“The Vegan Myth” in Marie Claire

by Gena on March 14, 2013

Image courtesy of Marie Claire

A week or so ago, my friend and reader Rachel sent me a link to this article in Marie Claire, asking me if I had any thoughts. The article was actually posted over the summer, though I just saw it now. Anyone who has researched a vegan diet carefully, or been a balanced, healthy vegan for any substantial period of time, will probably find the article impossibly biased (I sure did). But the fact is that, even if well-informed vegans know better than to get worked up over this kind of stuff, articles in mainstream magazines do capture the public imagination. They can influence our family and friends, who may in turn worry about our vegan lifestyles. They can be fodder for people who are reflexively or ignorantly anti-vegan to get more firmly entrenched in their bias. For all of these reasons, it doesn’t hurt to say a couple of words about them, albeit belatedly.

The most misleading thing about this particular article, I think, is the provocative title. “The Vegan Myth: Could the so-called healthiest diet in the world actually make you sick—and fat?” Well, I suppose it wouldn’t be a women’s magazine article if there were not at least one alarmist reference to “fat”,” but let’s focus on the “sick” part. At first, I was expecting this article to be a polemic presenting veganism as a lie, a la Lierre Keith or Weston Price. It’s not, actually. The article states outright:

There’s no question that a balanced, well-planned vegan diet can be healthy. “Studies show that vegans have lower BMIs and a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer,” notes Vandana Sheth, a Los Angeles–based dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who frequently works with vegan clients.

It goes on to say:

That said, whole-food sources of soy, like edamame and tofu, along with legumes and grains like quinoa, can provide plenty of the protein you need.

So what’s the issue? Well, according to the author, and Columbia’s Michael D. Gershon, whom she quotes, veganism can present more opportunities for nutritional deficiencies. The author also suggests that, because of food desserts and the lack of fresh produce in America, vegans are often forced to turn to ersatz meats and vegan junk food. Of course, this claim ignores the fact that, if you want to eat any kind of diet that focuses on fruits and vegetables—be it vegan or omnivore—food deserts and a lack of affordable produce present a clear challenge. Food deserts are serious social problem that deserve more media attention, but vegans are certainly not suffering disproportionately from them. (And it does not seem that any of the women profiled in the article were living in food deserts, either.)

The article’s real argumentative force comes from a few anecdotal profiles of women who had bad vegan experiences. Of the four referenced, three were:

  • A competitive athlete who was already gluten-, bean-, and soy-free (due to allergies), and felt weak and sick as a vegan
  • A woman who went vegan to lose weight, but eventually gained ten pounds, citing her “very carb-heavy diet.”
  • A twenty-six-year-old woman who “ate mostly raw foods and also started to bike everywhere. A diet consisting mainly of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds, combined with the sudden rigorous exercise, helped her drop 25 pounds,” but it also ultimately left her low in energy and with adrenal fatigue.

This article may as well be called “super limited/extreme vegan diets can lead to health problems.” Veganism is not the extreme diet; the particular nuances described here are. Is that really a vegan issue? Any extreme sort of diet can lead to failing health or deficiencies. Between eating disorder bouts, I lived off of vegetables and teeny tiny portions of “lean protein”—yogurt, chicken, some fish. I ended up anemic, very tired, and and underweight. It does not follow that omnivorism is an extreme diet. My particular approach to it was.

Of the types of vegan eating described here—carb-heavy, all raw + heavy exercise, and bean/soy/gluten free—it’s easiest to address the first two. Any dietician, especially one with knowledge about veganism, could help to balance a diet overly heavy in carbohydrates. And likewise for a diet that is perhaps too exclusively focused on raw foods, given the person’s caloric expenditure. In the latter case, the simple edition of cooked root vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and tempeh or tofu can transform a limited raw paradigm into a balanced vegan approach, without diminishing any focus on the beauty of fresh fruits and veggies.

Numerous food intolerances, on the other hand, can prove challenging within a vegan paradigm. It’s more than possible and practical to cope with gluten intolerance, soy intolerance, or both as a vegan, but combining them with a legume allergy certainly does limit a number of concentrated energy sources. That said, a dietician might have insight into ways of making those limitations work, too—perhaps with a carefully planned combination of gluten free grains, nuts, and plant protein powders.

The article cites the need for planning as a knock against veganism. And I do think it’s true that, because most of us didn’t grow up with examples of balanced vegan meals three times a day, there is a learning curve of planning involved with the choice to be vegan. One also has to be conscious of proper supplementation (B-12 is mandatory, Vitamin D (nearly all vegan D supplements are D2, but there is a new one, Vitashine, that is approved by the Vegan Society), Calcium, and DHA may be wise, depending on the individual), of getting adequate caloric density, and—yes, groan—of protein. I’m not protein-obsessed by any means, but it has seemed to me in my years of writing about nutrition and working with clients that many people do feel better when they pay attention to how much protein they’re getting. This doesn’t mean tons of protein supplements or stress; it just means keeping an eye on having a decent protein source at every meal, if possible.

This level of planning is hardly insurmountable, and at least half of it is the same amount of planning that anyone ought to devote to his or her diet. It’s possible for omnivores to develop B-12 deficiencies or skimp on protein, too, and Vitamin D deficiency is practically ubiquitous at this point. Vegans aren’t the only people who need to invest their food choices with consciousness; in this day and age especially, we all do.

The approaches to veganism cited here—high carb, bean- soy- and gluten-free, and super high raw—can no doubt work for some vegans. But they’re not representative of what works for most vegans, or what’s recommended by vegan health professionals. The article cites one dietician who says, “Vegan clients have walked into my office with scaly skin because they reduced their fat intake too much.” This, too, represents an extreme approach, and it doesn’t fairly depict what veganism can and should be. Ginny Messina and Jack Norris have written extensively on how very restrictive approaches to veganism can undermine one’s health and damage vegan activism. To get their perspective (which is far more knowledgeable than mine) and learn about their guidelines for healthy vegan living, I highly recommend Vegan For Life.

