Vegan Diet Improves Type 2 Diabetes in Koreans

July 30th, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

A clinical trial from Korea compared the effect of a vegan diet to a conventional diabetic diet, as prescribed by the Korean Diabetes Association (KDA), on glycemic control among Koreans (1).

The trial lasted three months. The vegan diet group had 46 people while the KDA diet group had 47. After three months, there was a statistically significant, greater reduction in HbA1c in the vegan group compared to the KDA group (0.5% vs. 0.2%, p = 0.017). When including only participants with high diet compliance, the vegan diet fared even better (0.9% vs. 0.3%, p = .01).

The vegan group ate less calories and saturated fat than the KDA group. Fiber intake for the vegan group and KDA group was 33.7 g and 24.9 g.

The vegan group lost weight while the KDA group didn’t. However, neither group’s blood pressure or LDL-cholesterol went down. The vegan group’s triglycerides went up while the KDA group’s went down; this might indicate the vegan group was eating more simple sugars.

I have posted these results in the VeganHealth.org article Type 2 Diabetes and the Vegan Diet.

Reference

1. Lee YM, Kim SA, Lee IK, Kim JG, Park KG, Jeong JY, Jeon JH, Shin JY, Lee DH. Effect of a Brown Rice Based Vegan Diet and Conventional Diabetic Diet on Glycemic Control of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A 12-Week Randomized Clinical Trial. PLoS One. 2016 Jun 2;11(6):e0155918. | link

Story from a Once-Failing, Now-Thriving Vegan

March 21st, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

From an anonymous, female animal advocate:

I went vegan in 1992 at age 15. At that time, most of us in the vegan community believed and promoted that eating only plants was the most natural and complete diet for humans. We pointed to our flat molars and long intestines as proof that humans are natural herbivores. We rejected supplements because we thought our diet was naturally perfect. We thought we’d get our B12 from mushrooms, sea vegetables, or microscopic bits of soil clinging to our farmer’s market produce. We thought we’d get enough vitamin D naturally from the sun. We had never heard of DHA and EPA.

After seven years of being an unsupplemented vegan, I had a health crisis when I was 22 and in graduate school. I wasn’t a junk food vegan–I cooked my own meals and ate my share of fresh produce. I’d always been an ace student, but I was finding it harder and harder to read my textbooks. I couldn’t concentrate. My short-term memory was shot. I felt tired and weak all the time and I was diagnosed with depression. I learned that these are all symptoms of B12 deficiency and I started to take vegan supplements: B12 and a multi-vitamin for extra insurance.

I have now proudly celebrated my 25th year as a vegan, and I take supplements regularly. In addition to the B12 and multi-vitamin, I now take vegan vitamin D3 supplements (I was diagnosed as vitamin D deficient a couple of years ago), algae-based DHA/EPA, and the occasional calcium pill.

I am healthier than any of my family members who are all omnivores. They suffer from a variety of illnesses (including diabetes and heart disease). In contrast, I can walk into a doctor’s office at 40 years old and check exactly zero disease boxes. I’m an active rock climber and hiker and still weigh what I did in high school, which is uncommon in my genetic family.

One other very powerful experience I had with my diet was using a nutrition-tracking food diary website for about a year. I logged every single food I ate, including home-cooked recipes, and the website broke down my daily, weekly, and monthly nutrition stats. It taught me a few important things:

  • I am not going to eat enough variety of food every single day to get all the nutrients I need, so a multi-vitamin really is a good idea for me.
  • I feel better when I eat a balance of good fats, protein, and healthy carbs at every meal.
  • I need a significant amount of vegan protein to feel my best.

I think many of us vegans get so fed up with being questioned about, “Where do you get your protein?” and we spend so much time debunking the protein combining myth, that we overcorrected in the other direction and began to believe that we’ll get enough protein no matter what plants we eat. It just isn’t true for me, at least based on how I feel after eating a low-protein meal. This is one of the reasons why I love and embrace the vegan meats (seitan, veggie burgers, veggie dogs and sausages, Field Roast, Beyond Beef, etc.) and soy products (tofu, tempeh, soyrizo). They may not be “natural”, but they help keep me healthy and feeling good as an active vegan, and that’s my most important dietary value.

Thank you for sharing your story!

Dr. Greger Strikes Again!

March 21st, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org has another DVD out, Latest in Clinical Nutrition: Volume 29. It covers Splenda, lupus, CoQ10, and reversing diabetes. As always, it’s packed with interesting and often surprising info!

All proceeds are donated to charity.

Breast Cancer in Vegetarians & Vegans

March 21st, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

There’s a new report from Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2) comparing breast cancer incidence in vegetarians and vegans to non-vegetarians (1).

The study included 24,211 non-vegetarians, 3,748 vegans, 14,336 lacto-ovo vegetarians, 5,179 pesco-vegetarians, and 2,930 semi-vegetarians. Meat intake among non-vegetarians was quite low at less than a serving per day (54 g/day). Participants were followed for an average of 7.8 years (which isn’t very long for a cancer study).

