The biggest myth of modern nutrition: healthy plant-based diets

Last updated: 05-11-2020

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The biggest myth of modern nutrition: healthy plant-based diets

In this blog, I want to share a different perspective on the increasingly popular plant-based diet (whether it be veganism or whatever form of vegetarianism). It’s important for us to understand that biases can form in many areas of nutrition. I will first discuss the history of modern vegetarianism. Then I will discuss some recent scientific controversies not often discussed in mainstream media, and will end off with some of the downsides of plant-based diets. Did we transition towards plant-based nutrition because it is healthier, or did various powerful proponents pursue biased research to support their beliefs and agendas?

One of the earliest, most influential proponents of vegetarianism is Ellen Gould White, founder of the Seventh-Day Adventists (SDA) church. White grew up in an era of religious fervor, rife with crowded revivals and prophecies about the end of the world. Over her life, she experienced many ‘visions’ from God, which ultimately led to the creation of the church. From these visions, Ellen learned that vegetarianism was the path of righteousness and well being.

Ellen had two major visions in the early 1860s that started her vegetarian pursuit. By the 1890s and many visions later, she was a full-fledged vegetarian, and had begun to amass many followers. She was a sought-after speaker for various talks among health and animal welfare, with audiences of over 20,000 people. She soon founded the Seventh-Day Adventists church with a strong health-focused, vegetarian basis. Since its inception, and the beginning of Ellen’s visions, the SDA followers have adamantly conducted scientific research in search of support for Ellen’s visions. The bias for finding positive associations in plant-based diets was a seed that was planted at the inception of modern nutrition.

Two other big names, both intertwined in the SDA’s, were Lenna Cooper and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. ‘Originally trained as a nurse, Cooper was a protege of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, director of the Seventh-day Adventist sanitarium in Battle Creek, and his wife, Ella. Under their tutelage, Cooper took up the study of nutrition and became a leading proponent of health care through diet.’ [1]

In 1917, the American Dietitians Association was formed by Lenna Cooper. It is not surprising that also in 1917, in an edition of the Good Health, Lenna espoused the benefits of a healthy morning breakfast, edited by Mr. Kellogg himself. Both Lenna and Kellogg had a biased favouritism towards vegetarianism that was intertwined with their religion, and both had a lot to profit from its widespread adoption.

Into the early 1920s, Lenna led a publication of the first issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association as a continuation of the Bulletin of the American Dietetic Association. By the late 1920s, she wrote the textbooks for dietetic and nursing programs around the world. She remained in power for another thirty years and continued to manage nutritional literature until the 1960s when she passed away. Her influence, and that of the Seventh-Day Adventists continued to permeate throughout nutritional organizations.

In the same town of Battle Creek, Michigan, 100s of cereal and processed food companies popped up in the early 1900s. Is it possible that these had some influence over the foundations of these dietetic associations that were in the same city, that we know the founder Lenna Cooper was involved in?

The reach of the Seventh-Day Adventists church was not merely local to the US. In the late 1800s, Ellen G. White had a vision that an angel saw a Seventh-day Adventist publishing house in Australia. Not too long after, she arrived with her son, Elder White and Merritt Kellogg, the step brother of John Harvey Kellogg and fellow SDA. Their goal was to establish SDA and Kellogg roots in Australia. They founded an SDA church, Kelloggs cereal in Australia, Avondale college, Sydney Adventist Hospital, Signs Publishing, and the Sanitarium of Healthy Wellbeing company. Today the Sanitarium of Healthy Wellbeing is one of the most well respected institutions in Australia and New Zealand.

Throughout the 1900s, the SDA’s made significant efforts to expand their religion and beliefs into the mainstream. And to be fair, they truly did believe that their diet and recommendations were the healthiest, because they were the word of God. By bringing their messaging and policies to the masses, they figured they were doing the best thing for everyone. Of course, if we allowed any other religion to this today, we’d all be outraged.

Lydia Sonnenberg was one of the few Seventh-day Adventist dietitians who served as President of the Seventh-day Adventist Dietetic Association multiple times. She was a professor and director of the School of Dietetics at Loma Linda University. She created a scholarship in her name: ‘The Lydia Sonnenberg Scholarship Award is presented annually to selected junior students. Selection is based on academic performance, as well as demonstrated skill and interest in publishing nutrition information for the public.’ Good luck getting that scholarship without espousing the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle.

Lydia was a strong believer in Ellen White’s angelic visions. ‘To make plain natural law, and urge the obedience of it, is the work that accompanies the third angel’s message, to prepare a people for the coming of the Lord.” Vol. 3, p. 161. In these few words [Ellen G. White’s] the Spirit of Prophecy sets forth the principles and objectives of healthful living.’ Throughout her professional years, Lydia would continue to espouse the benefits of Ellen White’s plant-based diets, and her desire to spread the word of her church and dietary beliefs is clear.

