STRATEGIES Erin Burch: Nutrition
Burch is a registered and certified dietitian nutritionist with a private practice in
Western New York. She integrates “
sci-ence-based nutrition with medical care and
lifestyle,” and “specializes in weight management, pediatric nutrition, pre/postnatal
nutrition, cardiovascular health, general
wellness, and meal planning.”
Erin, what should people know about veganism?
Burch: 1) There are strong opinions
both for and against veganism. People need
to find what works for them, taking ethical,
religious, and health goals into account.
2) Whether you’re following a vegan diet
or not, your diet should still consist of high
quality plant proteins, healthy fats, and
quality carbohydrates, mostly from fruits
3) Switching to a vegan diet can often
result in a diet based on processed meat
substitutes, processed carbohydrates, refined oils, and sugar.
These should be limited on all diets.
4) Research has shown that benefits of eating a vegan diet
include weight management, better heart health, reduced risk
for metabolic syndrome, and high antioxidant intake.
5) Protein and vitamin supplements are usually necessary to
insure someone is meeting his or her nutrition needs. If you
are currently following a vegan diet, or are looking to switch
to a vegan diet, please seek the help of a Registered Dietitian
Nutritionist (RDN) familiar with veganism, to ensure you are
meeting your nutrient needs.
What's better for the environment—a vegan or meat-eating diet?
Research shows that eating a lot of meat puts pressure on the
planet due to increased water use, more climate change, and
more energy inputs. But meat is not the only food that causes
an increase in greenhouse gases. Rice has one of the largest car-
bon footprints of plants, due to its production of methane.
Eating sustainably raised, clean, high-quality meats is ideal. I
try to purchase as much locally-grown and organic meat as possible. This allows me to speak to the farmer to learn about animal welfare as well as sustainability practices.
What are some health risks associated with veganism? Have you seen any
patterns with your clients?
A vegan diet may result in protein/amino acid deficiency.
It may also result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as
Vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and omega- 3 fatty acids. As a
result, many complain of fatigue and weakness due to deficiency of vitamins and minerals most common in meat and seafood.
I’ve seen patients who follow a vegan diet actually gain
weight. This is due to a diet of mostly carbohydrates and
unhealthy fats—in the form of sugar, chemicals, and processed
food. Instead of eating naturally-occurring, plant-based protein
foods such as nuts, seeds, quinoa, oats, or beans, they replace
their protein with fake meat substitutes. I also have many
patients that develop GI upset due to the high intake of soy,
sugar, and beans.
And there is no doubt eating more fruits and vegetables and
plant-based protein is a huge benefit to the vegan diet. Unfortunately, a lack of protein and healthy fats and an increase in
processed carbs and refined oils can make it a very unhealthy
diet to follow.
Overall, I’m a huge fan of high-quality animal protein. You
can be healthy and well-balanced without eating loads and
loads of meats and/or other animal products.
What are some common myths or misconceptions
Burch: Veganism may not be the healthiest diet for everyone and can actually be
very unhealthy. While I support all of my
patients' choices when it comes to following a specific diet, I also want them be well-educated, using evidence-based research.
I encouraged all my patients to listen to
their bodies and follow a balanced, well-rounded diet limiting processed foods, no
matter if they follow a vegan diet or not.
Tim Gavigan: Economics, privilege,
and the planet
Tim Gavigan received his BA in Cultural Anthropology and Ethno-Medicinal
Sciences. He is also the founder of WNY
Permaculture, an organization identifying
resource recognition in growing and having relationships with native plants. Gavigan is an omnivore who has tried both a
vegan and vegetarian diet.
Tim, what do you think people should know about veganism?
If you’re coming from being an omnivore or a carnivore specifically, understand how to get the same nutrition that you got
from the previous diet from the new diet. For example, during
my own delving into veganism, especially for the first couple of
weeks, I had a change in energy levels and I had a change in my
input versus output. I needed to make sure that I was making a
fair and equal exchange—where are my omegas coming from,
where are my B vitamins coming from, and how am I balancing that?
People need to understand that you personally have to be
responsible and conscious of your eating habits as far as receiving nutrients, and the other part of that is a price plan. The way
that our food system is set up now, for the most part, meat is
very heavily subsidized even over the cheapest of crops. That
being the case, veganism is going to increase how much money
you’re generally spending. The only way to combat that increase
of money is to either put the time into it to grow your own food,
or take most of your cash throughout the month and buy bulk
ingredients and prepare your own meals. At some point, the
question that we’re balancing is “How much of my life do I
want to be actively engaged in my eating or do I just want convenience at a higher price.”
Is a vegan diet more affordable?
If you want a lower price point, your personal involvement
has to increase in some sort of ratio to that. It does kind of
incentivize one to say “well, tomatoes aren’t hard to grow,” or
“well there are oak trees everywhere.” These other resources in nature might be not only readily available, but completely free. Veganism could lead one to spending less at the grocery
store. However, it needs to be balanced with whatever you’re
not spending in money, you’re spending in time and energy.
Is veganism sustainable in a capitalistic society?
If we continue down the track that we’re going, neither of
them [omnivore and vegan diet] are going to be sustainable.
The idea that an agricultural industry, whether growing animals or growing produce, will serve the entire planet, to me,
is a pipe dream. In the past fifty years of trying to do so, we’ve
done more damage to the planet than we have helped the people of the planet. I would say under late capitalism as it is, we
cannot get a sustainable food industry any way you go. Classism has a lot to do with this vegan trend that is popping up