In recent years, the growing interest in healthier eating and the adoption of veganism has prompted many to embrace natural foods as a core component of their dietary preferences. When we hear the term “natural,” our minds often paint pictures of untouched landscapes, evoking a sense of health and well-being. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that natural doesn’t guarantee superior health outcomes. In this article, we’ll discuss the topic of veganism and they might not always be the optimal choice for our well-being.
Who is Zhanna Samsonova?
Zhanna Samsonova was a Russian national and a well-known influencer who promoted a raw food vegan lifestyle on social media. Using her pseudonym Zhanna D’Art, she has over 30,000 followers on Instagram. Her content focused on sharing her experiences with raw food, creating recipes, and inspiring her millions of followers to adopt a healthier way of eating.
One of Zhanna’s notable characteristics was her simplicity when it came to food. Despite her expertise as a raw food chef, she preferred uncomplicated meals and took pleasure in crafting her own recipes. Her aim was to encourage others to make healthier dietary choices through her content.
What happened to Zhanna Samsonova?
Zhanna Samsonova died at the age of 39 years old. While the official cause of death is unclear, her family and close friends blamed extreme veganism for her demise. Online reports suggested that she ate exclusively fruits and sunflower seed sprouts for the last four years. Other reports also mentioned she had not drunk any water for six years, choosing instead to drink fruit and vegetable juice.
Her mother said Samsonova died from a cholera-like infection, which was made worse by her restrictive diet. Some have claimed she died from starvation.
Others had also shared that Samsonova became so weak in the final weeks of her life as a result of her extreme diet that she was in bed most of the time. Her weakened state would take her ‘several minutes’ to walk up one step on a staircase. She was most likely malnourished and also suffered from sarcopenia.
Natural Foods is good only as good as the nutrients you consume
Natural foods, characterised by their minimal processing and absence of additives, have garnered a reputation for being better for our bodies. These foods are often considered closer to their original state, promoting the notion that they retain more nutrients and are inherently healthier. As a result, consumers are drawn to organic produce, whole grains, and unprocessed meats, believing they are making a more wholesome choice.
For many natural foods fanatics, veganism is their diet of choice. This is because fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, are rich in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. These nutrients are associated with improved overall health and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Vegans who opt for natural foods often limit their consumption of processed and refined products. This choice can lead to better weight management, improved digestion, and a lower risk of obesity and related health issues.
What happens if you don’t get enough nutrients from food?
While the concept of consuming natural foods is often associated with health and well-being, an exclusive focus on natural foods may not always guarantee a balanced and complete nutritional intake. The key lies in striking a harmonious balance between embracing natural foods and ensuring that your body receives all the essential nutrients it requires.
Natural foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, offer a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to overall health. However, these foods might not provide all the nutrients your body needs in optimal amounts. This is particularly relevant for individuals who follow restrictive diets, including veganism, where certain nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), iron, calcium, and certain vitamins may be less abundant or not present in plant-based sources.
In such cases, relying solely on natural foods can potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies, which in turn can result in a range of health issues. These deficiencies can impact energy levels, immune function, bone health, cognitive function, and more.
Don’t believe everything you see on social media
In the age of social media, it’s crucial to remember that what we see online often represents only a carefully selected fragment of someone’s life. Zhanna Samsonova’s case serves as a poignant reminder that appearances can be misleading. The content individuals choose to share might not encompass the entirety of their reality.
While Zhanna’s social media presence portrayed an image of vitality and well-being, her tragic story sheds light on the hidden battles she faced. The world glimpsed a seemingly healthy and vibrant individual, yet behind the carefully crafted posts lay a much more complex narrative. Her struggle with anorexia and the devastating consequences of her extreme diet were not as readily apparent.
This dissonance between online persona and reality serves as a stark warning against making assumptions based solely on what we observe on social media platforms. The allure of filters, captions, and curated content can obscure the profound struggles individuals may be grappling with privately.
While we may admire and draw inspiration from the positive aspects of people’s lives shared on social media, it’s essential to approach these portrayals with a dose of skepticism and critical thinking.
The harms of extreme veganism
In the fervent pursuit of upholding ethical principles, extreme veganism has gained traction as a lifestyle choice that aims to minimise harm to animals and the environment. Yet, beneath the noble intentions lie potential pitfalls that warrant careful consideration. This heightened commitment to a strict vegan regimen, while admirable, can inadvertently lead to adverse effects on both physical and mental well-being.
In most, if not all, situations, moderation is key. It serves as a reminder that excessive consumption of even the healthiest substances can lead to unintended consequences. A prime example of this principle is water poisoning.
Water is undeniably essential for our well-being, playing a critical role in numerous bodily functions, including hydration, digestion, temperature regulation, and waste elimination. However, the body’s capacity to process and eliminate water has its limits. When someone consumes an excessive amount of water within a relatively brief timeframe, it can overwhelm the kidneys’ ability to excrete the excess fluid.