[Ellen G. White’s] Counsels on Diet and Foods should be our textbook to obtain better health for our families.[41]

Many years ago, Ellen G. White wrote: “Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power — these are the true remedies.” — The Ministry of Healing, p. 127. These principles represent a way of life that modern scientific investigation is more and more establishing as a preventive program against this country’s leading cause of death. [42]

Kathleen Keen Zolber was another highly influential figure in nutrition who also sought to spread the SDA agenda. She was a vegetarian SDA professor of Nutrition at Loma Linda, member of the Committee to Advise Implementation of Study Commission Recommendations for American Dietetics Association (now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), the Publications Advisory Committee of the Journal of The American Dietetic Association, and the Dietetic Internship Council and the Coordinating Cabinet. This woman had control over dietary recommendations as well as the journal making publications and the students obtaining internships. Zolber was the Area I Coordinator for the ADA Foundation from 1983 to 1988. She was on the local Legislation Committee and the Scholarship and Awards Committee for the California Dietetic Association, and Chairman of the Administration Committee for the Inland District Dietetic Association.

In 1982, Kathleen Zolber became the president of the American Dietetics Association. Any president of a massive nutritional organization should be as free from bias as possible. That doesn’t just apply to vegetarians; public proponents of low-carb diets, low-fat diets, carnivore diets, etc, all have a clear biased lens they see through. When that diet is also tied to one’s religion, it is particularly troubling.

U.D. Register was another SDA figure in nutrition. He was particularly interested in utilizing science to prove the efficacy of Ellen G. White’s health visions. He often spoke of ‘Nutritional Prophetic Fulfillments,’ referring to parallels between nutritional science findings and the teachings of Ellen White. This is made very clear with his quote: At the Loma Linda University School of Health we take Mrs. White’s counsels as leads, studying health problems in relation to her teachings. If you have this combination of science, the Scriptures and her writings you have a firm foundation on which to build good health physically, mentally, and spiritually. [43]

Dr. Register, along with a few others, gradually conducted more and more research to support their vegetarian bias. ‘Drs. Hardinge and [U.D.] Register initiated studies on nonflesh diets. They compared the diets of vegetarians with those of nonvegetarians. Their impact was gradual. The American Dietetic Association, once hostile to the concept of nonflesh diets, accepted papers on vegetarian studies beginning in the mid-1960s. In 1988 they published, with the help of Drs. Register and [Kathleen] Zolber, a position paper accepting that vegetarian diets were adequate and wholesome.’[44]

This position paper is what allowed vegetarianism to finally be achieved within the American Dietetic Association in 1988. Upon reviewing the efficacy of a vegetarian diet (the Vegetarian Position Paper 1988), 9 members decided in favour of the diet. Of the 9 members, all of them had a vested interest in vegetarian policies, 8 out of 9 were vegetarian, and 5 out of 8 of those were Seventh-day Adventists. If that is not a conflict of interest, then I don’t know what is.

The profits from the church, and from Big Food production of the many processed food companies associated with the SDA’s allowed their reach and influence to increase throughout our nutritional research and guidelines. The continued support of plant-based diets is only increasing their own wealth and vegetarian-religious bias. If you observe the evolution on nutritional guidelines throughout the 1900s, you can begin to see meat and dairy being slowly inched out, being replaced by ‘healthy’ grains and cereals. Since the 1970s, the US per capita food consumption of animal foods has dropped 6%, while the consumption of plant-foods (excluding sugar) has risen 44%[13]. How has our health been doing since the 1970s?

This trend has continued into the 21st century. The 2009 ADA vegetarian paper was written by two authors: Winston J. Craig (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian) and Ann Reed Mangels (Vegan for ethical reasons). Once again, those with the bias are pushing their agenda through major nutritional organizations.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines advisory committee consisted of 14 members. 11 out of the 14 had consistently published work in favour of plant-based, low-animal-fat, vegetarian diets. Many of them had built their careers promoting these types of diets. Barbara Millen, the chair of the committee, had written several epidemiology papers touting the benefits of fruits and veggies while lowering animal fat intake. Significantly, for the first time, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines elevated the vegetarian diet to one of three recommended dietary patterns, even though the committee acknowledged that the evidence for this diet was “limited” — the lowest possible rank for available data. The committee could not identify any rigorous grade 1 level evidence to support their thesis[14]. More than half the committee were epidemiologists, scientists who looks for correlations in data, but cannot show causation (I will discuss this later)[15].

