To Quit or Not to Quit Veganism: Part Two

In February, my post To Quit or Not to Quit Veganism briefly mentioned ex-vegan blogger and holistic health counselor Alex Jamieson. Jamieson had just written an article about how she was no longer vegan.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by the producer of The Current, a radio show in Toronto. They were doing a story on Jamieson’s choice to no longer be vegan and the backlash it entailed, and wanted to interview me.

The Current’s story aired on May 15 (link). None of my comments were included, which is probably just as well because I wasn’t very eloquent.

After listening to the show, I have further thoughts on Jamieson’s experience with veganism and since she continues to publicly talk about it, I feel okay about doing so, too. In fact, in her interview, she says that she might some day return to a vegan diet so this is in the spirit of helping her or people like her.

I definitely have sympathy for Jamieson – it must have been very stressful to feel like you could no longer eat a diet that you have been promoting. If I started to believe that I could no longer be vegan because my health was failing it would be quite disconcerting.

Here is Jamieson’s story from what I can piece together:

She ate a lot of junk food most of her life, and she also had iron deficiency issues. She went vegan and felt great for about 10 years after which she started having cravings for animal products. At a certain point, she started menstruating too frequently. She tried adding “mineral rich” foods and iron supplements and it didn’t help. She tried eating foods higher in protein (as I pointed out in my previous post, none of the foods she mentions eating for protein are terribly high in protein). She started eating eggs which made her feel a lot better, and then added back meat. She now eats 75%+ plant foods and her menstrual cycles have normalized and she feels good. When speaking about it in the interview, she attributes her improvements to “animal protein.”

Let’s go through the usual suspects:

Vitamin B12 – Jamieson doesn’t mention B12 anywhere. But her symptoms are not indicative of B12 deficiency.

Choline – Jamieson starts out craving, eating, and feeling better from eggs. Eggs are high in choline. But once again, her symptoms don’t seem to be typical of choline deficiency. I did some searching and found an article, which I do not consider reliable, suggesting that choline deficiency can cause liver problems, “resulting in excessive estrogen produced during menstrual cycle leading to hormone imbalance and endometrial cramps (link).” Severe choline deficiency can cause liver problems, but I don’t know where they got the part in quotes and if there is any direct evidence for it. Still, choline deficiency is a potential culprit.

Iron – Except for the fact that she never says she got her iron levels tested, there’s little question that she likely had iron deficiency given her history of it and the fact that she was having frequent menstruation. The question is whether she could have improved her iron deficiency by way of adding vitamin C to her meals and doing the other typical things that are recommended such as avoiding tea and coffee at meals.

Cholesterol – In watching some of her videos Jamieson appears to be on the thin side and her diet sounds very low in fat. A low-fat diet with low body weight could theoretically lead to low steroid hormones (made from cholesterol) leading to menstrual disruption (though admittedly less frequent menstruation, not more, in most cases). And eggs are probably the easiest way to get cholesterol, so a craving for eggs could make some sense.

Cravings

Can you crave foods because they have cholesterol, choline, or iron and you are deficient? Can you crave fat? It’s hard to know – there is very little research on craving nutrients during deficiency. And if a low fat intake (leading to low cholesterol) was a problem, why didn’t she just crave higher fat, higher saturated fat, or higher choline plant foods?

When I haven’t eaten in a while, I crave the versions of foods that contain more of those nutrients and with less fiber, presumably so that my body can get the nutrients faster. While an apple will provide carbohydrates, when real hungry I prefer cookies or juice. It doesn’t mean that’s the best or only way to get those nutrients on an ongoing basis.

If someone has gone for years on an exceptionally low-fat diet and has depleted their fat stores to the point that they are having low-cholesterol and hormone irregularities, combined with iron deficiency, it seems plausible that they might crave the food that is most quickly going to replenish those nutrients such as eggs (cholesterol) and meat (iron).

In searching around, I have found that there are other low-fat vegans who have egg cravings (link), so apparently it’s not unusual.

Probably the most obvious thing about eggs, when it comes to what separates them from other foods sensually, is the sulfur smell, which I find rather disgusting and it’s hard for me to imagine craving them unless you really have a serious deficiency! The sulfur smell is probably due to a high level of sulfur-containing amino acids (cysteine and methionine). Could it be those amino acids that people are craving in eggs? It seems possible, but unlikely since those amino acids are also in tofu in decent amounts, yet these people don’t crave tofu. Not a lot is known about sulfur and nutrition, but it’s something to consider.

Animal Protein

Jamieson repeatedly refers to what she needed as “animal protein.”

What we know about physiology and nutrition would indicate that there is nothing important about animal protein that separates it from plant protein except in cases of extremely low intakes. On the other hand, we shouldn’t rule out that she had extremely low intakes.

In her video on food cravings (link) Jamieson tells people that if they are craving protein, to add hemp seeds to their diet. I cannot find reliable info on how much protein hemp seeds have, but it looks like the highest amount being tossed around is 5 grams per tablespoon. Unless you are blending a whole lot of hemp seeds, you aren’t going to get large amounts of protein from that ratio. How about a Tofurky Italian sausage instead, with a whopping 29 grams of protein?!

Jamieson mentions that she was flirting with orthorexia, and people with orthorexia are unlikely to even consider processed foods like Tofurky.

I don’t think protein was likely her problem (or her main problem), but if you think you’re low on protein, eat something with some serious protein. Most of the vegans I know who are not failing to thrive do eat processed foods, and I’d venture that a good 1/3 of my food intake is processed. It is disappointing to hear about people who quit veganism to take up eating higher-fat, higher-protein animal foods when they could have tried the higher-protein, higher-fat plant foods but didn’t because they are processed.

Edited: 2013-05-26T17:36:46 Don’t Forget the Shellfish!

Oysters and clams are high in cholesterol and they are not capable of suffering. If processed vegan foods don’t help, then ex-vegans might consider trying oysters and clams to see if that would solve their problems before eating products from conscious animals.

Don’t Forget Bivalves: Clams, Oysters, Scallops, and Mussels

Oysters, clams, scallops, and mussels have significant amounts of cholesterol and they are not capable of suffering. If processed vegan foods don’t help, then ex-vegans might consider eating these animals to see if that would solve their problems before eating products from conscious animals.

Privilege

At minute 19:00 of Jamieson’s interview on The Current, the interviewer talks about how having the luxury to debate our food choices comes from a “very privileged place” and suggests that this whole conversation is “navel gazing”.

I object. Calling veganism “privileged” is a common dart thrown at it, usually by people who are, themselves, living relatively privileged lives. We should keep in mind that the farmed animals are the least privileged of anyone in discussions about whether to be vegan or not. Eating gourmet cheeses and steak, or being any sort of “foodie” is a privilege. Buying fair trade bananas and chocolate is privileged. The forty-hour work week and child labor laws only can happen in privileged societies.

So, while I agree that many people in the world do not have the option to eat a vegan diet (for one thing, some people don’t have access to vitamin B12 supplements or fortified foods), just because everyone cannot do something doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing for the rest of us to do. It’s not a good excuse for middle-class (or wealthier) Americans and Canadians to embrace farmed animal exploitation just because some other people are too poor to buy vegan packaged products at Whole Foods.

Conclusion

I do not want to blame the victim – Jamieson had failing health as a vegan and there might not have been any way to help her that we know of. And I think it’s commendable that instead of going from vegan to all-out paleo, she went from vegan to 75% vegan.

In her interview on The Current she says, “I may go back to a completely 100% plant-based diet. If and when that’s appropriate for me. I’m not ruling that out. The only problem is that I’m no longer welcomed back into that vegan community. I’ve been shut out of that conversation to help people be healthier in that way, to even promote plant-based living because I’m somehow a heretic.”

I would welcome her back.

Alex, you could be the first high-profile ex-ex-vegan – think about it!

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116 Responses to “To Quit or Not to Quit Veganism: Part Two”

  1. Michael Friesen Says:

    Great post. I was dismayed by the vilification of Jamieson that followed her return to meat eating. Most people already think (rightly or wrongly) that vegans are fanatics; it doesn’t help when we give them (additional) ammunition.

  2. tammy Says:

    Jack, thanks for giving another shot at articulating your thoughts about this. Well said. The issue of failing health that compels a change from vegan to less than 100% vegan is a real situation that could happen to anyone. I am glad I am not a celebrity who lives in a glass kitchen….

  3. oliver Says:

    Once again a great post, respectful, logical, and science based.
    :)

  4. Doug Spoonwood Says:

    But see, it’s only because of your male privilege that you can object to someone else saying “how having the luxury to debate our food choices comes from a “very privileged place” and suggests that this whole conversation is “navel gazing”, or talk about how the animals are the least privileged. ” O. K. that’s rubbish too (or at least in this context), and I’m just pointing out how “privilege” talk all too often doesn’t mean all that much.

  5. Tyler Says:

    Its hard to see what your point here is, just seems like more low-fat fear mongering with an added bonus of promoting processed junk foods (Tofurky sausage…seriously?).

    You’ve made this about low-fat and processed foods….why? Because most the people you know eat processed foods? That isn’t surprising…concerning the national food supply is based on processed foods. Why would one have a more difficult time thriving on a vegan diet by eating more nutrient dense foods? Why would someone need to consume some Tofurky junk to get sufficient protein? What reasons is there to believe that anybody needs a high fat intake? You found a link of one guy talking about egg cravings on a low-fat diet and you conclude that its not unusual…huh?

    Regardless, you think its unfortunate that people inclined to eat whole foods will seek out meat for protein instead of processed soy foods.. Of course, as someone that eats a lot of processed foods, I guess you don’t see how your comments can push someone to consume meat. For someone inclined to eat whole foods, telling them that they should some processed junk food for protein just re-enforces the food that they need to eat meat for protein.

    You’re speaking to the choir here and aliening the people you’re pretending to help.

  6. fi Says:

    I don’t know Jamieson and don’t claim to to say anything about her specific case. But I think more generally that when analyzing cases of someone stops eating vegan because of ill health way we should look for evidence for or against a wider range of possible explanations, including explanations negative psychological effects rather than nutritional deficiency. There are strong social pressures against persons trying to live vegan in a through and through carnist society. Being a minority and frequently facing hostility can be stressful and depressing, which in turn can have a variety of negative physical health side effects.

  7. dimqua Says:

    > low fat intake (leading to low cholesterol)

    This means that low levels of cholesterol can indicate low unsaturated fats intake? I am asking because my HDL cholesterol is low, although I eat quite a lot of nuts, seeds, avocados and tofu. My results:
    Total cholesterol – 109 mg/dL
    HDL cholesterol – 42 mg/dL
    LDL cholesterol – 55 mg/dL
    Triglycerides – 58 mg/dL.

  8. Sarah Gould Says:

    I’m glad you pointed out the non-conscious nature of shellfish. I realized a while ago that if I was avoiding the flesh and fluids of sentient/conscious/personality-having creatures for moral reasons, then certain members of Animalia would still be morally acceptable to eat and use even if the simple definition of veganism (and my own distaste for shellfish) excludes the practice. Being honest about my underlying values for being vegan has helped me avoid orthorexia and evangelicalism, and to sympathize with those who feel unable to commit to full-on veganism due to their personal, social, or health-related situations.

  9. newt Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I thought it was informative, fair, and well-written. Thank you! I’m not vegan but I like to think of myself as vegan-friendly. But I feel like much of the vegan blogosphere is extremely unscientific and irrational. So this post was a breath of fresh air.

