On 27th January 2018, the Daily Mail started a series of articles to promote a book by Dr Michael Greger. The book is called “The How Not to Die Cookbook.”
I’m really sorry to be the one to break it to you, but we’re all going to die…
Dr Michael Greger is a strident vegan. The first article claims “Yes, this really is food to help you LIVE LONGER!” The article questions: “What if you ate a diet composed solely of plant foods and avoided processed and animal foods?” What indeed!
Very helpfully, there is a “Daily Dozen” – the foods that Greger wants you to eat every day. Here they are:
I put these 12 foods, using variety to be as fair as possible, into a tool that we have in our on-line club, which allows people to assess the nutritional quality of their food intake. This tool runs off the USDA all-foods database. The foods that I entered were as follows:
As you can see, the “Daily Dozen” delivers 1,364 calories (you can eat more plant-based things – these are just the ‘must haves’). This “Daily Dozen” has delivered 244 grams of carbohydrate already, 26g of fat and 60g of protein, although none of that protein was complete protein in itself, as complete protein only comes from animal foods. You may have got lucky with combinations of plant foods and managed to get some complete protein.
However, our magic tool (thanks to the USDA database) also adds up a number of the key nutrients needed for human beings to survive, let alone thrive. Here is the summary for the above “Daily Dozen”:
There’s 61g of sugar already (although – remember – all carbohydrate is essentially sugar) and that’s before the date syrup used in a number of Greger’s recipes. However, more seriously:
– There is no Vitamin B12 and you won’t get any from diet unless you add animal foods to your diet. Deficiency will result in anemia, weakness, depression, confusion, memory problems, and fatigue, to name the major deficiency symptoms.
– There is no retinol (the form in which the body needs Vitamin A) and you won’t get any from diet unless you add animal foods to your diet. (You need to rely on carotene being converted to retinol – and in sufficient amounts – good luck). Vitamin A deficiency results in blindness, inability to fight infection and weakened immune systems.
– There is no vitamin D. Vitamin D comes in two forms – D2 and D3. You won’t get D3 from diet unless you consume animal foods. You can get D2 from plants. The richest source is mushrooms. You’d need to eat over 2kg of mushrooms daily to get 15mcg of D2, which would be a bit pointless anyway given that the body wants D3. Vitamin D deficiency results in rickets, soft bones and skeletal deformities. Put Vitamin D into pubmed (with “chronic disease” generally or heart disease, cancer, diabetes etc) and you can review the growing evidence base for the value of Vitamin D in the avoidance of non-communicable disease. A diet delivering ZERO vitamin D is so unhealthy, it’s difficult to overstate.
– Ditto iron – heme iron is found in animal foods, non-heme iron is found in plant foods. The iron intake looks impressive, but it’s not heme iron and guess what the body absorbs better?
– The main providers of fat in the foods above were the 30g almonds and 10g of flaxseeds. These provided 2.3g of omega-3 and 3.9g of omega-6 between them. The omega-6 intake is below that recommended. (That would be fixed with a few more almonds, although that would worsen the 3/6 ratio). However, the omega-3 from plants comes in the form of ALA, which is not what the body wants. The body wants DHA and EPA. The conversion from one to the other is extremely poor, if possible at all (Ref 1).
This article, claiming that a plant-based diet “really is food to help you LIVE LONGER!” neglected to add the disclaimers that you need to take B12 supplementation, or risk serious harm. You need to ensure that you get sufficient retinol, or risk serious harm. You can get D3 from sunbathing, but you’re not going to get it from a plant-based diet, so get some or risk serious harm. You need to ensure that you get sufficient absorbed iron, or risk serious harm. You need to ensure you get EPA and DHA (omega-3), or risk serious harm.
If you don’t take active steps to make up for these serious nutritional deficiencies, far from making you live longer, this diet will harm.
Ref 1: Gerster. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1998 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9637947) and Cholewski et al. A Comprehensive Review of Chemistry, Sources and Bioavailability of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Nutrients. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6267444/