In an interview, Dr. David Klurfeld explains how much influence vegetarian (or potentially other) dietary biases have in our scientific organizations[142]. Dr. Klurfeld was a member of the World Health Organization’s committee that reviewed red-meat and cancer (and deemed red-meat carcinogenic). He cited the proceeding as one of the ‘most frustrating professional experiences of his life’. He notes that half of the committee were epidemiologists and at least ¼ to ⅓ of the committee was vegetarian or vegan, and that these members had a strong inclination to make their diet mainstream, while there was no real opposition from the other side. The committee cherry-picked epidemiology that supported their conclusion, and ignored large, well-controlled studies that did not. There are still many member of the committee that do not support the decision, and the issue is far from settled[16]. I will further discuss the problems with the chosen epidemiology later.

The EAT-Lancet report, published in 2019, was the result of the deliberation and collaboration of 37 experts. Unsurprisingly, 31 out of the 37 espoused vegetarian views before joining the project. The leader of this project, Walter Willet, has an extensive list of conflicts of interest, such as his personal vegetarian diet, having spent his entire career publishing epidemiology surrounding the benefits of plant-based diets, and is a member of at least 7 groups/enterprises that promote high grain/plant diets. Additionally, ‘in the last few years of Willett’s directorship of the Harvard T.S. Chan School of Public Health, the school received between $455,000 and $1,500,000 from companies or groups interested in promoting vegetarian products or the vegetarian diet generally. The school also received between $350,000 and $950,000 from pharmaceutical companies, which presumably would not benefit from a nutritional solution to chronic disease.’[17]

When broken down, the EAT-Lancet report is deeply flawed. In terms of micronutrients, the diet only provides 17% of retinol (needed for eye health), 5% of our Vitamin D needs, 22% of sodium, 67% of potassium, 55% of calcium, and 88% of iron[143]. And this is without factoring in the poor bioavailabilty of plant vitamins, which I will discuss later. The authors claim that ‘complete proteins’ (proteins that contain all essential amino acids, found almost exclusively in animals), cause cancer, but cite no proof. The authors even admit that the report falls short of providing proper nutrition for growing children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, aging adults, the malnourished, and the impoverished — and that even those not within these special categories will need to take supplements to meet their basic nutritional requirements[144]. So this supposedly nutritionally complete diet does not actually work for majority of the population.

What’s even more interesting is that this report doesn’t even recommend much fruit and veggie intake. It says that 3% of calories should come from vegetables, and 5% of calories from fruit, while 51% of daily calories should come from carbohydrates. 32% of these should be from grains directly. What? How is this quantity of empty calories being recommended as healthy? The report is littered with other nonsense. It states that plants are a suitable source of Omega 3’s, yet it doesn’t even know what amount to recommend: ‘Fish has a high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which have many essential roles… Plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid [ALA] can provide an alternative to omega-3 fatty acids, but the quantity required is not clear.’ [page 11]. Regarding fish: ‘About 28 g/day (1 ounce) of fish can provide essential omega-3 fatty acids… therefore we have used this intake for the reference diet. We also suggest a range of 0–100 g/day because high intakes are associated with excellent health.’ [page 11]. If fish is associated with excellent health, why does the recommended consumption start at 0g, and why is it limited to 100g? No evidence of negative outcomes from fish is cited. Where do those numbers even come from? Perhaps the 7 big pharma companies and ~20 Big Food companies that partnered with EAT-Lancet had an influence[18]?

To give an idea of how influential some of these cereal, grain, and Big Food companies are, let’s take a look at an exposed document from the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), as noted by Dr. Maryanne Demasi[2]. The document revealed the the DAA has been secretly working with the Australian Cereal and Breakfast Manufacturers Forum (ACBMF), a front group for brands like Kellogg’s and Nestle. Not only did the DAA accept money, but they implemented plans to educate current dietitians with learning materials sponsored by cereal giants, as well as took part in an active defense against physicians and dietitians who threatened their brand or ideologies. On page 247 of the Australian dietary guidelines, a study on the effect of whole grains is cited as excellent support for its health benefits. But what does the study actually say? ‘None of the studies found reported the effect of wholegrain diets on CHD mortality or CHD events or morbidity … Many of the trials identified were short term, of poor quality and had insufficient power. Most of the trials were funded by companies with commercial interests in wholegrains.’[3]

Another powerful set of players in the plant-based agenda are the industrial seed oil (vegetable oil) companies. These oils were initially used in factories as lubricants throughout the industrial revolution. Scientists discovered that through the intensive process of hydrogenating various seeds, we could create an oil that could be used for various applications. This process was patented by Proctor and Gamble, initially for use in soaps. Not long after, they decided that it could be very profitable to sell these seed oils as food products. Using effective marketing schemes, P&G were able to market these oils (such as soybean or corn oil) as a superior replacement to traditional fats, such as lard and butter.

