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The Fine Print...



   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 8, end.)

Page 39

1. " In a comparison of children on low-fat and high-fat diets, the well-known Bogalusa Heart study showed that a greater number of children in the low-fat group (<30% calories from fat) failed to meet the RDA for vitamins B6, B12, E thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. These children also consumed more sugar in the form of candy, sweetened beverages and desserts than the higher fat group. This suggests that it may be difficult for individuals who restrict their intake of meat and dairy products to meet their riboflavin needs. Dairy products are the best source of riboflavin: milk, cheddar cheese and cottage cheese. Breads and cereals enriched with riboflavin have less still."

The logic relating this study to our work on vegetarian eating patterns is rather questionable. Just because a child is consuming a vegan or near-vegan diet does not mean that the diet is restricted in fat. Nor does it mean that the child will be loading up on candy, sweetened beverages and desserts. Indeed, vegans tend to consume more whole foods diets, generally limiting their use of highly processed foods such as candy and sweetened beverages. Milk is certainly an excellent source of riboflavin with approximately 0.4 mg per cup. However, there are several other excellent plant sources of riboflavin including Red Star Nutritional Yeast powder with 1.6 mg per teaspoon, almonds with 0.3 mg per 3 tablespoons., mushrooms with 0.41 mg per half cup (canned) and many other vegetables providing 0.1 to 0.3 mg per cup.


2. "Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products are the principal sources of riboflavin and a much simpler alternative than menu-planning calisthenics."

These foods are the principal sources of riboflavin for people consuming animal-centered diets. For those consuming plant-centered vegan or near-vegan diets, nutritional yeast, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes are the key sources of riboflavin. Our critics may think using nutritional yeast and other good plant sources of riboflavin is "menu-planning calisthenics", but that depends entirely on one's point of view. For people who eat plant-centered diets, nutritional yeast, and other plant sources of riboflavin are frequently a regular part of their eating pattern, just as meat and milk would be for an omnivore.

Page 40

1. "Someone unfamiliar with nutrient contents of food may look at the values presented and accept them at face value. A nutrition expert, such as a dietitian should have read these values and questioned them immediately. Some of the values are grossly inaccurate (riboflavin). These obvious inaccuracies cast doubt on the credibility of the other values and claims. The authors fail to mention the source of data for their analysis, and how they were calculated. There was an apparent lack of attention to detail. Nutrient analysis is a highly specialized area of dietetic practice and should be left to the experts. "

This is rather harsh criticism considering that our analysis differed significantly for only one nutrient -- riboflavin, not "some" as our critics suggest. Furthermore the error seems to be in the analysis conducted under the direction of the Dairy Bureau staff. Perhaps the firm hired by the Dairy Bureau did not have Red Star T-6635+ nutritional yeast or other products frequently used by vegetarians in their data base. Our analyses involved tremendous attention to such detail -- indeed, we obtained nutritional analyses for special products directly from the food manufacturers and added these to both our data bases (Nutritionist IV and Nutricom). Each analysis was done by both the authors of Becoming Vegetarian and independent nutrition consultants. The difference in riboflavin values between the Dairy Bureau's analysis and our own was most likely due to their omission of Red Star T-6635+ nutritional yeast in our eggless egg salad recipe.

Page 43

1. Re: observations regarding menus: "When we look at the actual menu on p. 41, we find some subtle indications that the authors may be biased against an omnivorian diet...The authors have deliberately made poor food choices to make their point... Making poor food choices doesn't prove that animal products such as dairy products are bad for you. If the milk choices were eliminated from this menu plan, the omnivore would still be making poor food choices. The authors fail to recognize other lifestyle factors that may have a greater impact on health."

