Vegan Activism

The Huffington Post is at it again- by promoting a nutrition quiz from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).  One would think that a group like PCRM would be a responsible group, with a website that would have credible information. However, PCRM is a vegan organization that promotes an anti-dairy, anti-meat, anti-seafood, anti-egg diet, and the purpose of their quiz was to help evoke those ideas.  They have also sent out news releases that are bias to  a vegetarian diet and argues for it with half-truths that do little to advance their position, and a lot to reduce their credibility.

Recent breaking news quoted a paper in that indicated that fish oil did not prevent recurrence of heart problems and “evidence fails to support their use.”  PCRM did not include the conclusion:

“However, a diet high in fatty fish (≥2 servings of marine fish per week) should continue to be recommended for the general population and for patients with existing CVD because fish not only provides omega-3 fatty acids but also may replace less healthy protein sources, such as red meat.”

PCRM is anti-fish, as well as anti-dairy, and they fail to note that the American Heart Association recommendations for two meals a day being replaced by fish.

Recently PCRM released another study showing E. Coli was in 48% of chicken bought in 10 cities by their group. What they failed to state was that the E.Coli was not the type that causes humans illness.  Further, the major outbreaks of food-borne illness have recently come from produce and peanuts – as they are grown in soil that contains E. Coli. and can be contaminated with salmonella.  There are many types of bacteria in the soil, and E. coli is a common soil bacteria, but it is not the same type as that which comes from feces.

If you were a Vegan this might be your view of food

Here is their quiz with Science and Evidence based medicine rebuttal:

(1) Skim milk has the same amount of calories as cola

Yes, they are anti-dairy, and this is suppose to scare people into thinking that dairy is bad. For those who can tolerate milk, those who are not lactose intolerant, milk is a great source of nutrients.  Cola, not so much. They say all you need is water, nothing else – and we agree, however,  milk can have plenty of nutrients in them and should not be over looked.

(2) Cheese and steak have the same amount of cholesterol.

The first question you should ask is- so what? Dietary cholesterol has a minimal effect on the blood level of  the body’s cholesterol, we have known this since I was in medical school ( 1980’s). You can see my last post about fats to see more. That different amounts of cheese as well as a porterhouse steak have the same amount of cholesterol means nothing.  Very few physicians look simply at the cholesterol level, unless it is either very high >250 – and then we look at the underlying lipid profiles.

(3) Cheese is 70% fat.

Some cheese is, but again, cheese in moderation is not a bad thing. Some cheese is not  70% fat. By the way, most nuts, which this group advocates, are also 70% fat. They go on to say that Americans are eating three times the cheese we did in the 1970’s – probably not the case for some. Cheese is something that should be used in moderation – as it is dense with calories

(4) Frequent consumption of hot dogs and bacon makes it more likely you will get colon cancer.

In the one study, that has many flaws, if you eat a diet rich in processed meats your risk of cancer is higher- by a small amount. But that is a correlation, and not necessarily a causation, and when you work out the statistics, your chance of eating that much (a lot ) is not much, and your chance of getting cancer from it is – well, we don’t know. We don’t advocate eating a lot of processed any food. They state that the recommended amount of processed meats would be “none” – we would disagree, as do bacon lovers everywhere.  The correlation is so small with this as to be stretched.

(5) Women who regularly eat soy have a lower cancer risk.

This is not necessarily so.   Comparison studies have been mixed- so the answer is, we don’t know.  PCRM based their information about population studies from Asia- but other factors these women have include (a) less obesity (b) more physically active (c) drink less alcohol (d) eat more fruits and vegetables. Until the issue becomes clearer, many doctors recommend that women who take hormonal therapy or who have estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer avoid soy supplements because they contain high concentrations of isoflavones. But in general, it’s fine to eat moderate amounts of soy foods as part of a balanced diet. One to 3 servings of soy a day (a serving is about a half cup) is similar to an average Japanese woman’s daily soy intake. If you are taking hormonal therapy to fight off a hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, and you are concerned about any phytoestrogen effects, ask your doctor or registered dietitian about how much soy you can eat.

(6) Salmon has cholesterol and fat

Ah yes it does, and to repeat- consuming cholesterol is not the issue. Salmon fat is high in omega-3 fatty acids and quite healthy. Eskimos and maritime Native Americans had a diet rich in salmon and the lowest rate of heart disease on earth.  There is not convincing evidence to advocate taking fish-oil capsules, there is still evidence that replacing two meals a week with fish is protective for the heart.

(7) An egg has more cholesterol than a Big Mac

Cholesterol is not an issue in diet but the 540 calories in a Big Mac compared to the 90 calories in a large egg is. The calories in a Big Mac come from 29 grams of fat, while only 5 grams of fat from an egg. While PCRM has an issue with dairy, as do some from the Paleo diet, eggs are a healthy source of protein.  If you get rid of the yolk you can get rid of a lot of the calories also. The amount of cholesterol is less important than the lower calories- and you could always use egg whites which have less fat, much less cholesterol, but a great source of protein.

(8) Milk, Beans, and broccoli are all high in calcium

This is true, and for those who need a good source of calcium but do not drink milk, there are some good alternatives. They point out that the calcium in the beans and broccoli is absorbed at a rate of  50-60%, while milk is just  32%. What they fail to point out is that 1/2 cup of broccoli contains 21 mg of calcium while 8 oz of nonfat milk contains 300 mg. That means from broccoli you get 11 mg of Calcium which is about 1 percent of the daily requirement. If you get non-calcium enriched milk you are still getting 100 mg of calcium or ten times the amount you would with broccoli.

Vegetarians may absorb less calcium than omnivores because they consume more plant products containing oxalic and phytic acids . Lacto-ovo vegetarians (who consume eggs and dairy) and non-vegetarians have similar calcium intakes. However, vegans, who eat no animal products and ovo-vegetarians (who eat eggs but no dairy products), might not obtain sufficient calcium because of their avoidance of dairy foods.

In the Oxford cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, bone fracture risk was similar in meat eaters, fish eaters and vegetarians, but higher in vegans, likely due to their lower mean calcium intake.  It is difficult to assess the impact of vegetarian diets on calcium status because of the wide variety of eating practices and thus should be considered on a case by case basis.

(9) Fish and Beef have no fiber

Quite true- there is no fiber in meats. This is why a balanced diet contains fruits and vegetables. However, fish and beef contain better sources of fat absorbable vitamins, calcium, B12, protein, and other nutrients than vegetables do.

(10)  A skinless roasted chicken breast has more calories per ounce than soda or white rice

This is quite true- and mainly because of the fat content of the chicken. But chicken has more nutrients than white rice and more than soda.

PCRM also was responsible for the comments that E. Coli was found in many of the chicken products.  What they didn’t say was that the E. Coli they found were not the same as responsible for food borne illness.  In fact, the E. Coli they found was the kind commonly found in the soil, where the very plants grow that they advocate consuming. The pro-Vegan group also neglected to mention that the majority of Salmonella infections that have caused major outbreaks have come from agricultural products, including peanuts, that they advocate for a healthy diet.

It appears that PCRM is more propaganda than science. If you are going to advocate for a position, your position is diminished when you don’t tell the full story. If cornered in press conferences they avoid the answers to the questions. This is not a place to get information at all.

In the case of diet and lifestyle, there is a lot we do not know- but PCRM as a source of nutritional information is less than adequate, in that often it does not tell the whole story.  As a website for health and information it is more like a political party than a resource for those looking for evidence based medicine or science based medicine.

One of the misleading advertisements from PCRM

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit


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