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Death as a Foodborne Illness Curable by Veganism

Most reputable sources of nutrition information recommend a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat. Vegans go much further. Strict vegans reject all animal products including fish, eggs, and milk. Some vegans come across like religious zealots. Here are some comments recently posted by vegans on Facebook:

  • Right now the biggest social issue facing the world is the violence and suffering of animals.
  • The dairy industry is the number one feminist issue facing our modern society.
  • I expect within a generation that milk will be viewed as the most unhealthy habit after cigarettes. I bet it is responsible for more disease than anything else in the US. Dairy products promote all stages of cancer. [In fact, low fat dairy can be protective against some types of cancer]
  • Milk contains blood and puss[sic]
  • Humans are not omnivores; they are herbivores. [Most biologists would disagree.]

I was even told that that anyone who really cares about the welfare of others must promote veganism. It seems I am an evil, uncaring person if I waste my time writing about any other subject.

Vegans offer some good arguments based on ethics, environmental protection, cruelty to animals, and sustainability.  I won’t get into those issues here. I’ll only address the scientific evidence behind the health claims. How does this description of a video strike you?:

Death in America is largely a foodborne illness. Focusing on studies published just over the last year in peer-reviewed scientific medical journals, [Hardly any of the studies he cites were published over the last year.] Michael Greger, M.D., offers practical advice on how best to feed ourselves and our families to prevent, treat, and even reverse many of the top 15 killers in the United States.[emphasis added]

That video was recommended to me by a vegan activist. I dipped into it randomly and noticed statements that I knew were not true, at least not as stated without any qualifications. I prefer to get my information from the medical literature rather than from videos. But I was eventually browbeaten into watching the whole thing when the activist impugned my objectivity and my ethics.

“If Only You Would Watch This Video”

I hear that all the time from people who have been overwhelmed by the information presented in a video that supports their beliefs. They assume that the evidence presented is incontrovertible, and that anyone who agreed to watch it would necessarily be converted to their beliefs. These videos tend to fall into an easily recognizable pattern. They feature a charismatic scientist with an agenda who makes sweeping statements that go beyond the evidence, makes unwarranted assumptions about the meaning of studies, and omits any reference to contradictory evidence. I recognized this pattern by briefly sampling the video, and my initial opinion was only confirmed by watching it in toto.

The Leading Causes of Death

He starts with a table showing the leading causes of death and goes through them one by one, presenting his evidence that a diet devoid of animal-based foods can prevent and cure each of them.

To evaluate the accuracy of his information, let’s ask:

  • What exactly is he claiming?
  • What references does he supply in support of that claim?
  • Do those reference really say what he says they say?
  • Have those studies been replicated?
  • How good was the methodology of those studies?
  • Are there other studies that came to different conclusions?
  • Is there any good evidence comparing total avoidance of animal-based foods and a diet that is mainly plant-based but includes small amounts of animal products?

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

He cites a reference showing that “a plant-based diet of primarily whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes can completely prevent heart attacks.” This is a quotation from an article in the Food and Drug Law Journal, and the footnotes there only send us to Caldwell Esselstyn’s flawed research.  Esselstyn studied only a small number of patients who already had heart disease, and he treated them with statin drugs in addition to diet, and their diet included skim milk and low-fat yogurt. You can read my criticism of his research here.  It is ludicrous to interpret that research as showing that a plant-based diet can completely prevent heart attacks.  A more accurate interpretation is that patients (only a few patients in one study) who had already had a heart attack did not have a second heart attack while being treated with cholesterol-lowering medications and a diet that was largely plant-based but also included foods derived from animals.

Cancer

That same article claims that up to 75% of cancers can be prevented, but the supporting reference indicate smoking accounts for 30% of cancers and diet alone might prevent somewhere between 20-42% of all cancers, and as little as 10% of certain individual types of cancer.  It points out that “making quantitative estimates at this time is treacherous, as the available evidence can only be interpreted roughly,” because of confounders like exercise, methodological difficulties, and the need to rely on unreliable memory for recall of intake. They conclude that “one can sensibly recommend an abundant consumption of fruits and vegetables and low intake of red meat.” This supports mainstream nutrition advice, not veganism.

Inflammation

He cites a study showing that a single meal high in animal fat can paralyze our arteries and “cripple” them. This was a small study of 10 volunteers with no control group. It measured flow-dependent vasoactivity. It’s not clear what that means, but surely it’s an exaggeration to say that the arteries were paralyzed or crippled. It would be interesting to compare the results to those of vegans who ate a meal with an equal number of calories. And what we really want to know is whether the observed changes have any practical clinical significance.

COPD

COPD “can be prevented and even treated with a plant-based diet.” He relies on a study that measured exhaled NO as a marker for inflammation, showing that it increases after a high fat meal. He describes it as causing internal damage. The study’s conclusion was “This suggests that a high fat diet may contribute to chronic inflammatory disease of the airway and lungs.” But this study showed no association between airway inflammation as measured by exhaled nitric oxide and systemic inflammation as measured either by CRP or fibrinogen. And it said nothing specifically about COPD or about the effect of removing animal foods from the diet.

Alzheimers

“We’ve known for 20 years that those who eat meat are 2-3 times as likely to become demented as vegetarians.”  This claim is based on an old Adventist health study that has not been replicated. It studied two groups: matched and unmatched subjects. The data he cites are from the matched group. There was no difference in incidence of dementia between meat eaters and vegetarians in the unmatched study.  Adventists are lacto-ovo-vegetarians who eat milk and eggs. And they are also a rather unique group with other healthy lifestyle practices. So it is disingenuous to claim this study as definitive evidence for veganism.

He neglects to tell us about studies that got different results, like the one showing that fish consumption reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s.

What is his evidence that Alzheimer’s can be treated with a plant-based diet? He offers a phase II study from Iran that compared saffron extract to a low dose of a drug that has only a small clinical benefit. The authors only claim it provides “preliminary evidence of a possible therapeutic effect of saffron.” Not very convincing, and certainly not evidence that a plant-based diet can treat Alzheimer’s. Saffron extract was being studied here as an herbal medicine, not as a food.

Kidney failure

Can kidney failure be prevented and treated with a plant-based diet?  He points to a study showing that diets lower in red meat and animal fat may decrease the risk of microalbuminuria.  It also showed a reduced risk with low fat dairy!

Other claims

He cites a study concluding “Our results suggest that a decrease in meat consumption may improve weight management.” Suggest, may, decrease. Not veganism.

He compares raw meat to hand grenades, because of bacterial contamination. If you don’t handle them safely, it’s like pulling the pin. Are we selling hand grenades in grocery stores? This is a ridiculous comparison, and it ignores the fact that plant-based foods can be a source of contamination too.

Flu: kale stimulates the immune system.

Eating just a few fruits and veg can improve the body’s ability to fight off pneumonia.

Suicide prevention? Restriction of meat fish and poultry improves mood.

I’m bored, and I’m sure you are too. There is more, much more. But I have made my point.

What Do Other Studies Show about the Benefits and Risks of Veganism?

This study showed  mortality from ischemic heart disease was 26% lower in vegans and 34% lower in lacto-ovo-vegetarians (in other words, it’s better not to eliminate milk and eggs).  “There were no significant differences between vegetarians and nonvegetarians in mortality from cerebrovascular disease, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, or all other causes combined.”

Another study showed that the healthiest people in Europe, the inhabitants of Iceland, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, consume large amounts of animal foods.

This study found no significant differences in mortality between vegetarians and nonvegetarians.

There are risks. A vegan diet can lead to deficiencies in various nutrients: vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Careful planning can help avoid that; but anecdotally, the vegan who recommended the video to me recently found out he was deficient in B12 despite supplementation.

Confounders

The elephant in the room is weight loss. Vegans weigh less than meat eaters, and many of the benefts claimed could be consequences of weight loss, particularly in diabetes. And they could be a consequence of eating more fruits and vegetables, rather than avoiding meat and milk.

The data he finds most convincing are from the 7th Day Adventist study. One of his tables shows reduction in blood pressure and diabetes that are right in line with decrease in body mass index (BMI). This contradicts other data that supposedly removed BMI as a confounder. Adventists are a select group with other healthy lifestyle behaviors. Until we have confirmatory data from other studies in a general population, I don’t think it is wise to hang our hat on these decades-old Adventist studies.

Can Diabetes Be Cured?

He says it can be cured by a plant-based diet, but the general consensus of medical experts is that diabetes can’t be “cured.”  Diabetes can be treated and controlled with diet, weight loss, medication, obesity surgery, and even islet cell transplants. The symptoms subside, the blood sugar normalizes, and some patients no longer need their medication after they lose weight and make other lifestyle changes. But we don’t consider it “cured.”  If you’re going to say diet “cures” diabetes, it would only be fair to say medication also “cures” it. It’s better to think of it not as cured but as controlled and requiring continuing attention.

