I'm still satisfied. They have all lost weight, lowered their cholesterol and no longer support the industries that exploit animals for food. I consider that a win.    

    • Ginny Messina November 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm - Reply

      Sure, and I agree that it's a win if these people remain vegan. However, most people could also lose weight and reduce their cholesterol on a diet that includes some animal foods. So I can't, in all honesty, tell anyone that they need to go vegan if they want to reap those benefits. That's where the argument falls short for me. I can only tell them that they need to greatly cut back on their intake of meat and other animal products. And that's good–I'm happy to do that. But it's not veganism! 

    • Scott K March 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      This is the sort of prudent reply I appreciate.  In the grand scheme, the goal is for people to eat less meat.  Idealogic purity is less important than helping people find infromation on this topic that appeals to them.  

  24. Steven November 30, 2010 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    great post and comments.  i also think of veganism as a philosophy with many facets.   and, we should embrace all those that pursue this philosophy whatever the reason. i became a vegan after reading The China Study and Thrive by Brendan Brazier.  as a triathlete, i was looking for a performance edge and found it through a vegan diet.  to achieve a neutral pH balance the body has to work extra hard in converting acid forming foods (animal) which is not the case with alkaline forming foods (plants).  this extra work takes away from performance and recovery.  more and more althletes are going plantstrong! and the primary reason is health, performance and recovery.
    PS.  hemp oil is nutrionally superior to olive oil

  25. Gena November 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm - Reply


    Though I tend to fall on the uncooked side of the spectrum, I basically agree wholeheartedly. Veganism CAN offer great health, but so can most unprocessed, plant-heavy diets. I get tired of people waving the CHINA STUDY around and trying desperately to find scientific evidence that veganism is the ONLY healthy diet, because the truth is that no such evidence exists. And those who pursue veganism with a religious belief that it is the only path to health are very likely going to encounter at least some disillusionment. I became vegan for health reasons and psychological reasons, but it's not what's kept me vegan for six years. Compassion has.

  26. […] more on this topic I highly recommend this new post titled How the Health Argument Fails Veganism by Ginny Messina, the Vegan RD. She pulls no punches in getting to the point,“here is the […]

  27. bitt November 30, 2010 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    I appreciate your perspective. I went vegan for ethical reasons and I personally don't even think a vegan diet is the same as being vegan–there's clothing and other things to consider.
    I do appreciate that within the vegan diet there are variations such as a raw diet. it was a nice option to have to get healthier after eating less healthy vegan diet. It can become restrictive for some, but not for others. I too felt as the Cherie did at first, that my options had exapnded. But once I felt restricted, I included more cooked vegan foods. I also think that once people feel released from the addictions of certain animal foods, they can feel more free to consider the animal issues more deeply.

    I think the health argument is a good entry point for people to get into eating vegan foods. Some will become vegan and eat less animals in return. But they won't encompass the full vegan philosophy, no. Let's face it, a lot of people are selfish and the only thing that will get them to even consider eating a vegan meal is for their own well-being.

  28. Linda November 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    This is a country of dietary extremism…just look how the huge food production companies retool for no gluten once low carb loses favor.  I see veganism growing in popularity, but hope this doesn't end up being another fad.  Ginny: I think you're right about the Clinton 'experiment.'  He'll move on if it doesn't work, and where does that leave the general public who's watching very closely. 

  29. Josh Latham November 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    I sometimes get the feeling that the AR vegans have it in for us health vegans. I was vegetarian for many years before I read The China Study which caused me to go full on vegan. I went vegetarian because of the "ick factor" of eating a dead animal. I went vegan because of T. Colin Campbell's well made case that animal proteins causes cancer to express itself. Am I correct that you dismiss the cancer argument Campbell makes in his book? The evidence to me seems overwhelming.
    As a dietitian wouldn't you say that eating more plants and less meat and dairy is probably your best bet to avoid most health problems? As a dietitian, what diet do you most recommend? A vegan diet or almost vegan diet? And in either case it at least cuts down on animal consumption which helps the compassion movement. It seems to me that both arguments HELP each other, not hinder.
    Also, after going vegan I have been introduced to a lot more AR literature. Now I'm doing away with leather in my wardrobe. So compassion is yet another reason to stay vegan. So regardless of whether my health takes a turn for the worse I will never go backwards.
    My feeling is that the health argument is going to do far more to advance the AR movement than anything that has been tried thus far. Because like bitt stated in his comment above, most people are selfish. This is unfortunate but a fact. In my opinion, to say that the health argument fails Veganism is ridiculous. The health argument is a valid argument and should be made.

    • Greg December 2, 2010 at 7:42 am - Reply

      Thank you Josh, well said.    
      Ginny, please answer Josh's question about the cancer argument Campbell makes in the China Study.    I don't understand how you can say the health argument fails veganism, that's totally ridiculous.   
      Josh, you said everything I was thinking, thank you. 

      • Ginny Messina December 6, 2010 at 3:17 pm - Reply

        The China Study was an ecological study, which generally provides fairly weak evidence. That's not a criticism because ecological studies are part of the bigger research picture and are important for that reason. They add pieces of data, but by themselves, they are never a basis for drawing conclusions about diet and health. And, because this particular population didn't include vegetarians, it makes it that much harder to draw conclusions. Likewise, data from animal studies is not always relevant to human health. I would recommend taking a look at the AICR/WCRF report on diet and cancer to see where we really are in our understanding abouat these issues. It's truly more complex (and not nearly as well understood) as most non-scientists think!

        As for your question, Josh, about what diet I recommend–I recommend a vegan diet because it is the only ethical choice and it is a perfectly healthy choice. That's really all I need to know.

  30. Xenia Aidonopoulou December 1, 2010 at 12:47 am - Reply

    There are no health benefits to being vegan?  !
    The China Studay I would have thought would have provided enough proof that there are…
    The closer one is to a vegan diet the healthier one gets – and even if some people will not stay 100% vegan due to health benefits they will at least tend towards it if they have had any/enough experience with it to see and feel the health and spiritual benefits which entail ( of which there are many… ) …
    Any and all steps in a vegan direction are better than no steps at all surely…
    I am sure the animals agree with me…
    And of course then there is always the fact that as one becomes and allows oneself to become more sensitive and open to a vegan diet for health reasons one does tend to become more aware of and sensitve to animal rights issues – this is something which I see happening and reported on over and over again…
    So YAY to anyone becoming vegan for ANY reason at all, let's not lose sight of the big picture ( the earth, the animals… ) …
    Health was the main reason i re-became vegetarian – after a few years of not being … – and am able to stay consistently vegan!!! As soon as i would eat any cheese for example I would break out in spots…
    Otherwise cheese ( for example ), for many, just tastes too good to give up completely… Spots however are a big enough detterent… On the other hand animal rights may be the detterent needed for others… I don't think there is a lot of benefit from ( apart from these kinds of discussions of course! ) saying one way of getting to vegan is better than another…

