Eat to Live or Live to Eat?

Has it ever occurred to you just how central taste is when it comes to food? Indeed, it’s so important that it tends to eclipse every other element involved in food preparation and dining. However, could it be that our preoccupation with flavour and texture has played a major role in the current tsunami of non-communicable, diet-related diseases?

Food Critics’ 7 Rules

A journalist and food critic called Roberta Schira claims 1 there are 7 rules you must use to make sure you are experiencing good food when you dine out:

  1. Ingredients – Must be the best the market can offer, fresh and of quality
  2. Technique – Manipulate and transform ingredients in a dish to respect its essence, tradition and science
  3. Genius – The capacity to transform something that already exists into something new
  4. Equilibrium/Harmony – A sense of harmony within oneself and the world during the culinary experience
  5. Atmosphere – The ensemble of details that makes one utter “I feel good here”
  6. Project –  Something that goes beyond taste, price, calories. You can’t tell the story of food through numbers
  7. Value – Did I get my money’s worth at this dinner? Good service, attention to detail, good feeling and thoughts?

What Does A Food Critic Do?

One career’s advice website 2 describes the role of a food/restaurant critic:

A food critic …encapsulates the dining experience and relays that experience to readers, viewers or listeners. This may include descriptions of the food, whether it tastes good, the serving size, the ambiance of the restaurant, the price, and how well the service staff do their job.

What Qualifications Does A Food Critic Need?

According to myjobsearch.com3 :  “There are no formal academic qualifications which are required to perform this job…a good understanding of creative writing and language expression is essential in supplying exciting copy.

What’s The Best Meal?

According to an article by Jay Rayner in the Guardian 4 , some of the best meals he’d ever eaten were:

  • gnocchi made from jellified egg yolk
  • ham consommé bobbing with cubes of melon
  • suckling pig at Fergus Henderson’s St John
  • crème brûlée
  • freshly boiled crab with a loaf of crusty bread and a pot of Hellmann’s mayonnaise

While his all-time best meal being:

  • a two-inch thick rib-eye steak, crisp, rustling homemade chips and a good bottle of Bordeaux

Britain’s Top 50 Gastropubs 2019

A Daily Telegraph article 5 looked at the following ‘taste-packed’ offerings in the 50 named gastropubs:

  • a “treasure trove” of seafood in pastry with lobster sauce
  • saddleback pork shoulder, fennel risotto and apple
  • chicken liver pâté with cornichons and toast
  • pan roasted wood pigeon, bulgur wheat, kale and tropea onion or roast grouse in Armagnac gravy
  • venison bonbons: four neat little ping-pong balls served with a mustard dip
  • Scotch eggs, pork pies and charcuterie
  • smoked eel with lovage and pickled onions, halibut with spatzle and rhubarb cobbler with popcorn ice cream
  • Goosnargh chickens and slow-braised lambs
  • devilled crab, salmon and shrimp pâté with sea salt croûtes
  • aromatic tuna, Asian shredded salad with soy and citrus dressing and a superb Goan monkfish
  • prawn curry with coconut rice and grilled flat bread
  • Gunton venison stew with herb baked dumplings
  • smoked haddock chowder
  • oxtail, beef skirt and real ale suet pudding
  • parfait of Cotswold chicken livers
  • braised venison suet pudding, potato puree, seared foie gras, red wine sauce
  • St Margaret’s Farm free-range pork belly with crackling, black pudding
  • Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese souffle
  • Holkham Estate venison and Brancaster Mussels, washed down with Yetman’s beer and gin distilled with coastal botanicals
  • pot roast mallard, blood orange, celeriac gratin and watercress
  • sheep’s head broth
  • fish and chips
  • ham, egg and chips
  • baked potatoes
  • Provencal fish soup and gruyere followed by pot roast pheasant or confit duck leg
  • guinea fowl, pork and ham hock pie with mash and gravy
  • pork chop, caramelised apple, roasted hispi & black pudding
  • hake, new potatoes, cavil nero, caper, parsley butter
  • dry aged, grass-fed English and Scotch beef from an open grill
  • Chicksgrove beef and red wine macaronade with gremolata and buttered greens
  • dressed crab with a pint of prawns or baked St Marcellin, with toast and pickles
  • ox cheek, mushroom and ale in a suet crust
  • pork belly with malted onion and poached pear
  • loin of Cotswold venison with date purée
  • salt-baked parsnip and stilton, game and bacon pie
  • curried mutton
  • Jersey rock oysters with cabernet sauvignon and shallot dressing
  • sea bass, steak, risotto and burgers
  • brownies and sticky toffee puddings
  • venison and juniper suet pudding
  • goats cheese and beetroot tart with apple
  • hunch of venison with creamed spinach
  • terrines of pedigree Welsh pork, braised rabbit with deep fried polenta
  • house-cured goose ham, ewe’s curd, venison and hazelnut choux buns
  • Yorkshire Dales beef tartare with smoked bacon
  • steamed spice pineapple sponge with cinder toffee and rum-and-raisin ice cream
  • lobster, duck pie baked in brioche
  • 50-day-aged beef
  • crispy pig’s head with celeriac, green apple and watercress
  • venison chilli with red wine, chocolate and toasted rice cream

And the number one best gastropub 2019 offers:

  • slip sole with garlic butter
  • poached oysters with pickled cucumbers

Few, if any of the meals cited would stand up to close (or even distant) criticism in terms of the true impact such food has on the human body. Seen many thin and healthy-looking restaurant critics lately?

Is Organic, Free-Range & Locally-Sourced Enough?

These are, more or less, the only terms occasionally used within the whole review of the 50 gastropubs that are unconnected to the attractive taste of the food on offer. And it’s simply not enough that your beef or pork are organically reared in a neighbour’s pretty farm, or that the scallops and shrimps were caught by Freddie the Village Fisherman just this morning.

In previous blogs, we’ve covered so much research that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that consuming any animal or processed food – let alone that which has been drowned in extra virgin olive oil and served with organic whipped crème fraîche – is less than ideal for human health, especially when compared with a healthy and balanced plant-based diet.

Joe’s final thoughts

What’s revealing about the above, is the critic’s overarching emphasis on taste. The nutritional value of the food is either ignored totally or mentioned in part and in passing.   It’s like going to the doctor to get advice on your cigarette-induced cough and only being given advice on what the doctor regards as the tastiest brand of cigarette, with no reference being made to what the fags are actually doing to your lungs and other organs. The main difference, at least to my mind, is that doctors no longer ignore the terrible side-effects of smoking like many of them once did (because most of them smoked!) while food critics continue as though there are no side-effects to the sort of food praised above.

If you stepped back for a moment and looked at this from a wider perspective, doesn’t it strike you as at least slightly odd that so little mention is ever made about whether or not the food that is so strongly advertised and promoted to us will make us ill? I mean, in a very real sense, we are what we eat.

Perhaps at some time in the future, people will look back as these decades with some surprise and disbelief that almost no emphasis was ever put on the micronutrients or even macronutrients essential to human health and well-being; that many of the most widely-known ‘experts’ on food required no training at all in nutrition, just years of training in how to tickle the taste bugs; that no links were made between what you put in your mouth and what it does to your body; with the primary emphasis always being on whether or not it tasted good.

But so what? Taste is important. And indeed it is. But is it really more important than physical and mental health?

We’ve become so focused on taste that we’ve become blind to our tortured, malnourished, bloated bodies – the greasy blocked arteries, bulging fat, creeping disease and, all too often, early and unnecessary death.

So does this mean that eating a plant-based diet is tasteless in comparison with eating the typical animal-based, fatty, sugary fare? Well, if you want to be so addicted to a food that you simply can’t stop eating, even when you know you’ve had enough, or if you want to feel yourself compelled to stuff certain foods into your body, even when you know they’re going to make you feel horrid and are destined to pile on the pounds, then put taste at the top of your dietary priorities – because whole plant-foods will certainly not be so addictive that you’ll be compelled to eat beyond the point at which your body is genuinely satisfied, and, in any case, it would be highly unlikely that you could do any harm to yourself by overeating whole plant-foods.

Other species eat food in order to survive. They eat when they’re hungry and, unless humans are feeding them junk food, they will eat the ideal food to maintain their health – irrespective of whether it would be less tasty or addictive than a chocolate doughnut or a cheeseburger and chips.

Furthermore, starving humans and human populations who don’t have the ‘luxury’ of ever-available mountains of food like we do have little or no interest in the flavour of what they can eat. Their bodies tell them that they should simply get as much nutrient inside them as possible – no need to worry about adding a tasty sauce to it or covering it in spices, salt or sugar.

Finally, I’m not claiming that we should ignore the taste of food altogether in lieu of solely concentrating on its nutritional value; but I do suggest that when we feel compelled to eat a particular food (especially when we are quietly aware that it’s not an ideal food to eat for our health), we have fallen victim to the easy-availability and widespread acceptance of foods that cater to those few thousand taste buds on the top of our tongue.

We’ve become unwittingly enmeshed in the misguided trap that our society itself has fallen into – seeking the buzz of fleeting oral gratification at the expense of the most precious possession we each own – our own bodies.


  2. What Does A Food Critic Do? []
  3. Food Critics Jobs []
  4. What’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten? []
  5. Telegraph 28 January 2019: Britain’s top 50 gastropubs 2019, revealed. []

Plant-Based Mistakes

Whilst I’d maintain that the biggest dietary mistake we can make is to continue eating animals rather than plants, there are some pretty serious blunders that can be made by those who eat nothing but plant foods. This may especially be the case if you regard yourself as a vegan rather than a WFPBer (if such a word exists!) and don’t place your own and your family’s own health above or, at least, equal to the other reasons that you define yourself as a vegan.

A Specifically Vegan Mistake?

If vegans are only going plant-based because of concerns about animal rights and/or the environment, without considering the nutritional value of their own new diet, they usually end up eating highly-refined carbohydrates – pasta, bagels, bread, commercially-prepared ready-meals etc – and not a balanced wholefood diet.