    I was surprised, however, that you’re actually advocating eating *more* processed foods. I thought just about everyone who cared about healthy eating agreed that the less processed foods you eat, the better. Apparently not. I agree with the previous poster that if eating highly processed foods is the only way to be a healthy vegan then it will suggest to people that it’s not really an optimal diet.

  10. Dan N Says:

    Great article,

    Tyler, veganism is a form of respect for animals (we shouldn’t harm them, we shouldn’t make them suffer, we shouldn’t kill them…). Then came the health/ecological motivations (low fat vegan diet, whole food vegan diet, raw-vegan, etc) .

    I believe the point that Jack makes (he’s an ethical vegan) is this: if you have a hard time being on a diet, let’s say a 100% whole food vegan diet, before going to hurt animals, let’s try the other vegan options and fix your issue… with no harm done.

  11. Heather Says:

    I LOVE this post. Just as a personal anecdote… When I get very anemic (something even the meat-eaters in my family struggle with), I crave ice like mad! How much iron do you suppose is in ice? Not a very reliable craving, I’d say.

  12. Dreena Burton Says:

    Nice coverage of various issues, Jack. Thank you for addressing this with consideration rather than accusation. It’s disappointing that one vegan – now ex-vegan – has gotten so much attention… instead of all the people that HAVE become vegan in the time we’ve all been talking about Alex. There is more to celebrate in our growth and movement, even though I recognize that her story garnered so much media attention it is impossible to overlook.

    I do not eat a great deal of processed foods, but I feel my diet is very complete and I feel well. I do eat a lot of leafy greens and beans and all great nutrient-dense whole foods – – and, I do add a good amount of hemp seeds to my morning green smoothies! Funny you mentioned that. Still, I do eat ‘some’ processed foods. I think it is very difficult to eat “none”. Even our non-dairy milks are processed, and I will have the occasional Amy’s veggie burger or Daiya cheese. I think it’s important that we look to getting most of our nutrition from whole foods, and have that 10-15% room for convenience and treat foods.

    Nothing scientific to support that, just my experience as a long-term vegan that now feels better eating more whole foods (and many dark leafies!)… but also needs some shortcuts occasionally as a mom of three vegan kiddos (12, 8, 4 yrs).

    Thanks for the post,
    Dreena

  13. Bertrand Russell Says:

    Jack, once again, a great, thoughtful article.

    I think the main thing about your site is that you aren’t out to promote or defend some specific dogma. I know some people hate on you for not vilifying everything they want vilified (processed food, oils, eating oysters, convenience / taste / familiarity, etc.), but you refuse to compromise your pursuit of the truth just to be liked.

    I think only you and Ginny are like that.

  14. Andrea Says:

    The first thing I noticed was how white her skin is. You could have thrown Vitamin D’s deficiency in there.

    http://alexandrajamieson.com/why-girlfriends-health/

    Eggs aren’t alive. Why can’t vegans eat eggs?

    Are you absolutely sure oysters and clams aren’t alive?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYYfhL8PKak
    http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=569634

  15. Joe Espinosa Says:

    Most people are not eating animal products because they enjoy the idea of causing animals to suffer and die for our own pleasure. They are doing it because they like the denseness of the high fat and protein content. Offering someone the all cursed processed Tofurky sausage could meet that desire and spare animals, which seems like a much more worthwhile endeavor and likely outcome than believing that fat and protein cravings originated with the establishment of Turtle Island Foods’ mock meats. We face a choice between working to spare animals or promoting and glorifying our own (often baseless) beliefs. By the way, aren’t boiling, baking, steaming, chopping and chewing processes?

  16. Sarah C. Says:

    Thank you for being respectful – too much of this conversation about the ex-vegans is nasty and bullying. And I’m not a nutritionist or a scientist, but I have noticed the connection between very low-fat/high raw diets and the return to meat eating. I can’t help but wonder if more concentrated fat and protein from non-animal sources wouldn’t have helped them. (And personally, I think eating a humanely raised egg is a million times better than eating animal flesh, and might have helped transition them to a vegetarian diet rather than an omnivore one).

    One question – you promote eating oysters and clams but not eggs? I eat local/humane eggs but I would never ever eat an oyster or a clam. (I made that choice to eat eggs when I decided that my baby and my body need the cholesterol).

  17. Dirk Says:

    Andrea, a vegan diet excludes all animal flesh and animal products. Eggs come from animals. And since veganism is typically (not always) motivated by ethics, it’s worth noting that most of those egg-laying chickens are treated brutally, live dismal lives, and any male chicks born in an egg-laying facility are either tossed into a grinder alive or thrown into heaps alive where they suffocate and are crushed under the weight of more, and more, baby male chicks.

  18. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Andrea,

    I considered vitamin D deficiency, but the animal products she ate didn’t likely include any vitamin D (eggs can have it if the chickens are fed vitamin D), and definitely not enough to have an immediate impact on someone’s health. I was looking for nutrients that could make a quick and noticeable impact.

    I didn’t say that clams and oysters aren’t alive, I said they are not conscious. They are most definitely alive, but so are plants. Very few plants can respond the way you see the oysters responding in the video, but that’s still a long way from having an awareness of pain. The amount of nervous tissue they have suggests that there is no “self” within an oyster or clam that can feel what’s going on.

  19. Dan Says:

    Jack, it sounds like she had pica. People with pica will even crave dirt and chipped paint in order to get their iron. They are often profoundly iron deficient. The choice to crave eggs is very unusual, as they are not that high in iron – am I correct?

    As for tofurkey tofu sausages, I am thinking of going off these. I eat 1-2 per day but they contain safflower oil, which in a well-designed randomized trial from Australia actually increased all cause, coronary and cardiovascular mortality (BMJ 2013). The omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) in the safflower oil was used to replace saturated fat content in the diets of those allocated to the intervention group. While cholesterol levels fell (as expected), hard events were actually increased. Better off with canola- and olive-oil containing products, if you are going to consume vegetable oil rich products like Tofurkey. These have much less LA. It would be nice to have your comment on this.

  20. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Andrea,

    I forgot to answer you about the eggs, but as I was typing my response to your other questions, Dirk answered you about why vegans would avoid eggs even though they are not conscious.

  21. Dan Says:

    Here is the URL to the article I mentioned:

    http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e8707

  22. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    I appreciate all you the comments you make on my pages and for the list of DHA studies which I hope to start going through carefully today. Since you comment so often wanting to know my opinion, it would be really helpful if you could provide direct links to abstracts of the studies you mention.

    I will add, before seeing the study, that following all the clinical trials of fat replacement studies is a full-time job, though since this one actually included events as end points, it might be a lot more interesting than many of the others.

  23. Dan Says:

    Jack, our comments must have crossed in the either. Two minutes later I posted the URL after realizing I had not pasted any decent way of folks getting access to it. Following my reading of this trial and meta-analysis, I am trying to cut down on sunflower, safflower and other high-LA products. I’ll try not to “comment so often wanting to know [your] opinion”. Most of what I do in my vascular medicine practice is dietary counselling, so it’s good to compare notes, but I understand that this can be frustrating.

  24. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    Eggs are not high in iron. But she didn’t have pica which is a craving for non-food items (unless she failed to mention this).

  25. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    Please continue commenting all you want, you are pointing out things I’m not aware of and I appreciate it. Thanks!

  26. Dan Says:

    Same Dan here. I became a full vegan because of Buddhism. I was a pesco-vegetarian because of cholesterol issues. It is interesting that in Buddhism, one of the “Four Noble Truths” is that “craving is the source of suffering”. It sounds like this individual suffered greatly because she craved. I have found – and this is backed up by 2600 years of Buddhist practice – that the only way to end suffering is to end craving; not by giving into the craving cycle (which only produces subsequent craving and therefore more suffering), but by eliminating the roots of craving altogether. Way too much detail for a vegan blog but my perspective on this person’s problems is that the root of her suffering was her craving, rather than her diet (as is usually the case, since meat/eggs don’t offer anything beyond what a balanced vegan diet would offer, plus supplementation of a few missing micronutrients – e.g. cobalamin).

    Having said that, it’s hard to distinguish between true bodily craving (based on the physiologic need for a missing micro or macronutrient) and simple mental craving (based on preformed beliefs and conditioning).

  27. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    I just read the abstract. It’s interesting but the confidence intervals were wide and the findings were barely significant, and it was secondary prevention, not primary. It was results from a trial that concluded in 1973 and the meta-analysis doesn’t find a statistically significant increased risk for increased ALA:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21118617?dopt=Abstract&access_num=21118617&link_type=MED

    I’m assuming the intervention group was, while limiting saturated fat, still eating more than a typical vegan today, so you’re adding LA on top of saturated fat (and cholesterol). Did they list their absolute saturated fat intakes in the study? I browsed down the page but didn’t see it.

    So, those are my thoughts based on the abstracts. It takes a pretty strong finding for me to be impressed with nutrition research these days. I’ve become jaded with all the small, barely significant, contradictory findings.

  28. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    Although any quick turnaround in health makes me skeptical, after hearing Jamiesons’s story, I’m not very sympathetic to the view that her cravings were psychological rather than physical.

    Anyone who wants to test the theory that people can crave food they are lacking should go on a very low-fat, very low-protein raw foods diet until they become clearly underweight and are suffering from loss of muscle mass and I predict you, too, will see that some cravings are not just in your head. I’ve done this before and the cravings were powerful.

    Even so, I’m not saying someone can’t overcome such cravings, some people fast until they die, so it can be done.

  29. Andrea Says:

    According to this(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EUAMe2ixCI) ted talk, farmed fish is fed ground up chicken feather pellets. What is the likelihood that farmed oysters and clams are fed chicken by-products?

    Jack,

    What do you think about these connections?

    http://www.google.com/#output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=hypothyroidism+vitamin+d+levels

    http://drclark.typepad.com/dr_david_clark/2012/07/hashimotos-autoimmune-thyroiditis-and-vitamin-d-deficiency.html

    http://drclark.typepad.com/dr_david_clark/2012/07/hashimotos-autoimmune-thyroiditis-and-vitamin-d-deficiency.html

    http://www.google.com/#hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=thyroid+hormone+lipid+synthesis

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUVzPW_a2lY

    Dan,

    The LA oil study is kinda flawed. They asked the smokers to stop smoking because it is known that smoke stimulates COX-2 expression but so does air pollution.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostaglandin-endoperoxide_synthase_2

  30. Dan Says:

    The data are the data – take it or leave it (sounds like you are leaving it). I would take one randomized trial with hard endpoints over 10 large observational cohort studies – rife with confounding by indication and healthy user bias – any day of the week. And the meta-analysis of prior studies tends to support this effect of LA. It doesn’t accord well with my preformed prejudices but I am willing to change them to adapt to the data (rather than the other way around). Since LA is highly pro-inflammatory and tends to lead to arachidonic acid and other deleterious end-products of inflammation, my approach would be to minimize direct vegetable oils that are particularly rich in LA (the authors give a very nice table on this – I believe Table 1 of their article).

    One can contrast these data with the Lyon Heart trial and PREDIMED, which to my knowledge did not use an LA-rich oil. As well, the Alpha Omega trial used an ALA-rich margarine, but not an LA-rich one. That alpha position must be very important!

  31. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    What did you think of this, regarding LA and inflammation:

    http://jacknorrisrd.com/omega-6s-not-so-bad/

  32. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Andrea,

    I don’t have much to say about those links. Linus Pauling Institute doesn’t mention a connection between vitamin D and the thyroid, so that makes me think there is not a solid, well-researched connection, but they might have missed it.

    http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminD/

  33. Dan Says:

    Even an insect will withdraw from pain, thus suggesting an intact nervous system, the capacity to experience suffering, and consciousness (if highly limited compared to human). I therefore would not eat clams, oysters or insects. Nor dogs, cats or cows. Plants do not withdraw from pain, do not appear to suffer from painful stimuli, and do not have consciousness (it’s not for nothing that people describe people in comas as ‘vegetative’).