In the late 1940s, when the American Heart Association was still in its infancy, P&G approached them and donated the modern day equivalent of 17 million dollars to support its research. It is not surprising that just a decade later, the AHA was the first large organization to demonize saturated fats, recommending the polyunsaturated seed oils instead[145].While the intervention studies that were used to justify lowering saturated fats, or replacing them with polyunsaturated fats, did consistently show lower cholesterol levels, they failed to show any difference in all-cause mortality[19, 20]. And some of the studies indicated increased risk of non-CVD mortality when replacing saturated with polyunsaturated[21, 22] as well as increased aortic plaque build up[23]. This saturated fat myth still permeates throughout modern nutritional science and is heavily contested[24, 25].

How does this bias and corporate influence affect science? Science is fact-based, right?

Who is profiting from from the rise in plant-based foods? Cereal (Kellogg’s being a huge player) and processed food companies, agriculture, vegetable/seed oil manufacturers, supplement companies, Big Soy, processed alternative-meat companies, and companies related to agricultural production, i.e. Monsanto.

Most nutritional science is funded by food and pharma companies[11]. Analyses have found that the outcomes of this research is heavily skewed, and that ‘funding source was significantly related to conclusions when considering all article types … For interventional studies, the proportion with unfavorable conclusions was 0% for all industry funding versus 37% for no industry funding.’ Dr. Jason Fung illustrates the control that bias and industry funding has in a blog post. One of the most powerful tools researchers and big organizations have is selective publication. If a study does not favour their preferred outcome, they simply don’t publish the study. As an example, Dr. Fung notes ‘in the case of antidepressants, 36/37 studies that were favourable to drugs were published. But of the studies not favorable to drugs, a paltry 3/36 were published. Selective publication of positive (for the drug company) results means that a review of the literature would suggest that 94% of studies favor drugs where in truth, only 51% were actually positive.’

We all hear how horrible big beef and big dairy is and how they’re ruining our health, but what about the other side? If anything, it is the agricultural, food, and pharmaceutical corporations who have more influence on our guidelines. This is clear when, despite the controversy over red meat, saturated fat, low-carb, etc we continue to see guidelines demonizing meat and fat, and espousing the benefits of grains and plants.

In recent years, scientists have spoken out against the big ‘scientific’ organizations for lack of scientific rigor:

The expert report underpinning the next set of US Dietary Guidelines for Americans fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture, an investigation by The BMJ has found. The omissions seem to suggest a reluctance by the committee behind the report to consider any evidence that contradicts the last 35 years of nutritional advice.

The 2015 report states that the committee abandoned established methods for most of its analyses. Since its inception, the guideline process has suffered from a lack of rigorous methods for reviewing the science on nutrition and disease, but a major effort was undertaken in 2010 to implement systematic reviews of studies to bring scientific rigor and transparency to the review process. The US Department of Agriculture set up the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) to help conduct systematic reviews using a standardized process for identifying, selecting, and evaluating relevant studies.

However, in its 2015 report the committee stated that it did not use NEL reviews for more than 70% of the topics, including some of the most controversial issues in nutrition. Instead, it relied on systematic reviews by external professional associations, almost exclusively the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), or conducted an hoc examination of the scientific literature without well defined systematic criteria for how studies or outside review papers were identified, selected, or evaluated.

Use of external reviews by professional associations is problematic because these groups conduct literature reviews according to different standards and are supported by food and drug companies. The ACC reports receiving 38% of its revenue from industry in 2012, and the AHA reported 20% of revenue from industry in 2014. Potential conflicts of interest include, for instance, decades of support from vegetable oil manufacturers, whose products the AHA has long promoted for cardiovascular health. This reliance on industry backed groups clearly undermines the credibility of the government report.

Current confusion over “what to eat” and controversies on the putative health effects of dietary sugar, fat, salt, and cholesterol are not driven by legitimate differences in scientific inference from valid data but were engendered by 5 decades of deeply flawed, demonstrably misleading, and largely pseudoscientific epidemiologic reports based on memory-based (self-reported) dietary assessment methods (M-BMs).

