Not without a host of supplements and probably not even then. Our authors come out of the blocks in this chapter, “we disagree that a totally plant-based is best for all people, and indeed, it may even be unsafe for some.”
So begins chapter six, which is a polite assault on the plant-only diet. Rodgers and Wolf first explain that all protein is not the same. Whilst meat contains all the amino acids we need, plants are deficient in one or more amino acids. None of them contain leucine, which is one of the most important nutrients for humans. Therefore, when a label lists “grams of protein,” it doesn’t give you the true nutritional story. Furthermore, protein quality in plants is inferior to meat; it is not as bioavailable. Simply put, the body utilises meat protein more efficiently than plant protein. To make this case, the authors use data from the WHO and several scientific studies from academic journals.
The authors go on to pit beef vs beans in a head-to-head nutrition battle. You can guess which one wins. Hint: it’s the one that doesn’t make you gassy. One area of particular interest in this chapter is the darling food of many vegans: soy. Not all is well though with this touted miracle plant, however. There are compounds in soy that are similar to oestrogen. I didn’t know this, but this is a defence mechanism. The compounds will disrupt the reproductive cycle of animals that eat it, so they cannot optimally procreate. What does this mean for humans? Possible fertility disruption, hormone imbalance, a misfiring thyroid gland and…soy boys. Sorry I couldn’t resist the last one. The authors make no reference to these “men.” Trigger warning!
What Happens when You Give up Meat?
The rest of the chapter delves into the various health problems many vegans face. It’s a long list. Teenage girls seem particularly susceptible to the current meat is bad propaganda. Result? Loss of periods, hair loss, low energy and a weakened immune system. Vegans also suffer from various nutrient deficiencies: B12, iron, calcium, creatine, and zinc. One result can be depression and anxiety. The authors go on and then on some more.
I must confess, when health books lay down the data like this, I get bored. I understand they must do it. After all, it’s the only way to make their case: marshalling the empirical evidence. Still, it leaves me cold. Fortunately, Rodgers and Wolf offer a harrowing anecdote to pull all of this information together and give it some human context. They cite Lierre Keith’s book The Vegetarian Myth where she tells her story about being a vegan for twenty years. This was a true believer who made sure she had all the right proteins and B12 supplements. What happened to Keith? “She lost her period, suffered from depression, and developed degenerative disk disease.” Her back pain and general exhaustion became debilitating. In desperation she went to a qigong master who recommended she eat meat. After eating a tin of tuna, she said to herself “Oh my god…this is what it feels like to be alive.” It’s the human story that keeps me interested in books like these. It makes me wonder though. How many people like Keith are out there who took the red pill? How many more are suffering needlessly?
Veganism and Children
This may be the most depressing part of the book so far. Well-meaning, but ideologically blinded, parents foisting their veganism on their foetuses, babies and children. Did you know that doctors from the Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine recommended making it illegal to feed babies a vegan diet? Me neither. Our authors list a host of studies which make a strong case that the vegan diet is dangerous and unhealthy to babies and young children. They mention a case in Italy where a fourteen month old vegan was taken away from his parents because he was so malnourished. He had the weight of a three-month-old.
This was another illuminating chapter. When I first became conscious of vegans twenty-five years ago, I saw them as neo-hippy poseurs. My opinion hasn’t changed much. What I didn’t know, until reading this chapter, was how many of them suffer for their unhealthy diet. I hope they do as Lierre Keith did and change their ways. Until then, good luck vegans, but leave me free to eat meat.