Many of you may or may not be aware that on a recent podcast episode of Waking Up with Sam Harris, Sam discussed his ethical qualms with eating animals and his serious desire to go vegan. He called out to the vegan community for assistance, and the members of the Vegan Atheist forum have stepped up to provide excellent advice and direction. While this video is directed at Sam Harris, it very well may assist other’s with their health concerns regarding a switch to veganism.
Sam, thank you for your intellectual honesty, and your willingness to learn and change.
First, please see Unnatural Vegan’s excellent summary of basic vegan nutrition here:
This video will extend on that, and we won’t repeat most of her excellent advice.
As to the idea that we don’t understand human health and nutrition particularly well, this is a common misconception.
No credible nutritionist or doctor disagrees that the standard American diet is unhealthy, or that properly planned vegan diets can be nutritionally complete. It is non-controversial that well planned vegan diets can be healthy. It’s also non-controversial that a poorly planned diet can be dangerous.
What seems like controversy from a layman’s perspective isn’t really science; it’s the swirling cesspool of fad diets and pseudo-science that is fed to the public through television and other media.
That’s the real embarrassment.
From a layman’s perspective of neuroscience, the same controversy regarding the existence of mind-body duality, ESP, or telekinesis may seem to be embroiling our institutions.
As you know, that’s not the case no matter what ill conceived television shows and documentaries on so called science or discovery channels may claim.
It’s the same issue with nutrition; the trick is to be informed enough to sort out the hokum from the actual science. It’s no easy task for a layman. Here are three key points to look for, as a sort of litmus test of credibility:
- Anybody who advises in any way against B-12 supplementation for vegan diets should not be regarded as credible, period.
- Anybody who appeals to our “natural diet”, or ancestral diet, or evolution as an argument for a certain way of eating should be suspect; we have a better grasp on nutrition than our ancestors did, and access to higher quality food stuffs.
- Anybody who claims to be skeptical of the effect of cholesterol and saturated fat on heart disease should really be laughed off the stage today.
Plant Positive has an excellent breakdown of just one of the unethical publications that attempts to twist data in support of its conclusions against the established science of the lipid hypothesis:
The real debate in nutrition swirls around what ideal nutrition is, and it also raises the important question of what “ideal” nutrition really means.
If we’re talking about longevity, attained by minimizing risk of the largest killers — cancer, heart attack, and stroke — then minimizing or eliminating most animal products — particularly from tetrapods — is important.
But not all plant products are blameless either — tobacco for example. But also plant products too high in methionine or choline, or high in saturated fats like tropical oils, mycotoxins in some fungi, peanuts, or improperly stored grains… This could go on ad nauseam.
The notion of an ideal diet is always going to be more speculative as we learn more.
Dr. Greger has an extensive series of videos covering nutrition topics and exploring optimal nutrition from a skeptical science based perspective. You may enjoy his work at nutritionfacts.org if you’re interested in what the latest research has to say on the matter, which is always changing — although not that drastically — how we view the ideal diet.
PCRM is another great resource for evidence based approach to human health, and mitigating the leading preventable causes of heart disease and cancer.
But obtaining a reasonably healthy diet, or at least one not less healthy than the standard American diet, is a much simpler matter which Unnatural Vegan covered very well in her video. https://youtu.be/ID_2ymmvW5w
To hedge your bets for a completely idiot proof vegan diet, as she mentioned, rope grown Oysters may be an option since they’re probably not sentient, and are more environmentally sustainable.
But aside from that, it’s very hard to ‘idiot proof’ veganism since there’s no one single source of all macro nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It’s important to mix and match on a vegan diet.
There’s always a way to mess it up if you’re determined. But you aren’t an idiot, and we have every confidence in your ability to be sensible.
If in doubt, visit a registered dietitian, not a general practitioner or family doctor, since most doctors are not trained in nutrition.
You can also use online tools to track your diet, and check macro and micro nutrients against the RDI.
Cron-o-meter (https://cronometer.com/) is a popular recommendation, although requires a signup. It’s mainly weight loss oriented, but has a database for tracking nutrients which is useful to anybody trying to balance a healthy diet.
And this goes for anybody out there, you are also welcome to post about your diet on our forums for practical science based feedback and advice at:
A number of people have already, and we do our best to give anybody feedback on good or bad dietary habits, including recipe suggestions based on their lifestyles and preferences in terms of taste and convenience.
No doubt you’ve been inundated already, but thank you for watching if you have, and again, thank you for your intellectual honesty and courage to ask for help.
You’re an inspiration to us all.
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Looking for a great place to communicate with vegans, atheists, theists and non-vegans from across the globe, consider joining TheVeganAtheist forum. Our growing community is always looking for new members with whom we can share our experiences, debate issues, discuss and learn from each other. Join the conversation at theveganatheist.com/forum