    Eggs, at least at an early embryonic stage, have no capacity to experience suffering. A key criterion, in my view, that underpins sentience is the ability to experience pain or suffering, and since we can’t get into a clam’s nervous system, we can only know that they suffer because they withdraw from a painful stimulus. Insects are actually known to “play dead” when a predator is around – this does suggest some form of consciousness. Why would all these creatures withdraw from noxious stimuli unless they were suffering?

    Then I ask – I too wish to avoid suffering, so why should I cause it to others? Do we not all share the same basic capacity to suffer, whether animal, insect or human? It’s simply the principle of ‘non-harming’, which is thousands of years old (though we like to think we invented it more recently!).

  34. Dan Says:

    >The amount of nervous tissue they have suggests that there is no “self” within an oyster or clam that can feel what’s going on.

    Well that’s a bit more complicated. I could go on forever about the self, or lack thereof. It’s impossible to know whether an oyster has a “self” or not. From my perspective, and most neuroscientists, the self is actually an artificial construct that has no permanence, continuity or reliability. If it even exists, it is constantly changing from moment to moment (despite what most of us think). There is no anatomic or physiologic center within the brain to which the sense of self-identity has ever been mapped. We generate a ‘self’ after several years of life but we are not born with one (babies think they are contiguous and co-linear with the entire world, with no sense of separation between ‘self’ and ‘other’). Basically, the self is just a thought, or a set of thoughts, and those thoughts can change from moment to moment – hence the impermanence of a ‘self’. It is also the root of all selfishness, not to play word games here. Whether or not oysters have a self or not is rather irrelevant to whether we are causing suffering to sentient life-forms by killing and consuming them. In other words, self does not equal sentience.

  35. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    Indeed we could go on forever about this, and people have.

    If you object to the “self” then I will suggest that what I meant is that clams don’t have “minds”. There is no thinking going on inside a clam’s “head.”

    Certainly, one nerve cell is not enough to produce a conscious being. Neither are two, or a dozen, or hundreds.

  36. Jack Norris RD Says:

    dimqua,

    If you’re health is good, then I wouldn’t worry too much about your low cholesterol levels. At least, I have no basis to think you need to at that those levels.

  37. Tyler Says:

    Cravings for particular foods are, pending some major break through in neuroscience, going to be psychological not physical in nature. The digestive system doesn’t know “foods” at the conceptual level (egg is a concept….), it knows nutrients. There is nothing to bridge the gap, not to mention timing, between a bunch of nutrients in the small intestine and our concepts of food. Of course people almost always eat meals that are composed of numerous foods and there’d be no way to correlating which nutrient can from what food.

    Of course, we do crave food. Its called hunger. What reason is there to believe that the food cravings people experience is anything beyond simple hunger?

    I’ve heard so many stories of food cravings, yet the foods being craved are usually nutrient poor foods that elicit addictive responses. The average American has a nutrient poor diet…..yet you don’t see people talk about kale, etc cravings. The selective nature of food cravings indicates that they are psychological, not physically, in nature.

    Blaming this failure on low-fat intake when there are millions and millions of people that subsist on low-fat diets worldwide doesn’t make much sense.

  38. Tyler Says:

    “I believe the point that Jack makes (he’s an ethical vegan) is this: if you have a hard time being on a diet, let’s say a 100% whole food vegan diet, before going to hurt animals, let’s try the other vegan options and fix your issue… with no harm done.”

    Yes, Jack is very obviously a “ethical vegan”, but he is trying to “help” someone that is more health oriented. My point is that telling such a person to eat some processed junk food to get protein will often lead such a person to believe that vegan diets are unnatural…..perhaps “privileged”. He is feeding the beast while trying to tame it.

    I’ve known many people that were interested in vegetarain/vegan diets, but were under the mistaken perception that they’d need to eat processed mock meats, soy foods, etc to do it. They don’t understand how to eat veg*n without these foods, but why would they? Western food culture is meat-based….

  39. Dan N Says:

    Tyler, maybe I misunderstand you, but are you asking a science-based dietitian to level down to the unscientific irrational believes (cooked is poison, “natural” diet is the only/best way to go, soy is dangerous, processed will make you sick…) in order to make vegan diets more appealing?

    Jack has some articles you may want to read about those questions of nature, raw, soy, processed food, b12… (www.veganhealth.org, or his book).

  40. Andreas Says:

    Jack,

    The Vitamin D article was written by Jane Higdon, Ph.D and she passed away in 2006. I wonder if the page has been updated at all since her death.

    The data indicates that calcitriol stimulates the production of TRH, then TRH naturally stimulates the production of TSH, then TSH stimulates the production of Thyroid hormones which then stimulate the production of cholesterol required for the production of androgen hormones.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3131152
    http://eje-online.org/content/114/1/55.abstract
    http://endo.endojournals.org/content/121/3/1192

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02630916
    http://link.springer.com/static-content/lookinside/201/art%253A10.1007%252FBF02630916/000.png

    Changing the 000.png to 001.png and so on will get you the rest of the pages.

  41. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Tyler,

    I haven’t responded to anything you’ve written because I don’t have much to say about any of it other than that I respectfully disagree.

    But, I do want to say that I am not purposefully trying to scare people away from low-fat diets. If a low-fat diet works for you, then more power to you. But if someone on a low-fat diet starts to fail to thrive and begins having strong cravings for animal foods, I would suggest trying some high-fat plant foods, and not just nuts and seeds. The fat in nuts and seeds comes with a lot of fiber, leading some researchers to question whether the fiber doesn’t prevent absorption of much of the fat and is why nuts are associated with lower body weight and lower cholesterol levels. So, I’d recommend avocados at the very least if not outright (gasp) olive oil. And Tofurky sausages, of course, which covers the protein and fat.

    And, yes, I get that you’re saying my suggestion of Tofurky will drive people away from veganism, not towards it.

  42. Dan Says:

    Excellent point, Jack. I would also say that fat is satiating and by reducing the carb load of the diet, we reduce blood pressure, insulin levels, hsCRP and metabolic syndrome.

    In my own case, my BP has dropped from the 140-150 mmHg range to the 104-109 range (systolic, with similar drops in diastolic), just from switching from a high carb diet to a high fat diet. I saw similar marked improvements in triglycerides, HDL, glycosylated hemoglobin (a marker of diabetic sugar control), and waist circumference/visceral adiposity.

    I eat oodles of plant fats now instead of animal fats. I would not eat any product made with low oleic acid safflower or sunflower oil, however, given the large quantity of linoleic acid in these items. I found out that Tofurkey italian sausages have high-oleic safflower oil, which is certainly better than plain safflower or sunflower oil based vegan products, if you believe the data I posted above (and I know you don’t, but I’ve been researching SFA substitution extensively for months and believe these data concur well with animal and metabolic ward studies in humans – so, converging lines of evidence).

    It is nice, however, to find someone who is coping well with a low fat diet. I would like to know the glycemic indices of the diet and the individual, specifically what their waistline is like, their hsCRP, fasting insulin, hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, HDL, BP profile, microalbuminuria, etc. I find a lot of metabolic syndrome in straight vegans, and this is because of the replacement of fat in the diet by carbohydrate (as contained in grains, tubers, fruits, sugars and dairy – for lacto-vegetarians). We are a “high sugar, high flour, high starch” society. Even a whole foods diet can easily lead to met syn.

  43. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    > if you believe the data I posted above (and I know you don’t,

    I don’t believe it’s wrong, I just need more convincing. And preferably from studies that were initiated more recently than the 1960s. :)

  44. Tyler Says:

    “But if someone on a low-fat diet starts to fail to thrive and begins having strong cravings for animal foods, I would suggest trying some high-fat plant foods, and not just nuts and seeds. The fat in nuts and seeds comes with a lot of fiber, leading some researchers to question whether the fiber doesn’t prevent absorption of much of the fat and is why nuts are associated with lower body weight and lower cholesterol levels.”

    Firstly, yes you obviously disagree, but that isn’t the point. You do this low-fat fear mongering often and its unclear what you are basing it on. If someone was doing poorly on a low-fat diet, why would you suggest high-fat plant foods instead of numerous other dietary suggestions one could make? Why is this always your default line? What reason is there to believe low-fat intake is problematic?

    As for nuts, I’m confused even more, are you seriously suggesting that the fiber content in seeds and nuts prevents the absorption of most of the fats in them? So then, you don’t think nuts, peanuts, seeds, etc are a reliable source of fat?!

    Dan:

    What you’re saying is strange to say the least, you don’t find any of the issues you mention in societies that consume low-fat diets and none of it is observed in controlled studies either.

    I just don’t get the low-fat fear mongering given the data. Questioning whether its necessary for health is one thing, fear mongering and wild claims is another…

  45. Justin Says:

    outstanding article. your site is one of the few vegan sites that doesn’t come off as fanatical, and this article was another sensible address.

    and why as a omnivore do I read your site, I’m fine with the ethics of humans eating animals, but I respect those who aren’t, however my main goal isn’t altruism, but my own health. and if I can learn something from what is imo a much tougher diet to maintain with good health than an omnivorous diet, I should be able to integrate it into an even more nutrient dense plant and animal based diet.

    again, great job logically addressing possible shortcoming of a low fat vegan diet (or low fat diet in general)

  46. Dan Says:

    My opinion is that a balanced omnivorous diet is the most healthy, provided that intake of saturated fat, heme iron, choline and cholesterol are kept to reasonably modest levels. Certainly there is no reason to supplement on an omnivorous diet, unlike the case for fully vegan diets. On the other hand, one can make a vegan diet very healthy as long as one is willing to consume supplements and be careful to balance food sources and not overconsume plant-based high energy carbs.

    BTW, a meta-analysis in American Journal of Medicine comparing the Mediterranean diet with low fat diets showed stronger metabolic improvements for the Med diet:

    Am J Med. 2011 Sep;124(9):841-51.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.04.024.
    Meta-analysis comparing Mediterranean to low-fat diets for modification of cardiovascular risk factors.
    Nordmann AJ, Suter-Zimmermann K, Bucher HC, Shai I, Tuttle KR, Estruch R, Briel M.
    Source
    Basel Institute for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University Hospital Basel, Switzerland. nordmanna@uhbs.ch
    Abstract
    BACKGROUND:
    Evidence from individual trials comparing Mediterranean to low-fat diets to modify cardiovascular risk factors remains preliminary.
    METHODS:
    We systematically searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Biosis, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from their inception until January 2011, as well as contacted experts in the field, to identify randomized controlled trials comparing Mediterranean to low-fat diets in overweight/obese individuals, with a minimum follow-up of 6 months, reporting intention-to-treat data on cardiovascular risk factors. Two authors independently assessed trial eligibility and quality.
    RESULTS:
    We identified 6 trials, including 2650 individuals (50% women) fulfilling our inclusion criteria. Mean age of enrolled patients ranged from 35 to 68 years, mean body mass index from 29 to 35 kg/m(2). After 2 years of follow-up, individuals assigned to a Mediterranean diet had more favorable changes in weighted mean differences of body weight (-2.2 kg; 95% confidence interval [CI], -3.9 to -0.6), body mass index (-0.6 kg/m(2); 95% CI, -1 to -0.1), systolic blood pressure (-1.7 mm Hg; 95% CI, -3.3 to -0.05), diastolic blood pressure (-1.5 mm Hg; 95% CI, -2.1 to -0.8), fasting plasma glucose (-3.8 mg/dL, 95% CI, -7 to -0.6), total cholesterol (-7.4 mg/dL; 95% CI, -10.3 to -4.4), and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (-1.0 mg/L; 95% CI, -1.5 to -0.5). The observed heterogeneity across individual trials could, by and large, be eliminated by restricting analyses to trials with balanced co-interventions or trials with restriction of daily calorie intake in both diet groups.
    CONCLUSION:
    Mediterranean diets appear to be more effective than low-fat diets in inducing clinically relevant long-term changes in cardiovascular risk factors and inflammatory markers.