As we’ve discussed previously 1 , replacing meat with refined carbs is not the way to get optimal health benefits and some suggest that you may as well eat animals if your diet is largely processed junk and lacks the green stuff.

A General Plant-Eater’s Mistake #1?

A mistake that all plant-eaters can make is to ignore nutritional priorities. That is, to think that simply by eating a balanced plant-based diet (even if it’s completely wholefood with no added sugar, oils and salt) you’re destined to get all the nutrients your body needs to avoid potentially dangerous health conditions. The nutrients generally considered of particular concern for plant-eaters include:

  • protein
  • iron
  • zinc
  • calcium
  • iodine, and 
  • vitamin D

I don’t have much time for worrying about the first four items. Without eating animals, legumes alone provide a rich form of protein, iron and zinc, and green vegetables (some say an emphasis should be on low-oxalate 2 green veg) are an excellent source of calcium, along with some nuts and seeds.

However, iodine and, especially, vitamin D are not to be ignored. You can’t get the former from plants and getting the appropriate amount (not too much and not too little) of the latter can be something of a minefield, as we saw in previous blogs 3 4 . So, what’s to be done?

Well, regarding iodine, you can take a supplement and/or eat appropriate amounts of those foods (e.g. wakame) that are considered reasonably okay in moderation.

Regarding vitamin D, whether or not you eat fortified foods on a plant-based diet, this absolutely essential vitamin can become a real problem if, of course, you don’t get lots and lots of good, warm sunlight exposure on a regular basis. We looked at vitamin D in previous blogs 5 6 , and ignoring its importance is not to be advised, although enough people (plant-eaters and omnivores) are known to do so at their peril 7 .

Below, I’ll mention a potentially good supplemented source of iodine and vitamin D.

A General Plant-Eater’s Mistake #2?

Whilst I could have covered this one in the above list, it always seems like one nutrient that deserves special mention –vitamin B12.

B12 is a potentially big problem for vegans and, for that matter, even for someone eating the optimum WFPB diet if, that is, they don’t supplement B12. Whilst B12 is made by microorganisms, and we have billions of these living inside us, those that make B12 in our bodies happen to be low down in the large intestine. So, unless we eat our own poo (not to be recommended – do I even need to remind you of that?!), the B12 we produce is either absorbed by bacteria within our lower intestine or discharged as faeces.

Interestingly, at least one research study 8 found that some people who eat negligible amounts of dairy and meat (in this particular study, rural Iranians), had quite high B12 levels (~411 pg/ml average), with no apparent cases of megaloblastic or pernicious anaemia – both of which are just two of the results of B12 deficiency. It was thought that these Iranians’ low-protein diets encouraged B12-producing bacteria to rise up from the colon (large intestine) to the ileum (the lower part of the small intestine) where the body can effectively absorb the B12 for its own use. This is still an area of uncertainty, since it may be that they picked up sufficient B12 through contamination, being that they lived among their animals and the faeces the animals produced.

Which Plants Provide B12?

There are some plant foods that are known to provide some B12 – such as sea plants (e.g. wakame), blue-green algae, yeasts (e.g. brewer’s yeast), and fermented plant foods (e.g. miso, tempeh or tofu) – but they are not a reliable source . Getting B12 from these rather than a daily B12 supplement is NOT recommended by me or by the likes of Dr Greger, Dr T Colin Campbell, Dr John McDougall et al.

Variation. Variation.

Apart from anything else, you can’t be sure about the amount of B12 in any single food product. For instance, tempeh produced in wooden barrels in Indonesia is reported 9 10 to have some B12 that can be absorbed by our bodies, but when it’s produced in very clean stainless steel vats (as in the US), the resulting tempeh is unlikely to contain much if any B12.

Active vs Inactive B12

Another complicating factor with B12 is whether or not it’s the active or inactive form 11 12 of cobalamin (the general term used for different forms of B12) .

The latter, inactive forms, can bind to the B12 receptors in our bodies and effectively block much of any active B12 from finding an available receptor, with the result that B12 is not absorbed efficiently by the body – leading to a functional B12 deficiency.

So, for instance, when you dry seaweed, some of the active B12 is turned into the inactive form. Another example is chlorella (a type of green algae): whilst this is regarded by some as a useful source of B12, there’s simply not enough evidence yet to prove that this can be used as a sole source of B12 for plant-eaters who don’t use B12 supplements or eat B12 fortified foods.

Playing Russian roulette with the permanent damage that can result from chronic B12 deficiency is not a sensible option.

Although it’s increasingly clear 13 14 that there’s a worryingly high level of B12 insufficiency and even deficiency within the general population, and the Institute of Medicine in the US recommends 15 that everyone over the age of 50* shouldn’t rely on animal foods alone for B12, it’s generally considered 16 that the likelihood of finding B12 deficiency in different dietary groups is as follows (from least likely to most likely):

  • omnivores
  • lacto-ovo vegetarians
  • vegetarians
  • vegans
  • raw vegans

Over 50’s & B12 Deficiency

* When you eat animals, the B12 is physically bound to the animal protein; however, in order to cleave off the B12 from the protein, you need to be producing enough stomach acid and enzymes so you can absorb the B12 into your bloodstream. The problem is that it’s estimated 17  that up to 30% of people aged over 50 don’t produce enough, and so even eating lots of animals doesn’t guarantee healthy B12 levels as we age. And this is important stuff for all of us, since dementia is known 18  to be one of the results of B12 deficiency.

Mothers, Babies, Infants & B12 Deficiency

Of course, at the other end of the age groups, as we’ve discussed in considerable detail 19 pregnant women and infants also need to be really careful about B12 levels, since deficiency can result in irreversible brain damage in the baby 20 and serious health conditions in infants 21 . As pointed out in a previous blog 22 , it’s really important for potential mothers to be informed about the real dangers for their babies if they (the mothers) don’t get the balance right between folic acid (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12 .

They Missed Out WFPB!

You may have noticed that WFPB was not in the above list (from omnivore down to raw vegan). Well, if you’re eating a WFPB diet, you may find that fortified foods are not very common in your diet – indeed, when you make your own plant milks (or choose non-fortified versions), make your own bread (or even your own flour), and avoid commercially-produced breakfast cereals, read-meals, tinned beans, etc etc, you may be eating no fortified foods at all. And, in any case, the amount of fortification of many vitamins within fortified foods is likely to be far below your daily requirements. I guess this means that some WFPBers can be at a similarly high risk of potential deficiencies as raw vegans if, that is, they don’t take appropriate measures.

B12 Supplementation & WFPB Diet

So, when eating a WFPB diet, it’s time to look very seriously at supplementation as being probably the most reliable and sensible route. As I’ve mentioned in some detail previously 23 , one option is the Vegan Society’s Veg-1 supplement which some authorities would and some would not regard as containing sufficient B12. Of course, there are other mixed supplements and single B12 supplements available. My personal approach, at the moment, based on my research, is to take Veg-1 for its iodine and vitamin D content as well as a separate 1000 mcg/μg 24  B12 supplement at least twice a week if it’s cyanocobalamin or daily if it’s methylcobalamin 25 .

Difference Between Different Types of B12 Supplements

Vitamin B12 supplements are usually derived from two sources: methylcobalamin or cyanocobalamin.

Chemically, these are almost identical, with each containing a cobalt ion with a surrounding corrin ring – so called because it’s the ‘core’ of the B12 cobalamin. The cobalt ion has a methyl group stuck to the cobalt ion, while the the cyanocobalamin has a cyanide molecule (don’t worry, it’s not poison in this form!) – hence the names of each.

Cyanocobalamin is a more stable synthetic form 26 of B12 not found in nature, and is used more often in supplements: it’s also cheaper to manufacture. It gets converted into either methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin when it enters the body.

In humans, methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin (not used so much in supplements) are the two active forms of B12 27Methylcobalamin is in supplements and can also be found in animal foods, although not in predictable quantities, of course.

Final thoughts

You have to have been living under a stone not to know by now that there’s tons of solid evidence that a healthy and balanced plant-based diet beats the pants off an animal-based diet if, that is, you want optimal health and don’t just want to give in to the addictive taste temptation of meaty/fatty/salty food that so many consider the be all and end all of what human nutrition is all about.

Therefore, so long as you’re careful to take into account the importance of the above nutrients (as well as take appropriate steps to prevent any deficiencies), you can dive into your G-BOMBS 28 or your Daily Dozen 29 with gay abandon.

Finally, and before leaving the Big B12 issue, it’s really worth bearing in mind that, to some extent, we’re straining at a gnat 30 here, by acting as if eating a healthy plant-based diet can generally be a worry compared with eating the usual animal-heavy, processed Western (SAD) diet. I’ll let Dr Greger see us out on this note 31 : “Make no mistake: vitamin B12 is important. But so is keeping our perspective, given the millions who are crippled and die from the onslaught of chronic disease that could be prevented, stopped, and reversed with a B12-fortified, plant-based diet.


