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 >

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 >

Fruits and Veggies, Vitamin A and Vegan Diets

Vegan diets usually include some excellent sources of vitamin A–but it many take a little bit of planning to make sure you get enough on a regular basis.

While vegans don’t have any preformed vitamin A in their diet (it’s only in animal foods), it can be synthesized from compounds called carotenoids found in plant foods. The best known and most biologically active carotenoid is beta-carotene.

As recently as ten years ago, nutrition researchers believed than 6 micrograms of beta-carotene produced one microgram of active vitamin A. But newer research on absorption of carotenoids shows that it actually takes twice that much—12 micrograms of beta-carotene—to produce a microgram of vitamin A. That means that vegan intake of carotenoids is actually only about half the ... Read More >