    When all of the USA watches Bill Clinton lose weight and get fitter a lot will surely be "awakened" to new options. Well done to him. And of course the diet seems restrictive to him to begin with and until he gets his teeth into it… And even if he does go back to a vegetarian diet ( for example ) there will still be no denying the health benefits he attained eating vegan and he will still have made leeway in the right direction…
    And of course whole, non-processed foods and low fat options are better than processed and high fat choices whatever diet one has, and that includes vegan… Which again, is not to say that each person is not allowed to find their own balance within that and that "less healthy" options should be or have to be excluded at all costs… These are just general guidelines that absolutely work and whatever works for each person is great and there really is no-one of us who can judge another for their choices, no matter if we like to or think we can! 🙂


  31. Xenia December 1, 2010 at 1:04 am - Reply

    PS Thanks Ginny for allowing me to express myself on your blog! 🙂

  32. Matt December 1, 2010 at 7:54 am - Reply

    This is a great post, Ginny. But I think you miss the main argument: when the general public hears "the health argument," the vast majority of people who make changes eat more animals — they replace large animals (cows and pigs) with smaller animals (chickens and fishes). 
    The health argument has caused far more suffering in the world than anything else that I can imagine.

    • Josh Latham December 1, 2010 at 9:28 am - Reply

      Matt, I think what that proves is exactly the power the health argument can have on people's choices. I think up until a few years ago the consensus was that chicken and fish are ok and red meats like steak and pork were bad.  People believing this shifted their consumption from one type of meat to another. I think with the new health argument that it's best to eat no meat and dairy, you will see the same shift happen, but will decrease all meat and dairy consumption, not shift it onto another type of meat and dairy. Some AR people make the argument that veal consumption is the only meat to have been cut because of the compassion argument. How do we know the reasons people have stopped eating veal? It could be both for health and compassion. It seems to me that it was such a small percentage of people eating veal to begin with that of course if cow and pig consumption drops so would veal. If the health argument has caused far more suffering than you can imagine, has the AR argument done much to stop or reverse it?

  33. Meg December 1, 2010 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Great points, Josh and Matt!
    So many times I have told people I'm vegan and then they tell me about how they don't eat "red meat" anymore or not as much as they used to — and in a tone that makes it obvious that they think I should be happy about it! If they had any idea what veganism was about, I should hope that they would realize that no, I'm not pleased to hear that they are probably eating more, smaller animals.
    Yet some would have us believe that that is a "step forward", as if the path to veganism was just a matter of cutting out one specific animal product after another instead of getting people to oppose animal exploitation and do their best to avoid it in all its forms. And, with so many forms, it's definitely going to take more than giving up one form here and there. 

  34. Lisa A. December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    First of all, I would like to say thank you for your blog. The work that you and Jack Norris do for the vegan community is invaluable.
    In regards to your argument: I too first became a vegan for health reasons. My husband and I watched the movie Eating (which I now admit has many holes) and it convinced us to become vegan overnight. I can say that at that point we were trying to eat healthier. We avoided red meat, fatty meat and a lot of high calorie dairy products. We also didn’t eat anything with hydrogenated oils. I tried to eat a lot of fruit. But watching the movie convinced us that what we were doing was not enough. My husband was obese. After becoming vegan he lost 30 pounds and both of us were able to substantially lower our cholesterol. We stopped experiencing heart burn and started having a regular stool. I had my raw food period, but I got back to eating more cooked foods. It did not turn out to be a good experiment. Now, our diet mainly consists of whole plant foods. We drink soymilk and eat other soy foods, but rarely severely processed foods. I eat as many seeds, nuts and avocados as I want, but I try to use little oil in cooking.
    I am glad that I went through this route. The ethical argument didn’t work for me. I received Vegan Outreach brochures twice while I was in college. I put one of them on a shelf of my bookcase and recycled the other one. The one that was on a bookshelf was never opened. I also remember passing a guy showing scary videos on the Santa Monica Promenade in Los Angeles. It was probably Meet your Meat. I just turned my head away. I couldn’t watch. I still can’t. It has been 2.5 years since both of us went vegan and we still are. And I don’t see that changing. I have read a lot since then, and both my husband and I fully realize the amount of pain involved in the production of animal products. We eventually came to the ethical side of veganism. And at this point, it is probably the primary reason why we are vegan. I understand that I can include small amounts of animal products and still remain healthy. However, I will never do that because those are, well, animal products. And they always involve suffering.

  35. Toby December 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Personally I got interested in the vegan diet because of the research coming out on cardiac health, changed our diet completely to plant based for environmental reasons, and can see the point of the animal advocacy after seeing the documentary Earthlings. That was a rough movie!
    Really whatever the reason one adopts plant based living I think we need to support each other rather than find differences to criticize.

    • Jona December 7, 2010 at 11:08 am - Reply

      I agree we vegans should support each other of course. But it also important to think critically about how to communicate and what types of claims that we can back up with evidence. It is not about creating a split between those who found their way to veganism through health considerations or through AR considerations and it’s not about categorically dismissing one or the other. I read Ginny’s post as written in a more constructive spirit. There are risks with taking the health claims very far. That’s compatible with there being some other risks with communicating the AR reasons for veganism. Let’s deal with each of the cases in turn and try to work out solutions together.

  36. kelly December 1, 2010 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed the article and want to thank you for writing it. The one thing that upset me about one interview Clinton did is the dancing around of the subject of Veganism… It was clearly obvious that is what his doctors were pushing for in his diet and yet the words never uttered his lips.
    The one thing I disagree with on some of the comments made is that people keep emphasizing that it isnt how or why you become Vegan simply that you are… I think the relevancy of the article has been missed by some with statements like that. I feel the article is meant to bring about thoughts like…Yes it is fabulous that you have decided to go Vegan but for how long will your dalliance with Veganism last if its only for health issues? Does this hurt veganism by compartmentalizing what for many is a lifestyle choice into a simple diet fad?
    The title really embodies the sentiment of the article; how the health argument fails.
    I was a living embodiment of this article. From the age of 13-17 I was a Vegetarian because shockingly I hated the texture of meat. It was never a moral dilemma for me and eventually I went back to some forms of animal "meat" and it was only until I saw the moral imperative associated with what I consumed (eat, wore, used) in daily life that I became Vegan and countless years later I have stayed that way.

    • Josh Latham December 2, 2010 at 9:45 am - Reply

      @ Kelly. I love how you generalize my life long commitment to staying healthy through a plant-based diet as a "simple diet fad". For me it very much is a lifestyle choice. How would you feel if someone referred to your commitment to AR as a silly phase? Sure the plant-based diet may be something some try for 6 weeks and decide it's not for them. But the same thing happens to some who go vegan for 6 weeks or so for AR reasons and then decide they aren't really committed enough to stick with it. And it does happen.
      I take the plant-based diet movement very seriously. I am, just like you, committed to a cause.