Had Marie Claire simply titled the article “Extreme Approaches to Veganism Are Extreme,” or “When Veganism Substitutes for Extremist Food Tendencies,” I’d have been totally receptive. Let’s face it: some people always do and always will look to veganism as a means of expressing overly restrictive or monotonous approaches to food. When I host Green Recovery posts, it’s with a full awareness both that veganism can transform and restore a broken relationship with food, and an acknowledgment that it can also compound restrictive thinking. I’m interested in teasing out and openly, frankly discussing this tension.

But that doesn’t change the fact that most people who become vegan are not doing so to mask an eating disorder; they’re doing it because they want to help animals, and often because they want to get healthy, too. And so long as they don’t approach veganism with extremist tendencies, it will deliver on those promises. Consciously planned, veganism can confer incredible health benefits. And it is and always will be a powerful expression of compassion for animals, as well as an objection to their abuse and commodification. On both of these fronts, there is nothing myth-like about veganism at all.

Your thoughts?

xo

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{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 14, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Food desserts and food deserts are very different things :)

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Gena March 14, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Oh man. That typo would be more hilarious if it weren’t about something so serious. Thanks for noticing. Must. Sleep.

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity March 15, 2013 at 2:24 am

This annoys me because like you said, many friends and family read magazines and don’t read between the lines and think ” hang on this can happen to EVERY single diet.”
Years ago I worked for a weight loss company that sold a high protein diet. No fruits and limited veg were allowed and due to carbs and sugars and people became very sick. Not to mention all the other symptoms from drinking diet sodas and artificial sweetners.

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Heidi Kokborg March 15, 2013 at 2:37 am

I couldnt agree with you more, Gena! I have suffered from an eating disorder for 8 years and I limited my food intake to vegetables and “lean protein” (just like you did) and it left me underweight, unhappy and my diet had no variety whatsoever! And I counted calories obsessively. Slowly I started eating vegetarian and vegan, and the most amazing things started to happend. I slowly stopped counting my calories, my diet suddenly included so many types of food that I didn’t even know exsisted and I learned to have fun with my food again. I can honestly say that veganism helped me recover from my ED. Maybe they should write that in their article about veganism :)

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Ali Seiter March 15, 2013 at 5:24 am

“Vegans aren’t the only people who need to invest their food choices with consciousness; in this day and age especially, we all do.”

THANK YOU for this quote, darling Gena! It never fails that when a meat-eater finds out that you’re vegan, they invariably become a health expert and express deep concern with your health. However, if you ate animals just like them, they wouldn’t give a care in the world about the saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and harmful animal protein rampant in your diet. And forget about any mention of animal suffering. Thank you again for stressing that we all must take charge of our health, not just vegans.

-Love, Ali.

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catherine March 15, 2013 at 6:02 am

it’s so easy to get biased and incomplete info when talking about food!
of course this article doesn’t give complete explanations and could be misleading for several people. I reminds me of a similar situation:
Last week, I watched an interview from 2 hosts of a very popular TV food show in Quebec, which is supposed to give facts about nutrition. Well, when asked if organic food was better for our health, they answered : No, it can be full of fat and sugar and even worse than regular food, in addition it is more expensive.
This is such an incomplete and misleading answer! No distinction about organic processed food, (organic cookies can indeed be very sweet and fat!) and organic fruits, seeds, grains, dairy products which are GMO, antibiotics, pesticides ans chemical free. They could have explained that organic whole food products could be healthier given that chemicals and pesticides can give cancers, and that GMO’s effects are still unclear etc.
Even worse about protein obsession:
I remember hearing a trainer in a gym saying to 20 years old boys that fruits and vegetable and grains were to avoid in their diet because it was carb… I ask the boys what they were allowed to eat : they were eating meat, egg whites, almonds and protein shakes while training like crazy and still growing!

If only everyone was like you Gena when discussing food Gena ;)

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Rose March 15, 2013 at 6:04 am

Ugh, I’ve regarded Marie Claire with serious disdain ever since this wack article: http://www.marieclaire.com/health-fitness/news/health-blogger-controversy (“The Hunger Diaries” about Healthy Living Summing writers.) My main problem with them, as an institution, is that they appear to regard their female audience members as brainless lemmings who NEED M.C. to “tell it to ‘em straight.” VEGAN BALONEY!

I get really worked up about this stuff. I wish Marie Claire would write an article about how I can work out all of this aggression…

:) Thanks Gena!

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Abby March 15, 2013 at 7:40 am

This is why I don’t read “women’s” magazines. It’s all sensationalism based on misinformation to garner more readers and controversy. It’s frustrating though because it perpetuates a stereotype that when defended against by educated vegans, comes off looking like a defensive and “cult-like” stance on a lifestyle that is actually rooted in compassion and a wealth of abundance and longevity.

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Lauren G. March 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Amen to that – “women’s magazines” are a straight up insult to women all around.

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Jess March 15, 2013 at 7:54 am

This is such a well-written post. Working in nutrition, I get a lot of questions about veganism, often after people read articles like these! Like any diet/style of eating, planning is important, and for some, veganism can be a great fit, as long as it ensures adequate nutrients. Though I’m not vegan myself, I love reading your blog because it helps me stay in touch with issues that are important to those who are vegan or interested in becoming vegan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts : )

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Karen March 15, 2013 at 8:06 am

Excellent rebuttal, Gena. I too dread these sort of generalized proclamations from the mainstream/women’s oriented media – especially because they are so terribly lacking in nuance. There are all sorts of diets that might be considered overly restrictive (for some) – both vegan and omni and everything in between. If someone is improperly fueled, not meeting their nutritional needs – given their unique lifestyle, activity level, personal metabolic needs, health vulnerabilities, etc, they will not feel well. Duh.

