Vegetarian Diets and Eating Disorders

A study published in the journal Appetite took a new approach to examining the relationship between vegetarian diet patterns and eating disorders. I just wrote it up for the ADA’s vegetarian nutrition newsletter, and it’s such interesting research, that I wanted to share it here, even though Jack has already blogged about it.

Past research has suggested that young women who follow “vegetarian” diets are more likely to have restrained eating habits, or a tendency toward eating disorders—probably because some women with eating disorders adopt a vegetarian diet as a socially acceptable way of controlling food intake.

But these studies have typically lumped vegetarians and semi-vegetarians together and then compared this rather diverse group to omnivores. This new study is different, however, because it compared ... Read More >

Vegan Nutrition: Sometimes the Devil Really is in the Details

Dietitian Elisa Rodriguez published a great interview with Jack Norris on One Green Planet last week. In talking about our book Vegan for Life, Jack noted that there are benefits to a “holistic” view of nutrition, but that his biggest contribution has most likely been in helping vegans understand that “micronutrients matter.” That’s because “being deficient in vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iodine, omega-3s, iron, or zinc results in real consequences.”

It’s tempting to think that eating a variety of whole plant foods—the big picture or holistic approach—without attention to detail, is good enough for meeting nutrient needs. But that’s an approach based on philosophy, and there is no empirical evidence to back it up. And nutrition isn’t a philosophy; it’s a science. Which means ... Read More >

Countering Claims Against Vegan Diets

Several months ago, I was asked to respond to an article about the “dangers” of vegan diets that had been published in At the Wedge, the newsletter of the Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis. It was written by a holistic nutritionist who, among other things, counsels “recovering vegans.”

People abandon vegan diets for all kinds of reasons, but those who are “recovering” from this way of eating obviously believe that being vegan damaged their health and that it may very well damage yours, too.

This isn’t a term that crops up in mainstream nutrition circles. I’ve never heard it from any of my dietitian colleagues.  In fact, while most RDs may not endorse vegan diets with wild enthusiasm, they don’t appear to have anything in ... Read More >

U.S News Rates Vegan Diets (and Gets a Few Things Wrong)

U.S. News brought together a team of  nutrition experts to rank popular diets commonly used for weight control. According to the report, the best diets were “relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, and effective for weight loss and against diabetes and heart disease.”

At the head of their list were the DASH and Mediterranean diets — not too surprising since these are well-studied approaches to eating that have a good track record for protecting against disease. The surprise was that a vegan diet ranked pretty low on the list (below Slimfast and Jenny Craig!) While it seemed that the review committee tried to do their homework regarding vegan diets, they definitely got some things wrong.

For example, the committee determined that vitamin D is found ... Read More >

Being Picky About Vegan Nutrition

Psychology Today recently published the results of a web-based survey on why vegetarians return to meat-eating. The number one reason given was failed health, and this was followed by the “hassle and stigma” of being vegetarian.

Their study had just 77 participants (I don’t know how many were vegan) and, to my knowledge, hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so it’s not much more than food for thought. What impressed me the most about the article was the author’s reference to a 2005 CBS News survey which found that there are three times as many “ex-vegetarians” as there are vegetarians.

Whether or not the numbers are quite that dramatic, it’s fair to say that a lot of people fail to stick with vegetarianism for ... Read More >

Fat Soluble Vitamins: Do They Stand Between Vegans and Health?

This month, I’m working on a couple of responses to recently published criticisms of vegan diets. Among the issues that are frequently raised is one that focuses on fat-soluble vitamins. Some of the concerns are based on legitimate questions about active forms of these vitamins and their absorption from plant foods, and others aren’t. Regardless of those questions, though, plant foods can and do provide enough of the fat soluble vitamins A, D and K. (Vitamin E, which is also fat-soluble, is not involved in the controversy since it’s found in a very wide variety of foods.)
Vitamin A: It’s true that the preformed active type of this vitamin is found only in animal foods. But plants are abundant in vitamin A precursors like beta-carotene ... Read More >

Meeting Protein Needs on a Vegan Diet: The Calorie Connection

People often ask why any adult would need a diet providing more than 5 to 6 percent of calories from protein. I had several questions about this after I posted my recent article about protein in vegan diets. After all, human breast milk is around 6 percent protein and it supports health during the fastest period of growth of the entire lifecycle. How could adults need a more protein dense diet than an infant?
Babies certainly have high protein needs for their size. They require almost 0.7 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. Vegan adults need far less—around 0.4 to 0.45 grams of protein per pound of ideal body weight. But when it comes to getting enough protein, infants have a ... Read More >

Healthy Vegan Diets Can Include Meat Analogues

A little hot dog stand in my town advertises on a big bold hand-written sign that they have vegan hotdogs. (They used to sell “veegun” hotdogs; I’m not the one who corrected them, but I’m glad somebody did.) Even though I live in a hippie town where this sort of thing isn’t unusual, it makes me happy. Vegan fare at a hotdog stand gives me hope for the future.
The first “meat analog” was invented by John Harvey Kellogg in 1895 and it definitely wasn’t a hotdog. He ground peanuts into peanut butter as a meat replacement for patients at his Battle Creek, Michigan sanitarium. The product was introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and touted as a health food. Peanut butter ... Read More >

Recommended Supplements for Vegans

Just days before everyone was talking about the Voracious [ex-] Vegan story, I received a severe scolding from a reader for my stance on supplements (this was in response to my post on omega-3s). She was adamant about the fact that “whole plant foods” can easily provide everything we need.
An effort to prove that a whole foods vegan diet is the ideal or foolproof diet of all humans gives rise to all kinds of potentially harmful myths. These include the unfounded position that vegans can meet vitamin B12 needs by consuming unwashed organic produce, or that we have lower calcium needs than omnivores, or that it’s been “proven” that no one needs long chain omega-3 fats in their diet.
If these claims make ... Read More >

Do Vegans Need Supplements of Omega-3 Fats?

New data from the EPIC-Norfolk Study in the U.K. revealed some surprises about blood levels of DHA in vegans. DHA is one of the long-chain fatty acids found primarily in fish oils. Vegans don’t consume any, but in this study, vegan women (although not men) had the highest levels of plasma DHA of all the groups.

Since DHA can be synthesized from another omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one theory is that vegans are more efficient at converting ALA to DHA. And in fact, this study did find that those who don’t eat fish are better converters than those who do, and that women are better converters than men.

That might suggest that vegans—or at least vegan women—don’t need to worry about ... Read More >