Other Diet Beliefs

Surprise, surprise! Not everyone agrees that the vegan diet is best. Gary Taubes has written a book (with far more references than this video) advocating a low-carb diet.  William Davis, the “Wheat Belly” doctor, tells us we must avoid a whole category of plant-based foods. He says meat is OK but wheat is addictive. The pH balance contingent tells us it is the acid in the food that is important, not whether the food comes from a plant or animal. The lacto-ovo-vegetarians don’t eat meat, but have no objection to eggs and milk. The paleo diet accepts meat, as does the Bible diet.  Fruitarians reject animal products and also all vegetables and grains; they can be considered an even more restrictive form of vegans. Some of these diet beliefs are based mainly on ideology, but most of them claim to be based on solid science. There is only one science. If the evidence were really so clear-cut in favor of veganism, we wouldn’t have all these differing approaches.

What About the Eskimos?

Some people eat meat almost exclusively and seem to thrive on it. All the nutrients the human body requires are found in meat, even vitamin C when the meat is eaten raw.

Vegans tell us the Inuit, who lived almost exclusively on food of animal origin, had a short life span. That’s not true. Statistics on the Inuit between 1822 and 1836 showed that their average life expectancy was about the same as that of European peasants of the time who ate a diet overwhelmingly based on bread. 25% of Inuit lived past 60, and some lived into their 80s and 90s.

The Inuit ate meat out of necessity. It was all they could get for most of the year. Their diet was very high in fat. If it had not been, they could not have survived in one of the coldest, most barren, most hostile environments anywhere on Earth. Even today, it would not be wise for people living in the Arctic to try to follow a vegan diet.

Blubber is a staple of the Inuit diet, and it contains large amounts of antioxidants. Atherosclerosis is practically unknown in Greenland.   In Uummannaq, Greenland, a population of 3000 residents had no deaths due to CVD in the 1970s. And the average 70 year old Inuit with a traditional diet of whale and seal has arteries as elastic as that of a 20-year old Danish resident. Why didn’t Dr. Greger mention that research? I think I can guess why.

Veganism Prevents Harm to Animals

That sounds like a slam-dunk, but it’s more complicated. Some people think veganism is not really the lifestyle of least harm to animals.

Conclusion

The video confirmed what I already knew from evaluating the published evidence: it is healthier to eat more plant-based foods and less red meat.  It didn’t convince me that we should categorically eliminate all animal products. The vegan diet can be a healthy one, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from following it; but the evidence for health benefits is nowhere near as impressive or definitive as the true believers think. Death is not “a foodborne illness” and eliminating all animal products is not a cure-all.

As Ben Goldacre said in Bad Science:

The most important take-home message with diet and health is that anyone who ever expresses anything with certainty is basically wrong, because the evidence for cause and effect in this area is almost always weak and circumstantial…

 

 

Posted in: Nutrition

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90 thoughts on “Death as a Foodborne Illness Curable by Veganism

  1. Janet says:

    Someone attacked me (verbally) once when I said I had “cured” my diabetes with weight loss. So now I say I’ve “reversed” my diabetes.

    Last time I was pushed to watch a video, it turned out to be “Forks Over Knives” which is so full of fallacious studies, it’s hard to know where to begin. I wonder if you were able to convince your video advocate of the holes in the science? I find the task is overwhelming due to the total lack of science literacy in the people who recommend these things. Netflix is full of this garbage and I get a load of them as “recommendations” every time I watch any type of documentary.

  2. rork says:

    So, you aren’t gonna talk about environmental protection or cruelty to animals, but then cherry pick your last link to be a dubious very narrow discussion about exactly that. I’m sure the commenters will show more restraint ;).

    The usual observation instead: eating less meat and more plants can be good for you, but you don’t have to jump all the way to thinking a little bit is much too much. Sinning, about health or ecosystem, isn’t all or nothing, but a matter of degree.

  3. DevoutCatalyst says:

    Socially restricted pizza-less people raising children who want to eat meat just like their peers.

  4. mousethatroared says:

    Rork – I see your point about the cruelty to animals link being included after that topic was set aside at the beginning of the post. It attracted my attention too. But the linked post did have a rather interesting perspective. Why do we think of cattle deaths as more important than field mouse or toad deaths? I took HH’s inclusion of the link not so much as evidence to prove a viewpoint, but a way to leave the audience with a bit of food for thought (RPI*).

    *regrettable pun intended

  5. drmartin says:

    I’m a bit disappointed with this article, I feel it strays away from scientific objectivity in too many places. I wish the author would stick to the facts and skip the superfluous.

    “Most reputable sources of nutrition information recommend a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat. Vegans go much further.”

    Within the first two sentences the author successfuly draws a line between “reputable sources” and every single vegan in the world.

  6. Angora Rabbit says:

    “He compares raw meat to hand grenades, because of bacterial contamination. If you don’t handle them safely, it’s like pulling the pin. Are we selling hand grenades in grocery stores? This is a ridiculous comparison, and it ignores the fact that plant-based foods can be a source of contamination too.”

    LOL! Very timely as CDC just released data on food-bourne illness at this link:
    http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/attribution-1998-2008.html
    46% of all illness was caused by produce and these accounted for 23% of deaths. The bottom line of course is, as you say, all foods can equally contaminate. Looks to me like veganism is fatal, too.

  7. CarolM says:

    That reminds me, years ago there was some anti-milk spokesman who did the talk show circuit, and in his spiel he made some crack about a “milk pustache.” Guy was funner than hell but I didn’t pay any attention to his message really. He was just a hired gun.

    I thought this post was going to be about the raw milk movement, which seems to be all aflame again. What on earth is bringing that back?? My parent was all hep on that 30 years ago, and was sure I was going to health-hellfire and damnation for buying pasteurized.

  8. rmgw says:

    As so often, I would emphasise that veganism is an ethical stance: towards our fellow humans – those who could be fed with the gross amounts of foodstuffs and water presently dedicated to livestock; those who are forced to work in slaughterhouses, with their appalling accident rates and terrible conditions; those who must live by pigshit lagoons and within the smell of dairy and feedlot operations – towards sentient animals, sensitive to pain, fear and distress, a fact almost universally acknowledged in legislations around the world – beings with as much interest in their lives and their offspring as humans – and towards the planet itself, acknowledged by the United nations to be suffering disastrous climate change casued in a large part by animal agriculture.

    I shall be posting this article to vegan pages, beacuse it needs saying…”what I already knew from evaluating the published evidence: it is healthier to eat more plant-based foods and less red meat. It didn’t convince me that we should categorically eliminate all animal products. The vegan diet can be a healthy one, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from following it; but the evidence for health benefits is nowhere near as impressive or definitive as the true believers think” – these are true believers in health fads: the vegan diet, well-planned, is acknowledged by the American Dietetic Association to be adequate for humans health from the cradle to the grave: we have no need to trumpet dubious food science, since the point is ethical, not dietetic – veganism is much more than a diet, indeed – and the crux of it is: why on earth would anyone want to contribute to the hideous massacre and destruction involved in an omnivore diet when as is by now perfectly obvious, they do not have to?

    Vegans need to stand by their ethics: omnivores need to ask themselves why their acquired food habits are so important to them that they are prepared to go on engaging in carnage, cruelty and oppression to maintain them.

  9. mousethatroared says:

    Oh, I almost forgot. Happy pączki* day everyone.

    *not a vegan food.

  10. Harriet Hall says:

    @DrMartin,

    ““Most reputable sources of nutrition information recommend a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat. Vegans go much further.”
    Within the first two sentences the author successfuly draws a line between “reputable sources” and every single vegan in the world.”

    Your prejudice is showing. That could also be read as “most reputable sources say; one reputable source, vegans, go further.”

  11. cervantes says:

    I would say this is a good example of tendentious argumentation. People may practice veganism, and support it, for various defensible reasons, as you say. But then every possible argument has to support it, in the mind of the advocate. Much more convincing to acknowledge that there is balance of considerations, and the issue with respect to health is not clear.

    Humans are clearly omnivorous, and while we can’t be certain of the details of the diet on the African savannah, it’s indisputable that our ancestors spent a great deal of energy and devoted much technological innovation to hunting, killing, butchering and cooking animals. Meat probably constituted the bulk of calories and nearly all the protein. (That probably includes insects, grubs, birds and rodents as well as big game, but there’s no way to tell from the paleontological record.) Milk is certainly a modern innovation, but so is a grain based diet which would have been essentially impossible without agriculture. So if you want to replicate the ancestral diet, you will eat a lot of what would be by our standards extremely lean meat — every edible part of the animal including the bone marrow, brains and other organs; and a lot of tubers, leaves, fruits, nuts and legumes (perhaps not available to most bands). All of the vegetable products would be very coarse by our standards, i.e. with a high ratio of fiber to carbohydrates and other components. You would swallow the seeds along with the fruits, which would have been quite tart to the modern palate. You would eat little or no grain, and no dairy. That diet is obviously not vegan, and also obviously nearly impossible to replicate today. But it does seem consistent with modern nutritional science.

    BTW it is literally impossible to get vitamin B12 from plant products. If you truly and faithfully practice veganism for a long time, without taking any supplements, you will die.

  12. Jacob V says:

    “Here’s some food for thought: According to a new study by the CDC, the greatest number of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. are not caused by raw cookie dough or undercooked meat or questionable shellfish, but by leafy green vegetables. ”

    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-02/beware-dangers-ofgreen-vegetables

  13. Quill says:

    Nothing stirs up the stomach quite like bringing up veganism, especially when talking about its religious aspects. :-) I wonder how well it would go over without videos?

