Can My Recommendations Prevent Failure to Thrive?

A couple weeks ago, I was made aware of the website and blog, Let Them Eat Meat, written by Rhys Southan. He had mentioned me in a post and someone forwarded it to me. I spent a few minutes looking around the site and found it very interesting. Rhys is an ex-vegan and the site is basically a criticism of many aspects of the vegan movement, some of which I can’t say I disagree with. He was vegan for many years, didn’t feel healthy, mentally or physically, and went back to eating meat and felt a lot better.

In a post of June 7, Rhys says that some vegans are claiming that if you follow my nutrition recommendations, you will not fail as a vegan. He goes on to say:

There was a point when I was lazy about B12 pills and relied on supplemented nutritional yeast and soy milk (the vegan health argument at that time downplayed the need for B12, which convinced me this was adequate), but I got into taking B12 more regularly after enduring Restless Legs Syndrome for a few months.

Still, I didn’t follow Norris’ exact recommendations. For one thing, I didn’t know who the hell he was. And even if I had, Norris is constantly revising his recommendations in response to new research, and the B12 dosage Norris now stands behind was posted in March of this year, so that wouldn’t have helped anyway.

I would like to clarify some of this:

1. Though my recommendations have helped many people (who were not coming even close to following them), I do not think that following them insures that someone will have no trouble being vegan.

2. My recommendations do not need to be followed exactly to get most of the benefit. If you followed my pre-March vitamin B12 recommendations, you should not feel any different in the short term than following the new recommendations. Tweaking my B12 recommendations is for preventing long-term, chronic disease, not for daily feelings of well-being.

3. For the main nutrients I focus on (B12, omega-3s, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, vitamin A), I probably change my recommendations for any given nutrient no more than once every 5 years, and I rarely change them by much. My vitamin B12 recommendations change in March was the first I’ve made since about 2003.

4. If new evidence shows me that my recommendations need to be changed, I change them.

5. Restless leg syndrome could very well be from a vitamin B12 deficiency and my recommendations now or at the time might have helped this aspect of Rhys’ health; and it’s possible they could have even improved his mental issues as well. But, that said, see #1 above.

I am interested in reading more of Rhys’ site and possibly responding to things I find of interest, such as the below. Perhaps this is a good place for me to state for any new readers that I am a vegan to prevent animal suffering. There are some worthwhile health benefits, but those are side-benefits for me.

Rhys states in his post linked above:

In my case, when I grocery shop, I buy mostly organ meats. And when I go to a restaurant, I look for the organ option the way a vegan looks for the vegan option. I do this because I think fewer animals will need to be raised and killed if more of the animal parts are used. In that sense, I am accomplishing exactly what vegans are — fewer animals are being born. (But I recognize that my consumer choices are almost totally insignificant in this regard; like veganism, this is a symbolic gesture).

That’s probably true – just like in voting, your vote is unlikely to make a difference. But if enough vegans create a critical mass such that less animals are raised, it is probably in proportion to how many vegans there are and, at that point, one vegan could make a real difference to some animals.

Please note that I don’t allow comments through that are impolite or disrespectful.

15 Responses to “Can My Recommendations Prevent Failure to Thrive?”

  1. Miles Says:

    Rhys is my brother and I have to point out that he always overplays how well he looked after his health as a vegan.

    He took no supplements with any regularity to my knowledge until he developed restless leg syndrome. After working at macrobiotic restaurants, he cut out soy (aside from occasional tempeh) and wheat gluten and upped his grain intake. This reduction in protein as a percent of his diet probably did him no favors and it’s probable that he wasn’t eating enough calories period.

    He admits that he did well when in Austin in his early years of veganism. Then he moved to New York with its much less abundant sunshine and took no special care to make sure he was getting enough vitamin D. He was also living with his best friend who went from a vegan to a paleo diet which I’m sure had an impression on him.

    He never had health insurance for the nine years of being vegan and never had any vitamin levels checked so we don’t know if his failure could have been easily addressed but I think there’s ample reason to suspect it could have been. Or at the very least, he could have returned to vegetarian.

    I’ve been meatless for 12.5 years now. 2.5 years longer than him and I’ve been vegan only a few years less than he managed (I’m at 6.5 now). I have paid attention to my vitamin levels and I’m doing well.

  2. Miles Says:

    Oh, and about what Rhys said specifically about your recommendations. That’s a ridiculous argument. If he had simply taken any commercially available b-12 supplement daily, (or even weekly if he had taken the 1000 mcg pills) he would have met or exceeded your recommendation.

    He didn’t take any supplements for the majority of his time as a vegan and he engaged in rice fasts, the master cleanse and other behaviors not recommended by any legitimate health authority.

  3. Michael Says:

    Hi Jack!

    I recently read something about vegans on a rawfood website and it was about the same topic as here…about how to thrive on a vegan diet (not raw). I will just post the link and you can read it and maybe write what you think about it. It starts with rawfood diet but then goes over to cooked vegan diets.

    thanks for your great updates!


