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Vegan influencer Zhanna Samsonova dies at 39

Vegan diets are very low in protein, calcium, Vitamin D and vitamin B12, which can result in anaemia, nervous system damage, infertility and heart disease. In the absence of fats from the diet, fat-soluble vitamins won’t get absorbed by the body, says Ritika Samaddar, Regional Head, Nutrition And Dietetics, Max Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi

This case should serve as a cautionary note among those who are into extreme fad diets and end up trusting social media advisories over basic nutritional logic.Vegan influencer Zhanna Samsonova, who has consistently been promoting raw foods on social media, has reportedly “died of starvation” after living off a jackfruit diet, according to a report in New York Post, which quoted friends and family.

Most would have known the 39-year-old influencer from her handle Zhanna D’Art, and many users had already noticed how she was progressively getting emaciated in her posts. Though she finally died during a tour in Southeast Asia, a close friend quoted by the New York Post said she had “swollen legs oozing lymph. They sent her home to seek treatment. However, she ran away again. When I saw her in Phuket, I was horrified.” Samsonova’s mother said she succumbed to a “cholera-like infection.” Samsonova, in her own words, survived on a “completely raw vegan diet” for the last four years, consuming just “fruits, sunflower seed sprouts, fruit smoothies and juices.” She claimed that it brought about a body transformation and helped her look younger than her peers. But what she considered healthy turned out to be the unhealthiest of them all.

“Purely going by what she posted, it’s a miracle that she survived that long. Considering that she was living only on raw jackfruit, she was clearly suffering from a severe deficiency of protein, iron, calcium and vitamin B12,” says Ritika Samaddar, Regional Head, Nutrition And Dietetics, Max Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi.

No nutritionist would ever recommend a fully vegan diet because it cannot ensure a balance of both macronutrients and micronutrients. “Please understand that a vegan diet is only about plant foods and no dairy products. This means that the sources of protein are really restricted. Anybody pursuing this in India would primarily depend on lentils for protein because almond milk, being expensive, cannot be accessible for all. Now if you are a raw food vegan with fruits and vegetables, you have further restricted proteins in your diet. The currency of such diets are extremely short-term as they expectedly help you lose weight, improve your cholesterol and lipid levels. But over the long-term, you can sustain your healthy body markers only when you have balanced meals with enough in-between time to digest them fully,” says Samaddar.

Besides, she argued, we cannot leave out any of the other macronutrients as well, namely carbohydrates and fats. “We should get at least 25 per cent of our energy from fats. In the absence of fats from the diet, fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, E, D and B12, won’t get absorbed by the body. There could be a severe deficiency of micronutrients like iron and calcium. Remember that iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B 12, which are crucial for smooth functioning of body processes, are only available from non-vegetarian or dairy sources. Calcium and Vitamin D determine your bone health. Sub-optimal levels of vitamin B12 can result in anaemia, nervous system damage, infertility and heart disease. In their absence from your dietary sources, you would need supplements to stay healthy. One study found that all those who lived only on a raw vegan diet had less than the recommended 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 per day,” says Samaddar.

Samaddar says that there is much misinformation about raw food diets. “Yes they lead to weight loss, improved heart health and lower the risk of diabetes in the short term. But weight loss has to be a sustainable model. And that can only happen with a balanced diet,” says Samaddar.

Source : Indian Express August 1st 2023

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