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   Vesanto Melina, Brenda Davis and Victoria Harrison | Becoming Vegetarian

The authors’ Rebuttal the Dairy Farmers of Canada Response
to Becoming Vegetarian

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
(Part 3)

Page 11

1. "No food is an essential food. Although no one has ever claimed that milk is an 'essential' food, its consumption on a regular basis does help to facilitate meeting one's RNI for calcium."

Perhaps the critics ought to have another look at Canada's Food Guide ( Using the Food Guide1). In this publication the word "essential" is used in reference to each of the four food groups.

"Each food group is essential. That is because it provides its own set of nutrients." (pg. 5)

1. Health and Welfare Canada. Using the Food Guide. Ministry of Supply and Services Canada. 1992.

(ISBN 0-662-19649)

2. It has been claimed that vegetarians have a lowered risk of diabetes mellitus and other diseases such as coronary artery disease and hypertension... Unless and until comparisons between vegetarian and non-vegetarian populations become available, with other lifestyle factors held constant, health benefits cannot be attributed solely to a lack of consumption of animal products."


This statement was made as part of the argument countering the statement "we hear reports of ...diabetes" which, as we mentioned was taken out of context. But since the Dairy Bureau nutritionists mention it, vegetarians do have a lower risk for several major chronic diseases. This fact has been recognized by researchers for some time. The American Dietetic Association in their position paper on vegetarian diets state:

"Studies of vegetarians indicate that they often have lower mortality rates from several chronic degenerative diseases than do nonvegetarians. These effects may be attributable to diet as well as to other lifestyle characteristics such as maintaining desirable weight, regular physical activity, and abstinence from smoking, alcohol, and illicit drugs."1

While there are a number of lifestyle factors that may favorably influence the health of vegetarians, studies have been done that control for other lifestyle factors to allow a more accurate assessment of the affects of diet. Those which are most notable are studies done within the Seventh Day Adventist community, where a definite health advantage has been observed in those Adventists who consume a vegetarian diet rather than an omnivorous diet.2,3

1. American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets. J.Am.Diet.Assoc. 93:1317-1319, 1993.

2. Snowden. D.A. Animal product consumption and mortality because of all causes combined, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer in Seventh-day Adventists. Am J Clin Nutr. 48:739-748, 1988.

3. Mills, P. Cancer among Seventh-day Adventists. Am.J.Clin.Nutr. 59(suppl): 1136(s)-1142(s), 1994.

3. "In order for any one beverage derived from legumes to be considered as an alternative to milk for those who do not drink milk, it should provide (or be fortified to levels found in milk) the 15 vitamins and minerals considered to be significant in milk".

This statement suggests that the only way one can meet their nutritional needs is to include 2-4 servings of milk, dairy products or foods that are fortified to provide the same amount of vitamins and minerals as milk. This thinking ignores the many patterns of eating throughout the world that provide adequate nutrition with little or no dairy products. Following Canada's Food Guide is one way of ensuring nutritional needs are met and indeed, this method works very well. But we cannot assume that it is the only way.

In Health Canada's Nutrition Recommendations (calcium section), we are told:

"Beyond weaning age, children and adults of various countries and food cultures subsist on diet differing markedly in their calcium content. These differences in calcium intake, which are due mainly to the relative strengths of the dairy industry have not been demonstrated to have any consequences for nutritional health."1

Food guides from many other cultures often include dairy foods as "optional". This does not diminish the nutritional value of cows' milk -- milk is an excellent source of calcium and people who consume an Western style diet may have difficulty meeting their calcium needs without milk. However, for those with different patterns of eating, a nutritionally adequate diet can be planned using little or no dairy products.

The criteria for being in the milk and milk products group of Canada's Food Guide is that the food must be a dairy product and must contain sufficient calcium -- nothing more.2 Thus, to meet Health Canada's criteria, alternatives to dairy could also be selected on the basis of calcium. When we look at the overall dietary pattern, other essential nutrients (including those found in dairy products) are supplied in adequate amounts by a variety of foods. Vegan diets generally provide more whole foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables than do omnivorous diets, thus numerous vitamins and minerals are already quite high.

1. Health and Welfare Canada. Nutrition Recommendations: The report of the Scientific Review Committee. Ministry of Supply and Services Canada. 1990.

2. Health and Welfare Canada. Action Towards Healthy Eating. Report of the Task Group and Technical Group on Canada's Food Guide and the Task Group on Food consumption to the Communications/Implementation Committee. Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1990.