    So yes, I can cite data against low fat diets, rather than just talk out of my hat without any evidence to back up my claims. One could also cite the low fat diet arms of the WHI and PREDIMED randomized trials (together enrolling over 55,000 patients), although critics and naysayers often complain that these diets were not “low fat enough”. It seems only Ornish and Esselstyn can design diets which are zero fat. I am definitely not a lipophobe. The brain is 60% lipid, and other critical organs are very high in fat (kidneys, liver, nerves, bone marrow, etc).

  47. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Tyler,

    > Why is this always your default line?

    I also suggested iron and protein for Jamieson. When someone comes to me with fatigue, I first ask them about B12, iron, and vitamin D. If they have hair loss, I talk about iron, zinc, and protein. If they have tingling in their hands and feet, I talk about B12. If people have high cholesterol, I talk to them about lowering their fat intake. If they have severe digestive problems, I talk to them about celiac. It all depends on their symptoms and their current diet.

    > are you seriously suggesting that the fiber content in seeds and nuts prevents the absorption of most of the fats in them?

    I am seriously suggesting that some researchers have suggested that one of the benefits of nuts might be that the fiber prevents the absorption of fat and that is why studies have not shown weight gain. I don’t know if this is true, but I have seen researchers suggest it.

  48. Dan Says:

    >>fiber prevents the absorption of fat and that is why studies have not shown weight gain.

    Physiologically, biochemically and nutritionally, it is more likely that it is some combination of fiber, protein and fat itself, as found in nuts, and their replacement of carbs in the diet that prevents weight gain. I have never seen any evidence linking either fat absorption or high fat intake with weight gain; quite the contrary. It is well known that the Atkins-type diets, which are very high in SFA, are remarkably effective in causing weight loss (one study from Kuwait found that the average weight loss was >60 lbs per person over the course of 1 year on Atkins). So this is just more dogma that fat is bad and causes weight gain. A calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie. The body handles carbohydrates, proteins and fats very differently in terms of metabolism. Suggest reading Taubes (“Good calories, bad calories” and “Why we get fat”). So much of what we think to be right in nutrition is actually wrong. I admit SFA is bad for other reasons – namely cholesterol increases, and its common bundling with heme iron, dietary cholesterol ester and choline, among other nefariants.

  49. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Coincidentally, I just found this in the AND’s daily email for today:

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/97/6/1346.abstract

    Nut intake and adiposity: meta-analysis of clinical trials

    Conclusion: Compared with control diets, diets enriched with nuts did not increase body weight, body mass index, or waist circumference in controlled clinical trials.

  50. Tyler Says:

    Jack:

    First let me clarify my comment, I was referring to the advice you give when someone *appears* to be oriented towards whole foods not general advice. In these cases you seem to always mention low-fat intake and its unclear why. Why would low-fat intake even be mentioned as a factor?

    As for nuts, can you please point me to a study that shows….or even claims…that *most* of the fats in nuts are not absorbed? I’m aware of the studies on nuts that show lower than predicted weight gain from nuts, but I’m not aware of any study that attributes this to the malabsorption of fats. The study you just cited doesn’t make such a claim.

    Though I’ve certainly seen it claimed that *some* (10~20%) of the fats in nuts aren’t absorbed, but never have I heard someone claim that *most* of the fats aren’t absorbed to the point of them not being a reliable source of fats. This is certainly one of the stranger justifications I’ve heard in support of processed foods….

  51. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Tyler,

    I didn’t say “most” of the fat in nuts, nor did I say that there was research showing it.

    > First let me clarify my comment, I was referring to the advice you give when someone *appears* to be oriented towards whole foods not general advice. In these cases you seem to always mention low-fat intake and its unclear why. Why would low-fat intake even be mentioned as a factor?

    Because when someone is eating a low-fat diet and they are failing to thrive, it only makes sense that they try eating a higher fat diet to see if it helps. In the case above, Jamieson is likely eating a higher fat diet now, and it helped. There could be all sorts of reasons why it might be that fat could help: increased body fat and/or cholesterol to produce sterol hormones, increased absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, increased satiety, increased energy stores or protein sparing.

    What should I be telling such people? And why is this so important to you? You seem very protective of low-fat diets. Most people can hear a nutritionist suggest to someone that they change things up a bit in their diet without getting upset about it.

  52. Tyler Says:

    Dan:

    The study you’re referring to doesn’t address the issue, the “Mediterranean diet” is much more than a diet that isn’t low-fat. Its a diet that is rich in whole grains, legumes, fruit, fish with low intakes of meat. On the other hand “low-fat” is very general, it refers to large class of diets. Nobody is suggesting that “low-fat” is, in itself, healthy….

    Gary Taubes? Hmm…..I wish you luck.

  53. Tyler Says:

    >I didn’t say “most” of the fat in nuts, nor did I say that there was research showing it.

    You’re right, you said “much”. So what did you mean? And why wouldn’t nuts and seeds be a sufficient source of fat for vegans?

    >Because when someone is eating a low-fat diet and they are failing to thrive, it only makes sense that they try eating a higher fat diet to see if it helps.

    I don’t follow, why does it “only make sense”? Low fat intake is only one component out of many, so why is it given so much attention? Obviously you think low-fat intakes can cause health problems, but what reason is there to believe this? That’s an honest question. I’ve seen your comments on low-fat diets before, but now you seem to be vilifying whole foods based diets as well. Though I disagree, I get that you think low-fat diets can cause issues, what I was surprised about is the promotion of processed foods. And I was even more surprised by the suggestion that nuts and seeds wouldn’t be sufficient for fats. You seem to have suggested that a whole foods based vegan diet isn’t nutritionally sound, that you need processed foods to get the necessary fats, protein, etc.

    Protective of low-fat diets? Not sure what you mean, I simply don’t think the evidence suggests that they are a cause for concern.

  54. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Tyler,

    I’ve had enough. Thanks for the feedback.

  55. e Says:

    Dan May 23rd, 2013 at 4:46 pm: “Even an insect will withdraw from pain, thus suggesting an intact nervous system, the capacity to experience suffering, and consciousness (if highly limited compared to human). I therefore would not eat clams, oysters or insects.”

    It is common to distinguish between nociception (a biological sensor of damage or physical contact that doesn’t presuppose consciousness) and pain (a conscious reaction coming after nociception). The fact that an insect moves away from something that physically damages the insect body does not in itself prove the insect experienced pain. It may be that it is only a nonconscious behaviour involving nociception. Since we have two competing explanations (nonconscious nociception vs conscious pain) that both seem capable of explaining the data (insect withdrawing from damage) we need to consider additional evidence. One type of evidence would be behaviour too complex to be explanable by nonconscious nociception processes. I’m not convinced that there is data on such behaviour in clams. Another type of evidence is data about bodily neurological structures. If a being has neurological structures similar to structures in some other being with pain capacity (a being we have good evidence to believe has pain experiences) then that is some evidence for pain capacity in the first being. Clams seem to lack neurological structures that other beings with pain capacity (a fish, a chicken, a from, and so on) have.

  56. Dan Says:

    Dear e,

    Thank you for that lovely explication. I believe in what you wrote wholeheartedly and in fact I have learned from it. How simplistic my own “a priori” beliefs are!

    In addition to the distinct between pain and nociception, I would also posit the phenomenon of ‘suffering’. Can’t an insect suffer? I didn’t torture bugs as a kid but I did collect them for entomological purposes and my intuition tells me that in their struggle for survival (whether from asphyxiation, crush injury or death by having their limbs pulled apart), that such living organisms can indeed experience suffering. Certainly they can at least put up a very valiant struggle – call it ‘kicking and screaming’ – which suggests at a minimum a fine-tuned nervous system and the capacity to respond with ‘fight or flight’ to life-threatening stimuli. Mind you we can never get inside an insect’s brain (nor a cow’s, nor a dog’s, etc) although we do have some indirect cognitive psychology experiments on these beings (perhaps not insects, although I do understand there is much work on the social behavior of many insects including honey bees). I think that in the absence of a definitive answer to the question I will not take my chances and not kill living animals (whether invertebrate or vertebrate, crustacea or terrestrial, insect or ‘higher’ life form, etc…).

  57. Dan Says:

    Or, how about this philosophical framework for nonharming?

    Any being which….

    …had a mother or a father or both
    …has or can have children, offspring, progeny
    …seeks positive, beneficial experiences (‘happiness’, ‘food’, ‘sex’, ‘warmth’)
    …seeks to avoid negative, harmful experiences (‘suffering’, ‘pain’, ‘noxious stimuli’, ‘hunger’)

    …should not be eaten or deliberately killed, since in that sense we all share these same 4 criteria, and they could be applied to any one of us (we all seek happiness and to avoid suffering, so why should I cause it in others?). In fact, these criteria link us as living creatures on this planet.

    On the other hand, this schema may be problematic, as it could apply to non-animal lifeforms (at least the first three would apply to plants, which can tilt towards light sources, though I don’t know whether the fourth would apply).

    I find sentience and sapience to be very difficult concepts to define, as well as “mind” and “self”, and thus may not be as useful for ethical purposes. Are we causing pain? Are we causing suffering? Even if it is only realized at a nociceptive, non-conscious level? I doubt very much plants suffer, but I do not have a good explanation for why that is. Maybe you or others can step in with illumination, edification and erudition.

  58. LcoyoteS Says:

    I was shocked and horrified to read your recommendation for vegans to eat shellfish to solve their health problems. I can’t belive that a supposedly ethical vegan would advocate depriving any animal of life, based on the questionable assumption that the animal is unconscious and incapable of suffering. Good grief, modern neuroscience can’t even ascertain with complete confidence whether an injured human being meets these criteria! There is too much that we don’t know about a living being’s physical and metaphysical status to arrogantly conclude that said being does not deserve moral standing.

    Incidentally, why is the foreign body that initiates the process of pearl formation in clams and other molluscs considered an irritant if it does not cause suffering? Why would a clam seek to rid itself of a foreign body if it was incapable of any sensation? And why do shellfish protect themselves from parasites and predators if they have no interest in preserving their lives? I can’t resist being facetious here by noting that I’ve seen more evidence of sentience in crustaceans than I have in some human beings!

    I would say that even if it could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that shellfish are unconscious and incapable of suffering (and I really don’t think that current science bears this out: http://news.discovery.com/animals/pets/evidence-mounts-that-shellfish-feel-pain-130116.htm; http://www.sott.net/article/248644-Study-Shows-Virtually-all-Animals-including-Fish-Shellfish-and-Insects-Feel-Pain), they are still more alive than an unfertilized chicken egg. Just because shellfish have different nervous systems than, say, mammals, that doesn’t mean that we can immediately jump to the conclusion that they have no motivation to avoid pain or to protect their lives. Why would you make the same mistake that non-vegans make by assuming that animals who appear to be dissimilar to us are mere automatons who deserve to be exploited at the whim of our superior species?

