Being Picky About Vegan Nutrition

Being Picky About Vegan Nutrition

By |2011-07-01T12:32:12+00:00July 1st, 2011|Tags: , |73 Comments

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 one reason or another. And these weren’t necessarily people who were just dabbling with a trendy diet; on average, they had been vegetarian for nine years before returning to meat-eating.

Activists put a lot of energy into convincing people to go vegan. But it looks like the harder task by far is getting them to stay vegetarian. Some of this is out of our hands, and some of it will probably just fix itself as the world becomes more accommodating to vegans and vegetarians. But there is definitely work to be done that can probably make a difference.

A month or so ago, I heard from a vegan advocate who had seen an advance copy of Vegan for Life, the book on nutrition that Jack and I wrote. This person suggested that some of our recommendations might make it seem “too hard” to be vegan—wanting to know, for example, if it was really necessary to recommend supplemental iodine for vegans.

Interestingly, a study published just weeks after that conversation found that U.S. vegans may be at risk for suboptimal iodine status. Some omnivores get iodine from fish, but most Americans get it from iodized salt and from dairy foods. Dairy isn’t naturally rich in iodine, but it’s contaminated from iodine-containing solutions used to clean cows and milking machines. Since vegan foods aren’t contaminated with industrial cleaning solutions (I’d call that a plus, wouldn’t you?) we need to depend on either iodized salt or supplements. (Sea vegetables are an option, too, but a less reliable one.) That’s no big deal, though, and it is so easy to meet needs for this nutrient that there is never a reason to fall short. So, when vegans don’t get enough iodine, it suggests that they aren’t receiving adequate information about this nutrient.

Jack and I wrote Vegan for Life because we want to make sure that no one fails on a vegan diet and that new—as well as more experienced—vegans can feel confident that they are meeting nutrient needs. Our book joins the current handful of scientifically-based resources on veganism that include the books Becoming Vegan and Simply Vegan and the websites and

Because Vegan for Life, like these other resources, doesn’t advocate very-low-fat diets or all kinds of unnecessary restrictions regarding processed foods, you could make the argument that we make vegan diets more accessible, not less. After all, the second most common reason given for abandoning vegetarianism was that it’s too much of a “hassle.” I don’t think those former vegetarians were referring to the arduous task of sprinkling iodized salt on their food.  According to the Psychology Today article, it was more about the time needed to prepare meatless meals. In Vegan for Life, we encourage convenience where it doesn’t compromise health, and I think that can be very reassuring to new vegans in particular.

Our book is actually very positive about the safety and benefits of veganism. But yes, we’re also emphatic about the importance of paying attention to certain nutrients. It’s not the least bit difficult to plan a healthy vegan diet, but it’s not intuitive, either.

I’m proud to be picky about vegan nutrition. It doesn’t sit well with everyone, but that’s okay. Brushing off legitimate questions about vegan nutrition may make it look easier to go vegan, but in the long run, it compromises our credibility. And if it increases the chance that vegans will develop health problems and return to eating meat and cheese—then it fails vegans and it fails animals. All of us who advocate for animals have an obligation to help vegans stay healthy.

If you agree with this philosophy, please give the Vegan for Life facebook page a thumbs-up. If you’re interested in reading the book, consider ordering it through Jack’s blog.


  1. Rhea July 1, 2011 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    I think it’s very important to be educated and “picky” about Vegan nutrition. It always bothers me to hear people talk as if being vegan is a magic cure-all for everything and no vegan will ever get sick or fall victim to a heart attack, stroke, cancer or any other disease.

    Being a Vegan is the best thing in the world and of course, it is the healthier way to go but it also requires some diligence about making sure one gets the right amount of important vitamins and minerals. And really, if having to take a supplement is the breaking point for someone to decide they don’t want to be veg anymore, then I think they weren’t very committed to the idea in the first place. Even omnivores have to worry (or should) about getting the right nutrition and take supplements, so what’s the big deal?

    For me, being Vegan (and a gluten-free, whole foods Vegan at that) is not hard. Certainly not as hard as it was juggling over half a dozen medications and being sick and morbidly obese was before I went veg. I’m so glad that you and Jack wrote a book that is objective and scientific about the subject. Thanks!

    • Ginny Messina July 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm - Reply

      I have to agree that a person’s commitment isn’t very strong if a taking a supplement or two causes them to abandon veganism!

  2. Allysia July 1, 2011 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    I absolutely agree with your approach – it’s better for anyone, omnivores and vegans alike, to be informed about their food choices, as opposed to just brushing it off and hoping everything will be okay. Making healthy choices CAN be easy, but it does take some effort and learning up front.

    I’m excited that you and Jack Norris got together and wrote a book! I’ll definitely be ordering it – Becoming Vegan is one of my faves, and helped me (slowly!) transition from vegetarianism to veganism.

    • Ginny Messina July 1, 2011 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Yes, this is exactly the point I want to make for people: It’s not hard to be vegan, but it does take a little bit of knowledge. Just because it’s different from the way most people eat.

      I’m glad Becoming Vegan helped you make that transition; it’s still one of my favorite books, too. I hope our book is helpful, as well!

    • hello May 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      Warning: long and disjointed post!

      Ex-veg*ns do not exist. A person who was “veg*n then went back to meat” was never veg*n in the first place. They never had that mental “click” that made them know deeply that they would never eat an animal product again. It’s so easy for someone to not eat meat (or any other other animal product/s) for a while, attach the veg*n label to themselves, then say they couldn’t cope and went back to necrotarianism.

      Also “meat-eater” and “omnivore” are not correct terms. “Meat-eater” gives the impression that they’re normal and everyone else is different, and ignore that a person can almost never eat meat and still not be vegetarian. “Omnivore” is a scientific term to describe a species’ natural diet and physical make up, not a diet choice. (to be pedantic, “herbivore” is also incorrect to describe the *diet choice* of veganism, although our species is “desgned” in every way to be frugivorous). The correct term is necrotarian.

      The reason why people fail at veg*nism is because they simply look at their usual diet then attempt to cut everything out containing animal products. They don’t add anything in, so their diet genuinely is restricted. They don’t realise that they haven’t even scratched the surface of veg*n food. So all they think is that it’s really hard.

