Food Fight

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Vegan Vesanto Melina, dietitian, and co-author of Raising Vegetarian Children with Jo Stepaniak, and The New Becoming Vegetarian and Becoming Vegan with Brenda Davis, says women can maintain a healthy vegan diet when they are pregnant, and also that it is possible to raise healthy vegan children, and Nina Planck, former director of New York's Greenmarket and the author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why (Bloomsbury, 2006), disagrees.


Vesanto Melina and Nina Planck

Comments [24]


"Until then, she should not be allowed to speak or write in public."

what? I think you're overreacting a LOT.

thankfully suzanne was a breath of fresh air on the issue.

we all know starving artist guys who don't know how to eat a proper vegan diet and just consume a lot of tofu instead. they then get soft and grow breasts!

seriously? why CAN'T we all get along? my boyfriend made me an incredible dinner the other night, 3/4 of which just happened to contain no animal products.

how about just celebrating food instead of berating each other on lifestyles?

Jun. 26 2007 07:11 PM
suzanne from Huntington, NY

Part 2 - Omnivores don't have a lock on anger & agression. I'd seen PLENTY of vegans go off attacking the eating habits of others & self-righteously justifying their own. Why can't we all get along? My philosophy is that it's better to eat than not eat at all. Let's start there & all try to do the best we can!

I think conscious meat eaters (those eating organically, healthfully raised animals) know we need to be eating less meat & more veg (a tradtional cultural diet thing...China, Japan, etc), and for folks who have serious health problems, like heart disease and cancer, there have been amazing results with supervised specific vegan diets.

Lastly, when it comes to scientific studies, please consider this whether vegan or omnivore - if the food in the study was NOT certified organic of the highest standards, I don't think you're getting accurate results of what a food is capable of doing or not doing. Same as when you isolate a food component as opposed to using the whole food since we don't know about the complex relationship of all the phytochemicals each food has. Broccoli has at least 150 different phytochemicals all doing their thing to have us be healthy and if we take out just one to look at it? GMO/GE soybeans have less genistein which is a cancer preventing component of which is a reason we're supposed to be eating soy! So, all this pro-soy research is not as applicable for GMO soy/soy products. Grassfed beef has higher levels of good things like Vitamin E & Omega-3 Fatty Acids & 1/2 to 1/3 less fat than grain fed beef. Again, depending on the meat used in the study, the results could be very different. Caveat emptor!

I'm hungry! Think I'll have... :)

Jun. 23 2007 06:03 PM
suzanne from Huntington, NY

Part 1 - I think the real debate should have been which diet is easier to screw up & get unhealthy quickest & lead to serious health problems sooner?

Vegans may make better press because see (!), the minority hippie freaks (neo or original variety) ARE unhealthy and we, the overweight malnourshed majority, are just fine & don't have to change anything! However, it's obvious with all the fat folks in America that whatever we're ain't healthy.

The omnivore's have gotten out of control with supersizing & unhealthy fast food, & the third world is in a bad place with the mindset that meat = prosperity (long held dietary belief that racks ruin on traditional diets worldwide). There are junk food vegans & that ain't good either. Some people with eating disorders hide their illness thru health conscious things things as fasting & eating vegan.

That said, I think there's a place in the world for many ways of eating. My challenge to vegans, similar to Mr. Scruggs from NJ, is that with small farmers raising healthy animals (no antibiotics or hormones, free range & grass fed where appropriate...chickens aren't grass eaters) who are killed as humanely as possible (thanks Temple Grandin) AND with attention to the preservation/raising of heritage/heirloom animals for biodiversity, what happens if there are no people who want to eat these heritage/heirloom animals? Some animals have been saved from extinction (heritage turkeys) because there are farmers who raise them & people to eat them. So, are vegans around the world going to adopt turkeys, cattle and pigs, and breed them to keep genetic diversity healthy, or will we let them go extinct in the vegan ideal world where there is no need for them for food or other uses? I know there are places like Farm Sanctuary but I think we'd need something a LOT bigger for what I'm talking about. I don't think the letting them run around wild thing is going to work anymore. The natural world is rapidly disappearing and poor Mother Earth is awfully polluted.

Jun. 23 2007 06:02 PM

I just want to see what the science behind her (Planck) claims is and what her credentials are to be claiming authority on nutrition.

