TVA’s Veg Recidivism Survey

In December, I blogged about the Humane Research Council’s report on vegetarian recidivism (Vegetarian Recidivism Survey, Dec 15 2014).

Another report has been released on vegetarian recidivism, this time from the Toronto Vegetarian Association. You can download the 10-page report from their post, TVA Conducts First Study of Lapsed Vegetarians in Canada.

Their study surveyed 1,112 people of which 113 were lapsed vegetarians.

Getting enough nutrients was listed at the most common challenge for lapsed vegetarians with 83% listing it as a challenge (as compared to 44% of current vegetarians). Eating out was listed as the second most common challenge, with 75% of lapsed and 65% of current vegetarians considering it a challenge.

It would be interesting to know in what way they believed getting enough nutrients was a challenge–was this theoretical or did they feel bad and suspect they weren’t obtaining enough nutrients?

The report quotes a couple of the lapsed vegetarians regarding nutrition. One person said:

“I grew tired of spending so much time on meal planning to make sure I was getting the proper amount of essential amino acids, etc.”

That makes me wonder what sort of information vegetarians are getting. While vegetarians should include high-lysine foods each day, there are so many–all legumes as well as quinoa and seitan–that it really takes little planning. Hopefully they weren’t carrying around a 1971 copy of Diet for a Small Planet, adding up all the essential amino acids from every meal.

Another respondent said:

“My iron levels were dangerously low and I needed to reintroduce meat sources of iron into my diet; I began having extreme meat cravings near the end of my vegetarianism and I believe that was my body telling me I needed the iron (which I found out later due to blood tests).”

This is disconcerting, but it also reinforces a view that I’ve been cultivating for some time–that cravings for meat might be due to iron deficiency. I would like to see research done on whether this is the case and, more importantly, how easily iron deficiency anemia can be cured while vegan by using the methods I suggest of adding vitamin C to meals and avoiding coffee and tea at meal times (more info).

I have been discussing the possibilities of this sort of research with a medical doctor at a large university and perhaps something will come of it.


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11 Responses to “TVA’s Veg Recidivism Survey”

  1. Dan Says:

    I wonder if a problem with the ex-vegetarians was distaste at taking so many supplements. From my reading of the literature, I take B12, vitamin D, kelp iodine, and omega-3. My diet is relatively low in lysine-rich protein and calcium and I could probably benefit from supplementation there. I realize vitamin D is not a vegan problem but it is compounded by the fact that most of the foods fortified with D cannot be consumed on a vegan diet.

  2. Brandon Becker Says:

    Soy milk will cover you on B12, D, and calcium while also a good source of omega-3 ALA. Silk makes a soy milk with algae-derived DHA added if you are worried about that. And Eden makes a soy milk with kombu seaweed for iodine. Soy is also a good source of the amino acid lysine.

  3. je Says:

    “This is disconcerting, but it also reinforces a view that I’ve been cultivating for some time–that cravings for meat might be due to iron deficiency.”

    Wait, what? Sounds very anecdotal. But do put it to the test. I would on the other hand like to see studies on recidivism that goes beyond research subjects own survey statements. I suspect that many who say “Getting enough nutrients” was the main factor for their relapse are saying something incorrect, knowingly or not. I suspect the main recidivistic drivers are social: not fitting in, feeling awkward or worried in some social situations, peer pressure, ridicule and/or lack of confirmation in social and cultural settings, and more, feelings of despair in the face of how large the problem of animal exploitation is. Research on that is trickier but I think not impossible.

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > Wait, what? Sounds very anecdotal…I suspect that

    What’s better, suspicion or anecdotes? 🙂

  5. Cobie deLespinasse Says:

    je – It’s true that I don’t know what percent of people who think they might be having nutrition problems are actually having nutrition problems. Maybe no-one knows.

    I do think it’s not all excuses/imagination, because I’ve known at least two vegetarians (in my private life, not in leafleting/activism) who had health problems who never considered going back to eating meat. One was a vegetarian woman I knew a long time ago because she ate in my college cafeteria, who kept throwing up and her friends all kept telling her they thought it was because she was vegetarian, but she told me she would never eat meat because she didn’t want to hurt animals (she was clearly having some kind of health problem, but I don’t know for sure that it was related to her vegetarianism). The other was a guy who stopped eating meat, and he evidently didn’t know he needed protein, so he ate I think it was only cabbage, apples, grapefruit, and toast, and he started losing muscle (yes, he was extremely unknowledgeable, but to his credit he later learned about nutrition and was able to stay vegetarian – I hope he’s vegan by now). You’re probably looking at this and saying, “This is very anecdotal.” But to me it suggests that some health problems are real and not imagined.