A restrictive vegan diet is defined so differently for each individual. To use myself as an example, the extremely low fat/sodium/calorie vegan diet (and low weight recommendations) put forth by Drs. Furman, Ornish and the like, very closely resembles the regime I have always gravitated toward when I cycle into my restrictive tendencies; for me, I immediately lose a drastic amount of weight and eventually suffer a whole range of mental and physical symptoms that signal my long dormant eating disorder tendencies are being activated once again, and I find myself losing control and entering the vortex of a long familiar danger zone. Yet for a select group of others, apparently, those very restrictions are the cornerstone their diet as they work to keep them accountable to a plant-strong diet, and feeling their best.

I too have been really impressed by Ginny Messina’s thoughts on this whole matter. She encapsulated her thoughts very well in her most recent post in which she addresses the question of whether everyone can thrive on a vegan diet. My experience with a vegan diet for over 35 years completely aligns with her assertion that people get into trouble with vegan diets only when they they start adding all sorts of restrictions. (Her post and the commentary is well worth checking out.)

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McKel | Nutrition Stripped March 15, 2013 at 8:52 am

Great input and perspective on this article Gena. I couldn’t agree with you more. I encounter questions and scenarios like the “junk food vegan” or the “bread and pasta vegan” who claim their feeling worn out, tired, and have low energy and blame it on the vegan diet- anyone regardless of a vegan lifestyle or not would inevitably feel this way living off of heavily processed foods and not enough nourishment from real food (i.e. fruits, veggies galore, nuts/seeds, protein, healthy fats). Thanks for sharing this!

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Sarah S. March 15, 2013 at 9:30 am

I think that any style of eating, when adopted as a means to lose weight, has the potential to be detrimental to your health. Our bodies crave balance and care, severe restriction, lack of diversity, and a mindset of weight loss does nothing to help. I’m all for bio-individuality – Vegan works great for some, not for others. I think it depends on the person. I agree with you that articles such as this are dangerous, because they are basically feeding the fodder that Veganism is just another eating disorder. Unfortunately, many girls and women have turned it into that.

It took me a long time to relax and allow myself to eat what I wanted to eat, with labeling, criticising, or depriving myself. For me, that works. Most of all, we need to remember that food is there to nourish us, above all else, and we should use it that way. Not to attack one another, be better or more noble, or create friction.

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Ashley March 15, 2013 at 9:46 am

Gosh. I have so much dang love for you it is unreal. xo

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Emily March 15, 2013 at 9:55 am

Gena, this post was frustrating on a number of levels. I generally support veganism and healthy lifestyle choices, so long as it doesn’t marginalize anyone. I feel like you may have bordered on that, but I hope you’ll discuss it with me,

Lets start with food deserts and your reaction. “Vegans don’t suffer disproportionately from them.”

No. No, they don’t. Why do you think that might be? Vegan, as you imply, indicates a level of individual choice and agency not conferred to individuals living in a food desert. That is precisely WHY it is a social problem. It is quite easy and convenient to justify healthy living when we are in a position of privilege to do so, and when we generally enjoy a community of people who support our choices. It’s a much larger issue to address when individuals who don’t share our value system and our social status are not able to access the same nutrients the value system and social status afford us. Because you know what? All of that stuff? THAT speaks to the much larger issue of why veganism is not accessible.

And your picture? That’s awful and shaming. No pictures, advertisements or angry diatribes are ever going to shame anyone into changing their behavior. I know you know that social determinants of health are a product of the complex social, political and cultural nexus in which they are situated.

As an activist Gena, and as someone who generally enjoys your blog, it really makes me sad you don’t speak to it more often.

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Victoria March 15, 2013 at 10:13 am

Erm…that picture was from the Marie Claire article…

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Gena March 15, 2013 at 10:25 am

Emily,

I really appreciate the heart of this criticism, which is to point out that healthy food choices (not just vegan ones, but most plant-centered ones across the board) are a privilege. I am certainly aware of this, and I’m incredibly grateful that I do have the ability to eat in a way that supports my spirit and my ethics. I hope I express this gratitude often enough on my blog. And I have tried to speak to the problem of access/social justice in the past; I wrote this post, for instance. You are likely right that I could do a lot more.

In the context of this post, I hope you’ll be willing to discuss your reaction with me, too. Again, I agree that healthy food choices involve agency and means; I never say otherwise in the post. I found it very odd that the article raised the issue of access/privilege, in fact, and then went on to focus on profile subjects who clearly did have access to produce, nuts, seeds, and other staples of vegan eating. There is quite a bit more to say about inequality issues surrounding food, and I know that’s your point, but in fairness, I should also point out that it was not the central theme of the Marie Claire article, which was the central theme of my post. The article was not about food justice or about the agency that comes from having class/economic privilege, and neither is my response. Does this mean that I, as a blogger, am absolved from addressing these important issues on the whole ? No, and I’m glad you hold me accountable. But I can only do so much in each post I write.

As for the picture, I’m a bit perplexed by your reaction. I copied and pasted it directly from the Marie Claire article, and credited it as such. “Junk food” shaming is not a position I endorse or adopt myself, ever, and I used the photo to convey the provocative nature of the original article. If you’re intrested in reading more about my feelings on body/habit shaming, you can check out this post. I’m sorry if you assumed, on seeing the photo, that shaming is my MO, but I thought that it was clear to my readers that the photo had been lifted from the original, given the credit.