  1. Greggs’ Vegan Sausage Rolls – Why Veganism Can Fail []
  2. Vegans & Calcium []
  3. Iodine Deficiency in Vegans []
  4. Vegans and Iodine []
  5. Shining A Light on Vitamin D []
  6. Vitamin D & Vegans []
  7. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. Author manuscript. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2014 Oct; 144PA: 138–145. Is vitamin D deficiency a major global public health problem? Cristina Palacios and Lilliana Gonzalez. []
  8. Halsted JA, Carroll J, Dehghani A, Loghmani M, Prasad A. Serum vitamin B12 concentration in dietary deficiency. Am J Clin Nutr. 1960 May-Jun;8:374-6. []
  9. LWT. Volume 96, October 2018, Pages 513-518. Enhancing vitamin B12 in lupin tempeh by in situ fortification. Judith C.M.Wolkers-Rooijackers, Martha F.Endika, Eddy J.Smid. []
  10. Production of vitamin B-12 in tempeh, a fermented soybean food Article in Applied and Environmental Microbiology 34(6):773-6 January 1978. []
  11. Active B12 testing []
  12. Vitamin B12 deficiency. BMJ 2014; 349. 4 September 2014. []
  13. Science Daily: Genetic Variants Associated With Vitamin B12. September 9, 2008. Harvard School of Public Health []
  14. How common is vitamin B-12 deficiency? | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. LH Allen – ‎2008. []
  15. Harvard Medical School: Getting Enough Vitamin B12? April, 2015. Linda Antinoro, R.D., L.D.N., J.D., C.D.E. []
  16. What Are The Biggest Mistakes Vegans Make? by Brenda Davis []
  17. Cognitive Vitality: GUT CHECK: ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH B12? September 16, 2016 Yuko Hara, PhD []
  18. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 2005 Mar;18(1):33-8. Neuropsychology of vitamin B12 deficiency in elderly dementia patients and control subjects. Osimani A1, Berger A, Friedman J, Porat-Katz BS, Abarbanel JM. []
  19. Vegan Pregnancy & Parenting []
  20. WebMD: Birth Defects Linked to Low Vitamin B12. By Jennifer Warner. []
  21. Med J Aust. 1979 Jul 14;2(1):1-3. Brain damage in infancy and dietary vitamin B12 deficiency. Wighton MC, Manson JI, Speed I, Robertson E, Chapman E. []
  22. B12 Supplements Are Efficient But Caution With Folic Acid []
  23. Vegan Society Veg-1: Does It Contain Enough B12? []
  24. Microgram terminology. []
  25. Brenda Davis’ Comments on cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin []
  26. BMJ. Clinical Review. Vitamin B12 deficiency. []
  27. NIH: Vitamin B12 []
  28. Health = Nutrient Intake ÷ Calories []
  29. Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen Checklist. Michael Greger M.D. FACLM September 11th, 2017 Volume 38 []
  30. Meaning of the phrase “straining at a gnat?” The phrase comes from the words of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. … He follows this up in verse 24 with the phrase you asked about: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” []
  31. Vegan B12 deficiency: putting it into perspective. Written By Michael Greger M.D. FACLM on August 25th, 2011 []

Evidence-Based Eating Guide by Dr Greger

If you haven’t already come across Dr Michael Greger and his invaluable website, 1 , then you’re in for a treat. And, even if you have spent many happy hours listening to his dulcet tones 2 , or reading his fact-based articles 3  and his excellent books 4 5 , there’s a free WFPB dietary guide called the Evidence-Based Eating Guide 6 that you can download for yourself and/or for others who you think might benefit from it. (You will need to subscribe to Dr Greger’s FREE newsletter to get the guide, though – something that’s well worth doing in any case – link to relevant page.)

The Guide contains the following:

  • Why Nutrition Matters
  • Dining by Traffic Light (red, amber and green – never eat, eat sparingly, eat as much as you want, respectively)
  • Dr Greger’s Daily Dozen (the 12 foods that he recommends we eat every day – downloadable as a free app)
  • Tips For Including the Daily Dozen
  • Sample Menus for Checking Off the Daily Dozen
  • Nutritional Consideration & Common Nutritional Concerns
  • Put It Into Action

You won’t do better than following Dr Greger’s advice if you want to benefit from a WFPB diet.

Everything he claims about nutrition is backed up with solid evidence from peer-reviewed studies that you can check out yourself.

There are few medical experts in the field of nutrition who can match Dr Greger’s prolific output of articles and videos, all supported by facts-based research . He’s an inspiration to thousands and one of my personal heroes – he’s also hilariously entertaining.

If you want to introduce anyone to videos, articles or literature on WFPB diets, he’d be a perfect entree for them.



  1. – Dr Greger’s non-commercial, fact-based WFPB website []
  2. Must-see Dr Greger video: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers []
  3. Introducing the Evidence-Based Eating Guide article. []
  4. How Not to Die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease by Dr Greger []
  5. The How Not To Die Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes to Help Prevent and Reverse Disease by Dr Greger []
  6. Evidence-Based Eating Guide by Dr Michael Greger []

Must-See Plant-Based Films

I’ve already mentioned a number of influential films which introduce WFPB diets for human health as well as veganism, where the emphasis is also strongly on animal welfare and environmental protection. Such films as Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, and What The Health. However, there are a number of other films that I would recommend you take a look at and, if you are so inclined, introduce to your family and friends.

H.O.P.E – What You Eat Matters

HOPE – What You Eat Matters is a life-changing documentary uncovering and revealing the effects of our typical Western diet on our health, the environment and animals. Featuring Jane Goodall, T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Vandana Shiva, Melanie Joy and many other experts. Available for free on YouTube:

Let Us Be Heroes – The true Cost of Our Food Choices

How much difference can one person make? Let Us Be Heroes explores the impact of our food and lifestyle choices on our health, our home planet and our values by sharing inspiring stories from athletes, food and fashion entrepreneurs, a public speaker and an ocean warrior fighting to protect people, planet and animals. Available for free on YouTube:

Vegan 2017 – The Film

Covers the ever growing vegan movement and how it’s best for the animals, human health, and the planet. Available for free on YouTube:

Vegan 2018 – The Film

Following on from the 2017 film, Vegan 2018 – The Film sees a movement in its ascendancy, showing how more people are starting to move away from the ethical, environmental, and health horrors of animal exploitation. A number of celebrities including Lewis Hamilton and Moby share their views. Available for free on YouTube:

Running For Good – The Fiona Oakes Documentary

From the director of Cowspiracy and What The Health, Keegan Kuhn, this sports documentary is narrated by Rich Roll and follows world record marathon runner Fiona Oakes in her attempt not only to set a new global record in endurance racing, but to compete in the “toughest footrace on earth,” the Marathon Des Sables, a 250km race through the Sahara Desert in an aim to raise the plight of animals. A fascinating interview with Fiona and Keegan Kuhn by Rich Roll is available for free on YouTube, while the film itself can be rented (downloaded) for £3.01:

Seaspiracy  – What You Should Know About Fish & The Ocean

Seaspiracy is a short, eye-opening documentary created by The Friendly Activist. This 14 minute movie is packed full with data and facts about fishing and how the ingestion of fish is not only ruining our planet and its own oceans but is incredibly detrimental to our health. It also covers the forgotten victims, fish, are sentient beings who suffer from pain and stress when taken out of their natural environment. Available free on YouTube:


Dominion uses drones, hidden and handheld cameras to expose the dark underbelly of modern animal agriculture, questioning the morality and validity of humankind’s dominion over the animal kingdom. While mainly focusing on animals used for food, it also explores other ways animals are exploited and abused by humans, including clothing, entertainment and research. Available for free at

Final thoughts

Documentary films are a really powerful tool in our fight to help humans eat more healthily, and thereby avoid the horrid suffering and waste that diet-related diseases increasingly cause around the world. They also play a significant role in helping us to become aware of the true situation in relation to animal farming and the devastating environmental effects of our food choices.

Life-long dietary habits are perhaps one of the hardest things to change in one’s life; but without new information, what can we expect but that people will continue to consume what they’ve been brought up to regard as normal, acceptable, unquestioned.

Until new information is presented, there really can’t be any freedom of choice, and thus it’s hard to criticise people who simply don’t know any better. For me, it was watching Forks Over Knives that shattered the invisible screen that had prevented me from being aware of the realty of the harm caused by my own food choices – to me, to other animals and to the nature I would have claimed I already loved so much.

And since we all generally have a problem with being told what to do or having a sermon preached at us, being shown a well-produced documentary film is often the means by which the doors of perception are finally opened.



Vinegar Helps Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Is there anything truly healthy about good old British fish and chips with plenty of salt and vinegar? Well, yes, there is – although it would probably come as something of a surprise to most people – it’s actually the vinegar (acetic acid). And what’s more, research shows that vinegar is able to help in the prevention of type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Vinegar study

A 2013 study 1 looked at how strategies to treat prediabetes and the slow progression to type 2 diabetes are urgently and increasingly needed. Their research indicated that by simply making one small dietary change, namely, adding vinegar to meals each day, it was possible to reduce fasting glucose significantly – something of great significance to prevent the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

And its positive effect occurred within the first week of ‘treatment’ (just adding it to meals), and continued during the whole length of the 12-week study trial with no negative side-effects, unlike anti-diabetic pills.

Additionally, no other eating patterns need to be changed. That is, if you’re still going to eat unhealthily, just adding a tablespoon of vinegar twice a day to your meals will produce the positive effects.

Study design

The 19 healthy individuals selected for this 12 week trial were identified as being either pre-diabetic or as having a fasting blood glucose measure of >5.55 mmol/l at study entry.

They were split into two groups: one given a ‘vinegar pill‘ twice a day with meals, and the other given an apple cider vinegar drink with the two meals.

The apple cider drinks each contained a tablespoon (750 mg) of vinegar, whilst the vinegar pills (Apple Cider Vinegar tablets, General Nutrition Corporation, Pittsburgh, PA) contained only trace amounts of acetic acid (40 mg/tablet) – basically a placebo.

Study results

The average change in fasting glucose differed significantly between groups (0.91 ± 0.27 and 0.26 ± 0.17 mmol/l for the vinegar and control groups respectively). The results are shown in more detail in the charts below.

Study discussion

Previous studies 2 3 4 have suggested that the reasons that acetic acid, the defining ingredient of all vinegars, may have these positive effects is because it is able to:

  • interfere with carbohydrate digestion
  • promote glucose uptake by muscle
  • increase b-cell insulin secretion

This study showed that a single dietary strategy as simple as having regular vinegar (1 tablespoon at mealtime twice daily), can genuinely help in reducing fasting blood glucose concentrations. And, what’s more, this is demonstrably more effective that the standard pharmaceuticals, such as metformin 5 or rosiglitazone 67 8 . This positive effect of vinegar
is especially noteworthy when you consider the cost, access difficulties and toxicities associated pharmaceutical medications.

Study conclusion

This research adds to the growing literature demonstrating the antiglycaemic properties of vinegar. Purposeful integration of vinegar or acetic acid into the food matrix, beyond the standard dressings and sauces, may facilitate reductions in blood glucose concentrations in both those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and those at risk for this disease.