All vegetarians combined had similar rates of breast cancer to non-vegetarians (0.97, 0.84-1.11), while vegans had a 22% lower risk that didn’t reach statistical significance (0.78, 0.58-1.05). After adjusting for body mass index, the reduced risk was 15% for vegans (0·86, 0·62-1·21), indicating that lower body weight could explain some of the lower risk for vegans.

The authors write, “In conclusion, participants in this cohort who follow a vegetarian dietary pattern overall did not experience a lower risk of [breast cancer] as compared with non-vegetarians. However, those adhering to a vegan dietary pattern showed consistently lower point estimates in various subgroups but these were not statistically significant. Numbers of cancers in vegans were relatively small, and these analyses should be repeated in the AHS-2 cohort after a longer follow-up to determine whether the same trends continue when power is greater.”

I have posted these results in the VeganHealth.org article Cancer, Vegetarianism, and Diet.

References

1. Penniecook-Sawyers JA, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Beeson L, Knutsen S, Herring P, Fraser GE. Vegetarian dietary patterns and the risk of breast cancer in a low-risk population. Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar 18:1-8. • link

Ginny Messina on Irritable Bowel Syndrome

March 21st, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

Never afraid of providing too much information, Ginny Messina has done a great service by putting together an informative post on Vegan Diets and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

If you suffer from IBS, I highly recommend checking it out!

Best Study on Vegan Protein Intakes to Date

January 31st, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

I just updated the Protein page at VeganHealth.org with a new section, Intakes and Plasma Amino Acid Levels in Vegans, based on a recent study from EPIC-Oxford.

The new research cannot substitute for a nitrogen balance or protein synthesis study on vegans, which I have been hoping to see, but for now it’s what we have.

The takeaway message is that vegans, and particularly vegan women, should continue to make sure they eat plenty of lysine-rich foods, and that if you do, you should be covering all your protein needs.

I have reproduced the new section below.

Intakes and Plasma Amino Acid Levels in Vegans

A 2015 report from EPIC-Oxford analyzed the dietary intakes and blood levels of amino acids in various diet groups in adult men (15). The study included 98 men for each diet group (vegan, lacto-ovo, pesco, and meat-eater). The authors say, “[T]his is the largest study to date of amino acids in the circulation or in the diet by habitual diet group, and on average participants had followed their diet for several years.”

RDA

The study didn’t compare the intakes of the various diet groups to the US RDA for amino acids, but I have done so in Table 4 below.

AminoRDA

Vegan men met the RDA for all essential amino acids.

This study bolstered the idea that lysine is the limiting amino acid in vegan diets, with vegan men surpassing the RDA by the lowest amount–9%. Methionine, the amino acid of second most concern, surpassed the RDA at the next lowest level of 33%.

The 95% confidence interval for lysine was 2.69-2.95 g/day; with the lower margin coming in at 104% of the RDA. The people on the lower end might have been the people who weighed less (and thus had a lower RDA than the average vegan).

The RDA for protein and amino acids is the same for women as it is for men (based on a percentage of their body weight). Male vegans in EPIC-Oxford were found to eat 10.7% more protein than female vegans (62 vs. 56 g per day; link). If you assume female vegans eat the same percentage of high-lysine foods as men, their average lysine intakes would be only 98.7% of the RDA.

Given that women have a lower percentage of lean body mass on average, it might seem curious that they have the same RDA for protein (and amino acids). In determining the RDAs, the Institute of Medicine says (Ref 2, p. 644):

Although the data indicate that women have a lower nitrogen requirement than men per kilogram of body weight, this was only statistically significant when all studies were included, but not when the analysis was restricted to the primary data sets. This difference may be due to differences in body composition between men and women, with women and men having on average 28 and 15 percent fat mass, respectively. When controlled for lean body mass, no gender differences in the protein requirements were found. However, in view of the uncertain significance of the difference between the genders, the same protein EAR [i.e., Estimated Average Requirement, a foundation for the RDA] on a body weight basis for both men and women is chosen.

Another consideration is that the vegans in the UK may eat lower amounts of protein than those in the U.S. Adventist Health Study-2 found an average protein intake of 71 g/day for men and women combined, considerably more than in EPIC-OXford (link). It seems safe to assume that Seventh Day Adventist woman are likely getting plenty of lysine and other amino acids.

Finally, according to the authors, “[T]he validation of the [food frequency questionnaire] showed that protein intake was particularly difficult to estimate.”

Blood Levels

In comparing blood levels of amino acids between diet groups, vegans had lower levels of lysine, methionine, tryptophan, and tyrosine, and higher levels of alanine and glycine.

Interestingly, arginine, a dietary concern for vegans with herpes virus, was actually lower in the blood of vegans, but not significantly. It was also lower in the diet (3.92 g/day for vegans vs. 4.13 g/day for meat-eaters; lacto-ovo vegetarians had the lowest intake at 3.36 g/day).

The authors didn’t seem alarmed by any of the differences found between diet groups. I decided to take things a bit further and compare the plasma levels found in this study to the reference ranges given by the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Table 5 below.