In selecting a food pattern for the omnivore, we were making choices that were reasonably typical of the most Canadians. This menu derives only 33% of its calories as fat, significantly less than the average Canadian. In addition, the omnivore selects the appropriate number of foods from each of the four food groups (many Canadians do not!). They also select lean meat, trim the skin off the chicken and use low fat dairy products. The omnivore also consumes whole wheat toast and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (7 servings). To say that we deliberately made poor food choices for the omnivore is simply untrue; indeed, we made better choices than what most North American omnivores make.

2. "The reader would have benefited from a balanced approach... The authors could have presented three menus (omnivore, lacto-ovo and vegan) with similar protein, fat and carbohydrate...The menus are blatantly written to support the authors' agenda - to put all animal products in a bad light without scientific support or just cause."

It would have been of little value to present menus with similar protein, fat and carbohydrate, when that does not reflect reality for these different patterns of eating. One of the primary advantages of switching from an animal-centered to a plant-centered diet is to affect change in the contribution of these macronutrients to the diet. The WHO tells us to increase our use of plant foods and decrease our use of animal foods in order to help us reduce total and saturated fat and cholesterol while increasing complex carbohydrate and fibre in the diet. Planning these three diets with equal amounts of fat, carbohydrate and protein would be ignoring the simple fact that animal-centered diets are naturally higher in fat and protein and lower in carbohydrates and fibre than plant-centered diets because animal foods don't contain carbohydrates and fibre -- with the exception of lactose in milk.

Our goal in writing this book was not to condemn animal products used for food, but rather to educate those individuals who wish to reduce or eliminate these products from their diet so that they can achieve excellent health. We are well aware of the nutritional value of animal products. They are concentrated sources of high quality protein, and numerous vitamins and minerals. However, it is also important to recognize that there are many individuals for whom consuming some or all animal foods is morally and ethically unacceptable. As professional dietitians, it is our responsibility to provide advice that is not only scientifically sound, but that respects their beliefs and values of our clients.

3. "As one might expect given the authors' bias, this menu has been designed to exemplify the alleged virtues of a meatless diet -- low in fat, low in protein. However, the menu is not without its problems. It requires a great deals of planning and time-consuming preparation as well as repetition."

The vegan menu is not as time consuming as one might imagine. When a person becomes familiar with a variety of plant foods and their preparation, vegan meals can be as quick to prepare as animal-centered meals. There are a wide variety of ready made patties and other convenience items on the market. Tofu cooks quickly and has no bones to remove before preparation. A vegan menu need not be any more repetitious than an omnivorous menu.

Page 45

1. "Eating the same foods repeatedly day-after-day is monotonous, and probably would not work in the long term and the implication is that all dark green leafy vegetables have equally bioavailable calcium is just not so." [referring to our suggestion to eat dark greens daily].

This seems like a bit of a double standard -- it is just fine to drink milk and eat dairy products day-after-day, but not greens. In many cultures, greens are a part of the daily diet. There is a huge variety of delicious greens, and thousands of ways of preparing them to taste wonderful.

2. "Tahini is high in fat and finding ways to use it on a daily basis would be a real challenge." [referring to our suggestion to find delicious ways of using tahini].

Eating any food on a daily basis is a matter of culture and personal preference. However, we did not suggest consuming it on a daily basis, rather simply to find delicious ways of using it.

3. "Is this a practical suggestion? The availability of nori outside large metropolitan centres or on the coast is questionable." [referring to our suggestion to try Oriental favorites that use seaweeds such as nori and hijiki].

This was one of many suggestions for increasing consumption of calcium-rich plant foods for vegans. While it may not be practical for all vegans, it is a food that is commonly used among this population, and it is important for them to be aware of this food as a source of calcium.

4. "Infants need breast milk or iron-fortified formula, whether soy- or milk-based. Moreover, soy-based formulas may be allergenic in some infants, as previously mentioned on page 9, especially those under four months of age." [referring to our suggestion that infants need breast milk or fortified soy formula].

The suggestions above were written for people who do not consume dairy. Why would we tell vegans to feed their baby cow's milk formula? This would be useless advice. Their babies need breast milk or soy formula, however, we feel that breast milk is by far the preferable choice.

