Thinking of going vegan or avoiding red meat? Read this first…

Influential celebrity promotion is fuelling a rise in vegan diets, but can this ideologically driven movement really be healthy? Above: Keeping up with the Kardashians star Kylie Jenner, and footballer Jermain Defoe, both champion the vegan diet. Perhaps they should stick to what they’re good at.

This article was originally going to be part of the July 2017 News Round-Up, but there were so many news items about veganism that month that I decided to give it it’s own post and include more commentary.

Vegan diets are suddenly being promoted by every celebrity and her dog. Another major recruiting factor is a sensational documentary out on Netflix “What the Health” which is pumping the anti-meat message hard. Fortunately, Vox (Jul 26th) takes the film’s twisted message to task and untangles the facts brilliantly (Thank you Julia Belluz for doing such a good job – now I don’t have to!) “Debunking What the Health, the buzzy new documentary that wants you to be vegan” Julia Belluz, Vox – Highly recommended. Others are challenging the films objectivity too:

“films like this are sensationalised pieces of idealism, minus the practical strategies”

Susie Burrell, Nutritionist, (Jul 26th)

Closer to home, a UK nutrition professor caused an angry twitter storm for her comments on live TV. “It’s really hard work to make a vegan diet healthy,” said Sophie Medlin, RD, a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at King’s College in London, during a BBC segment on the rise of veganism. ( Jul 27th)

“You have to think very carefully about what you’re eating all the time. I have never recommended any of my patients follow a vegan diet; I can’t see myself ever changing that. It’s very complicated to make sure your diet is safe and gives you all the nutrition you need.”

I couldn’t agree more, and find it a little surprising that other nutritionists took issue with this statement (for example, Abby Langer in Flare, July 27th). After all, there is no reason to think that a vegan diet is healthier per-se, unless you buy into the kind of pseudo scientific propaganda portrayed in What the Health. Unfortunately most vegans do.

Perhaps we should look to India – a country with a tradition of vegetarianism – to see what is happening there. This month, the Indian Dietetics Association has warned that vegetarian diets are failing to meet protein requirements for no less than 90% of the population! (India TV, Jul 19th).

“Proteins from different sources complement each other. Even with a ratio of 5:1 cereals and pulses combination, the protein quality in terms of digestibility and bio-availability is only around 65 per cent when compared to milk protein,”

B. Sesikeran, pathologist,,India TV, Jul 19th

Another Indian news outlet, ran the story of a vegetarian who returned to meat eating after 6 years (The Times of India, Jul 7th), using bone broth and chicken to correct deficiencies in B12, calcium and Vitamin D.

Back in June this year, newspapers ran a story about a remote Indian tribe that had been studied for two years. Despite having no access to junk food, living a very active lifestyle, and consuming a vegetarian diet they suffered from high blood pressure. (Daily Mail, Jun 30th) Contrast that with the report in March, about an Amazonian tribe that had the healthiest cardiovascular system ever studied, yet their diet contains 14% animal protein. (, Mar 27th). With all of this evidence stacking up against it, the vegan theory of health has got some explaining to do.

Stories like these support Sophie Medlins statement that vegan diets are hard to get right. However, that does not deter the vegan adherents who took to twitter to condemn her, and seem not be interested in the facts about nutrition. Fundamentally, the raison d’être of veganism is an absolute belief in animal rights, which is an ethical or political ideology first, and merely co-opts nutrition as an attempt at justification. Vegan dogma comes with a kind of spiritual superiority, as anyone will tell you who has met a vegan proselytiser (and let’s be honest, have you met a vegan who isn’t one?)

Such ideological thinking can lead to even more extreme positions such as a fruitarian diets in which only fruit is eaten. Such diets lead to many health problems, including reduced growth, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, dental erosion, pancreatic and kidney problems, mental instability and diabetes. (See Dr Axe, Fruitarian Diet: Are All-Fruit Diets Dangerous to Your Health?) One blogger, in The Metro (Jul 24th) warns how her obsession with a semi-raw food /  fruitarian / vegan diet wrecked her health. She is now sounding the warnings about the fanatical aspects of veganism.

Vegan junk food

As far as health goes it’s possible to eat junk whichever dietary path you choose. So, as The Independent (Jul 17th) reported this month, a recent study that found that some vegetarian diets can increase the risk of heart disease, especially if they are high in sugar, crisps, chips, alcohol and refined carbs – all of which are plant based, and thus ostensibly vegan.

