Archive for the ‘Vegan Nutrition Philosophy’ Category

Odds and Ends

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Nutrition-wise, I have been working on a resource on zinc for the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group.

The only new info from that research that I had not been considering before is that people who eat a lot of soy and who take calcium supplements might have higher zinc needs. Since I fall into both those categories, I’m wondering if that’s why I seem to benefit so much from zinc. I’m happy to report that I still have not gotten more than the mildest and shortest of colds since starting zinc supplements a number of years ago.

Many links I’ve wanted to share with readers have been building up and so I’m going to knock them all out in one post right here.

Regarding the report suggesting saturated fat intake has no bearing on heart disease (see Saturated Fats in the News), Dr. Rose Marie Robertson of the American Heart Association wrote a response worth sharing: Chief Science Officer ‘sets record straight’ about diet, science, AHA. is a website with a panel of health writers who research a wide array of nutrition supplements and other topics. They appear to do an excellent job of assessing the research. Along with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and the Office of Dietary Supplements, I can see as being one of my go-to sites for seeing what research is out there.

Speaking of go-to sites, Dr. Michael Greger of has just released Latest in Clinical Nutrition: Volume 19.

On March 10, the Washington Post ran an article (originally appearing in NewScientist) suggesting that many species of invertebrates feel pain: Do lobsters and other invertebrates feel pain? To summarize the article: octopi, squid, lobsters, crabs, and shrimp: yes. Insects: no.

Speaking of invertebrates and pain, there is a movement among some animal protectionists to promote bivalveganism. See The Ethical Case for Eating Oysters and Mussels – Part 2 at Sentientist. The author, Diana Fleischman, argues that bivalveganism can solve many of the nutrition dilemmas posed by vegan diets such as B12, iron, omega-3s, and zinc. It does seem like a decent solution for people who find it hard to thrive on vegan diets.


Vegan and animal advocate J Tower makes some pretty cool and functional furniture out of reclaimed materials. Check out his furniture here.

Tips for New Vegans

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

I have changed the title of the article I was Vegan for a While, But… to Tips for New Vegans.

While most of the facts are the same, I have substantially changed the wording to a more friendly tone and included a link to The Plant Plate, Ginny Messina’s vegan food guide pyramid.

I hope people find it useful for informing new vegans about the nutrition issues they should be aware of when going vegan. (Link)


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Cholesterol Required in the Diet

Sunday, January 13th, 2013


Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SMOS) is a genetic mutation that impairs the body’s ability to produce its own cholesterol. This very small group of people (1 in 20,000) would need cholesterol in their diet. Any suggestions on how to answer this? Are there any vegan cholesterol sources?


The listing for Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome Treatment & Management at Medscape says, “Currently, no treatment has proven effective for patients with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS). Potentially, cholesterol supplementation is a logical treatment because it may be expected to raise plasma and tissue cholesterol levels…. Therapeutic trials are underway.”

Someone with SMOS should be under the care of a physician who is probably instructing them (or their parents) as to whether they need cholesterol supplementation and how much they need in their diet.

I am not aware of any vegan sources of cholesterol with which someone could supplement. My understanding is that some plants contain cholesterol, but only in miniscule amounts. For committed vegans, obtaining eggs from someone with companion chickens would be a way to get cholesterol in the diet while causing minimal or no harm to animals. Oysters, clams, or mussels might be another option.

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Medical Conditions that Require Meat?

Saturday, January 12th, 2013


In my work, I come across people all the time who claim they would like to be vegan but because of food allergies, food sensitivities or a certain medical condition (like multiple sclerosis), they need to consume animal products for optimal health. What is the best way to respond to such claims?


There are plenty of people with food allergies or sensitivities that are vegan, so it might be beneficial to let such people know that there may be many others like them but who have succeeded at being vegan.

I would find out more about their condition and find out what they think meat is providing for them, and then suggest plant food alternatives to provide the same nutrients. With many medical conditions, people just think they need protein, which should be easy to solve.

Here are some articles on food allergies and being vegan that might help you:

If you know of someone with a specific condition who is saying this and you can find out more about it, feel free to email me and I’ll see if I can add anything of value.

I am always happy to try to help any people my readers might come across who want to be vegan but think they have a condition that prevents it. But, I ask that the people with the condition write me ̵ I won’t initiate contact with the person with the condition as that can be awkward. 🙂

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Of Oil and Ethics

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

I have a question in my inbox from someone asking if there “is anything to the ‘no oil’ diets,” such that Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn promotes. My answer is – certainly there is something to it. Dr. Esselstyn (1) and Dr. Dean Ornish (2) have used a very low-fat, plant-based diet (10% of the calories as fat) as part of a cholesterol-lowering program that has decreased the amount of plaque in patients’ arteries and led to much better outcomes than typical treatment for heart disease. Dr. Neal Barnard and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine have used a very low-fat, vegan diet to treat type-2 diabetes with impressive outcomes (link).

But is it the only healthy diet that all vegans should eat? Let’s look at some other evidence.

A 2000 cross-sectional report (3) on cholesterol levels in men from EPIC-Oxford found the following:

  Meat-Eaters Vegan
fat 34% 30%
cholesterol (mg/dl) 191 158
saturated fat 12% 5%
calories 2,461 1,931

So the vegan men were eating a diet of 30% of their calories as fat while still maintaining cholesterol levels of 158 mg/dl. Some people would consider this level of cholesterol too high, and while trials of people with heart disease who lower their cholesterol levels to below 150 mg/dl have shown a great benefit in doing so, it is not clear (to me, anyway) that people without a history of high cholesterol and heart disease need to go as low as 150 mg/dl. Low calories (or body weight) and saturated fat may be the most important aspect of lowering cholesterol levels.

