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On When Doctors Tell You to Eat Animals

The Atlantic's Megan McArdle has quit being vegan, upon her doctor's advice. Comments follow, of the usual variety given the last paragraph of her post:

"At any rate, please don't turn this comment thread into an excuse for vegans to yell at meat eaters, and meat eaters to gloat over me.  I've actually been really sick for the last five months, though I didn't blog about it, and I'd appreciate not having that used to make a political point."

What I will do is take this opportunity to ask if anyone's doctors have told them they should eat animals. And have your vets said your dogs should be eating animals?

As always, I'd like to plug Kerrie Saunders, Dr. Food, who does do remote consultations for those of you who don't live in Michigan (like yours truly). If your traditionally-trained physician tells you you need to consume animal products, don't be surprised, but also don't believe it. This includes women who are pregnant, by the way.

I have learned from experience that when I go for an annual exam (we
females really should do that, particularly when we're over 40), I
shouldn't divulge that I'm vegan, as that triggers a lecture about
osteoporosis, the dangers of soy (which I don't eat a lot of anyway),
B12, and, believe it or not, protein. I was recently at the doctor and
it was so strange telling the person who studied medicine (I know, not nutrition or biochemistry, but still . . .) how a vegan can be perfectly healthy, justifying the way I eat, and giving him a list of resources and websites.

absurd. He should be justifying his recommendation that adult humans
should drink the milk of cows, rather than nobody's milk or the milk of, say, chimpanzees, who are
closer to us genetically. Why is that, anyway?

As for dogs, I am not one to say that all dogs can thrive on an animal-free diet (at least not from a bag or a can alone). Violet does, but Charles always has some kind of issue that he doesn't have when his diet includes animals. I am currently dealing with his issues, with food rather than supplements (and he isn't eating any animals), but the average person probably wouldn't do what I'm doing. Oddly, my traditional vet finds no reason why dogs can't eat a vegan diet, yet my homeopath disagrees and is a proponent of supplementation via raw meat. Go figure.

How about you? Any difficulties with doctors or vets?

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lyda #

    I tell my doctors up front that I'm vegan and that if they are not supportive of that I'll need to find another doctor. I don't think it's a good idea to not be honest with my doctor, because I want them to tell me if I need a supplement or if something is wrong. I think it's funny that they'll get on vegans about protein or calcium or whatever, but half the people they see are overweight, and many others eat fast food or never exercise, but they don't nag about those things for fear of being insensitive.

    December 9, 2008
  2. Mary Martin #

    I hear you Lyda. I have a healthcare provider who is not at all traditional, and is very supportive. But she doesn't do everything the traditional guys do (and she doesn't take any insurance), so I go to a traditional guy for some thing and simply don't have a discussion about what I eat. I use them as a fee for service for what I need and not as a healthcare provider.

    December 9, 2008
  3. We've given our vet subtle hints that all of our five dogs are vegetarian, without making a big deal out of it.

    Our oldest, a dachshund, has had skin allergies for six years now; when the allergies first manifested as dermatitis, our vet at the time recommended that we put him on a special diet for dogs with food allergies – which just happened to involve a vegetarian kibble. So, even after we discovered that the problem was environmental (not dietary) allergens, we kept all the dogs on the vegetarian food, and since then, I've also started to supplement the kibble with homemade vegetarian (mostly vegan) meals.

    Our vets (we've been through three as we've moved) all seem to approve, and two have even suggested adding veggies to their diets, to fill their bellies while cutting calories. Which is a pleasant surprise, as we live in rural MO. Of course, none of the dogs have had nutrition-related health problems, so diet doesn't come up much in conversation.

    As for me, I rarely mention my veganism to doctors, unless I think it's related to a health problem. I don't really have a GP I like enough to see consistently, though.

    My husband, on the other hand, will discuss his diet with doctors, but he gets more flak for living with five dogs and a cat (he's asthmatic).

    December 9, 2008
  4. Dan #

    I haven’t been to a physician in several years, and don’t plan on visiting one unless I notice something seems seriously wrong. I know more than most physicians about nutrition and general fitness, especially vegan nutrition (not because I’m an expert by any stretch, but because most of them know shockingly little – most are much more focused on diagnosis and cure than prevention. they’re paid when people are ill, not when they’re healthy). I eat a well-balanced vegan diet and get plenty of B12, O-3, and protein. I exercise regularly. I've felt better than ever since going vegan. I almost never get even a cold, and have not had a case of the flu (or anything like that) in the 5.5 years I've been vegan.

