Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why Is Alberta Health Services Dissing Vegan Diets?

This one's a bit nutty.

So apparently Alberta Health Services, the official provincial health folks, are alarmed by vegan diets.

So much so in fact that they published a one page backgrounder for "professional purposes only" developed by the province's official registered dietitians in response to the movie Forks over Knives which in turn makes the case for vegan diets to prevent chronic diseases. The response suggests animals really ought to be part of everyone's diet.

The backgrounder was leaked to me by someone who wishes to remain nameless, but here is part of what they had to say along with the leak,
"This response agitates me, to say the least. Especially about the milk, "low fat" cheese issue and the dairy industry influence."
I reached out to my friend Andy Bellatti who himself is both an RD and someone who enjoys a vegan diet and asked him for his thoughts. As I expected, he didn't mince words,
"This seems more like a press release for meat and dairy than an educational brochure on plant-based diets. To put it simply, every single nutrient in dairy products can be obtained from a plant-based food. I am also baffled that the "meat and alternatives" list does not include beans, nuts, and seeds.

Furthermore, planning is essential for all diets. Without careful planning, an omnivore can end up not consuming enough fiber or dark leafy green vegetables. The idea that the mere act of eschewing meat and dairy practically necessitates a flowchart to make sure one's diet is balanced is untrue
."
Could the fact that Alberta is the beef capital of Canada have anything to do with the alarm?


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32 comments:

  1. Have you seen the movie??? Maybe it is because there are so many false statements presented as facts in the movie like " animal protein causes cancer"

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    1. And certainly were the backgrounder have served to point out areas where it felt the science was misrepresented it might make sense. But as it's written it basically just cautions against vegan diets.

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  2. I certainly am not pro-vegan, but stuff like this irritates me to no end. We've become so obsessed with food groups (which are simply an organizational tool meant to simplify) that any time somebody puts forward an alternative dietary plan that shuns a group or two (or large portions of one) we get all uppity and negative. To my knowledge there are no medical conditions classified as "food group deficiency".

    How about we focus on nutrient intake instead? Yeah dairy has calcium but there are other sources of calcium as well. Let us also not forget that calcium isn't the only player in bone health either and some vitamins/minerals/acids work synergistically and actually increase calcium absorption. So instead of bashing vegans (or others) for not eating dairy, how about being helpful and pointing out what vitamins/minerals/etc they may be missing out on b/c of their choice and providing good info on where to find them?

    Same goes for wheat. Instead of bashing gluten-free as a "fad" and insinuating that we're all doomed if we don't eat it and insisting everybody get tested first (considering how faulty the test is, why bother) maybe provide info on what you may be missing out on and where to get it. Yes I realize that this info is all available on the internet but lets face it, most people won't go looking if some "expert" makes it sound like they may do without their morning bagel or whole wheat toast.

    [disclosure: I eat a Paleo-style diet and no I've never been tested for food allergies. I did a N=1 elimination diet experiment and find I do much better with less grains and more veggies. I prefer to get my vitamins from those sources rather than fortified grain products. That is just my experience, realize fully that others may be different. I did the leg work when I switched over to determine what I needed to eat to gain what I would be losing. Not having my experience bashed by every nutrition blogger would be nice]

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    1. Anonymous9:20 am

      You, sir, obviously suffer from a food group deficiency!!

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    2. Anonymous11:39 am

      In response to your statement
      "Same goes for wheat. Instead of bashing gluten-free as a "fad" and insinuating that we're all doomed if we don't eat it and insisting everybody get tested first (considering how faulty the test is, why bother) maybe provide info on what you may be missing out on and where to get it."
      We aren't all our to bash the GF diet but to ensure the patients who try it are taken care of and monitored if if they in fact have celiac disease.The reason is to rule out celiac disease before someone tries a GF diet. And the testing is not faulty as you say. It is inaccurate if someone goes on GF diet before they are tested. We don't want people eating GF b/c they are intolerant when they actually have Celiac Disease and need to be monitored. It is estimated in Canada that 1 in 133 people have celiac disease but we have not yet diagnosed close to those numbers.
      http://www.celiac.ca/index.php/about-celiac-disease-2/symptoms-treatment-cd/

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    3. That's not the way it has been described to me (and by people who work in and around the industry) and it has nothing to do with going GF prior to the test.