  37. Meg December 2, 2010 at 8:29 am - Reply

    " The one thing that upset me about one interview Clinton did is the dancing around of the subject of Veganism… It was clearly obvious that is what his doctors were pushing for in his diet and yet the words never uttered his lips."
    Actually, I thought it was really great that Clinton *didn't* say that he was a vegan. What upset me was that others were calling him a vegan when he never said it (as far as I've heard). What his doctors were pushing for wasn't for him to become a vegan, after all. They could probably care less about whether he wears leather or goes to zoos and what his views on animal exploitation are. What they advocated was a plant-based diet — no more, no less — and that's the right term for it, not veganism. 

  38. Danielle December 2, 2010 at 9:48 am - Reply

    I am a newbie for a year and a half now.  I am guilty for going into "veganism" for health reasons.  I may not be 100%, and it may be for my own selfish reasons, but I have compassionately helped animals as well.  Is anyone truly a 100% vegan?  I have read that books and cars are made or have something from an animal.  I think we all try and that is what is important.  It's like believing in God and not going to a church or temple.  Does this make you a non religious person?  As long as you have belief and faith in what you believe in, you should be able to practice in your own way.  Perhaps the "vegan diet" is not all what it is made out to be.  I think I have only gained weight, but I have hypothyroidism and I am also highly allergic to soy!  Go figure.  I am now trying to limit soy in my diet and which is not easy!!  I have also read the controversy of soy possibly bringing on problems for those with hypothyroidism.  I have not given up.  I like it and feel great.  Some other health issues have disappeared and I am grateful and I have simply adapted.  Lately I do not feel comfortable using the word, "vegan", I feel that I have not properly earned that title.  I tell people, I am a vegetarian that eliminates all animal products, and I do it to eat clean.  It's nice to know, that less animals were harmed because one more selfish person has decided not to eat them anymore.

    • Josh Latham December 2, 2010 at 10:02 am - Reply

      @Danielle, Maybe strict vegetarian is a better term than just vegetarian.

    • Ginny Messina December 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm - Reply

      Danielle, I never suggested that those who go vegan for health reasons are "selfish" or that it is a bad thing to be vegan for whatever reasons you choose. I said only that, in terms of advocacy, promoting veganism for health reasons alone is not a good idea, for all the reasons I listed in my post.

  39. […] recently posted an article titled “How the Health Argument Fails Veganism.” In the article, she relays some shockingly cynical […]

  40. Mike December 4, 2010 at 5:28 am - Reply

    "I’d love to know where the evidence is that vegans who eat only whole foods are healthier than those who consume some fortified orange juice, calcium-set tofu, olive oil and a little Coconut Bliss now and then. I’ve certainly never seen any"
    Dr.'s Caldwell Esselstyn, John McDougall, and Dean Ornish seemed to have had no problem getting people extremely healthy, including reversing heart disease, for the past 20+ years on a low fat, no oil, vegan diet. 
    I think what it comes down to is, you're pissed off that people would adopt a vegan diet for health reasons instead of for YOUR own personal animal-rights based beliefs.  At least be truthful and admit it.

  41. Meg December 4, 2010 at 11:57 am - Reply

    I don't think anyone here has denied that those doctors have gotten many people healthy. However, the comparisons seem to always be between very strict vegan diets and the typical SAD diet. Ginny never said that people should go out and habitually gorge themselves on stuff like vegan (or non-vegan) ice cream. The key part of her quote you used is "now and then". Where are the studies that show that there can't be stellar results under a slightly less strict program? Even the very occasional bit of cheese or meat? Certainly, there are many people who eat healthy diets and are healthy but aren't vegan or even vegetarian, strict or not. And if we ignore that when most people won't, then we don't do ourselves or animals a favor.   
    And I think it is very rude and also foolish of you to be accusing Ginny of lying and telling her what she really thinks and feels. She seems more than capable of speaking her mind. There is no excuse to prop up straw men here.  

    • Josh Latham December 4, 2010 at 3:18 pm - Reply

      @ Meg, I believe that if someone gets 90 perfect of their daily total calories from fruits, vegetables and whole grains they can be pretty much assured that they will not get cancer. If you wanted to almost guarantee yourself a cancer free life, you wouldn't eat any meat or dairy. T. Colin Campbell says getting anything more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from meat and dairy will start turning cancer cells on and also starts increasing your risk of heart disease. The science on this is very clear, the closest you are to a diet free of meat and dairy, a VEGAN diet, the better off you are. There might be people who will live a healthy life and escape the risk. But 1 in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetime, the numbers are stacked against non-vegans.

      • Josh Latham December 4, 2010 at 3:25 pm - Reply

        Actually I think the numbers for men is 1 in 2 men will get cancer in their lifetime. So those not taking precautions to prevent it are pretty foolish.

    • Ginny Messina December 6, 2010 at 2:39 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Meg–you are absolutely right about this. Just because one diet is successful in helping people become healthier doesn't mean that it is the only diet that does so or even the best way to eat. In fact, the only published research on diet and reversal of heart disease come from the Ornish study–which didn't use a vegan diet. So it actually proves that people don't need to be vegan in order to reap the benefits. Again, we have good research showing the benefits of plant-based eating, but nothing that shows that a vegan diet is better than other healthy plant-based diets. This is why the health argument doesn't work for promoting veganism.

      And Josh, your statement about the type of diet that almost “guarentees” that someone won’t get cancer helps to make one of my points. This is typical of the kinds of overstatements that people make about the protective effects of vegan diets. The research on diet and cancer is vast and confusing and conflicting and we are a long way from being able to define the diet that guarentees a person won’t get cancer. Researchers don’t even agree about the protective effects of fruits and vegetables or fiber. Certainly people would be wise to adopt a plant-based diet to reduce their risk for cancer, but they shouldn’t be complacent in thinking that it means they are completely protected.

      • Josh Latham December 7, 2010 at 12:19 am - Reply

        "And Josh, your statement about the type of diet that almost “guarentees” that someone won’t get cancer helps to make one of my points."
        Not my statement but what T. Colin Campbell is suggesting in his book and public speeches.

      • Landree December 7, 2010 at 1:13 pm - Reply

        Hello Ginny!  Yes I'd love to hear your thoughts on The China Diet.  I read it, and of course, not being a scientist, it sounded very credible to me.  Are there any specific books speaking to vegan health that you WOULD recommend?  Thank you!
        Also, great website!