    @cervantes who wrote “Meat probably constituted the bulk of calories and nearly all the protein. (That probably includes insects, grubs, birds and rodents as well as big game, but there’s no way to tell from the paleontological record.)”

    That last part – there is no way to tell – was true for a long time and is why speculation like the paleo diet is just that, speculation. Much of what we think our ancestors ate* is based on 19th century archaeological finds whose science didn’t have the tools to look at all the evidence. All they found were bones and bone-carving tools so naturally they concluded that our ancestors ate mostly meat. More recent studies utilizing various microscopic analysis have concluded that our ancestors ate a much wider variety of foods and did in fact grow plants and vegetables as they would have been a more reliable food source than hunting animals. (I recall reading about this and will see if I can find the link.)

    *Why this is so primarily important has never been explained yet seems to combine the ancient wisdom fallacy with a poor understanding of genetics.

  14. Quill says:

    Almost forgot: I like the title of this post (and the post itself!) because it says it like it is usually presented, as an -ism. Not just the vegan diet or animal-free diet or somesuch that focuses on the food but rather as the Veganism lifestyle choice that resembles an ultimatum not unlike fundamentalist religions: eat this way, live this way or else not only you but the earth will die! And woe unto the person who does not heed this! Et ceterae ad nauseam.

  15. cervantes says:

    People started supplementing hunting and gathering with small scale gardening a long time ago, but who knows exactly when? Locating the “right” ancestors on which to base our understanding of the diet for which evolution has tailored us is extremely problematic, to say the least. I think it doubtful that people were doing any significant amount of agriculture at the time of the emergence of anatomically (though not necessarily entirely metabolically) modern humans around 450,000 years ago or so.

  16. Quill says:

    Exactly, cervantes. Which ancestors should we be aping? (Couldn’t resist that one.) The ones from 10,000 years ago? 150,000 years? More? And why this return to such a time anyway? All seems like it is a plot to sell me on something.

    Here are two blog articles by biologists, both discussing the paleo problem and by extension veganism, both apparently searches for The One True Diet.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/07/23/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/health/views/20essa.html

  17. Alia says:

    @mousethatroared – And the same to you, too!
    BTW, I’ve just tried to imagine vegan (or even vegetarian) pączki and my mind almost exploded.

  18. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    This reminds me of the “eating clean” discussion from a couple weeks’ ago, with attendant debates over what our ancestors ate and whether this translates to good health in modern societies. Highlighted as part of that discussion was the questionable assumption that our evolution ended 150,000 years ago. I would suggest it hasn’t – what our ancestors ate on the Serengeti may not necessarily be healthy for modern humans, and further – evolution only cares about living long enough to reproduce (exception – kin selection) so what we ate to reach the point of having children may have no bearing on what to eat to be healthy into one’s 90s.

    We’re omnivores, and food isn’t medicine!

  19. LCSW says:

    “Humans are not omnivores; they are herbivores.” Have to love their argument from ignorance. I believe archaeologists, paleontologists as well as dentists are in consensus. We evolved to be omnivorous as this is gave us the best chance of success as a species. Our dentition speaks to this reality. Being all carnivorous or herbivorous limits your success. We as a species are interesting in that we “chose” to only eat one or the other. Our biology is not fooled by our interpretive biases. Our GI has through evolution, been able to digest and procure the necessary nutritive substances from both plant and animal matter. Speak to any science based dieticians and you will find out that what matters most is not an “all or nothing” diet. What matters are balance, portion size, and calories in/calories out. I have spoken to varying degrees of vegetarians. When they begin to go father towards the “veg” in vegetarian (IMO) they become more dogmatic, as though they have crossed the precipice into cognitive dissonance.

  20. mousethatroared says:

    Alia – I bet the Pączki where you live are awesome.

  21. Quill says:

    “BTW, I’ve just tried to imagine vegan (or even vegetarian) pączki and my mind almost exploded.”

    I suppose to make either version you’d have to consult a vegan pastry chef who uses homeopathic cooking methods.

  22. elburto says:

    BTW it is literally impossible to get vitamin B12 from plant products. If you truly and faithfully practice veganism for a long time, without taking any supplements, you will die.

    Preach it. As someone with permanent neurological damage due to B12 deficiency* I can attest to the need for this vital building block.

    *Apparently doctors have a bizarre aversion to diagnosing (and adequately treating) B12 deficiency in anyone who isn’t in their sixties or seventies.

  23. DevoutCatalyst says:

    Pray tell, elburto.

  24. Narad says:

    BTW, I’ve just tried to imagine vegan (or even vegetarian) pączki and my mind almost exploded.

    This seems like it ought to be fairly straightforward. I mean, you’d have to work around the eggs, but the butter and milk are no problem. A bit tougher, I imagine, but that can be dealt with to some extent. (I’ve never tried Ener-G.) There are examples if one searches for “Pączki wegańskie.” (I would not attempt a tofu-based “custard” filling, though.)

  25. weing says:

    “Pączki wegańskie.” Can anyone tell me how you can type in the Polish alphabet without copy and paste?

  26. mousethatroared says:

    weing I’m sure there’s key commands for the special characters, but I don’t know them. I had to copy and paste.

  27. mousethatroared says:

    Also taking the bavarian cream out of Pączki day is like Mardi Gras without alcohol.

  28. Narad says:

    “Pączki wegańskie.” Can anyone tell me how you can type in the Polish alphabet without copy and paste?

    I just copied and pasted, but on OS X at least, it’s possible to enable the keyboard viewer and alternate languages by going to System Preferences -> International -> Input Menu and selecting the appropriate checkboxes.

  29. DevoutCatalyst says:

    weing, there are Polish keyboard layouts built into Windows, Linux, Mac. There are online Polish typing solutions as well.

  30. willywisp says:

    @Harriet Hall

    I have references that dispute the claim that Eskimos are free of atherosclerosis. I would appreciate your comments on these if possible:

    Atherosclerosis in native Greenlanders. An ultrasonographic investigation.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2206175

    “The investigation showed that the Native Greenlanders had almost the same degree and extent of atherosclerosis in the carotid and femoral arteries as the Danes. Thus, the low incidence of ischemic heart disease in Native Greenlanders may not be attributed to lesser atherosclerosis.”

    Low incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit–what is the evidence?

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12535749

    “If the mortality from IHD is low, it seems not to be associated with a low prevalence of general atherosclerosis. A decreasing trend in mortality from IHD in Inuit populations undergoing rapid westernization supports the need for a critical rethinking of cardiovascular epidemiology among the Inuit and the role of a marine diet in this population.”

  31. Barry2 says:

    Thank you, Dr. Hall, for a very informative article. I’m particularly glad that you’ve debunked something by Michael Greger, since he’s more convincing than most speakers on vegan nutrition. (Which apparently doesn’t say much about the others ;-) )

  32. carassius says:

    Firstly…trying my luck with blockquotes…apologies in advance if it doesn’t work.

    @rmgw

    This part of your statement stuck out:

    those who are forced to work in slaughterhouses, with their appalling accident rates and terrible conditions

    From what data have you arrived at this conclusion. Not Upton Sinclair, I hope. I’ve worked as a regulatory Public Health Veterinarian for several years, most of that time in slaughterhouses from the very smallest to some of the largest in the world. I won’t pretend at all that the work of the industry laborers is luxurious or highly paid, that is a different argument, but I have never seen any major accidents. I have seen a few cuts and other minor injuries, often from slipping and falling. Those with knives are always provided cut gloves for some protection. I strongly suspect you don’t know what you are talking about with this point.

    these are true believers in health fads: the vegan diet, well-planned, is acknowledged by the American Dietetic Association to be adequate for humans health from the cradle to the grave

    You didn’t provide a link and I didn’t feel like searching, but this doesn’t sound like that much of a ringing endorsement. Did I misunderstand or take something out of context?

    Your use of, “massacre,” “destruction,” “carnage, cruelty, and oppression” are emotionally charged words suggesting you might be appealing to ones emotion rather than making a solid factual point. My experience in this forum (more reading than commenting) is such that you’ll have to do better than this.

    Lets see some convincing data, preferably not from advocacy groups.

  33. bhami says:

    Whenever I read HH on dietary topics, I can’t help but think of the standard tobacco company line about “more research is needed” as an excuse for justifying old habits. It seems to me that, rather than trying to wade through some arbitrary collection of research, any physician would get a better overall perspective on diet by spending a couple of weeks at TrueNorth, or with Joel Fuhrman and his staff, or with John McDougall and his staff.

    http://www.healthpromoting.com/
    http://www.drfuhrman.com/
    http://www.drmcdougall.com/

  34. PJLandis says:

    @willywisp
    “Low incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit–what is the evidence?”

    The post might be wrong about atherosclerosis, but here’s a more recent article addressing that evidence gap: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18774134

    If they did have lesser mortality and/or heart disease, looks like it’s no longer the case.

    …and I believe the good doctor has just been schooled on the health of native Inuit populations!

  35. Narad says:

    veganism is much more than a diet, indeed – and the crux of it is: why on earth would anyone want to contribute to the hideous massacre and destruction involved in an omnivore diet when as is by now perfectly obvious, they do not have to?