Page 12

1. Table 6.1 (Contribution of Dairy Products to the Average Canadian Diet)

We are well aware of the contribution of dairy in the diet of the average Canadian, and we recognize the value of dairy products for the majority of the Canadians. Our intention in writing a chapter for vegetarians who use little or no dairy products was to help them plan a nutritionally adequate diet not to degrade milk as a source of nutrients.

2. "Most people claiming to be lactose intolerant are self-diagnosed, never having had an actual tolerance test. It's unfortunate than dieticians would exploit a misunderstanding in order to promote their agenda."

Our critics are once again incorrectly assuming they understand our "agenda". Our "agenda", or the purpose of our book, is to assist those people who choose a vegetarian or vegan diet to meet their nutritional needs.

To downplay lactose intolerance as is done by the Dairy Bureau nutritionists is unfair to the many individuals who suffer its consequences. While they would have readers believe that lactose intolerance is largely a "misunderstanding", it is a reality for the an estimated 75% of the world's population, including the majority of native Indians, Orientals and African Americans.1 Even some Europeans populations such as the Italians, Spanish and French experience relatively high rates of lactose intolerance ( an estimated 32 to 72 % of their populations)2. Indeed, an estimated 7-15% of Northern Europeans are lactose intolerant, and it is this population who experiences the lowest incidence. In United States, an approximately 20-25% of the population is affected.1

1. Hertzler, S., Huynh, B. and Savalano, D. How much lactose is low lactose? J.Am.Diet.Assoc. Vol.96, No.3:243-246, 1996.

2. Flatz,G. Genetics of lactose digestion in humans. In : Harris H. and Hirschhorn, K. eds. Advances in Human Genetics. New York, NY: Plenum: 1987: 1-77.

Page 13

1. "It has been estimated that up to 70% of the world's population (not Canada's) have genetically determined limited ability to digest lactose, but 80% of lactose maldigesters can drink a glass of milk (12 g of lactose)."

While it is true that some individuals with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to a cup of milk per day, they can rarely tolerate the 2-4 servings per day recommended in our food guide. This argument only strengthens the case for including calcium-rich alternatives to dairy products on food guides. If lactose-intolerant people can only consume one cup of milk or less per day, it would certainly be of benefit for them to have guidance regarding other reliable sources of calcium.

2. "The bottom line is that to cite lactose intolerance as a valid reason for mass rejection of milk is inappropriate".

At no point did we cite lactose intolerance as a valid reason for "mass rejection of milk". What we did state is that some people choose not to consume dairy or to consume less than the recommended amounts because they are lactose intolerant.

Page 14

1. "There are many well-known coping strategies that may help even lactose-intolerant individuals enjoy dairy products. The authors as dietitians, should have known this but here they are:

· Drink milk in servings of 250 ml (1 cup) or less.

· Drink milk with a meal or with another food.

· Use whole or chocolate milk.

· Have hard cheeses as most of the lactose has been removed.

· Eat yogourt with active cultures.

· Consume lactose-reduced milk or dairy foods that are lactose free.

· Prepare lactose-reduced milk at home using an enzyme preparation.

· Use an oral lactase supplement before consuming dairy foods. "

An additional and very well recognized coping strategy, used successfully for millennia is to use non-dairy sources of calcium. Providing a lactose-intolerant vegan or near-vegan with a list of ways that they can more comfortably consume dairy foods is of little value to them. When we show such blatant disregard for the values of other people, it merely serves to push them away. It would be of far greater value to these individuals to provide them with ways of adding non-dairy (lactose-free) sources of calcium to their diets.

As dietitians, we have counseled many lactose intolerant individuals who prefer to use as much dairy as they can tolerate. For these individuals we do not hesitate to provide the above mentioned coping strategies, which are certainly of benefit, as are Lactaid tablets or drops.

2. "Vegans claim dairy products are notoriously high in fat and should be avoided." [referring to: "Many milk products...are higher in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than many consumers want." ]

Once again, our critics have chosen to re-write our words to suite their own purposes. We did not make a statement of fact about the fat content of dairy products, rather an observation about another possible reason some consumers choose to reduce their consumption of dairy foods.

Most vegans are well aware of the many fat-free and low fat dairy products available, and if their goal was simply to avoid high fat dairy foods, they would continue to consume skim milk and skim milk products such as yogurt. Indeed, this is not the case. The reasons why vegans choose not to consume dairy foods involves much more than a concern about fat, as we outline in the section of the chapter entitled "Reasons why people limit or eliminate dairy products".

Page 15

1. "It's interesting to note that 250 ml (1 cup) of a soy beverage contains 4.6 grams of fat, roughly the same as 2% milk. Yet soy is touted by vegans as a near-perfect food, while milk is judged unhealthy because of its fat content."

