Media Reality Check: Nutrients and VeganismMay 22, 2012
On nearly every single one of my major media appearances, the network has felt it necessary to consult "the other side"—a doctor, a psychologist, or a nutritionist (personally, I think veganism is inherently the other side). Not one of these talking heads has been a vegan representative—as if none exist to consult.
In each instance, these folks have reinforced the public with the same exact biased messages that continue to justify the standard American diet:
"It's hard to get protein, B12, calcium, and fat on a vegan diet."
"Vegans have to be extra careful..."
"Vegan diets are dangerous...we absolutely need the nutrients we get from animal foods."
"Meat-free diets can cause deficiencies..."
"Kids may become malnourished."
So, we know where conventional medicine stands, and frankly, they're about twenty years behind doctors doing plant-based-diet research. Their facts are so distorted and empty, it's actually shocking. But like I've said before, the majority of opposition can be explained by fear, ignorance, and industry collusion.
So let's clear up some of these concerns with a few reality-check points:
Seek experienced advice:
You wouldn't take swimming lessons from someone who never learned to swim. Don't take advice from any doctor or nutritionist who is not a successful vegan themselves. Current conventional medicine is not based on healthy people who have found solutions, but rather sick populations with unnecessary chronic disease caused by normalized unhealthy habits. Most doctors simply don't stay current on the most advanced vegan research and protocols. Their work is more geared towards alleviating symptoms, not healing the root cause. Seek out the best medical and nutritional advice in the field from the likes of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, David Wolfe, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Jameth Sheridan, and Dr. Michael Greger. Also, books by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Victoria Moran, and Brendan Brazier.
The SAD food pyramid vs. the plant-based pyramid:
The nutritionists and conventional doctors (many have as little as six hours of nutritional training) that oppose or caution against veganism seem to base their advice on the standard American diet (SAD) food pyramid. To be clear: with veganism, we are not talking about the standard American food pyramid minus meat and dairy (this leaves nothing upon nothing). A plant-based pyramid has an entirely different arrangement of food groups that provides for all of our human needs for macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants). By exploring a plant-based pyramid and vegan nutrient recommendations, everyone will reap the benefits of finding micronutrients the American public is generally deficient in.
The ANDI Chart:
The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index rates the micronutrient quality of foods on a scale from 1-1000, taking into consideration vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Kale and mustard greens: 1000. All animal products fall in the 30s or below. If you are eating a variety of whole foods, you are most likely already getting all the macronutrients you need (carbs, protein, fats). It's time for everyone to focus the bulk of their diets on foods that provide micronutrients the average person is not getting. Conventional doctors and nutritionists need a reality check on who "needs to be careful."
Chronic disease: Studies continue to show the link between chronic disease and consuming animal products. Let's look at the trajectory for kids in this country:
•50% or more of Americans adults are on pharmaceutical medication.
•20% of children ages 2-19 are obese.
•30% of girls are getting their periods by age 8.
•The Center for Disease Control lists cancer and heart disease as the two leading causes of death.
These maladies are all exacerbated, if not caused, by eating meat and dairy. The standard American diet has been given its chance and it has proven to be a disaster. One hundred years ago, people only became ill in the last few months of their lives. Today, the average person will experience at least a decade of disease and unnecessary suffering. For many, transitioning to a plant-based diet at a young age will be a life-saving choice.
Protein: The average American gets too much protein (remember, extra is stored as fat). Many people don't know that proteins are simply chains of amino acids, and that plant proteins contain all essential amino acids. The vegan pyramid provides a healthy amount of protein with a lower biological value than animal products, which prevents IGF reactions (insulin-like growth factors that trigger cancer and tumor growth). According to the USDA, children need about .4 grams of protein per healthy pound of body weight. For kids ages 4-6, that only amounts to about 15-20 g. protein per day! One piece of sprouted whole grain toast (4 g. protein) with a couple tablespoons of almond butter (6 g. protein) and you're half, or more than half-way, done by breakfast. Protein is not hard to find in a plant-based diet.