    While this is not, first and foremost, an ethical debate, as Dr. Hall did drop a stitch at the end of the article and that thread still seems to be dangling, I will note that rmgw is arguing for nothing other than the exinction of livestock. I elected to dump vegetarianism (I was only a vegan for about a year a long time ago) on ethical grounds because I in fact favor the preservation of small farms and heritage breeds. The thing is, you’ve got to eat them if you want them to hang around, because nobody keeps them as pets. Veganism itself, which I object to not in the least as a moral choice, nonetheless has no practical effect other than to consolidate meat production in factory farms.

  36. Narad says:

    ^ “extinction

  37. Harriet Hall says:

    @willywisp,

    Re: The Inuit diet.

    In addition to the studies already cited, there is this http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1163480
    The evidence is indeed mixed. It was the earlier studies that showed a lower rate of CVD in people on a native diet, and one wonders if contamination by elements of the “Western” diet might have had an effect on later studies. Overall mortality is currently higher among Arctic natives. Lots of data here: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2008001/article/10463-eng.pdf but not broken down by cause of death. Considering confounders like socioeconomic factors, exercise, suicides, accidents, and harsh environmental conditions, it’s unclear what the effect of diet really is. At any rate I couldn’t find any evidence for the vegan claim that the Inuit’s animal-based diet causes a high rate of death from CVD, DM, and other diseases allegedly preventable with removal of animal foods from the diet. Also see the experiment where a famous Arctic explorer and another volunteer ate a meat-only diet for a full year under close supervision with no ill effects, showing that all nutrient needs could be met. Also note the comments about observations on natives who ate meat and got strenuous exercise. http://www.jbc.org/content/87/3/651.full.pdf

    This directly refutes a recent post by a vegan saying that meat contained no nutrition except for fat and protein.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      @M-P-H,

      Those are alarmist anecdotal reports. Sure the Inuit got cancer, and lice, and a lot of other things. That doesn’t mean that a meat diet causes cancer, or that a vegan diet prevents it. There is no evidence that any diet can completely prevent cancer.

  38. dbe says:

    I think in the west we’re way past worrying about what diet is healthier. We’re healthy enough. We live long enough. We get enough food. Even if you die of something that might have been caused by your diet (CVD, for example), so fucking what. You probably lived to at least 50 and might have met your grandkids, even if your diet is complete shit. The majority will live much longer.

    Arguments as to the sustainability of different kinds of agriculture are however worth hearing. We will never get rid of livestock though, even if we greatly reduce it. They turn things we can’t eat, like grass, into things we can eat. They also have their own “renewability” with things like eggs and milk.

  39. rmgw says:

    Still no-one addresses the main point, which is that (yes, supplementing with B12) Veganism (I will put in the link to the ADA statement as soon as I’ve finished this) or rather a vegan diet, is adequate for human health, so there is simply no excuse for killing or inconveniencing anyone else of whatever species to maintain it.
    Accidents in slaughterhouses :http://diggingthroughthedirt.blogspot.com.es/2009/10/report-line-speeds-injuries-increase.html I will put up more links if anyone wishes.

    Extinction of breeds: yes, domestic animals should be phased out, the earth cannot support them – or only for a few privileged insensitives.. Terms like massacre etc – how else can one describe the millions of premature deaths caused by the animal agriculture industries? If anything is a “solid factual point”, it is this!

    Read non-vegan – even non-vegetarian – writers like Professor John Webster, “Limping Towards Eden” published by the Universities Feredation for Animal Welfare for details of how intensive breeding for production has resulted in disastrous health and welfare problems for domestic animals – these are not animals who can sustain life and reproduction unaided: even cared-for rescue animals frequently succumb to their monstrous breeding.

    I realise this is not the point of the thread, but I cannot let pass such callousness, when it spells death, distortion and misery for millions of animals: humans do not need animal products to live: why carry on? (ADA statement in separate post).

  40. pharmavixen says:

    It’s not controversial that the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet contains all the B12 you need. It’s the vegan diet that is questionally complete. Anecdotally speaking, many vegans I know will eat dairy products or eggs on occasion, or maybe even the Thanksgiving turkey. These incidents of “cheating” and the hepatic reservoir of B12 make it difficult to ascertain whether the vegan diet is truly sustainable long-term.

  41. rmgw says:

    Another link about slaughterhouse conditions for humans (we know what they’re like for nonhumans):
    http://www.foodispower.org/slaughterhouse_workers.php

    “These incidents of “cheating” and the hepatic reservoir of B12 make it difficult to ascertain whether the vegan diet is truly sustainable long-term.” – reminds me of the old saying of the policeman on the corner” move along there: if everyone stand on the corner, how will the people get past”….if you”cheat” (I, for one, would not even want to, because (yawn) I am an ETHICAL vegan) YOU ARE NOT VEGAN. This is nonsense, anyway, the statement on vegan diets is for those who are really following vegan diets: it’s just not so, from the vegans in my knowledge, (anecdote alert!) that people “cheat”, because what looks desirable to omnivores does not look desirable to vegans: folk don’t “cheat” by doing what they don’t want to do: this is another case,where the article is valuable, because it draws a distinction between those of us who try to govern our behaviour by our ethics and those who are trying out food fads.

    “but I have never seen any major accidents. I have seen a few cuts and other minor injuries, often from slipping and falling.” Anecdote alert!

  42. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    As so often, I would emphasise that veganism is an ethical stance

    My go-to question for vegans – would you eat vat meat? If they say “yes”, I use that as a proxy for their decision being reasonable. If not, I assume their approach is closer to mortification than diet.

    towards sentient animals, sensitive to pain, fear and distress, a fact almost universally acknowledged in legislations around the world – beings with as much interest in their lives and their offspring as humans

    Predators in nature often consume their prey while still alive. Our common food animals are now among the most successful on the planet in evolutionary terms. Animals killed in pain and terror taste worse than those killed without warning by a bolt gun to the head. Plus, they’re delicious.

    these are true believers in health fads: the vegan diet, well-planned, is acknowledged by the American Dietetic Association to be adequate for humans health from the cradle to the grave: we have no need to trumpet dubious food science, since the point is ethical, not dietetic – veganism is much more than a diet, indeed – and the crux of it is: why on earth would anyone want to contribute to the hideous massacre and destruction involved in an omnivore diet when as is by now perfectly obvious, they do not have to?

    I don’t, but they haven’t made commercially viable vat meat yet, more’s the pity. The assumption that everyone’s ethics must be identical is questionable. The scale of an omnivore diet need not be hideous and destructive, if one follows the standard recommendations – small amounts of meat, more fish and vegetables. Consuming a small amount of meat has the additional advantage of providing numerous necessary nutrients without the need for careful planning. And again, delicious.

    Vegans need to stand by their ethics: omnivores need to ask themselves why their acquired food habits are so important to them that they are prepared to go on engaging in carnage, cruelty and oppression to maintain them.

    Or we put more effort into making suffering-free, clean, tasty, nutritious vat meat into a viable commercial option. As for why omnivores food habits are important, it’s because food is a vital and essential pleasure in life in addition to being nutritious. Plus, as an omnivore, I’m tired of vegans being judgemental assholes.

    so there is simply no excuse for killing or inconveniencing anyone else of whatever species to maintain it

    If God didn’t want us to eat animals, He shouldn’t have made them so delicious. A better option would still be delicious, delicious vat meat, though a close alternative would be acerebrate animals fed through tubes and maintained via electrically-stimulated muscle contractions.

    Terms like massacre etc – how else can one describe the millions of premature deaths caused by the animal agriculture industries? If anything is a “solid factual point”, it is this!

    Cows aren’t people, nor are pigs or chickens. And they’re delicious. VAT MEAT, VAT MEAT!

    Another “solid factual point” is that those millions of animals wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for human farming for meat, so it’s less “premature death” than it is “having existed at all. I think most cows would appreciate the death given by humans (quick bolt to the head) versus predators (having their organs eaten while they still live). Not that cows, pigs, chickens or otherwise can appreciate anything, being deliciously nonsentient and all. A cow will happily trample you to death if it means getting more grass, they don’t appreciate your efforts.

    I realise this is not the point of the thread, but I cannot let pass such callousness, when it spells death, distortion and misery for millions of animals: humans do not need animal products to live: why carry on? (ADA statement in separate post).

    They’re delicious, leather is fashionable, cheese tastes good and that’s really all the reasons we need. As an omnivore I don’t feel the need to force you to eat the way I do, it’s always irksome that vegans treat their lifestyle choice as if it were some sort of holy calling. It’s just food. Animals aren’t people. They taste really, really good. It’s like being lectured by an earnest teenager. There are moral, ethical and environmental reasons to be vegan, but like so many moral, ethical and environmental issues, it’s complicated and not an absolute.

    I, for one, would not even want to, because (yawn) I am an ETHICAL vegan

    And sanctimonious. You do realize by coming across as a high-handed douchebag you’re actually alienating people, don’t you? You know Maddox’s “for every animal you don’t eat, I am going to eat three” issue? You actually feed that.