    Please give me some real advice about how to improve my health, rather than encouraging me to kill living things. Like Jamieson, I’m not a poster child for a healthy vegan. I have always been a low-energy person, but I was never anemic until I became vegan a few years ago. Now I struggle with worse fatigue and lack of motivation and energy than ever before in my life. Nevertheless, going back to consuming animals and animal products is not an option for me because I am a vegan primarily for ethical reasons. My diet could definitely stand some improvement, but NOT by adding shellfish to it!

  59. LcoyoteS Says:

    Do you really want to fall into the same camp as this jerk? http://letthemeatmeat.com/post/506197250/did-oysters-just-kill-veganism

  60. Jack Norris RD Says:

    LcoyoteS,

    Have you been confirmed as being fully anemic? If so, are you on any sort of iron supplementation? A quick run down of my suggestions for iron are to add a significant amount of vitamin C to meals (like 4 oz of orange juice, or one orange) to significantly boost plan iron absorption. Also avoid coffee and all teas at meals as they inhibit iron absorption. Here is more information:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/iron

    As for the shellfish, I didn’t mean crustaceans – I meant clams, oysters, and mussels. I’ll change that to be clear. You might still disagree with me, but I think “e” said it well above.

  61. Jack Norris RD Says:

    LcoyoteS,

    > Do you really want to fall into the same camp as this jerk?

    I typically don’t allow name-calling on my site, but I’m allowing this one to respond to it. Rhys Southan of Let Them Eat Meat is the opposite of a jerk. He’s respectful, intelligent, and provides a lot of insight on vegan-related issues. He and I don’t see everything the same way, but I think he does our movement a service, even if that service, at times, leads to painful self-reflection.

    As far as what camp I fall into, I call it as I see it and fall into whatever camp I fall into.

  62. Dan Says:

    >>Like Jamieson, I’m not a poster child for a healthy vegan. I have always been a low-energy person, but I was never anemic until I became vegan a few years ago. Now I struggle with worse fatigue and lack of motivation and energy than ever before in my life.

    I’ve found Jack’s website to be a literal goldmine for dietary advice on how to support a vegan diet. In particular it has persuaded me to stay on vitamin D, and add iodine and DHA. I was already taking B12. Because I am a male, I don’t need iron at this point in my life (when my bone marrow starts pooping out, like my dad’s, or I develop subclinical gastritis from Helicobacter pylori, I might need to start popping iron tablets).

    Also bear in mind that while anemia and even iron deficiency WITHOUT anemia can cause significant fatigue, iron deficiency itself is far from the only cause of anemia. It’s worth seeing a specialist for anemia (hematologist), because there are a number of both nutritional and non-nutritional causes of anemia that are very, very common. I would never ascribe anemia to iron deficiency, nor even ascribe iron deficiency itself to inadequate intake, until occult sources of subclinical bleeding are thoroughly ruled out (preferably by a gastroenterologist). This is a mistake I have seen many times – just throw the person on iron, hope for the best. Later on, we found something that should have been caught much earlier (celiac disease, colorectal cancer, gastritis, pernicious anemia, etc). So, in summary, please consult your family doctor for specialist referral (preferably to a hematologist).

  63. e Says:

    Dan: First, I was a bit unclear on one thing. I do think insects of many species (but not all) do have a simple capacity for pain, on evidence of complex behaviour and neurological structures. I don’t think any clams, oyster or mussels have pain capacity however.

    Even in the case of insects with some minimal capacity for pain I think there is a big moral difference between killing them and ending the much more diverse and personal life of a chicken or a pig for example. Animal rights thought and action should focus on the latter, and the billions of their relatives facing death in the animal exploitation industries.

    That said I still don’t personally eat clams for the simple reason that I don’t feel like it (just the though of doing so creeps me out a bit frankly!). But I have no objection if someone else add clams to their otherwise vegan diet, especially that would help them sort out some health issue. I’m much more worried that some people unneccesarily slide from veganism all the way back down to meat and dairy simply because they have a very narrow view of a plant based diet as black or white, either or.

    If you haven’t read it already I recommend the book “Animal Rights a Very Short Introduction” by philosopher David DeGrazia. He discusses similarities and differences between different animals, including how they differ in capacities such as pain and suffering. He summarizes his view on the nature of suffering as “a highly unpleasant emotional state associated with more than minimal pain or distress”.

  64. unethical_vegan Says:

    I believe that if more vegans responded the way you did here there would be fewer ex-vegans.

    PS: I still think it is premature to recommend DHA supplementation. And now that the case for long chain n-3 pufa supplementation appears to be imploding, I hope you revise you recommendation.

  65. LcoyoteS Says:

    Rhys Southan doesn’t seem to have any problems with name-calling. He accuses vegans who refuse to eat clams “hypocritical” and “consistency-obsessed”. I found his article arrogant and malicious. How can we decide that clams have no moral standing simply because they do not have the same physiology as we have? I do not consider anyone who eats claims a vegan because veganism means avoiding harm to animals, no matter how different they may seem to be from us. I actually feel devastated that a respected, so-called vegan dietitian would recommend the very kind of cruelty that I became vegan to avoid. I don’t just love the cute and cuddly animals that are easy to want to spare; I also love the weird, wildly divergent species that are not so easy to identify with. It saddens me that people who call themselves vegan don’t care about the non-fluffy animals. It makes me feel hopeless to learn that I have no one to turn to when I need dietary advice, unless I want to be told the same thing that non-vegans always tell me – eat animals.

  66. LcoyoteS Says:

    Jack and Dan,

    I’ve never been diagnosed as anemic. My last couple of blood tests showed low iron levels. I am always sleepy and sluggish. I do have a bottle of iron tablets, but I rarely remember to take them. The only time I seem to remember that I should take them is when I’m eating a meal, and since you’re not supposed to take them with meals, I forget all about them as soon as my stomach is empty.

  67. unethical_vegan Says:

    “clams, oyster or mussels have pain capacity however.”

    a minor correction: unlike urchins, starfish, and other simple invertebrates bivalves do posess true neurons with nocicpetive function. they can sense pain but likely lack the capacity to “integrate” peripheral pain signals.

  68. Jack Norris RD Says:

    LcoyoteS,

    I’m not telling you to eat animals.

    So, you haven’t been diagnosed as being anemic, but have you been tested for iron deficiency? You said that after you became vegan you became anemic, but now you’re saying you have not been diagnosed as being anemic, so I’m a bit confused. In any case, I gave you a link to my article on iron. If you read it and further questions let me know.

    Vitamin D and B12 can also be culprits in vegans feeling fatigued. Have you been tested for vitamin D deficiency? And what do you do to make sure you get enough B12?

    By the way, Vitamin B12 deficiency is another cause of anemia.

  69. Tyler Says:

    Dan K: “Tyler, maybe I misunderstand you, but are you asking a science-based dietitian to level down to the unscientific irrational believes (cooked is poison, “natural” diet is the only/best way to go, soy is dangerous, processed will make you sick…) in order to make vegan diets more appealing?”

    I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to (raw food diets..and?), but I’ve been discussing (plant based) whole food diets and the people that prefer them. A plant based whole foods diet tends to be low in fat, not necessarily as a goal but because most plants are low in fat. My point was that telling someone that is oriented around whole foods to eat a highly processed food to get nutrients found in meat will drive them to eat meat. Given that processed foods are entirely unnecessary, I’d suggest that this advice is very counter productive for this group.

    With that said, there is nothing “unscientific” or “irrational” but any empirical nutritional claim even if it happens to be wrong given current research. As for as I can tell raw food folks make claims that can, in principle, be tested….so its perfectly “scientific”. Instead I would suggest that labeling hypotheses that aren’t popular and/or conflict with existing evidence as “unscientific and irrational” is in fact “unscientific”. That isn’t how science works…..

  70. Dan Says:

    I think we have to be very careful when deciding which life forms are more worthy of our respect (so don’t kill them) versus others which are ‘simpler’ and therefore can be killed and consumed. This is a real slippery slope, folks. Just because one animal has a hundred neurons and another has ten billion, where do you draw the line? I draw it at suffering – am I creating suffering? Am I contributing to harming? Why would I want to do that?

    I consider myself blessed because I draw my beliefs from Buddhism, and specifically the Buddhist principle of ‘non-harming’ (the Sanskrit word for this is ‘ahimsa’). Another way this is put, in a more positive light, is compassion. Since I do not want to suffer, and wish to be happy, it behooves me not to create suffering and unhappiness for others, whether they are gross or subtle, small or large, noble or ignoble, animal or human, seen or unseen. Everything else becomes a judgement, a value judgement, which I wish to avoid. I hate the idea of ranking species by cognitive capacity and pain capacity. We know too little, though we don’t realize that. And comparisons between species are value judgements, which are heavily influenced by our ‘a priori’ beliefs. See it from the point of view of the clam – that’s true compassion. Would you want to be eaten?

    (e, thanks for recommending the book by DeGrazia – I will look into getting that)

  71. Dan Says:

    >>Unethical_Vegan: PS: I still think it is premature to recommend DHA supplementation. And now that the case for long chain n-3 pufa supplementation appears to be imploding, I hope you revise you recommendation.

    Unethical_vegan – why do you think this is premature? And the case for long-chain n-3 pufa supplementation imploding is based on the last 5 large clinical trials (Alpha Omega, SU.FOL.OM3, OMEGA, ORIGIN and the Risk & Prevention Study), but none of these trials enrolled vegetarians specifically, whose prevalence in the general population of western countries from which the trials enrolled is very low (2% or less). I think Jack was basing his DHA recommendation on the fact that DHA levels are very low in vegetarians versus omnivores, DHA’s ‘prime’ location in such vital tissues as brain, retina and (for men) testes, and the reports of undetectable DHA levels in older persons with cognitive deterioration. I don’t think we’ll ever get an outcome-based trial in vegetarians using DHA to prevent important adverse health outcomes (who would fund it?). The rate of biotransformation of ALA to DHA is practically nil, even in vegetarians.

  72. LcoyoteS Says:

    I meant anemic more as an adjective than as a medical description. I was simply determined to have very low iron levels after one blood test. The levels improved after the second test, but they were still in the low range. My physician told me that they don’t bother testing for vitamin D here; they just recommend that everyone take supplements. My vitamin B12 level was fine in the blood tests. I get most of my vitamins D and B12 from soymilk. I occasionally take a multivitamins when I can afford to buy them, but I never know whether or not I’m getting enough vitamin D. I will check out the link to the iron article; thanks for that.

  73. LcoyoteS Says:

    I’ve always strongly objected to sentience being used as the grounds for according animals moral standing. By that logic, it would be okay to cannibalize or experiment on brain-damaged or severely retarded human beings. But I guess some people would be okay with that. I am not.

    I just watched my uncle die in the hospital this weekend about three weeks after a vehicle collision. After the first few days of being in the neurosurgery ward, he was likely not conscious anymore. By the last week, he was rating very low on the Glasgow Coma Scale. Does that mean I appreciated the hospital staff treating him like an inanimate object they couldn’t wait to get rid of? No! Even if he wasn’t my relative, and even if he wasn’t my species, I would still say that he deserved some respect and dignity. Clams and oysters and mussels do not deserve to be treated like objects either.

  74. Tyler Says:

    Dan:

    There are trials on vegetarians, remember that 300 million people in India are vegetarian. This article cites a study on vegetarians:

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/640S.full

    This article doesn’t suggest that dietary DHA and EPA are critical for vegetarians, instead it suggests that in absence of dietary DHA and EPA vegetarians should increase their ALA intake and ensure that their omega-6/omega-3 ratio is in the 4:1 range.

