Dear Doctor: Is a vegan diet totally safe and healthy? I have a daughter and granddaughter who are eating a vegan diet, and I am worried. What can’t they eat? Are they getting all of the vitamins and minerals and protein that they need? Any information you have is welcome.
Dear Reader: Vegan diets have gained in popularity in recent years. Considering that the majority of people in the U.S. are more familiar with a diet that includes meat, seafood and dairy products, your trepidation about your daughter and granddaughter embarking on a plant-based diet is understandable. We’re happy to reassure you that, when done right, a vegan diet is not only safe, but also healthful.
Let’s start with the basics. Vegans don’t eat animal flesh, animal byproducts or foods containing an ingredient from animal origin. Instead, they focus on vegetables, legumes, grains, beans, nuts and nut butters, seeds, fruits, plant-based fats, and a wide range of food products made from non-animal sources. These include protein-rich meat alternatives such as tofu, tempeh and seitan, and dairy alternatives, including oat, soy and almond milks.
Vegans also avoid a number of other foods and food products that have sometimes surprising connections to animals. These include honey, which is produced by bees; gelatin, which is derived from cartilage and bone; certain types of soy sauce, which use fish in the fermentation process; and even table sugar, which is often filtered using bone char.