Latest in Human Nutrition October 2003

I. Latest Updates in Veg Nutrition
A. Biggest Study on Vegetarians in History Finally
B. Vegans Should "Consider" DHA Supplementation
C. Low Protein Intake May Also Harm Bones
D. Nuts Will Not Make You Fat
II. Why Animal Advocates Should Care About the WTO
III. DVD update
IV. Personal Update -- Wish List: A LCD Projector
V. MAILBAG: "Should I Get My B12 or Omega-3 Level


A. Biggest Study on Vegetarians in History Finally

Do vegetarians live longer than the general population? Absolutely! Vegetarians outlast the general population by perhaps as much as ten healthy years--a whole extra decade on Earth! (maybe as a karmic reward for living lives dedicated to justice and compassion :)
But naysayers like the Cattlemen's Association like to ascribe the extra years to "Non-dietary aspects of a vegetarian lifestyle such as regular physical activity and abstinence from smoking..."[1]. But we argued it was because we didn't eat meat. Is our extra decade because we just tend to smoke less and exercise, or is it because of what we actually eat?
To answer that question, researchers tried to control for these other factors by comparing vegetarians to healthy meat-eaters. To tease out the contribution of diet, researchers compared vegetarians to meat-eaters who were just as lean as vegetarians, smoked just as little and had similar social class or education (and who were of course the same age and gender). And what they found shocked them--the vegetarians did not seem to live any longer than the healthy meat-eaters[2]. Wait a second, who did this study? The meat and dairy board? No, the principal investigator is an animal rights vegan.
Yes, the vegetarians in the study lived six years longer than the general population, but so did the meat-eaters! Other than their healthy lifestyles, this group of meat-eaters studied ate more fruits and veggies than your typical meat-eater and less meat. Wondering if that's why they weren't seeing a greater vegetarian advantage, the researchers compared the vegetarians to just those that ate meat regularly. And although there was no survival advantage over those that just ate meat a few times a month, vegetarians did seem to live about two years longer than those who ate meat every week. But just two years longer? We deserve better than that! And the vegans in the study did even worse :(
Now of course these were studies of mortality only. We as vegetarians and vegans still have less heart disease, less obesity, less hypertension, less diabetes, less colon cancer, less constipation, less diverticulosis, less arthritis, less appendicitis--you name it. So it still makes sense to go vegetarian and vegan, even if just for health reasons alone, but you'd think with all that we'd have a bigger survival advantage. What's going on? If, for example, you look at our cholesterol, the biggest risk factor for the number one killer, vegetarians should be kicking all sorts of meat-eater butt and the vegans should be kicking the most butt of all.
Well that was 1999. Maybe it was just a fluke. In 2002, an update on the Oxford Vegetarian Study was published which had been following 8,000 vegetarians for 18 years. And sadly they found the same thing--those that didn't eat meat didn't live any longer than those that did eat meat (after all the other variables were taken into account)[3]. What's going on?
And finally, just last month the mortality results from the single biggest study on vegetarians in human history was published, following almost 18,000 vegetarians. I had been waiting years to get my hands on it. And it shows... no survival advantage[4]. What's going on?
The good news is that we think we do know what's going on. For a more in depth discussion you can listen to, or watch, my Optimum Vegetarian Nutrition talk on-line, (or on CD). The bottom line is that our inadequate intake of vitamin B12 is literally killing us. In fact the one study in which we did show a survival advantage was the one population of vegetarians that were routinely supplementing their diet with B12 fortified foods. Please see Jack Norris's excellent article on B12 for the latest on what we need to do to optimize our B12 status.
It's estimated that if vegans just took their B12, they'd live 4 years longer. There's no pill on the planet that can enable the average meat-eater to live years longer. Our diet is just so near-perfect all we need to do is get our B12 and we'll leave everyone else in the dust. And it would also help us if we improved our omega-3 fatty acid status (see below).
Let's prove the cattlemen wrong!
B. Vegans Should "Consider" DHA
Author of one of the best books on vegan nutrition ever published, Becoming Vegan, Brenda Davis just published a review on the essential fatty acid status of vegans and vegetarians[5]. I encourage everyone new to the topic first listen to my Optimum Vegetarian Nutrition talk (available free on-line and on CD) to familiarize yourself with the subject.
In the new article. Brenda Davis reiterates the Becoming Vegan recommendations to eat the equivalent of 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax seed every day to get one's omega 3's, to get the rest of one's fat predominantly from whole plant foods such as nuts and avocados (limiting processed and deep fried foods) and, if one uses oil, to choose olive or canola (not sunflower, safflower or corn oil). But then in this review last month she goes a step further.
