|Let's face it: Nutrition is not the average American's strong suit.|
The short answer to this provocative question is "Yes." Of course there are risks to a vegan diet, and my fellow blogger was right to ask. Her post, I should mention before continuing, has good information that everyone contemplating a plant-based diet should consider. It would be self-defeating (insane, in fact) to stop eating animal products without understanding the essential nutrients they provide, and how to obtain these nutrients elsewhere. The now-famous example of the French couple whose baby died because they were clueless vegans should serve as a cautionary tale on this point.
The longer answer is, "Yes, there are risks to a vegan diet, just as there are risks to any sort of diet--especially the standard American diet."
Let's look at the risks of a vegan diet first (they are few, but important). The first and most deadly risk sounds ridiculous, but you'd be surprised how many vegan wannabes fail because they just stopped eating animal products without replacing the animal-based essential nutrients with plant-based sources or supplements. Like the french couple I mentioned, these people may have made the switch for ideological reasons (they could no longer justify participating in the horrifically cruel treatment of animals). While I regard this as a valid and noble motive, pursuing it blindly does open the door to potential malnutrition risks. There are several books out that address the health aspects of a plant-based diet, but I can think of none better or more user-friendly than "Becoming Vegan," by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. It covers just about everything you'd need to know about the subject. Besides an easily avoided nutrient deficiency, the only other risks are derision and ridicule by non-vegans, and pariah status at the Thanksgiving table. Seriously, that's it.
Personally, I've been eating this way for over two years with no ill effects whatsoever. Quite the contrary: My cholesterol, which was at a vertiginous 289, plummeted to 130 in six months. My metabolism sped up, I have more energy and need less sleep. An oppressive brain fog I had been under without even realizing it lifted around the third day after I dropped the animal products (most likely this was a dairy products-related issue). Whereas I used to use a neti pot every morning, to flush out my clogged nasal passages, I now only use it to combat seasonal dryness, or as a prevention when I'm exposed to sick people. I have not been sick once, even though members of my family have had colds and the flu (clearly my immune system is running fine). My doctor has me getting semi-annual CBCs now (he has a worry that mirrors the title of this post), and so far everything's good--no anemia; testosterone, Vitamin D and B12 are all solid. Seems my risk management is in top form.
Now let's look at the risks of a non-vegan diet. A quick indicator is the fact that statin drugs--whose sole function is to help lower a person's cholesterol--are apparently the top-selling drug in America (even surpassing Viagra). There are other clear indicators. Two in three Americans are overweight, and half of them are obese. Heart disease--the direct result of a poor diet high in animal products--is the number one cause of death. Type II diabetes, although not specifically a meat and dairy related disease, is facilitated by a diet high in refined carbohydrates, processed food and animal products (and subsequently low in whole grains, fruits and vegetables). Osteoporosis, rather than being averted by "calcium-rich" dairy products, is actually exacerbated by them. It's now known that 35% of cancers are diet-related, specifically diets that are high in animal products and processed foods, while pathetically low in whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The standard American diet, even if the recommendations of the Big Ag-promoted "food pyramid" were being closely followed, is far and away the most dangerous widely-accepted diet one can adopt, period.
Now, I'm no proponent of a fear-based approach to any decision making process. It's fine for snap decisions involving mortal danger, where you really don't have time to weigh options (rattlesnake on the footpath, drunk man waving gun), but for long-term decisions (whether to marry, what to eat), a calm, rational approach is far more likely to produce good outcomes. So put on your rational thinking cap and ask yourself which diet comes with greater risks, A) the one that brings significant health benefits, although it requires you to pay a little attention in order not to become deficient in a few key nutrients, or B) the one that is fattening, sickening, and killing hundreds of thousands of people every year?