G

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Emily March 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

That was my fault, I have read the post on body shaming, which is why it was so confusing that the picture was up there. I wholeheartedly and very deeply apologize for the oversight.

To me, the slight with respect to access and social context in both articles represents an area that needs attention within the whole foods/plant-centered lifestyle blogging. That you couldn’t speak to it while responding to the Marie Claire post represents the issue I had with both articles – the voices from the food desert are relegated to the food desert. You bring up an excellent point – you’d need to write an entirely separate post altogether to address that very issue. However, I think that means something is drastically amiss (and I think we are on the same page on that point).

I certainly don’t mean to imply you are solely responsible for the problem. My personal passions lead me to be very frustrated when the discourse surrounding veganism/plant-based diets/whole food diets involve little more than nutrient density and education without including real conversations about access, marginalization, affordability and cultural identity associated with food intake. For instance, individuals that may have not traditionally had access to the vegan diet may reject it as part of rejecting the hegemonic cultural model with which it is associated. The rejection of veganism isn’t always about not being educated on nutrition (most of them are) but it’s more or less about resistance and subversion. How can food be presented as healthy when the term “healthy” doesn’t really exist in a vacuum? It’s a social, political and cultural term as much as it is a medical term. I think that’s a real debate that vegans and those who do not subscribe to a vegan lifestyle can have, and an area where everyone can learn from each other, not just one brand of lifestyle talking at the other (which again, I don’t mean to imply that you do. I’ve always admired your grace when having nuanced discussions). I would just like to see more of those kind of ideas in the mainstream, and I suppose that would be my critique to Marie Claire’s own unique brand of “scholarly research.”

So, that’s a bit of a tangent but it is sometimes upsetting when the richness and complexity of food culture is not addressed. Your response makes more sense to me that you weren’t exactly trying to address it in your post, and that due to the nature of the beast, you really can’t. I also appreciate your eloquence and whip smart responses, and your relentless drive to speak up. So, I also hope you’ll continue the discussion and I very much appreciate your response! And, I apologize for the image oversight, again.

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Hi Emily,

I’m really happy that you brought this up. As for the photo, gosh, no worries. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone on a website and drawn a conclusion based upon an image I saw, without reading the fine print — and this print was certainly fine. I get it.

As for the bigger issue, I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last two days. I do think there’s something to be said for the demands of topicality and space in a blog post. I wasn’t really setting out to address issues of poverty and access, and I didn’t want to do so as an aside when I already had other issues I was focused on. These issues seem, to me, to merit a lot more space.

On the other hand, I disliked the way Marie Claire had sort of used those issues as a playing card, but then pushed them aside. Especially since they weren’t discussing anyone to whom life in food deserts actually applies. There’s something really dissonant, to me, about mentioning food deserts as a deterrent to veganism and then going on to address the stories of four women who clearly had access/means to healthy food. All the while, the people who are truly marginalized by food deserts go undiscussed. In some ways, I kind of participated in this by responding quickly to the magazine’s claim about food deserts without explaining why it rang so false to me. I think I should have done better.

To be very honest, I do think about issues of access/privilege often, and I often shy away from them. You’re not wrong about that. Part of it is ignorance: I don’t know a lot about economic reform or food politics, and I’m not sure what I can contribute, other than pointing out problems that most of us are at least aware of. Part of it is guilt/discomfort, because, all things considered, I’m very privileged myself, at least insofar as I have always had access to food of my own choosing. Part of my hesitation is also that I believe very much in veganism, and I hate to frame it as a lifestyle born of privilege, though of course I can’t deny that it is, in many ways, just that. (At the least, being able to select food in accordance with one’s ideals does come with agency, and in this context agency is a privilege.)

So where does that leave me? I guess it leaves me feeling like I need to make these issues more visible more often. At least, I should educate myself better. I have been thinking a lot lately about trying to make my recipes more affordable (probably the same emphasis on produce, but less on superfoods, etc). This is partly just future student loans talking, but I also think there’s a lot to be said about making vegan food look more accessible than it can sometimes look from the blogosphere — but then I worry that even this sounds disingenuous, because we’re talking about a lack of access that is so much more profound than whether or not someone uses maca in a smoothie or not.

Aside from that, I’m open to suggestions about ways I might do a better job of including issues of access into my dialogs about health. If nothing else, I hope to be a doctor, and I should be thinking hard about this, anyway.

Thanks for inciting more consciousness. I appreciate it.

G

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Karen March 18, 2013 at 7:06 am

What an incredibly gracious response, Gena…you just continue to inspire me in all sorts of ways :)

xo

Jane March 18, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Can I just say that this discussion between the two of you was amazing? You were respectful of one another, while speaking to your own opinion – wow. In our internet-savvy world where people can treat each other with such an incredible level of disrespect, it was humbling to come to this blog for the first time and discover that discussion can take place in the comment section without flames, trolling, or unkindness. Thank you. :)

Jane March 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm

and I see there are two Janes – sorry, I should have read all the way down and chosen a different user name to avoid confusion :)

Shelley @ Mile High Healthy March 15, 2013 at 10:15 am

Every time I read a post like this from you, I am amazed at your ability to be so eloquent, knowledgeable and fair in your response. I agree with you 100%. This article seemed like more of an attention grabber than a thoughtfully researched piece on veganism. Just because four women had issues (with their specific dietary choices) does not mean that veganism is a terrible diet that will make you sick. And yes, at first there may be extra planning and learning involved but it does eventually become second nature.
It is interesting that now – when we have more nutritional information available than ever before – people can still be very ignorant about food and their own personal relationship with it (and overall health, for that matter). I worry that misleading articles like this will scare away those who are genuinely interested in improving their health.
One thing I suggest to anyone interested in changing their diet – vegan or not – is to take the time to find out what works best for your body. We are all different and can all tolerate different amounts of protein, fat, carbs etc…(although I really do think we all need to take a step back from focusing specifically on macronutrients and start looking at our diet as a whole).
Thank you again for presenting your take on this story and others like it. That is why I keep coming back here day after day.