5. "Calcium-fortified foods lack vitamin D. The question is - why use a calcium fortified food instead of a milk product that naturally contains calcium?"

The answer is found in our section entitled "Reasons why people limit or eliminate dairy products". Vitamin D could be added to vegan beverages just as it is added to cow's milk (there are several non-dairy beverages available in the U.S. which have both calcium and vitamin D added). Calcium-fortified foods would provide additional calcium to those vegans or near-vegans who have difficulty meeting their needs for these nutrients.

6. "Protein has been proven to be "a calcium thief" of any consequence only in the presence of a low calcium diet. "

Protein increases our calcium needs. Our recommendations for calcium are higher in North America than many other countries largely because of our high protein intakes which increase our calcium needs.

Health Canada in Nutrition Recommendations (Calcium section -- page 133) states:

"It cannot be assumed, however, that the low calcium intake of women living in countries with a cereal-based food economy (400-500 mg/day) is necessarily adequate for women consuming a [high protein] Western diet."

7. "Red meats are an excellent source of phosphorus, which protects the bones from being robbed of their calcium." [referring to our statement: "Don't keep company with the calcium thieves; avoid high intakes of salt, alcohol, caffeine and concentrated protein foods."]

This, the final profound statement in this critique, is so grossly inaccurate, it makes one question the extent to which the nutritionists at the Dairy Bureau understand the complex subject of calcium balance.

Here is what the experts are currently saying about the affects of phosphorus on bones:

"My own research has shown that multiple nutrition factors, including low intakes of calcium coupled with high intakes of phosphorus (and also protein and sodium), may adversely affect the maintenance and retention of bone mass of young adult females"1

"The culprit, in terms of bone loss among high phosphorus consumers, seems to be an elevated serum PTH concentration, which increases bone resorption and hence bone turnover...Sufficient amounts of calcium and not too much phosphorus are needed not only to support mineralization of bone tissue but also to suppress excessive and persistent elevations of circulation PTH."2

"Concern about the relatively high levels of phosphorus in the adult U.S. diet and its role in the development of osteoporosis stems from animal studies. High phosphorus intake, even with adequate calcium intake, has been shown to cause secondary hyperparathyroidism, bone loss and osteopenia in a variety of animal models...There is good evidence that phosphorus loading in humans operates through the same mechanism of nutritional or secondary hyperparathyroidism observed in animals fed excess phosphorus." 3

"Urinary calcium is also affected by the intake of phosphorus. Excess dietary phosphate produces a mild depression in serum calcium similar to that produced by a low calcium intake. The consequent rise in serum parathyroid hormone induces an analogous increase in mobilization of calcium from the skeleton..."4

"...the optimal ratio between calcium and phosphorus in the diet has been questioned, because animal studies suggest that diets low in calcium-phosphorus ratios lead to progressive bone loss due to phosphorus-induced stimulation of parathyroid hormone (PTH) release."5

The effect of phosphorus on bone health can be confusing, particularly because phosphorus increases reabsorption of calcium from the kidneys. However, one would expect that the dietitians employed by the Dairy Bureau of Canada would be knowledgeable and up-to-date where calcium nutrition is concerned, as this is their primary area of interest. Stating that red meat protects bones from being robbed of their calcium is a serious mistake -- one that we would have never expected from professionals who wish to make it their business to educate other dietitians and the general public on matters of calcium balance.

1. Anderson, J.B., Symposium: Nutritional Advances in Human Bone Metabolism, American Institute of Nutrition. J. Nutr. 126: 1150S-1152S, 1996.

2. Anderson, J.B., Symposium: Nutritional Advances in Human Bone Metabolism, Calcium, Phosphorus and Human Bone Development, American Institute of Nutrition. J. Nutr. 126: 1153S-1158S, 1996.

3. Calvo, M.S. and Park, Y.K., Changing Phosphorus Content of the U.S. Diet: Pot