A growing body of research suggests dietary advice to limit red meat is unnecessarily restrictive and not supported by current evidence … Large population studies both in Europe and North America have recently reported no association between intakes of unprocessed red meat and any cause of death, including cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cancer … Recent advances in our understanding of human requirements for key essential nutrients such as high quality protein throughout the lifecycle also provide good reasons to emphasize the value of nutrient-rich foods such as lean red meats as part of a healthy diet … Recommendations to limit red meat intakes date back several decades and were originally intended to reduce saturated fat intakes. Recent meta-analyses have concluded that there is no clear evidence to support decades of dietary guidelines to cut saturated fat intake. Meanwhile such guidance may have inadvertently contributed to dietary changes associated with the rapid rise in the prevalence of obesity since the 1970s as well as other risk factors for heart disease. A decline in energy from nutrient-rich foods such as beef, milk and eggs has been accompanied by an excessive increase in energy from fats (including trans fats) and refined carbohydrates found in many processed convenience foods. The resulting energy gap has likely contributed to obesity and chronic disease.

We know that plant-based diet bias and corporate interest are rampant in the field of nutrition. We know that this influence drastically affects the outcomes of our studies and publications. This is very concerning.

But the Seventh-Day Adventists are healthy! Maybe they are right?

The Seventh-Day Adventists are among the world’s Blue Zones, which are the regions where people live the longest. What are some of the Adventist health principles? Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods, eat nuts, spend lots of time outdoors in the sun, be socially involved in the community, avoid things like alcohol and tobacco, consume supplements like B12, and eat a mostly vegetarian lifestyle [from their website]. The SDA’s exemplify all aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Any of these could contribute to a long life, we can’t simply tout vegetarianism as the cause. This is particularly true when we look at other healthy populations that consume meat.

But what about the scores of epidemiological studies? Surely such a strong correlation between high plant consumption and health cannot be ignored.

Epidemiology is useful for forming an association between two factors, but this is simply a basis for forming a hypothesis. In some cases, the correlations can be so strong that they are likely indicative of cause and effect. For example, when looking at the association between smoking and lung cancer, epidemiological studies found relative risk ratios (RR) of between 10–30. The RR of processed red meat and cancer, as declared by the World Health Organization, is 1.18 — what most other scientific fields would call statistically insignificant. This is particularly true when there are many well-controlled epidemiological studies and randomized-control trials that do not show any associations.[146, 147, 108, 148, 149, 150]

To give an example of how easy it is to find ‘meaningful’ associations in epidemiology, a group of Canadian researchers analyzed associations between astrological signs and hospital visits in over 10,000 patients. What they found is that Sagittarians are 38% more likely to break their arm[26]. This implies an RR of 1.38, which is greater than the association of processed red-meat and cancer as stated by the WHO. If you are looking for correlation data to support your hypothesis, it isn’t too hard to find. Many scientists are speaking out against the strong conclusions drawn from epidemiology[27, 28], and one study shows that over 80% of correlative theories are later proven wrong[29].

But how is it that so many epidemiological studies show a correlation between eating plant-based diets? Surely the volume of consistent results should mean something, right?

The healthy user bias is extremely pervasive throughout nutritional research. The idea is that anything that is publicly perceived as healthy, i.e. eating lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, is going to be more strictly adopted by people who are health conscious. People who follow a healthy lifestyle are going to eat more fruits and veggies — it’s not the other way around. And this isn’t just an assumption. Science has shown that people who consume more plants: exercise more and try to maintain a healthy weight[4], smoke less[5], drink less[6], have higher socioeconomic status[7], and tend to just behave more health-conscious[8]. The opposite is true for those that do not consume many fruits and veggies. These people are choosing to forego health recommendations at the expense of their health, and are less concerned with consuming things like processed carbohydrates and sugar. It is unlikely they are going to be health conscious in any other area.

This is why many studies looking at people consuming ‘healthy’ foods such as veggies and fiber consistently show improved health. They are essentially comparing healthy-behaving people vs unhealthy-behaving people. Of course there will be consistent results.

When we look at more well-controlled studies, i.e. ones that look at healthy behaving omnivores vs healthy-behaving vegetarians, the health benefits are no longer found[9, 10, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34]. And some even find negative effects of plant-based diets [35, 36, 37, 38].

Another quick point I want to make is survivorship bias. 30% of vegetarians/vegans quit the diet due to deteriorating health[141]. These negative responders are being removed from any possible future epidemiology study and are not being factored into any results.

The dangers of plants are being ignored

99.99% of the pesticides in the human diet are created by plants, but very few are even studied. Of the ones that have been studied in animals, over half were found to be carcinogenic [39]. Another study notes: ‘The plant toxins are a category of natural toxins, where the situation is the least developed with respect to regulations, validated methods of analysis and reference materials. Yet, their occurrence in a wide range of consumable plant species demands the attention of the analytical community.’ [40]

Let’s just forget all that we’ve been told for a second and think about plants from a different perspective. Plants evolved to survive. They cannot fly away or physically defend themselves like animals. Their defense is through chemical warfare, and they contain many different toxins to dissuade or harm predators. Plants do not want their roots, bodies/stems, leaves, or seeds to be eaten — they are essential for survival. I’ll briefly go over a few of the common ‘antinutrient’ compounds commonly found in the plants we consume.