Final thoughts

Whilst this is a small-scale study, its findings appear pretty convincing. And it’s not an isolated piece of research. It’s also backed up by other studies 9 10 11 12 13 . For instance, there’s a 2009 study 14 , once again over 12 weeks and with similar amounts of vinegar, but with 27 participants who already had T2D. This time, the researchers were looking at whether a daily ingestion of vinegar at mealtimes may favourably influence (i.e. reduce) HbA1c 15  values in these diabetic participants .

And the results? Indeed the vinegar consumption did reduce HbA1c when compared with the groups taking the placebo  (a vinegar pill) and a pickled gherkin. The researchers concluded that the reduction in HbA1c was particularly impressive since the participants’ diabetic conditions were already being well controlled with medications.

And it appears as though it’s not simply a matter of slowing gastric emptying or even of preventing glucose from entering the blood stream 16 . Rather, the reason why vinegar leads to significantly less sugar staying in the blood is because it leaves the bloodstream faster (that is, gets into the cells quicker). This ability to enhance sugar disposal by lowering insulin resistance (the cause of type 2 diabetes), as well as improving the action of insulin in diabetics, is well supported by studies 17 18 .

Thus, the good news is that diabetics can tuck into potatoes – boiled, mashed or baked, so long as they add some vinegar.

Interestingly, when diabetics eat high-fibre meals, the glycaemic response appears 19 not to be affected much (if at all) by adding vinegar – probably because the fibre is already so good at preventing glycaemic spikes. The ideal foods to add vinegar to are high glycaemic index foods such as white potatoes and refined grains – not that the latter are to be recommended when compared with purple/sweet potatoes and whole grains, of course.

So, what’s stopping you? Any type of vinegar will do the trick – and we’ve listen a fair few previously 20 . Whether or not you’re overweight, think you’re prediabetic or actually have T2D already, this simple daily addition to your meals seems like a sensible move to keep insulin doing its job of getting that glucose into your cells.


  1. Journal of Functional Foods. Volume 5, Issue 4, October 2013, Pages 2007-2011. Vinegar ingestion at mealtime reduced fasting blood glucose concentrations in healthy adults at risk for type 2 diabetes. Carol S. Johnston. Samantha Quaglian. Serena White. []
  2. Ogawa, N., Satsu, H., Watanabe, H., Fukaya, M., Tsukamoto, Y., Miyamoto, Y., et al. (2000). Acetic acid suppresses the increase in disaccharidase activity that occurs during culture of caco-2 cells. Journal of Nutrition, 130, 507–513 []
  3. Fushimi, T., Tayama, K., Fukaya, M., Kitakoshi, K., Nakai, N., Tsukamoto, Y., et al. (2001). Acetic acid feeding enhances glycogen repletion in liver and skeletal muscle of rats. Journal of Nutrition, 131, 1973–1977. []
  4. Seok, H., Lee, J. Y., Park, E. M., Park, S. E., Lee, J. H., Lim, S., et al. (2012). Balsamic vinegar improves high fat-induced beta cell dysfunction via beta cell ABCA1. Diabetes & Metabolism Journal, 36, 275–279 []
  5. Metformin, marketed under the trade name Glucophage among others, is the first-line medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, particularly in people who are overweight. It is also used in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome. []
  6. Rosiglitazone (trade name Avandia) is an antidiabetic drug in the thiazolidinedione class. It works as an insulin sensitizer, by binding to the PPAR in fat cells and making the cells more responsive to insulin. []
  7. Knowler, W. C., Barrett-Connor, E., Fowler, S. E., Hamman, R. F., Lachin, J. M., Walker, E. A., et al. (2002). Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. New England Journal of Medicine, 346, 393–403. []
  8. DREAM (Diabetes REduction Assessment with ramipril and rosiglitazone Medication) Trial Investigators Gerstein, H. C., Yusuf, S., Bosch, J., Poque, J., et al. (2006). Effect of rosiglitazone on the frequency of diabetes in patients with impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet, 368, 1096–1105. []
  9. K. Ebihara, A. Nakajima, Effect of acetic acid and vinegar on blood glucose and insulin responses to orally administered sucrose and starch, Agric. Biol. Chem. 52 (1988) 1311–1312. []
  10. F. Brighenti, G. Castellani, L. Benini, M.C. Casiraghi, E. Leopardi, R. Crovetti, et al., Effect of neutralized and native vinegar on blood glucose and acetate responses to a mixed meal in healthy subjects, Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 49 (1995) 242–247. []
  11. C.S. Johnston, A.J. Buller, Vinegar and peanut products ascomplementary foods to reduce postprandial glycaemia, J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 105 (2005) 1939–1942. []
  12. E. Ostman, Y. Granfeldt, L. Persson, I. Bjo¨ rck, Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects, Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 59 (2005) 983–988. []
  13. Ann Nutr Metab. 2010;56(1):74-9. doi: 10.1159/000272133. Examination of the antiglycemic properties of vinegar in healthy adults. Johnston CS1, Steplewska I, Long CA, Harris LN, Ryals RH. []
  14. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2009 May;84(2):e15-7. doi: 10.1016/j.diabres.2009.02.005. Epub 2009 Mar 9. Preliminary evidence that regular vinegar ingestion favorably influences hemoglobin A1c values in individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Johnston CS, White AM, Kent SM. []
  15. Discussed previously: HbA1c & Plant-Based Diets: Warning – Disturbing Images []
  16. Nutr Res. 2009 Dec;29(12):846-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2009.10.021. Vinegar lacks antiglycemic action on enteral carbohydrate absorption in human subjects. Salbe AD, Johnston CS, Buyukbese MA, Tsitouras PD, Harman SM. []
  17. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jun;69(6):734-9. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.289. Epub 2015 Jan 28. The role of acetic acid on glucose uptake and blood flow rates in the skeletal muscle in humans with impaired glucose tolerance. Mitrou P, Petsiou E, Papakonstantinou E, Maratou E, Lambadiari V, Dimitriadis P, Spanoudi F, Raptis SA, Dimitriadis G. []
  18. J Diabetes Res. 2015;2015:175204. doi: 10.1155/2015/175204. Epub 2015 May 6. Vinegar Consumption Increases Insulin-Stimulated Glucose Uptake by the Forearm Muscle in Humans with Type 2 Diabetes. Mitrou P, Petsiou E, Papakonstantinou E, Maratou E, Lambadiari V, Dimitriadis P, Spanoudi F, Raptis SA, Dimitriadis G. []
  19. THE EFFECT OF VINEGAR ON POSTPRANDIAL GLYCEMIA: DOES THE AMOUNT MATTER? Kahraman, N. Kuzeyli; Mesci, B.; Oguz, A.; Tamer, G.; Kahraman, C.; Sagun, G.; Kilic, D. Coksert; Akalin, A.. Acta Endocrinologica (1841-0987);Oct-Dec 2011, Vol. 7 Issue 4, p577. []
  20. Starting Out – The WFPB Larder []

Plant Milks Are Churning Up The Ground

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph 1 about the rise of Oatly dairy alternatives 2 revealed more about the rise of interest in plant-based alternatives to calf growth fluid 3  (‘cow’s milk’ to most people).

  • Google reports continued growth over the past 5 years in web searches for alternative milks
  • Veganuary continues to record increased participants
  • Oatly employs ~300 people
  • during 2015-17, UK [and US] sales of cow’s milk rose just 0.3% whilst non-dairy milk grew 9.4% 4
    • Oatly 2018 UK sales were £18m, up 89% from 2017
    • Oatly 2018 global sales were £87m – they’re hoping to double this in 2019
  • in 2015, Oatly was sued by Sweden’s dairy association for the brand’s advertising slogans, which included “It’s like milk, but made for humans” and “Wow, no cow!”

  • demand for Oatly – particularly its “Barista edition” milk 5 – is so high, supplies ran dry last year
  • a glass of dairy milk produces almost three times the greenhouse gas emissions of any non-dairy milk 6
  • cow’s milk is the most environmentally harmful based on three key factors: land use, water use and carbon emissions 6
  • buying a carton of oat milk instead of cow’s milk has an immediate positive impact on the environment
  • Oatly products are also doing well in China, where a significant number of people are lactose intolerant
  • Pettersson, Oatly CEO, says: “Our mission is not to turn people vegan, it’s about everyone making small changes to their diet that will ultimately benefit the planet our children will inherit

Final thoughts

Previous blogs have looked at other dairy alternatives 7 8  , and how human health may be damaged by dairy consumption 9 10  However, because of the entrenched misinformation that the dairy industry has been pushing for decades, the vast majority of people still believe that good-old dairy simply must be good for our health, in spite of all the scientific evidence to the contrary 11 12  .

Again, we looked previously 13 at how governments are trying (and succeeding, for the time being) to stop producers of dairy alternatives from even being able to use common words such as ‘milk’, ‘dairy’, ‘cheese’, ‘cream’ etc. Big Dairy will not easily give up the fight against dairy alternatives, even if it means strong-arming governments to push through legislation that basically trademarks everyday words.

However, in time, I suspect that all dairy companies will have to make some transition to producing non-dairy alternatives if, that is, they want to share the financial benefits of this growing market.

And we all know how attractive profits are to Big Business, even if it means they are forced to sell something that’s actually good for human health and not just for their balance sheets!


