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Response to Top 11 Biggest Lies About Vegan Diets

Kris Gunnars - credential BSc - Bachelor of Science - has an article entitled Top 11 Biggest Lies About Vegan Diets.

The accumulating evidence supports eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet to lower cancer and cardiac problem risk. This means you should eat either no meat and dairy, or at most a low amount of meat and dairy, and infrequently some fish, but preferably none of any of them

Kris takes on supposed Vegan "lies." Let's see what we can learn from this if you are not vegan but one of those seeking a plant-based diet. It is from the tug-and-pull of different viewpoints that truth often emerges.

Lie 1. Health Benefits of Vegan Diets Are Due to Avoiding Animal Foods.

While Kris claims this is a lie, one of his own citations later will document that higher animal-food diets in the West have been repeatedly confirmed to be significantly related to higher mortality, cancer and heart disease.

This citation is #30 in his article... entitled "Meat intake and cause-specific mortality: a pooled analysis," by Jung Eun Lee, etc. in the AJACN, published July 31, 2013.  The abstract on page one says:  "Total or red meat intake has been shown to be associated with a higher risk of mortality in Western populations," When you pull up the PDF of the entire article, you learn the authors note "there have been numerous meat- and chronic disease related studies conducted in the United States." It mentions that its footnotes 5, 6, 34 and 35 contain studies showing in "Europe and North America" that "meat intake is involved in all cause, cancer or CVD [cardio-vascular / heart disease] mortality." Id., page 7, col. 2.

 Kris must have overlooked his own sources.

Now, skipping  ahead for a moment:

Lie 4: The 2013 Asia / China Study - Overblown by Kris

Because I just discussed footnote 30 from Kris' article on alleged lie #4, let's jump over alleged lies #2 and #3 for a moment. Let's see how Kris used the 2013 Asia / China Report to claim as Lie #4 "The China Study."

This alleged lie relates to Dr. Campbell of Yale's famous China Study work published first in the 1980s.  Dr. Campbell says his results confirmed cancer and heart disease in China correlates with more red meat and dairy eating. Kris cites the same 2013 article on Asia cited above which was based upon results in the late 2000s. He uses it to disprove Dr. Campbell's conclusions which was based upon data in the 1970s. In light of that difference alone, I think "lie" is an exaggerated and unfair label.

Regardless, Kris correctly cites the 2011 study printed in 2013 that red meat consumption correlated in Asia to lower risk of heart disease in men and reduced cancer in women. See page 5-6 of the PDF. This is all Kris cites from the article to prove Dr. Campbell is wrong.

But we need to read a little deeper into the article because Kris' statement is not helpful enough to understand the context.

First, this was not the main point of the article, nor its affirmative conclusion. It was one small chart result which it later said could be confounded -explained- by other factors. (More on that later.) The final conclusion was that higher "meat" eating in Asia was not directly associated with higher cancer and heart disease. 

Second, to intepret that conclusion, one must know 'meat' in that conclusion was defined to include seafood. For example, in the abstract we read: "meat (red meat, poultry, and fish/seafood)" as the definition of meat. 

When the article isolated "red meat," as a factor, the results were mixed, and not solely what Kris said.

We read at page 5 through 6: "Red meat intake appeared to be related to all-cause mortality with men and women in the lowest risk in the third quartile." This is the same result as the US studies on US citizens, the authors noted.

However, sometimes there was an inverse correlation with cancer in women and cardiac mortality in men. Id.  This means eating red meat is good for you, if the correlation holds up. This is what Kris cited to prove Dr. Cambpell was wrong. On the other hand, these were not strong correlations -- .004 for men and .001 for women. 

The study also found that women who ate fish correlated to lower mortality.  Id., p. 7 col.1. This fish-eating could explain the pro-red meat results, as we will get to momentarily.

Hence, in full context, it is inconclusive on the point. Id. More death overall for those who eat red meat, but cancer risk and cardiovascular may be lower by a very small correlation.