Non-fish-eaters can convert the omega 3's in flax and other plant foods into heart-healthy EPA and brain-healthy DHA, but the question is can they convert enough for optimum health? In Becoming Vegan, Brenda concludes the chapter on fats by recommending that vegan pregnant and breast-feeding women, diabetics and the elderly consider getting their DHA the same place that the fish get it from--DHA rich algae. There are now vegan algae-derived DHA supplements available at
In her current lectures and in this new paper, however, she advocates that all vegetarians and vegans consider taking DHA supplements. This has sparked considerable controversy, especially since the supplements are like 50 cents each (and one would take one a day), coming out to over a hundred dollars a year. It is for that reason that I just stick to my $4-a-year flax seed habit (although I think it's reasonable to consider taking DHA). Whether or not DHA supplementation for vegans is necessary is an unanswered research question.
Stay tuned.
C. Low Protein Intake May Also Harm Bones
We've known for over 80 years that increased protein intake leads to increased calcium loss in the urine[6] Especially, it seems, from acid-forming proteins found in some animal products. So one might guess that vegetarians would need less calcium because they lose less in their urine. Unfortunately, this is a myth[7].
First of all, those acid forming proteins aren't found in all animal products and are also found in high amounts in some plant foods too, like grains. Research suggests that vegetarians consume just as much of those sulfur-containing acid-forming proteins as meat-eaters[8]. And just last month a study reported new data that showed that too litle protein may also not be good for your bones[9].
Although on average most Americans exceed the RDA for protein by about 40%, one out of every five men in the U.S. and one in three women don't even reach the RDA for protein[10]. And these were meat-eaters. So everyone has to ensure they're getting enough protein in their diet (while not getting too much).
We should be shooting for about 0.9 grams per kilogram of healthy body weight. For us metric illiterate Americans, that means you basically multiply your "ideal" weight in pounds by 0.4. In other words, multiply by 4 and divide by ten. So for me, ideally for my height I should weigh about 150 pounds, so 150 times 4 is... 600, divided by ten is... 60. So I should eat about 60 g of protein a day.
If you don't know what your "ideal" body weight is, and you're of average build, you can base your protein requirements on height. You take your height-in-inches squared and multiply by 0.012. OK, so I'm 5'11", so that's 71 inches. So 71 x 71 x.012 = 60.
You can look at my Plant-Based Sources for Key Nutrients handout on my website for a list of some plant protein superstars. So yes, it's easy to get enough protein on a veg diet with foods like beans, but to do so we actually have to eat them! We should all be eating beans every day. (Let me guess--the mailbag question next month will be about flatulence, how much do you want to bet? :).
D. Nuts will not Make You Fat
The latest data suggests that you may be able to cut your risk of sudden cardiac death in half, just by eating nuts twice a week.[11] And studying 25,000 Seventh Day Adventists, those that ate just a handful of nuts (1 oz.) five or more times a week lived two years longer! Years onto your life and delicious--that's what vegetarianism should be all about. So surround yourself with nuts (which shouldn't be hard in the vegetarian community--just kidding! :)
Yeah, but aren't nuts fatty, though? Yes, but they're packed with good fats (especially almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias and pecans). There is not a single study in the entire medical literature that I'm aware of that failed to show health benefits from nut consumption. Nuts are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. So why doesn't everyone eat them every day? Perhaps because there is this persistent myth that nuts make you gain weight.
Last month, the chairperson of one of the most prestigious nutrition departments in the world, Loma Linda University, reviewed all the available data on nut consumption and body weight[12]. He found that nut-eaters on average were leaner or the same weight as non-nut-eaters. For example, we all know that the average American is overweight. But that's only for non-nut-eating Americans--nut-eaters on average are not overweight. According to the USDA, those who eat nuts in this country are significantly leaner than those that don't.[13]
Wait a second. Aren't nuts like 80% fat, though? Don't they have as many calories as like potato chips? Am I telling you that you can add a whole handful of nuts to your diet every day and you probably won't gain weight? No, I'm telling you you can add four handfuls of nuts to your daily diet and you probably won't gain weight! That's what these Loma Linda researchers did. Had people eat four extra handfuls of almonds every day for 6 months, and not only was there basically no average weight gain, the heaviest study participants actually lost weight.[14]
But four handfuls of nuts is almost 600 calories; that's like a few scoops of ice cream every day--how could they not gain weight? Good question. We're actually not sure. There's some evidence that nuts may increase the speed at which you burn calories[15]. Or maybe it's because nuts are so nutrient rich (trace minerals, fiber, arginine, vitamin E, etc.) that they quell hunger pangs better than other foods, decreasing one's appetite[16]. Who knows; who cares. The bottomline is that nuts probably won't make you fat.
Barring allergies, everyone should eat a handful of nuts every day.