  4. Jan C Steven Says:

    Greetings! And thank you for this. All of us need to remember that life does not consist of what makes me feel good. (Nor bad either.) I love many of the saying of Albert Schweitzer and they seem appropriate to this conversation.

    Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.
    Albert Schweitzer

    A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.
    Albert Schweitzer

    Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly, even if they roll a few stones upon it.
    Albert Schweitzer

    Very sincerely and with appreciation, / jan

  5. Bonnie Says:

    I am also a vegan to prevent animal suffering. I made an ethical decision and nothing anyone can say will ever convince me to go back to eating meat. I made a vow to God that I would stay out of the meat equation, not contribute to that business, not be any part of the brutality that is factory farming. Sometimes I struggle with the seeming “littleness” of my gesture; but then I change my mind about that. I see my veganism as a huge gesture; for the individual is not insignificant, no matter how the media may make us feel. But still, I am always looking for ways to stamp the vegan message on the world media, I do that by responding to people who put veganism down by telling them I’m doing just fine, in fact, veganism probably saved me from an early heart attack because I used to eat 3x a day at McDonald’s. Veganism has also cleared my head as well as my arteries. Not to mention my conscience.

  6. The Lone Vegan Says:

    I love your blog! Post-vegans can be really annoying. It is my sincerest belief that a person can get everything they need to be healthy on a vegan diet. If a person doesn’t feel well eating what they are eating, change it. But that doesn’t mean using animal products.

    I also love that you’re willing to change your recommendations based on FACT. Being honest about nutrition requirements is the best way to get people on board.

    Thank you for being willing to be honest and take the heat from people who just didn’t want to make the effort needed to ensure they are getting what their bodies need without making animals suffer for it.

  7. beforewisdom Says:

    Out of respect for this blog, I want to try to avoid engaging in an argument ad hominem. However, I think there are some points that can put some legitimate perspective on Southan’s writing.

    I first became aware of Southan’s blog last year. He posted a photo essay showing how sickly vegans are. Basically, he went to the DC Vegfest in Washington D.C. in 2009 and out of a crowd of hundreds of people took pictures of people who were in the worst shape. This crowd included non-veg*ns who were attending the outdoor outreach event which was located in a busy public square being patronized by people there for the event as well as the general public passing through.

    Southan’s photo essay stirred up a bit of controversy on some vegan web forums. A poster claiming to be his brother came forward. His alleged brother claimed that Southan’s photo essay was an attempt to anger him as part of a familial conflict they had been having. His alleged brother is a vegan, a fitness enthusiast and finds that a vegan diet suits him very well.

    His alleged brother mentioned that when Southan was a vegan he put very little, if any effort, into following the few nutrition guidelines most starter guides and books recommend.

    Even in the post above Southan is quoted/paraphrased as not having bothered following *basic* nutrition advice.

    I have been a thriving vegan for over 15 years and a thriving vegetarian for over 30 years. The only health issues I have are related to sports injuries and people perpetually underestimate my age.

    In 3 decades I have come across many ex_veg*ns of Southan’s ilk. They all claim to have studied nutrition advice and been scrupulous about following that advice. I got to know a number of these people and in each case I found that not to be true. Even with the most basic recommendations.

    I do have to give Southan legitimate credit for his honesty about not following basic vegan nutrition guidelines. In that respect he is different from the many other Southans and Plancks I have met over my life.

  8. WholeFoodsVeganMomma Says:

    Hi Jack,

    I just want to say, there are so many versions of the vegan diet, I think it’s much to vague to say, “I went vegan and I felt like crap” or even, “I went vegan and I felt so much better.” I’m vegan for health AND ethical reasons and I don’t see my diet deficient in any way whatsoever. I’ve tracked my nutrient intake over short and long periods of time, and I always exceed every RDA and stay within a healthy ratio of fats/protein/carb. The only supplement I take is B-12. Seriously, I don’t know what all the fuss is. I think ex-veg individuals who have a chip on their shoulder and go back to eating meat/dairy with a vengence often just didn’t do it correctly–potato chips, boca burgers, ice-creams, pop, granola bars, ect. ect. can all be vegan or veg but the fact remains their mostly nutrient deficient foods and empty calories and don’t contribute to anyone’s good health.

    You’re doing a great job. Keep up it–for US and for the animals!!

  9. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Thank you for the kind words and I appreciate what you’re saying. It would be interesting to know how many of the people who felt unhealthy as a vegan tended towards being “junk food” vegans versus “whole food” vegans. My observations have not been that they are normally junk food vegans. I am going to try to pay more attention to this in the future, though any sampling that I personally come across is bound to be biased in some way.

  10. beforewisdom Says:

    Still, I didn’t follow Norris’ exact recommendations. For one thing, I didn’t know who the hell he was.

    I think all of Jack’s sites mention that he is an RD ( registered dietitian ) and a cofounder of Vegan Outreach.

