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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   VegSource | Dr. Edell

VegSource Responds to Misstatements from Dr. Edell

On March 23, 2000, the column below appeared on Dr. Edell's site. We have added commentary in italics:

"One Group Who Needs Vitamin Supplements: Vegans"
by Dr. Dean Edell

If you’re a strict vegetarian, you’re at risk of not getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy.

There’s lots of evidence that humans are supposed to eat things other than vegetables or nutritional deficiencies can result.

This is unfortunately fairly typical of Dr. Edell: a sweeping statement unsupported by any evidence -- he asks readers to accept that there is "lots of evidence" that man should eat meat. The one thing he is right about is that humans need more than just vegetables to be healthy -- they also need fruits.


An example of this is a report in The New England Journal of Medicine of a 33-year-old man who went blind due to a strict vegetarian diet.

Notwithstanding Dr. Edell's unfortunate attempt to smear the vegan diet, the man in fact went blind because of an apparently terrible diet, deficient in nearly every vitamin and mineral which healthy vegan diets provide in abundance. The man's diet, while "vegetarian"because he eliminated animal products, must have also eliminated many other foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

This case involved a healthy man who began a vegan diet at age 20 – no dairy, eggs, fish or other sources of animal proteins.

And again -- most likely no fresh fruits or vegetables -- the cornerstone of a healthy diet.

When he showed up for treatment, he was diagnosed with severe bilateral optic neuropathy due to the lack of vitamin B12. There was no evidence of any toxic, infectious, inflammatory or hereditary cause of the blindness.

The body doesn’t need much B12 and just a little animal protein supplies a sufficient amount.

Or a cup of fortified soy or rice milk.

By the way, the reason you rarely see this deficiency in children who are vegans is because they have sloppy sanitary habits. This might sound a little disgusting, but it’s true. Kids get enough fecal contamination containing vitamin B-12 on their hands to supply their needs. This is because the vitamin isn’t absorbed from the colon.

B12 is the one vitamin not provided easily in the vegan diet, and Dr. Edell correctly cites that vegans should be aware and should find supplemental sources for B12, such as through vitamin pills or by consuming Grape Nuts, enriched soy or rice milk, or any of many other B12-enriched foods currently available. The reasons that B12 deficiency is very rare in vegan populations is not clearly understood, despite Dr. Edell's apparent eagerness to sell the "poor hand washing" theory as though it were proven fact.

In the patient who went blind, further blood tests showed he also had deficiencies of vitamins A, C, D, and E as well as zinc and selenium. However, blood levels of iron, ferritin, nicotinamide and B6 were normal.

In other words, the man was not eating a standard vegetarian or vegan diet -- which is far higher in most of the vitamins and nutrients cited above than the diet of most omnivores. What, precisely, the man was eating was not reported in the letter published in the NEJM. Perhaps it was only potato chips, beer and sorbet -- all of which can be vegan.

The patient also had a thiamine deficiency, which is something you rarely see in the modern world.

This should have been the tipoff that the man's problem had less to do with veganism than with a diet deficient in most anything nutritious.

If someone goes blind by just eating vegetables, isn’t there a message?

Which "vegetables" was the man eating, Dr. Edell? The qualifications for being on a talkshow must not include scientific integrity. Edell would have his readers believe he knows what the man was eating, and yet he does not.

You have a choice about what you eat, but remember we are omnivores - we are meant to eat everything.

Once again, Dr. Edell pontificates without providing any evidence to back up his statement. For a scientific discussion of what diet man is physiologically best suited to eat, see this link.

Dairy products and meat, eaten in moderation, are good for us.

The same was said in the past about cigarettes by doctors who -- like Edell -- derive income from the industries who benefit from the spread of such myths.

This ability to eat a variety of foods is what helps us survive as a species. You know, in the Ice Age, there weren’t vegetarians because eating meat was necessary for human survival.

Following Dr. Edell's troubling logic, because man has the ability to be a cannibal when circumstances require, we should all be including some human flesh in our diets. Both cannibalism and omnivorism are adaptive behaviors permitting humans to survive during catastrophic periods when few good foods are available. Man can eat out of dumpsters when he's starving: this does not mean that such a diet is "good" for him.

The point is that many humans want to strive for the optimal diet, not simply the one which would allow them to survive to reach age 30, like those in the Ice Age.

But if you do want to eat a vegan diet, that's one case where I'll agree that vitamin and mineral supplements are probably necessary for good health.

Judging from Dr. Edell's site,, vitamin and mineral supplements are for everyone -- since they're for sale on every single page.

Will Dr. Edell make a commentary about the massive evidence implicating the modern omnivore diet in a host of serious diseases? Not if he wants to keep his advertisers happy...


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