Interestingly, in this analysis of the Nurses Health Study data, even those who ate a significant proportion of their diet from the ‘vegetarian’ category also ate meat regularly, so they were not vegetarian in the accepted sense of the term, even though these data are used by some to promote such a diet pattern.

Meanwhile scientists in the UK are recommending women eat more, not less, red meat to prevent iron deficiency anaemia. This comes on the back of the latest UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey which found that more than a quarter of women (27%) aged 19 to 64 don’t get enough iron. To make things worse this vulnerable group is the one most likely to have reduced their meat consumption, and the one most likely to be influenced by celebrity endorsements for the vegan lifestyle. The issues around this are laid out very well in Net Doctor, Jul 11th.

Vegan diets are not better for the planet

Vegan politics finds much support from the Greens: “BUT A VEGAN DIET IS MORE SUSTAINABLE FOR THE PLANET?” sympathisers cry in desperation, as they wave their fists at meat eaters.

Well, no. Not according to a new study which found that the carrying capacity—the size of the population that can be supported indefinitely by the resources of an ecosystem—for the vegan diet is lower than both versions of a vegetarian diets (dairy/egg) and two out of the four omnivorous diets they studied. (Health Freedom Alliance, Jul 26th), because it failed to use areas of land that are only suitable for rearing animals and not crops.

For more on this topic: See our posts showing that neither UK nor Australian vegetarians actually live longer, and that dairy is the most sustainable farming system in temperate countries, yes really!






Home-grown ratatouille

✓Gluten-free ✓Grain-free ✓Low sugar ✓Low-carb ✓Dairy-free ✓Nut-free

Ratatouille is a delicious mediterranean dish, a lush and vibrant garlicky stew of melt-in-the-mouth summer vegetables, dripping with healthy extra virgin olive oil. It is wonderful hot or cold, eaten on its own, with a salad or with many summer dishes: seafood, cold meats or on the side with barbecued meats…

If you haven’t tried ratatouille you must give it a go.

Better still, grow your own! O.K. that’s not possible for all of us, but if you have a garden and preferably a greenhouse, then it is not only possible, but it makes great use of the sudden glut of summer vegetables. BTW All of the pictures of veg in this post are from our own garden!

We grow red, orange and green bell peppers and more aubergines than we know what to do with in our greenhouse. Out in the garden we raise yellow and green courgettes, along with red and white onions and garlic. All the veg you need for a wonderful ratatouille!

Ratatouille (makes probably 10 portions)

2 large aubergines
3 medium courgettes (green or yellow)
3 medium red or white onions
3 or 4 peppers (red, green, orange, yellow, pick and mix)
3-6 ripe tomatoes + 1 tbs tomato puree (or 1 jar passata, or 1-2 cans of tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
6-8 tablespoons olive oil (or more)
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Optional: mixed herbs, fresh basil or cayenne pepper

Step 1, aubergines

The aubergines need cooking ahead of the rest of the ingredients. Don’t rush this step as chewy aubergine spoils the final texture.

Cut your aubergines into chunks. They can differ in size, as this will enhance the final dish (some more broken down than others)

Place them in a heavy based pan with lots of hot (not smoking) extra virgin olive oil and cook, stirring about every now and then, on medium heat for 20 minutes or longer. The oil will be absorbed very readily, so add more as this takes place. The slices change colour as they take up the oil, becoming translucent and melty. When they are really softened, yielding and surrendered, and only then, add the other veg (which you were preparing whilst the aubergine was cooking)…

Step 2, other vegetables

Chop the onions, peppers and courgettes into chunks. Crush the garlic.

When the aubergine is ready add these ingredients, stir in the above vegetables, starting with the onions, and cranking up the heat a bit more so as not to cool everything down and after about 10 mins add the courgette and peppers. Cook for another 30 minutes or more until all the ingredients are softening, stirring every now and then to ensure even cooking is taking place.

