Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article in its “Room For Debate – Veganism” section by author Nina Planck, entitled “A Choice With Definite Risks“. The choice Planck is referring to is the decision to raise one’s children on a vegan diet. This isn’t the first time Planck has spoken out against raising vegan children: in 2007, she published an op-ed piece entitled “Death By Veganism”.
In this new piece, however, she either misses or chooses to ignore a few key points about a vegan diet for children. She states, correctly so, that the American Dietetic Association’s position statement on vegan and vegetarian diets is that as long as they are “well-planned“, they can be healthful for any stage of life, including pregnancy and infancy. Planck seems to believe the only way a vegan diet can be well-planned is with the introduction of multiple supplements. For this, she links to an article posted on Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong website, listing resources for emotional and informational support for a vegan pregnancy. Why she links there is unclear, but her baseless inference that “experts” believe a vegan diet can only be healthful with multiple supplements is without merit. She fails to note that the ADA also included in its position statement that contrary to her point about missing key nutrients, vegetarian diets tend to “have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals.”
The ADA has not only found that vegetarian diets may be healthful, but also, in fact that they can result in “positive maternal and infant health outcomes.”
Planck believes (I say believes because aside from a few conclusory facts, she does not support her claim) that “nature created humans as omnivores.”. She believes that we have the “physical equipment for omnivory, from teeth to guts” and that we have “extraordinary needs for nutrients not found in plants.” Addressing her first claim, it is in fact, completely inaccurate. Natural carnivores bear sharp front teeth for tearing flesh, and lack flat molar teeth for grinding. As Planck may be aware, the opposite is true of humans. Humans do not possess sharp teeth designed to tear through animal flesh, and do in fact, have flat molars in the back of our mouths for grinding plant foods. As well, Planck references our “guts.” The intestinal tract of a natural carnivore is only 3 times the length of their entire body so that the meat, which rapidly decays in the body, may pass through quickly. Humans have an intestinal tract 10-12 times the length of our bodies, clearly not designed for dead, decaying flesh. More may be read about the differences between humans and natural carnivores here, based on an info-graphic by A.D. Andrews.
Planck also believes “The quantity, quality and bio-availability of other nutrients, such as calcium and protein, are superior when consumed from animal rather than plant sources.” This, again, is a complete fallacy. In fact, contrary to the popular belief that calcium is best obtained from cow’s milk, many studies have found that populations that consume the most dairy have the highest levels of osteoporosis. One Green Planet notes that the reason for this is because the “consumption of animal protein … tends to acidify blood and our bodies neutralize this acid by leaching calcium from our bones and eventually excreting it from the body.” Milk actually leaches calcium from our bones. High levels of better-absorbed calcium can be found in plant foods such as leafy greens. Planck also fails to note that Dr. T. Colin Campbell, in his book The China Study (widely referred to as “the most comprehensive nutrition study ever conducted”), also found that animal protein from dairy milk actually promotes the growth of cancer. Does she want that for our children, as well?
Planck also fails to mention that a diet high in animal products has also been associated with an increased risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and various other deleterious physical effects. A plant-based diet is associated with none of these.
The article goes on to claim that the breast milk of vegetarian and vegan mothers is not safe for babies. In fact, a study done by the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund found that the breast milk of omnivorous mothers may be worse because it contains many more harmful pesticides. Planck believes that vegan breast milk may lack DHA, a brain fat important for infant development. However, DHA can be obtained from plant-based sources as well such as flaxseed, canola and soybean oil, and animal protein is not required. She also notes that vegans should be concerned about a carnitine deficiency. She fails to mention (as seems to be a pattern with Planck) that carnitine can also be low as a result of vitamin C deficiency, not generally present in vegans, but a concern for meat-eaters.
She also notes that plant sources of B12 are simply “analogs” and not “true B12″. What Planck may not have realized, or researched, is that B12 does not come from animal sources: it is in fact, a bacteria on which both animals and plants depend. The bacteria synthesize the B12 either way, making it consumable and healthful for humans. Animals cannot synthesize it themselves and in fact, “animal foods are rich in B12 only because animals eat foods that are contaminated with it (plants) or because bacteria living in an animal’s intestines make it“, exactly like bacteria in humans make it. So, according to Planck’s logic, all B12 is an “analog”, as true B12 only comes from bacteria.
A plant-based diet has also recently been endorsed for pregnant women, as a carnivorous diet can lead to a higher stress environment for the fetus.
Planck believes that “real food” cannot be replaced. To this point, we, in fact, agree. Real food, grown in the Earth, coming from plants, cannot, in fact, be replaced by processed, fat- and cholesterol-laden, cancerous animal sources. We may go out, find an apple tree, pick the fruit and eat it, and be healthful. I’d challenge Planck to whether she may do the same with the animal life she deems “real food.”
She concludes by noting that while we may choose to be vegan, our children do not have that luxury, so that we should let them grow up omnivorous and then allow them to choose their own path. As noted above, eating meat can cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and a slew of other health problems. Planck believes that we should all subject our children to these diseases simply in the name of later allowing them to make their own choice, because of the supposed “benefits” (of which there are none) to eating meat. According to Planck’s own logic, as we know the physical effects of smoking can lead to similar problems such as cancer, should we then, Planck, also allow our children to experience the “benefits” of smoking and thereby let them choose later?
By forcing your children to consume a diet high in animal foods, you are, in fact, taking away their right to live a truly healthy lifestyle.