      Veg*ns also experience harassment, discrimination and hostility (including doctors) on a regular basis, so it’s understandable that people want to fit in.

      Also there is so much health misinformation and prejudice out there which greatly puts people off, like the women who commented who worried about the safety of not feeding her kids milk and eggs. Vegans don’t have to worry about their nutrients more than anyone else. EVERYONE should be educated and concerned about their nutrition. No one ever blames folate deficiency problems like spina bifda on necrotarianism, for example.

      There’s probably an anti-vegan agenda on the Vegan Outreach website, since it includes links to the “beyond veg” website. The health section on the Vegan Health (from vegan outreach) website may as well just say “if you quit animal products you’ll have to run an exhausting nutritional gauntlet to avoid serious illness.” They have shown studies that bizarrely show that vegetarianism promotes cancer, which contradict everything I’ve seen before from even the most fervent necrotarian sources. Just read The China Study.

      More things to consider: no one wants to take responsibility for the suffering and environmental destruction they cause if everyone else is doing it. Not many people will listen to animal welfare or green reasons for veganism. In my experience, the things that make the most real forever vegans is a) those who really care about animal liberation and b) the knowledge that there is not enough land in the world to feed greedy necrotarians. Think of it this way: how much food does a person consume in their first 16 years of life? 1000-3000 or so calories every day, which amounts to a LOT. Then how many cannibals could an adult feed? Probably 1, for about a week or two. It’s the same principle with livestock – they use up a LOT of precious land growing food to feed them, which could be used for growing food for people.

      There are 7 billion people in the world, and this number is ever growing. We can’t – and don’t – feed them all. For example, in the Ethiopian famine in the 80’s, land was being used to grow food for European livestock. It is despicable greed to eat animal products when people are starving. Land is rapidly running out, most soil in the world is degraded, livestock are the cause of almost all desertification and deforestation, all oceans are overfished or fished to their safe limits (and 1/3 of fish catch is fed to farmed livestock, including fish and fur farms). If the oceans are fished much further, they will become lifeless, which will upset the oxygen cycle and render the whole planet lifeless

      99% of livestock in the UK are fed partially or totally with feed grown in the Amazon, and by weight 72% of animal feed in the UK comes from the Amazon. If Earth loses 25% more forest, again, the oxygen cycle will be disturbed and the planet will die. If everyone in the world ate like the UK, we would need 3.5 more planet Earths to grow all the food to sustain the livestock. Even more precious land is needed for free range or grass-fed animals. Also the more wild land is lost, the more pollinators are lost. The more land is degraded, the more we will rely on inorganic farming methods (including pesticides) to successfully grow food, thus losing even more insects. Einstein said that if the world lost it’s bee, life would cease in 4 years. It would be even quicker now our world is so overpopulated.

      It is absolutely vital to drive home that unless the world goes plant-based or mostly plant-based within the nest few decades, life, let alone humanity, will simply not exist. We will crash like a plague of locusts.

      • RikkiTikkiTavi November 11, 2012 at 7:38 am - Reply

        Vegan Outreach is a Jack Norris project. I should think he includes links to Beyond Veg because that site contains a lot of correct and important information about human evolution and human digestive systems. Tom Billings, the owner of Beyond Veg, uses only small amounts of raw goat dairy products to support his otherwise mostly raw vegan diet.

        • John Mayer August 30, 2016 at 3:09 am - Reply

          The Vegan Outreach unilateral disarmament on the matter of the health benefits of a plant-based diet is the reason I’ve quit supporting them. As Hello points out Jack Norris and Ginny Messina damn veganism with faint praise, warning that adhering to such a diet requires expert guidance in nutrition—best assured, I suppose, by securing the services of an RD—and that one must not expect any real health benefits. Just do it to be nice. But my experience, and, I’m willing to wager, population studies, shows that self-interest is the primary impetus for going vegan, with compassion and environmentalism lagging behind.

          I have great respect for the Vegan Outreach leafleters, a couple of whom I know, but, as for VO itself, I half to say, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

  3. […] Ginny Messina explains her guiding principles in writing Vegan for Life. Great stuff about an essential book. The world needs fewer failed vegans, and Jack and Ginny do more than anyone to ensure that vegans won’t needlessly compromise their health by acting on dietary misinformation. Link. […]

  4. Dave Rolsky July 1, 2011 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    The question of how get people to *stay* veg is an important one. I think there’s a number of factors that go into this, and teaching people how to eat healthily is just one aspect.

    I think the overall theme here is that we need to provide support to people after they change their diet. This includes nutrition information, providing information about shopping, cooking, and eating out, and providing social events so that people can connect with others with a similar diet.

    With Compassionate Action for Animals, we try to spend time on outreach and community-building. We’re trying to *grow and maintain* the veg community in the Twin Cities. This includes potlucks, dineouts, cooking classes, book club, and our website.

    I’d love to see more animal rights and veg groups include community-building activities along with their outreach. Sites like can make this very easy and affordable.

    • Ginny Messina July 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Dave. I really appreciate the work you do and have heard many good things about your organization. I agree with your comments completely. When we consider that people abandon vegetarianism because of health concerns and because they find it too much trouble, especially in social situations, it’s pretty clear that there are a lot of ways in which we need to help people stay vegetarian or vegan. It sounds like you’re working on all of them!

      • Melissa July 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm - Reply

        We’re really luck in the Twin Cities to have two great vegan groups doing outreach. CAA is wonderful with the dine outs and the totally awesome vegguide. I like doing the food give aways with CAA because just getting delicious vegan food into the mouths of omnivores can be a really important thing. 🙂

        Our other group I’m active with, Animal Rights Coalition, also does dine outs and meetups in addition to tabelling and leafletting type advocacy. They also just started Vegan University where vegan mentors take on newbie vegans and help them out as they transition. It’s such SUCH a cool thing and if I weren’t so painfully shy, I’d mentor. As it stands, a bunch of my friends with ARC are mentors and I do a lot of stuff via the internet to help newbie vegans where I find them. 🙂 This sort of outreach is SUPER important!

