Thursday, 5 January 2012

Why not Vegan?

I hear this all the time from Vegans - If I really want to be healthy, I should go vegan.

They also make claims such as "Vegan diets cure diabetes!" or "Vegans don't get the diseases meat-eaters do!" or "Vegan diets are proven healthier than normal diets!"

The last one - that a Vegan diet is healthier than a "normal" diet, may be true.

The only part of a healthy diet? Read on...

There is considerable evidence supporting the idea that vegans on the whole suffer from less diabetes and heart disease than those eating the normal western diet - often called the 'S.A.D.' - or Standard American Diet.  I'll not dispute that as I believe it's true.

But is this because they've eliminated meat and lowered their saturated fat intake?  Unfortunately for vegans, the truth to this is a resounding no.

Why Vegans are healthier than those that follow a SAD - Standard American Diet.
We all want to be healthy!
Many vegans still believe the lipid hypothesis, and that saturated fat causes heart disease.  And after over 50 years, the lipid hypothesis is still a hypotheses - worse yet, even after hundreds of millions of research, it's unproven.  Not only is it unproven, much of the research done trying to support the hypothesis actually found that carbohydrate consumption was causing high triglycerides and heart disease, while saturated fat was lowering cholesterol ratios and triglycerides.

Many vegans, when pointed to the reams of research disproving the lipid hypothesis then point to research done by people like Barnard, Esselstyn, Ornish and others who claim to improve health, reverse diabetes and heart disease, etc., with a vegan diet.

The problem is - they conclude it's meat when these researchers also introduce other confounding variables into the mix.  All have eliminated refined carbs/sugars and processed foods (which all the evidence now shows is the big health culprit, not saturated fat), they get exercise on the diet, they stop smoking.  Esselstyn even added statin drugs into his group... With all those interventions, one cannot assume reducing/eliminating meat consumption was a determining factor in improved health.

The bottom line is this:  Vegans are healthier than those eating a "Standard American Diet" because they eliminate refined/processed carbs and eat an abundance of vegetables and fruit.  People on the SAD don't generally eat enough vegetables, though they often get enough fruit.  The other issues are - vegans are statistically more likely to exercise, and less-likely to smoke.  This is why vegans are healthier than those with unhealthy habits.

Well, how do you know meat is healthy, then?
Health food, or Red Death?
There are certain nutrients that vegans cannot get simply because they do not eat meat.  They can ONLY get these nutrients via supplementation from external sources.  Although some vegans dispute this, those with any medical credentials do not.  In fact, even vegan author Dr. McDougall warns in his book:

"If you follow the McDougall Diet for more than 3 years, or if you are pregnant or nursing, then take a minimum of 5 micrograms of supplemental vitamin B12 each day."
 That should be evidence enough for anyone as to the need for supplementation.  The American Dietetic Association (who vegans claim "endorses a vegan diet!" when that's not entirely true) has several pages in their recommendations for vegans including supplementation, professional nutritional counseling, regular blood testing and more.  All these recommendations they make simply because their essential for health, and even vegan dieticians know that.

BTW, the claim that the ADA "endorses a vegan diet!" suggest they only support a vegan diet.  And no, that's not true in the slightest.  In fact, if you read their literature they have more to say against a vegan diet than in support of it.  But they do state it can be healthy, if properly followed and supplemented, which I do not dispute.  The do not anywhere claim it to be more healthy than a diet that includes meat, however.

So far, the only support in elimination of all meat and meat products from the diet comes from vegans. No professional or government body supports this.  (Please do not say "Well, the PCRM supports it!" - the 'Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a vegan propaganda organization.  And they're not even really a physician organization. Barely 7% of them are physicians, and their support comes from vegan, vegetarian and animal rights organizations.) 

Well, that's not proof that eating meat is healthier!
Oh, you want some evidence, do you?  I find it interesting that most vegans will use "facts" that they obtain from pro-vegan websites, many of which are 'sketchy' and some are outright fabrications.  But they want anyone that eats meat to provide irrefutable scientific evidence to state their case.

So here's one tidbit I enjoyed learning.

Vegans often use the members of the Seventh-Day Adventists religious organization and their health statistics to promote their views.  Seventh-Day Adventists are admonished to eat a vegetarian diet (no animal flesh) as well as to not smoke or drink alcohol and abstain from caffeine.  Numerous studies have been done to show that those Seventh-Day Adventists that adhere to these guidelines have lower incidence of heart disease, cancer etc. than others as a whole.

That's great for them, but what about the Mormons?  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (often called the Mormons) also advises their members to abstain from alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, however they have no such restriction on meat.

Yet although Mormon's and Seventh-Day Adventists have similar diet and lifestyles (with the exception that Mormons eat meat), Mormons have lower cancer rates than Seventh-Day Adventists. 22% lower in general, and 34% lower for colon cancer.

Studies of traditional inuit and Masai still continue to show lower incidence of heart disease and cancer than those eating a western diet.  (Although many vegans are trying to debunk the Masai theory, they're using a study of Masai that are exposed to a western diet.  There's other flaws with the study I won't get into, but if someone wants to email me about it, feel free.)

Many studies show vegans are at higher risk of certain cancers, especially colo-rectal, than those that eat a healthy diet with meat.

Regardless of what your personal opinions are, there is simply no evidence that supports the idea that meat-eating is unhealthy, or that meat causes disease.  In fact, most evidence is contrary to that.  Period.

But fruit and vegetables are healthy!  Eat them!
Well, yeah.  One might even say "Duh."

