We all know it started with soy milk, goat cheese and Greek yogurt, the eating healthy craze; we’ve all heard of the people who refuse to eat anything that ever had a face, not wanting to eat Bambi’s mom, as it were, but now it’s the latest thing in weight loss. Vegetarian is old hat removing red meat, all meat not enough; vegan is the new thing. Replacing cow’s milk, goat’s milk, animal milk of any kind, with almond or rice milk. Instead of turkey burgers or meatballs for spaghetti try meatless meat crumbles. However surprisingly the vegan diet does include things most would consider junk food like Doritos, Oreos, minus the milk; things removed from the vegan diet one might not expect, gelatins found in fruits snacks and candy like gummy bears, because the gelatin comes from fish biologicals. Despite the claims of one woman featuring her book on the day time round table The Talk and others who swear by it as a way to melt off the pounds due to its plant based nature, is it really healthy, healthier than moderation and other techniques? Not so fast like every other diet craze it has its drawbacks, even pronounced dangers most wouldn’t dream of.

Firstly removing entire food groups from your daily calorie intake, your entire life for the rest of your life can lead to malnutrition, a heightened concern with the vegan diet particularly for those who are already at a healthy weight, as it not only removes meat, but replaces dairy products with alternative products than may lack calcium or other nutrients. Gone too are eggs, bread and other carbohydrates that are not whole grain. Some individuals with unique metabolisms, unique dietary needs may not be able to tolerate low sugar, low salt, lack of protein. Those with gluten or allergies to wheat will most certainly not do well on such a plant based diet nor those with allergic reactions to significant numbers of fruits and vegetables. Young children cannot tolerate a strict vegan diets because they need higher nutrient levels and have smaller appetites. Without meats they may not be getting the healthy omega 3 and other fats that aid in brain development, iron is more easily absorbed in children when it is gotten from meats rather than vegetables. One mother who fed her kids strictly vegan got an overdue wakeup call with her daughters’ pinched cheeks, stick thin legs, swollen bellies and rotting teeth. For adults it can lead to anemia, vitamin B12 and other deficiencies, iodine deficiency, calcium deficiency, metabolic issues, energy depletion, muscle degradation. You may be melting off the pounds but losing more than fat.

Secondly like the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, there’s potential heath risks from the specific parameters of the instructions with the aforementioned two it’s artery plaque build up with veganism the question of exactly what’s in those meatless meat crumbles, known problems in consuming large amounts of soy, tofu. Yes you’re removing, meat, eggs, dairy but what chemicals, fillers and unknown preservatives are you getting instead? What potentially harmful additives, colorings are being snuck into things touted as vegan to make it look like cheese, bacon, turkey, beef. Soy has a dark side too and can cause endocrine disruption, digestion issues, effect fertility, hormones, sex drive. One woman eating a consistent diet of soy products stopped menstruating found herself routinely moody and boated. There is a drastic difference say experts between fermented soy consumed in Japan and Asian countries filled with probiotics and the processed soy found in America, even a possible link between soy and some cancers. Despite often being touted as an alternative to cows milk for squirmy toddlers having what parents and doctors believe is a behavioral allergic reaction to food, it is one of the most common food substances to cause non traditional allergic reactions right up there with wheat, corn, milk, nuts and shellfish.

Continuing there are the things that are technically vegan but still obviously unhealthy like French fries than can delude people into thinking they are eating healthier than they really are. Regardless of if you’re not eating anything that ever had a face, vegan sanctioned foods like Oreo’s and Doritos are not healthy and we know it. Similarly how is this diet, lifestyle, these food choices any better for you than large quantities of meat, potatoes, salt, if all you are getting is different kinds of harmful substances put into your body, experiencing different kinds of health problems, just exposing yourself to the possibility of different diseases? The answer, it isn’t. So why not eat things that are real, taste good and don’t lead to self induced malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies? That mother is lucky she did not lose custody of her children for neglect, probably should have for even thinking kids could live that way. Only time will tell if the mother’s actions will have any lasting long-term effects on the children throughout their lifetime. There may be things they have to watch for because this type of nutritional deficit can mimic eating disorder consequences in the body.

Sadly we spend so much time trying to increase our longevity, prolong our life, extend our ability to do wild and crazy things into our 50’s 60’s 70’s and beyond, we are starting this health obsession with children. Children who should be able to enjoy Halloween candy, birthday cake and pizza parities not made with soy this, meatless that and tofu whatever. We are so focused on slogans asking if you want to live to be 100 and following the advice to get there, we fail to realize the human lifespan hasn’t evolved that far yet. Average life spans are still into the 70’s and 80’s based on gender; even the research projecting the possible life span of a child born today is based in science, the advancement of medicine not just lifestyle. Looking at existing centenarians they are known to live in non Western, almost exotic, nearly always remote parts of the world; more importantly have been known to drink moderate  amounts of alcohol, may have even once upon a time smoked in their life. Examining the habits of the rare American centenarian is shockingly more telling as they too drink, many have eaten whatever they pleased, though in slightly smaller portions than seen today, grew up on the traditional American meat and potatoes meals, remain active but not excessively so.

Researchers, no matter where in the world these walking wonders live point to good genetics and other factors to lifestyle outside of diet and activity level. Things like strong family ties, extended support systems and solid social structure. In other counties being valued for your age, still being able to contribute to society after what we think of as retirement years, living with family rather than being shunted off to nursing homes and perhaps most important of all embracing your age whatever it is. In this country it usually means working past the age of retirement, even if it’s only part time, remaining active in your community volunteering, visiting the senior center having new as well as old friends into your golden years. Technology has allowed many seniors to stay in their homes far longer than they did before strengthening their overall health even their will to live. We spend so much time trying to get to 100 we don’t think about what it will be like on the journey there. Every centenarian ever profiled has buried a loved one usually due to old age, be it a spouse, often a child; best friends, lifelong friends routinely go before them. Then what kind of life is that? Time and time again ill people nearing the end of their life either from natural causes or from a terminal disease say they are ready to see departed loved ones in whatever their concept of the afterlife is; they want to be reunited with those they’ve lost.

So perhaps what it means for all of us in America, and across the globe, is we don’t need a fancy diet, we don’t need to go to extremes in keeping things out, letting things in, we don’t need to be overly obsessed with our waistlines, no matter what doctor, what expert, what news report is shouting about an epidemic screaming about the spread of preventable disease. We don’t need to buy rice milk and cheese substitutes, meatless meat crumbles and eat tofurkey for thanksgiving. What we need is balance but we also don’t need to take that off into the stratosphere either. The lesson should be to bring quality and meaning to the time you have not do everything in your power, trying things even beyond it to lengthen the time you are given.