B12: Conventional nutrition will tell you that vitamin B12 can only be found in animal-products. This is factually skewed and distorted. B12 is neither an animal-based nor plant-based micronutrient, but bacteria-based. If we were all eating foods pulled straight from the ground, we would be getting sufficient amounts of B12 in the grooves of our veggies, for example. If people are getting B12 at all from meat, it is because the animal ate grass and stored B12 in her gut—B12 is not inherent to the flesh. But most animals are not grass-fed these days. B12 is crucial for everyone, but the reality is that 50-90% of meat-eaters are deficient in optimum levels of B12, too! NO ONE EVER MENTIONS THAT! I eat lots of nutritional yeast and spirulina and my levels are in the normal range after 9 years of veganism, but because everyone seems to absorb B12 differently, the only accurate test is an MMA blood or urine test. If your levels are low, add B12-fortified foods into your diet along with a sublingual B12 (kids love them, they're tiny and sweet). The methylcobalamin type is the most absorbable. Everyone can benefit by exploring the vegan pyramid because our research may shed light on nutrients everyone needs.
Fats and essential fatty acids are crucial, especially for children—but we want good fats that do not carry along the negative side effects that animal products do. Our brains live in 80% fatty tissue, so including raw organic fats in our repertoires is vital for all kinds of biological functions (some experts posit that our prehistoric advances in brain size may have been due to the fat content in the meat we hunted, not the protein). We also now know that vegans who eat nuts and seeds live longer than those who don't. Choose excellent sources of raw, organic fats: olive oil and olives, seeds, nuts, nut and seed butters, algae oil (long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids), flax oil, hemp oil, walnut oil, coconut and coconut oil (healthy saturated fat), and avocados, for example. Note: new studies show that eating saturated fats together with Omega-3 fats doubles the absorbency of the Omegas, for example coconut oil and algae oil together.
Calcium: Animal products are a relatively poor source of calcium compared to leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and bok choy. Meat and dairy have an acidic PH, causing calcium to be leeched out of our bones into our bloodstream in order to alkalize our system. Studies (i, ii, iii) are now showing that the countries with the highest intake of dairy products also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Even more important than the amount of calcium in a food is the amount we absorb (we absorb 60% of calcium from broccoli—VERY high).
Calcium from plants is more bioavailable to our bodies and comes without harmful side effects like IGF (insuline-like growth factors) that trigger growth of tumors, cancer, and cell mutations. We know for a fact that toxins bioaccumulate up the food chain, so if one is eating meat or dairy, even from organic cows, you are ingesting an exponentially higher amount of toxins including PCBs, dioxins, and even radioactive particles. There is nowhere in the world that is untouched by these toxins, they are being found in the fatty tissue of polar bears. Calcium absorbency also depends on magnesium (which meat and dairy have very little of compared to plants). Fifty to 75% of the general public is also magnesium deficient. The best sources for maintaining a healthy balance come from a plant-based diet (and lucky for us, raw chocolate is one of the highest sources of magnesium on Earth!). Remember that the cow gets her calcium from eating grass.
Vitamin D: Fifty to 90% of Americans are deficient in D—this isn't just a vegan problem. A 2007 study showed that even 50% of young, healthy Hawaiian-island surfers lacked sufficient D due to immediate showering post-session. Supplemental D3 comes from lanolin, aka "wool grease," a waxy substance secreted by sheep's glands, the collection of which is a gross and abusive industry. Supplemental D2 is plant-based based, but it is unclear whether it provides absorbable amounts to sufficiently increase D serum. Mushrooms are now known to produce D3 and there are comapanies at work to provide mushroom-based D3. Source of Life brand claims to have such a product, but I have not verified its ingredients.
With exposure to sunlight, our skin produces D on its own in a matter of minutes or hours (depending on location and skin color), but it takes several hours for our bodies to absorb those oils—so spend some time in the early or late sun and don't wash off!
In the words of the great Chuck D of Public Enemy, don't believe the hype. Reality checked.