    And, since Jack mentioned them, bivalves are a rich source of omega-3 so someone with an aversion to supplements could consider them. They are also one of the richest sources of B12 (and iron) so could eliminate the need to supplement entirely.

  75. Jack Norris RD Says:

    LcoyoteS,

    There isn’t enough vitamin D in soymilk to do much of anything, I’m afraid. You should probably supplement with at least 1,000 IU per day.

    And, if you are only drinking the soy milk once a day, it’s not enough B12. If you are in a state of B12 levels going down, then your tissues might not be getting enough even if your blood levels are okay. Drinking/eating fortified foods twice a day is enough, though. See my recommendations:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/dailyrecs

    If you try these things and it doesn’t help after a few weeks, let me know and we can discuss other possibilities (if you want).

  76. Daniel Says:

    Lcoyote S,

    “I’ve always strongly objected to sentience being used as the grounds for according animals moral standing. By that logic, it would be okay to cannibalize or experiment on brain-damaged or severely retarded human beings. But I guess some people would be okay with that. I am not.”

    Yes. It’s perfectly OK to cannibalize or experiment on brain-damaged or severely retarded human (or non-human animals) beings IF they are not sentient. What is the problem here?

  77. e Says:

    Dan: you now apply the terms suffering and harm and a point of view to the clam. I think that assumes a positive answer to our previous question: are clams sentient? But I still think there is convincing evidence that clams lack consciousness/sentience. If so then it follows that clams cannot suffer, cannot feel pain, cannot be harmed and have no point of view. Clams are then on par with trees, vegetables and other plants which it is all right to use for human needs.

    But I agree that we should be very careful when making these judgments and I like that you’re not simply taking my word for granted. We should take our stance based on research and philosophical work on sentience. If someone doesn’t have the time to look into such sources more then giving clams the benefit of the doubt in their personal eating choices seems very reasonable, at least if ones health isn’t on the line (and for most people health is not on the line with regard to the eat or not eat clams question.)

    I’m a bit pressed for time and will end my commenting here but will check back to read any replies that might come in. Thank you for the conversation Dan!

  78. Dan Says:

    So, e, you are saying that clams are basically inanimate objects like rocks or stones – no awareness, no consciousness, no sentience, no sapience, not even reactivity to painful or noxious stimuli.

    Even if that is so, if you assume that all (animal) life is sacred, that itself could be construed as a reason not to consume them. And suffering need not be internal – it can be external. Any willful destruction of our fellow animal species could be deemed suffering. The Amazon rain forest is suffering – it’s an ecosystem, but no one would claim sentience for it. Yet we strive to preserve it. I try to avoid killing even spiders. I seem to suffer when I cause the death of other living beings, even lowly invertebrates. Too many things are being reckoned from “our” point of view. We can’t even ask a chimpanzee or dolphin (highly intelligent creatures) for their perspective, let alone a clam’s. Everything seems to be based on inference here – the design of the nervous system, the external reaction to stimuli, and so forth. In my view, these are pretty poor scientific criteria.

  79. rainbow Says:

    This is why I love reading your blogs, although I rarely comment.

    You are a nice person. Period. You also don’t bury your head in the sand. You acknowledge that the current fad (and yes, I will openly call it a fad even if you’re nice enough not to) of fat free/very low fat vegan eating does not fit everyone. I felt sick on it. You don’t put people down for leaving veganism because they are ill and just can’t do it anymore. You offered options within the vegan realm.

    I still think you should write a book with Bonsai Aphrodite about the many variances in vegan eating and how one size does not fit all, and how, in fact, eating very low fat can make some of us SICK. You have such a nice way with words, I’m sure you could write it in a very clever, non-offensive way.

    I’ve given up McdDougall, Healthy Herbivore blog and the like. I’m tired of being told eating olive oil will give me heart disease.

  80. Dan Says:

    I just don’t see the point of low fat diets. Carb intake is the key factor in regulation of body weight. And PREDIMED as well as the Lyon Heart Trial suggest that plant-based fats are better than ok – they reduce cardiovascular events and cancer. I reviewed this in detail by reading the original publications, not just the summaries of others. Finally, many cultures with very low rates of diabetes, cancer and heart disease live predominantly on fat (such as Inuit Greenlands – ‘Eskimos’ – and Masai tribesmen).

  81. rainbow Says:

    Dan, I do agree about low fat diets.

    I never thrived as a vegan until I started eating higher fat, high protein food. I just do so well on high protein. I once heard an interview with Neal Barnard (ironically, a podcast on the Paleo “Livin La Vida Low Carb” show) where he was open enough to say that one style of eating doesn’t fit all. Some folks do well on fruit in the morning. Some need a lot of protein instead. I never forgot that. In essence, inadvertently, Dr. Barnard gave me “permission” to eat outside the box when everyone else was telling me to keep protein down and only eat “non-extruded fats”…I guess because if you somehow take the oil out of olives that makes it evil…big ole’ eye roll from me until my eyes are coming out of the sockets…

    Oh, and I’ll just come out and say it. If I want vegan sausage or vegan turkey roast or whatever…because my body is again craving protein, I’ll eat it, “processed” or not. To think we can avoid processed food in the world we live in is so impossible. I adore my soy milk (guess what…it’s processed!)…and I’ll never give it up.

    We should all be trying to help each other instead of damning eating habits. No wonder someone in church, after hearing I was vegan, turned to me and said very seriously, “oh no, you’re not one of those crackpots are you?” And honestly, he spoke without thinking and didn’t even realize what he said until after he said it.

    If vegan eating, in all its styles and combinations were as accepted in the vegan community as eating McDonald burgers is for those eating a SAD, we wouldn’t be called out as frequently as we are.

    End of vent. Wow, I feel better.

  82. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Rainbow,

    Thank you for your nice words! I appreciate you taking the time to write them and to “rant” about your diet, which was interesting.

    The book I’ve already written (with Ginny Messina), Vegan For Life, covers the ideas about fat and protein that we’re talking about. If things keep going the way they have been, there might be two groups of Americans – vegans and ex-vegans. :) As we get closer to that time, I might consider a book devoted specifically to ex-vegans, although the nutrition info would still be very similar to Vegan For Life.

  83. Dan Says:

    Rainbow,

    I wouldn’t worry too much about processed food. All food that is consumed is in some respects processed. First, it’s plucked from a tree or harvested from the ground; inedible components are detached. Processed. Second, it’s transported, usually over great distances, many times with refrigeration. Processed. Third, it’s washed in your kitchen of dirt, bacteria and viruses. Processed. Fourth, it’s cut into pieces by your knife, then your teeth. It’s lubricated by the saliva in your mouth. Processed. Fifth, it undergoes degradation by contact with hydrochloric acid in your stomach, together with enzymes like trypsin, chymase and lipase in your small intestine. Processed. Sixth, at the same time, it is coated with mucus and bile. Processed. Seventh, it is mixed around and around in the intestine to further pulverize it and expose it to the absorptive mucosal lining. Processed. Eighth, smaller molecules like amino acids, glucose and fats are absorbed by the lacteals in the intestine, with transport to the liver through the portal vein. Processed. Ninth, the liver often stores or metabolizes the food constituents further (for example, it may deposit absorbed fats into lipoproteins, which then carry the fats around the bloodstream). Processed.

    Hence I don’t worry too much about processed food. All food consists of thousands of different molecular species; as long as the factory processing is not adding specific toxins which I try to avoid, then I am fine with it. If they are adding things like sugar (“evaporated cane juice”) or trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils), then I would avoid.

    This is why I find the raw food movement a bit silly. Even if the food isn’t processed before it reaches the lips, it will certainly be so afterward!

  84. unethical_vegan Says:

    “I don’t think we’ll ever get an outcome-based trial in vegetarians using DHA to prevent important adverse health outcomes (who would fund it?).”

    My attitude is always “do less harm”. Since larger RDBC trials and more recent statistical meta-analyses all suggest that supplementation with long chain n-3 pufas (DHA/EPA) has little or no (!) effect on human health, the safest route would be to not to supplement. I think this is especially true given the large body of evidence that supplementation can, in some cases, do harm.

    I read the same literature that Ginny and Jack read and I simply do not understand why they think Vegans are “deficient” for DHA. The fact that serum levels are low does not in any way indicate deficiency. Vegans have low serum levels of plenty of metabolites that have little to do with human health.

  85. Jack Norris RD Says:

    unethical_vegan,

    As I posted on the other thread, here is my answer:

    http://jacknorrisrd.com/dha-recommendations-follow-up/

    The idea that a few hundred milligrams of DHA per week, or even 2 grams, could cause harm has less evidence than the idea that vegans are deficient in DHA. While it might only be correlation, I am consistently reading studies which associate DHA intake or levels with better health outcomes for a variety of diseases. At the very least, this indicates that DHA isn’t causing problems, in my humble opinion.

  86. rainbow Says:

    My husband and I take a product called Brainstrong which contains 900 mg. DHA. It comes in vegan and non-vegan formulations (gelatin coating) and also contains theanine and green tea extract. It’s supposed to help your memory, and honestly, it is working. We both feel our memory is improved (we’ve been taking it about a year now), and no, we don’t worry that we’re getting too much DHA in our diets. Thanks for that info about DHA Jack.

  87. M C Says:

    Until I am God Himself, I’m going to assume that anything with nerves can feel.

    Thinking can cause suffering or distract from it, but it is not the same as suffering. Suffering is a feeling, not a thought.

  88. Dan Says:

    But what is ‘feeling’?

    Is feeling an emotional state (like happiness or sadness)? Or is feeling more of a simple, immediate sensation, which can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral? We then ‘act’ on the feeling with an emotional reaction.

    We have to be careful about terminology here. I need to read more on this. I too do not wish to cause suffering or harm.

  89. Tyler Says:

    rainbow:

    A low-fat diet isn’t necessarily low protein diet, in fact its easier to maintain a high protein intake on a vegan diet when you eliminate oils and other added fats which contain zero protein but are very calorie dense. As for oils being bad only when you extract them, that isn’t what people claim, instead that when you extract oils from their natural package you get a very calorie dense and nutrient-poor food. That is the primary issue, but there is also the concern that they contribute to health disease.

    I find it strange that people are so willing to take anecdotes about people not succeeding on lower fat diets as evidence that they don’t work…..yet make much different conclusions from the numerous ex-vegan stories.

    Regardless, low-fat intake is just a side effect of a whole foods plant-based diet. In itself its not a goal and people that take it to be a goal are likely to make poor dietary choices. There is no reason a healthy lean adult should avoid nuts, soy, etc….but even with consuming some nuts, soy, etc a whole foods based diet will be low in fat. Perhaps not 10% low, but 15~20%.

    As for food processing, a vegan sausage and soy milk (assuming its made traditionally) are much different animals. Soy milk is, as traditionally made, just ground soy beans in water. As such soy milk is a “whole food”, when you drink soy milk you’re drinking everything in the bean. The vegan sausage, on the other hand, is made from protein isolates, refined oils, flavor extracts and other highly processed materials. Its like Frankenstein….built from isolated parts.

    I like soy milk too, use silk unsweetened soy milk in my oatmeal all the time.