Step 3, tomato sauce

I baled on this step, in that I didn’t make my own tomato sauce from home grown tomatoes. If you can find it in your heart, please forgive me. Ideally you will have already made many jars of your own tomato sauce, probably from last years glut of tomatoes, but if not, a couple of cans of chopped Italian tomatoes, or a jar of pasata, plus some tomato puree will suffice. Our tomatoes are well behind this year, so I used the ready made version on this occasion. Fortunately Sainsbury’s sells organic tomato puree in glass jars, and Waitrose sells an organic tomato passata in glass jars, so nothing to fret about too much. If, on the other hand, you have tons of tomatoes, grab some ripe ones, cut them in half and rub them through a grater, into a bowl, and you will have just what you need. (Tip: rub the inside face of the tomato against the grater surface, holding on to the skin side. You will be able to push all of the pulp through ending end with just the skin in your hand which you can discard)

Once the vegetables are soft add whichever tomato arrangement you are using, plus some tomato puree, and combine well.

Now add the garlic, the salt, pepper, mixed herbs or cayenne pepper to suit your taste. (If you want to use fresh basil in your ratatouille, add it right at the end. Cooking virtually destroys the flavour of this magnificent leaf, so wait until right before serving to chop and add this).

Stir and simmer for another 20 – 40 minutes until everything has combined into a glorious, red oily, bright, rounded mixture and flavour and texture. The vegetables should be pretty soft, definitely not al dente, but keeping their form and not turned to mush.

A bit like this…

That is what I call Mediterranean!









JULY 2017 MEGA News Round-Up

This month: Let food be thy medicine | Hunter-Gatherer diets | Grow your own microbiome | Bitter foods for brain health | Long term weight loss | Sleep | Grass-fed meat and dairy | Fish on the menu | Ketogenic diet | Rewilding the lynx

It’s been a busy month for nutrition news and I found so much to write about I’ve actually hived off a chunk for a separate post later about the rise of veganism. In the meantime, lets start with the quote of the month…

It’s worrying just how little student doctors are taught about nutrition and health. My own experience has been that even gastroenterologists — specialists in intestinal disorders — have little or no interest in what their patients are eating.



‘Let food be thy medicine’

The quote above came from The Daily Mail (Jul 10th) in an article titled can food be better than drugs? which tells the stories of five people who beat their medical condition with diet (MS, IBS, raised cholesterol, epilepsy and diabetes). Continue reading

The bitter truth is sweeter than we thought

Cocktail bitters like Angostura and Peychaud’s have pedigrees going back to the 1830’s. Looking like something out of a victorian apothecary these intriguing botanical preparations may indeed have medicinal properties deeper than anyone thought.

Following our recent infographic (Health Hack #1: An alternative to fizzy drinks) in which I recommended using Angostura bitters as a basis for a healthy fizzy drink, I felt I had more to say about bitters in general.

In traditional herbal medicine bitter herbs were considered aids to digestion through stimulation of bile and digestive juices. Taken fifteen minutes before a meal they were used to increase appetite –  the concept behind the idea of the aperitif – or after a meal as a digestive, but they are also thought to stimulate and ‘detoxify’ the liver, and generally are considered a ‘tonic’ to revivify the blood and to ‘enhance the vigour’ of the digestive system. Such vague and ill-defined terminology has led to these claims being largely dismissed. However, recent research is not only confirming the health value of bitter tasting substances but discovering that they have important physiological effects throughout the body.

The story of herbal bitters just took a fascinating turn that is proving to be sweeter than anyone might have imagined …

Read time: 12 minutes (2300 words) Continue reading

June 2017 News Round-Up

4 cups of coffee or tea per day can protect against liver disease

Daily Mail (Jun 8th) explains how coffee and herb teas can protect the liver.

Drug trials ‘skewed by the pharmaeutical industry,’ GPs say

So ran the headline in The Telegraph (Jun 20th). The Academy of Medical Sciences is calling for an overhaul of patient information following a string of controversies over the risks and benefits of common drugs. Continue reading

Even in the land of barbies and beer vegetarians DON’T live longer

A new study from Australia finds yet again that vegetarians don’t live longer than meat eaters.

We previously reported on a 2015 paper examining mortality among vegetarians in the UK based on data from the large Oxford EPIC study, which found no evidence for reduced mortality compared to the general meat eating population. [see our post UK vegetarians DON’T live longer than meat eaters study finds]

Now a similar analysis from the Australian 45 and Up Study has come to the same conclusions: there is no significant difference in all-cause mortality between vegetarians, semi vegetarians, pescatarians and regular meat eaters in Australia. Continue reading