Soyfoods, Olive Oil, Beans, and Omega-3s: A Vegan Plan for Reducing Depression

Soyfoods, Olive Oil, Beans, and Omega-3s: A Vegan Plan for Reducing Depression

tofu veggiesSome ex-vegans say that they became depressed on a plant-based diet. If they did, it was probably due to poor food choices and maybe a lack of recommended supplements. It’s doubtful that a healthy vegan diet promotes depression. In fact, eating more plant foods may have a few advantages for people who suffer from this chronic illness.

Is it possible, though, that vegans are more likely to suffer from depression for a completely different reason?

One small study suggests that vegans and vegetarians respond with more empathy (as measured by brain scans) when they view either animal or human suffering (1). And, not surprisingly, it’s possible that heightened empathy raises risk for depression (2).

Whether or not these findings are true, if you happen to ... Read More >

Preventing Ex-Vegans: Why Nutrition and Nutritionism Matter

Preventing Ex-Vegans: Why Nutrition and Nutritionism Matter

Natural vitamins in fruitEating healthy whole foods is important—and so is paying attention to individual nutrients. Lately, though, that’s become an unpopular thing to say. It’s what food activists like Michael Pollan refer to as “nutritionism.” That is, he and others say we should stop worrying so much about nutrients and just eat food (or “real” food as they refer to it). As physician David Katz says “If you eat whole foods, the nutrients sort themselves out.”

But this is not exactly a science-based observation; it’s an opinion or at best a hunch or casual observation of the world. Pithy observations like this make for engaging writing and perky sound bites, but not always great advice.

To be fair, though, unlike Pollan whose understanding of nutrition is practically ... Read More >

Finding the Best Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplement

Finding the Best Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplement

vitamin B12As you might imagine, I get into a lot of discussions about vitamin B12 on facebook and twitter, and also via email. Vegans have many good questions about this nutrient. And sometimes some not-so-good opinions about it.

This past year I found myself chatting with the editor of a vegan publication who insisted that my perspective on B12 supplements was outdated. She was convinced that supplements were unnecessary and knew this because of what she had learned on a holistic health cruise.

Okay, well I’ve never been on a holistic health cruise. And I have no doubt that some are better than others. It’s just that, when it comes to vacations, I lean more toward Yellowstone National Park or maybe poking around antique stores along ... Read More >

Easy Resolutions for a Healthy Vegan New Year

Easy Resolutions for a Healthy Vegan New Year

Happy 2013! There is nothing like a brand new year to inspire health-related resolutions. And while it’s tempting to resolve to make all kinds of big changes, sometimes a few little tweaks here and there are all we vegans really need.  Here are ten ideas for vegans—mostly easy ways to fine-tune your diet and lifestyle. One of two of them might help to make your new year a little bit healthier.

1. Give some attention to calcium. It’s simple enough to get enough calcium from plant foods, but many vegans fall short because they just aren’t paying attention. Make sure you are consuming at least three cups per day of some combination of calcium-set tofu, fortified plant milks or juices, or calcium-rich leafy greens like ... Read More >

Ten Tips for Staying Happy and Healthy on a Vegan Diet

Ten Tips for Staying Happy and Healthy on a Vegan Diet

There is a long list of reasons why people fail on a vegan diet and return to the world of cheese sandwiches and fish fillets. They might have developed overt deficiencies or vague symptoms of poor health. Some ex-vegans say that they experienced depression or foggy thinking or fatigue without animal foods. Others struggled with challenging social situations or with cravings for animal foods.

The following ideas for staying happy and healthy on a vegan diet are all things I’ve written about before, but I wanted to condense them into a sort of checklist for those who are struggling to stay vegan. It may not cover everything (let me know if there are things you think I should add) but I think it addresses the ... Read More >

Vitamin D Supplements Are Still Important for Some Vegans

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is recommending that healthy postmenopausal women avoid low-dose supplements of vitamin D (up to 400 IU) or calcium (up to 1,000 milligrams) because evidence is lacking for a protective effect and there may be a small increase in risk of kidney stones.

It’s not really clear whether these supplemental doses are too low to have an effect (the evidence was lacking for a recommendation regarding higher doses) or whether it’s just that supplements are unnecessary if your diet already provides enough of these nutrients. The preliminary draft report makes no mention of diet (other than the incorrect statement that vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is the main dietary source of vitamin D and is provided by plants and fish—which leaves ... Read More >

Omega-3 Fats in Vegan Diets: A Quick Primer

Omega-3 Fats in Vegan Diets: A Quick Primer

I’ve written about omega-3s before, as recently as a year ago, but there continues to be much confusion about these compounds and lots of misinformation about them on the internet. The confusion focuses largely on the difference between the two types of omega-3s. If you take supplements of DHA (or DHA and EPA), do you still need flaxseed? And if you are eating flaxseed, do you need those DHA supplements?

The short answer is that you definitely need the flaxseed (or some equivalent food) and you may need the DHA supplements.

Flaxseeds and a handful of other plant foods provide an omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA which is an essential nutrient. This means it is absolutely necessary in your diet. Best sources for ... Read More >

Supplements and Mortality

New findings from the Iowa Women’s Health Study suggest that supplement use in post-menopausal women is linked to increased mortality.  Jack blogged about this research yesterday, and I want to also mention it here since I’ve had quite a few questions about it.

As Jack noted, the research on supplements and mortality is very conflicting and it would be a mistake to draw firm conclusions from this study alone. Some of the findings are not supported by other research. That doesn’t make them wrong—it just means that they are not the final word on the subject. This is also an epidemiological study, and while it’s a very good and highly respected one, it still doesn’t provide evidence about cause and effect.

Finally, this study looked ... Read More >

Vitamins B12 and D: Monitoring versus Supplementing

Good nutrition is aimed at preventing nutrient deficiencies (among other things), which means that, no matter what type of diet you eat, there are circumstances where supplements may play a role. Regular vitamin B12 supplements are absolutely essential for all vegans who don’t eat B12-fortified foods every day. Depending on sun exposure, vegans may also require vitamin D (although this isn’t a vegan issue; it’s true of most omnivores, too.) And depending on individual requirements and diet, some vegans (and again, some omnivores) might require other supplements to ensure adequate intake.

An alternative to supplementing is to monitor blood levels of particular nutrients, delaying supplements until there is medical evidence that they are needed. In an effort to portray a vegan diet as a naturally ... Read More >

Vitamin B12 Supplements: How Much is Enough?

In a new study from the United Kingdom, researchers found that more than half of vegan men were deficient in vitamin B12 based on their serum levels. The findings are part of the EPIC-Oxford study and will be published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The researchers looked at diets and serum levels of B12 in 226 omnivores, 231 vegetarians and 232 vegans. Mean serum B12 levels in vegans were 33% lower than in the vegetarians and 57% percent lower than in the omnivores.

In addition, the vegans had much higher serum levels of folate—not surprising since vegan diets are typically high in this nutrient. Since folate can mask B12-deficiency anemia, there are concerns about diets that are low in B12 and high in ... Read More >