  1. Daily Telegraph 17 January 2019: Wow, no cow! The rise and rise of oat milk manufacturer Oatly by Sophie Christie []
  2. Oatly Products []
  3. ‘Cow’s milk’ as baby calf growth fluid: video with Michael Klaper []
  4. Mintel dairy/non-dairy sales []
  5. Oatly Barista edition milk []
  6. Science. 2018 Jun 1;360(6392):987-992. doi: 10.1126/science.aaq0216. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Poore J, Nemecek T. [] []
  7. Which Is the Best Non-dairy Milk? []
  8. Isn’t Plant Milk a Processed Food? []
  9. Cow’s Milk – But It Looks So Innocent… []
  10. If You Want Enough Calcium, Forget Milk []
  11. PCRM: Health Concerns About Dairy
    Avoid the Dangers of Dairy with a Plant-Based Diet []
  12. Nutritionfacts: Dairy []
  13. Never Doubt The Power of Big Farming – EU Law Being Milked []

Cheeseburger vs Tofu Burger for Gut Health & Satiety

A January 2019 study 1 wanted to analyse how a specific number of postprandial (after eating) physiological indicators were affected in three different population groups by tucking in to either a typical processed-meat cheeseburger meal (CB) or a tofu burger meal (TB).

Study method

The three population groups were 20 each of:

  • men with type 2 diabetes (T2D)
  • obese men (OM)
  • healthy men (HM)

The two meals were matched in terms of energy and macronutrients:

The health indicators being tested were gastrointestinal hormones involved in the regulation of glucose metabolism and satiety (the feeling of feeling ‘full’ from eating food).

Glucose metabolism (how the body was responding to the meal) was assessed at 0, 30, 60, 120 and 180 minutes after the meal via an analysis of each participant’s blood plasma, to check levels of the following hormones:

  • glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) 2
  • amylin 3 , and
  • peptide YY (PYY) 4
  • satiety (the feeling of fullness itself) was assessed through what’s called a ‘visual analogue scale‘ 5

Study findings

After eating the tofu burger meal (when compared with the cheeseburger meal):

  • GLP-1 increased in T2D and HM
  • amylin increased in all groups
  • PYY increased only in HM
  • satiety increased in all groups
Charts showing postprandial results for GLP-1, amylin, PYY and satiety.

So what?

Well, this shows there’s a greater increase in glucose metabolising gut hormones and satiety following the consumption of a single plant-based meal with tofu when compared with an energy- and macronutrient-matched processed-meat meat and cheese meal. And what’s more, this happens in all three groups: diabetic, obese and healthy men.

By feeling more satiated, people eat less. By eating less, they avoid piling on extra weight as a result of foods (particularly processed, fatty, animal-based, salty, and sweet foods) ‘fooling’ the body into thinking it needs to consume more. The body treats plant-foods differently from processed and animal foods, releasing different hormones from the gut and affecting the brain differently (partly through satiety signalling).

Study discussion

The following points were raised within this study:

  • obesity substantially increases the risk of:
  • type 2 diabetes
  • cardiovascular disease, and
  • certain types of cancer 6
  • improving dietary choices represents a primary prevention tool 7 8
  • the influence of diet in the development of insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes is well-established 9 10 11
  • gastrointestinal hormones are known to be involved in the regulation of glucose metabolism, energy homeostasis, satiety, and weight management 12
  • ingestion of food triggers secretion of the incretin hormone GLP-1 from the gastrointestinal tract, which enhances insulin secretion and helps maintain glucose homeostasis 13
  • the satiety hormones GLP-1 [9], peptide YY (PYY) [10], pancreatic polypeptide (PP) [11] and amylin [12] regulate appetite and energy homeostasis
  • the release of the satiety hormones GLP-1, PYY and amylin can depend on meal composition and differs between impaired and normal glycaemic status 14
  • consumption of red meat is associated (and the consumption of processed meat is very strongly associated) with risk of type 2 diabetes 15 16
  • consuming any processed meats increases (by 33%) the risk of developing  diabetes 17
  • saturated fatty acids from meat and other animal products impairs insulin resistance and glucose tolerance 18 9 , and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease 19
  •  following plant-based diets (vegetarian) reduces risk of diabetes by 50% 20
  • insulin sensitivity and glycaemic control in type 2 diabetics improves on a plant-based diet 21 22

Study conclusion

Our findings indicate that plant-based meals with tofu may be an effective tool to increase postprandial secretion of gastrointestinal hormones, as well as promote satiety, compared to processed meat and cheese, in healthy, obese, and diabetic men. These positive properties may have practical implications for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Final thoughts

The interesting subject of satiety has been covered previously, when we looked at the three mechanisms of satiety 23 .

The study covered in this blog is, of course, just of the many research projects which look at how plant-food compares with animal-food. If you’ve read some of the previous blogs on diabetes 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 and obesity 32 33 , you’ll already know that there’s a mountain of evidence that plant-based meals not only prevent, but also reverse these and many other non-communicable diseases.

The take-home message?

Ditch McDonald’s and get stuck into plant-based foods if, that is, you want optimal health and longevity. Your choice…

…if, that is, you’re lucky enough to be in a family or live in a society where there is any real choice.


  1. Nutrients. 2019 Jan 12;11(1). A Plant-Based Meal Increases Gastrointestinal Hormones and Satiety More Than an Energy- and Macronutrient-Matched Processed-Meat Meal in T2D, Obese, and Healthy Men: A Three-Group Randomized Crossover Study. Klementova M, Thieme L, Haluzik M, Pavlovicova R, Hill M, Pelikanova T, Kahleova H []
  2. Glucagon-like peptide-1 is a 30 amino acid long peptide hormone. GLP-1 is an incretin; thus, it has the ability to decrease blood sugar levels in a glucose-dependent manner by enhancing the secretion of insulin. Peripherally, GLP-1 is known to affect gut motility, inhibit gastric acid secretion, and inhibit glucagon secretion. In the central nervous system, GLP-1 induces satiety, leading to reduced weight gain. In the pancreas, GLP-1 is now known to induce expansion of insulin-secreting β-cell mass, in addition to its most well-characterised effect: the augmentation of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. []
  3. Amylin is a peptide hormone secreted along with insulin from the pancreatic β-cells. It plays a role in glycaemic regulation by slowing gastric emptying and promoting satiety, thereby preventing postprandial spikes in blood glucose levels. peptide hormone that slows digestion. When carbohydrates stay in the stomach longer, they are converted to glucose and enter the bloodstream in a slower, more gradual manner. It helps to block glucagon secretion. Glucagon is a pancreatic hormone that raises the blood glucose level by stimulating the liver to release stored glucose. Without amylin, most people with diabetes produce extra glucagon when they eat; this can contribute to after-meal blood glucose spikes. By enhancing satiety, amylin helps to limit appetite and thus reduce the amount of food eaten during (and between) meals. []
  4. Peptide YY s a hormone secreted from endocrine cells called L-cells in the small intestine. It’s secreted alongside the hormone glucagon-like peptide 1. It’s released after eating, circulates in the blood and works by binding to receptors in the brain. Binding of peptide YY to brain receptors decreases appetite and makes people feel full after eating. It also acts in the stomach and intestine to slow down the movement of food through the digestive tract. []
  5. The visual analogue scale or visual analogue scale is a psychometric response scale which can be used in questionnaires. It is a measurement instrument for subjective characteristics or attitudes that cannot be directly measured.  The following is a typical example: []
  6. GBD 2016 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 328 diseases and injuries for 195 countries, 1990–2016: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet 2017, 390, 1211–1259. []
  7. Evert, A.B.; Boucher, J.L.; Cypress, M.; Dunbar, S.A.; Franz, M.J.; Mayer-Davis, E.J.; Neumiller, J.J.; Nwankwo, R.; Verdi, C.L.; Urbanski, P.; et al. Nutrition therapy recommendations for the management of adults with diabetes. Diabetes Care 2014, 37 (Suppl. 1), S120–S143. []
  8. American Heart Association Nutrition Committee; Lichtenstein, A.H.; Appel, L.J.; Brands, M.; Carnethon, M.; Daniels, S.; Franch, H.A.; Franklin, B.; Kris-Etherton, P.; Harris, W.S.; et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation 2006, 114, 82–96. []
  9. Feskens, E.J.; Virtanen, S.M.; Räsänen, L.; Tuomilehto, J.; Stengård, J.; Pekkanen, J.; Nissinen, A.; Kromhout, D. Dietary factors determining diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance. A 20-year follow-up of the Finnish and Dutch cohorts of the Seven Countries Study. Diabetes Care 1995, 18, 1104–1112. [] []
  10. Fizelova, M.; Jauhiainen, R.; Stanˇcáková, A.; Kuusisto, J.; Laakso, M. Finnish Diabetes Risk Score Is Associated with Impaired Insulin Secretion and Insulin Sensitivity, Drug-Treated Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease: A Follow-Up Study of the METSIM Cohort. PLoS ONE 2016, 11, e0166584. []
  11. Mann, J.I.; De Leeuw, I.; Hermansen, K.; Karamanos, B.; Karlström, B.; Katsilambros, N.; Riccardi, G.; Rivellese, A.A.; Rizkalla, S.; Slama, G.; et al. Evidence-based nutritional approaches to the treatment and prevention of diabetes mellitus. Nutr. Metab. Cardiovasc. Dis. 2004, 14, 373–394. []
  12. Perry, B.; Wang, Y. Appetite regulation and weight control: The role of gut hormones. Nutr. Diabetes 2012, 2, e26. []
  13. Meier, J.J. The contribution of incretin hormones to the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes. Best Pract. Res. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2009, 23, 433–441. []
  14. Belinova, L.; Kahleova, H.; Malinska, H.; Topolcan, O.; Vrzalova, J.; Oliyarnyk, O.; Kazdova, L.; Hill, M.; Pelikanova, T. Differential acute postprandial effects of processed meat and isocaloric vegan meals on the gastrointestinal hormone response in subjects suffering from type 2 diabetes and healthy controls:  A randomized crossover study. PLoS ONE 2014, 9, e107561. []
  15. Aune, D.; Ursin, G.; Veierød, M.B. Meat consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Diabetologia 2009, 52, 2277–2287. []
  16. Pan, A.; Sun, Q.; Bernstein, A.M.; Schulze, M.B.; Manson, J.E.; Willett, W.C.; Hu, F.B. Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2011, 94, 1088–1096. []
  17. Vang, A.; Singh, P.N.; Lee, J.W.; Haddad, E.H.; Brinegar, C.H. Meats, processed meats, obesity, weight gain and occurrence of diabetes among adults: Findings from Adventist Health Studies. Ann. Nutr. Metab. 2008, 52, 96–104. []
  18. Maron, D.J.; Fair, J.M.; Haskell, W.L. Saturated fat intake and insulin resistance in men with coronary artery disease. The Stanford Coronary Risk Intervention Project Investigators and Staff. Circulation 1991, 84, 2020–2027. []
  19. Zong, G.; Li, Y.; Wanders, A.J.; Alssema, M.; Zock, P.L.; Willett, W.C.; Hu, F.B.; Sun, Q. Intake of individual saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: Two prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ 2016, 355, i5796. []
  20. Tonstad, S.; Butler, T.; Yan, R.; Fraser, G.E. Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight, and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2009, 32, 791–796. []
  21. Kahleova, H.; Matoulek, M.; Malinska, H.; Oliyarnik, O.; Kazdova, L.; Neskudla, T.; Skoch, A.; Hajek, M.; Hill, M.; Kahle, M.; et al. Vegetarian diet improves insulin resistance and oxidative stress markers more than conventional diet in subjects with Type 2 diabetes. Diabet. Med. 2011, 28, 549–559. []
  22. Barnard, N.D.; Cohen, J.; Jenkins, D.J.A.; Turner-McGrievy, G.; Gloede, L.; Jaster, B.; Seidl, K.; Green, A.A.; Talpers, S. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2006, 29, 1777–1783. []
  23. The Three Mechanisms of Satiety []
  24. Diet Reverses Type 2 Diabetes – How Long Have We Known This? []
  25. Diabetes – Wheat VS Chickpea & Lentil Pasta []
  26. Vegetarian Diets and the Risk of Diabetes []
  27. Current Diabetes Treatment – Practice or Malpractice? []
  28. Turmeric Proven To Fight Cancer & Diabetes []
  29. Plant-based Diets & Diabetes []
  30. Low-Fat Plant-Based Diets Help to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes []
  31. Diabetes – The Medical Facts. WARNING – Disturbing Images []
  32. Can The UK Government Really Combat Child Obesity? []
  33. England’s Obesity Hotspots []