    One of the books that did make me feel guilty about eating meat was McWilliams excellent Just Food, which makes the case and the point without coming across as so snotty I wanted to backhand him. I eat less meat because of him. You, on the other hand, I doubt have ever convinced any but an already-vegan. Your posts are a form of masturbation – it feels good to you, but nobody else wants to watch. But keep lecturing, I’m sure eventually we’ll come around. After all, as a post on science-based medicine, the thing readers are most convinced by is lectures from a strident, presumably anemic, self-righteous vegan. You might want to continue your lecture on a board that discusses the ethics of eating meat rather than the biological realities of human diets.

    It’s always irksome that so many vegans aren’t content to quietly be vegans, they must be seen to be vegans.

  43. Janet says:

    For the umpteenth time–our ancestors almost never consumed more meat than vegetation. The term is rightly Gatherer-Hunter, not the usual Hunter-Gatherer. There was variation over time and place, of course. People ATE WHAT THEY COULD FIND. They mostly found fruit, nuts, berries, seeds from grasses, and tubers. At some point, some of them scavenged some flesh from other predators–which almost certainly played a part in brain development. Eventually, they cooked this and some got fairly skilled at catching their own game, but hunting was not (in Africa, anyway) the mainstay of the early human diet. This does not mean that we can’t survive on meat, but consider that people who do eat a lot of the bits that most of us would consider revolting–like glands (where vitamins are found). What difference does it make, though, how much meat our ancestors ate? They did lots of things we don’t. We are certainly still pleistocene people, but cultural norms have evolved.

    I’m not 100% vegan–those who I know all purposely “cheat” (sorry, mrgw) now and then (occasional egg from my backyard hens, for example) or take B12. Nor do the vegans I know claim that veganism is primarily about health of humans, but rather the health and well-being of other creatures (we agree on that mrgw). I became mostly vegan by process of elimination to cut calories and found along the way that I quite liked it for a host of reasons–some of them ethical.

    I’m all for dispelling notions of the superiority of any particular diet, but I really do not understand the compulsion of people to harp on veganism as a dietary choice–especially the tendency to make fun of it and give examples of how much one enjoys some particular food–always accompanied by detailed descriptions that are supposedly intended to make the vegan drool with envy due to his/her “deprivation”.

  44. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Jane, I looked into the relative contribution of meat versus vegetation to the diet and overall calorie count a little bit last week and couldn’t find a definitive answer. Could you link any sources on this point? My impression was that the issue was unsettled and there was evidence for both high-meat and high-vegetation options.

  45. rork says:

    mouse (and Hall): I read that last link more carefully and it does get into somewhat interesting details, so my flippant attitude was a bit overdone. Still, broadly measuring ecological damage is what counts for me, and is so much more than individual cows or mice. For example, dbe mentions that animals turn grass into human food, but there are alternatives – where I live that land would ideally be covered by A-stratum trees, and providing lots of ecosystem services: better air, better water, conserved soils, conservation of native plant and animal genetic diversity, places for humans. One way is taking care of “the land” better than the other. I want much less land involved in production of human food. At least conserve it for later possible uses.
    I want far less cows and pigs (etc.) to begin with, but not to avert their later individual deaths, but to avert their existence, cause of ecological damage (some cause more than others). I actually kill and eat local deer, and oddly, that probably benefits the land (we have lots).

  46. Calli Arcale says:

    Janet:

    This does not mean that we can’t survive on meat, but consider that people who do eat a lot of the bits that most of us would consider revolting–like glands (where vitamins are found).

    “Us” meaning what, your typical urban Americans? Eating organ meats used to be common here, and is still common in most of the world. But your average urban American does tend to be very picky about meat. Picky to the point where mechanically separated meat and lean, finely-textured beef get rebranded as “pink slime” rather than what our grandparents would’ve called them — “not being wasteful” — and even high-grade sirloin gets ground into hamburger. Brains, head cheese, haggis, tongue, tripe, chitterlings, sweetbreads (thymus and assorted other glands), suet, lard, marrow, “Rocky Mountain Oysters”, heart, kidneys, liver, oxtail, blood, chicken feet…. These things are still available in urban America, but are very much a niche market. I find this a bit tragic, actually, because I don’t think it’s responsible to kill an animal but only want a tiny part of the carcass, like the tenderloin in cows or the breast meat in chickens. I know slaughterhouses don’t waste any bits; they find buyers for every part, with the last bits going to the rendering plant. But I think a lot of meat eaters could do with more awareness of what they’re rejecting.

    rmgw:

    Still no-one addresses the main point, which is that (yes, supplementing with B12) Veganism (I will put in the link to the ADA statement as soon as I’ve finished this) or rather a vegan diet, is adequate for human health, so there is simply no excuse for killing or inconveniencing anyone else of whatever species to maintain it.

    One problem is that it is utter folly to think you can get through life without another animal dying for you. Be vegan if it makes you feel better, but you are still killing and inconveniencing other animals to maintain your lifestyle. It’s just less obvious. Like all other animals on this planet, we are in constant competition with our neighbors — whether we want to be or not. Agriculture kills a staggering number of wild animals; indeed, farming of plants (not livestock) is responsible for much of the current extinction problem. Some of it directly, as when a field is tilled and all the burrowing animals within it must flee or be cut to pieces (read “Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” sometime) or pest species are poisoned or trapped or otherwise removed, but most of it is indirect — razing habitats to grow crops (sometimes dramatically, like burning down rainforest to grow corn), altering drainage and changing surrounding habitats as a side-effect, fertilizing and changing habitats downstream, altering rainfall patterns by removing forest, eliminating flood cycles, etc. And even if you grow all your own food yourself (a major undertaking which most humans on this planet aren’t in a position to do, seeing as how most of them are urban), your property is displacing animals. Really, the only way for humans not to inconvenience any animals would be for humans not to exist at all.

  47. mousethatroared says:

    Janet “but I really do not understand the compulsion of people to harp on veganism as a dietary choice–especially the tendency to make fun of it and give examples of how much one enjoys some particular food–always accompanied by detailed descriptions that are supposedly intended to make the vegan drool with envy due to his/her “deprivation”.

    I agree and my apologies for engaging in that sort of activity with my Pączki comment. :( If it helps at all. I was more excited by the prospect of Pączki than any commentary on veganism. But that is no excuse.

    I think one reason that people harp on vegans is because most people have encountered the occasional vegan who attempts to convert non-vegans by being ‘holier than thou”. Of course most people have also encountered vegetarians, omnivores, christians, low fat eaters, athletes, car enthusiasts, the list goes on…that act in a similar fashion. I’m convinced that all groups include a small, vocal, annoying “holier than thou” minority and I am going to have to make more of an effort to get over it.

  48. mousethatroared says:

    @rork – Yes, it was just interesting to me, when one shifts the focus from domestic animals to all animals or from all animals to general conservation/land use, the different answers that come to the surface. And (once again), I really don’t have the background to understand it all.

  49. mousethatroared says:

    elburto
    “Preach it. As someone with permanent neurological damage due to B12 deficiency* I can attest to the need for this vital building block.

    *Apparently doctors have a bizarre aversion to diagnosing (and adequately treating) B12 deficiency in anyone who isn’t in their sixties or seventies.”

    I wonder why that is? I could come up with a 1/2 dozen guesses, but none of them seem to help me much when it come right down to dealing with individual doctors.

  50. rork says:

    Some day I’m gonna write like WLU or Calli, but don’t hold your breath.

    Speaking of guts:
    I and my hunting buddies have joked about going out during gun season (we mostly bow it) with buckets asking people for the deer livers, kidneys, hearts etc, cause most people “waste” these – though the coyotes benefit. This fall I had the bad luck of having visitors surprise me at the final act of butchering, wrestling the tongue out of a severed doe’s head – just when you’d wish people would stay away. They understood though. We regret the spleens and kidneys aren’t bigger. Hardly worth making milzwurst.

    At my (French) friends place however, where we kill all sorts of domestic animals, the kids are so used to it that they are down-right eager to help, since they are familiar with the results, including tricks with the blood to be eaten about 1 hour later, from animals they have known that year. We all agree that having kids help or at least observe butchering these (or wild animals) is a good thing – there’s lots of biology lessons in there, and some others as well. It’s different than the grocery store.

  51. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @rork
    In my case, I assume you mean “combining the superciliousness of a teenager with the humour of someone in constant pain”. I must therefore ask – why? The world already has too much me with just the one, I’m like a societal superfluous fat deposit, one which should be placed in cyst-like isolation and subsequently excised. Or treated by the book (i.e. hit with a book until I pop)

    But if you’re really serious about writing like me, buy a good thesaurus and find as many ways as you can to call other people stupid :)

    @Calli
    I’ve eaten chicken feet at dim sum. Too many bones, not worth the effort. Give me battered, deep-fried chicken wings any day. But what we really need is vat meat. Guilt-free, pre-seasoned, sterile vat meat, exercised by being attached to velcro strips (I kid you not).

  52. Janet says:

    @Calli

    I only meant that people who survive on meat don’t sit around gorging on filet mignon, and that our ancestors (whatever percent of their diets were meat) ate the “icky” bits to get all the nutrients often only found in these bits. And yes, I was mostly referring to the typical American meat eater, although I must tell you that “head cheese” is still popular here in Milwaukee. :-) I keep asking meat counter people (can’t really call them butchers anymore) what happens to the bits of chicken they don’t have anymore (I used to buy cheap packages of backs for stock, but these simply aren’t available anymore) and I mostly get blank stares from the younger ones, with the older ones sharing my lament. I guess it all goes to dog food these days.