Of course fruit and vegetables are healthy, and it's true that most people following a SAD / Western diet do not eat enough of them, with the exception of the cheap ones - namely potatoes and corn.  Those most people eat far too much of.


Veggies - the more color, the better!
For anyone with diabetes, metabolic syndrome and/or insulin-resistance I highly recommend eliminating potatoes and corn wherever possible.  The exception to this would be sweet potato/yam which are much healthier (lower glycemic index and load) than a regular potato, eat those in moderation.

As for the rest of it:  Eat all the non-starchy vegetables you can.  Preferably organic, and preferably raw or steamed.  Get lots of color in your veggies to maximize your nutrient intake.  It's fantastic.

Then there's fruit... many are suggesting fruit may be unhealthy now - and while there is evidence to support this concept - it's hardly conclusive.  My personal feelings are that fruit is fine in moderation, but the vast majority of your carbs should come from vegetables.  (I add a caveat here - if you have diabetes, metabolic syndrome and/or insulin-resistance, watch your fruit intake - and do your best to eat lower-GI fruits such as berries and cherries where possible.)

I am, however, vehemently opposed to fruit juice.  Fruit juice, even unsweetened, has more sugar in it than sugary-soda, ounce for ounce, and none of the fiber that makes fruit healthy.  If you like the taste of fruit juice, get it in your fresh fruit, the way nature intended.

What about grains?
As I've mentioned in other posts, I'm a Type II diabetic.  As such, I've found my glucose is best controlled when I avoid grains of any kind.

Anyone with diabetes, insulin-resistance or metabolic syndrome should watch their intake of grains, especially flours, and keep to those things that are lower-GI where possible.  I do, for example, occasionally eat a slice of bread - but I use organic sprouted-grain bread which contains no flour.

Not everybody needs to avoid it like I do - however there are some important things to know, especially about wheat.

The wheat you are eating today is NOT the wheat that was eaten a thousand years ago.  Heck, it's not even the wheat your grandparents ate. It's been completely redesigned.

Today's wheat is softer (easier to mill and make into fine flours for baking), designed to grow more densely, and quicker (which made it shorter in the process) and wouldn't have a hope of growing in nature.

Scientists have modified wheat so much it needs insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers, etc. just to grow.  Ancient wheat (like Einkhorn or Spelt) grew up to 5 feet tall, had incredibly hard kernels (insect-resistant), much less gluten but was drought-resistant and grew almost like a weed (though not as densely as modern wheat.)

As such, the bread we eat today is vastly different than breads eaten 50 years ago, and worlds apart from what was eaten 2000 years ago.

I personally don't feel it's any coincidence that as wheat has been more-and-more heavily modified, gluten-allergies are correspondingly rising.  Problems associated with gluten affect far more people than ever before, and modern wheat consumption is now, through gluten-sensitivity, being linked to a range of inflammatory conditions including cancer and heart disease.

Why humans mess with things genetically I'll never know.  Just because we can manipulate the genes of our food does not mean we should.  What happens now is it's so processed and refined (to make things light and fluffly) that they have to "enrich" it because it's become the nutritional equivalent of the box it comes in.  "Enriched" flour isn't healthy... it's just not.

Currently I cannot recommend eating wheat.  Unless you find one of the organic sources that still sells ancient grains, and do your own milling of it.  There are a few on the web - they're worth looking into if you love your grains.  If you want more information on the issues with wheat, read "Wheat Belly", by William Davis, MD.


So what, you're anti-vegan?
Not even a little.  I fully support an individuals right to choose what they eat.  However, all the evidence is clear - there is no benefit, health-wise, to eating vegan over eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes meat.

I do, however, draw the line at propaganda.  After doing my own independent research, I fully believe there is no justifiable argument for veganism EXCEPT one's own ethical beliefs about using animals for food.  If you truly believe that you should not use another animal for food, then that is your belief and I allow you the freedom to think what you will, and I respect your decision.  I also urge you to get regular blood tests and supplement where necessary.

I do believe a vegan lifestyle, properly understood and supplemented, can be healthy.  I also personally believe adding moderate amounts of meat, fish, poultry, etc. into that diet is healthier, and the scientific evidence supports me here.

The bottom-line is regardless of whether you choose to eat meat or not, if you;

  • eliminate refined/processed carbs/sugars 
  • eliminated processed foods
  • watch your grain intake (seriously look into wheat)
  • eat an abundance of non-starchy vegetables and fruit in your diet,
you'll be much less likely to develop heart disease, cancer, etc. than if you eat a Standard American Diet.

2 comments:

  1. "Fruit juice, even unsweetened, has more sugar in it than sugary-soda, ounce for ounce, and none of the fiber that makes fruit healthy." = I once heard a statement saying something like "if it doesn't have a mother or grows in the ground, it ain't healthy".
    How come fruit juice is not healthy (I assume you're talking about juices from boxes here)?
    I do understand that sugar overall lowers the quality and the preservatives don't help either... It can't be that bad, right?

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  2. The biggest issue with fruit juice comes in how much sugar there is without the corresponding fiber found in fruit.

    For example, to get the same sugar in ONE medium glass of apple juice, you'd need to eat 6 to 10 apples, depending on glass size.

    I'm sure you'll agree you don't consider 6 to 10 apples a "serving" and even if you did, you'd get a huge amount of fiber with it. With one single 'serving' of fruit juice you get nothing but sugar.

    If you like the taste of apple juice, eat an apple. Fewer calories, 1/6th to 1/10th the sugar, and more fiber and nutrients.

    Other juices are similar in sugar amounts (and these are UNSWEETENED juices, BTW) with the exception of grape juice - which is actually higher in sugar content than the others.

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