Don’t Forget Fiber

Why We Shouldn’t Forget About Fiber

The famous surgeon Denis Burkitt is better known for his discovery of a childhood cancer now known as Burkitt’s lymphoma than for his 1979 international bestseller, Don’t Forget the Fibre in Your Diet.

Anyone asked to list the twenty or more most important advances in health made in the last few decades would be likely to include none of what Dr. Burkitt considered to be among the most significant. What was the number one most important advance in health according to one of the most famous medical figures of the 20th century? The discovery that “Many of the major and commonest diseases in modern Western culture are universally rare in third-world communities, were uncommon even in the United States until after World War l” yet are now common in anyone following the Western lifestyle. So it’s not genetics—they’re lifestyle diseases (See Dr. Burkitt’s F-Word Diet). This means they must potentially be preventable.

Those eating the standard American diet have very high levels of a long list of diseases—such as heart disease and colon cancer—that were similar to the rates of disease in the ruling white class in apartheid Africa. Conversely, the rates in the Bantu population were very low. These native Africans ate the same three sister diets of many Native Americans, a plant-based diet centered around corn, beans, and squash. In fact, it was reported that cancer was so seldom seen in American Indians a century ago they were considered practically immune to cancer—and heart disease. What are “very low” rates? 1300 Bantus were autopsied over five years in a Bantu hospital and less than ten cases of ischemic heart disease, the West’s number one killer.

The Bantu’s rates of heart and intestinal disease is similar to poor Indians, whereas wealthier Indians who ate more animal and refined foods were closer to those in Japan—unless they moved to the U.S. and started living like us. You find similar trends for the other so-called Western diseases, which Burkitt thought were related to the major dietary changes that followed the lndustrial Revolution: a reduction in healthy whole plant foods—the source of starch and fiber–and a great increase in consumption of animal fats, salt, and sugar. His theory was that it was the fiber. He believed all of these major diseases may be caused by a diet deficient in whole plant foods, the only natural source of fiber.

Fiber? In a survey of 2,000 Americans, over 95% of graduate school-educated participants and health care providers weren’t even aware of the daily recommended fiber intake. Doctors don’t even know. How much fiber should we shoot for? The Institute of Medicine recommends 38 grams for men 50 years and younger and 30 grams for men over 50 years. Women 50 years and younger should get 25 and those older than 50 should get 21 grams. But these levels are just the minimum. I recommend we look to our evolutionary past for more clues on fiber intake. See my video Paleolithic Lessons.

One analogy Dr. Burkitt used is this: “If a floor is flooded as a result of a dripping tap, it is of little use to mop up the floor unless the tap is turned off. The water from the tap represents the cause of disease, the flooded floor the diseases filling our hospital beds. Medical students learn far more about methods of floor mopping than about turning off taps, and doctors who are specialists in mops and brushes can earn infinitely more than those dedicated to shutting off taps.” And the drug companies are more than happy to sell us rolls of paper towels, so patients can buy a new roll every day for the rest of their lives. To paraphrase Ogden Nash: modern medicine is making great progress, but just headed in the wrong direction.

How do we know that diet was the critical factor? Because when we place people stricken with these diseases on plant-based diets, their disease can be reversed (Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped). In fact it was the work of Burkitt and others in Africa that led to the disease reversal work of pioneers like Nathan Pritikin (Engineering a Cure).

More on fiber:

And for more of the scoop on poop:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Rachel Hathaway / Flickr

  • Matt K

    Burkitt died of a stroke apparently at 82. Was he not following his own advice??

    • Renee Bornfreund

      Matt – there is some irony there, huh? In addition to his etiology of pediatric Cancer, Dr. Burkitt discovered early on the connection between low fiber intake and the western diet and diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. He was also an early influencer of Dr. John McDougall, a thought leader and pioneer in promoting health and wellness through a low fat, whole food, plant based diet. Check out this video for more info on diet and disease.

      • Charzie

        I have a lot of respect for McDougall’s take on whole foods, but especially his pet… “starches”, he totally saved my sanity and helped me drop 50% of 300 obese pounds! Though I personally can’t do the 75% he recommends, more like 60%, my lifelong “fear” of all starches (carbs) indiscriminately, was misplaced, unhealthy, and greatly contributed to my problems! (Of course he recommends complex starches such as grains, legumes, tubers, starchy veggies and the like, and NOT processed starches as in white flour and bakery goods!) History can be a valuable teacher!

        • Renee Bornfreund

          Kudos to you Charzie, for dropping 50%. Every bit helps and it sounds like what you are doing is working for you. You are a great success story

    • Kathy

      Or you could look at it another way: We all have to die of something (the mortality rate of the human race is 100%!) Better to die at 82 suddenly of a stroke than to die slowly of a heart attack at 56 and spend the next 20 years dying. 82 isn’t a bad life span!
      Plus, a big percentage of strokes are caused by stress. And we all know what the mainstream medical profession does to those professionals who do not subscribe to their theories. Just a thought.

    • Jim W.

      We need be careful when assessing the flaws in others due to what we expect their health should have been. I don’t know Burkitt’s total lifestyle. For example, was he carnivorous, exercise regularly, have a healthy outlook on life, handle stress well, etc?. Eating fiber is only one part of the whole story, and I appreciate his input in an area of health that needs a lot of attention.

    • wallyworldvegan

      How many 10 year vegans do you think were around in the UK or even US in 1993 (his death year). Without looking it up 82 is about the median expectancy today whether healthy or not. Maybe with a quicker medical response they could have saved him and got him into the nursing home for the typical last 10 year torture. I was shocked to learn that on average there is not much difference in life expectancy of vegan vs nonvegan but the difference is in quality of life as you age especially if you end up strong enough to survive the last 10 or more years in poor physical or mental health.

  • Sebastian Tristan

    Maybe the doc should expand on the role of starch as it has a bad reputation among the general population as well as carbohydrates. I have enough information to counteract the misconceptions about carbs but not about starch.

    • Arjan den Hollander.

      People consume a lot of fat with the starchy foods, that’s where the confusion comes from.

    • Neil

      Carbophobes and the paleophile crowd fear carbs, of which starch is a type. Specifically, starch is a polysaccharide. Starch is a large molecule made of many (poly) glucose molecules. It’s how plants store energy. So, the info you have about carbs, would almost always apply to starch.

    • nonyabizzz

      Read “The Starch Solution” by Dr. John McDougall.

      • Dr. McDougall’s book is an excellent source. His website has a number of free eLectures under Education>videos including his presentation, The Starch Solution. The book is about half recipes courtesy of the other half of the McDougall team… his wife Mary. Once you understand the importance of what to eat you need to change your behavior by shopping and cooking and eating differently. There is so much misinformation out there it is important to have accurate commercial free sources of information… For me the big three are, and There are others out there as well such as Our beliefs help us navigate our complex world. If we believe that a food is healthy then we tend to buy it. If we believe a food is harmful, addictive and contains poisons we tend to avoid. So it is a natural tendency for people to grab onto a concept like the Mediterranean Diet and run with it… even if the devil is in the details. Having an understanding of statistics helps but isn’t necessary if you find trustworthy sources. One problem is we don’t know what we are doing is harmful is until it is too late or we get into a disease state we could have avoided. The other is that do to variation in populations you can do everything right and still have a heart attack or stroke. I think for me it is about “stacking the odds in our favor” so that we delay death, avoid disability, minimize drugs/procedures and lead quality lives. I like to tell my patients it is about 80% nutrition and 20% fitness. Here again the devil is in the details. Exercising doesn’t necessarily equate to being fit. I heard Dr. Alec Isabeau of True North Health give a nice presentation that equated fitness to aerobic, strength, flexibility, balance and stability. So I recommend as a minimum folks subscribe to and the McDougall newsletter and beyond that explore topics of personal interest. The science keeps changing and no doubt we will know more in 5 to 10 years then we did 5 to 10 years ago… so keep tuned to

  • Psych MD

    I remember maybe twenty or so years ago fiber became a hot advertising topic so, of course, the cereal and bread companies were all trying to “out-fiber” each other. The winner of the fiber race was a bread called, I think, New Horizon. Sales soared until their secret ingredient was revealed. To increase the fiber content they were adding sawdust.

  • Charzie

    Something jumps out at me after reading this. As a whole, our society seems to search for the answers to problems in specifics…cholesterol, fiber, saturated fat, certain vitamins, antioxidants, etc. Of course we know this is all critical and valuable information, or we wouldn’t be here! But the general population seems to have a tendency to take any of this information and bastardize it into some kind of twisted human shortcut. Using this article as an example, they will run to the store and grab a fiber supplement to add to their milkshake that they gulp in addition to their usual SAD, and think they are doing a healthy thing! It never occurs to them that eating the foods rich in fiber is a huge part of the benefit too! Same with gulping handfuls of vitamins and supplements, or cutting out red meat in favor of fish and/or poultry, and so on! I was once there myself, and drove myself crazy because I KNEW instinctively it was all wrong. Our lives can get so complicated we forget who we really are and where we come from…the good earth, and we pay dearly.
    When I hit the proverbial wall, it was a health crisis. Suddenly I was forced into a position to rethink everything…or perish! Amazing motivation! It sucks, but it was my redemption. In the midst of chaos came clarity…I had to simplify my life and get back to nature, via the 60’s hippie child who still resided within somewhere! The only analogy I can think of to describe the way it felt, is to imagine a caterpillar emerging from it’s cocoon as a butterfly! I felt (and eventually looked) like a whole different creature, and was able to shed the excess parts that were no longer useful for ones that brought balance and freedom. (Kind of flowery I know, but hey…butterfly! LOL) My whole point here is, if we just learn to eat wholesome, unprocessed plant food, as it comes from nature, (and even try cultivating or foraging some too!) we would all be a whole lot better off as a nation than debating the merits of the various contributing factors complicating health issues! (That doesn’t necessarily apply here, of course! LOL) Best of health to all of you!!!

    • RAslam RD

      You are absolutely right about the unfortunate (and all too human) tendency to want to simplify a message and take a short-cut whenever possible. And, of course, a fiber supplement does not have nearly the same benefits as a high fiber, plant-based diet. One of the videos linked above, Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet provides a nice illustration of your point. The nutrient alone (Metamucil) is not as good as the food (prunes) is not as good as the diet (vegan). And this is just looking at constipation. Think of all the other health benefits of a diet rich in fiber!

      On the other hand, a complex message is not always better. I found it interesting to see a recent study (see here and here) that compared weight loss in study participants who were instructed to eat 30 grams of fiber daily with those who were instructed to follow The American Heart Association Guidelines and the “high fiber” group lost a similar amount of weight even from a single recommendation. Even though, 30 grams of fiber is not a truly high fiber level (more like a good minimum for most adults) and there are certainly many other aspects to a healthy diet, that one change may have led to increased consumption of less processed plant-foods and still yielded some benefits.

      Best of health to you too!

    • Kay, RN

      It’s true that the study of nutrition has tended to be reduced to which foods are the sources of which specific nutrients. Dr. Campbell calls this “reductionism” and discusses it in his book Whole. This thinking has spawned the whole supplement industry and has led to simplistic thinking (“My doctor told me to eat a banana a day for potassium!”) When I tell people I eat a whole food plant-based diet they usually express concern about, of course, protein and also that it’s just not a complete diet. Au contraire! I don’t believe that physicians or nutritionists are aware of all the elements in foods that are good for us and that are refined out of the SAD. I don’t think that a person who eats the SAD, even after adding in “enriched” foods and loads of supplements, can make up for the nutrients left out and the bad elements added in. Yes, eat food as natural as possible to get more nutritional value.

    • Kathy

      I have had the same epiphany after chasing the alternative health movement for 40 years. My attention has been jerked from one ‘answer’ to another for all of our ills. Finally I’ve settled on an answer for myself; whole, simple foods just the way God put them on this earth. I don’t think our creator meant for it to be rocket science. If vitamin C is the answer, eat more oranges and lemons. If calcium is the answer, eat more greens. If vitamin A is the answer then eat more carrots. In other words, when you eat whole healthy foods from the earth, you will automatically get everything you need from every category. Nothing works in isolation but in synergy with everything else to provide a complete answer. My epiphany came with the introduction of green smoothies to my life. Wow! What a simplified answer. I start off every day with more raw fruits and vegetables than I used to get in a whole week! And the health inprovements would take me another whole paragraph. Acid reflux- gone, esophogeal spasms – gone, carpal tunnel – gone, 20 pounds – gone, 25 years of sleep problems – gone, extreme dry mouth – gone. I can’t imagine the amount of fiber they contain! I have quit looking at my health in isolated elements and started thinking of it as a complete picture. And it is looking better all the time!