Vegan Diets For Pets

A January 2019 study 1 wanted to investigate whether and how pet owners’ own dietary habits (omnivore, vegetarian, vegan) affect the type of food they choose for their pets (exclusively dogs and cats in this study). The research throws up some interesting and unexpected results.

Study method

A questionnaire was sent out to 3,673 pet owners, asking about dietary habits of owner and pet alike.

The breakdown of owners by dietary habit and age is shown below.

If the pet was fed a mixture of animal & plants it was classed as a vegetarian pet, whilst if fed solely plants, it would be classed as a vegan pet. The findings on what was fed to whose pets were then analysed.

Study findings

The breakdown of pets’ diets according to their owners’ dietary habits is shown below.

A contentious issue

This is a contentious issue for many, since there are strong arguments about the health of dogs and cats fed on plant-based diets.

From the plant-eaters’ viewpoint, if you describe yourself as a vegan for moral reasons (i.e. because of strongly-held views on animal welfare), and you have an omnivorous or carnivorous pet (dog or cat, respectively), then you’re going to face at least some moral dilemma when deciding to feed animal products to those pets, since animals still need to be farmed and slaughtered in order to produce the pet food.  Additionally, personal distaste in actually handling meat for their pets is likely to be a consideration for those who avoid animal flesh in their own diet.

It was only some (1.6% – 59/3,673) vegan pet owners (and one vegetarian dog owner) who fed solely plant-based diets to their pets.

A significant number (45% – 269/599) of pet owners who didn’t feed plant-based diets to their pets, but who expressed an interest in doing so, wanted more information about whether or not a plant-based diet would be nutritionally adequate for their pets.

Would you feed plants to dogs and cats?

A number of pet owners, who didn’t currently feed plant-based food to their pets, would consider the possibility of feeding such a diet if certain personal criteria were satisfied.

The criteria included such things as nutritional appropriateness of the proposed pet food, and cost of commercially-available plant-based pet food (which is really expensive, even when it’s only partly plant-based – see here for an example).

A breakdown of those owners who would consider this, if their personal criteria were satisfied, is shown below:

The study’s findings suggest that within the general population there are more pet owners interested in feeding their pets plant-based diets than was currently thought to be the case, especially pet owners who already avoid meat in their own diets. Although it must be stated that these individuals would still be within the minority of pet owners, with the majority preferring to continue feeding animal-based diets to their pets.

Common concerns

Apart from identifying the number of pet owners who avoided feeding animal products to their pets (there were 229 vegetarians and 212 vegans out of the total 3,673 participants), the study also aimed to identify the concerns that all owners (whether omnivores, vegetarians or vegans) might have when it comes to conventional and plant-based pet food.

Interestingly, the most common concern amongst all pet owners in the study who expressed concerns (39% – 1,275/3,231) was the welfare of farm animals . I would have thought that the number of non-vegans/vegetarians concerned about how cows, pigs, chickens etc are reared would have been less than this. So, it’s quite reassuring to know that more of the general population are becoming aware of the plight of farmed animals (albeit that we’re talking here about the pet-owning population – perhaps a more animal-loving subset by the very fact that they decide to share their lives with other species of animal).

Regarding those contentious strictly plant-based pet foods, the most common concern (74% – 2,439/3,318) was whether such a diet would be nutritionally complete for their pets.

[The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noted some variation in the total sample numbers above. I guess this is because not everyone answered every question on the questionnaire.]

Dogs, Cats & Homemade vs Commercially-Sourced Pet Food

Although commercially-prepared plant-based dog and cat food has been around for some time, it’s been shown 23 4 5 6 that homemade pet diets which provide complete and balanced nutrition are a significant challenge for pet owners to make themselves.

Regarding vegetarian and vegan diets for cats, the problems have been shown 7  to be even more concerning.

Will plant-based pet food catch on?

The study states that: “…the perceived paucity of evidence supporting plant-based diets for pets, concern of veterinary disapproval, and challenges with availability reported in this survey all likely contribute to an effective case against plant-based pet foods.

Consumer demand for plant-based foods in general is increasing, with various companies looking at animal-free pet food alternatives, such as Wild Earth which now produces sustainable “clean protein” for pets – made from a fungus called koji for dogs and lab-grown mouse meat for cats. And since commercial practices are driven in part by consumer demand, where popular consumer belief and not nutritional appropriateness are often the deciding factors, there is likely to be more public discussion about the efficacy of plant-based pet foods in the future.

Added to this is the effect of predicted human population growth and the associated increasing demands on the human food system. This will, it’s thought 8 9 , have knock-on effects on the pet food industry which may need to adapt in order to avoid competition with the human food supply.

Thus, regardless of pet owner philosophy or diet, prevalence of plant-based pet feeding practices may increase by necessity. An awareness of this may already be seen within the relatively small group of study participants, thus explaining why there is such a surprising high number of omnivore (as well as pesco-vegetarian) pet owners who indicated an interest in feeding their pets a plant-based diet.

More vegetarian/vegan pet owners than previously thought

This study is the first to look at meat-avoidance in pet owners, and its findings reveal that more vegetarians and vegans own pets (dogs and/or cats) than previously expected (12% of the study participants).

Final thoughts

It’s clear from this study that there’s an association between the diet a pet owner follows and the diet they choose for their pets. With the projected increase in the number of humans choosing plant-based diets for themselves, this contentious issue of plant-based pet food is unlikely to go away.

Currently, it seems that there’s insufficient convincing nutritional data on the adequacy of such diets for dogs and cats; therefore, it’s vital that further nutritional research is undertaken to establish the nutritional sufficiency of plant-based for these much loved pets, the health of which one feels few owners would be prepared to sacrifice simply because of their own preferred dietary habits – although ignorance does leave plenty of room for unintentional errors…


  1. PLoS One. 2019 Jan 15;14(1). Plant-based (vegan) diets for pets: A survey of pet owner attitudes and feeding practices. Dodd SAS, Cave NJ, Adolphe JL, Shoveller AK, Verbrugghe A. []
  2. Remillard R. Homemade diets: Attributes, pitfalls, and a call for action. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine. 2008; 23(3):137–142. []
  3. Verbrugghe A, Paepe D, Verhaert L, Saunders J, Fritz J, Janssens G, et al. Metabolic bone disease and hyperparathyroidism in an adult dog fed an unbalanced homemade diet. Vlaams Diergeneeskundig Tijdschrift. 2011; 80:61–68. []
  4. Roudebush P, Cowell C. Results of a hypoallergenic diet survey of veterinarians in North America with a nutritional evaluation of homemade diet prescriptions. Veterinary Dermatology. 1992; 3(1):23–28 []
  5. Michel K. Unconventional diets for dogs and cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 2006; 36:1269–1281. []
  6. Stockman J, Fascetti A, Kass P, Larsen J. Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2013; 42(11):1500–1505 []
  7. Parr J, Remillard R. Handling Alternative Dietary Requests from Pet Owners. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 2014; 44:667–688. []
  8. Hill D. Alternative proteins in companion animal nutrition. Pet Food Association of Canada Fall Conference; October 27, 2004; Toronto, Ontario. []
  9. Beaton L. Human food trends driving pet food product innovation. Petfood Industry. 2018; 60(6):20–23. []

Athletic Performance & Physical Damage on Plant-Based Diets

A January 2019 scientific review 1  by Dr Neal Barnard 2 and his team, entitled “Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports“, looked at whether endurance athletes, who are at a higher-than-average risk of developing atherosclerosis and myocardial damage, have reduced health risks and improved performance if they eat a plant-based diet. The results are pretty compelling and should be considered by anyone within any age group who engages in regular physical exercise, not just those who undertake endurance sports.

