If being vegan necessitates having to eat food that have been fortified with nutrients artificially just to maintain a healthy body, does that mean the vegan diet is unhealthy?
No, the vegan diet is healthy. Vitamin B12 is a necessary nutrient that does not come from plants. However, vitamin B12 is also not an animal product. Rather, vitamin B12 is derived from bacteria. As the vegan diet does not forbid food derived from bacteria, vitamin B12 in fortified food or from pills can be taken as part of a vegan diet.
In terms of whether taking an unnatural food is unhealthy, the answer is no. Processed or unnatural food is not necessarily unhealthy. This is the “appeal to nature” fallacy. There are no toxicology reports that prove that vitamin B12 is toxic and there is no scientific evidence that food that is processed is necessarily more toxic than food that is unprocessed.
What is natural?
There is significant industrialization nowadays that it’s very difficult to know what is natural or unnatural food.
The main problem with the term “natural” is that it is not scientific. There is no consistent definition.
Natural foods and all natural foods are widely used terms in food labeling and marketing with a variety of definitions, most of which are vague. The term is often assumed to imply foods that are minimally processed and all of whose ingredients are natural products (in the chemist’s sense of that term), but the lack of standards in most jurisdictions means that the term assures nothing. In some countries, the term “natural” is defined and enforced. In others, such as the United States, it has no meaning.
Most people believe that a natural product is one that has not been chemically altered or processed. However, even cooking a product chemically alters it, and so do we classify the cooked beans we ate as natural or not?
Some go as far as to say that a natural product is not cooked and is completely raw (see raw foodism). Natural food is only natural if you can pick it from the ground or from a tree and there is no human intervention thereafter.
However, even with this raw food definition, there is a problem because raw and unprocessed food is not necessarily healthy.
Death cap mushrooms
Death cap mushroom are very natural. You pick it from the ground and do not process it in any way. However, if you eat a death cap mushroom, you will die.
Take another example. A multivitamin is highly processed yet it is healthy. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends you take a multivitamin every day.
Then there is water. Natural water is water from a pond. Pond water can provide us with nutrients. For example, pond water contains vitamin B12.
If vitamin B12 is found in pond water, why not drink pond water?
Pond water is likely to also contain dirt and feces. It is cleaner and healthier, rather than drinking natural pond water, to drink water from a tap, bottled water, or filtered water, all of which are processed and unnatural.
Of course, filtered water does not contain vitamin B12. However, vitamin B12 pills do contain vitamin B12.
Why not just take vitamin B12 pills?
Many will argue that vitamin B12 pills are not natural. But tap water or bottled water is not natural either. Pond water is natural. Do these people drink pond water rather than tap water?
Pond water may contain vitamin B12 but it also contains harmful germs. Likewise, meat contains vitamin B12 but also saturated fat and trans fat.
Supplements are not necessarily unhealthy
Some supplements are healthy and some supplements are unhealthy. Death cap mushrooms are natural but toxic. Aspirin is artificial, processed, but healthy.
As I said, tap water is unnatural and may even have flouride in it. Even salt is commonly fortified with iodine. Why is everything else in our lives unnatural (even non-vegan food) but we demand natural vegan food?
Is it just an excuse?
It is very hard to find food that is natural. Chances are, food is processed to some degree. Even if we grow a banana, we are taking seeds, sunlight, water, etc and then processing these in soil to grow a banana. If we did something chemically similar in a laboratory, would it be natural or not? Chemical reactions happen everywhere and humans intervene to start these chemical reactions. What really matters is not whether something is natural or not but whether it is toxic or not or if it is healthy.