  • justme

    Thanks Dr. Gregor; I appreciate all your videos and articles. I saw a lecture of Dr. Burkitt on video on the subject of fiber, which was interesting and informative.

  • Jackie

    I am not sure I understand fiber…hoping for some answers. If I put a cup of oats or a cup of buckwheat in my BlendTec and turn them into flour – does the fiber disappear? Same question with regard to carrots…if I blend them with water in the blender – does the fiber go away? Thanks in advance for some clarity..

    • just a learning

      you are asking one of the best questions I’ve seen. I hope someone answers your query. I will give you a partial answer and I don’t know if anyone knows the full answer.
      Fiber is something in the “whole” food. Its not important in itself but as part of the whole food. It doesn’t go away but is transformed. A brick is different from powdered minerals. There are nutrients there but they are quickly getting oxidized or transformed also. The undigested, and partially whole fiber, is creating nooks for bacteria when it gets to the colon so it may do some helpful things. In some foods it may be protecting nutrients from changing, or getting absorbed, so some of the nutrients get into you and some are shared with the different bacteria and reactions that go on inside the bowel.
      Some foods blended up may be just as good or better and some foods may be greatly degraded. I don’t think anyone has worked this all out to know the advantages and disadvantages for all the different foods. The different combination parameters are astronomical when we look into combining foods and how they could interact. Don’t think about cooking, that’s another astronomical combination.
      We measure the nutrients we know but there are likely thousands of other things that are important we haven’t recognized yet most likely.
      No one knows but eating everything whole is best but not likely practical as we would have to spend the day chewing and eating. But is that for sure necessary? or worthwhile. I would say, eat whole as much as you can but the others ways have good advantages too. If you eat 50% whole that may be as good as 100%. I don’t know and I’m not sure anyone else does either.
      Good thinking and great question.

      • Jackie

        Thanks for your thoughts…someone told me that once I ground the grains into flour – they had no fiber. But I can’t reconcile that with cooking them until they are soft and then chewing them. Why would that retain fiber if blending them before swallowing wouldn’t? Still confused.

        • Ashley Galloway

          Great question! If all parts of the grain are kept in the flour, then you’ve still got the fiber. The fiber is found in the bran portion of the grain (the other parts of the grain are the germ and the endosperm); so if the bran remains in the flour, so does the fiber. This illustrates the difference between whole grain flours and refined flours. Refined flours are made by removing the bran and the germ, removing much of the grains goodness (like protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals). Here’s a great page explaining the whole grain in its entirety:

        • Phil Larschan

          Hi Jackie. Good question. If you filter the juice, you will lose phytonutrients. Take a look at the Nonextractable polyphenols, usually ignored, are the major part of dietary polyphenols. Most polyphenol phytonutrients in plants are locked to the fiber. Take a look at this video: [] to put it into perspective.

        • just a learning

          I guess I would answer this way. Chewing is not anywhere near as efficient as blending. The fiber is much smaller blended but perhaps that is still OK and perhaps not. Blending leaves all the nutrients but they “may” start degrading and oxidizing sooner in a more “open” form. If you drink it right away, maybe not so much. Cooking is not as efficient as blending but could destroy some nutrients but with some foods allow them to be released. Also with whole grains ground into flour, the glycemic index is near the same as processed flour and that may have health detriments but its way better then refined flour that may not have some balancing compounds to blunt that.

          Some of the fiber in its more intact “structure” ?? could have advantages to the microbiome, that when not optimized, has been linked to immune disease, cancer and atherosclerosis. Just “google” microbiome to see all the evolving research into that area.

          I blend greens and other foods all the time. It is way better to do that and what you describe then to buy it processed and the nutrient levels will be higher and the fiber perhaps “bigger” especially if you don’t blend too long.

          It may be that our “system” evolved to have the fiber pieces in our gut. including the way bacteria use them and the way they may distribute nutrients and compounds that change on the way through the digestive process. The size of those may matter more or less. I don’t “know” that. But… It certainly appears with heath outcome data from epidemiology and studies that eating whole plant based foods gives the best outcomes by far for health and all the human benefits that go from there. I guess… blend some of the food, not too long, and eat some things whole, can’t be bad.
          good to discuss with you. It helps me think for explanations to others that ask me in real life.

    • Neil

      Jackie, fiber can be soluble (e.g., apple juice has fiber from the soluble pectin) or insoluble. Grinding prior to eating does not destroy the fiber. Your teeth and stomach grind and break down foods the same way. Fiber is not destroyed. Fiber passes through our gut, and some of it is broken down by bacteria. Dr. Greger posted a video on that, I believe. Check this site out:

    • Jackie

      Thanks to all for the information. Appreciate your responses.

      • just a

        No one knows how fiber effects the nutrient use and bacterial interactions in our gut and how we may have evolved to take advantage of that. Components of fiber “may” not
        be the same as more intact fiber. It would appear healthful to take that into consideration with some of the diet “whole” to help accomadate that process.

  • Patrice A

    Ok, I’m slowing becoming convinced of the importance of a plant-based diet. But in my over 20 years of searching for answers for health issues, I have come across some very important issues that I can’t quite fit with a fully plant based diet. I’d really appreciate it if Dr Greger could personally address these, or direct us all to past videos/articles of his that do address these. I’m sure all of Dr Greger’s audience would benefit from these answers.
    1) how does one get enough iron on a plant-based diet?
    2) how does one get enough B12 on a plant-based diet?
    3) I have read Dr Kate Rheume-Bleue’s great book “Vitamin K2: The calcium Paradox”. Unless one eats natto (not me!), there is no significant way to get enough vitamin K2 (we get it from the tissues of ruminants who produce it from K1 they get in the chorolphyll in the grass they eat). K2, along with vitamin D and vitamin A (real A, not beta carotene), regulate calcium and keep it in your teeth and bones and remove it from your arteries. So how do we humans, who do not have the ability to make K2 from K1, get our K2 if we don’t eat animals who eat grass or animals who eat animals who eat grass? As Dr Kate shows, the rise of heart disease correlates to when farmers started feeding their animals grains and stopped letting them eat what they should be eating–grasses. Her book incorporates the world-wide health studies of indigenous populations who lack heart disease and other western diseases, done by Dr Weston Price in the 20’s and 30’s.
    4) I was fascinated to hear of Dr Greger’s video on saturated fat’s ability to prevent insulin from working with blood sugar. Is it only animal-based saturated fat or all fats? Does coconut oil have this same effect on insulin? Do any other oils (fish oil, krill oil, nuts, olive oil, etct) have this effect?
    5) I was also fascinated to hear from Dr Greger that a study showed that eating animal meat causes insulin to be released (not blood sugar, just insulin, right?). I read that that study has not been duplicated. Does he know anything about that? And can Dr Greger explain why this happens? What is the mechanism?
    6) with all the studies I hear about related to the health problems that seem to be associated with eating animal products, I always wonder–were the animals grass-fed and were the meats loaded with K2 or were they not grass-fed and devoid of it (as most animal products are now)? I want to know if this issue has any bearing on why these studies show disease from a non-plant based diet.

    If we’re all looking for the truth about our health, these questions need answers.
    Thank you!

    • Daniel Wagle

      I am just a lay person, but I will try to answer some of your questions. Plenty of plant foods have iron. This non Vegan site lists NO animal foods as a good source of iron. this might be the case, since does not list liver or red meat as one of the healthiest foods. This site, which lists all foods stated that mollusks, such as oysters, and clams as well as liver and red meat have good amounts of iron. Eggs are not that high in iron and milk has NO iron Chicken is not particularly high in iron, either The issue is that non heme iron in plants is not as well absorbed as heme iron found in red meat. However, the upside to this is that one cannot get an overdose of iron on plants, but a person can overdose from the heme iron found in red meat, liver or mollusks. Eating Vitamin C along with the iron source promotes its absorption. I don’t eat animal products, but my blood work showed my iron levels were sufficient. I do eat blackstrap molasses and pumpkin seeds most days as these are high in iron. As for “real” Vitamin A, there are very few good animal sources of this. Only liver is a good source and who would want to eat liver everyday? You would have to eat two sticks of butter everyday or 16 eggs everyday to get enough Vitamin A. And just like heme iron, “real” Vitamin A is toxic in large amounts, whereas Beta Carotene is not. And there are LOTS of plants that have LOTS of Beta Carotene and even if it is not all converted, there is so much in these sources that plenty will be converted to retinol. This same site showed that Sweet Potatoes, among other plant foods, such as carrots and dark green vegetables, have far more Retinol equivalents than any animal food except liver. Pumpkin is also an excellent source. Of course, one absorbs the Beta Carotene better if one includes a whole plant food fat source, such as nuts, with the Beta Carotene source. I eat a carrot as well as turnip greens everyday for beta carotene. As for B12 and K2- both of these are made by bacteria, not made by animals. Even Mercola, who is a strong advocate of animal products, stated a person could get K2 from other fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut. Sauerkraut might be a bit more palatable than natto is. He stated here that using the right starter culture will raise the amount of K2 in the vegetables. Since B12 is made by bacteria, I don’t see why a person couldn’t get B12 from vegetables fermented with the right starter culture as well. As for the Inuit having no heart disease, that is a pure myth that has been disproven. Here is Loren Cordain, a strong advocate of eating animals, who stated that archaeology showed that the Inuit often had severe atherosclerosis long before they would have eaten any western foods.

    • Neil

      Patricia, your questions do have answers! After some quick internet searches, I found some things to get you started:

      1. Plants, such as spinach and beans, are great sources of iron. It is helpful to add iron-absorbing foods to the mix, like garlic, onions, and anything containing Vitamin C, as it aids in iron absorption.

      2. People eating solely plants need to supplement B12. I suggest reading and watching what Dr. Greger posted on the subject, and even reading his “Sources Cited” for more in-depth info.

      B12 comes in different forms. Greger discusses that here:

      Personally, I take a liquid form of methylcobalamin. It’s the more “active” form. I put a few drops into a glass of water every morning. Read more about methylcobalamin here:

      3. We can get enough K1 from plants. Here is what WebMD says: “Most people get enough vitamin K from their diets.”

      Here are the plants highest in Vitamin K:

      This study, actually says the K1 may prevent hardening of arteries:

      As for K2, this seems to be a new micronutrient of interest of late, dismissing, of course, the musings of the dentist Weston Price and his “X factor”. There seem to be 14 types of K2s:

      “Vitamin K2 includes a range of vitamin K forms collectively referred to as menaquinones. Most menaquinones (MKs) are synthesized by human intestinal microbiota and found in fermented foods and in animal products. Menaquinones differ in length from 1 to 14 repeats of 5-carbon units in the side chain of the molecules.”

      Natto is rich in MK-7.

      Below are two reputable sites that seem to be pretty exhaustive on the subject. They conclude that there needs to be more studies done on K2. Nothing conclusive can be drawn from the studies up to date.

      As for Dr. Kate and her book on K2, I have not read it. But I am leery of these outlier Drs and nutrition “experts” and their pushing of a magical new treatment (coffee enemas by the Gerson gaggle), the eat-lard-don’t-exercise-and-lose-weight diet (Gary Taubes), or an all-powerful, super micronutrient (K2). Such speculation sells books and creates interest in people looking for a magical solution. Kate suggests heart disease was caused by livestock being fed grain? That sounds like nonsense. A more plausible explanation is the explosion of calories consumed by Americans after WWII. Over the last 50 years we eat 2/3 more added oils (75lbs/person/year), 45% more grains (mostly processed), 40% increase in added sugars (152lbs/person/year), and 57lbs more meat (195lbs/person/year). This gluttony, and plummeting activity levels, results in rampant obesity and heart disease. Not the fact that cows aren’t eating grass.