We describe neither soy nor dairy as a near perfect food. Vegans choose not to consume milk for health reasons (only one of which is the fat content of dairy foods), ethical reasons, concerns about the environment and concerns about animal welfare. No one food is "perfect", for to be perfect it would need to provide all the necessary nutrients in the appropriate amounts to support human health, and apart from breast milk for infants, no other food has the capacity to fulfill such a role. Comparing the total fat in milk and soy beverage leaves out many important details. While soy beverage and 2% milk may be similar in total fat content, that is where the similarity ends. Soy provides 54% linoleic acid, 7% alpha-linolenic acid, 24% monounsaturated fat and only 15% saturated fat. That compares to cow's milk fat with only 2% linoleic acid, 2% alpha-linolenic acid, 30% monounsaturated fat and 66% saturated fat. Saturated fat is the single most important dietary factor involved in raising blood cholesterol levels. For every 1% increase in blood cholesterol levels there is a 2% increase in risk of heart disease. There are many other notable differences between cow's milk and soy. Soy milk is free of cholesterol, provides a similar quality protein and is loaded with beneficial phytochemicals (specifically the isoflavones genestein and daidzein which are a potent class of phytoestrogens). While most people are very much aware of the nutritional advantages of cow's milk (calcium, riboflavin and added vitamin D), few are aware of the nutritional advantages of soy milk.

2. "Also left out of the book are all the available lower-fat dairy products which are perfectly suited to lower-fat diets."

Our critics obviously did not read the book in its entirety. We suggest selecting lower-fat dairy products on pages 117 and 120. We chose not to dedicate a large section of the book to the use of dairy foods because this is an issue that has been covered in great detail in many other resources.

3. "Let's also not forget that dairy fat is one of the sources of conjugated linoleic acid, an antioxidant, which has been shown in animal studies to be highly anticarcinogenic." "One should also note that as the consumption of polyunsaturated fats has increased, so has the rates of breast cancer and prostate cancer."

One of the articles cited by our critics helps to put the whole CLA issue into perspective:

"Of the vast number of naturally occurring substances that have been demonstrated to have anticarcinogenic activity in experimental models, all but a handful of them are of plant origin.1 Conjugated linoleic acid may turn out to be one of the few anticarcinogens in animal foods, however plant foods are loaded with a wide variety of potent antioxidants and other protective phytochemicals.

This is what the WHO has to say about diet and cancer:

"...A review of the evidence indicates that a high intake of total fat -- and in some case-studies also saturated fat-- is associated with an increased risk of cancers of the colon, prostate, and breast. The evidence is strongest for cancer of the colon, and weakest for breast cancer...The experimental data however, also point to an adverse effect of very high intakes of polyunsaturated fats, at levels that are considerably above current intakes in human populations.

Diets high in plant foods, especially green and yellow vegetables and citrus fruits, are associated with a lower occurrence of cancers of the lung, colon, oesophagus, and stomach. Although the mechanisms underlying these effects are not fully understood, such diets are usually low in saturated fat and high in starches and fibre and several vitamins and minerals, including beta-carotene and vitamin A."2

Using the presence of CLA in the fat of ruminant animals as a reason to increase our consumption of these foods is highly irresponsible, considering the information we have to date on the relationship between diet and cancer. National programs aimed at cancer risk-reduction feature brightly colored vegetables in their publication materials, not chunks of ruminant fat.

1. Ip, C., Scimeca, J.A. and Thompson. Conjugated linoleic acid. Cancer. 74: 1050, 1994.

2. WHO Study Group on diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases. Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Disease. Geneva, Switzerland: Technical Report Series No. 797. World Health Organization, 1990.

3. "Therefore it should be noted that the fat in butter is erroneously classified as a saturated fat, when in fact as much as 40% of the fatty acids are unsaturated. Of the 60% saturated fats, at least one-third has no effect on blood cholesterol".

Foods are often referred to as being sources of one particular class of fatty acids when that class of fatty acids is present in larger amounts than the other classes of fatty acids. For example, nutritionists often refer to olive oil as being monounsaturated. In fact only 77% of the fat in olive oil is monounsaturated. About 9% is polyunsaturated and 14% is saturated. Likewise for corn oil. It is often call it a polyunsaturated fat, but only 62% of its fat is polyunsaturated -- 25% is monounsaturated and 13% is saturated. Butter contains approximately 66% saturated fat. Thus classifying it as a saturated-fat food does not seem so unreasonable. If a third of this saturated fat does not raise cholesterol levels, that still leaves 40% or more of the fat in butter that does raise cholesterol. There are few foods that could compete with that!

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