Jun. 22 2007 10:20 AM
Deborah Pageau B.Sc. from Canada

A clear advantage for vegan babies who are fed properly, ie., breast fed, is that vegan breast milk tends to be significantly lower in persistent environmental toxins such as DDT. The milk from women eating animal products tends to be much higher because of the concentration effect of the food chain. By eating lower (plant foods) rather than higher (animal products) on the food chain, we reduce our exposure and consumption of these serious neurotoxins.

Jun. 22 2007 02:16 AM
Steffanie Meyer from Chicago

It's interesting to me that when discussions take place about omni vs. veggie diets, the focus is repeatedly aimed at the deficiencies that can result from a poor vegan diet. Here in the U.S. we are surrounded by primarily omnis suffering from a myriad of diet related health issues. However, that is often overlooked or just accepted as the status quo while the the minority of us that are vegan are scrutinized over the slightest malady which is then inevitably assumed to be a result of our vegan diet! The bottom line here is that any unbalanced diet is risky and regardless of our personal philosophies on eating, we would all benefit by continually educating ourselves to ensure that we provide our children with a well rounded and balanced diet.

p.s. Vesanto rocks!

Jun. 21 2007 02:03 PM
Bob DiBenedetto from Huntington, NY

Nina Plank's used a case of child-abuse, as an opportunity to cast a negative light on plant-based diets. Why? Her overall position represents the dying perspective that significant quantities of animal foods are necessary in our diet. This perspective is dying not because vegetarian diets are becoming more popular, but because predominantly plant-based diets are becoming recognized as the solution to so many modern-day problems-- from lifestyle-related diseases and burgeoning medical expenses, to global issues such as hunger, pollution, and resource depletion.

Meat-centered diets did provide nutrients, when scarcity was the main concern. Now in a world where diseases of over-consumption pose the greatest challenge, and an abundance of food choices exist, they must yield, along with industrialized foods, to those foods that have been proven by numerous studies to add to our health in every way. Plant foods, that is.

Additionally, we live in a world with over 6 billion inhabitants. A new set of problems needs to be addressed. As Vesanto pointed out, even the UN FAO recently added their weight to those of us who have been educating the public about the clearly detrimental impacts of livestock-raising on our environment. Given what we now know, any diet that promotes increased consumption of meat and dairy, without exploring plant-based options, is as negligent to the world community as a starvation diet is to the individual.

Bob DiBenedetto

Jun. 21 2007 12:13 PM
Allie from Brooklyn

I can't believe how anti-Nina Planck all these comments are! I thought she gave a very intelligent and even open-minded argument for making healthy dietary choices, especially during pregnancy.

You all are acting like she was on a campaign to abolish veganism entirely! I am a vegetarian and I applaud Ms. Planck's standing up against all you proud vegans for the benefits of (fair-raised) eggs and cheese as protein-sources!

Jun. 21 2007 11:17 AM

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian.

What were Ms.Planck's credentials again?

Jun. 21 2007 09:14 AM
Michelle from Kingston, NY

Nina Planck really owes the world a public apology for her irresponsible, misinformed, and inflamitory op-ed. Brian (and a very well-prepared Vesanto) seemed to get her to back down a little from her scathing accusations, but she really needs to see a therapist to get through her issues of being a vegan flunkie and stop taking it out on successful vegans and their families who thrive. She also needs to stop listening to the wacky Weston A Price foundation and get off this very unnatural obsession she has with fish oil. Until then, she should not be allowed to speak or write in public.

Jun. 21 2007 09:03 AM
Jack Norris from West Sacramento, CA

Everyone might want to be aware of this page of real vegan kids:

These kids are of mothers who were vegan during pregnancy and the kids have been vegan their entire lives.

Regarding the debate and the woman who called in to say her doctor said she was low in protein when she was trying a vegan pregnancy:
I'd be interested to know how a doctor measures someone's protein levels to know they aren't getting enough. I'm not aware of any test for protein levels other than albumin, prealbumin, or nitrogen balance and I'm skeptical
any of these were used.

Jack Norris, Registered Dietitian
Vegan Outreach

Jun. 20 2007 07:19 PM
Laura M. from Silver Spring, MD

I'm a vegan mom of an 11 yr. old. My son has been vegan since birth, breastfeed for over 2 yrs. and always been above the 50th percentile in height and weight. We have never had any health issues with my son.
I am a HypnoBirthing childbirth educator. I teach many couples who are vegetarian and vegan. I have been at births of these babies and followed their progress. All of the couples that I teach do their homework and are rigorous about their diet as was I when I was pregnant.
Since books like "The China Study" by T. Colin Campbell have documented the validity of a vegan diet, it seems that individuals have plenty of ways to stay healthy on a vegan diet no matter what age.