    If a physician told me to start eating animal products, I’d probably tell him or her to start eating humans and I’d find a different physician.

    December 9, 2008
  5. Dan #

    Oh, and the dogs. Our vet is fine with a vegan diet for the dogs. He is also impressed with their longevity and good health, regardless of their diet. One of them, who had been vegan for the last 5 years of his life, was a 110 lb lab mix who lived to about 17 years old – off the charts for a dog that size (he pretty much amazed every vet who saw him). Another – who is about 65 lbs – is thriving at about 12 years old now – still chasing the ball.

    December 9, 2008
  6. Nick #

    I haven't had any difficulties with doctors yet, but if I ever do I will show them the ADA's position paper. It's essentially irrefutable. Nutritionists are the scientific authority on nutrition (obviously), and physicians are not.

    December 9, 2008
  7. I have a friend who is transitioning to veganism. She has anemia, however; a precondition from her days as an omnivore. Her first visit with her doctor ended poorly: "If you become a vegan you will need blood transfusions daily." (Which begs the question: If all I need is flesh, why am I anemic?) I assured her that her doctor was acting on preconceptions and institutional malaise, and that she should visit another doctor. She did. A vegan doctor, in fact. After being informed about her previous doctor's fears, the new doctor adamantly disagreed — going so far as to formally contact her first doctor and explain her outrage. To shorten the story, she is now transitioning, phasing out meat and dairy all together, and has found a supplement package that works well on her her new doctor's advice.

    December 9, 2008
  8. Alex,
    I've been anemic since childhood. I tried all of the right foods and that didn't help that much. And the average iron pill has some mighty disturbing digestive side effects. However, Vegan Iron by VegLife is amazing: An iron formula with coated Vitamin C, Folic Acid and B12 for superior utilization. See: . It's a tiny, tiny pill and by far the best I've tried. It's also very inexpensive.

    Vegan doctor, though? Can't beat that.

    December 9, 2008
  9. Our current vet doesn't know our dogs are vegetarian. It didn't come up since they don't have any illnesses or conditions related to diet.

    Our previous vet wasn't especially thrilled about it, but she said it was fine and even gave me some vegetarian dog food recipes so I could make my own food for them (that was after the pet food recalls and I was very scared of store bought pet food).

    I don't mention it to doctors. I have found that almost all doctors just want to make their office visits as quick as possible and generally just reach for the prescription pad, so… I've learned to simply avoid doctors unless I need drugs. Sad, I know, but that's how it is right now. When it has slipped that I'm vegetarian or vegan, sometimes I get a few questions, but mostly I hear something like, "Well that explains the low cholesterol" or some such. I've never received a diet lecture from a doctor – even when I needed one (when I was eating lots and lots of fatty, salty foods and weighed 50 pounds more than I do now).

    December 10, 2008
  10. half the people they see are overweight, and many others eat fast food or never exercise, but they don't nag about those things for fear of being insensitive.

    I'm sure this varies from doctor to doctor, but I've heard plenty of stories from fat folks about doctors getting on their case, sometimes with loads of assumptions and moralizing.

    My doctor didn't ask about my diet last time I was in for a checkup, but did proclaim me to be in perfect health. I'll bring that up to him if he ever does make an issue of what I eat.

    December 10, 2008
  11. I could almost copy/paste Dan's post… I too haven't been to a doctor in eons. I also haven't been sick (cept for minor food poisoning) in quite sometime either. I'm a little more tired than I'd like to be… but I also burn two sided candles so that explains it.

    If I had a doctor – and I was told I had some "issue" that required I resume flesh eating (or die)…I'd have to get a 3rd/4th/100th opinion before even considering his advice. I don't know that life would be so wonderful if everyday I knew I was here only because an innocent animal's death made it so… If I couldn't be vegan I don't know that I would enjoy the world so much… So what's the point of physical health at the cost of negatives?

    December 11, 2008
  12. my general practitioner knows i'm vegan, and was generally very positive about it. i think he's actually forgotten by now; it just never comes up. my ob-gyn also knows, and she thinks it's awesome.

    we have told our vets that our greyhound is vegetarian (she's actually vegan but i don't bother using the even scarier word) and they're… tolerant. i think they know they won't get anywhere with me, so they leave me be for the most part. one of them actually said that dogs are obligate carnivores, which made me cringe, but she's not our usual vet so i just ignored her. i haven't told *anyone* in the greyhound group that she's vegan, because i really fear for what they'll all say.

    December 18, 2008


    March 27, 2009

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