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Marissa March 15, 2013 at 10:24 am

I get really annoyed when people read these articles and think they’re suddenly an expert on the diet (and lifestyle!) that I’ve been eating, living, and extensively studying for well over a decade.

While some are well-meaning and simply misinformed about veganism, there are others whose defensiveness of their omnivorous diet is validated through articles like this one. A lot of people are looking for reasons (excuses, really) to continue current eating patterns that they know aren’t healthy for them or aren’t in line with their ethics. There’s also the fact that these articles play heavily on fear; You’ll be sick and malnourished if you’re vegan or you’ll get really fat if you’re vegan.

Until people can stop blindly accepting garbage like this from people who are clearly seeking to sensationalize, we vegans need to step up. We need to take this as an opportunity to educate ourselves even more, so that we can counter these nonsensical arguments harder and smarter for both the animals and ourselves.

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Marissa March 15, 2013 at 10:31 am

P.s. on that whole countering “smarter and harder”, you’re response is exactly what I’m talking about! Brilliant, as always!

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Rachelle March 15, 2013 at 10:58 am

It’s definitely a shame that vegans have this weird reputation of being either extremely healthy or extremely unhealthy – meat-eaters are typically pretty unhealthy, but biased articles against veganism fail to bring that up. That being said, some people think being vegan means eating Oreos and chips all day. That’s one reason why vegans get a bad rap, for sure.

I just wanna fact check you. You might want to do some more research on soy. Unfermented soy is not health food, no matter how much it has been marketed as such. Unfermented soy includes some of the soy products you mentioned, such as tofu and edamame. Both vegans and meat eaters should stay away from these products. Any vegan who eats/recommends eating soy products probably isn’t aware that many health experts regard it as unhealthy. Fermented soy – tempeh, miso, natto, shoyu and tamari soy sauces. These are the only soy products we should eat – and only organic/non-GMO. Most soy is made from GMO products, mass produced, disgusting for our bodies. Same thing with corn. Lots and lots of vegan and non-vegan products have GMO soy products in them…stuff like soy lecithin is even double processed! I think that’s crazy.

I simply don’t understand the protein thing – vegans can get PLENTY of protein without eating soy products, even. Vegetables, nuts, and grains carry good amounts of protein – if you’re eating lots of vegetables, which you’re supposed to, you’ll be fine.

D3 is made from sheep’s wool and thus, not vegan. D2 is vegan. Any vegan taking a D3 supplement is taking a product derived from an animal. Higher amounts of D2 may need to be taken, because our bodies don’t absorb it as well as D3.

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Gena March 15, 2013 at 11:27 am

Rachelle,

I know that many health personalities don’t consider soy healthy, but I disagree. While I do certainly recommend non-GMO and organic soy, I don’t believe that there’s any conclusive research to prove that tofu is poor for one’s health. In fact, I think the research in support of soy is most persuasive. I do seek out edamame and tempeh more than tofu, because I prefer them, and as a matter of course I think it’s wise to support non-GMO and organic products. But I don’t think the vast amount of research on soy bears out the conclusion that all non-fermented soy is disgusting for our bodies.

I thought that VitaShine was now offering 100% vegan D3–this is the one I’ve ordered myself. But in any case, yes, most D3 is not, so I should clarify.

G

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Jessica March 15, 2013 at 11:17 am

Excellent post!!

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Rachelle March 15, 2013 at 11:50 am

Hey Gena, can you send some of that research my way? I’m pretty convinced by those who say yes, eat soy, but only fermented soy.

Oh ok, I wasn’t aware of the VitaShine product or any other vegan D3 products. Most people picking up common D3 at the store won’t know that – crazy that stuff like that goes by unnoticed.

Thanks for the reply.

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Gena March 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Thank you for reading!

As for research:

A number of vegan health professionals have written very well on this topic. Ginny Messina is particularly knowledgeable:

http://www.theveganrd.com/2011/08/soy-isoflavones-and-estrogen.html

Dr. Joel Fuhrman rounds up a number of good studies:

http://www.drfuhrman.com/faq/question.aspx?qindex=5&sid=16

And Dr. Neal Barnard has also weighed in, citing a number of useful articles:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/neal-barnard-md/soy-health_b_1822291.html

Of course, no single person’s endorsement is sufficient to draw a conclusion, so I really recommend that you go on PubMed and read all of the articles cited. There are also many other articles, many of them review articles, so you should be able to find a great deal of information and draw your own conclusions. Some of the review pieces are slightly older (late 90′s), but their findings remain compelling. Note that in relatively few of these articles is a distinction made between fermented and non-fermented soy, except that some studies have examined fermented soy as a source of probiotics.

Happy reading!