Lectins are carbohydrate binding (glyco)proteins which are ubiquitous in nature. In plants, they are distributed in various families and hence ingested daily in appreciable amounts by both humans and animals. One of the most nutritionally important features of plant lectins is their ability to survive digestion by the gastrointestinal tract of consumers. This allows the lectins to bind to membrane glycosyl groups of the cells lining the digestive tract. As a result of this interaction a series of harmful local and systemic reactions are triggered placing this class of molecules as antinutritive and/or toxic substances. Locally, they can affect the turnover and loss of gut epithelial cells, damage the luminal membranes of the epithelium, interfere with nutrient digestion and absorption, stimulate shifts in the bacterial flora and modulate the immune state of the digestive tract. Systemically, they can disrupt lipid, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, promote enlargement and/or atrophy of key internal organs and tissues and alter the hormonal and immunological status. At high intakes, lectins can seriously threaten the growth and health of consuming animals. [45]

Interesting, but perhaps the levels that we ordinarily consume in our diet are safe?

[Lectins] have been shown to have deleterious nutritional effects. Little information exists, however, regarding the prevalence of lectins or the specific foods that contain lectins in the United States diet. In the present study the edible parts of 29 of 88 foods tested, including common salad ingredients, fresh fruits, roasted nuts, and processed cereals were found to possess significant lectin-like activity … we conclude that dietary exposure to plant lectins is widespread. The spectrum of nutritional consequences of such exposure remains to be determined [46]

Lectins are found in all legumes, nuts, grains, seeds, and certain vegetables (particularly nightshades). While certain processing and heating techniques can deactivate lectins, this isn’t always the case [47]. Perhaps this is the reason why grains are being implicated in increased gut permeability and inflammation. [48, 49, 50]

This is found in all edible seeds, grains, legumes and nuts in varying quantities. It strongly impairs absorption of iron, zinc, and calcium when consumed with those meals [51, 52]. One study shows that eating oysters (rich in zinc) with a corn tortilla completely nullified the absorption of zinc [53]. It is particularly concerning that the compounds found in these plants prevent not only their own minerals from being absorbed, but also any other minerals found in a meal.

Oxalates are present in a wide variety of vegetables, in particular many of the so-called ‘superfoods’ such as spinach. These oxalate crystals are extremely damaging to animal cells, and have the ability to bypass our gastrointestinal tract and deposit themselves in tissues around the body. Studies have shown that the amounts commonly consumed in our diet can lead to the build up of oxalates in our body [54, 55, 56].

While oxalates are commonly associated with kidney stones [57, 58], they have also been found to build up in other various tissues around the body. Studies show that over 85% of the elderly have oxalate build up in their thyroid[59]. They are also present in breast tissue[60] and promote cancer tissue growth in the breast[61]. They can be deposited in bone marrow[62] and the lungs[63], damaging our airways and leading to conditions such as COPD[64, 65]. Oxalates are shown to increase inflammation[66] and are implicated in arthritis[67]. They are also implicated in cardiac lesions and heart failure[68].

Oxalates also bind to calcium, significantly reducing absorption[69]. When combined with fiber, oxalates further reduce mineral absorption[70, 71].

These are just a few of the dangerous compounds found in plants, and we still don’t know the full range of effects they can have on our bodies.

Many fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamins. These vitamins exist for the plants benefit. They are not meant to be digested by humans, and we gave up our long colon and cecum, which help break down plants, long ago when we evolved away from primates. I won’t discuss all of the nutrients here, but focus on a few big ones. For example, in spinach (and other oxalate-containing foods), calcium binds to oxalates which means that we only absorb around 5% of the calcium[69].

The vitamin A content absorbed ranges greatly from plant to plant and person to person, but is generally not great. Beta-carotene, which is converted to retinol (vitamin A), is the only way to get vitamin A from plants; it is notoriously difficult for the body to absorb. The absorption of vitamin A from plants varies wildly. For dietary consumption, we can see absorption ratios ranging from 3:1 (beta-carotene to vitamin A conversion) to 28:1[72]. Many people are not able to absorb and convert beta-carotene effectively, and certain plants are much more effective than others. This variance is very concerning. Our nutritional labels cite vitamin A content based the the volume of beta-carotene, yet you may absorb 10 times less. The processing of plant-foods also significantly impacts the vitamin A absorption by as much as two fold[73]. It is very difficult to know how much vitamin A you are absorbing from plants.