        • Ginny Messina December 7, 2010 at 5:07 pm - Reply

          Landree, the resources I can recommend with complete confidence are those that I mentioned in this post: Jack Norris' website (veganhealth) and blog, the Vegetarian Resource Group, and the books Becoming Vegan and Simply Vegan. You can also find good information about vegan diet at Dr. Winston Craig's website:

          I want vegans to get the absolute best nutrition information for healthy diet planning and these are resources that are very thorough in that regard and supported by the research. I think many other resources fall short in providing all of the necessary information, especially for new vegans. And some recommend versions of vegan diets that are too restrictive.

          • Landree December 10, 2010 at 8:32 am

            Thank you very much Ginny!  I've been vegan for about a year now but my blood sugar is all over the place, etc.  I appreciate the help!

  42. Anne Cognito December 5, 2010 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    Hi Ginny –
    Can you comment on what you think of no-added-oil diets which are rich in whole-food sources of fat like avocados, nuts, and coconut?

    • Ginny Messina December 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm - Reply

      I think it's great to include those foods. I didn't mean to indicate that people should consume oils–just that it's fine to have small amounts of added fats if you want. But the important thing is not to let your diet get too low in fat, and getting adequate fat from whole foods–like the ones you mentioned–is fine. 

  43. […] huge review of every single vegan study in existence (or close to it). Even though some prominent vegan nutritionists concede that “no one has shown that you must eat a 100 percent plant diet in order to be […]

  44. Alan December 8, 2010 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    one problem with the "reduce suffering" argument is that it is NOT terribly difficult to raise and slaughter animals in such a way as to zero-out any APPARENT suffering.
    check out Ms Grandin's website:
    check out:
    it is quite easy to invent and implement, animal-agriculture frameworks in which the animals appear to suffer less than an average college student.  In fact, there is a strong dollars-and-cents BUSINESS PROFIT motivation to do it that way.   The animal-holocaust argument falls apart quickly (under skilful counter-arguments) when you focus on "suffering".
    I'm still searching for a "women's right to choose" advocate who changed her mind because of "The Silent Scream" video.  It's the same "suffering"argument,and  is likely to have the same problems.
    So be JUST as careful of going for heart-tugging, non-philosophical advocacy, as you are in going for "it's healthiest" advocacy.  On the "healthiest" front, you're already in a "Mexican standoff" against Denise Minger and Chris Masterjohn.

    • Gary January 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm - Reply

      I think what you're saying is that claims such as "you must be vegan to be healthy"and  "you won't get cancer if you're vegan" are not supported by research, and it's important to be credible when doing advocacy. We can still educate people on the healthfulness of a balanced vegan diet.
      I guess the difference between ethical veganism and eating a vegan for health is "Inflicting avoidable harm on animals is wrong" vs. "Inflicting these specific avoidable harms on animals is unhealthy."
      In any event, my experience has been that when people give up animal products for any reason, they seem to be more receptive to the ethical arguments. Perhaps when one is not engaging in an activtity, one is less inclined to defend it.

  45. Tommy December 8, 2010 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    Certainly an interesting argument. thanks for posting.  Major celebrities becoming vegan for health reasons and then quitting the lifestyle soon after, won't be stepping back, but I think in order to move forward, we need to realize that to be prevent illness permanently it takes a permanent healthy diet.  Not just when we are in need.  Nice topic, thanks!
    – Tommy

  46. ravi December 9, 2010 at 11:07 am - Reply

    i disagree with this. most of the vegans who i knew in the 90's in my late teen years were vegan b/c of animal rights and NOT health. now in 2010 99% of them went back to eating flesh after so many years of being hardcore about it. i originally went veg b/c of animal rights. reading health books on the topic, not to mention just feeling and recovering better after workout sessions, simply reinforced my commitment to being a plant-eater. i have other friends who have seen their friends originally into animal rights later on down the road give up this path.

  47. […] of veganism with a large grain of salt. I was really glad to see this post on the Vegan RD blog: How the Health Argument Fails Veganism "I think people who adopt more restrictive forms of veganism are more likely to run into […]

  48. Daily Dose « Vegetarian Chic January 13, 2011 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    […] The Health Argument and Veganism… […]

  49. Victoria Moran January 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Beautiful article and great comments. I personally have only known "health vegans" to go back to their old ways. Once the ethical realities really get into a person's psyche, there's a change in the individual. It's not just a diet then. It's a commitment.

  50. Amy January 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm - Reply

    I guess I have mixed feelings about the whole Clinton thing.
    On the one hand, I don't really think he is doing this because of ethical considerations so calling him a vegan in the true sense of the word (one that avoids all animal products) seems kind of misguided. and he also says he eats fish every once in a while so wouldn't that make him more of a pescatarian? I agree with Rip Esselstyn's approach of calling dietary veganism "plant strong" or some other such word and yes, if he goes off the diet for whatever reason then people will just assume veganism can't be done.

    On the other hand…. I also see that reducing animal product consumption for whatever reason is a good thing. so maybe Clinton's diet will convince some people to go totally vegan, or to cut some out. I mean, semi-vegans or flexetarains don't seem like such a bad thing to me if they are at least making an effort to get some of the way there…

  51. Vic January 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    I've said it before & I'll say it are the (vegan) voice of reason. I too an dubious when people talk about going vegan for health reasons. I personally think a vegan diet is only as healthy as you want to make it. It can be just as unhealthy as your average meat eater who knows nothing about nutrition and eats all kind of crap. It's all about knowledge baby!

  52. Gary January 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    FYI .. My comment was intended to be a reply to the original post, not to another comment. Not sure if thats what I did.

  53. Nona D. Andaya-Castillo, IBCLC January 28, 2011 at 5:25 am - Reply

    hi ginny! I am so happy to know that a nutritionist dietitian who is not beholden to milk companies exist! cheers! 
    I was reading this blog and your lemon meringue pie recipe and my reaction is:
     oh my! what a lot of sugar! well, many vegetarians might say, i don't want to deprive myself of sweets. however, in my experience, if people ask me, why is it that my relative/friend who is a vegetarian always get sick? my first question is: do they eat a lot of sweets? or are they fond of sugary foods? and the answer would always be a resounding yes. 
    i met a carnivore in nyc when i went there last 2008 who does not get sick easily and has no known bouts of colds. according to his wife, he never eats anything with sugar. happily, he is interested to become a vegetarian.
    do you know any recent studies on the ill effects of sugar in the body? have you read the book entitled "sugar blues"? this book has cited studies on the deleterious effects of sugar on our immune system, our bones, blood etc. what do you think?
    i think, if we will conduct a study on the effect of a vegetarian/vegan diet on general health, we should also scrutinize what these self-professed vegetarian/vegans are eating. when i started avoiding meat in 1991, i still ate plenty of processed foods. consequently, i still had many bouts of illnesses. when i totally avoided  sugar and dairy products, the bouts of illnesses practically disappeared. that was in 1995.
    in 2002, the world health organization upheld the global strategy on diet, physical activity and health so i think, we should always include the value of exercise to achieve healthy.  
    to emphasize that health is not just about nutrition i made a powerpoint presentation entitled NATURE'S BEST: The Eleven Secrets of Health. Below is the meaning of NATURE'S BEST.
    N – Nutrition
    A – Air
    T – Temperance
    U – Understanding your body
    R – Rest
    E – Exercise
    S – Sunshine
    B – Breastfeeding
    E – Environmental Activism
    S – Service to God and His people
    T – Trust in God