    And even if I had, Norris is constantly revising his recommendations in response to new research,

    It is called “science” and “progress”. Experiments and research are done. Conclusions change as new evidence is produced. Good professionals keep up with this “learning” in their fields and update their advice/practices.

    I’ve read this guys blog. He is a good writer and intelligent. I can’t believe he wrote such things to be used as a justification.

  11. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I think Rhys meant that he had never heard of me, so he couldn’t have possibly followed my recommendations. And I don’t think he was criticizing me for changing my recommendations, just saying that they weren’t the same as back when he was vegan. But, as has been pointed out, he didn’t need to follow my exact recommendations for vitamin B12 to have benefits from it. Rhys says that the need for vitamin B12 was downplayed in vegan circles during the time he was vegan. I’m not sure when he stopped being vegan, but it wasn’t until the early part of the 2000s that there was much of an effort to make sure vegans were taking vitamin B12. Up to that point, many vegan health professionals acted like you hardly needed any B12 and that if you accidentally ate some every few years, you’d be fine. Even now, few organization jump to tell new vegans that this is an issue, though it’s gotten much better.

  12. WholeFoodsVeganMomma Says:


    Do you think a vegan diet is secondary in comparision to a omnivorous diet? I guess what I’m asking is, if you were not an ethical vegan would you still eat the way you do? For me, my answer is a resounding yes. I love the way I eat, the foods I eat, the way I feel, it all just seems right for me. I used to be a big dairy consumer (cheese & ice cream, not milk) and meat was also a big part of my diet. I strongly believe humans are meant to eat a mostly (or all, if they so choose) plant-based diet, and research seems to suggest as much, at least in terms of disease prevention, quality of life, ect. When it’s done “right,” I suppose I should add.

  13. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I tend to believe in evolution and thus do not think humans are meant to eat any particular diet, but rather evolved eating in a certain way (or ways). I do not think humans evolved as vegans. That said, even if we knew exactly how our prehistoric ancestors ate, I doubt it would be the most healthy way for most of us to eat now.

    To answer your original question as to whether I would eat vegan if it wasn’t for ethics, it’s hard for me to imagine eating animal flesh at this point as it doesn’t even seem like food to me – I think eggs, fish, and other meat normally (though not always) smells nauseating, and drinking cow’s milk is a bit bizarre. I wouldn’t want to drink human or dog milk, so I can see not being interested in cow’s milk.

    But if it weren’t for ethics or aesthetics, would I be vegan? Just like I don’t avoid all sweets or all fatty foods, I probably wouldn’t avoid all animal products, and I might prefer to get B12 and dairy from animal foods.

  14. Laura Says:

    It might help also to supplement with a multi vitamin-mineral with the RDA of everything, in addition to Jack N’s supplement recommendations.
    A doctor recently suggested to me that zinc deficiency might be why I’ve been chronically ill for the last 3 years.
    But then, I can’t eat grains, legumes or nuts because of food sensitivities, and all of those are part of his recommended diet.
    Keeping track of your nutrients with a computer program doesn’t guarantee you won’t develop deficiencies. The RDA’s were developed with omnivore diets in mind, and some nutrients like zinc and iron are much less well absorbed from plant foods. My zinc consumption *looks* fine, about 15 mg/day. The RDA for women is 8 mg/day. But it comes mostly from bulky high-fiber vegetables, so who knows how much of that is absorbed. And only about 2% or less of the iron in legumes is absorbed, I’ve read. Vegans usually don’t get iron deficient, but that’s because their bodies adapt to the vegan diet. My last CBC was normal without taking an iron supplement, but RBC’s at the bottom end of the normal range.
    Also, people can have malabsorption problems. That’s another reason why nutrition programs are only an indicator of possible problems with one’s diet, not a guarantee against developing a deficiency.
    Dr. Klaper’s vegan health study is still ongoing, apparently. That seems very valuable, to get some real information about why some people fail to thrive while eating a vegan diet, rather than just anecdotes from ex-vegans who might be biased by feeling deprived or limited on a vegan diet.

  15. Debby Says:

    I’ve been vegan for about four years now and just recently added a B12 supplement which I even more recently doubled to 2000 mcg per day and the improvement is remarkable. My multi only contained 25 mcg which considering how little is actually absorbed might as well have not been anything. But since starting on the 2000 mcg per day my mood has gone from chronic low level depression to what would probably be considered ‘normal’. My energy level is also up as well as my interest in the things that I used to like doing. My daughter who became vegan at the same time that I did has also been through the same change and has even cut back by half on the anti-depressant that she was taking, and she still feels good.

    I think that part of the problem is that vegan’s often don’t want to give omnivores any ammunition so to speak, and as a result go along with the myth that ‘vegans don’t need to take supplements’ which is kind of silly anyway because the supplement industry is huge and we are few and those millions of dollars that those companies get aren’t coming from just vegans. The catalyst for upping my intake of B12 came as a result of reading an article (accompanied by references to numerous studies) that showed how for a variety of reasons, even meat-eaters are deficient in B12. ( in case you are interested)

Leave a Reply