Deciding to go vegan is a personal choice — and one that the millions of people in the United States who are vegan aren't making for the same reasons. Some believe that it's better for the environment not to eat meat. Others want to take a personal step toward preventing animal suffering. Another sliver of the vegan population simply does it as a way to eat healthier.
Perhaps you, or someone you know on Facebook, has seen the new documentary, What The Health? The film is encouraging veganism in viewers (there's even a meal planner to help you on your "plant-based journey"), based on a bundle of alarmist assertions and assumptions about the food industry. "Absolutely everyone is talking about [the movie], and I have clients and people calling me saying, 'I want to be vegan!'" says Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Los Angeles and spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Veganism isn't new, but this movie is attracting a new crowd to the idea.
However, eating vegan isn't a silver bullet that's going to solve all of your health issues or make you instantly healthier, Davis says. "People love to have a quick solution and easy answer, and that's not the case with nutrition," Davis says. "That's why these myths, trends, and fads become so popular." Not to mention, a food product or diet being vegan doesn't mean that it's inherently healthy, says Jen Bruning, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Chicago and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"When you come down to it, it just depends on what your diet is made up of," Bruning says. For example, you could eat nothing but fries all day every day, and it would be considered vegan, but not necessarily healthy. "The idea that [veganism] an automatic improvement in health or nutrition is probably one of the biggest myths," she says.
That said, it is possible to be vegan and eat a healthful, well-rounded diet, you just have to be smart about it and weigh the potential health ramifications with what you perceive to be the benefits, Davis says. "The issue is not that the vegan diet isn’t healthy, it’s that it’s a pretty extreme diet." If you drank the vegan Kool-Aid already, or are contemplating taking your first sip, here are a few more issues that you should consider.