walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Becoming Vegan_ Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

I'm actually reading it cover to cover and am halfway through.

First things first: pub date is 2000 so there are going to be some problems as a result. A lot of the understanding about B12/folate and homocysteine didn't exist yet. The book emphasizes (as it should) the importance of supplementing B12 on a vegan diet, but does not do so from a homocysteine perspective.

The authors are both "R.D.", which I believe means registered dietitian. They are hewing the party line pretty closely, including the then recently increased calcium recommendations. They acknowledge the controversy associated with those increases, but still build their "pyramid" (remember, this predates the disaster that was the 2005 modification to the food recommendations from the USDA) and sample menus to satisfy those requirements. Also, when this book was written, less research was available at the time was about vitamin E and what there was was quite favorable towards heart health. We know better now. Over the last couple years, a much better understanding of role played by vitamin D has started to emerge. At the time of publication, it was All About Bones, nothing about cancer and heart health. Then, as now, the dietitian establishment is focused on food sources for vitamin D, because they are way too weirded out about the idea of telling people to leave the sunblock off, at least for 20 minutes. This is a Double Bad in a vegan book that is advocating activism to replace the animal (fish) sources of vitamin D in enriched foods with vegetable sources of vitamin D; it's well understood now that getting enough dietary sources of D2 is hard to impossible; ya gotta go out in the sun, kiddies.

Freaking buy a sun lamp! Frisians do. I would sort of think that would be pretty vegan, wouldn't it?

Anyway. I'm working my way through the pregnancy/lactation chapter, and, as always, I'm pretty disappointed at the failure to answer a pretty obvious question: what if you are pregnant AND lactating? What are the implications for nutrient requirements then? Can't hold it against Davis and Melina; no one answers that question.

As with almost everything I've read about nutrition, the advice given is often at odds with itself. We are told to keep the sodium under 2400 mg (IIRC), but elsewhere soyfoods and other processed (and high in sodium) foods are put into sample menus without any apparent effort to calculate the sodium along with the fat, protein, calcium, etc. I'm sure they'd say, hey, just find a low-sodium alternative. All in the name of saving people the trouble of buying no-sodium canned beans and making something (anything!) instead of having a vegan burger. Yeah, yeah -- I know they're trying to keep the learning curve and adjustment from getting totally out of control. But there's something fundamentally _wrong_ with this approach. If only because I can't do it because I swell up like a balloon. ;-)

The explanation of fats and oils is pretty good. By 2000, there was not only awareness of trans fats and essential fatty acids, the authors include some handy little tables for absorption and conversion rates of omega-3s and what was then known to affect those conversion rates, and a little bit about the testing on vegans done to check the impact of serum lipids. Nice, and a really good jumping off point for me to learn what has been discovered since then; I was having a lot of trouble really assembling a coherent structure to fit new information in. Davis and Melina came through for me.

I may or may not finish the rest of the book. There are sections on raising a vegan kid, vegan seniors, vegan athletes, losing weight, gaining weight, activism/diplomacy and eating disorders.

Why did I buy this? A couple reasons. There's a related book (Becoming Vegetarian) that I ran across through google books that had a really nice description of something I was puzzled about. When I realized this pair of books were essentially "standard" nutritional guidelines for these eating patterns, I was interested because it's very useful to know what the official line is -- I can then recognize when something I'm reading is out-of-date/at the vanguard/batshit crazy/etc. Nutritionism (is that a _word_? I doubt it. But I don't mean nutrition.) is compromise activity, influenced by producers with vested interests, consumers with set-in-stone ideas and habits, and a shocking lack of good data. I've struggled with it for at least 20 years by refusing to consume the dairy products that make me so ill. It's been nice to see that standard start to slowly approach what I was sure must be the case years and years ago. It's depressing to see that a book like this is so determined to meet the calcium guidelines that it will seriously propose a relatively high intake of highly processed foods to do so. Yeah, sure, they said kale and almonds would work, too, but take one look at their standard menu and you can see what's going on. So I expected to have issues with this book, and the issues I have are largely the expected ones.

In the course of researching "move towards, in general, a plant-based diet", I recognized that there were a wide variety of mistakes I could make that would negatively effect my health and potentially the health of a future child (presumably T. will survive, even if he is still breastfeeding, any major nutritional screw-up I might make). This book supplies a useful structure for understanding a whole series of possible errors, and a framework for avoiding them. If you are thinking of reducing your consumption of animal products significantly, this (or _Becoming Vegetarian_) might prove very useful to you, as well.
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