Last month the World Trade Organization (WTO) met in Cancun, Mexico. The day before the meeting began, Lee Kyung-hae, a South Korean farmer led a march of thousands to the security perimeter. He climbed the fence with a sign that read "The WTO Kills Farmers" and plunged a knife into his heart.
Farmers aren't the only ones killed by the WTO. There's a reason that activists from all over the world came to protest the WTO dressed up in dolphin costumes, a protest organized by the Animal Welfare Institute. So-called "free" trade institutions like the WTO have been erasing animal welfare laws enacted by democratically-elected governments around the world.
Thanks in part to the attention and pressure brought to bare by Lee's martyrdom and the massive protest in Cancun, the WTO negotiations collapsed. We won! As one WTO representative emphatically declared at the September 14th official press conference: "This is over. We have just had a second Seattle,"
Having lost this round, the Corporations are turning their hopes to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which could devastate the rights of animals, women, workers, immigrants, forests, etc. throughout the entire hemisphere. And the FTAA is meeting next month! November 20-21 in Miami, Florida for those planning your vacation time :). It is the biggest globalization meeting on U.S. soil since Seattle. The U.S. Trade Representative's office expects up to 100,000 protestors. I'll be there; I hope you'll join me for the animals.
To learn more about this critically important issue, listen on-line to my talk Corporate Globalization: Trading Away Our Right to Protect Animals on my website (I can also send you a CD of it if that's easier). To learn what you can actually do about it, I've updated my handout for the Globalization talk featuring Compassion in World Farming's spectacular website,
These were Lee Kyung-hae's last words: "Don't worry about me, just struggle your hardest."


I'm very excited that the DVD is selling well. If haven't got a copy yet, you can get one for free (for a $100 donation to the Farm Animal Reform Movement). Or you may be able to get a copy for a donation to Vegan Outreach, Farm Sanctuary, or Tribe of Heart. Or, of course, you can get one directly from me for $20 (all proceeds to vegan charities).
As a fundraiser for your local group I'd be happy to send you a stack of DVDs at a wholesale price of $10 each (for orders of ten or more).
Finally, if anyone knows any TV producers, I'd love to pitch them an idea for a vegan cooking show, using my DVD as a pilot. How exciting would that be?!