Iron, among other minerals, is another nutrient that is poorly absorbed in plants. While non-heme iron (the only type of iron found in plant foods) can be used exactly the same as iron, it is much more difficult to absorb (often at least twice as much as heme iron, which is found only in animal products)[74]. Also, remember, that phytic acid and oxalates reduces non-heme iron absorption, which commonly accompanies non-heme iron foods.

Additionally, fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E, and K) all require fat to be absorbed. This means if you’re eating your ‘healthy’ low-fat high-carb quinoa salad, or snacking on some raw carrots, good luck getting these vitamins. The only way you can absorb these effectively is by adding fats to your fruits and veggies, or by adding nuts. But nuts are quite high in phytic acid and often lectin, so those will reduce nutrient absorption. You could also add vegetable-oil to your salads (hopefully they haven’t oxidized), but then you’re destroying your omega 6:3 ratio, which leads to many health problems[75].

The proteins in plants generally do not contain all the necessary amino acids, and are also poorly absorbed. The amount of protein absorbed may be 30% less than advertised[76], which is then further reduce by protease inhibitors commonly found in plants[77, 78].

Certain essential fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA are not found in plant-based compounds at all. Certain plant-foods, mainly seeds, do contain the omega 3 ALA, which can be converted to EPA and then DHA. However, this conversion is extremely low and varies from person to person, with some people unable to convert any at all[79]. Additionally, most plant sources of ALA are also very high in omega 6’s, which will block the absorption of ALA (since omega 6s compete with omega 3s for absorption).

I won’t discuss B12, which is commonly known to be absent from plant-foods. There are, however, other compounds that vegetarians are commonly deficient in: creatine[80], carnosine[81], taurine[82], various B vitamins and Zinc[83], and potentially others.

What about the beneficial compounds? Plant Phytochemicals and Antioxidants

Plants are loaded with antioxidants, and the media does not shy away from this fact — you see it everywhere. The antioxidant business very lucrative, and is expected to soar to 4.5 billion by 2022[84]. Sadly, they are almost never actually absorbed by the body[85, 86]. Again, these compounds are made for the plant’s benefit. Our body sees plant compounds as toxic, and tries to flush them out. The USDA actually removed their polyphenol antioxidant database due to ‘mounting evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health…[antioxidant] values are routinely misused by food and dietary supplement manufacturing companies to promote their products and by consumers to guide their food and dietary supplement choices.’

Compounds like turmeric/curcumin have gotten tons of attention as magic, cancer preventing herbs that increase life span. Curcumin is a very profitable product, and is expected to be a 1.3 billion dollar industry by 2025[87]. It is also one of the most heavily studied polyphenols, and after conducting over 120 clinical trials, no double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial of curcumin has been successful[88]. Not only is curcumin entirely ineffective at doing anything beneficial, it may actually damage our chromosomes and DNA at low doses[89].

Certain compounds, such as sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, are touted as being cancer fighting miracle drugs. The so-called cancer preventative, antioxidative effects of plants come from the phenomenon known as hormesis[140]. Hormesis is essentially the bodily response to a stressor, which increases our endogenous antioxidants. The plant phytochemicals do this by producing reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can damage protein, lipids and DNA in cells, and need to be flushed out of our body. Our body responds to ROS by releasing antioxidants by activating pathways such as NFR2, which regulates the expression of antioxidant proteins. These antioxidants flush out the ROS and also have protective effects on our cells.

The reason why some vegetables are potentially cancer-fighting is because they are low-level toxins that our body fights. The toxins trigger the release of endogenous antioxidants, which can be beneficial in protecting cells and fighting cancer. However, if we could stimulate these mechanisms without having to ingest toxins that are potentially damaging, shouldn’t we go that route? Well, as it turns out, ketosis naturally stimulates the release of powerful antioxidants (using NRF2 among others) and reduces the oxidative stress on our cells, strengthening our mitochondria. We can get a stronger therapeutic effect from ketosis[90, 91 92], exercise[93], and intermittent fasting[94] than what we get from plants, without the potential downsides. It is thus not surprising that the ketogenic diet[95, 96] and/or fasting[97] is showing promise as a cancer therapy.

A small number of plant chemicals are capable of producing effects in humans, but they are always double-edged swords. For example, phytoestrogens are compounds found in soy, and claims have been made about their health benefits. However, such claims are quite weak[98], while the downsides are quite clear. Phytoestrogen binds to estrogen receptors, preventing our natural estrogen from being used. Estrogen plays a key role in many functions. It is not surprising that soy intake in young girls/women can lead to developmental issues and precocious puberty[99, 100]. This is why soy infant formula is banned in some countries. Phytoestrogens have also been shown to damage brain synapses[101, 102], and can impact thyroid function[103, 104]. We notice similar downsides to sulforaphane in high doses as well[105].

