Vegan Diet and The China Study

by Brian on March 7, 2011 in Paleo Diet

This post is a continuation of my What and Why to Eat for Optimal Health series that explores optimal eating habits and compares the pros and cons of different diets including vegan, vegetarian, raw food, and the paleo diet.

Closely related to vegetarians, vegans take things one step further by not consuming any animal products whatsoever. This means no eggs, dairy, and butter.

To the truly faithful, veganism also means no wool sweaters, leather shoes, or any other product that was tested on or made from animals or animal byproducts. The rationale is that even though animals are not killed, they are often kept in captivity and suffer abuse by their handlers.

There is a definite smack of truth to this when you consider the life of a dairy cow spent mostly hooked up to a milking machine in a stall with barely enough room to stand. How many people would cry foul if their jobs did not allow them to head to the break room every 2 hours, or did not even provide chairs.

Like vegetarians, vegans also have to watch their protein. Of course since we already ruled out soy and legumes based on science from The Paleo Diet and additionally rule out eggs, we have wiped out the last remaining vestige of common protein sources for vegans and vegetarians. The situation looks bleak for non-animal eaters.

However, the Vegans have got some science in their back pocket. Vegan literature often points to The China Study, carried out over 20 years by professors at Cornell University, as scientific redemption at long last for their diet.

The study concludes that vegetable proteins are superior to animal proteins. It also links animal proteins to higher cancer rates, osteoporosis, and other diseases. Now we have a major problem. One scientific authority or another has now put all primary sources of protein off limits.

However, there are some major problems with The China Study. Critics of the study say that it reads like vegan propaganda where study results were misrepresented and dietary connections were drawn that aren’t necessarily accurate.

They point out confounds such as gluten consumption is not accounted for and that observations of milk consumption are often generalized to all animal proteins. As we learned from the Paleo Diet, gluten is linked to cancer and milk is net acidic and thus should be expected to connect to osteoporosis. The study also fails to properly account for the impact of socio-economic status and access to medical care in participants.

Since protein, regardless of animal or vegetable source, is by definition amino acids we would expect it to be acidic. An overall highly acidic diet is also linked to cancer, so this could be another confound.

However, unlike animal sources of protein, we do tend to get more calcium and thus a net alkaline effect from vegetables. This doesn’t have anything to do with the innate quality of the protein nor does it suggest that we shouldn’t eat meat, but it does suggest that we should eat plenty of veggies to keep our diet net alkaline instead of acidic.

So as far as the China Study goes, myth busted.

Nothing I’d read at this point contained any clues to a healthy, sustainable animal free diet. Or even any improvements on the Paleo Diet from a purely nutritional standpoint. However, I do think I will start to move away from wools and leathers in my clothing from a lifestyle perspective.

I was particularly disappointed to learn that food cows and leather cows are not the same, so contrary to what you might think buying a leather jacket just kills another animal and does not help to use all parts of the animal that you ate.

Before moving on to the Raw Food Diet (you won’t want to miss this) in the last post of this series, I will spend the next post explaining the differences and impact on health of Free Range vs Factory Farm Meats.

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