    @Mouse

    Oh dear, I really wasn’t singling you out, but your discussion of the polish goodies did hit a nerve in general–in no way personal as I always enjoy your comments. I have gone to dinner with people who I consider gracious and educated, who would never mention it if you had a booger on your chin, but when I quietly order something meatless, they proceed to carry on and on about how they can’t stop salivating over the anticipated juiciness of the blood rare steak they have just ordered–all in a voice louder than their normal speaking range. Over the years, this has begun to get on my nerves a bit.

    It is very considerate, but completely unnecessary for you to apologize, but thank you for your sensitivity. I’m sure you’d make a delightful dinner companion. :-)

  53. Quill says:

    @ Janet who wrote: “I became mostly vegan by process of elimination to cut calories and found along the way that I quite liked it for a host of reasons–some of them ethical.”

    Substitute vegetarian for vegan and that’s the beginning of my story. I began to notice the less flesh I ate the better I felt, but If I cut out animal products entirely I began to feel worse, but in a different way. Finding a balance that was good for me took some time but it has been well worth it, especially as it let me to consider the ethical dimensions of food and looking at how what I eat affects other aspects of my life. Bringing some knowledge and awareness to food instead of mindlessly stuffing my face has been beneficial for me.

    “I’m all for dispelling notions of the superiority of any particular diet, but I really do not understand the compulsion of people to harp on veganism as a dietary choice–especially the tendency to make fun of it and give examples of how much one enjoys some particular food–always accompanied by detailed descriptions that are supposedly intended to make the vegan drool with envy due to his/her ‘deprivation’.”

    I think it is because food is among the most personal of choices, something terribly intimate and full of tradition, family values, history, cultural norms and since we are what we eat it’s the stuff we are made of. So of course anyone who eschews the norm is going to excite people, right down to turning them into adolescent teens looking for support among their peers ’round the table. :-)

  54. rork says:

    WLU: Well, let this fawning song climb to your ears, fair sir.
    I mean fluent, extremely knowledgeable, precise yet very clear and simply said, entertaining, successful at educating the reader. The last few months in particular I’ve noticed you thoroughly cover complicated issues when nobody else had the combination of full grasp and stamina, often in times of great need. (I don’t wish to imply rmgw is such a case – that was well said too, even if I don’t completely agree). I admire many others too, including of course our fine principal authors, every one of them – that’s a rather amazing thing now that I consider it.

    O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! (Tempest)

  55. The Dave says:

    Eating organ meats used to be common here, and is still common in most of the world. But your average urban American does tend to be very picky about meat. Picky to the point where mechanically separated meat and lean, finely-textured beef get rebranded as “pink slime” rather than what our grandparents would’ve called them — “not being wasteful” — and even high-grade sirloin gets ground into hamburger.

    That reminds me of a video “Friend A” posted the other day. “Friend B” made a comment about how good the chicken nuggets are at Burger King and so Friend A posted this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEMbWn6ClxM A segment of Jamie Oliver’s show trying to scare little kids away from eating processed chicken nuggets. He takes the chicken carcass after the breasts, wings and legs have been removed and explains how that gets all boiled and/or ground up and/or whatever and how that’s used to make the nuggets. I thought it was ridiculous and stopped watching shortly after he explains “fortunately, this isn’t how chicken nuggets are made in this country… ” My thought was, “then why the heck show it?!” But I also thought: what’s so bad about that? its edible, and its not poisoning anybody. It also goes along with what you said about “not-being wasteful”

    I fear for Friend A: he wants to go to medical school, but he’s tried quoting Dr. Lustig (i think?) about how all sugar is poison, and other nonsense. I kind of hope he never makes it in.

  56. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    I mean fluent, extremely knowledgeable, precise yet very clear and simply said, entertaining, successful at educating the reader. The last few months in particular I’ve noticed you thoroughly cover complicated issues when nobody else had the combination of full grasp and stamina, often in times of great need. (I don’t wish to imply rmgw is such a case – that was well said too, even if I don’t completely agree). I admire many others too, including of course our fine principal authors, every one of them – that’s a rather amazing thing now that I consider it.

    I mostly do it to amuse or annoy my wife, but sometimes it’s just to prove how clever I am. Sometimes it’s just pure bloody-minded orneryness. OH NO YOU DON’T GET THE LAST WORD, THE LAST WORD IS MINE!!!!!

    I also combine the worst traits of a whore for attention and a drama queen :)

    It’s bizarre that the internet is so far removed from actual people, yet the ability to entertain and/or irritate perfect strangers remains incredibly rewarding.

  57. mousethatroared says:

    @Janet – I’m glad you said something and I’m happy we’re good.

  58. I second WLU’s call for commercial vat meat! I would buy that stuff RIGHT NOW, weird texture and all! I mean really, I LOVE potted meat, and that has a pretty weird, undifferentiated texture– so do Vienna sausages! I think the vat meat developers are underestimating their potential market.

  59. mousethatroared says:

    Commercial vat meat? The branding agencies are salivating for that job.

  60. Calli Arcale says:

    Janet:

    I only meant that people who survive on meat don’t sit around gorging on filet mignon, and that our ancestors (whatever percent of their diets were meat) ate the “icky” bits to get all the nutrients often only found in these bits.

    I gotcha now. Thanks. I think we’re largely in agreement, then. A diet of nothing but filet would be . . . well, in addition to being expensive and unhealthy, frankly, it’d be boring!

    I’ve become a fan of Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods”. It’s amazing the stuff he finds, and a real pleasure to see the sheer gusto with which he attacks each meal item. He really will give any food a chance. ;-)

    I’ve not had the same experience of meat-eating boors, but then, I eat meat, so perhaps it just doesn’t come up. But I *have* had the same experience with atheists and Christian fundamentalists on message boards and such. It’s not reflective of a majority, in my opinion; it’s just that the boorish ones are louder and much easier to remember than the polite, respectful ones — who, being polite and respectful, may never even identify themselves. A sort of confirmation bias of boorishness exists. In a message board, you have the luxury of ignoring them. In a dinner party, that’s not possible, so I suggest the “bean dip maneuver”. A bean-dip is something said when someone has brought up an inappropriate or offensive topic in order to terminate that conversation and redirect to something else. “Well, I wouldn’t know about that, but have you tried this bean dip? It’s awesome!” (Admittedly, “bean dip” is probably not a good topic in this context, as it would invite further vegan-bashing, but the idea was coined for things like Aunt Nelly asking why you haven’t had any kids yet when you’re openly gay, or something like that.)

  61. Jacob V says:

    Soylent Green!

  62. Narad says:

    Soylent Green!

    Silent Running!

  63. Raccoons says:

    Hey there, thanks for the good article, I have been thinking many of the same things myself.

    Regarding the issue of dietary fat impairing endothelial function in the postprandial period: I have seen this mentioned on this site twice now, the other time in reference to Dean Ornish’s claims, and I thought that I should supply my take on it. Flow-dependent vasoactivity or flow-mediated dilation, also known as endothelial function, is the ability of the arteries to dilate in response to increased blood flow. It’s important for the prevention of atherosclerosis http://ajpheart.physiology.org/content/282/1/H1.full

    While a low sample size is a valid criticism of the study cited, there has been substantial research on this subject. A process known as lipotoxicity can damage the endothelial cells in some cases http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19818873 However the final conclusion of Dr. Greger and Dean Ornish is hardly the whole story. If you just go to the pubmed abstract of the cited study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9036757 and click “see all” for the related citations section, you’ll notice something curious – there are an awful lot of studies demonstrating complete prevention of this fatty acid induced endothelial damage with certain dietary and lifestyle factors.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11679024
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9388088
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20555373
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18993165
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16896723
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165454

    That’s just some of it. Lipotoxicity is not necessarily caused by eating dietary fat, it has to do with the ability of the cells to reduce their uptake of fatty acids to avoid overload, the ability of the adipose tissue to quickly store fatty acids, and the ability to metabolize fatty acids safely; all of these things are modulated by a variety of important nutrients as well as exercise. It’s really quite a fascinating subject for me and I can’t pretend to have an expert opinion, so I urge people to read the literature on it if they have the time.

    They would have had to know about this, you don’t read the literature on this stuff and come to the conclusion that fat damages the arteries if you read all of it…unless you have an agenda.

    I have caught Dr. Greger cherry-picking, misrepresenting research and generally being dishonest numerous times. Basically any time anything involving food of animal origins is mentioned, he is certainly not a credible source for information. I hate to say all of the ugly things, but there’s just no other logical path :(

  64. Lytrigian says:

    Pączki are curiously relevant to this subject. Customs like this — including blini in Russia, “Fat Tuesday” and Carnival in other countries, were part of one last great binge on animal products before Lent, when according to the old Christian traditions they were totally forbidden until Easter. Poles are Catholic, but their Orthodox Slavic neighbors give up their animal products in stages, starting with meat one week and then dairy (including eggs) the next, but the idea is the same: We’re not gonna have anything like this for more than a month. Get it while you can!