Jun. 20 2007 06:06 PM
Fond of Meat from NYC

Re: Robert's comment : "Hmmmm, seems the meat eater appeared more aggressive, no? Maybe my imagination? She certainly had a stronger voice!"

Maybe my imagination, but are there only aggressive comments from angry vegans on here? I have nothing against vegans, in fact most of my favorite foods used to be vegan. Nina Planck wasn't bashing the Vegan lifestyle, just making sure people know the difference between a newborn that needs certain proteins for development and a human that has already developed the necessary proteins for survival. If you took her article as an attempt to convert adult vegans into adult Chicken McNugget eaters, maybe you should have been breast fed.

Jun. 20 2007 05:16 PM
Chris C from Huntington, NY

I am the parent of a healthy, robust, active 7 year old. I ate an exclusively plant-based diet successfully throughout pregnancy and have raised my child this way from birth. My son was in the 100th percentile for growth for the first two years of life, and often hit 110%. He reached all of his milestones early and his IQ has tested high. I never took DHA while pregnant, and have only sporadically supplemented with DHA recently.

I have however done my research, as any responsible parent in my opinion --meat eater or not, should do, on what constitutes a healthy nutritionally balanced diet for children. As far as my research has shown there really is no valid scientific evidence to back any of Nina Planck's claims about the modern vegan diet being inadequate, if properly balanced. I find Ms. Planck's whole agenda somewhat irresponsible, given all the suffering that could be avoided by a switch to a diet rich in plant-based foods.

There will be people who love what she says, people who completely disagree, and those confused and not sure what to believe. Hopefully the people who are confused will do a little research of their own. A little look see at the American Dietetic Association's position paper about vegan diets will give them a little scientific edge over Ms. Planck's final advice concerning "risking a vegan diet". See:

While we are all comforted by the "traditional" foods our parent's fed us, sometimes, armed with the information from "modern" science, we grow up and make wiser choices for ourselves and our families. Especially when the health of our children is at risk.

Jun. 20 2007 03:03 PM
Dina Aronson from Montclair, NJ

Thank you, Vesanto, for setting the record straight. As a registered dietitian and vegan, with a healthy, happy, intelligent vegan toddler, I was shocked by the many inappropriate and factually incorrect statements made by Nina Planck.

At first I thought that Planck's NYT op-ed did a disservice to the vegan community, but now I see otherwise. The outrage this issue has created among those (vegan or not) who seek the truth has led to much-needed widespread education on the many benefits of a well-planned vegan diet, at any stage of the lifecycle.

Jun. 20 2007 01:54 PM
Jo Stepaniak from Pennsylvania

It is unfortunate that Ms. Planck is so determined to establish a fear-based mindset regarding vegan diets. I have been vegetarian for over forty years and vegan for well over a quarter of a century, and I remain healthy and vibrant, as does my husband and our many vegan friends. I also know many healthy, well-adjusted, thriving children, teens, and young adults whose mothers were vegan throughout their pregnancies. Ms. Planck does a huge disservice to the growing ranks of vegans and would-be vegans by presenting a plant-based diet as "unnatural" and difficult. Using "naturalness" as a guide for what humans should eat is an odd barmoeter, particularly in a modern society where few, if any, people live "naturally." Our diets can and should evolve according to our changing needs. Sadly, the modern diet based on animal protein has produced unprecedented disease whereby if cancer, diabetes, and heart disease don't kill us, obesity will. Ms. Planck is also off-base with regard to vitamin B12, all of which is created through bacterial contamination. Even most meat eaters have low levels and should supplement this nutrient. It is disheartening that someone as misguided and misinformed as Ms. Planck has broad access to public forums to perpetuate myths and fear tactics about a vegan diet, when making such a dietary change could improve everyone's health considerably.

Jun. 20 2007 12:27 PM
Cynthia Holzapfel

It's irrelevant whether a vegan diet is "natural" or "traditional." It's a choice many people have made. The discussion was supposed to be about whether this choice is safe for people of any age. Clearly, scientific studies support the adequacy of this choice.

