Updated: Jun 28
I despise misinformation, yet I have accepted that it’s likely to never disappear. Nowadays, you can google anything and find a result that aligns with your beliefs. If you want milk to be healthy, then you can find tons of literature saying it is. If you hate the dairy industry, then you can also easily find research that supports your views. But who’s right and who’s wrong? Who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? What about the haters that claim that plant-based diets are inadequate and lead to nutritional deficiencies? They point at B12, and plant protein to prove their point. Many decades ago, the lack of research, and access to what existed, made debating more difficult, but those days are gone and we now have the strongest evidence available, including systematic reviews and meta-analysis, cohorts of hundreds of thousands followed for decades, and randomized controlled trials that make it very easy to debunk any myths that plant-based deniers could throw at us. The evidence is crystal clear, whether you want to hear it or not. Well planned plant-predominant diets can help you live longer, live better, prevent and even reverse many chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and auto-immune disease. I can’t forget to mention that the diet that’s evidence based to prevent and reverse chronic disease is also the dietary pattern associated with the smallest carbon footprint of all dietary patterns. It also reduces the animal cruelty that is seen in large scale animal agriculture, a profit driven business that has a total disregard for the ethical treatment of animals. Our desire to eat meat and to mass produce it has been responsible for some of the greatest infectious pandemics in recorded history, including the swine flu (H1N1), avian influenza, SARS, HIV and even possibly COVID-19.
Decades ago, all we had was impressive anecdotes of people who made life-altering disease reversals by changing their diets. Now we have the best available science that backs up these innumerable anecdotes. I should know, I am one of those anecdotes. I reversed my asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis, urticaria, gastro-esophageal reflux disease and well as my worst medical condition of all: cholinergic angioedema. This condition was a doozie, leaving my whole body covered in hives and my face so swollen that my eyeglasses didn’t fit my face anymore. Three of those swelling episodes were particularly violent, leaving me gasping for air and bent over in pain. The last one scared the shit out of me and put me in a hospital, hooked to an IV and left to be cared for by ER doctors who once were my colleagues and interns who once were my students. I knew that I had to change, so I did. I had hit rock bottom. Then once my medical conditions started vanishing one by one, the magic started to happen. In 2014, no longer limited by my medical conditions, I took my athletic training to the next level, threw my asthma puffers in the garbage, and pushed my performance through the roof. In July 2022, I’ll be proudly representing my province in the UNAA World Ninja Championships, a gruelling obstacle based race, as a proud forty year old plant-based athlete. I would’ve never predicted this journey in a millions years. I owe it all to evidence based nutrition.
Even considering the amazing science we have supporting plant-based diets, there are still many misunderstandings and mis-information out there. Let’s debunk a few of those here.
Plant-Based Diets Are Inadequate Because They Lack B12
It’s important to recognize that B12 is a vitamin made by bacteria that live in the soil. You can get B12 by eating dirt-covered plants or bacteria-laden water like the good old days, but I don‘t recommend it. The pros: you get B12. The cons: the high probability of explosive diarrhea. In our hypersterilized world, bacteria in our water are killed through chlorination, which is great to prevent that recently mentioned explosive diarrhea, amongst many other water-borne illnesses. Meat contains B12 because we feed B12 supplements to animals, either through fortification of their food or through injections. You can cut out the middle man and simply take a B12 supplement. To ensure proper B12 supplementation through diet alone, you can also aim for at least 2-3 servings of B12 fortified foods. Foods like plant milks, nutritional yeast and plant-based “faux-meats” are typically fortified. That being said, I‘m not interested in complicating my busy life by thinking about B12 fortified foods all day every day. I take a B12 supplement, which is where the other animals get theirs too. I 100% recommend that if you eat a plant-predominant diet, you take a B12 supplement. In 2022, no one should be B12 deficient because of a poorly planned diet. If you’d like to learn more about nutrients that we need to pay more attention to on plant-based diets, check out my website and search the For Nerds section, or click here.