        • Ginny Messina July 6, 2011 at 11:16 am - Reply

          I agree. I think the mentor idea is wonderful! And mentoring via the internet–and since some people would probably rather be mentored via the internet, there’s a role for shy people, too 🙂

        • Caryn August 23, 2011 at 8:52 am - Reply

          Businesses know that it’s much more expensive to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one. Looks like there’s an opportunity for the veg movement to shift resources and emphasis somewhat to build our numbers.

          Books like Vegan for Life (great title, Ginny) that help people get it right from the start, so they stick with it, as well as ongoing support efforts can make a big difference. I’m impressed with the mentoring program at ARC. Thanks for mentioning that, Melissa.

          I’m currently working on the section on achieving retention or maintenance for my forthcoming book on effective animal advocacy. Some great points in this discussion that I can include.

  5. 404 Not Found July 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    […] No Comments Ginny Messina explains her guiding principles in writing Vegan for Life. Great stuff about an essential book. The world needs fewer failed vegans, and Jack and Ginny do more than anyone to ensure that vegans won’t needlessly compromise their health by acting on dietary misinformation. Link. […]

  6. Jess@miniMum July 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I applaud your outreach efforts! However those who recommend “unnecessary” restrictions on processed foods and extracted oils do so based on strong evidence that these foods damage health for vegans and anyone else.

    Dr McDougall and Dr T Colin Campbell and others have ample resources on the Web and standard publications to support this.

    There are ways and ways of being picky! 🙂

    • Ginny Messina July 1, 2011 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Jess. Just so you know, I used to promote very low-fat, oil-free vegan diets myself–especially when I worked at PCRM. But that was over 20 years ago, and since then, the research has given us a much better understanding about how fats fit into healthy diets. Based on that, I’ve had to change my perspective. We need to move forward with the research–and the good news about that is that foods that make it easier for people to go vegan–like avocado, olive oil, and nuts–are turning out to actually be good for us.

      • Jess@miniMum July 2, 2011 at 9:05 pm - Reply

        Hi Ginny,

        It’s not helpful to get bogged down in that last 1% disagreement between basically agreeing experts. But of course there are still experts today providing solid arguments against nuts and extracted oils like olive oil. Jeff Novick in particular discusses these.

        “When you replace saturated fat in your diet with unsaturated fats, such as those that are in almonds, you will most likely see your cholesterol and LDL levels go down. And there is some evidence that even just adding some nuts to a typical diet, will show some improvement in CVD risk factors. But, that should not be a surprise as the nuts would probably be the healthiest thing in their diet. Adding healthy food to a bad diet makes it better.

        “And, this doesnt mean that someone already on a healthy low fat diet, like the one recommended here, is going to see the same benefit by adding in some nuts. I know of no evidence showing that adding nuts to a well planned low fat high fiber healthy diet like the McDougall, Ornish, Pritikin, Okinawan diet is going to make it healthier. ”


        • Ginny Messina July 5, 2011 at 10:06 am - Reply

          Jess, I’m not sure what you’re referring to regarding a “1% disagreement.”

          And I don’t know whether adding nuts to a well-planned very-low-fat diet would improve health, but the point I’m making is that people don’t need to eat very-low-fat diets in order to be healthy. And I’d rather see people including some healthful fat sources in their diets–like nuts–since there is no reason not to, and it makes it easier to be vegan.

        • Robert July 15, 2011 at 9:56 am - Reply

          Jeff Novick leads us to believe that olive oil has no redeeming qualities but only serves to add calories to our daily intake. He doesn’t seem to talk about the fact that extra virgin olive oil is known to be a rich source of natural polyphenols and that it alters the oxidized, sticky nature of LDL cholesterol. As a bonus, it also makes food more palatable. ;o)

          Results from a study in France where scientists were looking at olive oil consumption as a means of stroke prevention:

          “Participants were followed for a period of five years, and 148 strokes occurred during that time span. After considering dietary, lifestyle and medical history, researchers found that those with the highest intake of extra virgin olive oil were 41% less likely to suffer a stroke compared with those with the lowest consumption of the monounsaturated oil. In a secondary arm of this study where plasma fatty acid measurements were available, individuals with the highest oleic acid (olive oil fraction) were found to experience a 73% lower risk of stroke.”

          When you get the complete story about olive oil rather than just someone’s version of it, you can make your own decision about it. I’ll continue to use olive oil daily, as I have for years, despite the ravings of Novick et al …

        • Tam May July 24, 2011 at 2:37 am - Reply

          “And, this doesnt mean that someone already on a healthy low fat diet, like the one recommended here, is going to see the same benefit by adding in some nuts. I know of no evidence showing that adding nuts to a well planned low fat high fiber healthy diet like the McDougall, Ornish, Pritikin, Okinawan diet is going to make it healthier. ”

          That might be very true, but, I think more relevant to the point that Ginny makes in her blog post is that it might make the vegan diet more palpable to those coming into it for the first time. Let’s talk turkey (or, rather, tofu 😉 ) here – a very low fat vegan diet that adds no fats whatsoever is very very difficult to sustain for the long terms, whether you’re coming from vegetarianism, unhealthy veganism, healthy but fat-added veganism, or omnivorism. It does no good to ignore that fact. Americans need to reduce the amount of fat they eat, no question about it. But the question is, do we need to eat a diet that is less than 10% fat (and if you put a McDougall-like menu into something like Fitday, you see that this amounts to the foods McDougall recommends without any added fat in any form) or can we eat a diet that is less than the 30% recommendation and closer to, say 15% or 20% (I think Ginny once recommended something like 20-25% of the diet), which, again, if you crunch the numbers, amounts to some added fats but not a ton of them, in order to stay healthy? (Sorry for the long sentence!) I used to be a huge advocate of very low fat vegan diets but I’m starting to question the sustainability of that for the long term.

          Also, I notice that Jeff (whom I’m very familiar with through the McDougall boards and do not question his knowledge at all) doesn’t say that someone on a very low fat vegan diet showed deteriorating health by adding some fats – he simply says he knows of no one who showed improvement in health. I don’t dispute that a very low fat vegan diet is a very healthy diet on its own, but I don’t know that it’s the only way to eat a healthy vegan diet.