Diet & exercise

It’s well-accepted 3  that diet in general plays a significant role in maintaining the health and improving the performance of athletes. In previous blogs, we looked in some detail at how plant-based diets may improve sports performance and reduce injury 4 5 6 , as well as how options such as the paleo diet 7  and consuming whey products 8 appear to do quite the opposite. Interestingly, and in relation to cancer risk, some research even showed 9 that the blood of a ‘couch potato’ eating a healthier than standard diet is likely to have better cancer-fighting abilities than the blood of someone who exercises regularly and strenuously but eats the standard diet – thus suggesting that diet may play a more significant role in overall health than exercise.

The study covered below deals in more depth with how choosing a plant-based diet can improve athletic performance as well as help avoid, and even reverse, serious and long-term health risks that both athletes and non athletes face.

What the study covers

The study considers that there is sufficient evidence to claim that plant-based regimes can achieve the following:

  • reduce cardiovascular risk factors
    • reverse existing atherosclerotic lesions
  • reduce plasma lipid concentrations, thereby:
    • reduce blood viscosity, and
    • increase tissue oxygenation
  • improve glycaemic control 10
  • reduce body weight (obesity)
  • increase glycogen storage
  • reduce blood pressure
  • reduce oxidative stress
  • reduce inflammation

Individually, or in combination, it’s suggested that the above benefits, which may result from plant-based dietary regimes, both protect the health of the athlete and improve athletic performance. The latter are discussed in more detail below.

Cardiovascular risk & plant-based diets

Studies have shown plant-based dietary patterns have particular benefits for heart health:

  • being able to reverse arterial plaque 11 12 13
  • significantly reducing the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease compared with meat eaters 14

But surely, you’d think, athletes are more or less immune to developing atherosclerosis 15  because of all the exercise they do. However, this has been shown 16 not to be the case.  It may seem odd, but it’s been shown in several studies 17 18 19 20 that endurance athletes may have more advanced atherosclerosis and more myocardial damage than sedentary individuals, increasing as periods of sports endurance accumulate and as they age.

Even sudden sports-related sudden cardiac deaths among ostensibly ultra fit athletes have been shown 21 to be more common than you’d think, especially with increased age.

But is it the diet?

Of course, the question has to be answered: “Is the atherosclerosis and myocardial damage caused by the athletic activity itself or by the foods used to fuel it?”

This study considers that when consumption of animal products is increased, perhaps with the hope of supplying increased energy for increased athletic activity, the associated saturated fat and cholesterol (as well as the relative absence of antioxidants and fibre 22 ) may contribute to the atherosclerotic changes.

Atherosclerosis may also narrow arteries in the legs, brain, and other parts of the body which will reduce blood flow and potentially impair performance. This has certainly been shown 23 to be the case with diagnosed peripheral artery disease, and is considered as a factor for athletes with undiagnosed (i.e. subclinical) atherosclerotic disease.

Plant-based diets can address the key factors that cause atherosclerosis, namely:

  • dyslipidemia 24
  • elevated blood pressure
  • elevated body weight, and
  • diabetes

So it would appear that diet is key to protecting heart health and thus for enhancing athletic performance.

Atherosclerosis – exception or norm?

And while one may think that atherosclerotic disease is the exception rather than the rule, studies have shown 25 that in the modern Western world [with its modern Western diet] atherosclerosis can begin early in life, even in the womb.

A study 26 showed that the majority of American children have fatty streaks in the left anterior descending coronary artery by the age of 10 to 14 years.

Autopsies of U.S. soldiers with a mean age of 20.5 years who died in the Korean War showed that 6.4% of them had coronary atherosclerosis 27 .

Autopsies of soldiers with a mean age of 25.9 years who died in the Iraqi wars between 2001 and 2011 showed that 8.5% of them had coronary atherosclerosis 28 .

And it gets worse. In so-called ‘developed’ countries, by the age of 20, ~10% of the population have advanced atherosclerotic lesions in the abdominal aorta, which reduces blood flow and contributes to disc degeneration and lower back pain 29

So, if you’re from a country where the Western diet is the norm (and, of course, you’ve also eaten that diet), you’re very likely predisposed to such risks even before you run your first marathon.

Plasma lipid concentrations & plant-based diets

Diets rich in saturated fat and, to a lesser degree, dietary cholesterol promote dyslipidemia, and dyslipidemia is a major contributor to arterial disease. With dairy products and meat being the leading sources of saturated fat, removing these has predictably been shown 30 to improve plasma lipid profiles.

By including soluble fibre (e.g. oats, beans, barley), almonds, soy protein, and sterol-containing margarines [the latter being something no WFPB advocate would advocate!], it’s been shown 31 that low-density lipoprotein (LDL – the ‘bad’ cholesterol) can be reduced by around 30% in as little as 4 weeks.

It’s also important to point out that trans fats have detrimental effects on plasma lipids and, thus, increase cardiovascular risks 32 33 .

Blood viscosity/tissue oxygenation & plant-based diets

Blood viscosity is a key element in oxygen delivery to the muscles 34 – lowering viscosity improves both blood flow and athletic performance, increasing viscosity does the opposite 35 .

During athletic activity, fluid passing from the bloodstream into the tissues leads to haemoconcentration 36 . This gradual rise in blood viscosity results in progressive loss of tissue oxygenation which, of course in turn, degrades athletic performance 37 .

Diet affects this plasma viscosity. Because plants are typically low in saturated fat and have no cholesterol, plant-based diets are considered 30 38 to reduce plasma lipid concentrations, and hence reduce viscosity.

Reduced blood viscosity also improves tissue oxygenation, thereby potentially improving athletic performance. In one study 39 , brachial artery flow-mediated vasodilation 40 was assessed in a range of diets – low-fat vegetarian, low-carb/high-fat (Atkins), and high-fat (South Beach). The results were that the vegetarian diet improved brachial artery flow-mediated vasodilation compared with the other diets. Basically, the higher the saturated fat intake, the greater the impairment of flow-mediated vasodilation, with arterial compliance being impaired even by a single high-fat meal.

This impairment is not only caused through eating food high in animal fats, added oils appear 41 42 43 44 to have similar effects. The latter studies suggest that animal fats as well as meals made with added oils are harmful for arterial flexibility; on the other hand, they make it clear that there is benefit from consuming meals made from vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruits.

The food choices athletes make affect blood viscosity, arterial diameter, arterial compliance and arterial elasticity. All the latter factors can be expected to affect tissue oxygenation, endurance, and performance.

Glycaemic control & plant-based diets

Plant-based diets are known to boost insulin sensitivity 45 which, as we’ve seen 46 , is important for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and improving glycaemic control – a major contributor to atherosclerosis in individuals with diabetes. Indeed, even small amounts of animal food (such as just one cup of non-fat milk) are sufficient to reduce arterial diameter and can thus lead to major changes in blood flow.

Body weight (obesity) & plant-based diets

The risk of developing cardiovascular disease is, naturally, increased by becoming obese. Even when you ditch calorie-counting or portion-control altogether, vegetarian, and especially vegan, diets have been shown 47 to reduce body fat and thereby tackle obesity.

In a previous blog 48 , we looked at how plant-based diets are the easiest (and healthiest) way to lose weight and then maintain an optimal body weight. This study amplifies this point with reference to how plant-based diets are, thus, able to protect the health of athletes and improve athletic performance. This is achieved via a variety of mechanisms, including:

  • the low fat/high fibre content of plant-based diets reduces body fat (thereby reducing atherosclerotic risk and improving performance) 49
  • the reduced energy density of plant-based meals reduces energy intake (you get fuller quicker on less calories, partly because of the higher proportion of fibre in plants that doesn’t exist in animal-foods)
  • postprandial energy expenditure is shown 45 50 to be positively influenced by plant-based diets – possibly via changes in mitochondrial activity 51
  • the indirect effects of gut microbiome on cellular metabolism have been shown 52 to be negatively affected by a high-fat diet (such as is the norm with a meat-based diet) and positively affected by a low-fat diet (such as is the norm with a plant-based diet), partly through protecting the intestinal barrier and preventing the production of endotoxins which can then enter the bloodstream and, in turn, negatively influence cellular metabolism
  • plant-based (vegan more than vegetarian) diets have been shown 53 54 to increase sub-maximal/maximal aerobic capacity/endurance and reduce atherosclerotic/metabolic risk through eliminating excess body fat and, thereby, increasing max VO2 55 . This is important since it’s known 56 57 that an athlete with a higher VO2 max relative to their body weight will have better endurance and will outperform an athlete with a lower value, and that the effect of diet on VO2 max has a significant effect 58

Glycogen storage & plant-based diets

It’s known 59 that individuals who start plant-based diets typically increase intake of healthy carbohydrates (the primary energy source during moderate/high-intensity aerobic exercise) and it’s been shown 60 that endurance is enhanced by high-carbohydrate intake, not just immediately before athletic events, but also over the long term.

Blood pressure & plant-based diets

We’ve looked previously 61 at how the risk of atherosclerotic conditions reduces as blood pressure is reduced. This is good news for those on a plant-based diet, since both vegan and vegetarian diets have been shown 62 to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Reduced blood pressure is associated with three other ‘side-effects’ of a (healthy) plant-based diet:

  • a reduction in blood viscosity
  • an increase in blood potassium, and
  • a reduction in body weight

Oxidative stress & plant-based diets

When you exercise, your muscle tissue gets ‘damaged’ and produces reactive oxygen species (free radicals), partly as a result of the normal function of mitochondria and other intracellular organelles 63 64 . When your body is overwhelmed by these free radicals, and it can no longer neutralise them, the result is called oxidative stress.

This oxidative stress, in turn, boosts antioxidant defences and immune responses 65 66 .

If the amount of free radicals greatly exceeds the neutralising abilities of these defences, the following can occur 67 :

  • DNA damage – leading to mutations
  • plasma lipid damage – leading to atherosclerosis
  • protein damage – leading to cell damage and accelerated aging
  • muscle fatigue
  • reduced athletic performance
  • impaired recovery

How can being plant-based help?