G

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Ruth March 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm

HI Gena,

First of all let me tell you that if anyone has ever make me want to go vegan it’s you. Your well written and very rational opinions are simply too smart to refute.
I’ve been reading your blog for a little while and even though I am not vegan (not even vegetarian) I do understand where you come from and that’s why I take the courage to write my comment
I believe, just like you said, it’s all about the approach.
How we approach food or running…even religion! can make us sick instead of helping us find comfort, nurture or some sort of healing.
I am a certified yoga teacher and I’ve been keeping up with a debate that’s been going on in the yoga community. After big media outlets starting stating that yoga will get you injured a debate arose centering in how something that is supposed to be “healthy/good” is actually “bad/unhealthy”
So you see, it’s not the same but I find some similarities.
And the short version of what I think about it is that we tend to look for written manuals and lists of instructions that people have already put together. We look and search in big books, famous diet books and follow food plans (substitute food for working out/yoga/running) that are supposed to keep us on track toward our goal which lets say in this case is getting/ living healthy-healthier.
But with this approach of following lists of do’s and dont’s, marking checklists of what things will “make” me a “better/true” vegan, yogi, christian! we tend to focus our awareness on the outside instead of looking and turning our awareness inside.
Maybe if we focus more on what my body needs and feels we can start to peel out layers and discover aspects about ourselves and find that just like you said I may be masking an eating disorder in an extreme diet or hiding my competitive self in a perfect looking yoga inversion.
So it is here where I ask. Are the diet or the inversion unhealthy for me or is it me and my approach to them?
Starting to create a conscious awareness is not a microwave-friendly approach. It can be frustrating and it may take a long time but I believe if we start by just listening to our bodies while we eat or run or do yoga we can familiarize ourselves with what it feels like to be in tune with ourselves.
By no means I am an expert in this subject. It’s just my opinion and an approach I’ve decided to adopt: to search and learn from my body’s own wisdom.
I just want to add that I think your blog is beyond interesting and even for a non-vegan like me I find your recipes and articles are filled with valuable information for both eating and approaching a happier diet :)

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Courtney March 15, 2013 at 12:18 pm

As many have said, every diet takes planning. Even if you live off junk food or fast food, that takes planning.

I think a better article would have been showing how one can meet their nutritional needs on a vegan diet….but of course that wouldn’t sell as many magazines as trying to paint the vegan diet as “extreme” or “dangerous”.

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Dana March 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Veganism isn’t a magic pill that will suddenly make you lose 30 pounds, nor is it a diet that will immediately destroy your health. These extremes are small in comparison to the broader vegan community. Like ANY way of eating, if you don’t have a good relationship with food and a good grasp of how much food you need to take in to be healthy (and when to stop), you’re going to have issues with your diet. I thought 5 years ago that going vegan would automatically make me skinny. 50 pounds (ADDED) later, I had to re-visit my relationship with how I eat. Veganism had nothing to do with it, but stress and binge eating did. People looking for crash diets will not thrive on this way of life, but people looking for a compassionate way of living and looking to educate themselves on how to live for health will.

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Kay March 15, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Great post Gena. It was very much needed. I couldn’t agree more with your critique of the article. I have only been doing the vegan thing for about a year and a half and my friends and family certainty do not need another to criticize my life style. I keep a pretty well balanced vegan diet (high raw, B-12, plenty legumes, green juices, and super-foods), am healthier than i’ve ever been, and find it very tedious when people attack my lifestyle with the claim that I am malnourished.

I think Girdwain’s article (particularly the title) was a mere attempt of getting a rise/attention from the dietetic/vegan community. She certainly has no sense of how the scientific method and true research work. Her vegan examples would definitely be classified as outliers by any standards.

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:10 pm

So they would. Thanks for the comment and for reading, Kay.

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pdw March 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I am vegan, grain free due to celiac and other auto-immune issues, have multiple allergies, and am a runner. I’ve never been healthier. Last night at a function (a potluck, no less) I was talking to a newbie vegan (as in… vegan since last Sunday) and her jaw just about hit the floor when I said I was also grain free. “But… you look so vibrant! Where do you get your calories? What do you eat? Just… potatoes?” She took home the leftover shepherd’s pie that I had brought (modified to be safe for my friend who is allergic to black pepper, soy, legumes, mushrooms, and peppers) and I promised to share my Evernote notebook of over 4,000 recipes with her. You can be healthy, happy, and energetic despite dietary restrictions. Experiment, get creative, and have fun cooking!

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:10 pm

That’s inspiring — thank you for sharing!

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Sarah March 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm

If you don’t mind me asking, is your friend who is allergic to legumes vegan? I am pretty severely intolerant to them, and I couldn’t figure out how to avoid legumes and stay healthy without eating animal protein…

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Danielle Good March 15, 2013 at 3:51 pm

THANK YOU GENA for your support, I cannot tell you how MUCH it means to me (and I am sure many, many others) that we have someone as educated and objective as you to be our voice against ridiculous criticisms such as this article.

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Thanks Danielle :)

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Tracy March 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I agree with everything you said. Thank you for the thoughtful post. I live a mostly vegan lifestyle for the animals, the environment and my health. My health is lowest on the list, but is important. I was a vegetarian for 13 years before I cut out the small amounts of dairy I would injest. I am working hard to eliminate all animal products but there is a learning curve.

I think eating the SAD is a far worse proposition for all of humanity. By 2050 we will no longer be able to sustain ourselves if more of us don’t stop eating animal products. We only have one planet and one body. Big food companies are poisoning us with processed foods. 1 in 3 people are obese. It’s an epidemic. And one that will bankrupt the US.

I could go on and on. I am preaching to the choir here. Keep disseminating the message. More and more of us are listening!! Thank you!!

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Thank you, Tracy! What a wonderful comment.

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Treesa March 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Well written, Gena. I think you should submit it to Marie Claire. It would be great if they published it and or if you were able to write an article for them, as this is a distinction not to be overlooked.
It is not the ‘vegan way’ that is the problem, it is the way people are being vegan that is the issue (as it is with all diets). How helpful it could be to people (vegan and non-vegan alike) to understand that if you do (or eat as the case here) the wrong things you will get the wrong results.
Thank you for being an intelligent voice and presence in and for the vegan community. All love…

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:07 pm

All love back :) I’ll think about submitting it!