  54. link roundup | Vegan Activist February 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    […] How the Health Argument Fails Veganism – by Ginny Messina – Lots of good points and I especially like how the author points out that some vegans are inclined to stretch the truth just to make veganism sound more appealing from a health perspective.  That’s extremely damaging, and insulting to those who you’re trying to ‘convert.’  Just tell the truth: an appropriately planned vegan diet is suitable for all people (to paraphrase the American Dietetic Association and Canadian Association of Dieticians’ joint statement on the matter), and can make a difference in some health conditions.  At the worst, it’ll put more fibre in your diet, lower your cholesterol, and get you to eat more fruits and vegetables – all inarguably healthy things. […]

  55. Alexis February 19, 2011 at 1:55 am - Reply

    I just found your blog, so apologies if this post is long dead. I just wanted to share with you, though, that I am a committed vegan for health reasons alone. I understand your misgivings towards those of my ilk, but I on the other hand believe that it is my lack of ethical motivation that allowed me to structure my diet mindfully so as to stay healthy (supplementing with B12, beginning to study nutrition to guide my intake). Then again, I went into this because of various blogs which lead me to believe it would help with my energy levels, depression, insomnia, inability to gain weight (I'd been at 100lbs for a long time, and am pretty tall), and anxiety; I did not suffer from something like cancer or high cholesterol. I think the improvements I saw, and continue to see, in my health caused me to love my new lifestyle and stick to my veganism, most notably when I spent a week in butter-and-pork-filled South Carolina, rather than make me a more fickle adherent (as seen in one of my hardcore PETA friends, who quit veganism after 2 weeks because it was too difficult). 

    • Ginny Messina February 19, 2011 at 11:41 am - Reply

      Alexix, I have no misgivings toward those who go vegan for health reasons! My post wasn't about those who are vegan for health reasons–it was about how we advocate for animal and that the health argument fails as a foolproof argument for veganism.

  56. Vegan GMO Redux « Pythagorean Crank September 27, 2011 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    […] foods no less! Your dismissal of sick people is pretty harsh. People get sick all the time and veganism is not a magic diet that will banish all needs for medication. Shit happens, bodies break, but with technology we can […]

  57. The 30-Day Vegan Challenge January 3, 2012 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    […] in the health aspect.  While I am sometimes leery of promoting veganism as a diet plan (see How the Health Argument Fails Veganism), there’s no doubt that most people see great improvements in their health as they decrease […]

  58. Tumeria Langlois January 14, 2012 at 6:16 am - Reply

    My significant other, Alex, went vegan for health reasons. He was diagnosed with heart disease at the age of 38. His Uncle was an MD at Mass General Hospital in Boston when Dean Ornish was doing his pilot study on reversing heart disease. Alex’s Uncle had severe angina with 90% blockages in all his coronary arteries. They wanted to do quadruple bypass on him. Being an MD and a scientist he looked at the survival rates of a 70 year old having the surgery and decided not to have the procedure. Instead he went on Ornish’s program. Within 2 weeks the angina was gone! Uncle Elliot lived to be 92. He died because he tried to jump his garden fence, hit his head and got a staph infection at the hospital!! Today at age 51, Alex has no signs of heart disease. A whole foods plant based diet does provide health benefits (Not a junk food vegan diet). Anyway, today Alex is a vegan for all the reasons. After 2 years on the plant based diet, he made the connection when his mom tried to get him to eat turkey at Thanksgiving. He realized it was the corpse of a dead animal. Alex and I are both animal rights activists. I say whatever gets you to become vegan is all good. For me it was spiritual reasons and the animals. I must admit I am also enjoying the health benefits too.

  59. Robert H;. March 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    Why does it matter what your reason is? Isn’t the point that it’s better for both human beings and animals if we focus on diets made up largely of plants and natural, non-animal sources of nutrients? Some people on here (not the majority) are having a bit of a superiority complex perhaps as they feel their sense of purpose and rationale is somehow more legitimate when in the end we are to some degree all headed down a somewhat similar path. Personally, I do not consume animal sources of food because of the health benefits, yet celebrate all of the healthier forms of such a lifestyle, including eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seeds, grains, etc., etc. So what if I choose not to eat a bunch of processed white bread and instead choose sprouted breads, etc.? Those small preferences are just that, small preferences. They don’t make my path somehow superior or better than those of others who prefer white pita with their hummus instead of vegetables. If we get into that sort of debate we lose sight of the bigger picture.

    • Ginny Messina March 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm - Reply

      You’re right–it’s always good when people stop eating animals. My point is not about which vegans are more valuable, it’s about how we promote veganism. And stretching to the truth–to try to convince people that a vegan diet is the only healthy way of eating–isn’t a good idea IMO.

  60. Joe Sprout June 9, 2012 at 6:04 am - Reply

    Forks over knives… all the research studies are there and is an awsome movie for those with a genetic predisposition to heart disease and cancer.

  61. Butterflies June 21, 2012 at 2:20 am - Reply

    Thank-you Ginny Messina for this post. Just thank-you. I didn’t read all the comments.

    • Chef AJ July 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      When a person looks unhealthy, as many of the ethical overweight vegans do, it does not inspire others to consider a vegan diet fr any reason. When a “healthy vegan” looks fit and trim like Rip Esselstyn, Rich Roll, Scott Jurek, Lindsay Nixon, Dr. Alona Pulde, and Dr. Pam Popper, to name just a few, look healthy many, many more people are inspired to try a vegan diet. I have been vegan fr over 35 years and many of my ethical vegan friends are long dead fom cancer, heart disease and diabetes. I have yet to meet one “healthy vegan” succumb to these three diseases. Last time I checked, the animals could care less about WHY they weren’t being eaten, and films like Forks Over Knives and research on the reversal of heart disease by Ornish or Esselstyn has turned far greater numbers of people into vegans than Earthlings ( which of course is an outstanding film AND the filmmaker is a “healthy vegan”. For the person who said McDougall didn’t look good. I just saw him and haven’t seen too many men nearing 70 as handsome, energetic, fit and trim as he was.

