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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarianism in the News

August 30, 2015 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

Editors' Note: One of our readers, Zoe Langley, wrote to us after reading our article below about Dr. Andrew Weil's views about the vegan diet.

CLICK HERE to read her valuable comments that appear at the end of our article.

Dear Dr. Weil:
Why Do You Suggest a Vegan Diet Is Dangerous?

We were confused when we read the interview, "Wellness experts weigh in on the vegan diet" in the Tampa Bay Times that included your views about a vegan diet. In one paragraph you cite the dangers of the diet while in another you offer praise and describe it as healthy.

In one statement you offer cautionary warnings about the vegan diet:

"However, vegans often have decreased intakes of vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, I am cautious about vegan diets in general, especially for children. Following a vegan diet requires that you acknowledge the important nutrients missing from your menu options and supplement where needed. For this reason I recommend that anyone beginning a vegan diet meet first with a well-trained dietitian."

Dr. Andrew Weil We take exception with the whole paragraph, especially the last sentence that implies that a vegan diet is dangerous, and that anyone contemplating following that plan is incapable of undertaking it without the help of a "well-trained dietitian." Your statement also suggests that following this diet is dangerous without knowing what a "well-trained dietitian" knows.

Why have you directed your comments specifically toward those wanting to explore a vegan diet when most Americans are the ones who need the guidance of a well-trained dietitian? A huge portion of our population following a standard American diet is deficient in the nutrients you mention. Many non-vegan Americans are also deficient in vitamin B12.

Your listing calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, and omega-3 acids frightens people into believing that a vegan diet lacks sufficient quantities of these nutrients. We realize it is important for vegans to supplement with vital B-12, but those who eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds will actually have plenty of the other nutrients on your list.

We know of many "well-trained dietitians" who say a person cannot get enough calcium without consuming dairy products. Both Doctors Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. and Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic advocate that everyone avoid dairy products. We also encountered "well-trained dietitians" who recommend eating lean meat for its iron, even though studies have revealed meat is a carcinogen that may cause colon cancer.

Many dietitians lack sufficient information about the benefits of a plant-based diet and were trained in diets based on animal products only. Their lack of current research promoting the plant based diet causes them to perpetuate the myths that one cannot get enough of the essential nutrients following a vegan regimen.

In its position paper that appeared in the Journal of the Academy and Dietetics, the Academy stated, "It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that dietary fat for the healthy adult population should provide 20% to 35% of energy, with an increased consumption of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and limited intake of saturated and trans fats. The Academy recommends a food-based approach through a diet that includes regular consumption of fatty fish, nuts and seeds, lean meats and poultry, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes."

After reading this statement from the Academy, we feel that so many dietitians are not open to or qualified to advise potential vegans. Perhaps, you need to qualify your advice to your audience that vegans visit a dietitian who understands the merits of a plant-based diet.

Your cautionary statement about veganism for their offspring would dismay many parents raising vegan children. We can supply you with the names of many children who have been raised on a vegan diet from birth and have grown up to be healthy adults without having the chronic diseases of their omnivore friends.

We don't want to be accused of cherry picking the information in the article. We commend you for making the following statement:

"A vegan diet can be both satisfying and healthy. Plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and provide higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids and flavonoids. Epidemiologic data suggest that following a plant-based diet leads to lower rates of chronic disease, including a reduced incidence of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Vegans are also thinner, have lower cholesterol levels, and appear to be at reduced risk for a variety of cancers."

After reading the preceding paragraph that expresses enormous advantages of a vegan diet, we wonder why you supplied such negative information first. Your praise of the vegan diet in the above paragraph says it all. Wouldn't it be advantageous to stress that people adopt a vegan diet and emphasize that they consume a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds every day in order to maintain a healthy body and avoid most of today's chronic diseases.

Today books on vegan health and nutrition, along with a plethora of vegan cookbooks, are widely available. There is nothing to fear in following a vegan diet, if one approaches it sensibly. A sound vegan diet involves conscious eating of a wide variety of plant foods. We hope you agree!

Zel and Reuben Allen
Vegetarians in Paradise

My Views on Vitamin B12

By Zoe Langley

I am a lurker in this paradise and have gleaned much from your newsletters over a number of years. I have a personal interest in vegan nutrition, especially B12. This is because in my searching, much information indicates humans can and historically have gotten adequate amounts of B12 in their diets.

There is much solid research on getting B12 via a plant based diet that is being ignored or unfairly criticized. Dr. Weil's negative comments on vegan diets are disappointing so I'm adding my two cents to the post.

Regarding this quote from the interview with Dr. Weil:

"However, vegans often have decreased intakes of vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, I am cautious about vegan diets in general, especially for children."

I cannot speak to all the decreased intakes in the quote, but the one about B12 is significant. Some of the earlier studies on vegetarians did find they may have low levels of B12. However, in at least one study, those subjects had none of the symptoms associated with B12 deficiency as the abstract below shows:

Acta Haematol. 1975;53(2):90-7. Vitamin B12 and vegetarianism in India
Jathar VS, Inamdar-Deshmukh AB, Rege DV, Satoskar RS.

Apparently healthy Indian lacto-vegetarians have significantly lower serum levels and urinary excretion of vitamin B12 as compared to non-vegetarians. The low levels of serum vitamin B12 in lacto-vegetarians are not due to defective absorption but to low dietary intake of this vitamin. In spite of considerably low serum vitamin B12 values, the lacto-vegetarians have no apparent signs or symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency and their response to injected cyanocobalamin mixed with tracer radioactive B12, as judged by urinary excretion pattern and liver uptake, was similar to that observed in non-vegetarians.


Meat based diets are associated with production of the amino acid homocysteine recognized as detrimental to our health. Vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid are needed to properly break down homocysteine so it does not cause harm. Quoting Dr. Weil on homocysteine:

" Elevated homocysteine levels are thought to contribute to plaque formation by damaging arterial walls …. Blood levels of homocysteine tend to be highest in people who eat a lot of animal protein and consume few fruits and leafy vegetables, which provide the folic acid and other B vitamins that help the body rid itself of homocysteine."

Switching to a vegan diet is also linked to lowering homocysteine levels.

Prev. Med. 2000 Mar;30(3):225-33. Vegan diet-based lifestyle program rapidly lowers homocysteine levels.
DeRose DJ1, Charles-Marcel ZL, Jamison JM, Muscat JE, Braman MA, McLane GD, Keith Mullen J.

A few questions come up here regarding plant-based diets.

  1. In some studies, vegans/vegetarians with "low" levels of B12 have none of the classic B12 deficiency symptoms seen in their meat eating counterparts with low B12 levels. Does eating a plant-based diet reduce the body's need for vitamin B12?
  2. Does eating a meat-based diet increase the need for folic acid, vitamin B6, and B12 to break down homocysteine that is a byproduct of meat consumption?
  3. Can chronic meat consumption lead to B12 deficiency by using up the body's stores of B12 to break down homocysteine?

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