      Here is a take on the Weston Price Foundation, which I find to be a cult of sorts.
      This is Sally Fallon, president of the Foundation. Not the healthiest looking individual:
      4. Study was on saturated fat. Coconut oil raises bad cholesterol, just like animal fat. Coconut is one of the very few plant sources of saturated fat. So I assume that its effects on insulin are the same.

      The other things you listed have poly-unsaturated fats. I do not have time to look into each (get our omegas from algae supplements though!)

      5. Not sure what study you’re referring to.

      6. Answered in 3.



      • jason

        As an addendum to your excellent reply–and that of Daniel, as well, Some personal notes:

        I tried taking 1-2 tbsp. of coconut oil daily, had a lipid panel done six months later, and was pleasantly surprised to find that my HDL (good cholesterol) rose (from about 45 to 55), while the LDL and TG were more or less unchanged. What does this prove? Probably nothing. We all are different, and there is no guarantee that if I kept taking the coconut oil that HDL would remain elevated (for me) and LDL well behaved. In fact six months later my HDL dropped back almost to where it had been before I started taking the coconut oil. What did raise my bad cholesterol (I think) was eating cheese (about 2-3 oz. per day), yet I can’t be totally sure about that. The only thing I know is that my HDL rose after taking coconut oil for the first six months, but that may just have been incidental.

        Re: vegans not getting enough nutrients, specifically iron, I wondered myself since going entirely WPF-based, and so analyzed what I ate on a representative day. It turned out to be 1.9 times the RDA (per So no worries there. What about zinc, since I’m male? I’ve analyzed the past three weeks, and have been above the RDA every single day but one, averaging over 25% above the RDA. For calcium it’s 60% over the RDA; for potassium it’s double the RDA; and for magnesium more than triple the RDA (1.35 grams/day). I worry more about OVER-nutrition than under-nutrition on a whole plant food diet.

        The whfoods website Daniel linked is an excellent resource; besides listing top nutrition sources from foods, it gives the lowdown on each nutrient.

        I think I’ve read here at Dr. Greger’s site that only about 2% of Americans get enough potassium while a large majority gets too much sodium. Many are deficient in magnesium relative to calcium. Vegans seem to do better with all these as well as most vitamins. So while Patrice does us a service by asking us if we are getting enough nutrients, we should do the same for those on standard Western diets.

        • Neil

          Jason, I admire your ability to take the time to calculate your daily intake! Very disciplined. I have not done that. My HDL was 43 and LDL 45, with total cholesterol at 109 (with 20% of triglycerides added to HDL and LDL). That was after about 2 years on whole food, plant-based diet. Wish I had done a “before” analysis, however, to see what it was before my 180 change. I have pretty good numbers apparently:

          Re: Nutrient Deficiency Issues. There is no question that Americans are nutrient deficient. Americans on the Standard American Diet (SAD) are sorely lacking in most nutrients because the diet consists primarily on empty calories coming from highly-processed foods, from which most nutrients are removed during processing. In their place, sugar, fat, and salt are added for taste and shelf-life. It is, however, almost impossible to be nutrient deficient if one gets all or the majority of one’s calories from a variety of whole plant foods. There is one main exception: B12. Vitamin D we can, ideally, get from sunshine. But some people just don’t get out enough, especially in winter time. But, so many things (grains, milk-substitutes) are fortified with Vitamin D. In addition, mushrooms are a good source. I take a Vitamin D supplement during the winter.

          I have been looking at whfoods’ site. Very informative. I think this site is a bit “cleaner” in it’s layout with regard to which foods contain which nutrient. One can find the foods containing the most or least amount of macro or micronutrients per weight or per calorie:

          • jason

            It helps, when analyzing the contents of one’s daily meals, to eat at home–which I do 99% of the time. Then I know what has gone into my food. I also only eat about 25 different food items, and once I’ve looked them up at Nutritiondata and placed them into my Excel spreadsheet, they’re permanently there in the record, and can be C&P’ed to the next worksheet. There are probably other programs out there if you don’t like working with spreadsheets.

            Yes, the Nutrient Seek feature at Nutritiondata is very helpful to locate foods high in particular nutrients we are looking for–as is whfoods, though it omits certain foods, probably because it considers them to be unhealthful. So if you’re looking for natural B12 sources there, it’ll list salmon, sardines, even shrimp, but no clams or mussels–which are actually the richest sources.

            Re: B12, I’m still a bit confused how we can store several years’ worth of it, while apparently absorbing no more than 1.5 mcg + 1% of the excess at any particular meal. Seems we wouldn’t absorb much more B12 than we need to use each day, and so couldn’t store B12 for the future. Lately I’ve been taking about 20 mcg. with each meal (unless I have a few shrimp); I guess I’m only about 99% vegan, but I think that’s probably good enough. I’d take more B12, but it comes with other unwanted vitamins (B1 and B6), and even though these are readily eliminated, my philosophy is to take as few supplements as possible.

            Odd to have LDL so low as yours. I guess that’s very good news. Mine has averaged a little under 100 over the past several years, but I’ve only been about 90-95% vegetarian–until recently. I’m hoping to get it down to 75 or so, while keeping HDL > 40. But many people with very low cholesterol (e.g., TC < 130) also have low HDL (<40). They probably don't need the protective effect of HDL. So you're doubly lucky.

          • Daniel Wagle

            Here is something from states our body can make K2 out of K1.
            “The K1 form of vitamin K is found in plant foods, and 44 of our WHFoods are plant foods that serve as excellent, very good, or good sources of vitamin K! Many of our best sources of this vitamin are green vegetables (including 16 excellent sources); this makes good sense since K1 is required for green plants to conduct the process of photosynthesis. The K2 form of vitamin K is made from K1 and K3 by bacteria and other microorganisms. It can also be made in the human body through a conversion process involving K1 and K3.”
            I also think the issue is perhaps not whether we are consuming enough iron or zinc, but whether we are absorbing all of these nutrients well enough on a plant based diet. Also, are we converting enough Beta Carotene into retinol? Are we converting enough ALA from ground flaxseed into DHA and EPA? I need to take these tests. I did take a B12, folate and iron test and my iron levels were adequate, my B12 levels were very good and my folate levels were extremely high. I would like to take a Vitamin A test, as Vitamin D test and an Omega 3 test- I am just not sure the insurance would cover these tests. I do eat ground flaxseed everyday. I get B12 from fortified soymilk, as well as Red Star nutritional yeast, which is fortified with B12. I eat pumpkin seeds and take a Prostate supplement for zinc. By the way, I used to have very high LDL cholesterol when I was very obese and now that I have lost a lot of weight (over 100 pounds) through exercise and eating plants, my LDL is now 81 and my HDL is in the high 70’s. My triglycerides are 43. Perhaps I should try to get my LDL below 70, but does my high HDL make this less important? I don’t know.

          • Neil

            True. If you want to really eat a healthy, WFPB diet, you’re going to have to cook yourself, especially if you don’t live near a metropolitan area with restaurants and eateries with healthy choices. Like you, I cook all my own meals. I have never counted calories. I can tell if I’m gaining fat, and increase activity and eliminate treats and calories as needed. To me, counting calories is a “diet”–something I’ll never do. Diets are complicated nonsense that discourage people from sticking with them, assuming they are even worth sticking to. Just eating mostly, if not entirely, whole plant foods, is the only standard to which I hold myself. I have thought about keeping track of nutrients. But then, unfortunately, that just seems too tedious for me. Also, I cook random and often new things from various cook books I’ve bought, so my list of foods and spices is quite large. From what I’ve read, if I get enough calories on my diet, I’ll naturally get more than enough nutrients, with the exception of B12 (if I do not eat animal products and not enough fortified foods) and Vitamin D in the winter. Although I do eat a lot of flax meal, chia seeds, and other plants high in omegas, I also take an algae omega supplement.

            Re: B12
            Here is what McDougall has to say on B12. He claims we have a 3-year’s store of B12 in our liver, if we’ve been on an omnivorous diet. He doesn’t provide a cite for this claim, however.

            McDougall wrote this blog post in 2007. A recent metanalysis of B12 requirements from 2013, however, shows that the studies on which the RDA is based are questionable, at best. And, due to the invasive, and currently-seen-as-unethical procedures used to determine current levels, follow-up studies are not possible. Here is the review:

            This recent review, from 2014, showed inconsistencies in all recent studies dealing with determination of B12 deficiency.
            One needs to pay for this article, from 2014, but it seems to say the same:

            My take away is this: We need B12, but trying to figure out to any certainty how much a certain individual needs (other than the bare minimum that results in complications), at a certain point in a person’s life, or how much anyone is storing, is likely unattainable, at least to any degree of certainty on an individual basis. As with any attempt at reducing nutrition to discrete nutrients, when countless environmental and genetic factors, enzymes, phytonutrients, proteins, bacteria, and metabolic pathways play such an intricate role, we end up failing to see the forest for the trees. The forest being eating a diet of unprocessed foods, primarily or solely of plants, and, if we eat meat and dairy, do so minimally from local non-factory-farmed sources.

            For me, Vitamin D (actually a hormone, not a vitamin) is a great example of the intricacy of health. For example, I recently discovered that vitamin D is made from sunlight hitting our skin and changing a type of cholesterol to previtamin D3.
            I knew sunlight = Vitamin D, but not that cholesterol was the precursor. Furthermore, I watched this TED talk that shows sunlight releases nitric oxide bound in our skin into our system. Nitric oxide helps dilate our arteries, reducing likelihood of stroke and heart disease.

            My cholesterol is low, especially compared to those on Western diets. But in light of the fact that our bodies make all of the cholesterol we need, I don’t worry about it.
            Some of these, let’s call them quacks, like Mercola (although he’s not the worst), claim we NEED cholesterol from our diet. He claims, on his website, that our bodies only make 75% of the cholesterol we need, and the other 25% we need from our diet, i.e., eat fat and animal products. He cites the American Heart Association website. The funny thing is that this is what the AHA website has to say about cholesterol production: “Your body, and especially your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through the blood.”

            Anyway, I’m rambling.

            BTW, if you’re looking for a supplement that is solely B12, without other vitamins, I use this:

          • Thea

            Neil: I especially enjoyed your paragraph on Mercola and the American Heart Association. Fun read.

          • Neil

            Thanks, Thea. Off subject, what do you do as a “NF Volunteer”?

          • Thea

            Just this – ie, help with the comments section. When I can, I answer people’s questions. When I think a post is part of an interesting discussion, I take part, while trying to role model as best I can. When a post strikes me as particularly good in some way, I say so. (Actually, there are a lot of excellent posts that I don’t have time to comment on. Especially lately. The quality of posts and posters on NutritionFacts just keeps going up and up. I feel very honored to be part of NutritionFacts.) When a post breaks the rules, I deal with it one way or another. I’m just a volunteer, so I don’t have time to do all that I would like to do. But I do give it an honest effort.

          • Neil

            Thanks. That sounds interesting. One can get sucked into these blogs and comment sections, though. :)

          • Thea

            Yes! Lots of sucking…

          • Neil

            Well, keep the crazies in line!

          • jason

            You make a lot of sense even when ‘rambling’, and again–deeply appreciated. This strikes me as a good board to post on, as very few ad-hominem attacks, and most people are pretty knowledgeable and have a good attitude about food and learning. Even the low-carbers are treated with respect–as they should be. Of course, between you and me, low-carb is a terrible idea for the environment, but we should never blame people who are searching for a more healthful way of eating, and the Paleo Diet–to take an example–is a step up (at least) from the SAD.

            The most accessible Whole Plant Foods seem to be salads, and that is usually an option in restaurants.

            I have been counting calories lately, though I seldom bother to do that. I wish to know why I haven’t been losing weight on a vegan diet. So far I suspect it’s my overconsumption of nuts and seeds, and occasional use of cooking oil. My macronutrient ratio is about 55-33-12 (carb-fat-protein), while I get the impression from reading folks here that very few get 1/3 of their calories from fat; and some people even boast of maintaining an 80-10-10 diet (pretty much a rice and sweet potatoes diet). My goal is to get fat down to 25% and protein up to 15%.