      • Ginny Messina July 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm - Reply

        Thanks, Chef AJ for this comment. I agree that the animals don’t care why we stop eating them. But I also think that we need to avoid making unfounded promises about health benefits of vegan diets. Part of my point is that people who promote veganism for health reasons often end up exaggerating the findings about this way of eating. It’s not true that people who eat a certain type of vegan diet never get chronic diseases, and we don’t have nearly enough evidence to say that we know the exact diet that will make people bullet proof against disease.

        It’s also not true that all overweight vegans are unhealthy. Nor is it true that overweight vegans make poor advocates for animals. I hope you’ll also look at my post on body shaming in the vegan community:

        • Chef AJ August 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm - Reply

          Hi Ginny,

          As a formerly fat vegan myself (and some still call me fat) I never meant to imply that overweight vegans made poor advocates for animals. What I was saying is that as someone who has been vegan for over 35 years, I have had much greater success inspiring more people by dangling a carrot in front of them instead of a vegan carrot cake.

          It is unfortunate that people are judged by their outer appearance, but the fact remains that if someone sees a morbidly obese person promoting veganism they are going to make a judgement about the vegan diet and their outer appearance. More people would rather look like the slender Colleen Patrick Goudreau (an ethical vegan) than Paula Deen.

          I have spoken at umpteen vegfests and carnivores who are vegcurious do attend. And I cannot tell you how many times I have heard them say (when referring to a grossly overweight vegan) “if this is what the vegan diet makes people look like, I’ll stick to meat”.

          I am not saying these judgements are kind,or even accurate, but you can’t pretend that they don’t exist. Sadly, we are all judged on our appearances first. Yes, you can be healthy and overweight, as I was. But given the choice or being fat or thin, most people would rather be thin. And a health promoting vegan diet will get you closer to a slimmer ideal weight than one compromised of vegan junk food like processed faux meats and cheeses, and sugar, flour, oil and salt laden vegan desserts.
          While you may believe there is no research a vegan diet is healthier, there certainly is a plethora of researching proving a diet high in processed food of any kind is unhealthy and addictive. Just read The End Of Overeating.

          Love & Kale,
          Chef AJ

          • Ginny Messina August 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm

            But that’s not really what this post was about. My point is that we can’t promote a vegan diet as the healthiest way to eat when there is no evidence that it is any healthier than other whole foods, plant-based diets. That is, we can’t say—because there is absolutely no research to support it—that being vegan is any better than a diet that is mostly whole plant foods but gets perhaps 10 to 20 percent of calories from animal foods. This means that in order to tell people they need to be vegan in order to be healthy, we have to exaggerate the evidence, which is dishonest.

            I also see that many of the health arguments regarding veganism go way overboard with restrictions—suggesting that it is somehow harmful to health to include vegetable oils or even nuts in diets. Or that people should *never* eat any processed foods. Those kinds of restrictions create barriers toward going vegan and they are absolutely not supported by research.

            Of course diets that contain tons of processed foods and/or animal foods are harmful to health. But to say you can never have any of those foods if you want to be healthy just isn’t supportable.

            So, I see those two things—unsupported claims about veganism and unsupported restrictions within vegan diets—as failing vegan advocacy. I’m happy to promote plant-based diets for health, because I can do that in an honest way that is supported by science—but I have to promote veganism—that is, 100% avoidance of all animal products—for what it truly is. That’s a social justice movement (not a diet) that is based on our relationship to animals. And I want everyone to feel welcome in that movement, too—not just slender people.

            Love and kale to you, too. 🙂

          • Chef AJ August 9, 2012 at 8:58 am

            Hi Ginny,

            How do I get notified if there is a response without having to keep checking back?

            As far as I know, there is no research saying that if you smoke one cigarette a day that would be harmful, so should we then say it’s OK to smoke and encourage are children to smoke? Most people would say no, because cigarettes have been proven to cause cancer and be highly addictive..
            The same is true of ALL processed foods, vegan or not. No one should be eating processed food EVER whether they are vegan or not. It is not food, causes inflammation and our bodies were not designed to eat processed food. And their is plenty or research on this. Oil is a processed food and contributes nothing but fat and calories without fiber and nutrients. We did not evolve to be oil eaters any more than we evolved drinking milk.
            Let people eat nuts, seeds, avocado and all the whole food fats they want. Even Dr. Greger who I no you respect says NO OIL.
            Human beings are designed to eat their food WHOLE, not processed. Processed food highly addictive, disease promoting crap. And no one should eat it, not even a carnivore. And no one should be feeding it to their children.
            As Jack La Lanne ( a near vegan who lived disease free to 97) said “If God made it eat it, if man made it don’t eat it”. God did not make Daiya, Gardein, Soy Crumbles and Tofutti.

            Love & Kale,
            Chef AJ

            P.S. Couldn’t the time spent arguing against healthy veganism be better spent going after the industires who are abusing animals rather than the people who already are not consuming them?

          • Chef AJ August 9, 2012 at 9:28 am

            And most people are not eating 10-20% of their calories form processed food as you suggest is healthy. Most Americans eat 70% of their calories from processed foods and many vegans eat 100% of their calories from processed food, never consuming a single fruit or vegetable!

            These may be great “transition foods” but I know people who have been vegan for more that 20 years and still haven’t transitioned off of their daily Boca Burgers and other crap.

            when one is obese, their risk factors for ALL diseases rise. They may be nice people and wonderful animal advocates, but they are not healthy. I do not know any “healthy vegans” who weight 300-400 pounds but I can name several ethical vegans in that weight range.

          • Ginny Messina August 11, 2012 at 7:58 am

            I installed a plug-in which will hopefully allow you to subscribe to follow-up comments.

            I agree with your extreme examples: it’s unlikely that someone who is 400 pounds will be healthy. And you can’t eat a diet that is 70% processed foods and be healthy. But the idea that you can *never* eat any processed foods or fats has absolutely no foundation in science. And it’s not true that these foods all cause inflammation. Olive oil, for example, is anti-inflammatory.

            Truly, you are kind of making my point for me! It’s this kind of rigidity around food choices that can make veganism more difficult for people–and unnecessarily so, since 100% avoidance of oils and other processed foods isn’t necessary for health.

  62. Debra Grossman August 9, 2012 at 11:30 am - Reply

    A vegan and/or vegetarian diet is definitely superior, however its health benefits can be destroyed if sugar is replaced for animal foods. Many vegans and/or vegetarians become obese because they become addicted to food products with processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup. The bitter truth about sugar is out, there’s no secret that it is toxic, addictive, harmful to our health and poisonous! In addition, it will make you obese and stupid. So, I hope all my vegan/vegetarian friends are reading all the labels and avoiding processed sugar. Go ahead and eat all the sweet natural fruit you want, our bodies love fruit but our bodies hate processed sugar, it’s not natural and it will make your liver fat and cause all kinds of damage to your body and mind.