This situation leads to an imbalance in electrolytes, particularly sodium, in the blood. Sodium is a crucial electrolyte that helps maintain the body’s fluid balance. When diluted by excess water, sodium levels can drop to dangerously low levels, resulting in a condition known as hyponatremia. This can lead to symptoms ranging from mild discomfort, such as nausea and headaches, to severe and life-threatening complications like seizures, coma, and even death.
Water poisoning serves as a poignant reminder that even the most basic and life-sustaining substances require mindful consumption. Too much of a good thing can be bad, or even deadly, for us.
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12, a crucial nutrient for our body’s vitality, plays a pivotal role in our overall health. Yet, an insufficiency of this essential vitamin can give rise to pernicious anemia, a condition marked by a distinct set of symptoms. This condition manifests through the production of unusually large and underdeveloped red blood cells, leading to a cascade of discomforts including fatigue, weakness, and breathlessness.
However, the implications of a severe and prolonged deficiency in Vitamin B12 extend beyond anemia. This deficiency can potentially wreak havoc on peripheral nerves, resulting in the onset of peripheral neuropathy. This intricate network of nerves serves as a communication system between the central nervous system and the rest of the body. When compromised, it can lead to a constellation of symptoms, such as the disconcerting sensations of numbness, tingling, and burning, often concentrated in the hands and feet.
One of the most effective ways for vegans to ensure they’re getting enough vitamin B12 is through supplements. Vitamin B12 supplements are widely available and come in various forms, including tablets, capsules, and sublingual (under the tongue) drops. Consulting a healthcare professional or dietitian for dosage recommendations is advisable.
Incorporating fortified foods into the diet can also help increase vitamin B12 intake. Look for plant-based milk, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast that are fortified with B12. Nutritional yeast is a popular condiment in the vegan community and is often fortified with B12. It can be added to a variety of dishes to enhance flavor and provide an extra boost of this essential nutrient.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiency (EPA and DHA) Deficiency
Deficiency in essential omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can increase the risk of various cardiovascular diseases. EPA and DHA have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties. These qualities help reduce inflammation in blood vessels, prevent blood clot formation, and promote healthy blood flow. A deficiency in EPA and DHA may contribute to chronic inflammation and increase the risk of developing heart disease, including conditions like atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries) and coronary artery disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), play a crucial role in maintaining brain health and cognitive function. A deficiency in these essential fatty acids can indeed contribute to cognitive decline and increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. DHA is a major structural component of brain cell membranes, particularly in the gray matter of the brain. It’s essential for maintaining the integrity and fluidity of these membranes, which are vital for proper neuronal communication, signal transmission, and overall brain function.
Vegans can take steps to ensure they obtain sufficient omega-3 fatty acids, which are primarily found in fatty fish. While plant-based sources of omega-3s provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the body’s conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is limited.
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are rich sources of ALA, which can be converted into EPA and DHA to some extent. Including ground flaxseeds in smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods, or using flaxseed oil in salad dressings, can contribute to omega-3 intake. If obtaining adequate omega-3s from whole foods is a challenge, vegan omega-3 supplements sourced from algal oil are a viable option. These supplements provide a direct source of EPA and DHA without relying on the conversion of ALA.
What are the mental effects of extreme diets?
Obsessive eating behaviors within the context of extreme veganism can cast a profound shadow over mental well-being. The constant fixation on food choices, ingredients, and dietary limitations can become an all-encompassing preoccupation. Having to adhere to rigid dietary rules can escalate stress levels to unprecedented heights. The ceaseless worry about making “right” decisions and the accompanying dread of veering from the prescribed path can culminate in a chronic state of tension and unease. This stress can permeate various aspects of an individual’s life, affecting relationships, work, and overall emotional well-being.
In some instances, the line between obsessive behaviors and disordered eating patterns can blur. When this happens, conditions like orthorexia may emerge. This fixation on consuming only foods deemed “pure” or “clean” can evolve into an unrelenting preoccupation. This obsession with dietary perfection can usher in extreme restrictions, compulsive rituals, and an ultimately unhealthy relationship with food.
In the landscape of extreme veganism, the impact of obsessive eating behaviors on mental well-being is a vital consideration. It underscores the delicate balance required to uphold ethical principles while nurturing a positive and sustainable relationship with food. Recognising the potential pitfalls and seeking support can ultimately foster a harmonious alignment between dietary choices and holistic well-being.
Practise safe and sensible veganism
Veganism is not inherently bad for you. A thoughtful and holistic approach to nurturing both your well-being and the environment starts with a foundation of balanced nutrition. Emphasis should not solely focus on avoiding animal products but also on ensuring you meet your daily nutrient requirements. Prioritise nutrient-rich choices such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Regularly monitor your intake of essential nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, and vitamin D, and consider appropriate supplements as necessary. By taking these necessary steps, you can practise veganism without having to forsake your own health.
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