          • Ginny Messina July 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm

            Yes, I agree about the sustainability of very-low-fat eating and the likelihood that most people can stick to it for the long term (although obviously, some people can do so, and more power to them if that’s what they want to do!). It’s true that there are no studies showing that adding nuts to a low-fat diet improves health–those studies just haven’t been done. But there are studies showing that nuts have definite health benefits–which means there is no reason to eliminate them from diets.

      • Phred July 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm - Reply

        Yeah, right Ginny. The guys who have demonstrated through a culumative 40+ years of peer-reviewed research that they could do something no one else in the medical community could do, reverse heart disease, should be totally ignored by your “good news” about olive oil.

        Olive oil is not “real food.” It is an essentially nutritionally useless high-fat highly processed goop.

        It’s disappointing that someone of your caliber still clings to old nutritional myths.

        And the issue is not being healthy, it’s preventing heart disease and other degenerative metabolic process that are killing us in droves whether we are vegan or not.

        And as to nuts, Esselstyn recommends ommitting them IF you have symptoms of heart disease.

        Maybe reading his book would be a good use of your time before you continue to pontificate on the great value of oil when ingested by a human being.

        And, since I doubt this comment will be allowed to be posted, where is there documentation on where you and your hubby get your funding?

        • Ginny Messina July 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm - Reply

          Phred, the only peer-reviewed, controlled intervention study to show reversal of heart disease was the Ornish Study. And as I’ve written about elsewhere, it doesn’t prove that you need to eat low fat in order to reverse heart disease any more than it proves that you need to consume skim milk (which was also included in his study) to reverse heart disease.

          Nutritionists don’t get information from popular books; we read the scientific research. And in the past years, the whole low-fat theory has taken a beating in the research. That doesn’t mean that these low-fat, whole foods diets aren’t effective. It just means that the evidence to suggest that people need to cut all high fat foods, including oils, out of their diets to prevent chronic disease isn’t there.

          I don’t actually care whether someone consumes olive oil or not. It appears to have some health benefits, but I doubt that they matter all that much to someone eating a healthy vegan diet, which already places them at lower risk for chronic disease. All I want to do is remove restrictions that make it harder for people to be vegan, and help vegans plan healthy diets in accordance with what the bulk of the research shows us. I’d like to help move us away from being obsessive about details that don’t matter in terms of being a healthy vegan and keep the focus on the things that (to the best of our knowledge) do matter.

          My husband is a soyfoods expert and he consults to the soy industry and professional organizations and also works with academics. There is no secret about this; just do a quick google.I’ve also mentioned in this blog before. That’s our main source of funding, although I do some paid writing on veganism for both professional organizations and the public. My husband has also worked for the National Cancer Institute in the Diet and Cancer Prevention division. I’ve worked for the National Cholesterol Education Program, George Washington University, and Central Michigan University, and for PCRM.

          And honestly, if you think I cling to nutrition myths and don’t know what I’m talking about, why read this blog?

          • Karen July 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm

            I could be wrong,but I suspect his name is not really Phred…..

          • Ginny Messina July 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm

            I’ll bet you’re right. 🙂

          • Laura July 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm

            Rudel did some experiments with monkeys where monounsaturated fat, which is the main fat in olive oil, caused atherosclerosis just as much as saturated fat. Apparently monounsaturated fat causes atherosclerosis because it functions as a way to transport cholesterol.
            He also showed that the same thing happened in rats, and given that, thought it’s probably the same for all mammals (including people). See
            I’m not aware that this study has been debunked. It seriously calls into question the virtues-of-olive-oil.

          • Tam May July 24, 2011 at 2:47 am

            Maybe the real question here is one of quantity. In Rudel’s experiment, for example, how much monosaturated fat was fed to the monkeys? It sort of reminds me of the experiments done on artificial sweeteners (which my dad brings up every time someone harps on the evils of Equal) the experiments done with AS were done where animals showed health issues were fed massive quantities of the stuff – much more than humans could ever consume – which calls into question whether someone who, say, uses 2 packets of Equal in their coffee every day and otherwise consumes no other AS will have the same risks (not arguing that we should use AS, but just bringing in an example).

            I question whether someone who consumes a few teaspoons of olive oil and one ounce of nuts a day, say, would be more at risk of heart disease and what have you if he/she is healthy and otherwise consumes a McDougall-type low fat vegan diet.

            Just saying…


          • Ginny Messina July 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm

            I haven’t looked at this study (although I will do so when I get a chance). But one single study, and an animal study to boot really doesn’t call into question the pretty large body of research on health effects of monounsaturated fats.

  7. SkepticalVegan July 1, 2011 at 6:53 pm - Reply

    Another great post! While the PT article lists the reasons folks originally went vegetarian and reasons why they stopped it did not seem to list how many of those who had gone back to meat eating had been animal rights/welfare vs health or eco vegetarians. Where the people who went veg for animal rights reasons more likely than others to stay committed? It is an important question for advocacy as some see animal rights as central while other prefer the trident of veganism (animal rights/health/environment). I would also like to see a much larger sample size and comparison to ratio of vegans to ex-vegans. Would vegans be more likely to stay committed? I would also like to see data on how big each of their personal network of vegetarian friends was, I think community can often be important.

    quote from PT article: “About a quarter of our ex-veggies described the hassles they said were associated with strict vegetarianism. They complained that it was difficult to find high quality organic vegetables in their local supermarkets at a reasonable price. ”
    This is why i dislike food woo so much, just eat the veggies, don’t worry so much if its organic, local, or biodynamic. Not wanting to have to buy conventional produce is a horrible argument for eating meat.

    “The participants’ original reason for giving up meat did affect their level present meat consumption. Individuals who had given up eating meat primarily for social reasons indicated that they ate meat much less frequently than did people who originally became vegetarian for ethical or environmental reasons.”

    this is a bit unclear, I feel it may be a bit of a typo. Do they really mean to say that “individuals who had given up eating meat…for social reasons…ate meat much LESS…THAN people who originally became vegetarian for ethical or environmental reasons”?
    It seems they are saying people who go vegetarian for animal rights reasons and then go back to eating meat end up eating even MORE meat than someone who had only done it for social reasons. This seems counter-intuitive.