            I calculated micronutrient intake to satisfy my curiosity whether I was getting the RDA of everything. I also calculate intakes of Omega-3 and 6 fats to see whether I’m observing a good ratio there (so far about 1:3). That is important if we want to be able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA. I get quite a lot of ALA–in excess of 10 grams/day, so even if I only convert, say, 4% of that to DHA, that would be equivalent to over 400 milligrams. Many fish oil capsules contain less than half of that. I bought several bottles of fish oil, but stopped taking them partly out of laziness, and partly out of wariness after reading accounts here on their toxicity. You are probably smart to get Omega-3 from algae. Sometimes I eat a can of sardines, which are high in Vit. D, Omega-3, and B12. Yes, I know there are some toxicity issues, which is why it is something I do only rarely. I have mild hypertension, and am hoping it will go away on a vegan or near vegan diet. In a month I probably have five servings of animal food–say 500 calories, But I eat upwards of 3,000 calories/day ( a small bowl of almonds or walnuts can easily have 500), and burn off perhaps 700 calories in exercise. So maybe I’m only getting 1/2 of 1% of calories from animal products (shrimp, egg, maybe sardines)… certainly less than 1%, meaning that I am indeed over 99% vegan.

            I’ll try it for a while, and if that doesn’t work (help me lose weight or lower BP), I’ll go all the way…and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try something else, like meditation. But so far I have noticed improvements in health from moving from 90% vegan to 99% vegan.

            Re: Vit. D, I’ve read that to synthesize it from sunlight, we need to be exposed to UVB radiation when the sun is at least 50 degrees above the horizon (UVA won’t do the job at all or as well). I try to get 10 minutes of midday sun most days. I had also read reports that we needed cholesterol to convert the sun’s rays to Vit. D, but your account seems the most logical. Most inhabitants of the tropics, who rely on sunlight for their Vit.D, probably have low serum cholesterol like you do. It is very bizarre how some people make a fetish over cholesterol, saying it is beneficial, when most of it isn’t.

          • Thea

            jason: re: ” I wish to know why I haven’t been losing weight on a vegan
            diet.” If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend the following talk: “How
            To Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind” by Dr. Lisle.

            The perfect compliment to the above talk, to really drive home the concept, is a talk from Jeff Novick on the topic of calorie density:

            Good luck.

          • jason

            Thanks…I happened upon this video a couple months ago…it made a lot of sense. Basically, I recall he said to watch the “pleasure traps” like nuts & seeds, and watch the oils. I can attest to that, for my weight does drop when I observe these measures (chocolate was another vice, but has become a more occasional indulgence).

            Now that I know what I need to do, I just need to do it!

          • Thea

            jason: I had a different take home message – at least as the bottom line. The pleasure trap information is part of it. But I believe that the biggest point in regards to losing weight is understanding calorie density and how to move up and down the “line”.

            re: “Now that I know what I need to do, I just need to do it!”
            Me too!!!!!!!!!!!

          • Neil

            Yes, this site has a much tamer, inquisitive discourse than others. That is why I enjoy it. I learn so much more here than I would on other sites. A lot of other sites are visited by uninformed idealogues who regurgitate as dogma misinformation they heard at the gym or read on some random site.

            Re: Weight Loss: I hate to make a suggestion without knowing more about your situation, but, in regards to losing weight, I always ask people about their physical activity. So I say the following, understanding that some, or all, may not apply to you, and assuming you’re cutting out added oils and sugars.

            Weight loss plateaus, even on a vegan diet, if calories in equal calories being burnt. Here is an interesting TED Talk on the chemistry of this premise:

            To decrease the input of calories, try eating slower and/or stopping when you feel about 80% full. Here’s why:

            Most people are under the impression that cardio activity burns more calories than it actually does. If I ran 10 minute miles (6 mph pace) for 1 hour (assuming I could even keep that pace for an hour!!), I would burn a little over 800 calories.

            So, if one wants to lose more weight, the length of moderate exercise needs to be increased, the intensity of the exercise needs to be increased, or a mixture of both.

            In addition, many people fail to do strength training. Increasing lean muscle increases daily caloric expenditure. Studies show that regular strength training increases resting metabolic rate 7-8%.

            So, I think if you implement these principles, you’ll have no problem losing that extra weight. Heck, it seems you’ve got control of the most important, and often hardest, part: what you eat.

            Re: Omegas. If you have not already, you should watch and read Dr. Greger’s posts on fish oil, algae-based omegas, etc.

            I take this:

            Based on my research, it’s the best for one’s money. Consumer Labs agrees (you need a subscription to view their studies). Aside from health issues from fish oil and toxins therein, if one cares about the environment, one should not take fish oil.

            Re: Vitamin D. I’m sure angle and intensity of sun’s rays determine how long we need to be in sun, as does skin tone, surface area of skin exposed, etc. But figuring that out sounds too complicated to me–too many variables!! I exercise or do yard work outside when possible. Always putting sunscreen on face, hands, forearms, and neck because they’re exposed ALL the time. I put sunscreen on other parts only if I’ll be out longer than half hour in summer. I burn easy. Mushrooms also naturally contain Vitamin D. Luckily I looooove mushrooms:

            Re: Cholesterol. Cholesterol is critical for our bodies, which is why our bodies make just enough for optimum performance. I’m assuming that if our blood cholesterol drops due to much of it being converted to Vitamin D via UV exposure on a give day, then the body will create more to level the deficiency out.

          • Thea

            Neil: Thanks for the tip on the algae oil! I keep thinking I should add that to my daily routine. I just haven’t gotten serious about it yet. I really appreciate knowing where I can find a good deal, because I do think I’ll be going the algea oil supplement some day.

            How big would you say those pill are? I’m not so good with swallowing pills. I know someone who takes a similar product, but she can’t swallow the pills at all. But because the oil is given lemon flavoring, she just punctures the gell cap and sucks out the oil. I doesn’t look like this product is flavored per say. But it does have sorbitol, a sweetener I believe. So, maybe it would taste OK. Do you swallow the pill whole or have you tasted the oil?

            One thing that worries/confuses me is that the product also has caramel (color I believe) added. Here are Dr. Greger’s videos on caramel:

            I wonder why they would add color to a pill?

            As an aside: nice post overall. I appreciated it.

          • Neil

            You’re welcome, and thanks re my post! I did quite a bit of research on the algae supplement, after watching the great videos on the subject posted on this site. Once I did all the research, Consumer Labs comes out with a study saying that, of all the algae-based omega supplements they looked at, Ovega was the best buy. Good in that it confirmed my finding, but I could have saved a lot of time had I seen their study first!

            Re: Caramel Coloring: I agree with the caramel coloring. That reminds me. I was meaning to write the company and ask about that. I take the pills to avoid fish pills and their heavy metals and toxins, only to consume a chemical coloring that may be carcinogenic! They should be able to find something else. I believe they do it to protect the pill from sunlight. Sunlight exposure speeds rancidity. But one would think the brown bottle that the Ovega pills come in would suffice. The Environmental WOrking Group lists caramel color as a “low” concern, however.
            California limits it as a carcinogen, however, and Consumer Reports show concern:
            This study suggests it may be carcinogenic:
            Anyway, I’m on the look-out for a better alternative. We’ll see if the company responds to my request/query.

            Re: Pill Size. The pills are fairly big, but the gel-like exterior gets really slippery. I find them really easy to swallow. But, if you find it difficult to swallow, maybe try throwing them in the blender with your smoothie, assuming you make one each day. I would say cut them up, but the inside is liquid. Heck cutting them, in half, squeezing and rinsing out the oil inside into a glass of water, and throwing away the caramel colored shell, may be the best of both worlds!

          • Thea

            Neil: Thanks for the reply and additional info. I’m really happy to be able to skip some of the research on this. :-)

          • Neil

            Great! Glad it helped. I’m actually now watching the Lisle video you posted. About half way through.

          • Neil

            Ok. I just contacted them re their use of caramel coloring. Here’s the link, in case you want to pile on:


          • Thea

            Yes! :-)

          • Neil


  • Susan

    Save Your Life and Everything You wanted to know about Nutrition was written by Dr. David Reuben, MD (psychiatrist) in or around 1975. He also goes deeply into fiber. He refers to the Zulus of Africa. But, he is better known for his book “Everything You Always Wanted to know about sex (but were afraid to ask), perhaps a much more interesting subject than fiber.:} I think he is still alive…..

  • george jacobs

    Why are the fiber recommendations lower for people over 50? Thanks

  • jason

    Anyone here know if there is a tolerable upper limit for dietary fiber? I’ve never seen one, and have been wondering if it’s possible to eat too MUCH fiber.

    Very few Americans get the recommended amount of fiber (25-38 grams/day, but some whole plant vegans get around 70 grams or more. I’ve been averaging about 90 with no ill effects (some occasional flatulence, and to be sure, about two BM’s per day).

    Of course there is the theory that too much fiber can prevent the absorption of certain micronutrients. Any body know if this is true?

    • Neil

      On face value, without doing research, I can say with essentially 100% certainty, that one cannot eat too much fiber. If it were true that one could eat too much fiber, then one could eat too many whole plants (mixture, of course): whole grains, fruits, nuts, legumes, and veggies. This, of course, is impossible.

      Dr. Greger has posted videos on the subject of gut microbes and their digestion of our food (just search “fiber” on this site). Eating whole plants, i.e., all the fiber we can get, allows the “good” bacteria to proliferate. These microbes digest the fiber, creating chemicals beneficial and, perhaps, crucial to health.

      Here are other articles, in addition to the videos and cites used by Greger.

      Jason, in regards to absorption of micronutrients, you may be thinking of lectins (like gluten), and phytates contained in grains and legumes? Both are greatly reduced by soaking the grains and legumes, and by the heat of cooking. Phytates are actually beneficial (do search on this site; Dr posted videos). I am cutting and pasting something I wrote on another blog regarding the fear of lectins and phytates:

      Carbophobes and Paleophiles fear grains mainly because of phytate and lectin. Phytate, however, in grains, beans, and
      nuts, has anti-cancer properties.

      Although phytate does reduce the absorption of some minerals, adding mineral absorbers, such as garlic and
      onions to a meal, would negate such effect.

      The conclusion being that phytate-containing foods are beneficial. “The higher phytate intake with
      whole-grain products will undoubtedly lead to a percentage decrease in mineral
      absorption, but the absolute amount of absorbed minerals may remain unchanged,
      because of the large amounts of minerals in these products. In addition, it has
      been suggested that dietary phytate may exhibit some beneficial health effects,
      such as prevention of kidney stone formation [ 8 ], protection against diabetes
      mellitus [ 9 ], caries [ 10 ], atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease [ 11
      ] as well as against a variety of cancers [ 12 ]. Thus, it could be concluded
      that the beneficial health effects discussed in regard to phytate are more
      important for populations in highly developed countries than its antinutritive

      As for lectins (e.g., gluten), they can be
      greatly reduced by cooking or fermenting of the food source.

      The only people who need to avoid whole grains, beans, and legumes are those with confirmed celiac disease or gluten
      How to Diagnose Gluten Intolerance |

      • jason

        Neil, your response here and below are deeply appreciated. I will check out your links.

        I don’t know if I could agree with a categorical statement that it is impossible to eat too much whole plant foods. I also wonder if eating too much fiber could overtax the whole colonic system? But what would constitute ‘too much’? 100 grams? 200 grams? It’s odd that if fiber has so many benefits in terms of reducing cholesterol or sugar in the blood (which it does), and if there is no tolerable upper limit, why the RDA has been set so low…essentially 25 grams for women, 38 grams for men, and 30 for older men. Why not 50 grams for everybody? How about children?

        I have been eating whole grains since 1970 when I became vegetarian, later Macrobiotic (lots of brown rice and beans!). Even when I returned to a more omnivorous diet, I maintained my preference for whole grain, and have eaten a high fiber diet most of my adult life. Refined grain, usually pasta or white rice, was and is very rare for me, and I eat sparingly of it. I have no phobias of grains, gluten, beans, nuts, seeds, but do agree that fermented foods are probably good for us. Anyway, my digestion has always been strong, few stomach complaints even with the huge amounts I eat. I don’t know what I’d do without fiber. I had to give it up for three days to prepare for a colonoscopy, and that was worse than the procedure itself.

        • jj

          Any time one ups their fiber intake it needs to be done slowly to let the system get used to the fiber. Too much too soon can cause a clog in the drain.