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Heather McClees March 15, 2013 at 10:05 pm

As always, brilliant work Gena! I couldn’t agree with you more.I actually remember this article when it was first published and remember how angry it made me. I simply can’t stand when veganism is often seen as a form of an eating disorder or a less than ideal way to eat. I was more unhealthy as an omnivore than as a vegan. My fat intake is triple what it used to be when I feared fat and ate nothing but fat-free, no sugar-added yogurt with vegetables all day and a protein bar for breakfast. ANY diet can be lacking in nutrients, not just vegans. I finally found a way to balance my diet with vegan foods that serve my body, not restrict it. If anything, I credit being vegan to helping me overcome binging and restricted eating. Thanks for this article!!:)

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Ali March 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm

I don’t really have too much to add, just gotta gush. You’re the best, Gena! Thanks as always for being such a gem.

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Aw, Ali. Thank you.

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Hailey March 15, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Ugh. To say that this article irked me would be an understatement. How incredibly inaccurate. I was, however, pleased to view the many negative, or at least skeptical comments beneath the article. I was even more thrilled by your reaction (and all the lovely CR readers’ comments) Thank you, Gena, for providing your wonderful insight and perspective on issues such as these. You always organize your responses in such a rational and eloquent manner. I enjoyed every word.

As a related aside, I read about the 5:2 diet while perusing a magazine today. I think it sounds awful and potentially very dangerous, but was wondering what your thoughts might be? If you haven’t heard, it is basically a diet where you can eat anything you’d like 5 days out of the week and must “fast” (eat no more than 500 calories) the remaining two days of the week. There’s a NYtimes article about it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/fashion/england-develops-a-voracious-appetite-for-a-new-diet.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Ah yes. Well, this is just a different version of the same sort of logic that often underlies juice fasting.

There is some research, definitely, to suggest that calorie restriction and lower metabolism can extend longevity (I don’t know about the “fat burning mode” bit–I’ll have to research it), but as far as I know, that research does not suggest that daily intake need be as low as 500 kcal. And of course, lower metabolism also yields more problems with weight maintenance while also enjoying food and a normal life.

My personal take on the research is that, while a gross excess of calories can, when constant, undermine longevity, we need to find a balance between longevity and the benefits of a metabolism that doesn’t get too low — because constant restriction and a metabolism so low that even small dietary modulations cause weight gain is no way to live. Perhaps this new book is trying to strike that balance, but why on earth not simply eat a reasonable amount every day — good old moderation — than vacillate between “anything you want” and “fasting”?

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Hailey March 18, 2013 at 11:18 am

Yes, I completely agree! I’m very skeptical about juice fasting in addition to this 5:2 diet. I can’t really see them being successful for anyone in the long-term. Why have two days each week that you completely dread (because I imagine consuming only 500 calories a day would make someone cranky, irritable, shaky, and lethargic), when you can look forward to every day by listening to what your body needs and nourishing it while still answering its cravings. Our society really needs to realize that balance nearly always outweighs extremes.

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Lisa @ Lisa the Vegetarian March 16, 2013 at 10:43 am

It really gets on my nerves when people get so alarmist about veganism, or even vegetarianism. They’ll see articles like this one and think that all vegan/veggie diets are bad. Thanks for helping to get the real truth out there.

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Meg March 16, 2013 at 12:01 pm

There is actually a publicly-funded eating disorders treatment program in Winnipeg that is not accepting vegetarians or vegans any longer. I know someone who was told that they would kick her out of treatment if she didn’t agree to eating dairy, eggs and meat because her veganism is “all part of [her] eating disorder”. Horrible for vegans and those who need help recovering from an eating disorder.

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 10:56 pm

That is a shame. I understand why some therapists have reservations, of course — there may, for some people, be an inherent tension between recovery and any kind of dietary specialization — but to turn away people who feel veganism as a moral imperative is really problematic, I think.

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Melanie March 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

Wonderful response to an unfortunate article! I’ll chime in to say that I have a serious soy intolerance and my beloved is the same way with gluten. I also avoid gluten because of autoimmune issues. Even with these ‘restrictions’, we live an abundant and delicious vegan life! Yes, it does mean cooking at home more, but I like to do that anyway. And there are more and more restaurants here in DC that will accommodate us. (Tip—if you tell restauranteurs what you need, they’ll often surprise you! Rustik Tavern now serves gluten free and vegan pizza crusts that they invented for my honey & me!)

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Manny"the health nut" March 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I love this! Let thy food be thy medicine…is that the famous Hyppocratis quote?
thanks for the article.

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 10:54 pm

It is, it is.

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Jane March 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I’m finding out daily that there are so many nutrients missing in the vegan diet. Take Vitamin K2, most people think eating greens which are high in K1 is enough but it’s not for bone health in women over 40. The only vegan sources of K2 are fermented veggies and fermented natto and who eats enough of these on a daily basis for bone and heart health? There is no carnosine on a vegan diet and choline is low in the vegan diet as well, especially if you don’t eat soy. then there is B12 and the list goes on… there is no way to be healthy on a vegan diet without a lot of supplementation and even then the longer a women is vegan especially in her late 40s the cracks start showing and health declines rapidly unfortunately. I know it’s all for a good cause, but how a person feels is not a good indication of their cellular health and whats going on inside the body. Deficiencies develop slowly over 10yrs and this is when women notice their health going down hill. I feel so strongly about this that no person under the age of 25 should be a vegan, especially given the skeletal system and brain are still developing, and no woman wanting to concieve or who is pregnant should be vegan, it is too dangerous. I’m all for a high plant based diet and believe we should all be fighting for animal welfare and liberation especially with regards to factory farming, but the facts remain that the vegan diet is an experiment (a well meaning and noble one), but it is a mere blip on the human evolutionary timeline.

