Science journal spreads false rumors about vegan diet

Feedlot cattle

As I explain in Where Do Goril­las Get Their Pro­tein?,  a low-fat veg­an diet is good for peo­ple and good for the envi­ron­ment.  How­ev­er, an arti­cle in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences (PNAS) dis­agrees. It claims that veg­an diets would be a dis­as­ter for pub­lic health. Yet the authors are not experts on human nutri­tion or pub­lic health. Instead, they are experts on how to feed live­stock. Their did not base their con­clu­sions on any stud­ies of human nutri­tion. As a result, they give bad dietary advice.

The authors of the PNAS arti­cle even freely admit that plant-based diets have sev­er­al impor­tant advan­tages:

  • A plant-based diet would increase the amount of food avail­able for human beings.
  • Veg­ans have to eat a huge amount of food to keep from los­ing weight  [That’s why they tend to be thin and free of type 2 dia­betes ]
  • The 2015 Dietary Guide­lines Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee sup­port­ed plant-based diets. They not­ed that plant-based diets would improve health and make our food sup­ply more sus­tain­able.

False claims about vegan diet

The PNAS arti­cle claims that the veg­an diets would be defi­cient in sev­er­al impor­tant nutri­ents. Yet the authors did not show that veg­ans were get­ting sick. Instead, they just wrote, “How­ev­er, with­out ani­mal-derived foods, domes­tic sup­plies of Ca [cal­ci­um]; arachi­don­ic, eicos­apen­taenoic, and docosa­hexaenoic fat­ty acids; and vit­a­mins A and B12 were insuf­fi­cient to meet the require­ments of the US pop­u­la­tion.” That claim is absolute­ly ridicu­lous, for the fol­low­ing rea­sons:

    • You do need to get some cal­ci­um from your diet. How­ev­er, nobody gets sick from eat­ing low-cal­ci­um diets. Some prob­lems with cal­ci­um bal­ance  result from a lack of vit­a­min D (sun­shine defi­cien­cy). Oth­ers result from high-pro­tein, high-cal­ci­um diets.
    • You don’t need to get arachi­don­ic acid, eicos­apen­taenoic acid, or docosa­hexaenoic acid from your food. We do not need to get small amounts of two essen­tial fat­ty acids from our diet. How­ev­er, we can eas­i­ly get enough of both from prac­ti­cal­ly any plant-based diet.
    • Human beings can eas­i­ly get vit­a­min A from orange, yel­low, or dark-green fruit and veg­eta­bles.
    • Vit­a­min B12 is the only true vit­a­min that is lack­ing from plant-based diets. Vit­a­min B12 is made by bac­te­ria, not by ani­mals. You can get it from a cheap sup­ple­ment.
    • The arti­cle also warns about vit­a­min D defi­cien­cy. Yet vit­a­min D is not a true vit­a­min. You can make your own vit­a­min D if you go out­side in the sun­shine.  You don’t need to get “the sun­shine vit­a­min” from your food.

Concern for industry, not for human health

The PNAS arti­cle warns us that a shift to a veg­an diet would cause big changes to the econ­o­my. These changes would be dis­as­trous for the live­stock indus­try. (The authors of the PNAS arti­cle have devot­ed their careers to serv­ing the live­stock indus­try. They have not stud­ied human health. That is why they know so lit­tle about human nutri­tion.)

A switch to a veg­an diet would also be a dis­as­ter for the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try. Many peo­ple who shift to a low-fat, plant-based diet can stop tak­ing most or all of their pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tions. These changes would be good for pub­lic health, though bad for indus­try.

PNAS is a pres­ti­gious jour­nal. Yet like oth­er pres­ti­gious jour­nals, it some­times pub­lish­es arti­cles that are non­sense. Like­wise, PNAS prob­a­bly also rejects some good arti­cles for stu­pid rea­sons. I have worked for peer-reviewed jour­nals. I have also sub­mit­ted arti­cles to oth­er peer-reviewed jour­nals. Thus, I have seen the prob­lem from both sides, as I explain here. The edi­tors of PNAS failed to send their arti­cle to a gen­uine expert in human nutri­tion. As a result, they end­ed up spread­ing live­stock indus­try pro­pa­gan­da.

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