          • jason

            Never had that problem, except when traveling. I recall shortly after going WPF vegan I did get constipated and went six days…That hasn’t happened in eons…Now I average two a day, and probably beat out the Tongans in terms of super-poop. I will say that getting dehydrated can be a problem, since a certain amount of liquid is required to move a large amt. of fibrous foods through the colon. This is especially true during hot weather. Luckily, most high fiber WP foods contain lots of water. But still, being active, we can easily dehydrate.

          • jason

            Thanks yet again, Neil, for your detailed and very helpful response.

            Addressing your statements in order:

            1. Yes, there were no spices added to the barley ‘gruel’ (a bit thicker than soup), although the bit of seaweed does act a little like a spice. Seaweed also goes great with mushrooms, as you probably know. Speaking of which:

            2. I concur completely on the virtues of fungi; they are superfoods, which are very high in protein, Potassium, Zinc, natural aspirin, and fiber…low in calories and fat. They’re probably, along with green leafies, the most healthful thing you can eat. Plus, they are unique and delicious. I’m fortunate to live in an area which has many different native varieties.

            3. I think, as with salt, one can get used to using oil in very moderate amounts. I’m finally starting to recognize that my oil consumption has been a stumbling block to my losing weight. Today I had sauteed tofu cubes with spinach–which had been steamed beforehand. I only needed to use a bit over a tablespoon of oil. The small amt. of fat makes most vegetables more palatable, and I think oil’s one virtue (aside from the incidental virtue that some oils contain Vit. E or n-3 fatty acids) is that it enables me to consume large quantities of green vegetables… albeit maybe more than I really need. Speaking of which, how do we know how much we really need?

            4. One can get caught up in this nutrition stuff, and in counting the inventory of what one eats, I’ll grant you. It is not as laborious as you might think, for once the food items are listed, it’s a simple matter to C&P to subsequent days. It takes me much less time to inventory a day’s consumption than it takes to write this reply to you!

            I don’t really intend to do this very much longer, however–I just would like to know my average consumption over a two or three month period; then wait six months and do it again. The reason for doing the accounting is to make sure I’m getting adequate amts. of micronutrients and to ascertain what my macronutrient ratios are–not because I necessarily believe there is one “ideal” set of ratios for everyone, or even for myself, but to keep track of them, and their changes over time.

            One huge difference between plant based diets and Paleo/Atkins/South Beach/Zone diets, which are mostly designed for quick weight loss, is the macronutrient ratio. To compare my diet over the last five weeks: 58-32-10 (C-F-P) with a typical Paleo diet, which could very well have these same percentages, but applied to different macro-nutrients–e.g., 58% fat; 32% protein; 10% carbs– illustrates the wide range of possible ratios. Of course, I think eating 32% protein is nonsense unless one is just aiming for quick weight loss from a ketogenic diet. I do believe in listening to the conventional wisdom, even if the ratios are not entirely determined and documented. If the USDA recommends a range for carbs of 45-65%, then I think the Paleo dieters are being reckless in shooting for 10%, regardless of their motivation; theirs is clearly not a sustainable diet. Ditto for fats (USDA recommends 20% to 40%, I think–while Paleo aims for 60%). Since the USDA range for protein is, as I recall, 10% to 35%, the Paleo diet, with its suggested 30% of calories from protein, is within range only one this macronutrient.

            But still, I have a problem with this USDA range for protein, given that the RDA is only 0.8 grams per Kg. of body weight. A 70 Kg. person should only need 56 grams of protein. On a 2,000 calorie diet (which few people can limit themselves to), that would be about 11% of calories going to protein. (On a more typical 2,300 calorie diet, it would be < 10%). Some Paleo folks actually suggest we aim for 200 grams or more of protein/day, which is triple the RDA or more. That's probably unhealthful, as well as bad for the environment. But even the top of the USDA range (35%) is WAY over the RDA, unless one happened to weigh over 300 lbs. and limits oneself to < 1,500 calories/day. That's why I said that the most logical range for protein would be 10-15%, or perhaps as high as 20% for VERY active men. Most Americans get way too much protein, especially animal protein.

            Incidentally,I've read recently that while low (20%) protein diets than on low ones. That’s another reason for tracking my protein calories.

            I actually think that because a WPF diet is so nutritionally dense, we only really need to worry about the macro ratios– and perhaps the n-3, n-6 ratio (aside from getting enough B12, D, and perhaps DHA). But there are different WPF diets–most high carb, low protein, low fat–such as my own, but some, like Eco-Atkins (silly name) which attempt to be high in protein and fat. Actually, I probably adhere to a High Carb-Moderate Fat-Low Protein diet, since I’m still averaging > 30% in fat calories, and I only count myself borderline Low Protein. So far I’m pretty happy with that ratio (at least I feel OK); last year I was getting about 5% more in protein and 5% less in carbs. I plan to compare my lab tests with last year’s to determine which sort of diet suits me better (Moderate Carb-Moderate Protein) or (High Carb-Low Protein). Of course any associations I draw may not be causative, but merely incidental.

            5. The Okinawa diet seems like such an outlier, with its 85% of calories from carbs, that I hesitate to extol it as the ideal. Maybe the actual numbers were slightly different, or maybe people of European ancestry would require a bit more protein and fats–as the Sardinian numbers would indicate. But I’ve never been convinced by deterministic injunctions to slavishly emulate our ancestors, for many of our ancestors had poor diets. Climate certainly matters, as well as activity, and a rule of thumb I think would be to eat more fat in colder climates, more protein for hard physical work (resistance type), and more carbs for lighter, more aerobic activities. Possibly my aversion to resistance training arises from my low protein intake (relative to fats and carbs)? That’s just a wild guess.

            6. WHO : “The nature of dietary carbohydrate appears to be a more important determinant of health outcomes than the proportion of total energy derived from carbohydrate intake.”

            Translation: avoid refined carbs.

            It is VERY noteworthy to me that the MINIMUM % for the WHO is 55% carbs. This means that virtually every high protein/high fat diet out there is well out of range–even the moderate Zone Diet, which I think is about 40% carb. I myself was out of range last year, since I only got about 53% carb calories. Of course virtually all European and North American averages are out of range, since they tend to be in the high 40 percent range. It’s true, as you say, that the European and Western authorities recommend less carbohydrate and more protein than the Asian authorities, but the real dividing line is between the public authorities themselves and the various private hucksters (Paleo, Atkins, etc.) touting low carb weight loss diets–and to hell with the environment, sustainable health, or finances of the individuals practicing them. I am more inclined to trust the public authorities here than I am the promoters of fad diets–as I assume you are. I also think our diets need to suit our finances, and since carbs are generally cheaper, I can see why the WHO would set the range for them pretty high. The trouble with protein is contamination in animal-sourced foods, and lack of complete amino acids in plant-based ones. But the latter seems to me less of a compromise, as well as a much cheaper way to go.

            6. I’m taking your suggestions to heart, and doing some small amt. of resistance training more frequently. Instead of doing 5 minutes about once a week, I’m doing about 8 minutes every two or three days. I do some assisted pullups, some pushups, and arm-closings,which exercise the chest. I do two sets of 20 and 12 reps, do the other two exercises, then return for two more sets this time of 16 and 8 reps. Once I’ve generated some muscle tone, I’ll graduate to dumbells. I don’t think I need to do any leg resistance training, as I can get that just by climbing hills on the bike. Another thing I’m inclined to incorporate into my exercise regimen is some Yoga postures,or at least some stretching.

            7. Yes, I’m familiar with the drawbacks of relying on BMI’s, but only mentioned them because they are confirmed in my case by my waist measurement (about 40″) and because Dr. Greger had a video which recapped a survey showing that vegans were the one group which averaged a normal BMI (about 23), while even the vegetarians were overweight (25+). This same study also showed that blood sugar rose as one went from vegan to vegetarian to pesco-vegetarian to omnivore–and I think blood pressure rose as well. This may have been the Adventist Study. It is surely a major selling point for a vegan WPF diet. Now, if I could just get down to a BMI of 26,I’d be pretty happy.

            Last year, a study made a big splash by claiming that people in the overweight category–specifically those with BMI’s of 25 to 26.5–lived longer (had a lower all-cause mortality) than even those in the Normal category (18.5 to 24.9). This was particularly true for smokers and ex-smokers, but was even true of never-smokers, as I recall. But I think this only applies to people over 50, and younger folks of normal weight are still healthier, as a rule.

            It would be nice if the medical profession stopped using BMI, and perhaps they would if abdominal measurements could become error-free, or if there was an accurate way of measuring body fat percentage (I think there is, but it’s rather cumbersome and expensive).

            8. I got a lot of leg cramps last year, usually around 3AM, but sometimes shortly after a long ride–thankfully, never DURING a ride. At the time I was about 92% vegan, 8% animal product by calorie. I read up on cramps, and figured it was likely magnesium or potassium deficiency–not that I was truly deficient in these minerals. Since eliminating most of the animal products, I’ve swapped them for plant foods containing electrolytes such as Mg, Ca, and K, and just get MORE of them–as I’ve documented here. My BP has fallen, which means I’ve been able to scale back considerably on the hypertension meds, even though my weight has stayed about the same. I count that a real success of the WPF diet.

          • Neil

            Thanks for the detailed response, Jason. Apologies for not acknowledging it prior to now. Just too busy, and knew I needed a block of time to properly respond.

            1.) I am going to give the gruel a try. I have seaweed (and kelp) now from an Asian market. Love it. I think I may add Bragg’s Amino Acids to the mix. You ever try that. Brilliant stuff. I use it all the time. I may have mentioned it in an earlier message.

            2.) Where do you live, being near a rice paddy and a mushroom-abundant environment? I really want to grow mushrooms, but it is a time-consuming process. Have you had a go at it?

            3.) I agree with you. If a little added oil helps you consume more veggies, then a bit of oil it is! Oil does lend savoriness to meals. Now that I use very little oil, I buy small containers of oil. Oils go rancid after a certain time, resulting in free radicals and off tastes.

            4.) I’ll take your word re nutrient calculations! It is still too daunting for me! :) I can appreciate the dedication and commitment on your part, however.

            Re: Paleo. Hopefully we’ll be seeing some long-term studies on the Paleo diet. The problem now, however, is defining what exactly is the Paleo diet. It seems to have morphed into various factions, as any developing “religion” does.

            Re: Differing Protein Requirements for Older and Younger Adults. Do you have sources for this claimed variation in protein needs? I did a quick search and found there to be no difference in requirements.

            Re: Protein Intake and Activity. I don’t see how increased activity requires, as you suggest, increased % of protein. Muscles burn glucose. The more we work/workout/exercise, the more energy we need for our muscles to burn. Carbs are the most efficient. Fat is the densest form of energy, but must be converted. Why, as you suggest, do we need a higher percentage of protein though? If we’re eating more calories, we’re getting more protein, although some food items have more amino acids than others. Perhaps if we want to maximize muscle building and size, extra protein may help.

            5.) I don’t think there is an ideal diet, aside from a WFPB diet where plants are the main calorie source, but assuming that macronutrient ratios and animal product consumption will vary between populations and individuals today, as they have since the human ancestors first broke off and wandered into different climate zones or areas with different flora and fauna. With the understanding that no diet is ideal for all people in all situations, Okinawa has one of the highest percentage of centenarians. But I think you hit the mark when you talked about environment. Okinawans benefit from a temperate climate, with temperatures between 50-90 degrees year-round. They probably have access to fresh veggies all year, and they have access to the ocean. Living in the rugged mountains of Sardinia, another Blue Zone population has a temperate climate, too, but probably not ideal for crops and going down to ocean for fish. So, hardy goats and sheep provide milk, which can be stored long-term as cheese–high-density calorie source. Grains can also be stored long-term.

            If you live in a place like Alaska, animals (fat and meat) during the long winters is probably the most efficient, high-density source of calories. One may be able to scrounge some plants during the short summer and can or pickle, but that would entail a lot of work.

            Re: Plant-based Proteins. Why do you say plants don’t have the amino acids we need. They do. That is a myth. Just eating potatoes would give you what you need.


            Re: Protein and Exercise. There are millions who eat many times more protein than you, and do no exercise whatsoever–cardio or strength. You simply have an mental aversion to strength training!