    “Because Vegan for Life, like these other resources, doesn’t advocate very-low-fat diets or all kinds of unnecessary restrictions regarding processed foods”

    Yes to this! Processed foods includes fortified foods, something many vegans (and on-vegans) could benefit from, especially foods fortified with iodine and b12. Processed foods also make veganism more convenient, while unfortunately there is often the trade-off in expense, microwave dinners and soy cream should not be ones sole food source anyways but can help when your on the run, be a nice treat, and supplement a diet of staple grains, legumes and conventional produce which is fairly cheap. Many of the processed foods can also help quench the cravings for animal products, such as good quality grain/bean meats for protein cravings and vegan cheeses and ice creams for those dairy cravings.

    • cavall de quer July 2, 2011 at 7:51 am - Reply

      “This is why i dislike food woo so much, just eat the veggies, don’t worry so much if its organic, local, or biodynamic. Not wanting to have to buy conventional produce is a horrible argument for eating meat.”

      Oh, skeptical vegan, will you marry me?

      Thanks to Ginny for a great post!

      Is it me, or does Psychology Today have a bit of a thing against animal advocates?

    • paleosister August 19, 2011 at 8:45 am - Reply

      Hi SkepticalVegan,

      To touch on some of the points you brought up, I was a purely ethical vegan and very dedicated AR activist. I know others, too, who feel strongly about animal rights, but were not able to stick to a vegan diet. I talk more about this on my blog.

      At face value, it does seem odd that individuals who have stopped consuming animal products for ethical reasons would become heavy meat eaters, but if their bodies were reacting poorly on purely plant-based diets, it makes sense they would do better eating animal-heavy diets.

      • Robert August 20, 2011 at 7:34 am - Reply

        My first few failed attempts at vegetarianism (during the 80’s) resulted in a reduced consumption of animal foods rather than a return to previous eating habits.

  8. JL goes Vegan July 1, 2011 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    I’m very excited to read and review the book! I started eating vegan for dietary reasons but have found that my resolve now is much more about the animals. When I read posts from vegans who say “and if my body craves salmon, I’ll have it” I cringe. My body still craves cigarettes (I quit years ago) but smoking one wouldn’t be good for me. OY.

    I think the more information people have (“My body just needed protein so I had some chicken” … then find out plant-based forms of protein!) the more successful they can be. So glad that you and Jack are doing the good work on behalf of all of us.

  9. Audrey July 1, 2011 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for another great post, Ginny. I am excited to see your upcoming book. I really appreciate all you do to make vegan doable, healthy, and sustainable. Keep up the great work!

  10. Linette July 1, 2011 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    Is there any chance that your book will be available on kindle for the Australian market? At the moment it isn’t and it would be great to have it!

    • Ginny Messina July 5, 2011 at 10:09 am - Reply

      I need to check into this. I’ve heard from others overseas who can’t get the book on kindle either.

  11. Marjorie Ramos July 2, 2011 at 6:04 am - Reply

    Just did both – “liked” your facebook page and ordered the Vegan for Life book (and re-posted on my facebook page). You guys do great work. Thank you.

  12. Lisa F. July 2, 2011 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Helping veg*ns stay veg*n is a very important part of our responsibility as bloggers. I find that I expended too much energy trying to “turn” people veg*n; this approach would backfire & cause more resistance to the lifestyle in general.

    I also keep the attitude of it doesn’t matter [to me] if someone is vegetarian or vegan, as long as they are making an effort to move in the direction of removing animal products from their diet. I will never admonish someone for being lacto-vegetarian – I know very few vegans who went from omnivore straight to vegan, myself included.

    So I take the approach now of showing existing veg*ns how to easily navigate the food world. The biggest complaint I heard from fellow veg*ns was the lack of veg options in restaurants & the non-existence of actual vegetarian establishments. This is why I started my blogs! I’m lucky to live in LA where there are plenty of vegan restaurants or at least places with several veg options on the menu, but not everyone has access to that kind of dining options; I have only lived in LA for 16 months, so this is new to me. I hope people can learn from my experiences of talking to chefs, managers, servers, etc., and feeling confident in eating out.

    Thank you, as always, for this insightful article! Nutritional supplements aside, just the emotional aspect of remaining veg*n in the light of an omnivorous world is difficult enough – we need all the support we can get from our fellow vegs!

  13. Elaine Vigneault July 2, 2011 at 9:44 am - Reply

    I haven’t read Vegan For Life so I can’t comment on the contents of the book. I can, however, hope that in general, nutritional advice about veganism is given in a way that is helpful. I think your Food Guide for Vegans is helpful. It’s simple, straightfoward, and easy to conprehend. It’s great and I link to it often to help encourage healthful eating habits.

    • Ginny Messina July 5, 2011 at 10:11 am - Reply

      Thanks, Elaine. The book includes the food guide, along with background information on why we make the recommendations we make. I, too, hope the information is given in a way that is helpful! We certainly tried to do so.

  14. Sharky July 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Well, there are ex-vegans & then there are ex-ex-vegans. I’m among the latter. Last summer I encountered the paleo blogosphere (ironically, thru a link to Let Them Eat Meat in one of Ginny’s posts). After reading the “failure to thrive” stories by ex-vegans and arguments for meat-eating as essential to our evolution-bequeathed biology, I began to worry about entering late-middle-age with impaired strength & vitality.

    So I decided to set aside the ethical issues & try consuming animal products as an experiment (grass-fed beef, bison, wild salmon, whole yogurt, pastured butter). The thought had been planted in my head that after 35 years w/o a bite of meat, fish, or eggs, my goose was cooked, so to speak.

    At first I felt lighter & stronger (perhaps due to elimination of grains & the power of expectation). But in time I became bothered by constipation, unwelcome changes in blood lipids (TC & TG way up), and a sluggishness I attributed to my higher fat intake. My experience led me to re-affirm the consumption of animal products as unnecessary, and, more importantly, as supportive of practices & ideologies I abhor.