    Dan:

    Not all food processing is equal. Cooking, for example, is great. It renders some things edible that we can’t eat raw (e.g., many legumes) and it renders many other things more digestible. Grinding, chopping, smashing, etc can all be great as well. Though minimally processing like these can change the nutrients in foods both positively and negatively, you’re still eating the whole food. In contrast, when you consume a highly processed food you’re consuming isolated macro-nutrients combined with synthetic micro-nutrients and other chemicals. Much different situation.

  90. Dan Says:

    Tyler:
    So long as one avoids direct vegetable oils that are high in linoleic acid, as well as processed foods made with trans fats, and, finally, limit one’s intake of saturated fat, I do not see why one should reduce one’s intake of fat in general. As you said, it’s a side effect of a vegan diet, but I personally will eat a lot of plant-based fats (such as tahini and raw macadamia butter). One has to be selective about fat sources, but branding all fat as bad is overly simplistic, since different fats behave very differently with respect to physiology and pathology. MUFA are neutral, even somewhat LDL-lowering/HDL-raising; omega-3 PUFAs are probably the most beneficial of all fatty species (especially DHA and EPA); certain omega-6’s like linoleic acid contribute to inflammation through arachodonic acid, and inhibit conversion of ALA to EPA, and thus should be avoided; SFA stimulates hepatic cholesterol production; TFAs depress HDL and increase LDL and therefore worsen atherogenic ratios (Total:HDL, LDL:HDL, HDL:TRIG).

    As to processed food like a tofurkey sausage, one would have to prove to me that the protein isolates, refined oils, flavor extracts and other highly processed materials are specifically deleterious to health before I stop consuming these foods. All food is broken down to component ingredients in the gut and portal and systemic circulations anyway. How it gets there is irrelevant to me. So long as I am not consuming high-LA or TFA containing products (or others high in cholesterol or SFA), I am fine with it. Others may not be, but I would like to see the science supporting their views.

  91. Ellen Says:

    There is no such thing as being 75% Vegan!

  92. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Ellen,

    > There is no such thing as being 75% Vegan!

    Of course, I mean that her diet is 75% vegan, but I don’t understand what you mean by that.

  93. Dan Says:

    I think she means you are either vegan or not vegan. Like being “somewhat pregnant”. One is either pregnant or not pregnant.

    But one can argue that the addition of eggs or dairy is still in keeping with maintaining a healthy, ethical, vegetarian diet (though not in the strictest sense ‘vegan’). Some people believe true veganism also means not wearing leather shoes or belts or apparel made of wool. If animals are being well-treated and not killed, I do not see the problem with calling oneself a vegan while still using eggs, dairy, and wool. Maybe I am wrong though :=(

  94. Tyler Says:

    Dan:

    I was speaking about whole foods plant based diets, not “vegan diets” in general. Vegan diets that include ample amounts of processed foods can easily be high in fat.

    Regardless, you claimed that one shouldn’t be concerned with processed foods yet you seem to be making a distinction between the LA content in oils from the LA content in whole foods (e.g., nut/seed butters). Tahini is rich in LA. If you avoid rich sources of LA, trans fat and saturated fat….there isn’t many fatty foods left for the vegan except foods rich in canola, etc oils.

    Nobody brands “all fat as bad”, some fats are after all an essential nutrient. The primarily question centers on isolated fats (oils, etc) and the degree to which these promote disease. Though there is a deal of disagreement on the disease front, oils are undeniable nutrient-poor and very calorie dense foods. As such, they can promote obesity and nutrient deficient diets. For the latter issue, I think that is especially true of vegan diets. Some nutrients are harder to absorb from plant foods or just aren’t as common in plant foods, as such the more nutrient-poor calorie dense foods you add to your diet the more difficult it becomes to get the proper nutrients. To me, a lower fat (i.e., not necessarily 10% as some advocate) diet is critical for vegans as the primary way vegans increase their fat intake is with nutrient-poor oils.

    As for processed foods, I think of things in the opposite fashion. That is, the food industry is going to have to prove that its frankenstein creations are safe before I think about eating them. I see no reason to believe that the creations of the food industry should be, by default, safe to consume. With that said, I doubt anybody is going to grow a third nipple by eating a processed sausage here and there. Though I don’t stock processed foods in my kitchen, I will eat them when at parties, event, etc. I’m usually just happy that the host provided a meat-free option.

  95. Jack Norris RD Says:

    > I think she means you are either vegan or not vegan. Like being “somewhat pregnant”. One is either pregnant or not pregnant.

    I realize that, but what I don’t understand, I guess, is how someone can believe that. Does she mean you either avoid 100% of products that come from animals or you are not vegan? If that’s the case, then no one is vegan – she may not realize this. But if you can claim to be vegan by eradicating about 99% of the animal products from the standard western lifestyle, then where do you draw the line? It seems like there is some gray area and so saying that there is no such thing as being 75% vegan is trying to deny that gray area.

  96. Dan Says:

    Tyler:
    >Regardless, you claimed that one shouldn’t be concerned with processed foods yet you seem to be making a distinction between the LA content in oils from the LA content in whole foods (e.g., nut/seed butters).

    How are nut/seed butters considered whole foods? Most of them are roasted and then pressed to extract the oil-rich, fibre-poor portions. Example: when you eat a spoonful of peanut butter, you are eating far more than a spoonful of whole peanuts.

    >If you avoid rich sources of LA, trans fat and saturated fat….there isn’t many fatty foods left for the vegan except foods rich in canola, etc oils.

    What about nuts, soy, whole grains, other legumes and lentils? All have small amounts of relatively healthy MUFA and PUFA, yet they can really add up. I am sure there are other sources of oils in a vegan diet aside from direct vegetable oils.

    >oils are undeniable nutrient-poor and very calorie dense foods. As such, they can promote obesity and nutrient deficient diets.

    You seem to suggest that all direct oils are bad. PREDIMED just proved the exact opposite using olive oil. Lyon Heart trial did the same thing with an ALA-rich margarine. There was a 50% reduction in cancer in the latter trial. In PREDIMED, non-fatal stroke was significantly reduced. I realize these trials have limitations but they are much better than conjecture in terms of their evidence quality.

    >Some nutrients are harder to absorb from plant foods or just aren’t as common in plant foods, as such the more nutrient-poor calorie dense foods you add to your diet the more difficult it becomes to get the proper nutrients.

    But this is true only if you are replacing nutrient-rich foods with nutrient-poor calorie dense foods. If you are adding oil to a diet, such as in the Lyon Heart trial or PREDIMED, there seems to be benefit, so long as you are not taking away other nutritious foods.

    SFA, LA and TFA are all nightmares but I think refined carbohydrates are the real culprit behind the current worldwide diabesity epidemic. Caramelizing your arteries is not good.

  97. Dan Says:

    Jack, I agree. I guess by that standard I am not vegan then. I eat yogurt daily and when I am out I occasionally eat cheese.

  98. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    Your diet would not be categorized as vegan in research studies. If you got your yogurt from companion animals only, and didn’t order cheese when out, a lot of vegans would be okay with you calling yourself vegan (while others wouldn’t), but it would be unusual. But I’d have no problem at all calling you, say, 95% vegan. :)

  99. Dan Says:

    Jack,
    I have no problem calling myself a lacto-vegetarian rather than a vegan. These are all just labels. :)

    I buy Organic yogurt only, but I realize this is no guarantee that the cows providing the milk for the production of the yogurt that I purchase are treated humanely or well. Still, it is far better than contributing to their death. How much better? It is hard for me to say. I should ideally visit the farm to verify it, even though it is in another part of this country. Now that I think about it, given how commonly this yogurt is found in large grocery stores, it is almost certainly an “agribusiness”, and probably not that friendly to livestock.

  100. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Dan,

    If they are a commercial enterprise, it’s almost guaranteed that they will kill the cows when their milk production starts to go down enough such that feeding them no longer makes economic sense, not to mention that many of their male calves will be killed shortly after birth. Unless you’re getting dairy from companion animals, you are paying for the cows’ eventual slaughter.

  101. Dan Says:

    Great point. You’ve given me much food for thought right there (no pun intended). I may have to replace my yogurt with another foodstuff.

  102. Jonathan Hussain Says:

    Very nice piece, Jack. Thanks for your insight.

  103. Tyler Says:

    Dan:

    >How are nut/seed butters considered whole foods? Most of them are roasted >and then pressed to extract the oil-rich, fibre-poor portions.

    A nut butter is a whole food if its made from whole nuts, at the basic level a nut butter is just a ground up nut with a bit of liquid. As always, one should check the ingredients of what they are buying.

    >What about nuts, soy, whole grains, other legumes and lentils? All have small >amounts of relatively healthy MUFA and PUFA, yet they can really add up.

    Nuts and Soy are rich in omega-6 (LA), so if you’re trying to avoid LA in a vegan diet there aren’t that many sources of fat left. Whole grains and legumes (minus soy) are low-fat. A whole foods based vegan diet is going to be fairly rich in LA, but without the added oils, etc it tends to have a decent omega-6/omega-3 ratio. If one doesn’t want to drop all oils, they can cook with canola (and to a lesser degree olive) and still maintain a decent ratio. But processed foods, for whatever reason, tend to use omega-3 deficient oils.

    >You seem to suggest that all direct oils are bad. PREDIMED just proved the >exact opposite using olive oil. Lyon Heart trial did the same thing with an ALA->ich margarine…..

    None of these studies compare the consumption of extracted/refined oils to a whole foods plant based diet without such fats.

    Also, as for as I know, none of them looked at the effect of simply adding oil to existing diets. The Lyon Diet heart study looked at Mediterranean-style diets, but the use of olive oil is just one aspect of the so called Mediterranean diet.

    Perhaps I have the wrong studies in mind?

    > but I think refined carbohydrates are the real culprit behind the current >worldwide diabesity epidemic. Caramelizing your arteries is not good.

    Why? Refined wheat has been consumed as a staple for many decades, yet obesity, etc rates have skyrocketed in the last few decades.

    But as with oils, refined grains are nutrient-poor, so the more refined grains vegans eat the harder it becomes for them to get all the nutrients they need. I think that is the primary issue.

  104. Christina Arasmo Beymer Says:

    I love you Jack! I would welcome her back.

    If you are able to get in touch with her, man-o-man I really think that some nice, D3 drops would help her a lot. A lot.

  105. Christina Arasmo Beymer Says:

    Tyler,

    This thread is old, but have you researched low-fat diets? Met failed vegans?

    In some people it causes some serious health issues. We are all not the same inside.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200304/the-risks-low-fat-diets

    Fat also helps more nutrients get absorbed from vegetables:

    http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20040727/fat-helps-vegetables-go-down

  106. Tyler Says:

    Christina,

    Yes, I have certainly researched matters and have known a number of failed vegans and vegetarians. From my experience, when people fail to thrive on veg*n diets it has far more to do with the over-consumption of processed foods, oils, etc than it does eating a whole-food based diet that happens to be low in fat.

    The psychologytoday article you’re citing is about low cholesterol levels, not fat intake. Low cholesterol levels have been associated with increased mortality, but this is because disease can cause low cholesterol levels. When you look at people that have had consistently low cholesterol the association vanishes.

    For the second, fat increases the absorption of fat soluble vitamins but you can increase the number of nutrients absorbed by eating more vegetables. Vegetables have naturally occurring fats, so fat soluble vitamins are absorbed whether you added fats or not.

    I’ve yet to see any evidence that low-fat diets cause health issues.

  107. Christina Arasmo Beymer Says:

    Okay, edited since I’m awake-ish now and looked shit up.

    Tyler,

    The article in Psychology Today is about fat intake, the title is “The Risk of Low Fat Diets.” Low fat intake contributes to low cholesterol. Low fat = low cholesterol = depression.