    • Chris August 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm - Reply

      Sugar can be bad for you.

      However I feel I should point our that sometimes when you get a sugar craving and your go with the diet option, your body knows when it wants sugar and gets splenda or diet coke.

      By all means eat an orange or fruit, but don’t try to trick your body, it knows better.

  63. MH August 13, 2012 at 10:12 am - Reply

    I am so tired of AR vegans asserting that their path is the best path. Seriously, accept the fact that not everyone will ever see the world the way you do, and be grateful that ANYONE considers veganism.

    • Ginny Messina August 13, 2012 at 10:16 am - Reply

      MH, I think you might want to re-read my post, because I think you misunderstood it. I’m certainly glad when anyone goes vegan for any reason. But I’m not going to lie about the science behind vegan diet in order to get people to eat this way.

      • MH August 13, 2012 at 10:31 am - Reply

        I read your post, and all the comments (and your follow-up comments). I still disagree with you and think that you are stating a personal preference based on your own AR biases. Your dismissal of the ample science described in The China Study is something I would expect to hear from shills at the American Meat Institute. I believe there is sufficient scientific evidence that a health is a valid argument for a vegan diet.

        One final point: many people emotionally choose a vegan diet after seeing disturbing images of farmed animals and slaughterhouse footage, yet their resolve eventually wavers and they start eating meat again. Emphasizing an AR approach to veganism over the health benefits is flawed and will ensure that it’ll remain a fringe lifestyle/diet.

        • Ginny Messina August 13, 2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

          Now, *that’s* a fascinating perspective! Yes, I’m an animal rights activist, which means that if I were “biased,” I’d push for *any* reason possible to get people to go vegan!! I think my perspective speaks *against* a bias. And do you honestly think that those who promote vegan diets for health reasons don’t have biases?? Everyone of us in this business brings bias to their work.

        • Gary Loewenthal August 23, 2012 at 8:12 am - Reply

          I’m “biased” in the sense that I think we are obligated to refrain from inflicting avoidable harm on others. That is the ethical basis of veganism.

          In my vegan outreach experience over the past several years, I’ve had much more luck at helping people transition to veganism and stick with it via the ethical approach. Furthermore, this approach helps motivate people to forego fur, animal circuses, and products tested on animals. It also is applicable to the many non-vegans with whom I speak who are already healthy or not terribly concerned with optimum health.

          Not that our approach has to be all one or the other. I try to give people tips that will help them be healthy and satisfied, and to not feel ostracized or marginalized, on a plant-based diet.

  64. Gordon Kelley August 13, 2012 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Much of this discussion has been centered around how to convince others of the merit of a vegan diet, with the ultimate goal of not consuming animals. And I agree that the health argument has flaws as exhaustively discussed here.

    But I’ve accepted that some folks are simply NOT going to become vegan. In that case, doing what I can to help them choose more ethical, and fewer, animal products seems a worthwhile cause. My daughter is a prime example — she’s definitely not going to stop eating animals, but she’s a sensitive, caring individual who does care where her food came from. This is what I wrote to her a while back after she had sent me an article on “sustainable meat”, which is basically meat from animals that have apparently pleasant lives with species-appropriate social reality until slaughter.

    The question for me isn’t whether eating meat is justified *on principle*, it’s about people supporting the awful reality of today’s factory farms/CAFOs. If all meat eaters chose sustainably farmed meat, such as discussed in this article, that would address 99% of the reasons I’m a vegan. But “sustainable meat” represents such a tiny fraction of the amount of animals grown for food that it’s practically irrelevant in terms of the overall issues around meat consumption. I applaud your desire to eat sustainable meat if you’re going to eat meat, and encourage you to avoid supporting/buying/eating meat from large-scale “farming” that represents massive suffering (ie, almost all meat from the grocery store and restaurants). Again, I’m NOT arguing against eating meat on principle — there’s plenty of evidence for and against and the debate is unlikely to ever be settled. But the existence of intense life-long suffering prior to slaughter is a fact for billions of animals — nearly all those grown for food — and compassionate people should avoid contributing to it.

    That last sentence is my core motivation that made me choose and keeps me vegan. Of course, I agree that we should not use animals in any way, but for the sake of the argument above, I’d like to see people who refuse to not do that at least choose animal products that don’t come from factory farms. I think this is a practical attitude toward decreasing suffering, though not condemning all animal eating outright might make me seem less than committed to veganism (see Gary Francione). So don’t get me wrong – I want everyone to be vegan. But decreasing suffering even without veganism is a big goal too.

    • Chris August 18, 2012 at 3:23 pm - Reply

      The main flaw I see here is that the reason why sustainable meat and animal products make up such a small percentage is because most people, either from not caring enough where their food comes from or getting the cheaper option, buy factory farmed products.

      If there was a larger demand for sustainable meat, then there would be me sustainable meat. The problem is that there isn’t enough outcry from people who eat meat.

      On a personal level, I feel eating sustainable meat helps more than being a veg because you fight with your wallet. Big corporations already have stock in veg companies and honesty it makes no sense from a business standpoint to up your price with fewer product to please people who have chosen to never buy your product again.

      Another problem is that some vegs and even omnivores have this mentality where you have to do at least as much as they do or you are a bad person and it turns people off from caring. There is even warfare between vegans and vegetarians.

      • Gary Loewenthal August 23, 2012 at 8:20 am - Reply

        When buying vegan products, you also “fight with your wallet.” As demand for vegan alternatives increases, so does the financial motivation for companies to produce more of them – and less of the animal products that compete with the ever-more-popular vegan options.

        Furthermore, as vegan options proliferate, the price tends to decrease, and the qualtiy tends to increase, creating a positive feedback loop.

        Buying vegan also helps consumers acclimate to meals without animal products, which will likely make the practice seem more marginal and antiquated – and wrong: as people divest from a habit, they’re less inclined to defend it.

  65. Megan August 13, 2012 at 11:02 am - Reply

    I have a couple of questions. We went Vegan last week because we seen the documentary Vegucated. I really didn’t know the flim would show all the stuff they showed and my kids were in the room 9,8, and 5 so for animal rights we decide to go vegan. Even my husband who loved meat and milk will not touch it. How can I make sure my kids are going enough nutrition in they diet without milk and meat. We have been giving them veggies and friuts and oatmeal and other things. My two kids can’t drink the soy milk so I’m wondering if they can’t eat anything with soy in it. Help a little help here.

  66. Hetty Green August 13, 2012 at 11:10 am - Reply

    People find all kinds of reasons to continue devouring animal ingredients. They bring up Neanderthals for Pete’s sake. “Great x 10000 Uncle Gorn ate meat, so therefore I should.” I would never take up eating animals again, personally. I have never met a chronically ill vegan.To the contrary. Meat is nothing more than an addiction, and humans can thrive without it. Where are the hospital wards filled with vegans ? If meat is so good for us, why do doctors warn us away from red meats ? Humans have dumped on animals, and enslaved them for far too long. Excuse me while I drink a big glass of beet and dandelion juice.