    Also, I’ve known many cases, some pretty recent, of people who had a doctor tell them they needed to eat meat (in my own personal life, not just in leafleting or activism). The doctors could have been mistaken. But if a doctor tells someone to eat meat, then the person is not just making an excuse if they go back to eating meat, they’re worried that they might become unhealthy.

    What I conclude from all this is: If someone tells me they’ve had health problems from being veg, the best thing I can do is to show them nutrition information, acknowledge the possibility that they had real health problems, and suggest that there could be solutions to the problems. Not because I can tell from a brief encounter whether that particular person is dealing with real health problems or some error on the part of a doctor or with some imagined problem. But because giving that person nutrition information and reassurance might save a lot of animals.

  6. Aram Says:

    I really don’t think “cravings” are the body telling us to eat certain foods because *it* perceives a deficiency. After all, this is my principal objection to the Metabolic Type diet, promoted by the likes of Dr. Mercola. Cravings can be psychological (perhaps the new vegetarian was having trouble adjusting to the new diet and felt like S/he was depriving her/himself of certain foods). Also, even if cravings for meat were an indication of a nutrient deficiency, how can one ascertain which nutrient? Why iron? Why not saturated fat, or cholesterol, or protein, or carcinogens?

    I just can’t believe that evolution engineered our “cravings” to be that specific. Maybe I’m wrong. I think we just crave food.

  7. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > even if cravings for meat were an indication of a nutrient deficiency, how can one ascertain which nutrient?

    All that is needed for evolution to have produced these traits would be for people who are deficient in essential nutrients to crave foods that provide those nutrients and for such people to have a higher rate of survival through breeding age. This seems like a reasonable thing to have occurred.

  8. Susan Says:

    I actually switched last summer from being vegetarian to being vegan while anemic. I did not ever crave meat while veg, but I did have mild cravings for legumes. Not eating dairy, and eating plenty of fruit with meals as dessert seems to have worked. Also, all winter I’ve been adding blackstrap molasses into my vegan hot chocolate. I just had another blood test and I am no longer anemic. I think giving people the information to make it work is crucial.

  9. Alex Says:

    I can sympathise with both concerns, but I think people would be better served if they proceeded in stages rather than aiming for perfection and giving up at the first awkward moment.

    With so much contrary opinion and misinformation, one needs strong initial faith or confidence, supported by friends, research, time, and intuition. I was happy “combining” beans and rice and only chilled out after calculated protein per kcal of dozens of veggies, myself. I also took multi-supplements until I learned more about the superior nutrition provided by plants and their occasional deficiencies. My morning is consistent with oats, ground flax, some nuts (including a Brazil nut for selenium deficient Europe), B12, and D in the winter. The rest of the day is filled with colourful veggies, fresh fruits, whole legumes and grains.

    As long as one is shopping and cooking for oneself, it’s easy and fun. But do what you can or are most comfortable when eating with friends and family. I applaud strict vegans, but I only take it so far. My friends know my preferences, but it’s not worth making a big deal of an egg in a homemade birthday cake or if the green beans touched bacon grease or if a sincere chef makes a mistake.

  10. Aram Says:

    Hi Alex,

    I understand your point. For me it is not about perfection either, however I am vegan for ethical reasons, not for nutritional reasons. I mean, I try to eat well *so that* I can remain a vegan and live my life according to my ethical stance. I understand that I live in an imperfect world where products of animal torture and exploitation are all around us. However, I could not deliberately and willingly eat something that has eggs and bacon or butter in it. Even though a little bit of egg or butter will not have any adverse effect on my overall health, I refuse to deliberately contribute to unnecessary suffering. So that’s the reason I’m one of the “strict vegans”. 🙂

    Like you, I tracked my nutritional intake, using Cronometer, and I saw that I was getting plenty of everything, except D and B12. I also noticed that my vitamin E and selenium were often low, so I began to include almonds and Brazilnuts in my daily diet. I could also see that I had little problem getting up to 100% of all essential amino acids. And iron for us men is super-easy, especially if we eat foods rich in vitamin C, which for vegans is also very easy.

  11. Alex Says:

    Oh Aram, I’m with you fully in spirit and in practice. In my own home I’m tyranically strict. However, ethics also compells me to take a subtle approach when with others. I try to set an example that others may follow. So there’s a balance of principals, grace, humour, and tolerance.

    For example, it’s understandable that a cook might not realise that traditional worcester sauce contains anchovies (I certainly didn’t until recently). If the grandmother of a friend prepares a lovely vegan meal specifically for me, I’m not going to turn it down because of traces of fish (of course if that’s repulsive, that’s another issue).

    My ethics are in large part informed by early Buddhism. Above most else is detachment. While the Buddha taught no harm to any beings as the first precept to all followers, monks should graciously accept what is given for the benefit of the giver, except when it is seen, heard, or suspected to have been killed for the recipient of the gift.

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