If your GP prescribed a diet which carried twice your current risk of breaking a bone, would you happily stock up on the ingredients? Or might you wonder why on earth anyone would adopt an eating regime that requires specialist shopping and NASA levels of nutritional knowledge, whilst threatening a skeleton as brittle as winter twigs?
This week, research was published suggesting that vegans are at almost twice the risk of broken bones as meat-eaters. As yet, its unclear whether thats because vegan diets tend to lack calcium and protein, or due to the fact that vegans tend to be thinnerand have less padding to break their fall. The long-term study also began in 1993, when vegan products were less available and unfortified now, an entire industry is dedicated to adding supplements to animal-free products and the average vegan has a full supermarket aisle, rather than a dusty Tupperware stack, to choose from.
Still, to follow the science, its increasingly apparent that a vegan diet isnt necessarily healthy, unless its meticulously planned to include fortified foods and milks, added vitamins and bonus omega-3 capsules. Yes, it can help to stave off certain cancers and heart disease, but it can also cause weak bones, exhaustion, anaemia and severe vitamin B deficiencya factor in dementia.
I know all this because for three years I was a committed vegan. I was editing a vegan food magazine, and had access to all the nutritional information out there. But I was also busy, and failed to eat like a celebrity with a dedicated macrobiotic chef and a nutritional analysis app. As a result, I developed a severe nickel allergyand permanent exhaustion.
As a peri-menopausal woman, my diet was doing me no goodand, after a headmistress-y lecture from one of the many specialists I visited in search of a diagnosis, I introduced sustainable fish and dairy again. Even a pescatarian diet carries a 25 per cent higher risk of broken bones, according to the study, but as a bleeding heart animal lover who doesnt want to destroy the planet (and went vegetarian in 2005), reverting to a full meat diet feels impossible. Increasingly, however, purely for health reasons, Im wondering if I should.
Yet despite the ongoing scientific studies suggesting that pure veganism is not the nutritional holy grail, one look at social media suggests that if, we all turned vegan overnight, not only would the planet immediately be saved butwed all live to be powerfully bendy centenarians on a rainbow diet of grains and vegetables.
Over the last few years, the number of vegan recipe accounts has expanded like chia seeds in water (actually, they make a revolting gel, like slick frogspawn, despite featuring in every other recipe).
While some suggested dishes are carefully planned to include protein and vitamins, there are thousands where visual appeal is prioritized over any health benefits, with endless streams of Buddha bowls a collection of disparate grains, pulses and vegetables that have apparently achieved zen by not including meat or dairy.
Then theres ersatz vegan replicas of mainstream dishes, like tofu fish, eggless pancakes and whipped fake cream, facon sandwiches... few ever question whether a constant diet of either replacement foods or pure vegetables is healthy; the very fact of its moral goodnessis enough to garner strings of approving heart-emojis.
It would be fine if these were just useful suggestions for eating less meat (I am all for that). But many of the Insta-influencers promote themselves as nutritionists, dispensing well-meaning advice and health wisdom, which often directly contradicts qualified dietitians.
Its also a fact that most of these glowing chickpea-gobblers are under 35, and too young to feel the effects of any nutritional loss. For those of us chugging into our 50s, however, particularly women, a balanced diet has never been more vital, as menopause weakens muscles and thins bones.
When I consider what constitutes a good diet now, I often think of my grandma, who sailed through middle age slim and fit, and lived healthily to 87. Her post-war diet involved plenty of home-made chicken soup, daily fish or meat and veg, not many puddings and a gin and tonic every night. We dont yet know how the recent veganism boom will affect our health long-term, but as I age, Im inclined to listen to experts rather than a gorgeous 23-year-old grinning over a plate of roasted quinoa.
In my heart, Id love to be vegan again. But my body isnt so keen and increasingly, it seems that hoary old recommendationeverything in moderationis the best diet advice there is.