  67. […] How the Health Argument Fails Veganism by vegan RD extraordinaire Ginny Messina is a great accompaniment to the above. Also, like VO, her ideas have influenced my work. […]

  68. Jim R August 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    I was happy to read this. Sometimes I feel like I am in the minority being both vegan and skeptical of junk science and diet faddisms. When I first went vegan 12 years ago, I did so after reading philosophical ramblings about farm animals and deciding I didn’t need to participate in consuming them anymore. Although I like domesticated animals, especially pigs and goats, I felt sorry for their being used as a product considering they were such interesting creatures. I jumped straight from hamburgers and ostrich-skin boots to tofu and hemp shoes without looking back.

    I thought at first that I would relate well to other vegans and joined a couple of vegan advocacy groups. I discovered quickly that the averge vegan advocacy group lacked my views on everything other than humans’ non-obligation to eat meat. In fact, I found vegan advocates to be contrarian on most issues to a fault, always trying to find some other magical explanation for things and flimsy information to support their “alternative” lifestyle choices.

    I tried recently to relate to so-called ethical omnivores, but find them to be even more full of nonsense to the point of being belligerant about their contrarian viewpoints. Few people I talked to could stick to the subject of rational discussion of incremental improvement of animal welfare without bringing in a range of odd belief systems, charismatic pop culture personalities, and irrelevant food politics. One was even convinced horsemeat was better for the environment than soy due to genetic modification which I view as a complete diversion from serious animal welfare topics.

    In any case, it is refreshing to read an article untainted by nonsense and the other commentary following. While I agree that it is nice for people to become vegan for any reason, I question tactics that resemble diet fads or miracle health advice. Even if whimsical topics convince people to be vegan, they will surely find some other nonsense later to occupy their attention. I think it would behoove vegan advocates to stick to the issue of philosophy as this will be more likely to engage people in critical thinking and possibly commit themselves to being vegan. Any topic which will convince a gullible person to become vegan the same day is likely rooted in pseudoscience and probably should be avoided.

  69. Ganious August 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Great forum. The shift of consciousness regarding the nation–world towards a plant based diet is without question making great strides. In your article, you spoke of feeling a bit weird when President Clinton spoke of his new diet as “strict” and how that puts a dark twist on a plant based diet. Glad you pointed that out because I hand;t paid much attention to that in that way. Appreciate it and am going to share it on my site if you don’t mind.



    • Ganious August 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      hadn’t not hand;t…sorry for dropping typos on your site.

  70. […] tänkte jag tipsa om en bra kritik av hälsoargumenten för veganism av dietisten Ginny Messina: ”How the Health Argument fails Veganism.” För det är ju precis som författaren konstaterar: ”Det finns inget hälsoargument för […]

  71. Luara May 6, 2013 at 6:44 am - Reply

    One of the problems with a very lowfat vegan diet is that the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is probably too high, and that is likely to be pro-inflammatory. Jack Norris has a good post on omega-3 in vegan diets,
    He recommends small amount of high omega-3 foods (flax, chia, etc) and an algae oil with DHA supplement.
    The small amount of added omega-3 fat is a valuable addition to a Mcdougall type diet.

  72. […] How the Health Argument Fails Veganism […]

  73. Casper Rigsby January 2, 2014 at 2:59 am - Reply

    I enjoyed the article myself and found it to be a very unbiased perspective on the health benefits of veganism. More importantly for me however, I found none of the usual arrogance based on a notion of ethical superiority that I’ve encountered all too often in talking with SOME (not ALL) vegans. In my dealings with many vegans I am often given a guilt trip about how “immoral” I am for eating meat. I must be honest that because I am also an atheist, this guilt trip does not set well with me because it was a guilt trip that made me a slave to religion for over half of my life. Regardless of that, I am thoroughly studying and considering a vegan lifestyle. Unfortunately, I have a heart condition which requires me to take blood thinners so any foods high in vitamin K are a big no-no for me as it thickens the blood and would have adverse reactions with my medication, and since many vegetables are quite high in vitamin K (especially leafy green veg) I have a lot more studying to do and consultations with my doctor and a nutritionist before I can make that decision. So I appreciate the candor, honesty, and unbiased nature of this article.

  74. Melissa Hoffman April 27, 2015 at 5:18 am - Reply

    It is important to note that there is no one ‘vegan’ diet. Just like there isn’t one ‘carnivorous’ diet. It’s great to point out that “vegan” doesn’t necessarily equate to “health”. Even Dr. Joel Fuhrman who is “vegan” doesn’t use the word, and states that a diet can be very healthy and still include small amounts of animal products. But it is also important to note that a well-designed and individually-tailored vegan diet has tremendous disease-reversing and-preventing benefits. There is no doubt that such a diet can reverse diabetes, heart disease, prevent a large percentage of cancers. So as we gain more sophistication and understanding of the health benefits of what Furhman calls a ‘nutritarian’ diet, that gives strength to the ‘vegan’ argument if such distinctions are qualified when we talk about it.

  75. […] listopad 2010. Autorka: Virginia Messina, veganská dietoložka. Z anglického originálu přeložila Klára […]

  76. samantha May 24, 2016 at 11:33 am - Reply
  77. […] nutrition expertise and passion for animal rights. In 2010 she laid it out on the table in her How the Health Argument Fails Veganism article. Several points were made as to how the popular health arguments were failing the vegan […]

  78. Ebony June 26, 2017 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    I just came across this article following a discussion about “What the health”. I’m curious as to whether you still support Dr Greger as a great source of info now that he’s consistently throwing out exaggerated videos?

  79. Simon June 26, 2017 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Seeing as the original post was from 2010 – I read lots of information more recently on meat causing inflammation as well as increasing your cancer profile amongst may other negative aspects. (ref. How Not to Die (book))
    Whilst we might consider smoking one cigarette every week will not negatively impact our health does that mean we would want to or would.
    Since embracing a plant based diet and i mean real plants and not these vegan processed foods that are so expensive, that my taste buds have changed as well as my well being. The thought of eating meat just does not appeal anymore!
    i feel as a plant based diet follower (note I don’t regard my self as a vegan as i believe this encompasses an emotional movement beyond diet) that pit falls to such a pursuit are far less than an omnivores.
    I also feel that the last word on how our bodies work with protein carbohydrates, fat, oils, cholesterol etc still appear to be unresolved.
    So in summary if a majority of people convert to a true plant based diet due to health reasons then this is good enough and the impact to animal welfare will be positive – perhaps not as positive as the vegans would like but better than the current status quo for sure.

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