Vegan Diets are Dangerous? Here is What the Research Really Says

Vegan Diets are Dangerous? Here is What the Research Really Says

Messina Plant PlateDoctors at the Cleveland Clinic suggest that vegans should know something about diet planning in order to make sure they are meeting nutrient needs.

Their conclusions were published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. The paper doesn’t say anything that is particularly alarming, and, with a few exceptions, there isn’t much in it that I would take issue with.

But the Cleveland Clinic press-released the findings, giving the media a chance to scaremonger about vegan diets—and you know how much they like to do that.

As is often the case, headlines didn’t exactly reflect what is in the paper. For one thing, it wasn’t a “study.” It’s a very short review, which means that it is a discussion of already-published research and doesn’t ... Read More >

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 >

Vegan Diets to Reduce Colon Cancer Risk

Vegan Diets to Reduce Colon Cancer Risk

GrünkohlThe latest findings from the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2) found that people who ate plant-based diets—which included vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians and pesco-vegetarians—had a 22% lower risk of colorectal cancer (1).

But when the researchers pulled the subjects apart into more specific groups, the only group of “vegetarians” with a lower risk were the ones who ate fish. Their risk was 43% lower than the omnivores in this study. While vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians also had a lower risk for colon cancer, these findings weren’t statistically significant.

The only other large scale study to look at colon cancer in vegetarians is the EPIC-Oxford Study in England and this research found no protection from a vegetarian diet (2).

So what exactly are we to make of these ... Read More >

Staying Strong on a Vegan Diet: Protein and Muscles

We all know that it’s easy to meet the protein RDA on a vegan diet. But what constitutes “enough protein” remains a topic of some debate among experts.

Among its other functions, protein protects bone health which may in part be due to its effects on muscle mass. Unfortunately, a decline in muscle mass over the years is more common than not. It’s driven to some extent by hormones, but diet and lifestyle clearly have an impact on this, too.

Although weight-training is the most important way to build and preserve muscle, it gets a little bit harder to bulk up as the years pass–probably because protein is used less efficiently to rebuild muscle after exercise when you’re older. A new report from the International ... 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 >

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 >

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 >

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 >

New Vitamin D and Calcium RDAs: What They Mean for Vegans

The latest recommendations from the Institute of Medicine have many people asking if they should toss out their bottles of calcium and vitamin D supplements. The answer to that question is probably a little bit different for vegans.

The IOM’s report was surprising in that they recommended an intake of vitamin D that was considerably  less than what was expected and suggested that calcium supplements were not needed by most Americans and could even be dangerous.

For calcium, the committee left the RDA at its previous levels for almost all age groups, dropping intake recommendations only for older men.  But they noted that calcium intake from food alone for almost all age and gender groups was adequate and that some people—especially older women—could ... Read More >

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