            6.a.) Re: WHO Recommendations. It is safe to say that the premise and many to most of the tenants of these fad diets are nonsense, as you note. I do not think that the WHO took people’s finances into account when making recommendations, however. I do think that is a natural benefit, as you note: plants, especially local, sustainable ones, are more cost-effective than animals.

            6.b.) Congratulations on the strength training! Maybe after seeing some results and getting into a routine, you’ll start to like it.

            7.) Yes. I do not think the BMI should be used. Inaccurate.

            8.) So no cramps since going totally vegan?

        • Neil

          No problem, Jason. I enjoy the discourse. The research appeases my Teutonic tendencies, and I learn a lot in the process. Hope some of it helps.

          Re: Fiber Statement. I thought a bit before claiming that we cannot eat too much fiber. I finally came up with an analogy that makes sense to me, and maybe it will to you. One cannot eat too much fiber, anymore than one can breath too much oxygen in when one breathes fresh air. Our lungs have a certain capacity. The amount of oxygen may vary, depending on the environment in which we are in, but we can never get too much oxygen, if we are simply inhaling all the fresh air that our lungs can hold. In the same way, our stomachs have a limited capacity, if we fill our stomach up with whole plant foods, which contain fiber, we can never get too much fiber. This is why I believe it is simply impossible to get too much fiber.

          Re: RDA. These are the absolute bare minimums for health. Also, the guidelines set by the FDA and USDA are heavily influenced by lobbyists from the meat, dairy, sugar, and processed food industries. Here is a jumping-off point on this subject:

          The RDA is set so low, in my opinion, because the average American’s intake is even lower (15 grams per day).

          A higher RDA would seem unattainable by most Americans–a too radical of a change in eating habits. In addition, more fiber would mean more whole plants, which would mean less meat, dairy, and processed foods–something the industry does not want. The RDAs are minimums. But, as the Harvard School of Public Health says in the previous hyperlink, when it comes to fiber, “more is better.”

          Re: Fermented Foods. They are great for us. They are very beneficial because of the bacteria that they contain, which aid in our digestion. Anywhere from 1-3% of our body mass is bacteria, most of it in our digestive tract working away. We need to keep the balance on the side of the good bacteria.

          To that end, I actually make my own sauerkraut and kombucha. Turn out pretty good, I might add. :)

          • jason

            If I chose to be flip, I could say that one CAN get too much oxygen from breathing air–by hyperventilating. But I suppose the analogy is not exact. If one eats loads of fiber without adequate hydration, one could get clogged up, as jj implies. That hasn’t been my problem for decades, and if anything, I lean more towards loose stools. That may be because I get so darn much magnesium in my diet (about 1.4 grams). But, as with fiber, I hate to give up the foods rich in magnesium: they’re so tasty!

            I wonder if I am calculating fiber correctly? Per Nutritiondata, a cup of cooked black beans contains 15 grams of fiber. Three cups would be a normal serving for me, which I could chow down without batting an eyelash. That would be 45 grams–in slightly less than 700 calories. Of course greens tend to be fibrous, as well as some seeds like flax and even sesame; all of these are basic items on my menu which I eat every day. I find it easy to consume 90 or even 100 grams of fiber/day.

            Below you asked me about my activity. I’m sort of sedentary, except that I clock about 15 hours of moderate intensity aerobics a week (2+ hours/day), which means I’d be called ‘extremely active’, esp. for my age (62). There’s something called Metabolic Equivalent Task, which calculates the # of hours and the difficulty of the task (e.g., resting = 1; walking = 2; easy-moderate exercise= 3-5; high intensity exercise >5, etc.). These are rough guidelines. My MET is well over 45, I think. That’s the highest category. Calculating # of calories burned is somewhat inexact, but based on my heart rate monitor, I’d estimate I burn 750 or more calories/day.

            Of course, as Jeff Novick points out in the video below, those who perform a lot of exercise usually just ramp up their appetites to compensate. One can eat oneself out of any exercise regimen. So I think the key (for me) is probably avoidance of pleasure trap foods (nuts/seeds) or rationing of them. Maybe instead of always having them on hand, and eating 1 oz. of nuts or seeds per day, as Dr, Greger suggests, maybe I could have my customary 2 or 3 oz. but not have them every day? Of course I must have flax every day for medicinal purposes (lowering BP and as the best source of Omega-3), but that is not much of a vice, is it? I never crave it as I might a bowl of almonds, walnuts, or some sesame tahini.

            One last question on fiber: is it true that you can deduct however many grams of fiber you eat from your tally of carbohydrate eaten? IOW, does fiber COST us energy to digest it? If so, that could be another good rationale for consuming lots of fiber (from whole foods).

          • Neil

            Yes, one can always come up with a rare exception to most any situation, but such examples are irrelevant to the general populace and the point being made. Just because someone hyperventilates, and feels dizzy due to a higher O2 ratio to CO2 in the body, does not mean that O2 makes everyone sick and should be avoided anymore than everyone should avoid grains because a the few people with celiac disease fell ill after eating wheat. Generally speaking, no one is going to get sick from eating too much fiber when eating too much fiber from whole plant foods. Of course, you can say we can get too much fiber if we ate a gallon of Metamucil or some other processed fiber supplement. And, if we took Metamucil or other such supplement we may become constipated if we don’t wash it down with enough water. But that is irrelevant to the point being made, and is not part of a healthy diet based on whole plant foods. Furthermore, whole plant foods have a very high water content. I fail to see how hydration is an issue, and I have not found anything suggesting hydration to be an issue with fiber, when the diet is whole plant foods.

            On a more important note, I fail to see the reason for your continued pursuit to determine a safe upper limit for fiber, or trying to figure out exactly how much fiber you are getting. What have you read, from a reputable source, that says too much fiber is dangerous? You haven’t provided any source yet. I’ve failed to find any such evidence myself. If you cannot find any such sources, then there is no reason to pursue an answer to something that poses no problem, and requires no answer for someone eating whole foods, primarily plants. The only issues with fiber that I’ve come across are issues with people taking fiber supplements. Fiber supplements are unnecessary for someone on a WFPB diet.
            You seem to be on a WFBP diet. You will get all the fiber you need on this diet/lifestyle, and you will never “overdose.”

            There is one situation, however, where one may want to be careful about eating too many plant foods, thereby too much fiber. If one was on a primarily processed food and/or animal product diet–devoid of fiber–and suddenly began eating a whole food, plant-based diet. Such a person could very well experiences gas, bloating, and discomfort. This is due to the fact that the “good” bacteria in your gut required to process fiber and plant products are in very low numbers because they haven’t had this plant “food”, while the “bad” bacteria required to digest the processed foods, fats, sugars, animal proteins are in high numbers. In such a situation, one might need to ease into an entirely/primarly whole plant food diet in order to allow the “good” bacteria to increase their numbers so that their numbers reach a point that allows them to handle all the fiber.
            You have been on a primarily plant-based diet for some time. Thus your system should be well-prepared for all the whole plant foods you can throw at it.

            You do a lot of aerobic! Maybe throw some strength training in for the reasons I stated before. Strength training is also good for posture and bone density.

            Re: Exercise and Increased Hunger. When we exercise, our muscles are using the glucose in our blood for fuel. (The brain is the biggest user of glucose.) When the blood glucose is down, then our muscles break down the glycogen, stored in the muscles and liver, to make more glucose. When this is all gone we hit the proverbial “wall” while exercising, and our body needs to start breaking down fat. Most of us don’t work out hard enough to “hit the wall.” But once we finish exercising, our body naturally wants to restore the blood glucose, and any glycogen that was used.
            This is why we get so hungry. Our body does NOT want to break down our fat stores. It’s an evolutionary adaptation. A body wants to save the fat for a rainy day, if at all possible. Also fat is much harder for the body to make/store, and also to break down. That is why after exercise you get really hungry because the body wants to restore glucose and glycogen by the easiest way possible–eating. Personally, I find that, if I’m trying to lose weight, and I have sharp hunger pains after working out, I will drink water, eat a piece of fruit or small salad, if anything, and wait a half hour or so before eating anything substantial. The level of hunger dissipates quickly for me after half hour or so. Hunger is still there, but it is greatly reduced. The body realizes that quick energy from food is not coming, resorts to breaking down fat stores to restore energy levels. This is how we lose weight. Increase energy use, and decrease energy input. Problem is, people give in to this hunger urge after working out, and then gorge, eat high-caloric foods, and/or “treat” themselves because they went to the gym, thereby eating as much, or more calories than they expended working out. (People often believe they have burnt more calories during exercise than they actually have.)

            Re: Nuts. Yes, if one is trying to lose weight/reduce caloric intake, nuts and seeds need to be rationed due to their caloric density. Tahini has a lot of oil/calories I believe, like hummus. Unless you make your own, and thereby can reduce the amount of added oil.

            Re: Fiber Costing Energy. I have never heard of the fiber-carb equation you mention. As to fiber costing us energy, I think your focus is again on the wrong thing. A sweet potato, for example, has more energy/calories than celery. If you ate 100 grams of potato and 100 grams of celery, you’d get more calories from the potato. It’s not that it costs more energy to digest the fiber in the celery (it’s the microbes that do any digesting of the fiber anyway). It’s the concentration of calories from fat, carbs, proteins in the food. That should be your focus if you want to reduce calories rather than fiber. Fiber is broken down to some extent by microbes in our gut, but it mostly passes through our system.Your last sentence shows that your focus, in my opinion, is misplaced. You are focusing on consuming lots of fiber, and figuring out how much you need, “from whole foods”. Your focus should simply be to consume whole foods, specifically plants, and the fiber will naturally take care of itself.

          • jason

            Wow, you really know a lot, Neil. Your ideas about how to deal with hunger after exercise are excellent–I will try them!

            Today, after my typical 2.5 hour bike ride, I treated my self to 2.5 lbs. of watermelon and 100 grams of sweet potato…waiting over an hour before having a real meal. It seemed to work. The ‘meal’ consisted of a liter or so of barley-carrot-onion-seaweed gruel (tastes much better than it sounds!). All of this food weighed nearly 5 lbs., but only amounted to about 1,000 calories–which is just slightly more than I burned up in exercise (lunch is the biggest meal of my day).

            It’s not that I purposely seek out high fiber foods; they just naturally are what I prefer. Thanks for disposing of that myth that digesting fiber costs energy. Hence, there is no such thing as a food (celery?) which has a negative calorie profile. The microbes do the work of digestion.

            I recall reading online somewhere a couple years ago (yes, I know that’s not very helpful), that one can get constipated if one is dehydrated in hot weather. I suppose you could eat a lot of beans and not take in sufficient water. Though high fiber foods naturally contain water, it is possible to use dried foods like grains and beans and not drink sufficient liquid .The Macrobiotics of yore made a virtue of taking in minimal amts. of beverages (a pint or less/day), and ate little raw food. That could get one dehydrated in hot weather.

            Thanks for allaying any worries I may have had re: excessive fiber. I generally get concerned when I either don’t get the RDA of a nutrient (rare), or get over three times the RDA–which is true of fiber, Magnesium, and probably some vitamins (A and C, most likely). Dr. Greger reports that our Paleolithic ancestors probably got huge amts. of Calcium, Vit. C, Fiber, Vit. E, Zinc, Iron, etc. So I probably have been needlessly worrying. I am in the Paleolithic ballpark on several of these, and that’s probably healthful.

            Yes, Tahini is quite high in calories, which is why I make my own, using about 1/2 the oil used in commercial products. So what if it isn’t creamy? The consistency is closer to Gomasio, the Japanese/Macrobiotic staple, but minus the salt. Another thing, when grinding our own sesame tahini, we needn’t always use sesame oil, but can experiment with other oils. Nevertheless, I find I eat too much of it, and so only have it on hand rarely. First I’m weaning myself off sauteed vegetables and getting used to whole days of no oils. Second will be the reduction of nuts/seeds to something sensible, like no more than 2 ounces/day, preferably 1 oz. And here’s where having those nutrient values for my foods will come in handy, as I can aim for my goal of getting < 25% calories from fat.