A cross-sectional study on cholesterol levels is not the highest form of evidence compared to the clinical trials I mentioned earlier. What about trials of higher fat diets?

The Eco-Atkins diet, a high-protein, higher fat version of a vegan diet found better changes in blood lipids and higher levels of satiety when compared to a lower fat, near-vegan diet (4). But this trial only lasted 4 weeks, not nearly long enough to measure heart disease outcomes. Cholesterol levels of the people on Eco-Atkins went from 257 to 205 mg/dl – nowhere near as low as the very low-fat diets generally achieve, but, again, it was only four weeks long. [2014 Update on Eco-Atkins]

Most of the very low-fat diets do not allow for many nuts. While nuts have consistently been associated with positive health outcomes (lower body weight, better cholesterol levels, etc.), one vegan doctor, who uses low-fat diets to treat heart disease, told me that many of his patients binge on nuts when they are part of their diets and so he suggests they avoid them. I’ve heard from others that if they eat nuts they gain weight. It doesn’t completely surprise me that someone on a very low-fat diet might binge on nuts – they might be craving the fat or protein. But if you are someone who can eat nuts in moderation, then having some is most likely beneficial for preventing heart disease and long-term weight maintenance.

Though it may be rare, or even extremely rare, some people who follow a very low-fat diet find that they lose their libido and regain it upon eating more fat.

Earlier this month, Jeff Nelson of wrote an article, How the ethical argument fails veganism. In it, he disagrees with my co-founder of Vegan Outreach, Matt Ball, and my co-author of Vegan For Life, Ginny Messina, as to whether the health argument is the way to go when spreading veganism. He also disparages “AR dietitians” in general, of which I can’t help but notice that I am one.

Aside from the fact that Matt nor I care about veganism as anything more than a tool for protecting animals and the environment, the central thesis of Nelson’s article is that people who become vegan for health reasons are more likely to stick with the diet than people who go vegan for ethical reasons. He says that people who go vegan for ethical reasons are usually not as educated about health and nutrition due to being persuaded by organizations that do not give them adequate information; so they eat processed foods and end up concluding that a vegan diet is not healthier. The people who go vegan for health reasons, on the other hand, understand the importance of avoiding processed foods and oils, and their health improves.

While many people do well on a whole-foods only, very low-fat vegan diet, my experience has been that such diets can sometimes result in failure to thrive, while many people do thrive on a vegan diet that includes more fat and processed foods.

The vegans I know are mostly animal advocates, and, therefore, are dedicated to being vegan. Very few of them had been diagnosed with heart disease or type-2 diabetes before becoming vegan, so they are not necessarily in the same boat as people who become vegan to treat their disease. The vast majority of the vegan, animal advocates I have know have stayed vegan, and most eat processed foods. From soy foods to french fries to desserts made with white flour and sugar, the vegans I know eat ’em. Of course, most of them also eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts than the average American.

My cholesterol tends to be around 150 mg/dl. If I were eating a very low-fat diet, it might be even lower, possibly decreasing my risk for heart disease. But I crave protein and feel better when eating a good amount, possibly due to my fairly intensive weight lifting. I do much better eating soyfoods and other processed foods such as pasta, than when eating only whole plant foods.

There are health issues that might prevent people from eating only whole foods, such as digestive problems, and those have to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

I generally tell people who have metabolic syndrome that they should tend towards a whole-foods diet, greatly limiting added oils but including nuts, while those who are not as much at risk can afford to eat more processed foods, especially those high in protein and/or pastas (which generally do not raise blood sugar as high as other processed grains). Monitoring your weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels is a good idea to see if the diet you are eating is working for you.

At some point there might be clinical trials examining cardiac outcomes in people on vegan diets that are not so low in fat or in vegans who have not been diagnosed with heart disease. We do have some data on heart disease in vegans from the 1999 meta-analysis, but it isn’t much.


1. Esselstyn CB Jr. Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology). Am J Cardiol. 1999 Aug 1;84(3):339-41, A8. | link

2. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, Brown SE, Gould KL, Merritt TA, Sparler S, Armstrong WT, Ports TA, Kirkeeide RL, Hogeboom C, Brand RJ. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 1998 Dec 16;280(23):2001-7. Erratum in: JAMA 1999 Apr 21;281(15):1380. | link

3. Allen NE, Appleby PN, Davey GK, Key TJ. Hormones and diet: low insulin-like growth factor-I but normal bioavailable androgens in vegan men. Br J Cancer. 2000 Jul;83(1):95-7. | Link

4. Jenkins DJ, Wong JM, Kendall CW, Esfahani A, Ng VW, Leong TC, Faulkner DA, Vidgen E, Greaves KA, Paul G, Singer W. The effect of a plant-based low-carbohydrate (“Eco-Atkins”) diet on body weight and blood lipid concentrations in hyperlipidemic subjects. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Jun 8;169(11):1046-54. Erratum in: Arch Intern Med. 2009 Sep 14;169(16):1490. | link

Ginny’s Top Blogs to Read

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Vegan Diets, Critical Thinking, and 9 Blogs You Need to Read

Currently, I only subscribe to Paleoveganology, but I’m going to be checking more of them out now.

PaleoVeganology: It’s Curtains For The Expensive Tissue Hypothesis

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Interesting post by PaleoVeganology arguing that the efficiency of carrying adipose tissue by way of bipedalism, and not meat-eating, is what allowed human brains to grow larger than other primates:

It’s Curtains For The Expensive Tissue Hypothesis

Cooking food has also been argued to be what allowed humans to grow their brains larger than other primates. ‒ Nutrient Composition of Foods & Diet Analysis

Is Ginny to Blame?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

You decide:

Vegan Nutrition: Sometimes the Devil Really is in the Details