Book Review: Vegan for Life

Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Vegan Diet

Vegan For Life

Vegan for Life, by Jack Norris, RD and Virginia Messina, MPH, RD will soon be one of the few essential go-to vegan nutrition guides - like Becoming Vegan by Melina and Davis.

Vegans not only need this myth-busting book, they deserve it as a reward for going vegan. Non-vegans need it too - everybody does!

Norris and Messina have the knowledge, understanding, and experience to tell it like it is about vegan diet. And they do.

The first myth they bust is the one about scientific research. It was worth reading pages 10 - 14 twice, they were so sensible!

Quote: "For essentially all heavily researched areas, you can build a case for just about anything by picking and choosing the studies that support your point. Some advocates do this to make vegan diets look more beneficial. And some vegan detractors pick a completely different set of studies to make vegan diets look bad."

Quote: "The key to understanding nutrition research is to look at the entire body of evidence and see what most studies say." That's exactly what Norris and Messina have done.

Vegan enthusiasm, coupled with a human tendency to believe in myths, has caused "some vegans to make poor food choices", sometimes with tragic results.

Vegan for Life tackles ten of the biggest vegan myths:

  1. Vegans need less calcium than omnivores
  2. To reap the health benefits of a vegan diet, you need to avoid fat.
  3. The healthiest vegan diets are based on 100% unprocessed whole foods.
  4. People don't need to start taking vitamin B12 supplements until they have been vegan for three years.
  5. If a vegan diet is good, then a raw-foods diet must be better.
  6. Eating soy gives men female characteristics.
  7. When you first go vegan, you'll exerience unpleasant feelings from detoxing and withdrawal from animal products.
  8. Plant proteins are missing some essential amino acids.
  9. Vegan teens are at risk for developing eating disorders
  10. Vegans need to consume only 5 - 6% of their calories as protein.
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I believed a couple of these myths myself at one time. With the one about detoxing, I realized that the body is continuously detoxing, and that indigestion may be mistaken for detoxing. That was just common sense.

But, nutritional deficiencies can be taken for detoxing, and not corrected. Vegan diet gets the blame, when in fact, as Norris and Messina point out, you are what you eat, with vegan diet the same as any diet.

The Vitamin B12 Myth: I felt unwell, went for a checkup, found out I was deficient, took the pills, did some reading, and adjusted my thinking. Now I make sure I get enough Vitamin B12 (plus Vit D and DHA), and I feel great.

I wish it were always that simple for everybody. B12 is a big issue for vegans, which Vegan for Life deals with effectively.

Jack Norris, RD

Protein: Many vegans will be shocked to find out just how much protein they need, and how much of what foods they need every day to get enough protein.

Many of the recommended high protein plant foods come from the soy family, and there's a long chapter on why soy is safe to eat.

That's good to know, because if you don't eat soy, you'll need to make a real effort to get the recommended amount of protein without too many calories. You'll have to eat beans, nuts & seeds at every meal - lots of them.

Calcium, Vit D and Bone Health: Vegan for Life says that "in studies of vegans, average calcium intakes often fall well below recommendations", even though vegan diets can provide enough calcium. But calcium is complex, and the data is confusing.

Virginia Messina, MPH, RD

So Norris & Messina recommend getting the RDA for calcium & Vit D either in food, fortified food, or supplements, while reminding us that bone health is more than the sum of Calcium & Vit D. Nicely done!

Fats! I'm so tired of being guilted for having added fats in my diet. Happily, Norris & Messina say it's not necessary for most of us to give up all fats, but of course they also say that we should think teaspoons of oil, not tablespoons, and healthy fats, not saturated fats.

Vital nutrients Iron, Zinc, Iodine, Vit A, K, Riboflavin, Potassium and Selenium are covered too, with a helpful bit at the end about minerals and hair loss It's nice to know that hair loss isn't an exclusively vegan trait, but I'm still wondering what selenium is good for.

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The last 2/3 of Vegan for Life has a vegan food guide and advice for the vegan transition, chapters on vegan diet for pregnancy & breast feeding, children & teens, vegans over fifty, diabetes, heart disease, weight control, sports nutrition and soy safety. There are vegan sample menus, a why vegan chapter on animal ethics, and vegan resources.

Vegan for Life will have a profound effect on vegan health - for those who read it. Many people, vegans included, would rather believe myths than read books like this (no pictures! charts! big & medium words! must focus! and think! GAH!)

Maybe Vegan for Life could be reduced to 10 rules for vegan living and made into a phone app. That would give it a much broader audience. Seriously!

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People who must read this book: all health professionals (vegan or not), vegan authors, bloggers, cooks, chefs, activists - any vegan advocate.

After they read the book, the vital information and good sense in Vegan for Life will spread far and wide - as it should. And if the vegan advocates tell people to read Vegan for Life, they will.

I'm telling you now! Read This Book!

Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian

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