Vegans who know they can get their daily requirement of calcium from plant-based sources are frustrated by the article, which suggests some people, especially young people, are neglecting their health when they switch to a vegan diet. It made me want to text my mum and reassure her I am doing fine – it made others post angry comments on social media about #fakenews and dairy industry propaganda. Each to their own.
It’s a strange situation because both the article and its attackers are correct. So first, yes, you can meet your daily calcium needs and protect your bone health on a vegan diet. I am loth to join the ranks of unqualified people on the internet offering dietary advice (more on that later) but eating calcium-fortified dairy alternatives, fortified breads, leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds and certain types of tofu will set you on the right track. Even hard water (thanks, London!) can provide calcium in your diet. And you can also take supplements and remain plant-powered and cruelty-free. However, the article acknowledges this. Check out the quote at the end of the piece from a spokeswoman for the British Nutrition Foundation:
“While it’s not necessarily dangerous to cut out dairy from your diet it’s important to ensure you get enough calcium from other sources. Dairy tends to make the biggest contribution to our calcium intakes and so this needs to be replaced by other sources such as bread, cereal, canned fish, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables as well as choosing dairy alternatives that are fortified with calcium.”
There are other things in the article I agree with too. People who transition to a vegan diet without considering their calcium requirements are neglecting their bones – and osteoporosis is a very serious problem. It’s also true that as the article warns, lots of people are getting nutritional advice from unqualified bloggers and vloggers. A lot of these web sources are clearly aimed at, or at least very likely to appeal to, teenage girls. A lot of these people advise extreme versions of the vegan diet, which for example, exclude all oils and fats, or cooked foods, altogether. I have seen vegan bloggers discussing how eating a meat-free diet can change eye colour, lighten the menstrual cycle and somehow give people a closer appreciation of the earth and the natural wisdom of plants. Really. Some of this is silly, but some of this is outright dangerous. Vegan diets can be very healthy, but simply ditching meat and dairy doesn’t make you a bean-powered super being. And if you are prioritising “lightness” and “clean eating” over a balanced diet containing protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and nutrients, yes you are at risk of some serious health problems.
Omnivores, vegans and all types of people, especially in their teenage years, need to take care of their bones, and this begins with calcium. And exercise. Sorry.