Pinto Beans or Tofurky? How Food Choices and Motivations Affect Vegan Health

Pinto Beans or Tofurky? How Food Choices and Motivations Affect Vegan Health

Vegan BurgerWhen it comes to vegan diets and health, a couple of misconceptions often pop up on blogs and in social media. One is that whole-food plant-based people are healthier than plain old vegans. Related to that is the belief that vegans motivated by ethics choose less healthy diets than those motivated by health.

Is it true? Do ethical vegans care more about animals than their own health? Research—or in some cases, the lack of research—casts some doubt on this.

Obviously, you can be vegan and still eat a pretty junky diet. There is the accidently vegan food as well as junk food developed just for vegans who like a treat. It’s not all that hard to eat a compassionate diet that is hyper-palatable, fun, and ... Read More >

Vegan Diets, Sperm Concentrations and Fertility: Why There is No Need to Worry

Vegan Diets, Sperm Concentrations and Fertility: Why There is No Need to Worry

Father with newborn babyThe internet loves a good story on alleged health hazards of vegan diets. This week, it’s all about how vegan and vegetarian men have low sperm concentrations. The alarming research is from Loma Linda University, and it was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine(1).

Should you be concerned about the fact that the vegetarians and vegans in this study had sperm concentrations that were lower than those of the meat-eaters? I don’t think so for a number of reasons.

First, this research has not been published, and it may not yet have gone through any type of peer review. And the abstract is short on details that will be important in that review. Like whether or not the authors ... Read More >

The New York Times, Nina Planck, and Safety of Vegan Diets

Last week brought more shoddy coverage of vegan diets from The New York Times. This time, it was a debate about the safety of veganism. And it didn’t occur to the Times to solicit opinions from anyone with actual expertise in vegan nutrition.

At the center of the discussion was food writer and farmer’s market expert Nina Planck, who excels at making sweeping, unsupported observations about nutrition. She is woefully uninformed and spectacularly unconcerned about her lack of knowledge and credentials.

Planck believes that we have “extraordinary needs for nutrients not found in plants,” –including vitamins A and D, omega-3 fats, and carnitine–which translates to a need for what she refers to as “synthetic supplements.” I imagine that in referring to these supplements as “synthetic,” ... Read More >

Soy Isoflavones and Estrogen

Because my husband regularly consults for the soy industry, I’ve chosen not to write very much about soyfoods and health. And, since Jack published his excellent comprehensive article on the controversies surrounding this issue, there isn’t much need for me to do so anyway.

But two issues regarding soyfoods always prompt me to provide some clarification, because they seem to be universally—and consistently—misunderstood despite very clear and conclusive research findings. One pertains to the types and amounts of soy consumed in Asia which I wrote about several months ago. The other is the mistaken idea that soyfoods contain estrogen, which I want to address here.

Soyfoods are unique among commonly-consumed foods because they contain large amounts of isoflavones. And in order to understand the controversy ... Read More >

Soyfoods in Asia: How Much Do People Really Eat?

Way back in the fall, when I reviewed The Vegetarian Myth, I promised to follow-up with some perspective on the controversies surrounding soyfoods. I know that Jack Norris is working on a fairly comprehensive overview of this topic which will hopefully be available soon. I’ll be adding some information to my website as well. For now, I wanted to look at the important issue of soy consumption in Asia.  It’s an area of some confusion since a common belief is that Asians consume only small amounts of soy—sort of condiment-style—and that they consume mostly fermented soy products like miso and tempeh. Based on the research, though, neither of these assumptions is true.
The confusion about how much soy Asians consume is based partly on a simple mathematical misunderstanding. In ... Read More >

Review of “The Vegetarian Myth”

Lierre Keith suffers from numerous chronic health problems. Unable to secure a diagnosis for most of them, she decided that the vegan diet she had followed for twenty years was to blame. But she wasn’t content to add a few animal products back to her diet. Instead, she set out to prove that healthy diets require copious amounts of animal foods and that small-scale animal farming is the answer to sustainability. To prove it, she has cobbled together information from websites (yes, she actually cites Wikipedia!) and a few popular pseudoscientific books.

It’s next to impossible to review this book; it is so packed with misinformation and confusion that refuting the claims could be another book itself. This is a long post, and it doesn’t ... Read More >

Preventing Prostate Cancer with Diet

Although prostate cancer is the most common cancer among U.S. men, there is good news about the potential for prevention. It’s a slow-growing cancer, typically diagnosed at older ages. Therefore, anything that can slow the growth of these tumors can have a big effect on survival.

For example, research shows that men in Japan are just as likely to have prostate tumors as western men—but far less likely to die from this cancer. One theory is that certain diet or lifestyle factors may slow tumor growth so much that the men die of old age before the cancer ever has a chance to become deadly, or often before the men even know they have prostate tumors. There is evidence that soyfood consumption may be ... Read More >

Soy and Sperm (and Testosterone, Too!)

The problem with soy is that it is a hugely hot area of research—more than 10,000 scientific papers have been published within just the last decade alone on soyfoods and health. With that level of investigation, there will always be a few studies here and there that show scary findings. By pouncing on those findings—rather than looking at what the majority of the research shows—critics can build a case against soy that sounds credible, even when it isn’t.

Soyfoods are an essentially unique source of isoflavones—which are a type of phytoestrogen, or plant estrogen. So it’s not surprising that some of the stories turning up on the internet have focused on sperm count and testosterone levels. Let’s take a look at what the research ... Read More >

Feed Your Daughters Well

It still isn’t clear that what we eat as adults will impact our risk for cancer. But there is lots of evidence that what girls eat—especially during puberty—can affect their risk of getting breast cancer in adulthood. The theory is that certain compounds in food impact breast tissue as that tissue is developing, either conferring lifelong protection against cancer or raising risk for cancer.

I wrote several months ago about soyfood consumption during the teen years and how it can protect against breast cancer in adulthood. More recently, Harvard researchers looked at the effect of red meat consumption during adolescence. They asked more than 40,000 women what they ate in high school, and then followed their health over the next seven years. Those who ... Read More >

Soyfoods for Young Girls Offer Lifelong Protection

My friend Kate recently asked what I thought about the fact that her granddaughter drinks a lot of soymilk. I said I thought it was great!

There are plenty of reasons—mostly from ethical and environmental standpoints—to avoid cow’s milk. Whether there are important health risks associated with dairy consumption is still a question of debate. But there is little to suggest that dairy has any protective benefits that you can’t get elsewhere. Soy, on the other hand, may have some unique and long-lasting benefits for young girls.

Interest in a cancer-protective effect of soyfoods comes, in part, from the fact that breast cancer is much lower in Japan, where soyfoods are commonly consumed, than in western countries. Scientists have been speculating for decades that the ... Read More >