So this fuller context makes it hard to accept what Kris put forth as a correction to a "lie" without more explanation from Kris.

Important Diet Issues in the 2013 Article

Regardless, the diet of Asia including China in the study did not separately study for those who ate a US-standard high-red meat and low-fish diet.  The US meat-eating pattern is substantially higher than in Asia: "Per capita consumption of meat (excluding fish) in the United States was more than 2 times that in China, Japan, and South Korea...in the 1990s and 2000s." (PDF page 4, col. 1, para. 1.)  The current difference is still quite substantial -- much higher in red meat in the US (122 gms per person as of 2007 v. 46-55 gms in Asia) and much higher in fish and seafood in Asia. (Page 4, col. 2, para.1).

As seafood has protective fats that promote good HDL cholesterol which can explain the results of lower cardiac problems, the only way to compare these Asia / Chinese results to US diets is to isolate sparse-fish eaters in Asia who eat the same quantity of beef as a US citizen, and see whether the correlation found in US studies persists. This is an obvious explanation for the results that are inconclusive when this study "pooled" standard Asian diets into one data pool.

The authors of the 2013 article also explain the difference can be due to other behavior changes in Asia. These potentially explain why all meats (including fish) do not present a similar problem for cardiac or cancer outcomes. For example, higher income is clearly associated with more meat-eating, and the higher income can explain the lower mortality from cancer and heart disease, i.e., evidently access to better health care, exercise, etc. Id., at page 7

In my opinion, if one must extract a lesson from this 2013 report it would be that if we in the West ate 1/3 the amount of red meat, and balanced this off with fish, then while our mortality rate is still higher than those who eat a plant-based diet, something in such diet is protecting us against some cancers and heart-disease. It likely is the fish, as this is known to have good HDL cholesterol effects from its saturated fats.

Lie #2: Saturated Fats and Cholesterol Are Harmful Substances

Kris claims vegans insist that saturated fats and cholesterol are harmful. He never cites one proof of this. Then he cites studies that show saturated fats -- which Kris does not mention appear in all kinds of nuts and in salmon / fish -- promote good HDL cholesterol.

Kris' point is known as the Red Herring. (A fish pun-- excuse me for a little humor.) You claim the opponent asserts a point which it does not advance as you frame the point so you can destroy it. 

Most vegans are indeed in favor of nuts that are a primary source of saturated fats that are good for you. See https://www.vegsoc.org/fatscholesterolomegas. As this Vegan Society webpage points out:

"However, both saturated and hydrogenated fats are found in some vegetarian foods."

Incidentally, Kris then implicitly suggests that saturated fats in red meats are good, and promote the same healthy HDL cholesterol as fish and nuts:

"The myth that animal fats cause heart disease still runs rampant among vegans....Saturated fats actually lead to improvements in the blood cholesterol profile."

Then he cites a 2010 peer-reviewed report that involved saturated fats. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/502.short 

Kris claims this sudy proves that "Saturated fats and cholesterol lead to improvements in the blood profile. They don't make things worse, like previously believed." 

This is nothing short of a shocking statement by Kris, as it is totally at odds with the article itself.

The PDF article says that saturated fats have been correlated to increased heart disease, and points its finger at the primary likely culprit - red meat and dairy:  

"Saturated fat intake has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)....Major dietary sources of saturated fatty acids in the United States are full-fat dairy products and red meat." PDF page 1.

The 2010 Report never says saturated fats from red meats and dairy improve your health cholesterol profile. The study was to see what heart benefit happens if polyunsaturated facts replaced saturated fats. It concludes:

Evidence from clinical trials and prospective epidemiologic studies support the cardiovascular benefit of substituting polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat, but the benefit of reducing saturated fat below ’9% has not been evaluated. (PDF page 5, col. 2.)

Hence, this does not support Kris' synopsis.