      Also, if somebody criticizes GF by simply indicating what you said above, I wouldn't have an issue. But there are a LOT of people out there who go a lot further and paint a picture that is a lot worse than it really is.

      And the numbers above you quote are just that, an estimate .. and they don't even cover the people who have non-celiac gluten intolerance/sensitivity in where there isn't even a test for currently

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  3. I know Vegans who seem to be doing fine; health wise. And I know several former vegetarians who had to start consuming animal products to restore their health. The thing is, nobody is a vegetarian at birth who breast feeds. What? Do all vegans feed their offspring formula during the first few months or years of life?

    It works both ways, you know. There are no nutrients found in plants that can't be obtained from a diet consisting of animal products. And, actually, vegans recommend one take vitamin B12 supplements. How natural it that? Alternatively, one can consume one's own poop which happens to be rich in B12. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDDECWfXyxY Apparently, not unusual. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDDECWfXyxY

    So give the dairy industry a break. Dairy is perfectly good food for those equipped to enjoy it. http://syontix.com/to-dairy-or-not-to-dairy-that-is-the-question/

    My only beef with that "Response to Forks Over Knives" is the recommendation to restrict dairy and meat fat intake. The Low-fat ideology needs to be done away with. http://jhmas.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/2/139.full

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    1. B12 supplements are more natural than the artificial insemination of livestock, the injection of livestock with antibiotics and hormones, CAFOs, and slaughterhouses. Besides, animal feed is supplemented with B12 anyway. Does this make animal products doubly unnatural?!

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    2. This argument is a logical fallacy: just because one is possibly as bad, doesn't make the other possibly bad better, does it?

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    3. I am confused about what you think about breastfeeding. I assume it's widely considered (or at least thought of by vegans) that everyone is theoretically born "vegan" since the idea is to breastfeed a baby before giving him/her other foods. Human breast milk for human babies is vegan; if needed, formula is an option. Taking the milk of another species that is meant for the offspring of that other species is what is not considered vegan, if it is not necessary to [immediate] survival.

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    4. I'd rather take the supplement of the actual bacteria for my B12 than consume it in a roundabout way through animals who consume it through vegetation/bacteria themselves and/or are supplemented themselves. I want to think that if people can reduce suffering of animals with a B12 pill instead of trying to find reasons to support their habit of eating animals, we'd be better off. And that's not to say that there would be no animal products to consume, but that B12 is not the hook to hang one's habits on.

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  4. Anonymous10:29 am

    The response seems like it was meant to help professionals who see clients that have the unrealistic and non-evidence based expectantion that simply switching to a vegan diet will cure them of all disease. No where in the article does is say that vegetarian and vegan diets are not supported; in fact it states the exact opposite. And as for why no meat alternatives were listed in the list, it's pretty clear that this was meant to identify the nutrients found in animal products that someone following a vegan diet would need to replace using meat alternatives. Not everything is a government or food industry conspiracy. Sometimes it's just a statement of evidence-based fact, and it's ridiculous assumptions like this that undermine the credibility and intergrity of RDs unnecessarily.

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    1. Anonymous11:03 am

      Well said!!

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    2. Anonymous5:01 pm

      Wow, logic instead of sensationalism and self promotion. Very Well Said.

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    3. Anonymous3:24 pm

      lol...have you read the AND Report blogged about by Yoni on Feb 5, 2013? I think dietitians have ruined their "credibility and integrity" all by themselves... http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/AND_Corporate_Sponsorship_Report.pdf

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  5. Your conclusion, Dr. Freedoff, was my first thought - grr! - but that only polarizes. It is my opinion that too much time is wasted bashing opinions opposite of our own when instead what we should focus on is what is healthiest for our own bodies. The independent, British documentary Planeat is an upbeat, non-preachy, excellent introduction to the science behind why all should seek to add more plants to their diet. Those without life threatening illness can still consume meat and dairy. However, after educating themselves via Planeat, they will want to simply eat less of those foods. See? We can all get along! You can view Planeat anytime on the Planeat page of my website: www.DonnalynMurphy.com Do it, but not to prove the other guy wrong. Do it to learn how to live your Healthiest and Happiest!

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    1. Actually, I do it for the health of the animals.