    What was left was essentially a vegan diet, but undertaken for ascetic reasons, not for bodily health. This would have been more evident in premodern times, as it happens during a time of year when fresh produce could not be had. Dried and preserved fruits and vegetables, grains, and legumes were the main staples. Even if you happen to like kasha, it would become a tad irksome after 6 or 7 weeks of it.

  65. annappaa says:

    It’s always irksome that so many vegans aren’t content to quietly be vegans, they must be seen to be vegans.

    Have you heard of the “toupee fallacy”? You can check it out on Rational Wiki, but in a nutshell: Vegans as a group might seem to be mostly loud and preachy, but that’s only because you aren’t counting the “quiet” vegans in your informal census for the precise reason that they are “content to quietly be vegans.”

  66. mousethatroared says:

    Calli Arcale “I suggest the “bean dip maneuver”. A bean-dip is something said when someone has brought up an inappropriate or offensive topic in order to terminate that conversation and redirect to something else. “Well, I wouldn’t know about that, but have you tried this bean dip? It’s awesome!””

    A similar tactic is known in our family as “Look at that cat!” Based on my grandmother’s response to my dad bringing up a rather painful family topic over dinner. As my father went on (and on), she looked across the room and noticed her cat reclining on the chair. She exclaimed, in her loud cracking voice (she was quite hard of hearing) “Look at that cat!” and then went on to proclaim (in an equally loud voice) what a good life that cat had. Really people just can’t recover their train of thought after such a robustly cheerful change of subject.

    Of course cat observations will not work for every occasion. In a resturant, I might try “OMG is that Steve Buscemi* over there?”

    *Insert name of actor who has a slight resemblance to the man or woman with their back to you 15 tables away.

  67. oraknabo says:

    @WLU and Perky Skeptic

    While I’m in no way opposed to the idea of vat meat–I think it could go a long way towards shrinking the current size of factory farming and do a lot for the environment–It doesn’t really solve any “problems” in the vegan diet.

    Anyone eating this hypothetical vat meat is still going to have to supplement with B12 because the only reason it’s in your current meat is because livestock graze and ingest the kind of bacteria we used to get from drinking from streams and eating unwashed foods. The same goes for omega-3s. Cows and chickens get them from grass and fish get them from algae. I guess it might be possible to fortify the vat meat with these things, but you can do that with any vegan food product too. There are already cereals that are well fortified with B12.

    I bet there are a lot of vegans who would eat vat meat, but when you’ve been vegan a long time, meat isn’t really that appealing. As long as I’d still be taking a B12 supplement (and I can take algae oil if I think I’m not getting enough omega-3 but I mostly avoid supplements) I’d probably just stick to my beans and grains.

    If someone made vat meat from humans how many human meat lovers are going to be jumping to try it? That’s what I want to know. And if your “test” for vegans reason is whether they would want to eat a cruelty-free steak would it be unreasonable for a non-vegan to not want to eat dogs and cats if there meat were suddenly made legal?

  68. oraknabo says:

    sorry, “their meat” in the last sentence

  69. pchem says:

    Let me begin by applauding the premise of SBM. I’m a fan of critical thinking and good science. And I appreciate the approach, Dr. Hall, that you outline in this review, with your list of questions (“What exactly is he claiming?” and so on).

    But right off the bat, there’s a problem with your review. You append “curable by veganism”—not a claim of Dr. Greger’s—to a quote used to introduce his talk, thus creating a strawman to knock down. Not a very fair or impressive feat. You repeat this maneuver throughout.

    Finally, in your conclusion, you state the following: “The video confirmed what I already knew from evaluating the published evidence: it is healthier to eat more plant-based foods and less red meat.” Indeed.

    So what’s your complaint? The next sentence presents the strawman once again: “It didn’t convince me that we should categorically eliminate all animal products.” Who said it would? Not Dr. Greger.

    It may be that your vegan activist thought this video would win you over to veganism, and promised you so. And if that’s the case, the proper target of your complaint is that activist. Not Dr. Greger.

    I’d say (at the risk of sounding like Dr. Hall’s activist!) that folks should view the video for themselves, and see if they think if Dr. Hall’s commentary is fair or not.

  70. pchem says:

    Raccoons, what I’ve observed, as someone who keeps up with the NutritionFacts.org site, is that Dr. Greger shows concern for accuracy, and seems genuinely appreciative of corrections sent his way. When he’s made mistakes, he’s owned up to them. He gives thanks and credit to whoever has pointed out errors in his work.

    You accuse him of dishonesty, but I’m not sure why I should take your word for it. In fact, here’s a video in which he cites research that challenges the notion that metabolism of animal protein is bad for bone health. (See “Is Protein Bad to the Bone?”: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-protein-bad-to-the-bone/) A lot of vegfolks think this notion is true, but the best science indicates otherwise, and he sticks up for the science.

    Likewise, he draws fire for presenting the evidence against other kinds of quackery, including homeopathy, dietary supplements, “ionizing” water machines. Your hostility to him seems unfounded. (Unless you have some agenda of your own, I guess. Sorry to be suspicious, but that seems like a plausible explanation.)

  71. Raccoons says:

    @pchem

    Okay well I’m sorry for saying that it’s dishonesty, I don’t really care whether or not he’s dishonest but he does have a vegan agenda and there’s no denying that. I don’t know if that’s dishonesty but that’s what he has and it causes him to present one side of the story or a very superficial two-sided story. If I was an intelligent but exceedingly biased person I would try to look as fair and balanced as I could while still suggesting that my position was right! If that means occasionally dismissing some obviously incorrect hypotheses that supports my position that’s fine, as long as in the end a vegan diet is still the best.

    Maybe having vegan bias is beneficial to an intellectual ecosystem, I have certainly found his posts and videos useful, though I have tend to disagree that the evidence entails that a vegan diet is the way to go. Sometimes I don’t think that anybody could be blamed for missing things, for example he says that since IGF-1 levels correlated with some cancers and animal protein and particularly dairy raise them that this must mean that animal protein increases the risk by that virtue, yet IGF-1 receptors are downregulated by vitamin d metabolites and when vitamin d levels are sufficient the association between IGF-1 and cancer nearly vanishes http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028520. And animal protein doesn’t account for the majority of the normal variance in IGF-1 levels anyway. I don’t think that he could be expected to know that one, but what I did was look through all of the literature in pubmed and try to find evidence that falsified his hypothesis, which everyone should do all of the time, and there it was. The difference is a little bit of skepticism, and you see this deficiency with all sorts of people from low carbers to paleo dieters to anyone else who is hell-bent on proving that some food is the harbinger of doom. Context matters bigtime and confounds associations and even clinical trials, and oftentimes scientists have been keen enough to discover these contextual issues, all you have to do is look. That people don’t look hard is a sign of bias and when they miss the context when it’s remarkably simple to find it, like clicking a button on pubmed, that spells a-g-e-n-d-a.

  72. Raccoons says:

    I could write a book on nutrition hypotheses that people cling to that can be easily refuted with an hour on pubmed. On and on and on,. Vegan beliefs would be the main attraction and I would have to thank Dr. Greger and Dean Ornish in the foreword for making it all possible.

  73. Raccoons says:

    Correction: Dean Ornish isn’t a vegan advocate per se, he just strongly recommends it because as we all know the most important step towards good health is to purge every single molecule of cholesterol from our diets, nevermind the higher incidence of heart attacks amongst vegans compared with lacto-ovo vegetarians that has been known for over a decade (not that this entails that vegan diets are bad per se, it could all be the B12 deficiency, but then you have to maintain that saturated fat and cholesterol aren’t as important as a moderate variance in B12 levels!)

  74. Barry2 says:

    @pchem

    I’m reasonably familiar with Michael Greger’s work myself. Although it’s not clear from his NutritionFacts web site, he’s definitely out to get people to eat vegan diets. Type “www.veganMD.org” into your address bar and see whose web site it brings you to. This web site now lists its URL as “www.drgreger.org”, and I didn’t manage to find the word “vegan” when I quickly perused the site, but to those of us who’ve met him through vegetarian organizations, his agenda is quite open. It’s supposedly an honest agenda, but when you combine the sloppy research that Dr. Hall uncovered with the fact his veganism is no longer clearly visible to the general public, his agenda starts to look somewhat shady.

    @annappaa

    I love your mention of the “toupee fallacy”! People who know me know that I’m vegan, but usually only if we’ve eaten together, and the type of food I was looking for came up. (Or if they’ve heard other people ribbing me about it.) An omnivore I know even complimented me once for not attacking his food choices. I used to be an omnivore myself (and after the debunking of my vegan nutrition sources on this blog, I may very well be one again), so I see no reason to take a holier-than-thou attitude. When people hear that I’m vegan and see that I’m still breathing, they can decide on their own whether to ask me about my diet.

    @rmgw @oraknabo

    You say that animal products don’t look desirable to true (rmgw) or longterm (oraknabo) vegans. I’ve been a vegan for most of the past 9 years ago, and I still haven’t completely lost my cravings for non-vegan foods, including meat.