What are foods high in polyunsaturated fats? According to the American Heart Association in October 2015, they are "soybean oil, corn oil and. sunflower oil, as well as fatty fish such as salmonmackerel, herring and trout."

Even though Kris lept to a conclusion that this article endorsed saturated fats, it did not. It proved the benefit of replacing saturated fats (which is primarily red meat / dairy in the US diet) that is a known cause of cardiac disease with polyunsaturated fats for heart health.

In fact, this 2010 Report confirms what the 2013 Asia / China study indirectly suggested -- that for heart health, at least fish has a protective mechanism.

Thus, when you synthesize the evidence, if you eat saturated fats, you would be good to reduce them, and replace them with polyunsaturated facts, like fish and healthy oils. The article does not differentiate whether a different principle applies to saturated fats in non-meat sources like nuts.

Lie #3: A Vegan Diet Is The Only Diet Proven to Reverse Heart Disease

The author admits Dr. Ornish and Ettelstyn have proven each person with severe cardiac disease in their study, who changed their diet from meat, to exclusively fruits and vegetables, all had amazing results in cardiac health. It reversed their heart disease, and prevented recurrence.

Kris never cites any study of a different diet with the same effect. Instead, Kris says it may not have to do with cutting out meat and dairy. It could be cutting down on sugar, engaging in more exercise, etc.

But look at the title of Lie #3! Since Kris never proves any other diet, such as one that removes only sugar from the diet or adds exercise for meat eaters works, then indeed a plant based diet indeed is the only diet proven to reverse heart disease, regardless of other contributing factors. At least for the moment, it has lots of science to back up that cutting sugar alone, or adding exercise is not the causative factor. In fact the two reports so far referenced from Kris both bolster that it is the removal of red meat and dairy that was the causative element.

Lie #5: Animal Protein is Harmful

Kris uses the studies that a high protein diet is good for you to prove animal protein is good for you. A non-sequitur. That means it is not logical. One can eat a very high protein diet completely on fruits and vegetables and nuts. I do. My wife does -- over 80 grams a day. I do it without trying hard either.

Lie #6: Humans Are Not Designed to Eat Animals

Irrelevant. That may be something a vegan cares about. My intent is health.

Lie #7: Meat Causes Heart Disease, Diabetes & Cancer

Well, so far Kris cited articles that in turn cited, and confirmed, that red meat in the USA and Europe has a correlation to heart disease and cancer. He did not mention this was in the report.

As to diabetes, Dr. Furhman has proven that a plant-based diet can put the disease on hiatus, and it can be controlled by means of diet alone. All the medications can be tossed.

Kris does make the point that studies show unprocessed red meat does not correlate to heart disease, although he concedes one study correlates it to cancer. He adds to the latter that it was "only a weak effect on cancer." But I want no effect, don't you? Hence, calling the claim a "lie" about cancer is what? Itself untrue. We must mind our manners.

Kris also says that the cancer correlations can be due to the type of heat applied. Good idea. Now the meat industry should have long ago commissioned studies that show cooking at lower temperatures, or certain methods, does not correlate to increased cancer or heart disease.

I would infer those studies were done and were not published because the results did not match the sponsors' intent.

Until that happens, Lie #7 is the truth, not a lie -- as far as science knows -- for meat that is either cooked or processed.

By my tally, Kris is batting 0 of 7, and has proved by his citations the opposite of what he hoped to prove.

Let's continue.

Lie #8: Vegetarians and Vegans Live Longer and Have A Lower Risk of Killer Diseases

Kris concedes, and cites, two studies that prove the lie he asserts is in fact true.

Then Kris simply asserts these studies necessarily suffer from the "healthy user bias." What is that? He means that these people not only cut out meat, but they also are "more health conscious than meat eaters." They generally are "more likely to exercise, less likely to smoke and drink alcohool."