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Gena March 17, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Well, everyone is entitled to her opinion. At the same time, statements like “there is no way to be healthy on a vegan diet without a lot of supplementation” (unless you mean B-12 or D2, which is not my definition of “a lot”), or “no woman wanting to conceive or who is pregnant should be vegan, it is too dangerous” don’t align with the up to date peer-reviewed, clinical research, or the opinion of the ADA.

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jenny March 28, 2013 at 7:31 pm

My mom came across this post and forwarded it to me. My mom isn’t a vegan, but tries to “read up” on it since I have been a vegan for the past 6 years (I’m 28..) Anyways, I scrolled down through the comments and saw this one. Like Gena said everyone is entitled to there own opinion…but wanted to say that I became pregnant on a vegan diet and had a wonderful healthy pregnancy. I have also successfully breastfeed my daughter for 14 months on a vegan diet. We have choosen to raise her vegan, she is a happy and healthy (90th%) and has met and/or exceeded all of her milestones. I know that fat is extremely important in a babies/toddlers diet, as long as meals are properly thought out, there is no problem meeting those requirements. Just wanted to give an example of a healthy vegan family.

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Gena April 2, 2013 at 9:11 am

It is great to hear your feedback, Jenny. And it echoes that of many of my vegan friends who have had fully healthy pregnancies. Many thanks for chiming in.

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Beth March 18, 2013 at 11:04 am

Gena — your writing amazes me! So often I read your blog amazed at how well you articulate your ideas. Even though they reflect my own opinions, you say things in a way that makes me feel like I’m reading my opinions for the first time. Kudos to you for all that you do. I have admired your blog for a long time but rarely leave comments (tsk, tsk, I know…) So, just wanted to say thank you and please continue to share your reflections. Even though some (many?) of your readers are in the “choir”, we still sometimes need those preachers to share their thoughts in an articulate and well-reasoned way.

And P.S. are you drinking some sort of magical coffee? If there is a secret above and beyond plain old Java, I’d love to know. School, full-time blog posts, articles, etc….I’m convinced you’re in on some sort of secret energy drink still unknown to common man ; )

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bitt March 18, 2013 at 9:21 pm

thanks for addressing this Gena.

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Kim March 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I stopped reading these ridiculous magazines a long time ago when I realized there was nothing in them for me (why pay $$$ for a glossy book of ads and articles to make me feel not pretty enough, not organized enough, not a fancy enough cook or home decorator, not athletic/happy/glowingly youthful enough). Someone once told me to not believe anything you read on glossy paper and I stick by that.

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Anna Crouch March 20, 2013 at 1:24 pm

As a future Dietitian, it makes me really frustrated to read about Dietitians making claims such as this. Just as you said, ANY diet can leave someone with nutritional deficiencies if not approached in a balanced manner. Granted, vegans are more susceptible to certain vitamin deficiencies, but this does not make a vegan diet inherently less healthy than an omnivorous diet. I feel like a Dietitian should be able to point out the real discrepancies and offer solutions. Instead, it seems like this woman chose situations that had layers of difficulty BEYOND veganism. Her examples did not point out nutritional issues with being vegan, but merely exacerbated them by adding in other components that further restricted or complicated the diet. This doesn’t prove her claim at all! There could have been solutions for all of these individuals, yet she leaves the reader thinking a vegan diet is insufficient for most any lifestyle. Rather, from the points she made, her argument should be that a vegan diet is harder when complicated by certain situations (as is any diet, is it not?).

Without rambling on, I completely agree with your point of view. I’m not even a vegan, but I admire those who are, and especially those who do it right. There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with veganism and it’s a shame that a Dietitian would come out saying there is. I hope as a Dietitian someday, a client with any type of diet can come to me and feel respected, despite whatever food choices they make.

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erin @WELLinLA March 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm

FAIL on their part for not interviewing a source such as yourself for this piece. I remember reading and promptly dismissing the article last summer. It is a biased, unbalanced piece of journalism. Thank you for taking the time to clearly articulate a beautiful response.

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Alex @ Raw Recovery March 25, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I have yet to read the article in question, but from what you say it does sound very biased and one-sided. Being a vegan doesn’t make you inherently healthy, but not being a vegan also doesn’t make you healthy. I think any diet requires some effort to make sure the individual gets a balanced blend of food from various sources. Right after I got out of inpatient for anorexia, I went straight to a vegan diet and it didn’t cause me to relapse. Quite the contrary, I felt energized, my weight was stable and I was healthy. I didn’t restrict food intake and found ways to enjoy food, and yes, part of that was eating “non-healthy” vegan food (e.g. muffins, cookies, etc.) I didn’t stress about it because I knew that I had found a way of eating that worked for me. In the past few months I have gone vegetarian, and now include some eggs in my diet because that’s what works for me right now and I may go back to being a strict vegan at some point. Maybe a vegan diet isn’t for everybody, and I do think it takes more care and planning to make sure you are getting all the vitamins and nutrients in, but I do think it’s possible to be a vegan and be healthy, however you want to define health.

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chip March 26, 2013 at 10:59 am

gena, THANK YOU so much for this post. i’ve read your website for a while now, at first for the recipes, but the insight you provide always interests me and is exactly what is needed to deconstruct and expose the bias and shakey foundation of articles like this one. i oddly happened to flip open this edition of marie claire at the grocery store while waiting in line and found it to be maddeningly ill-informed in its approach and examples. thank you so very much for this clear and simple response- omnivorous friends and family alike will be assuaged by your perspective.

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Gena March 27, 2013 at 7:16 am

Thank YOU for reading! I appreciate it so much.

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Sara March 26, 2013 at 6:45 pm

for me veganism is an ethical decision. No silly article will convince me that I need to eat a balanced diet and include food that has harmed animals. any type of diet can be harmful if not done right. Im raw vegan and very healthy :)

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