  75. surfgeorge says:

    I know others have pointed this out, but

    Ms. Hall wrote:

    “Vegans offer some good arguments based on ethics, environmental protection, cruelty to animals, and sustainability. I won’t get into those issues here. I’ll only address the scientific evidence behind the health claims.”

    and

    “Veganism Prevents Harm to Animals

    That sounds like a slam-dunk, but it’s more complicated. Some people think veganism is not really the lifestyle of least harm to animals.”

    Not to mention the anecdotes, cherry-picking, and multiple strawman arguments. A rather poor example of purported critical thinking skills.

  76. PJLandis says:

    I did just watch the video and I can see why it might be persuasive but almost everything he claims sounds like, and on cursory review of a few citations definitely is, an overstatement of the evidence.

    For example, I find it very hard to believe that eating a 1/4 chicken breast triples my risk of Lymphoma and apparently the authors of that study weren’t convinced either, “Chance is a plausible explanation of the observed associations, which need to be confirmed in further studies.” In the video its presented as indisputable. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.25387/pdf

    And here are a few others quotes which don’t completely contradict his statements but put them in a perspective completely lacking in his presentation, “Total cancer incidence was significantly lower among fish eaters and borderline significantly lower among vegetarians than among meat eaters.” And he conveniently left out “The incidence of colorectal cancer overall was 13% lower than the national rate, but among vegetarians it was almost identical to the national rate.” So a vegetarian diet is almost as bad as cured and red meats when it comes to increasing your risk of colon cancer; unlikely, but no less supported than most of his statements.
    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1620S.long

  77. oraknabo says:

    @Barry2
    Sorry, didn’t mean to generalize. You might be exactly the kind of person vat meat would appeal to. Like I sad, I’m sure there are a lot of vegans who would happily eat it.

    I’ve been vegan for 20 years and I really wasn’t that into meat before I quit. I really like the food I eat now a lot more than anything I ate before I went vegan. I also don’t like any of the kind of fake meat products that seem to exist only to satisfy cravings for things vegans and vegetarians don’t eat anymore. Sure, I eat veggie burgers made of beans, grains, seeds and vegetables but it’s not because I’m trying to recapture some love for hamburgers. I just like the veggie burgers. I’m not into soy sausages, soy burgers and soy dogs or any of the highly processed junk you can get at health food stores.

    If, for some unexpected reason, vat meat appealed to me I wouldn’t have any problem trying it, but I’d be very surprised if it did

  78. William B'Livion says:

    [blockquote]Vegans offer some good arguments based on ethics, environmental protection, cruelty to animals, and sustainability.[/blockquote]

    No, they do not.

    And I know you don’t want to talk about it, but vegans and vegetarians throw that stinky, stinky bait out there and then treat it as given and go on.

    The arguments based on ethics, which encompasses cruelty to animals are of various quality. Some are good, others equate to “killing is bad”. I won’t go into those because they based on culture and religion and are not readily amenable to facts.

    Their arguments on environmental protection and sustainability are generally based on MASSIVE ignorance of the actual environment the difference between the types of soil/environment that can support production of lean beef, chicken, sheep, goat etc., and how that sort of ranching improves “biodiversity” in some areas. These are often the same sort of middle and upper class whole foods shoppers who don’t realize just how much their much impact their “organic” lifestyle actually has on the environment, and how much MORE land we’d have to convert to farming in order to get the calorie and nutrient density that most folks currently get from meat.

    To give one example there is a LOT of beef and other meats produced in central Australia (aka “The Outback”). There is simply *no way* you can effectively farm those areas. Arizona and parts of Nevada are the same.

    And yes, there are ways to make marginal soil raise more food. Much of this involves animals.

    A lot of the beef (and milk and cheese) produced in California is from land that would otherwise do absolutely nothing if it were not producing calories and nutrients from animals.

    I’m not arguing for factory farming. That generally is NOT good for the environment (although there are mitigations that can actually make them more useful) , and the quality of the the meat produced is questionable, but the sustainability arguments (at least those I’ve been presented with) are bunk.

    As to the environmental side, factory farming of meat may not be good for the environment, but runoff from large fruit and vegetable farms do as much or more damage.

    And if your answer is to go back to small, local vegetable plots you’re going to have to figure out how to force lots of folks who can’t even keep their *lawn* green to grow their own food.

  79. pchem says:

    @William B’Livion
    This is asked with sincerity, not snark—I’m really wondering, and interested in the answer: what about the water needed by livestock? I thought you might be saying that the Australian Outback and parts of Arizona & Nevada are unsuitable for growing crops because they’re arid… but don’t animals consume a lot of water, too?

    And about ethical arguments—I wonder if you’ve seen philosophy prof Mylan Engel’s argument. It’s context-dependent, and I think it’s brilliant. I have yet to see an effective rebuttal: http://www.uta.edu/philosophy/faculty/burgess-jackson/Engel,%20The%20Immorality%20of%20Eating%20Meat%20(2000).pdf

  80. PJLandis says:

    Just off the top of my head, you can probably irrigate the desert, but the soil itself isn’t going to be suitable to growing crops nor is the weather. And I’d also think animals would use less water, if only because they can put their mouths right into the source rather than needing to soak it up from the ground which can’t be as conservative.

  81. pchem says:

    And in those conditions, livestock are eating what?

  82. s.b. says:

    Hello Harriet.

    Don Matesz has written a critique of your critique on his blog. I was wondering if you could comment on it.

    Thanks.

    http://donmatesz.blogspot.ca/2013/02/harriet-halls-critique-of-gregers.html

  83. Narad says:

    Don Matesz has written a critique of your critique on his blog. I was wondering if you could comment on it.

    This is going to come off as an ad hominem, but I’ve only scanned his critique, which is based at least partially on argumentum ad YouTubium (vos fistulam?), so I’m not disputing it. But how do you get a master’s degree in philosophy without a bachelor’s degree?

  84. Barry2 says:

    @s.b.
    Since Dr. Hall didn’t respond to your comment, and I’m a vegan, I decided to look into this myself. Right now, I’m about 1/3 of the way into the Greger video, and I’m embarrassed that I used to take Greger seriously. I’m also surprised that, contrary to Don Matesz’ article, Dr. Hall was actually restrained in her criticism of the video. Even as a layman, I caught what seems to be a bald-faced lie starting at about 17:55. You may have to go back a few minutes to get the context, but Greger introduces a study that he claims shows that the blood of a vegan inhibits cancer. However, not even the title of the study passes muster: “Analyzing Serum-Stimulated Prostate Cancer Cell Lines After Low-Fat, High-Fiber Diet and Exercise Intervention”. And indeed, if you read the study at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135793/, you’ll see that the subjects’ diet included fish and poultry – not unavoidably, but apparently by design, since it was measured. I admire Dr. Hall’s fortitude in sitting through the whole video; I’m stopping here.

    It’s unfortunate that Dr. Hall wasn’t as restrained in her comments about vegans; that gives the promoters of vegan health claims an opening to say that her criticism comes from bias. But if you’re a regular reader of SBM, as I am now, and you actually watch the video, I think you’ll find it hard to take it seriously.

  85. Barry2 says:

    A retraction and apology is in order: I watched a bit more of the video, and I saw that Greger wasn’t claiming that the the study, “Analyzing Serum-Stimulated Prostate Cancer Cell Lines After Low-Fat, High-Fiber Diet and Exercise Intervention”, used a vegan diet. Instead, he was saying that the diet was “plant-based”, which, in fact, it largely was. So, no lie. I apologize for not watching further when I wrote the last comment.

    Now, I wish that were the end of the story, and I could be confident that my vegan diet was wiping up cancer cells. However, this part of the video is still rather confusing. The study had only 5 subjects, all men in the same age group. So, hardly as conclusively as Greger says. Also, when he goes on to question just how plant-based one’s diet has to be to get this effect, he introduces a study that claims to show that the effect is significant only in vegans – even though he has just discussed a study that supposedly shows a dramatic effect in men whose diet includes animal products.

    So, my vegan verdict is that the portion of the video I watched is at best confused. More confused than I would expect from any good-faith effort worth defending with a critique, as Don Matesz did. And after my earlier mistake, I have even more respect for the writers on this blog, who have to be more careful than I was before rendering verdicts on stuff like this.

  86. tac98 says:

    # pchemon 15 Feb 2013 at 9:40 pm
    And in those conditions, livestock are eating what?

    Something I can answer! I grew up on what we in Australia call a cattle station (I guess the American equivalent would be a ranch) in an area of Australia where the mean yearly rainfall is around 300mm, and often unreliable. The available soil moisture, and the soil fertility, in these parts of Australia are generally too low to sustain cropping or horticulture (exceptions being the Gascoyne horticultural district, which relies on aquifer water associated with th Gascoyne river, and the Ord River Irrigation Scheme). However, lots of native Australian plants grow quite happily in these regions – acacias, hummock and tussock grasses and so on. These plants are able to grow and set seed rapidly enough in the wet season that they provide food for grazing animals like sheep, cattle, goats, camels and horses year round. Irrigation for purposes of stock feed is uncommon, although not unheard of.

    Drinking water for animals is either from dams (filled by rainfall each wet season), bores/wells tapping into shallow underground water, or a combination of the two.

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