She listed some ways that non-meat eaters can avoid common nutrient deficiencies.

By Renee Cherry
December 05, 2019
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"Is the vegan diet healthy?" is a loaded question, but star trainer Jillian Michaels summarized her stance on the subject for a three-minute Instagram video. Michaels spoke on the downsides of vegan and vegetarian diets along with her tips for people who are set on following them regardless. (Related: All the Reasons Jillian Michaels Has Given for Hating On the Keto Diet)

Never one to mince words, Michaels started her video by saying that while veganism is eco-friendly, she doesn't consider it "healthy". "I cannot tell you that any of the research I have ever done with endocrinologists, or even dermatologists or registered dietitians, would suggest that being completely vegan is healthy," she says. Her biggest complaint: Going vegan makes getting enough iron tricky. Omnivores are at an advantage because they're consuming both heme iron, the type found in animal foods, and non-heme iron, the type found in plants. "Eating heme iron at the same time as non-heme iron can actually help you absorb non-heme better because it contains a peptide called MFP factor that is released during digestion," says Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Nutritious Life.

What's more, vegans who get a period are at even more of a disadvantage since they lose iron through menstruation, Michaels points out in her video. Nutritionist Gretchen Tseng, FNTP agrees that a vegan diet can be "particularly detrimental for menstruating females who are at higher risk for anemia" while consuming plant-based foods. (Related: Jillian Michaels' Take On Holiday Weight Gain Leaves Us with Some Questions)

Because of the whole iron issue, Michaels offers up a suggestion that a lot of vegans won't want to hear: eating meat every few weeks or eating eggs from "happy chickens." For anyone who's a hard pass on that tip for ethical reasons, Michaels says it's critical to get a vitamin B12 shot and make sure your supplementing regimen is "spot-on." ICYDK, you can only absorb B12 from animal sources, so it is indeed a good idea for vegans and vegetarians to rely on B12 shots or pills and eat B12-fortified foods (such as nutritional yeast). Other important nutrients that vegans can miss out on if they aren't mindful include zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and calcium, says Glassman. (Related: Three Vegan Recipes You Can Make In Less Than 20 Minutes, from Beyoncé's Nutritionist)

As for how to fill your plate, Michaels suggests that vegans and vegetarians eat a varied diet that incorporates whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. She also recommends combining certain foods for improved nutrient absorption. "There are certain nutrients that will allow you to absorb more iron," Michaels says. "So for example, mixing vitamin C with foods that are higher in iron will help your absorption." This rings true, says Tseng. "Consuming vitamin C along with iron-rich foods absolutely increases iron absorption," she explains. "The same concept holds true for consuming healthy fats with the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K."

Michaels not only got straight to the point on the potential downsides of going without meat and how to address them, but she also insisted that people do their own research before deciding where they want to be on the omnivore-vegan spectrum. Of course, there are some benefits to vegan and vegetarian diets worth taking into account. For a lot of people, eliminating meat leads to eating more plants. Both vegetarian and vegan diets that–and this is key–emphasize whole foods have clinically demonstrated lower mortality risk. Glassman believes giving up meat doesn't have to mean a major lack in nutrients: "It's absolutely possible to meet your nutrient needs on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but deficiencies can occur from time to time."

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