Plant-Protein Is Inferior
When comparing protein quality between animal and plant sources, proponents of omnivorous diets will often cite the "completeness" of animal protein. This refers to the amino acid profile of a particular protein source. Animal protein is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities to promote protein synthesis. Incomplete protein, often used to describe plant sources of protein, is often mistakenly confused as being inadequate. All plant sources of protein contain all types of amino acids, but not in sufficient quantity to promote muscle synthesis when used as the only source of protein in one's diet. Lucky for us that the body can use amino acids consumed throughout the day and combine them to do do the "completing" for us. As stated in a study on protein and amino acids in vegetarian diets by Mariotti and Gardner in November 2019: "the body of evidence so far does not show a difference large enough to result in risk of insufficient amino acid absorption for vegetarian and plant-based diets". The only situation that could pose a risk in terms of amino acid deficiency is one where there is lack of variety of plant foods in one's diet, or when people aren't meeting their calorie requirements. Even ethical vegans that pay no attention to protein intake are hitting their daily protein requirements, as long as they’re meeting their daily calorie requirements. That being said, there are plant sources of complete protein for the doubters out there, including tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk, hemp seeds, quinoa, etc. But as long as you’re eating a variety of plants and sufficient calories throughout the day, you’re getting enough protein, and enough of all the essential amino acids.
Protein quality is determined by many other factors, including: 1) the food matrix in which it's packaged, 2) its digestibility, 3) its amino acid profile and 4) your goals. These can range from improving health, to weight loss and even to muscle protein synthesis for improved athletic performance. If you want to deep dive in protein science, check out my last two blogs on this specific subject: The Protein Panic, and Where Do You Get Your Protein.
You Need Milk For Strong Bones
First of all, you need calcium for strong bones, not milk. Clever marketing from powerful dairy industries has convinced us that cow’s milk was a must if you wanted strong bones. Cow’s milk does contain calcium, but do you know what else contains as much calcium? Plant-milks. Yup, you get almost 300 mg of calcium in a single cup of fortified soy or almond milk. I personally prefer soy milk since it contains as much complete and highly digestible protein as cow’s milk, while matching its calcium content. Many other plant sources of calcium are available, like calcium-set tofu, white beans, sesame seeds, tahini, almonds, broccoli and fortified orange juice. Counter intuitively, we have research showing that countries with the highest levels of dairy consumption have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Also, although dairy does contains calcium, there are much healthier sources out there. The calcium from dairy is packaged with cholesterol, saturated fat, bovine hormones and antibiotics, whereas the calcium from tofu or plant-milk comes packaged with vitamins, minerals and cancer fighting phytochemicals, without the added saturated fat and hormones. If you have the guts to read some disturbing facts about the dairy industry, please check out a recent jaw-dropping blog post called Does Dairy Really Do A Body Good?
Misinformation is here to stay, and by creating ambiguity in the literature, huge food corporations keep their consumers confused enough to keep purchasing their products. Be skeptic. Why is it normal to drink cow's milk, but not dog or cat's milk, or even moose milk, considering it actually contains way more calcium? That's a question I've asked myself for a long time, and in my simple human brain, there was always something very weird about drinking the milk of another lactating species. You can learn how to read and analyse scientific research articles properly here. This will help you fine tune the efficient B.S. detector you are and help equip you with useful debating skills sure to silence your opponents.
Check out my website plantbaseddrjules.com and look for the “How To” section in the menu. There, you’ll find tips and tricks that helped me on my journey towards a plant-predominant diet. Everything there is completely free, no catches! If you're looking for quick, easy and healthy plant-based recipes, check out plantbaseddrjules.com and download my free recipe eBook!
Look for me on the socials, @plantbased_dr_jules on Instagram and go like my Facebook Page, Plant-based Dr. Jules. If you’re looking for some fitness motivation and are curious to see what a plant-based athlete can accomplish, follow me, @maritimeninja, on my fitness account on Instagram or check out my fitness group on Facebook, called Maritime Ninja Warrior. Me and my wife Melissa have recently qualified for the Las Vegas Ninja Warrior World Championships, an obstacle racing course that will be held in July 2022, and you can follow our journey to Vegas on IG! If you’d like to see what a plant-based athlete looks like, then check out our youtube channel here!
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Plant-Based Dr. Jules 💚🌱