            But now that I know that I'm getting more than enough of every micronutrient (with the possible exception of zinc), I'll probably stop keeping track of them, and just focus on the macronutrient ratios and total calories. You are right that people often overestimate how many calories they burn, but I find that a heart rate monitor is helpful in this regard. It usually tells me that I am burning less calories than most guidelines would indicate. Take biking, for example: My average rate of calorie burning is about 400-450/hour per my HRM, yet a lot of guidelines tell me I should be burning 600 or more (Nutritiondata is notorious here, saying I'm burning over 900 calories/hour).

            Yes, I realize I should also include resistance training, but I hate it. Ten minutes a week is about all I can stand.

            As with fiber consumption, I haven't found anything which indicates an upper limit for aerobic exercise. Guidelines recommend up to 5 hrs/week of moderate exercise (I'm doing triple that). The only contraindication is for those who've already suffered a heart attack, and even there they say one should not run over 7 kms/day or walk over 11 kms/day.

          • Neil

            Thanks, Jason. I know more than most (which is unfortunate), but less than some. The more I delve into it, the more I realize I have to learn. Let me know how the after-exercise tip works for you!

            How exactly do you prepare your gruel? Sounds pretty appetizing, actually. I like all the ingredients, just never put them together.

            The calorie deficit food thing is a myth–an urban legend. Celery is often used as an example. Celery contains mostly water and fiber. We chew it, and then swallow, as anything else. No extra energy expenditure there. Then it essentially flows, passively, through our system as would anything else (well, faster than processed or animal foods, which have no fiber to move things along). Water from the celery is absorbed or excreted, and the fiber passes through our system while getting “fed” on by some bacteria along the way. We don’t burn energy processing fiber. Read this. It gives a good explanation:

            You have NOTHING to worry about regarding eating too much fiber by sticking to a WFPB diet, and not taking fiber supplements. Your energies and focus are better used somewhere else.

            Re: Hot weather constipation. I’ve never heard of that being an issue. Sounds like a random statement on a blog or by a fringe MD or nutritionist. WFPB diets have a large amount of water in the food. Sure, if you are eating only plain beans, potatoes, and or grains, you may need to wash them down with water. And, if you’re going to do strenuous exercise in the heat, you should front load on some water. But, generally speaking, our bodies let us know when we need water–we become thirsty, and we drink. The 8 glasses a day standard is another urban myth:
            If one is on the standard American diet, the salt and sugar (pull out water from our system), and lack of water in the food, can increase chance of dehydration; maybe people on a SAD diet need to be told to get 8 glasses of water because they aren’t getting it in their food. But even their bodies tell them when their thirsty, although they would dehydrate quicker in the heat with all that sugar and salt in their diets.

            Re: Ancestors’ Diet. Greger put up video regarding Vitamin C. You should look for it. Scientists think our bodies stopped making Vitamin C because of all the plant food we ate–we got so much from diet that it was a waste of energy for our bodies to make it. Carnivores, however, make Vitamin C internally.

            Re: Resistance training. You probably know of all the benefits. Here are just a few links, in case.



            Re: Upper limit for aerobic exercise. Much to my surprise, I discovered a while ago, that there may actually be an upper limit to aerobic exercise! Luckily, it does not pertain to most of us because we don’t exercise hard enough, consistently enough for it to be an issue. It’s more marathoners and triathletes. Exercise causes our muscles to break down a bit, including our heart muscle. Our bodies can easily repair this micro tears. But, some people can do so much aerobic exercise, consistently over years, that the body can never fully recover from the damage from each punishment, resulting in calcification of our arteries around our heart. Here is the TED Talk from which I’m getting this info. Fascinating:

          • jason

            Wow, another bonus response. Thank you, and I’ll reply on the off-chance you check this thread again.

            The “gruel” is just boiled pearl barley (I’m going to experiment with hulled barley, which is less refined than pearl), to which I have added slices of carrot, onion, and some seaweed–a Nori type, but it doesn’t come in sheets. Since reading this blog, I now avoid Kombu and Hiziki. In fact, since Fukushima, I’m inclined to avoid Japanese sea vegetables entirely. I’d get Dulse if I could. But any seaweed adds much to the Barley soup/gruel, as the small amt. of sodium it contains spices up the bland barley.

            I’m inclined to agree with you that the 8 glasses of H2O is not usually a necessity. I think one can drink too MUCH water, and in fact I was probably taking in six liters/day of liquid from food and beverages last summer, and coincidentally developed a kidney problem, where creatinine was not cleared out. At one point I was considered Phase III CKD. Of course I was still asymptomatic, and as I had no proteinuria, my condition was not as dire as it sounds. I decided at that point to go totally vegan and reduce my liquid consumption–not increase it as so many people had been suggesting. Three months later my kidney function was normal. I don’t know if this was because of eliminating animal products completely (I’d been about 95% vegan) or reducing liquid consumption, and thus the filtering load for the kidneys (I would suspect the latter). Or it may have been because I’d had star fruit on a couple of occasions–before coming across Dr. Greger’s warning. Concerning kidney function, it’s anyone’s guess. They are complex organs, and kidney disease seems to be more of a mystery than heart disease. I read recently than a huge percentage of Americans is expected to develop CKD during their lives, and CKD seems to be a silent epidemic.

            Re: Vit. C, I saw the Paleolithic Lessons Video of Dr. Greger. I’ve long been a big fruit consumer, and actually think I meet or exceed the Paleolithic standard of 600 mcg/day. In fact, I checked my diet-diary, and I meet or exceed the Paleolithic standard on fiber, calcium, Vit. A, C, E, folate, and probably magnesium. This is another reason why I avoid vitamin pills–besides a B-complex which contains B12. The only nutrient I sometimes don’t get enough of is zinc, but since I’m not very sexually active anymore, that may not be at issue. Of course getting 15 hrs/week in moderate intensity aerobics may increase my requirement for some nutrients. Since I’m hypertensive, I never drink sodium containing energy/electrolyte drinks, but sometimes will go for coconut water (I live in the tropics). I think I consume < 2 grams of sodium/day..maybe much less. Surprising given the amt. of exercise I do. I also seldom eat when I'm out on my bike rides, but rarely hit the wall or feel woozy (it has happened once or twice in several years, as BP drops down to about 80/50). That might actually call for a sodium drink. But it's likely our Paleo-ancestors had salt rarely, and probably averaged < 1 gram of sodium/day. I don't understand why a lot of Paleo folks thank it's OK to pack in the salt. That may work for younger very active folks, who can sweat it out or whose kidneys can excrete the excess sodium, but it's not going to work for me. I have to watch both liquid and salt intake, and since a lot of the foods I eat contain much liquid, a lot of days I only have a teapot of tea and a couple glasses of water.

            I'm not in the marathoner category (I think that's running 26 miles). I don't run, but I checked out one of the sites you linked, and my intensity of cycling (12-14 MPH) is about equivalent to jogging 5 MPH. I still think even that site overstates the actual calorie burn, because it estimates about 850 calories/hour, whereas my heart rate monitor usually says 400-500–unless I've done significant climbing, in which case maybe 600, tops.

            Maybe I'm so conditioned that my heart doesn't have to work so hard pedaling 12-14 MPH, whereas a novice would–and hence, would burn more calories? That's one downside of getting in shape. Of course I'm not in complete shape, as I'm still overweight (spare tire); so probably I'll have to take the resistance training seriously. Would 30 minutes/week be sufficient?

            We've established that fiber and aerobic exercise probably have no upper limit–short of running marathons or doing Iron-mans frequently. What about nuts? Just about every video I've seen here extols their virtues. Could one chow down on a half cup or even a cup/day? That would be 250-600 calories…but assuming one ate no oils…One's percentage of calories from fat would still be low (<30%). I don't understand if nuts are so great, why we should limit them to 1 oz/day. True, they are a concentrated energy source, and a potential pleasure trap, but unless the idea is to get fat calories really low (< 20%), we have to get our fats SOMEWHERE. (The same goes for seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, sesame). Dr. Greger's latest videos on the Mediterranean Diet show that subject averaged about 4 tbsp. of olive oil. That's nearly 500 calories. Wouldn't they be better off eating 500 calories worth of almonds or walnuts?

          • Neil

            No problem! I actually came across something about nuts the other day by Dr. Jeff Novick (similar teachings as McDougall and Greger) regarding nuts, so your last paragraph prompted me to look into it sooner than I would have.

            Re: Gruel. So no spices? Do you boil the ingredients together until the carrots and onions are cooked? I have recently been buying salted and packed kelp and see weed from an Asian supermarket. I like making seaweed salads. Seaweed is also a natural source of iodine. I do worry about the safety of food products that I get from Asia, specifically China and Japan, as you mentioned. I believe the seaweed I get is from Korea, but I’ll have to check.

            Re: Efficiency and Weight Loss. I agree that efficiency in form of any exercise will result in less effort, and less need for calories. Your heart is also stronger than someone’s who doesn’t exercise as much thus allowing your heart to pump more blood per beat. Your heart, however, is one muscle that does not change in size that much. If, however, you only bike, you’re essentially only using your leg muscles, and neglecting the muscles in your torso and arms. Your leg muscles are the largest muscles, but they do become efficient at the same activity, especially if you have developed good form, rhythm, and gear shifting techniques. Neglecting the strengthening your entire body, and your leg muscles in different ways/movements, takes away from building these other muscles, and taking advantage of increased caloric use by exercising and building these other muscles. Personally, I would say that 30 minutes a week is on the low side. I would do at least 30 minutes 3 times a week. At the very least, you can do push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, squats and/or lunges, and some forms of core exercises (e.g., crunches).

            You can pick out some exercises for your major muscle groups, and do entire body circuit (repeat 3-4 times per workout) three times a week, or split the body up in those 3 days. For example, arms and shoulders one day, chest and back another, and legs and core/torso the third day. And go from one exercise to another, ideally to opposite muscle group. No resting for you, but you’re resting the muscle you just did. Example: do push-ups (chest and triceps) then do pull-ups (back and biceps); do a bicep exercise, then a tricep; do leg curl then leg extension, etc. This way, you are getting a mild aerobic workout, too, by continually moving from exercise to exercise, and not wasting time waiting around between sets. I’m not a proponent of fads, as you can imagine, but I did try an exercise program, P90X, that I found great. Lot of great exercises, many I had never done before. If you don’t like gyms, all you’ll need is a pull-up bar, dumbbells, and exercise mat, and you can do it at home. It is pretty intense, but you’re in good shape it sounds. So, if you feel a pre-set program is better for you than trying to come up with something on your own, maybe give P90X a shot. You’ll have to commit an hour to 1.5 hours per day, at least 6 days a week to the program, however. It’s a commitment for 12 weeks (the length of entire program), but may be a nice change from your normal routine.

            Re: Paleo. Like any type of “religion” or fad, there are so many versions now that there is no definitive Paleo diet, just like there was no definite diet for our ancestors. As to what any one denomination of Paleo says about salt, I have no idea, and don’t care to know. :) But I agree with you that our ancient ancestors probably ate little salt, but did seek it out. It was once prized more than gold. It is how Roman soldiers were paid–hence the term “salary.” Of course we get more than enough usually in our modern diet. As an aside, this book is really interesting:


            Re: Excess Nuts. Greger has a video about the huge amount of selenium in Brazil nuts. I think 1 or two per day is max. Greger has a series on nuts, showing that 90% of studies show that increased nut consumption does not result in weight gain. He goes over the various reasons as to why researchers think this happens:

            Jeff Novik shows in this short excerpt that the health benefits of nuts is over-rated:

            It goes against common sense to think that eating more calorie-rich nuts does not result in weight gain. Studies seem to say so, however. I’d hedge my bets, and keep consumption down to handful a day though.

            Personally, I make my own trail mix by mixing a variety of nuts and then throwing in goji berries, and maybe cranberries. I can eat quite a lot, if I don’t keep them out of reach. Also, nuts are so darn expensive, which is another reason I try not to eat very many.

            Getting 500 calories (or any calories) from whole foods rather than added oils (olive, in your example) is ALWAYS better. Olive oil is pure fat with little nutritional value.

          • jason

            Glad you checked back. I hope Dr. Greger’s readers won’t begrudge our going off on a few tangents, now that the posting is a couple weeks old.

            Re: the barley soup, just bear in mind that barley requires a bit more cooking time than the vegetables. Oh, adding mushrooms is another winner.