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  6. Who can we email to complain about this prejudiced document?

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    1. I've no idea. Calgary Herald picking up the story so they may have more information as to what/why/how this came to pass.

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    2. Anonymous5:04 pm

      Since it's an internal document not externally available it has never been meant for use by the general population. But as usual Dr. Freedhoff didn't check all his facts.

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  7. Far be it from me to weigh in on the paleo vs. the vegan debate.

    But there was one thing in Bellatti's comments that really disturbed me:

    "Furthermore, planning is essential for all diets. Without careful planning..."

    Planning, careful planning. Words like these smack of the medicalization of eating. Good grief, human beings have been eating since, well, since forever. Turning nourishing oneself into a mathematical exercise of balancing X% of this vs. y% of that sounds psychologically sick to me.

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    1. Anonymous4:53 pm

      It is because of the lack of planning that obescity and heart disease run rampent in our society.

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    2. Well, you managed to come up with a completely new hypothesis about this anyway.

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  8. Joyce Slater12:49 pm

    The reality is that in today's toxic food environment (where 20,000 new food products appear every year - mainly full of fat, salt and sugar) and make up the vast majority of quick-to-grab options for busy people, planning for a healthy diet IS necessary - something that always gets missed in public health messages. Planning a diet doesn't mean medicalizing diets or counting calories - it means making a menu, shopping list, planning to bring your own lunch, having plastic reusable containers, and saving money to boot!

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    1. Methinks that if more people counted their calories, they would be much less obesity around. And obesity is in western societies the leading cause of many illnesses - not industrial food production per se.

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  9. Any possibility of meat and dairy producers having a hand in this notwithstanding, it is not like the nutritional value of a vegan diet is verified beyond any doubt. There is independent research which does not recommend it.

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    1. Anonymous2:45 pm

      Sources?

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  10. Doctors make money off sick people, not healthy ones - it is in their best interest to have repeat customers. The SAD (standard american diet) is designed to ensure there are lots of obese and sick people. Don't want to be a statistic? Go vegan. Breast milk is vegan btw, seriously, that's what all babies are made to eat - their mother's milk - how could it not be vegan?

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  11. "Meat and Alternatives such as skinless chicken, eggs, fish, and low-fat cuts of pork or beef provide protein, fat, and many other important nutrients including iron, zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins."

    Because a lack of dietary fat is clearly the problem we have today. Why release a statement of essentially why we should eat meat and dairy products, instead of discussing actually useful information about a vegetarian or vegan diet?

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  12. Anonymous9:37 am

    I was raised across the border from Alberta and while I have not read the leaked document, I am not surprised. The meat industry lobby is very strong in Alberta, and BC in general. Canada has a national lobbying registry, which you can google. Type in dairy or chicken or eggs or beef, and you can find lists of lobbyists. Type in beans or produce, and you won't.
    A vegan diet is healthy and takes no more planning than a meat-based one. In fact, cooking meat alternatives is a lot faster than cooking meat, so it allows you more time to do other things, including planning. I also found that clean-up after vegan meals is quicker, there is less risk of cross-contamination, and the garbage can doesn't smell. (I take out the compost once per week or less in winter).

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  13. Anonymous5:44 pm

    Just curious - are you yourself a vegan? Without having read the article you are tearing apart, it's tough to obviously make an argument for or against your opinion. But, after having read the article in the Calgary Herald it sounds as though the article was neither for or against animal based foods. Just making suggestions for 'healthy diets'.
    Having seen Forks Over Knives, it certainly gives one pause. Until one thinks about peoples in the world that live ONLY off of meat/blood/fat and seem to be in better condition than we are here in North America (Inuit, certain african tribes). So, agreeing with what Glenn Nagy said above, there seem to be false statements made in the movie (let's be honest, any documentary is going to have an agenda, so they're presenting their idea of what they believe. Fair enough.) End of the day? Seems like Donnalyn has it right - no one is going to agree with what other people do, but what we CAN do is try to be as kind to our environment and our BODY'S environment as we can, and do what works best for our own body, nutrient-wise.

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  14. Anonymous4:14 pm

    Alberta Health Services? Of course Alberta—the beef producers of Canada—got defensive and started a PR campaign against an anti-beef film.

    I haven't eaten beef in 19 years and I am in perfect health :)

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