    This spring I ended my experiment, wished I had done so sooner, gave away my paleo books and uneaten meat, re-read Peter Singer and J.M. Coetzee, and returned with clarified commitment to a vegan diet. It’s not that hard. I plan to buy Vegan for Life and keep up with nutritional recommendations.

    • beforewisdom July 3, 2011 at 5:32 am - Reply

      Hi Sharky;

      I went through something similar in college for about 2 years. I went vegetarian at 14. Empty diet folklore like you heard from the paleofoolithic people is actually as old as it is unsubstantiated. I thought that eating meat again would improve my athletic performance and make me more buff.

      It did neither, nor did I get the flash of light and the “meatgasm” that blogger-ex-vegans post about these days. I felt pretty much the same and after a while I became a vegetarian again and then went vegan,

      • Sharky July 4, 2011 at 8:08 am - Reply

        Hi beforewisdom:

        No meatgasm for me, either. Certainly not an experience like Lierre Keith describes in The Vegetarian Myth (outlandishly subjective book, more mythic than what it purports to debunk, but the writing of it must have been cathartic for her).

        I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for promises of self-transformation through some diet or exercise regimen, ever since I kept a canister of nasty protein tablets in my locker when I ran track in high school. But I did not adopt a vegetarian and then vegan diet for health reasons.

    • Ginny Messina July 5, 2011 at 10:12 am - Reply

      Sharky, you’re a member of another growing group–ex-ex-vegans!

      • LiseyDuck November 7, 2011 at 2:37 am - Reply

        Here’s another one, I’ve just started getting a bit more open about it on my blog. I’m sure the statute of limitations will expire one day since the ex-veganness was such a tiny part of my adult life (vegan for several years before and now several years afterwards) I think it’s really important that vegans have the tools to *stay* vegan in whatever circumstances get thrown at them, especially if it’s something basic like being out of your depth in a new living situation.

  15. beforewisdom July 3, 2011 at 5:28 am - Reply

    I honestly don’t know if the problem of American veganism having an “in crowd” subculture can be solved.

    I agree, bad nutrition advice which drives people seems to be at two extremes. At one extreme are brochures of some AR groups which don’t tell people enough nutrition information to keep them healthy out of fear of making a vegan diet look like a PITA. At another extreme are the nutrition folklorists into raw diets, very low fat diets etc that make it seem that is what being vegan is about and is more restrictive than necessary.

    I particularly dislike that the Friends Of Animals puts out a vegan starter guide brochure that encourages raw diets. I can definately see that creating many of the “I tried being vegan, but it was expensive, hard to find things to eat and I felt like crap” ex-vegans.

    • Ginny Messina July 5, 2011 at 10:14 am - Reply

      I know that Friends of Animals is re-doing their guide and I expect that the new one won’t include the raw foods info.

      But I agree about the two extremes. On the one hand are all types of rules about how you have to eat, foods you can’t have, etc. On the other, the belief that if you eat a variety of whole plant foods, you’ll automatically meet nutrient needs.

      • beforewisdom July 8, 2011 at 10:54 am - Reply

        I think the text about raw foodism made into the Friends Of Animals starter guide because one of the top people there was into it. In my opinion that was thoughtless. The purpose of a vegan starter guide is to turn people onto veganism and to help make a vegan diet work for them. It isn’t a place to indulge in personally held nutrition folklore. In my opinion that was ethical. People shouldn’t give advice in regards to other peoples health unless they are sure of what they are talking about. Vegan publications are taken as guilty until proven innocent. Such publications have to better than average in terms of sticking to solid facts.

        I commend FOA for deciding to remove the raw food content.

        • Dustin Rhodes July 12, 2011 at 11:34 am - Reply

          To my knowledge, and I do work at Friends of Animals, no one who has ever worked here has been a raw foods person. I believe the reason a raw foods diet was even mentioned in our guide is simply because many people are into raw foods (including some of our members). I also don’t believe we were trying to promote raw foods either–rather we are simply acknowledging that they exist (especially since all of us who work here eat cooked vegan foods, and our own cookbooks are almost exclusively cooked foods!). But please rest assured that we’ve gotten the message, loud and clear, about how it came across. As Ginny mentioned, the guide IS in the revision process.


  16. wannabe vegan July 6, 2011 at 12:33 am - Reply

    I will be reading this book! I have no trouble staying vegetarian (It’s been 8 years now), but I have not been able to maintain a vegan diet for more than a year at a stretch. And I’ve tried several times.

    I think what lures me back to the world of cheese and eggs is a combination of cravings (mainly for specific cheese like smoked gouda and dill havarti) and articles and books that I will read that make me question the safety of a vegan diet, not only for me but especially for my young children.

    There is so much information out there, it is difficult for me not to be swayed back and forth. The issues of animal suffering in the dairy and egg industries is my foremost reason for going vegan, and I am aware that even when I am buying pastured or organic products, I am still contributing to some cruel practices. I very much wish to avoid doing this, yet I also don’t want to take any chances with my children’s health.

    In any case, thanks for this article and I look forward to reading your book!

    • Ginny Messina July 6, 2011 at 11:14 am - Reply

      Wannabe, I hope that our book will help you feel more comfortable about veganism. I understand that it’s difficult to make your way through all of the conflicting information and there are a lot of people out there who have a strong anti-vegan agenda. If you still have questions or concerns after reading the book, please let me know.

    • Robert July 6, 2011 at 11:24 am - Reply

      I agree with you that farming methods and the treatment of animals are deplorable. I would conditionally say milk and eggs are perfectly acceptable if you have access to small-scale operations in your area. I may bring back eggs into my diet in the future. I know a hobby farmer in my area. She treats her hens like they are pets. The dairy farms where I live are small-scale operations where the cows are outside grazing in the fields all day. A far cry from the large operations one hears about. Having said that I have been using almond milk to help me with meeting my calcium requirements.