When the physiological responses of omnivores and vegans/vegetarians were compared, it was found that vegans and vegetarians have increased antioxidant activity, due to:

  • higher intakes of beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), vitamin C, vitamin E, and other antioxidants 68
  • higher antioxidant enzyme production 69

Whilst it’s the combination of plant foods that’s important, specific antioxidant foods have been found to have potentially beneficial effects, including:

  • beets 70 71
  • allium vegetables (e.g. onions, garlic, and leeks) 72
  • cherry juice 73

Inflammation & plant-based diets

Plant-based diets have been shown 74 to be helpful in reducing inflammation. This may be due to the following effects produced by plant consumption:

  • reduction in serum concentrations of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation)
  • increased antioxidant content
  • absence of products that may be inflammatory or sensitising [animal & processed food products]
  • absence of pro-inflammatory fats [mostly found in animal foods]

Again, whilst a healthy variety of plant foods provides the ideal diet, some studies have identified particularly high antioxidant ability within specific foods, including:

  • blackcurrants 75
  • blueberries76
  • pomegranates 77
  • tart cherries 78
  • watermelon 79

The above are all thought to decrease post-exercise inflammation and facilitate recovery.

Red meat & inflammation

A major study showed 80 that, as total red meat consumption increased, the following also increased:

  • C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation)
  • haemoglobin A1c (an indicator of glycaemic control – raised blood sugar levels), and
  • stored iron (an excess of iron [specifically haem iron 81 ] is associated with heart disease, cancer, and diabetes)

Arthritis & plant-based diets

It used to be thought that osteoarthritis was attributable to simple “wear and tear”; however, it’s now known 82 that there’s an important inflammatory component which is aggravated by diabetes and by being overweight.

And it’s not just osteoarthritis that’s affected by diet – psoriatic arthritis 83 and many other similar conditions are also now known to be manifestations of inflammatory processes.

In one major ongoing study 84 , people who ate meat even once a week had higher levels of both degenerative arthritis and soft tissue disorders than individuals who avoided meat altogether.

A number of studies 85 86 87 88 89 on people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis have shown that changing to vegan and vegetarian diets can reduce C-reactive protein, as well as both subjective and objective signs of arthritis.

Whilst vegan diets, in particular, have been shown 90 91 92 to have anti-inflammatory effects by reducing C-reactive protein in patients with and without coronary artery disease.

Protein & plant-based diets

The usual red herring about plant-based diets being compromised in terms of protein and/or complete amino acid provision has been covered in considerable detail in previous blogs 93 94 ; however, it’s worth pointing out the following:

  • changing to plant-based has been shown 95 to provide an immediate improvement in nutrition levels (partly because fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains tend to be high in vitamins, minerals, and fibre, very low in saturated fat, and devoid of cholesterol)
  • pretty much every endurance athlete tested 96 met recommended protein intake
  • a varied plant-based diet is known 59  to easily provide adequate amounts of all essential amino acids for athletes

Calcium & plant-based diets

Another fallacy, addressed in previous blogs 97 98 , is that plant-based diets, because they don’t contain cow’s milk, will lack sufficient bone-building calcium for athletes and others.

However, calcium is abundant in many plant foods, especially green leafy vegetables and legumes 99 .

Iron and plant-based diets

As mentioned above, plants contain non-haem iron, which is considered to be a healthier form of iron than the haem iron in animal foods. It may come as a surprise that iron intake is often higher in those who eat plant-based diets than in those who eat meat-containing diets, with serum ferritin levels being typically within the normal range 100 . This is because of the large iron content of green vegetables and legumes. However, iron storage tends to be lower – a good thing since you don’t want rust inside your body! 101 102

Vitamin B12 & plant-based diets

Vitamin B12, covered in previous blogs 103 104 105 , is another area where confusion reigns. Whilst, of course, B12 is absolutely vital for nerve function and blood cell formation, and must be supplemented when on a plant-based diet 59 , B12 deficiency/insufficiency is surprisingly common throughout whole populations, regardless of their dietary regime. Thus, it’s advisable for everyone, particularly as we age 106 , to take B12 supplementation.

Study conclusions

Plant-based diets play a key role in cardiovascular health, which is critical for endurance athletes…and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, have been shown to reverse atherosclerosis. The possibility that such diets may also contribute to improved performance and accelerated recovery in endurance sports is raised by their effects on blood flow, body composition, antioxidant capacity, systemic inflammation, and glycogen storage. These attributes provide a scientific foundation for the increased use of plant-based diets by endurance athletes.

Final thoughts

When we looked at obesity and plant-based diets above, it was pointed out that calorie-counting and portion-control were not needed in order to reduce body fat and, thereby, reduce body weight and avoid the risk of becoming obese. In relation to this, there was a BBC documentary 107 recently by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at the end of which he drew the unfortunate (in my opinion) conclusion that, whilst calorie-counting was not the way to go, the best way to keep the weight down was to apply strict control to portion size.

I tend to disagree with this approach. Just as it’s been shown that calorie-counting 108 and exercise alone 109 are ineffective means of maintaining a healthy body weight, I suspect that, in spite of some studies’ somewhat optimistic conclusions 110 , portion-control (or portion-sizing) is also a dietary method destined to fail in most cases 111 , albeit that it’s a whole lot better than doing nothing at all.

When you eat a non-SOS WFPB diet, you never need to worry about how many calories you are eating nor about what size your plate is. The very nature of the food itself will be regulated by your body’s appetite and requirement for nutrients, whether or not you’re an Olympic athlete.

Ever seen anyone becoming overweight who consistently eats a WFPB diet? If you do, let me know, since I haven’t come across one yet…


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Greggs’ Vegan Sausage Rolls – Why Veganism Can Fail

Protecting animals and the environment is most certainly achieved through being a vegan, but what about protecting your own health? Greggs’ new vegan sausage roll epitomises why we may be mistaken if we think it’s a given that simply eating vegan is going to be the ideal dietary choice.

What’s in a Greggs’ vegan sausage roll?

Whilst there’s no comprehensive list of ingredients (odd!), Greggs do provide some details 1 2 which, from a cursory glance, make you realise this is no more a health food than their traditional pork sausage rolls 3 :

Greggs’ Vegan Sausage Roll Nutritional Information (N.B. No list of ingredients, though).

Note the amount of red traffic lights (where red means STOP):

  • a microfungus (a mycoprotein 4 – a form of single cell protein) called Fusarium venenatum 5 (also used in Quorn6
  • palm oil (ODM!) 7
  • wheat flour
  • thickener (possibly potato starch)
  • dehydrated onion
  • pea fibre
  • rubbed sage
  • rubbed thyme
  • rape-seed oil
  • potato protein
  • puff pastry made from:
    • processed wheat flour
    • vegetable margarine
    • shortening (solidified fats)
    • water
    • salt

Greggs’ vegan sausage roll vs Greggs’ pork sausage roll


  • vegan – 311 (19 grams)
  • pork – 327 (22 grams)


  • vegan – 12 grams
  • pork – 9.4 grams


  • vegan – 21 grams
  • pork – 24 grams

of which sugars

  • vegan – 0.8 grams
  • pork – 0 grams


  • vegan – 19 grams
  • pork – 22 grams

of which saturated fats

  • vegan – 9.3 grams
  • pork – 13 grams


  • vegan – (hopefully) 0 grams
  • pork – (undisclosed, but obviously there will be some)


  • vegan – 1.9 grams
  • pork – 1.6 grams

So, Greggs have done the usual trick of fast food manufacturers when it comes to making meat-mimicking Frankenfoods 8 – adding more salt (almost 2 grams) and sugar (almost a gram) along with all that fat, so your brain gets an immediate ‘happy injection’ with the first crispy bite – just what they rely on.

Gregg’s vegan sausage roll vs McDonald’s cheeseburger

It may or may not surprise you to know that the vegan sausage roll contains more calories than the cheeseburger – 311 vs 301 respectively.

Final thoughts

I know it’s no big surprise that we see fast food manufacturers jumping on the latest fad bandwagon – in this case fast food veganism – it’s happened throughout recent history, what with menthol cigarettes being good for your lungs and so-called healthy alternatives to chocolate bars that actually contain more sugar, salt and fat than the unhealthier options they replace (see Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s attack 9 on Kellogg’s Nutri-grain bars, for instance 10 .

It’s also obvious that purveyors of cheap, processed junk will also use visual tactics – note the strategically placed bottle of natural spring water in the background of Greggs’ vegan sausage roll picture:

We humans! If only we spent as much time, energy and resources doing what’s genuinely good for us rather than doing what’s good for the pockets of big business…

One way in which we can tick all the boxes (loving ourselves, the environmental and animals alike without causing harm to any of them) is by choosing a WFPB diet. It also puts the profits into the pockets of producers/sellers of genuinely healthy food.


  1. Greggs’ website: Vegan Sausage Roll nutritional information []
  2. Daily Mail article 12th January 2019: Greggs’ guilty secret: More calories than a McCheeseburger and laced with controversial palm oil – the unpalatable truth about that VERY right-on vegan sausage roll []
  3. Greggs’ Pork Sausage Roll nutritional information. []
  4. Some info on Mycoprotein []
  5. Before Fusarium venenatum is safe to eat, it’s fermented in vats to make what’s then called ‘mycoprotein’. After five weeks, the mixture is stirred, so denser fungus sinks to the bottom, where it’s heated to 64c, filtered off and dried. ScienceDirect: Fusarium venenatum. []
  6. Most Quorn products have a little saturated fat and cholesterol (some egg and milk products mixed in), along with a fair bit of salt. Dr Greger still considers this type of ‘fake’ meat to be preferable to the real thing – see his video Chicken vs. Veggie Chicken , since chicken has all that additional saturated fat and cholesterol, animal protein (obviously!) and contains zero fibre. []
  7. Palm oil has been linked to deforestation, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in countries where it’s produced, with many customers boycotting retailers using it. More info here: The problem with palm oil. []
  8. Dr Joel Fuhrman: Frankenfoods. []
  9. BBC’s Britain’s Fat Fight with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: The Battle Continues. []
  10. Evening Standard: Take heed of Hugh’s Fearnley-Whittingstall noble fight to stop the obesity crisis – or we’ll all be stuffed []