AminoPlasma

In comparing the vegan’s blood levels to the reference range:

  • Alanine, glutamate, glycine, leucine, ornithine (a non-protein amino acid), phenylalanine, and serine are higher.
  • Aspartate is also higher, but the reference range is curiously low.
  • There is no reference range for tryptophan, with no explanation as to why.
  • There is a reference range for cystine (which is two cysteine molecules combined), but EPIC-Oxford didn’t list plasma levels for cystine or cysteine.

It is not clear what any of this means and the U.S. Library of Science notes that these numbers are dependent on the specific laboratory methods used.

Conclusion

The above research is not a great substitute for a nitrogen or protein synthesis study on vegans, but for now it’s what we have. The takeaway message is that vegans, and particularly vegan women, should continue to make sure they eat plenty of lysine-rich foods. There is no reason to think that the vegans in this study were aware of lysine or trying to increase their lysine intakes, so any vegan who does so should be well covered.

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References

2. Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients. National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. DRI table for carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids and protein. | PDF

15. Schmidt JA, Rinaldi S, Scalbert A, Ferrari P, Achaintre D, Gunter MJ, Appleby PN, Key TJ, Travis RC. Plasma concentrations and intakes of amino acids in male meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans: a cross-sectional analysis in the EPIC-Oxford cohort. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Sep 23. | link

16. Plasma amino acids. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed January 30, 2016. | link

Mortality Rates of Vegetarians and Vegans

January 10th, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

A paper came out in December reporting mortality rates of different diet groups from the large EPIC-Oxford study containing 60,310 people from the UK  (1).

The mortality rate before age 90 was no different between vegetarians (including vegans) and regular meat-eaters (1.02, 0.94-1.10). Vegetarians had lower rates of mortality from pancreatic cancer (0.48, 0.28-0.82) and lymphatic cancer (0.50, 0.32-0.79). Semi-vegetarians had lower rates of death from pancreatic cancer (0.55, 0.36-.86). Pesco-vegetarians had lower death rates from all cancers (0.82, 0.70-0.97) but higher rates of cardiovascular disease (1.22, 1.02-1.46).

In the main analysis (in the paragraph above), some participants were recategorized based on a change in their diet over the course of the study which included over one million person-years of follow-up. The researchers did a second analysis in which participants who changed their diets were removed, and found an 8% reduced risk of early death in vegetarians that was just statistically significant (0.92, 0.84-0.99). Limiting the results further, to deaths before age 75, strengthened the finding (0.86, 0.77-0.97).

When vegans were separated from other vegetarians, there were no statistically significant differences in mortality rates for the six main categories of death. Eliminating participants who had changed diet categories didn’t significantly change the results for vegans. There were only 166 vegan deaths as distinct from 1,929 deaths in the entire cohort; meaning that reaching statistical significance was going to be unlikely.

Results above were not adjusted for differences in body mass index (BMI); such adjustments were performed but they didn’t change the results substantially.

The fact that vegetarians didn’t have lower rates of death from heart disease in this study is surprising given that a 2013 report from EPIC-Oxford showed a highly statistically significant, 31% reduction in heart disease incidence among vegetarians (0.69, 0.58-0.82). This discrepancy as well as the lower death rates for vegetarians before age 75, but not before age 90, might be explained by cases of nonfatal heart disease leading to effective treatment.

See the link in the reference for a free copy of the paper. For results of other similar studies, please see Disease Rates of Vegetarians and Vegans.

References

1. Appleby PN, Crowe FL, Bradbury KE, Travis RC, Key TJ. Mortality in vegetarians and comparable nonvegetarians in the United Kingdom. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jan;103(1):218-30. | link

Ginny on Fire

January 10th, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

In the last month, Ginny Messina, MPH, RD has put out a number of great articles for vegans to check out:

Vegan Diets and Orthorexia: How Should Activists Respond?

Lettuce and Bacon and the Environment: Some Thoughts for Vegan Activists

Will a Vegetarian Diet Make You Depressed?

Your Vegan New Year’s Diet: Don’t Forget the Protein

Dr. Greger on Vitamin C and Cancer Treatment

January 10th, 2016 by Jack Norris RD

Dr. Michael Greger has some very interesting videos on the history of using vitamin C for cancer treatment:

Intravenous Vitamin C for Terminal Cancer Patients

Vitamin C Supplements for Terminal Cancer Patients

He also recently ran two very interesting videos discussing the role of fiber in weight loss:

Are There Foods With Negative Calories?

Eating More to Weigh Less

Increase the Number of Vegans…By Two!

November 29th, 2015 by Jack Norris RD

Some of my readers might not be aware that my day job is Executive Director of Vegan Outreach.

Vegan Outreach persuades people to go vegan by visiting college campuses throughout the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, giving our hard-hitting booklets about modern animal farming to students, persuading many of them to leave animals off their plates.

We also have a large Vegan Mentor Program and a Vegan Living & Advocacy Blog to help aspiring, new, or veteran vegans. In fact, now is a great time to sign up for our blog as we’re about to start doing vegan product giveaways!2015-08-01 Norris Jack ARNC

Right now, your donation to Vegan Outreach will be doubled–meaning you will persuade twice as many people to go vegan by donating now!

Click here to donate.

Thank you!

– Jack Norris, RD