  17. Elaine July 6, 2011 at 10:58 am - Reply

    Ginny, when you decided to consider this topic, did you think about how that Psychology Today article wasn’t really about “failed vegans”? Rather, the article was about people who ate meat but worried that their health would deteriorate if they didn’t eat more of it so they ate more meat and called themselves “ex-vegetarians”?

    It’s one thing to address legitimate questions about vegan nutrition. It’s another to pander to anti-vegans and their biased “studies”.

    Like I said, I love when you give simple, easy-to-use guidelines for a healthy diet. And as I said, I haven’t seen the book so I don’t know if you make veganism “seem difficult” or not. I don’t really care because people who pick up and read a book called “Vegan For Life” are probably already vegan or leaning towards it and likely won’t be too deterred by complicated health advice. My issue is more about a general skepticism that I think some RDs are lacking when they take all these criticisms of veganism at face value without investigating the truth.

    • Ginny Messina July 6, 2011 at 11:37 am - Reply

      I wrote most of this article before I had seen the Psychology Today article, because I was concerned about ex-vegans before that. And also concerned about a general attitude among some vegan advocates that we shouldn’t provide information on how to meet nutrient needs if it makes veganism look too “difficult.” But, as I said in my post, I didn’t find the PT article to be all that important, given that it was a weak design of a handful of people and hadn’t been published anywhere.

      Regardless of that, we know that some people don’t manage to stay vegan–and we need to know why and do something about it. Nutrition is just one part of that. But we should pay attention to the things that we can do–and sharing good nutrition information that will greatly decrease the chance that vegans will run into problems is important. So is countering the bad nutrition information that causes a lot of vegans to *believe* they are going to run into problems–and I spend a great deal of time doing that as well. So I’m not really sure why you think I take criticisms of veganism at face value.

  18. Sassy July 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Hi Ginny —

    I simply cannot express how excited I am to read this book! Thank you so much for all of the wonderful work your do for the vegan community.

    A big fan,

    • Ginny Messina July 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Sassy!!

  19. MagratRN July 12, 2011 at 6:33 am - Reply

    Thanks for all the good and sensible advice on your site. As a nurse, I have to say that the first thing I thought when reading about the “lapsed” 77 vegetarians in the study was the most commonly listed reason for going back to meat-eating- declining health concerns, isn’t necessarily a valid one. The declining health in this study appears to be self-reported and might be due to so many factors. “I need to eat meat to be healthy” or “My (unnamed) doctor told me to eat meat” echoes the statements made by diabetics who eat candy bars when their blood sugar is below 100 (“or I pass out”) and by people on Coumadin who claim they cannot eat any vegetables (“because the doctor told me I couldn’t”). The beauty of these arguments is that few people can refute them.
    Education and reliable information, as you have said, is really the best way for vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores to stay healthy.

    • Ginny Messina July 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm - Reply

      I agree–which is one reason I said that some of the reasons are beyond our control. Many people believe they *have* to eat meat, and we probably can’t convince them otherwise. So, I think you’re right that many of the people who returned to eating meat for health reasons probably really didn’t have health problems related to their diet.

      • David July 24, 2011 at 7:16 pm - Reply

        Hang on. The fact that people said they returned to carnivorism because of “failed health” while vegetarian, does not mean that they recovered their health by returning to eating animals. It is not a given that they probably didn’t have health problems related to their diet and so they felt the same once eating animals again. They may have, in fact, or some may have, damaged their health–in fact, this is probably inevitable–by returning to eating animals.

        People who go on Atkins or so-called “paleolithic” diets say they’re doing it for their health. That doesn’t mean that they actually improve their health.

        • Ginny Messina July 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm - Reply

          Right. They go back to eating meat, but we don’t get to hear the rest of the story about how that affected their health!

          • RikkiTikkiTavi November 14, 2012 at 8:25 am

            You know, it’s not true that those who left veganism don’t talk about how returning to meat eating affected their health. There are many people who do talk about it, and try to work out why veganism didn’t work for them. They do tell their stories, and they do share their follow-up experiences.

            I see a truly horrible problem in the reception of stories told by ex-vegans; at the least, they are often insulted and their characters assassinated; at the worst, death threats are made against them, their children, and/or their companion animals. This is hardly compassionate or even respectful behaviour from those who claim above all to be motivated by compassion and respect for life. Also, hate-filled invective and contemptuous dismissals are likely to drive people into simply quietly disappearing rather than coming out to their communities, thus costing vegans access to information that could be vital.

            Why not listen, respectfully and attentively? Why not use this fantastic opportunity for research? People who walk away from veganism after many years, and who have been doing it right in the light of current vegan knowledge, but finally throw in the towel when their health breaks down, may have extremely useful insights into what isn’t working. When they report on how eating meat or eggs or dairy has helped them regain their health, they’ve usually thought it through very carefully to try work out why these foods are helping them. They tend to be reflective, insightful individuals. They often have before and after lab test results, which they’re willing to share. This is solid gold reseach material!

            I see people like Jack Norris and Michael Klaper facing, open-eyed, the hard facts about veganism not being in and of itself a perfect diet, and asking good questions about what makes the difference between those who thrive and those who don’t. Are there genuine biochemical issues, are there genuinely people who don’t express particular enzymes, are there genuinely people who need their vitamin A preformed, are there genuinely people who need carnitine? How can people who want to be vegan but have genuine physiological challenges best be supported, through provision of information, through access to good supplements, and – most important – through acceptance by the vegan community?

            This is what Michael Klaper’s studies of longterm vegans show:

            Ex-vegans are, in my opinion, an excellent source of good information, and should be brought into dialogue rather than treated as enemies and traitors.

  20. Laura July 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    “the only peer-reviewed, controlled intervention study to show reversal of heart disease was the Ornish Study.”
    Not true, see where a small weight loss reversed atherosclerosis somewhat, no matter with which diet it was achieved. The lowfat diet had 26% fat, the lowcarb diet had 41% fat, according to participants’ food diaries. So it wasn’t a study of a 10% fat Ornish diet.
    I don’t know how the atherosclerosis reversal compares what was achieved in the Ornish study.

