As a doctor and weight loss expert, I often receive requests to counter arguments that claim a vegan diet is bad for you. Most I ignore. As much as I would like to respond to the anti-vegan propaganda, it would often mean that I'd basically be arguing with people who have no understanding of science or treating patients.
But recently, one article on this website really got under my skin. There are many articles I love on this site, and many I disagree with. But I found this particular one to be particularly troublesome. Let's go through why.
The author starts with the title, "I'm A Nutritionist. Here's Why I Have Concerns About Vegan Diets." Well, I'm a medical doctor who specializes in diet and has studied nutrition in depth — and I am not the least bit worried by a vegan diet.
To start, her first "worry" is that vegans are not getting enough protein. You gotta be kidding me. I recently wrote a book on this topic, Proteinaholic: How Our Obsession with Meat Is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It. The bottom line: There is zero, and I mean zero, evidence that vegans get too little protein.
In fact, I've never seen a case of protein deficiency, as long as there's adequate consumption of calories. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for optimal protein intake is 0.8 kg/lean body mass. So that would be 44 grams for females (about the amount found in three cups of cooked beans) and 54 for males. This is enough protein for 99% of the population — and beans, nuts, grains and veggies, which have tons of protein, could cover this amount easily.
Also, if vegans aren't getting enough protein, then why in the Adventist Health Study do vegans live longer? Why do the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, the Nurses' Health Study and the EPIC-PANACEA study, to name just a few, show that higher protein is associated with diabetes, heart disease and cancer?
Next, the author says that vegans eat too many grains, leading to more fat around the midsection. Well, she must not have read Professor Mark Hegsted's intensive metabolic studies showing that carbs really cannot turn to fat very easily. Pure carbs are either burned as fuel or stored as glycogen.
It's very difficult for the body to turn carbs to fat — called de novo lipogenesis — and it's only done when all glycogen stores are full, and the person is eating calories far in excess. Plus, the healthiest diets in the world center around grains. You may have heard of the Mediterranean diet —that's a very grain-heavy diet.
I do (kind of) agree with the author's next point: Vegans tend to choose some processed fake meats, which is not nearly as good as choosing whole foods.
But, it is far better than eating the actual meats. When you eat meat, you take in heme iron, which has been shown to be very oxidizing and has been linked to diabetes and heart disease. You're also taking in nitrates and converting them to N-Nitroso compounds, which are strongly implicated in colon cancer.
And when meat is cooked, chemicals called heterocyclic amines are released, which are carcinogenic. Not to mention that meat raises a hormone, IGF1, which has also been implicated in cancer formation. Meat is also loaded with advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and hormones, both of which have been linked to disease.
So yes, I'd rather vegans eat a potato and some beans than a Gardein meatless chicken wing. But I'd also much rather them eat the Gardein wing than a regular chicken wing.
The author closes by saying that people should be eating foods that are lean, like chicken and fish. Well, chicken and fish do have fat. A 6 oz chicken breast has 6 gm of fat. And fish is often loaded with heavy metals, thanks to our polluted waters. Worse yet, in the EPIC study, all meat consumption was associated with weight gain over time — and chicken was the worst offender.
In closing this "rant," let me remind you simply: If vegans are so bad off than why do they seem to live longer?
Just look at The Blue Zones of the world, where people live longer and healthier. Are they eating a diet high in animal protein? Absolutely not. Again, look at the Mediterranean diet. It's not made up of chicken and meat. It's very high in complex carbs and fruits and veggies. And while they do eat fish, it's not in large amounts. The Okinawans thrive on yams, rice and soy. The people of the Nicoyan Peninsula are eating beans and rice.
Having completed exhaustive studies of this topic let me say this: I am a physician and I am worried about people who eat animal protein.
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