Great. Then Kris concedes that if I want to replicate their entire lifestyle of such healthy people, studies show I live longer and have a lower risk of killer disease. This does not mean the "lie #8" is proven. Rather Kris has effectively conceded it is possibly true.  He cannot disprove the claim. He can cast doubt on how strong the claim can relate to one factor -- cutting out meat -- has the observed effect.

But when everything else that Kris cited is examined, and weighed, he provided the proof that red meat and dairy is a key factor in cancer and health disease. He cited the articles which agreed it was true (which Kris did not mention). In one study Kris cited and which we discussed above, the doctors improved health by cutting down on saturated facts (apparently animal-based fats and veggie monounsaturated oils), and replaced them with polyunsaturated fats (fish and polyunsaturated oils) with positive results on heart health.

Hence, Kris is now 0 for 8. Let's see if he can redeem himself in the last two at-bats.

Lie #9: Low-Carb Diets Will Kill You

Another red-herring. Kris says vegans hate "low-carb" diets, but he cites no one among Vegans who says this. I would suppose that because a diet high in fruit is high in carbs that vegans would say a high fruit diet is rich in protective anti-oxidants. That is not the same as saying a low-carb diet will "kill you."  And thus alleged lie # 9 is a failure of proof yet again.

Lie #10: There Is A Lot of Evidence Behind Vegan Diets

Kris claims there is only one study where diet is isolated as the sole variable. One group ate an American Diabetes Association Diet, and the other was vegan. He does not describe the difference between the ADAD diet versus the Vegan. He concedes the vegan diet had improvements in results over the ADAD for various blood-health aspects.

This is not a study on meat versus vegan. Kris is acting like no one has ever looked in that direction.

What has Kris done?

Kris has narrowly defined "evidence" to be the only study he references.

But Kris himself cited other evidence on point - [1] actual change in diet under doctor supervision as treatment by Ornish and Ettylston, and [2] the 2013 Asian study which references the evidence that red meat has been correlated in the USA to cancer and heart disease,  etc.

By redefining what is "evidence," Kris has knocked out all the evidence he exposed above. This is known as the fallacy of special pleading. You redefine the playing field so you win.

Kris scores 0 of 10.

But this helps those who have no bias to realize that a low red meat diet might be compensated by eating fish and oils, and not necessarily increase one's health risk. Yet, a plant-based diet is likely the best way to deal with all health problems. Kris helps us see this -- unwittingly of course -- as the professional papers he cited helped us see this.

Lie #11: Vegans Can Easily Supply All Necessary Nutrients

The key word there is "easily." A vegan has to make more effort than a meat-eater to make sure they get enough B-12, iron, Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. But I don't know any vegans who say getting the necessary nutrients is "easy." I have only read they think it is posssible. They can get all these vitamins, it is true, on a totally vegan diet although they need a B12 supplement. Kris does not disagree.

Because Kris used a Red Herring again -- putting words in the mouth of the opponent, and then destroyed that statement, I cannot give Kris points on this either.

Kris was 0 for 11.

Regardless, if you are not 100% vegan, any you currently will eat small amounts of  fish, meat and dairy, but less than 10% of you daily intake, you don’t care about this issue. It was Dr. Cambpell who explained cancer in his milk casein studies was turned on and off based upon how much meat and dairy you eat. Over 20%, it is turned on. Under 10%, it is turned off. So if you don't eat a lot of red meat or dairy, you are a lot healthier than those who do.


Vegans are not lying. They are delighting that science has moved to corroborate what in the 70s appeared as a hippy cult idea. On the other hand, veganism appears to some as an unnecessary extreme unless one has type 2 diabetes or cardiac issues, or cancer. Otherwise, a plant-based diet with no more than infrequent red-meat is close to the healthiest diet at this time of scientific study. However as I watch Dr. Greger's videos at nutrition facts.org, I am beginning to wonder if the science now supports vegan is the healthiest diet with some B-12 supplements.


Jen Reviews - 20 Health Benefits of Going Vegan