IV. PERSONAL UPDATE -- Wish List: An LCD Projector

Thanks to the heart-felt generosity of a Boston-area activist, I have settled rent-free in New York for these next three months to concentrate on writing my book on vegan nutrition before once again venturing out on the road to speak full-time for another year. Of course there are a few speaking opportunities over these next few months that I just couldn't miss: the world's best veg food-fest, the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival October 18th, and the world's best animal rights conference, Liberation Now!, November 7-9. But other than that, I'm not planning on traveling until 2004.
I've always wanted to develop a talk which involved an interactive visual component (like powerpoint). There is overwhelming evidence from the business research literature that presentations that include slides or overheads are more effective, memorable, and persuasive than straight talks without visuals. I've always hesitated, though, because so few venues have the capacity (a LCD projector) to show it. Yes, I could give it in University auditoriums, but what about community groups? Churches? High schools? Coops?--all the other places I speak. So people are often surprised when they ask my my audio/visual needs and I say "nothing." It's been a conscious choice so that I can give my talks anywhere to anyone. But I've got this new talk just crying out for visuals.
I just premiered my new cancer talk--"Stopping Cancer Before It Starts: Cancer-Proofing Your Body With Plant Superfoods" --in Boston. To help make the narrative come alive I tried using two dueling overhead projectors surrounded by stacks of transparencies. And I think although people were able to follow along, I can just imagine how much more impact it would have, how much more professional it would look, if I was able to project interactive diagrams, pictures, animations on the screen. This new talk, more than any of my others, really could benefit I think from that kind of technology. But again, then I could only show it in select venues, to limited audiences, unless... I owned an LCD projector which I could take with me around the country. Then, using the laptop that was donated to me by Vegan Outreach, I could just project it onto a blank wall anytime, anywhere to anyone.
So, if anyone or any organization you know of has an LCD projector that they would be willing to lend me or donate to me, please let me know. Or if anyone wants to look on Ebay or something and buy me a second-hand one, my birthday is October 25th :). My 501c3 status is pending, and so the donation would probably be tax-deductible.
This new cancer talk of mine is one of my most powerful (and humorous) yet. I talk about all the carcinogens in meat and dairy, the dioxins, the sex steroids. I push the pro-vegan message over and over throughout the talk; I really think this talk has the potential to drastically change the eating habits of a significant proportion of my audiences every time I give it. I'm going to be spending 2004 on the road, hopefully giving the talk hundreds of times; I'm looking forward for everyone to see it. If you can help out in anyway in terms of just even looking up what kinds of LCD players are best (I don't really know much about them) or tips on how i might get my hands on one, it would be very much appreciated.
Alternately, if my quest for a LCD projector fails, does anyone have an overhead projector I could borrow for a year? The more compact the better (as I would have to be able to fit it in my little Toyota along with all my other worldly possessions), but anything would be great. Then at least I could give a version of the talk to places with only an audience and a white wall.

V. MAILBAG: "Should I Get My B12 or Omega-3
Levels Tested?"

Although some recommend that all vegetarians get their B12 status tested every year[17], my position is that as long as you're following the B12 recommendations I wouldn't worry about getting tested. But if you are interested in getting your B12 tested, your homocysteine tested, or your omega 3's, your carnitine, taurine, trace minerals, antioxidant status, etc you can get them all tested and help the vegan movement all at the same time.
Dr. Michael Klaper (not to be confused with any other Dr. Michael's :) wants your blood and urine. In an attempt to optimize vegan health, he's launched the Vegan Health Study. Any and all vegans (and non-vegans too) are encouraged to visit to fill out the on-line dietary survey. And then, if you have the means, you can order a testing kit to send off your blood and urine for over a hundred tests. Unfortunately Dr. Klaper does not yet have the resources to pay for everyone's tests, so it costs $675. I know that's a lot of money, but that comes out to be less than $5 per test! It's literally thousands of dollars worth of tests, covering all the organ systems, and Dr. Klaper will personally call you and spend over an hour going through all your results, audio-tape the consultation and then send you the tape! Dr. Klaper makes no money off this--he's donating his time. In fact the testing is even a tax-deductible 501c3 donation.
So although these special tests are not necessary, you'd be doing yourself and the vegan movement a favor is you enrolled in the Vegan Health Study. In the very least, please fill out the free online survey to help with the effort.


[2] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70(1999)516s.
[3] Public Health Nutrition 5(2002):29.
[4] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(2003):533s.
[5] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(2003):640s.
[6] J. Biol. Chem 1920;44:21ˆê7.
[8] J Am Coll Nutr 1991;10:308-314.
[9] Am J Clin Nutr 78(2003):584s.
[10] US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2000. Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals CSFII 1994ˆê96.
[11] Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2002;26:1129ˆê37.
[12] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(2003):647s.
[13] US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2000. Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals CSFII 1994ˆê96.
[14] J Am Coll Nutr 1998;328:603ˆê7.
[15] Arch Intern Med 2002;162:1382ˆê7.
[16] Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2000;24:1167ˆê75.
[17] Clinica Chimica Acta 326(2002):47.

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Until next month,