    Fat soluble vitamins are made within a being. I make vitamin A from the retinol equivalents. And in order to make this fat soluble vitamin A from the retinol equivalents I need more of the raw material: carotenoids. Adding fat to the carotenoids increases absorption of more of the carotenoids so I have an opportunity to make what I need.

    I have seen lots of evidence that there’s plenty of health issues with low fat diets. Tooth decay, more wrinkles, low cholesterol, depression, brain fog, and loss of sex drive.

    Super-Sticky ‘Ultra-Bad’ Cholesterol Revealed in People at High Risk of Heart Disease
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110526204953.htm

    Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?
    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_04/b4068052092994_page_5.htm
    Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, director of atherosclerosis research at the Oakland Research Institute, explains that higher LDL levels do help set the stage for heart disease by contributing to the buildup of plaque in arteries. But something else has to happen before people get heart disease. “When you look at patients with heart disease, their cholesterol levels are not that [much] higher than those without heart disease,” he says. Compare countries, for example. Spaniards have LDL levels similar to Americans’, but less than half the rate of heart disease. The Swiss have even higher cholesterol levels, but their rates of heart disease are also lower. Australian aborigines have low cholesterol but high rates of heart disease.

  108. Christina Arasmo Beymer Says:

    Rhys Southan is a very kind person. He helped me, a current vegan, become a lot more healthier.

    Regarding the comment on low energy: I have recently increased my energy levels significantly. My mother’s doctor suggested MSM to her and I am using it too. I added MSM (4-6 grams, not milligrams 1/2 dosed in the AM and PM) with vitamin C to my daily regimen. And lately, instead of 200 mg of DHA from algae, I increased to 400 mg. I also eat about 1 tablespoon of coconut fat before consuming vegetation. The MSM really helped me the most. Within 4 days of this stuff, I had remarkable improvements in my energy.

  109. Tyler Says:

    Chrstina:

    “The article in Psychology Today is about fat intake, the title is “The Risk of Low Fat Diets.” Low fat intake contributes to low cholesterol. Low fat = low cholesterol = depression.”

    That is the tittle and as often is the case, the title is misleading. The article is really about the association between low cholesterol and certain psychology conditions. The article doesn’t cite a study, nor does it define anything in the article. But an association between low cholesterol and some disease doesn’t mean the low cholesterol causes the disease, low cholesterol is caused by a number of diseases, poor diet, etc.

    ” And in order to make this fat soluble vitamin A from the retinol equivalents I need more of the raw material: carotenoids. Adding fat to the carotenoids increases absorption of more of the carotenoids so I have an opportunity to make what I need.”

    If someone has marginal intake of beta-carotene, then additional fats could provide some benefit. Added fat just increases the absorption rate, the nutrients are absorbed without added fat and you’re going to get more beta-carotene by adding an isocaloric amount of beta-carotene rich foods rather than added fats.

    “I have seen lots of evidence that there’s plenty of health issues with low fat diets. Tooth decay, more wrinkles, low cholesterol, depression, brain fog, and loss of sex drive.”
    I haven’t seen evidence of any of these things, do you have some research you can cite?

  110. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Tyler,

    > If someone has marginal intake of beta-carotene, then additional fats could provide some benefit. Added fat just increases the absorption rate, the nutrients are absorbed without added fat and you’re going to get more beta-carotene by adding an isocaloric amount of beta-carotene rich foods rather than added fats.

    That’s very interesting. Do you have citations to show that someone can absorb enough beta-carotene without any fat to raise their vitamin A to healthy levels?

  111. Daniel Says:

    Jack: I know this is a somewhat dated post, but this is a topic I’ve been thinking about A LOT lately. I was going to post something, but I decided it was way too long to post, and instead wrote you a message through your website. If you’re able to answer my question in a way that makes sense and gives me some resolution (you’d be the first person to be able to do that!), I would GLADLY make a donation to Vegan Outreach. Perhaps it could be the basis of a future blog post. Thank you.

  112. Daniel Says:

    Actually I may as well post my question that summed up my longer email to you, but there is definitely some context missing, so please, I ask that any posters here please refrain from any judgement. Thank you!

    My question:
    If you remove any ethical or environmental concern about eating meat, fish, eggs, or dairy (I’m already convinced that dairy is not good for me), is there a case to be made, from strictly a health perspective, of adding some animal foods to a plant-based diet? And if so, why, and how often, how much, and what kinds of animal foods? I suspect eggs and seafood would be the healthiest, but I’m just making an informed guess.

  113. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Daniel,

    Because at least a few people have been vegan since conception and grown into healthy adults, it gives me reason to believe that for most people, there is nothing in animal products that we are unaware of and cannot supplement with in order to grow a healthy, human body. This does not preclude rare, genetic problems.

    We do not know if people in other diet groups have lower rates of any diseases, or overall mortality, than vegans who are supplementing with vitamin B12 and getting enough calcium. I think it is possible for people on other diets to be as healthy as your average vegan, but I do not know that any other diet is generally more healthy than a typical vegan diet.

    Of course, there have been people who do not thrive on a vegan diet, or the particular vegan diet they have chosen, for a variety of reasons (some of which we might not know).

  114. Daniel Says:

    Thanks for the words of wisdom Jack. That makes sense. Adding to that train of thought, do you think it’s possible for someone to “supplement” with animal foods, while on a plant-based diet, and therefore not take supplements in pill form? For example, if someone were to eat oysters and/or eggs from companion animals, or if they were comfortable eating certain other types of animal foods (which would obviously make that person not 100% vegan) — where would the line be in terms of eating enough of those animal foods to not have to worry about supplementing, while still maintaining a plant-based diet? One meal per week? Twice a week? Once a month? Twice a month? I just have absolutely no idea.

    I recently read this blog post by Matt Frazier (No Meat Athlete), who wrote a plea for paleos and vegans to stop fighting, highlighting the similarities between the two diets, an interesting read. There is NO WAY I’m going paleo or anywhere close to it– I can’t imagine having a dead animal-based diet, and in fact I am feeling really healthy with my diet as is. But it got me thinking when he wrote:

    “To me, the evidence that we are built to hunt and eat meat is pretty convincing. Does that mean we should eat meat at every meal? No. But does it mean we should eat meat sometimes? If your only goal is health, I’d say you’d do well to eat an occasional piece of fish, or even wild land animals.”

    That’s definitely taken out of context though, so here’s the link for the full post: http://www.nomeatathlete.com/vegetarian-paleo-diet

    I’m not saying I’m set on going this route, but it would be helpful for me to have a better idea, and it would make me feel more empowered. Knowledge is key!

    By the way, I noticed somewhere online that you and I are both Cincinnati boys who made the trek to California. I used to make the ritual visit to Skyline and Montgomery Inn on trips back home, but not anymore!

  115. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Daniel,

    > do you think it’s possible for someone to “supplement” with animal foods, while on a plant-based diet, and therefore not take supplements in pill form?

    The only essential nutrient that you can’t get from whole plant foods is vitamin B12. So if you eat a few animal foods twice a day, then you don’t need a B12 supplement. If you think that you need a direct source of DHA, then a couple of servings of high-DHA fish would provide that.

    In Matt Frazier’s post he says: “Therefore, by looking at how humans ate and lived for most of our evolution, we can determine what the type of diet we’re “meant” to eat. Unfortunately for vegetarians, a lot of what we are “meant” to eat, in the evolutionary sense, is probably meat: Relatively speaking, agriculture is a recent development. For a much longer period than we’ve been growing our own food, we hunted it and we gathered it.”

    I think there are some major flaws in those sentiments (from a health perspective). If you’re interested in some of them, read the articles by Paleoveganology I’ve reposted (http://jacknorrisrd.com/?s=paleoveganology).

    > I used to make the ritual visit to Skyline and Montgomery Inn on trips back home, but not anymore!

    Cool. I can see avoiding Skyline from a paleo perspective, but if you’re doing it from a vegan perspective, do it no more! Skyline has had a vegan chili for many years that is delicious as a two-way. I eat there multiple times whenever I’m visiting Cincinnati.

  116. Daniel Says:

    Thanks for that info. I’m pretty overwhelmingly convinced that there’s no merit to the idea that “even just a little meat every once in a while goes a long way.” I don’t think eating a moderate amount would pose any health problems, but it seems like to have any nutritional benefit at all, I’d have to eat it fairly frequently– at least a lot more frequently than I’d be interested in eating it. I’m better off not eating any at all. I see no rational reason to think that meat or other animal-based foods have any magical properties, and clearly, except for the B12, as long as I’m eating a healthy, whole foods diet, I can get all the necessary nutrients from plant-based foods, although sometimes I have to make some extra effort and be creative for things like zinc, calcium, iron, and vitamin D. Let’s face it, most meat-based eaters don’t eat a fraction of the variety of veggies that most plant-based eaters do, and they probably are missing out on key nutrients, without all the controversy. But, to not leave any rock unturned, isn’t there a distinction between essential nutrients and beneficial nutrients?

    There’s B12 of course, which is essential, and easily obtainable in a pill. There’s DHA, which, as I understand it, we can get from ALA, which our bodies can convert to DHA, but that’s not necessarily the most reliable conversion process, from what I’ve read. Either way, there are algae that provide DHA and EPA directly. Then there’s K2, D3, Carnosine, and Creatine– essential? No, I don’t believe so. Beneficial? Maybe– how so? I don’t know. In regards to all those nutrients, we probably focus to much on individual vitamins anyway, and should instead look at the diet as a whole.

    I can see other appealing aspects of why someone would want to eat animal foods for nutritional purposes, not just gustatory purposes, in that they’re very convenient sources of dense protein. I know that there are no issues with anyone I’ve ever met with protein deficiency. But I think there is something to the idea of eating a lot more protein than we need, to stave off hunger so you’re not tempted to eat too many carbs, and making the body work harder to metabolize the protein, and promote fat loss and muscle growth. But of course with a little creativity, it’s easy enough to find as much protein as you want without meat, and it wouldn’t be worth all the death and suffering that comes with meat production. And of course all the risks associated with eating too much of it.

    As for the paleo theories that we’re made to hunt, and therefore should eat meat, thanks for that link. After reading those articles, I definitely see all the flaws in that argument, and agree that they don’t hold water.

    I will say that it would be unrealistic and impractical to think that everyone in the entire world should go vegan, as some people advocate. Unless you want to supply B12 supplements and probably a lot of other nutrients to the majority of the world’s population. But of course, many people around the world would be well served by reducing our consumption of it, and for those who are able to, eliminating it completely from our diets. And it’s clearly naive to think we’d even be able to convince everyone in the U.S. to eliminate animal foods entirely, for many reasons, including culture, education, poverty, and current food policy (which we should try to change somehow). That’s why I can really get behind the ideas held by this organization: http://www.farmforward.com/farming-forward/food-choices Eat as few animals as possible, ideally none, and if you do, make sure they don’t come from factory farms.

    I’m not sure if I can call myself a vegan, because I do think there is a role for some use and humane exploitation of animals, including food in some cases. As for me, I’m just not going to eat them, and if I do every now and then, it will be because I want to, not really for the nutrition– and never from a factory farm. Maybe that makes me a vegan, maybe not, but I’m not really concerned about how I’m labelled.

    Anyway, I appreciate your clarifying those nagging questions. It’s refreshing when a vegan advocate just states the facts, without using scare tactics. The next time I’m in Cincy I will try the vegan chili– that shows you how long it’s been since I’ve eaten there. It’s sad how big a problem obesity is there– too much Skyline. But it’s ok in small amounts.

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