    • Ginny Messina July 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm - Reply

      Huh. I had somehow missed this study, so thank you for sharing it. It’s always been my contention that the reversal of atherosclerosis seen in the Ornish study was due to weight loss and very low saturated fat intake–because there is no reason to think that avoiding healthy fats would have any effect.

  21. Tam May July 24, 2011 at 12:52 am - Reply

    Hi Ginny,
    I wanted first of all to say that it’s a blessing to have this blog and to have you so active with it. It’s actually through this blog that I discovered “Vegan for Life” and am reading it now on my iPad. It’s just what I’ve been looking for – a way to go vegan that is sensible and doable for the long term :-).

    You mentioned that the study described in the magazine was looking at vegetarians who weren’t just dabbling in a trend but who had been, on average, vegetarian for at least 9 years. I can’t help but wonder how many came to vegetarianism through a diet that is more on the extreme side. I’m thinking about the very low fat vegan diets like McDougall and Fuhrman or raw food diets. I’ve tried both and frequented a lot of message boards for these kinds of diet plans and I see a lot of people who are first exposed to the idea of vegetarianism/veganism through these diets, looking to lose weight and help them overcome some of their health issues (like high cholesterol, diabetes, etc). Those diets can be great for some people, but they can also be a very extreme way to be introduced to veganism.

    About 6 months ago, I attended a raw food retreat with my parents. It was rather an extreme retreat, even for the raw food world, as it focused on very low fat, lots of veggies, a little fruit, green juices, and wheat grass 2x a day (which I did not partake in!) This retreat also had a lot of lectures on food and nutrition. The thing that really upset me about it was that almost all of the lectures there (from doctors and dieticians) talked about veganism as if it were only about raw food. Some of the participants were being exposed to veganism for the first time, and, knowing that I was a vegan, asked me about this, and I let them know in no uncertain terms that veganism is NOT just about raw food and that many vegans eat a variety of cooked foods too.

    But it’s just an example of how some people who may have no clue about veganism get introduced to an extreme version of it and that version can sometimes be very difficult to sustain.



    • Ginny Messina July 26, 2011 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      Tam, I agree completely. With the popularity of raw foods diets and very low-fat vegan diets, many people believe that this is what veganism is! And since to the average omnivore, a vegan diet already looks kind of restrictive, these other ways of eating that restrict so many more foods and cooking practices, are that much more difficult to sustain. And some books and websites that promote these ways of eating also give inadequate nutrition information so that there is a risk of nutrient deficiency.

  22. Why Vegan? « Vegan That September 10, 2011 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    […] dairy/egg products is because of failed health. According to the Vegan R.D.’s post entitled, “Being Picky about Vegan Nutrition” people need to be strict about their diet in order to succeed, even if it’s “too much […]

  23. Ken September 19, 2011 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    It is wonderful to read Veganism blogs from an actual dietitian! So much written about nutrition these days is being done by people who don’t uderstand it. I believe that a general lack of understanding in what the human body needs and how to get it is a primary cause of many health problems in the United States.
    Folks often blame a vegan diet for their problems, when they would most likely have the same problems on any diet, because they simply don;t know how to eat.

    Proper nutrition requires effort and knowledge. Vegan or otherwise.

  24. […] health is important, and yes, you should try to read up on vegan nutrition because it will benefit you. But I think it is even more important to keep in mind you should be […]

  25. LyNel Gross May 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    I would like to ask a Vegan Nutritionist if eating wild game meat will lead to heart disease & stroke in humans. We eat a plant based diet only. We have been given some Elk Steak. Now we are wondering if eating it is safe? The Elk was wild & does not eat GMO altered food, it isn’t full of antibiotics, hormones & all the other things that make domestic meat unsafe for human consumption. If it is safe to eat then how often because it’s red meat? I doesn’t have any visible fat in it. We just have one package of steaks.

    • Eric Brooks September 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      Warning! I would not eat that elk meat. A couple of hunters have gotten mad cow disease apparently as a result of canned ‘hunting’ parks using feeds made from factory farm animal parts for the ‘wild’ elk. I believe at least one of these cases was from elk meat that did not actually come from a canned hunting park, so the danger is not just limited to those parks.

  26. […] study does not provide evidence against community fluoridation programs, but its does highlight the importance of getting enough iodine. #12. Effect of high-fluoride water on intelligence in children. Lu Y, Sun ZR, Wu LN, Wang X, Lu W, […]

  27. Eric Brooks September 29, 2012 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    We need more of substance to counter this anti olive oil hysteria, so please write further on the subject.

    Nothing could be worse for convincing people to go vegan, than these various nutballs going around scaring people into eating an unappealing, oil free vegan diet, that tastes like crap; especially for people who have been raised eating animal fat laden food.

    I watched a couple of Novick’s videos. If you strip down his argument to its basic logic, the factual basis becomes simply ‘don’t eat too much fat’. (Well… No duh…)

    But It certainly does not make any sort of logical case for the idiotic vague implication that olive oil is somehow bad for you.

    My favorite bit is his ridiculous apples to oranges assertion that olive oil has more fat than ice cream. Well of -course- it has more fat than ice cream – because olive oil is, guess what, fat!

    Mr. Novick seems to be selling lots of videos, which methinks is the reason for his shock and awe, counter-intuitive, attention grabbing, hyperbole about olive oil.

    Freak people out convincing them that they are dying, and make a buck selling them the cure. Oldest trick in the book.

    A concise synopsis of Novick’s argument might better read:

    “Snake oil is healthier than olive oil.”

  28. RikkiTikkiTavi November 11, 2012 at 7:48 am - Reply

    Ginny, I was shocked to read your comment that vegan foods are not contaminated by the use of industrial-strength cleaning agents. This is not correct. Factories producing vegan foods, like any others, are compelled by law and common sense to sterilize their equipment. In many cases, vegan and non-vegan foods are produced in the same facilities and using the same equipment. There have been recalls of vegan foods contaminated with cleaning agents, like this one where soy milk was found to contain sodium hydroxide.

    Other recalls have been made on the basis of insufficient sterilization resulting in rapid spoilage of the product after opening.

    Vegans, like omnivores, need to pay close attention to the source of their foods, and cannot afford complacency on the grounds of their diet.

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