Growth rates are one of the gold standards for determining whether children are receiving adequate nourishment. The study done on growth rates of a large population of vegan toddlers and children concluded that there was no significant difference in the heights and weights of vegan youngsters fed an adequate diet and children eating meat and dairy products.

It's astounding that any educated person in this day and age would still be expressing concerns that were put to rest more than 20 years ago--unless they had a personal stake in convincing people otherwise.

Jun. 20 2007 12:25 PM
Brenda Davis from Kelowna BC

I am not sure why Nina Plank is so determined to convince the world that vegan diets are dangerous. Even the most conservative bodies of nutrition experts in the world agree that well planned vegan diets are safe and adequate at every stage of the life cycle. Vegan or near-vegan diets are, to my knowledge, the only diets that have shown consistent and significant reversal of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes. Well planned vegan diets maximize the most protective components in the human diet and minimize the most damaging components. The one nutrient that tends to be lacking in the vegan diet (vitamin B12) is available from numerous fortified foods commonly consumed by vegans, and from supplements. All people over 50 years of age are cautioned NOT to rely on animal products for vitamin B12, but rather fortified plant foods or supplements (as vegans would). This is because B12 is bound to protein in animal products, and as we age, our ability to perform this task diminishes. Nina, you have put fear in the hearts of many souls - people who want to make the world a kinder, more compassionate place. It brings shame and dishonor to your name.

Brenda Davis, Registered Dietitian

Jun. 20 2007 11:42 AM
Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian from Vancouver

It is irresponsible of Nina Planck to dictate to others that they should not follow a balanced vegan diet just because she is not knowledgeable about how to create this for herself. More compassionate people want to minimize their environmental footprint, and /or do not want animals to be killed and eated on their behalf, and also want to reduce their risk of chronic disease and obesity. A great many vegans take care to feed their families diets that are nutritionally adequate in all nutrients, and in our books, we give clear guidance on how to do this at all ages and stages of the life cycle.
See "Becoming Vegan"
"The New Becoming Vegetarian"
"Raising Vegetarian Children"
and also visit

Jun. 20 2007 11:25 AM
William Scruggs from New Jersey

If we all convert to a vegan diet AND convert to bio fuels for our vehicles, animals will become an extra burden on the plant supplies of this planet and most of them will have to be destroyed in order for our burgeoning population to survive.

After all the majority of animals in the world, outside of pets, are probably used to feed and clothe man.

Jun. 20 2007 11:08 AM
Suzanne from Brooklyn

As a vegan woman who is currently 9 months pregnant, I have had few problems with my pregnancy, a healthy weight gain, and have felt very good throughout. I know that its important to vary my protein, including nuts, beans, whole grains and not just load up on soy-based fake meat. Any pregnant woman should study nutrition and make sure to eat plenty of fresh vegetables, protein and fiber. I strongly disagree with Ms. Planck and found her NY Times Op-ed ridiculous and inaccurate. Her views on fish oil don't make much sense, when we review diets all over the world, or look to how our own parents ate a generation ago, many people don't like fish and don't drink fish oil. Its ridiculous to think that one food or supplement can do away with all dietary insufficiencies.

Jun. 20 2007 11:04 AM
Robert from NYC

Hmmmm, seems the meat eater appeared more aggressive, no? Maybe my imagination? She certainly had a stronger voice!

Jun. 20 2007 11:03 AM
Jennifer Lynch from Manhattan

not sure if my comment went through.
oh well.

Jun. 20 2007 11:02 AM
Jennifer Lynch from Manhattan

I was just in a taxi when I heard this show and I ran to my computer to send in a comment. My husband is a partner at a very prestigious law firm and I am an in house lawyer--we are hardly on the fringe. We have been veg for more than 12 years and all three of our extremely healthy children are vegetarian as well. I am completely outraged that the negligence of that ignorant young couple prompt a debate about the virtues of a veg diet. What they fed their child was not part of a vegan/vegetarian diet, as pretty much any parent can tell you, since children that age should be given only breastmilk or formula. Most vegan/vegetarian parents I know of are so much more aware of the components of a healthy diet than the average citizen of our very fat country. This is a country where macncheese and chicken fingers are the staples of every young child's diet and to have it otherwise requires a mighty commitment on the parents' part. The other day it became apparent that my seven year old son did not know what Kentucky Fried Chicken was and my husband and I looked at each other and laughed. I was so proud.

Jun. 20 2007 11:00 AM

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