We only focus on the positives

All vegetable research is conducted through a lens of delusional optimism and positivity. Any beneficial trait of a plant compound is studied in isolation, with potential side effects not even being considered. You won’t find many articles on the downsides, and many compounds have yet to be studied, because researchers aren’t even looking. We have to understand that these compounds are drugs. Like any drug, they come with a host of side effects. And yet these are rarely discussed because we all have this deep-rooted, fundamental belief that vegetables are healthy because of all of the epidemiology and correlations we see.

This narrow-focused delusional lense extends beyond the benefits of plant-compounds into the dangers of animal products. Animal products raise cholesterol while plant-based diets lower it (by blocking cholesterol receptors[151]), especially the ‘bad’ LDL. But who’s talking about all the negative health effects of low cholesterol[106, 107, 153, 154]? Cholesterol serves a vital purpose in our body. The idea that we should be lowering it as much as possible really makes no sense, and high total LDL cholesterol alone has NOT been shown to be causative of heart disease[152, 153].

But animal products raise mTOR, which is implicated in some cancers! This may be true if mTOR is overstimulated, which methionine (found in animal products) can do. But, both glycine and carnosine, also found in animal products together with methionine, work to prevent the overstimulation of mTOR. When we look through a narrow lens solely at methionine, we can generate causative claims, but this isn’t indicative of reality. It is thus not surprising that there is large contestation within the scientific community surrounding red meat and cancer[108].

But IGF-1 (which is stimulated by protein, red meat, fat, and dairy among other things) causes cancer too! This may be true, there are some minor associations noted with breast[109] and prostate cancer[110]. However, LOW levels of IGF-1 can also cause cancer and other disease[111, 112]. Not only that, but outside of cancer, IGF-1 has countless health benefits: it is is anti-aging and reduces mortality outside of cancer[113, 114, 115], increases endogenous antioxidants and protects cells[116, 117], decreases inflammation and strengthens autoimmunity[118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123], is good for the brain health[124, 125, 126, 127, 128], helps fight metabolic disease like T2D[129, 130, 131], protects against heart disease and plaque formation[132, 133], is essential for bone growth[134], promotes gut health[135, 136, 137, 138], and stimulates collagen biosynthesis which is important for healthy skin and tissue[139].

Let’s not forget that the hormetic effect from vegetables can also promote the development of certain cancers[140]. We are focusing solely on the potential benefits of plants, the potential negatives of animal products, and ignoring everything else.

How is a diet that is nutritionally incomplete and requires many supplements, that is inadequate for most demographics, and that has many studies showing no benefit, is recommended by mainstream nutrition? The only explanation is that there is massive bias from both personal beliefs and corporate/pharma funding, which I have made clearly evident here. At least 30% of vegetarians/vegans quit the diet due to deteriorating health[141]. Keep in mind that the people who follow these diets are generally very health conscious. Taking supplements isn’t enough. While some people may be able to effectively absorb nutrients from plants, many people cannot. They did not fail the vegan diet, the vegan diet failed them.

I am not trying to say that we should abandon all plant-foods or that we should just ignore everything we are told from nutritional science. However, I do think that our movement towards an entirely plant-based diet is extremely misguided. It is prudent that we question what we are told, that we understand that much of nutritional science is both misleading and biased, and that we should make steps towards improving our nutritional research. One such step is getting independent, third-party peer-reviews on nutritional guidelines to assess their validity.

Fortunately, there is a movement beginning. Doctors recently spoke with the European Parliament to address the issue of misinformation and bad science (the presentation is available on youtube), requesting an enquiry into much of the nutritional science and guidelines. You can wait decades for this movement to reach all the levels of government, or you can take action now and do some research yourself.

2: Dr. Maryanne Demasi, ‘Who really influences nutrition policy in Australia?’, 2019

41. Everyday Nutrition for Your Family, edited by Lydia Sonnenberg, published by the Seventh-day Adventist Dietetic Association, 1961, p. 141

42. “What About Cholesterol? An instructor in the school of dietetics at Loma Linda University answers a major question of current interest,” Lydia Sonnenberg, Review and Herald, Feb. 7, 1963, p. 8

43. “Eat Right, Feel Right,” Interview with U.D. Register, Review and Herald, Aug. 29, 1974, p. 5

44. A Physician Explains Ellen White’s Counsel on Drugs, Herbs, and Natural Remedies by Mervyn G. Hardinge, p. 203

54. Marengo S, Zeise B, Wilson C, MacLennan G, Romani AP. The triggermaintenance model of persistent mild to moderate hyperoxaluria induces oxalate accumulation in non-renal tissues. Urolithiasis 2013;41(6):455–466.

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