            Weaning myself off cooking oils isn’t as difficult as I imagined it to be, though it’s true that green vegetables like kale and collards don’t taste as good steamed as they do sauteed; the same probably goes for salads. But one could always try to cut DOWN, and use half the amt. of olive oil one would normally use. Avoiding gratuitous use of empty-calories fats is a must, I think. Nevertheless, the latest videos on the Mediterranean Diet posted here seem to indicate some benefits for extra virgin olive oils, relative to refined oils or animal fats, so I think moderate use may be OK. I think olive and canola oils have a favorable ratio of Omega 3-6, so may be of benefit in that way. Other oils, like sunflower and rice bran oils have high Vit. E or have high phytosterol counts (I think rice bran and sesame oils are best here), hence could help lower LDL cholesterol.

            My goal is to average about 1 tbsp. of oil per day…which is about a third of what I was getting previously.

            Regarding nuts, I agree with Novick that the evidence is not very impressive, and may be even less impressive for WPF vegans. Nonetheless, having 2 oz. of nuts/day seemed to be better than only having 1 oz. in the study he cited. I suppose it boils down to your ideal macro-nutrient ratio. Assuming we opt for a sensible and moderate 10-15% share for protein, and an equally moderate and sensible 50-55% share for carbs, that would leave about 35% for fats. Even conservatively choosing only 30%, that means that I’d expect to get 750-900 calories from fat, based upon a total calorie load of 2,500 to 3,000. (Yes, I know, that seems like I’m eating a lot of calories, but I’m pretty active–having, for example, burned 2,300 calories this morning on a 4 hour ride).

            Yesterday I ate 3 tbsp. of flax seeds, 2 oz. of almonds, 1 1/2 of walnuts, and 1 oz. of peanuts. Total calories from these nuts and seeds was about 900, and their fat calories was 700. Still, my overall macronutrient ratio was 57-32-11, and that included 2 ounces of chocolate (an occasional indulgence). Eliminating all of these and just having the flax seeds, would have dropped my total calories to 2,300 (from 3,000) and lowered my fat calories to 325 (from a little over 1,000), and the % of calories from fat from 32% to about 14%. That would be a very radical change, indeed…I’m sure weight-losing, but how sustainable? Ideally, I think I’d like to be getting 60% from carbs, 25% from fat, and 15% from protein. My fruit/grain/vegetable/legume foods–which are the main foods–just don’t contain that much fat. I’d be getting over 70% of calories from carbs if I cut out nuts & seeds–limited myself to 1 oz/day of them. It’s true the WHO recognizes the ideal % of calories from carbs of 55-75%, but that’s higher than the American or European standards, which I think only go up to 65%. Why be extreme?

            Funny thing about Brazil nuts, I used to sometimes go through a whole package of them (100 gram or 200 gram). Never experienced any side effects from selenium toxicity. Now I never buy them specifically, and usually don’t go for mixed nuts containing them, as I avoid the salt. I think we can store selenium.

            Your writings on exercise depressed me. I think nothing of a 3 to 4 hour bike ride, but the thought of lifting weights for half an hour (3 times per week!) is not appetizing. I suppose I’ll have to try it if nothing else works to get my weight down (BMI = 28-29). Yes, I hate gyms, but have found an outside place with some equipment. Still, Dr. Greger has cited surveys showing that WPF vegans have the lowest BMI’s (about 23), and so I’d think I’d eventually lose weight just sticking to the diet and persevering with the aerobic.

            Oh, add Potassium to the nutrients I get a shitload of (nearly 10 grams/day). Going whole plant based, it is easy to consume a lion’s share of most of the nutrients. I don’t think overconsumption of potassium is an issue unless one has end stage renal disease, in which case one has to be careful. I’ve found that getting loads of potassium, calcium, and magnesium has lowered my incidence of getting cramps from over-exertion.

          • Neil

            I don’t know if going off on week-long tangents is against commenting “etiquette,” but I’m sure that people just skip by the thread after skimming a few of our responses, which are pretty dense.

            Re: Gruel. I usually find a way to mushrooms (and garlic) into most things I cook, so that’s good. I’ll have to try it out. No spices added, right? Just the ingredients you mentioned?

            Another tangent to follow, if you’re so inclined, regarding mushrooms, which I love. Have you heard of a guy named Stammets? He’s the guru, the alpha and omega, the expert on mushrooms. I came across his work through TED Talks. If you’ve got the time, I found this extremely interesting:
            This is an extended version of the topics covered in the TED Talk:

            Re: Added Oil. Oil is pure fat so if you’re goal is to reduce calories and take off weight, that is an easy place to begin reducing calories. I used to douse salads with olive oil, and pour oil into pans to saute veggies. Then, I think through McDougal’s cookbook, I learned that one could saute with water, vinegar, veggie stock, soy sauce, etc. I had no idea! Helped me cut out quite a bit of oil, as did making my own salad dressings.

            Do you use Bragg’s Amino Acid? Great stuff–heavy in amino acids, extremely low in sodium, especially compared to normal soy sauce. I often saute with it for a more savory flavor.

            Of course virgin olive oil is “better” than lard or highly-(heat) processed oils. But that’s like saying an organic, dark chocolate bar is better than a pack of M&Ms. Point being that if olive oil does have a good ration of omegas, why not skip the calorie overload with the oil pouring, and just eat a handful of olives?

            I can’t attest to the taste difference between steamed and sauteed-in-oil veggies because I rarely do the latter now. If I do, I usually put the veggies in a curry or something rather than eat them as-is.

            Re: Cutting out nuts. You say that if you cut out the nuts you ate the other day your total calories from fat would have dropped 325, and that your percentage of total fat would have been extremely low. But you’re assuming that you would not supplement those 325 fat calories with a high-volume, plant-based meal, less-caloric-dense meal (e.g., your gruel). I think you would however, unless you’re trying to quickly drop weight. And, any such meal replacement would contain, at the lest, a little fat. Myself, I just focus on variety. Some days I may eat an entire avocado (half in smoothie, half on veggie burger), trail mix, flax meal in smoothie, coconut milk curry, and all the fat contained in the other food that day. Other days I may not eat any of these fattier items. Trying to get a set % of each macro each day is just too detailed oriented for me, and too time-consuming, and, for reasons stated below, I believe, not worthwhile.

            Re: Macro/Micronutrients. Personally, I’ve never gotten into such calculations, as I think I’ve mentioned. Too tedious for me; it seems your aversion to strength training would be comparable to my aversion to working out such calculations. You, obviously, have the interest and patience to do such calculations. Most people do not. I think it is detrimental for those people wanting to go to a WFPB diet because they get bogged down in the details and minutiae, and quickly become frustrated. An easier objective is for people to cut out all processed foods and most, if not all, added oils and sugars, eat mostly, if not entirely, whole plants. That’s more simplistic. I believe, as stated by WFPB doctors and nutritionists, that if I get my needed calories from a WFPB diet (where carbs are the primary caloric source), I will necessarily get all the nutrients I need, barring, of course, B12 (since I eat hardly any animal products), and maybe Vitamin D, especially in the winter. That said, I’ve eaten venison a few times over past 4 years, which was procured by friends who hunt. I sometimes put organic, whole, grass-fed milk in coffee if I can’t get an organic plant-based substitute. But, other than that, I eat a wide variety of WFPBed meals,

            I do get a bit “technical” as to some of my foods, based primarily on things I’ve learned on this site: amla powder in smoothies; growing and eating my own broccoli and fenugreek sprouts; goji berries; taking it easy on Brazil nuts (like you, they were my favorite); taking algae-based omega supplements.

            Furthermore, in modern society, we have little to no chance of being malnurished, i.e., getting too few calories, and, therefore, too few carbs, proteins, and fats. I have never read of anyone having a carb, protein, and/or fat deficiency who was not malnurished. You say 75% carbs is extreme. But is it, or is it just a guestimate? The USDA admits as much: “The lower limit of dietary carbohydrate compatible with life apparently is zero, provided that adequate amounts of protein and fat are consumed. However, the amount of dietary carbohydrate that provides for optimal health in humans is unknown.” See page 275 of the document:
            Furthermore, if we are getting all the carbs we can eat via WPFs (e.g., tubers, legumes, grains, veggies, etc.) we will get protein and fat, too, which all of these plants have to some degree, assuming we don’t eat animal products.

            The WHO recommends 55-75% of carbs, but states, “The nature of dietary carbohydrate appears to be a more important determinant of health outcomes than the proportion of total energy derived from carbohydrate intake.”

            The Japanese requirement is 60-72%:

            The EU, recommends 45-60% carbs.

            The US carb requirement is 45-65%:

            As you can see, there is a bit of a range, with the Asian country and the world-wide organization having higher requirements than the animal-product-centric US and EU organizations. (And these are more current standards, note you–after the world’s animal consumption has increased greatly in the past couple decades. I can imagine the guidelines being greatly influenced by peoples’ eating habits at the time. Japan’s meat consumption, for example, has increased 4 fold in the past 40 years:

            But what is “ideal” for macronutrient percentages? Are these agencies making these percentages based partly, or more than partly, on what modern society eats, or likes to eat, and what is safe? Probably. But, in my mind, what is the point of following these mostly random guidelines when one is eating a WFPB diet, and getting all one’s calories this way.

            The longest-lived grouping of peoples on earth is on Okinawa, and they traditionally got at least 85% of their calories from carbs.

            The shepherds in the mountains of Sardinia–also one of the longest-lived communities on earth, get about 61% of calories from carbs.

            My point being that if one is on a WFPB diet, and getting most, if not all, needed calories from a plant-based diet, it will be impossible to be deficient in a macronutrient, and difficult to be deficient in a micronutrient. Such deficiencies are seen mainly in those who are malnurished, i.e., not getting enough calories.

            Re: Thoughts of strength training being depressing. Sorry for the depressing thoughts on strength training! :) Maybe you could muster a few sets (15 minutes worth) of push-ups (regular, decline), pull-ups, and chin-ups a day before your bike riding each day.

            Re: BMI. The BMI is nonsense. It’s a very rough guide, at best. Lean people with muscle mass, like me, are considered overweight because it does not take into muscle mass.

            Re: Cramps. I agree with you. When I was younger, I got cramps all the time while running. I never get cramps now.

          • jason

            A slight addendum to what I wrote–since I didn’t address every point you made.

            1. Organic dark chocolate I would count as basically a plus (though certainly open to abuse, as with nuts), while M&M’s would be entirely off the menu. I try to get 85% cacao chocolate, which is about as bitter as I can stand.

            2. I wrote–or intended to write–that I would have reduced fat calories TO 325 (not BY 325) had I eliminated all nuts and chocolate–but retained the important flax seeds. The actual reduction would have been 700 fat calories…and about 900 total calories. Clearly, I’d lose weight fast making such a change, but I worry it might not be very sustainable.I don’t think I’ve subsisted on a diet of less than 15% fat calories since my Macrobiotic days as a young man. Why not shoot for 25% fat calories first, see how that goes…Incidentally, I was wrong about the recommendation for fat: it’s not 20-40%, but 20-35%.

            3. Interesting that the Japanese guideline for carbs is so narrow (60-72%), and again, very notable that virtually nobody meets the lower limit of 60%. I still think a 60-25-15 ratio would be pretty easy to defend, as it’s within all of the public guidelines. The stupid Paleo and Atkins people are doing it all wrong; they’re getting 60% fat, 25% protein, and only 15% carbs. I’m inclined to say they must be anarchists, who don’t give any credence to governmental bodies and their recommendations.

          • Neil

            Jason, I see your addendum, but not it’s precursor. I think you may not have posted your main reply to my last post. Hopefully you saved it! I know I have, a few times, typed lengthy emails or posts, only to have them be erased or lost by some glitch. Makes me want to pull my hair out.

            Re: Chocolate. That is my upper limit: 85%. Have you read about recent tests done on chocolate? Cacao powder is very high in cadmium. It seems that cacao plants have a penchant for taking up cadmium from the soil. Local pollution and toxic soils where the plants are grown exasperate the issue.

            Testing of chocolate bars by Consumer Labs show that those tested are below toxic levels, but, when I asked regarding that, Consumer Labs say that it is because the cacao is diluted by the sugar, milk, and other ingredients in the chocolate bars. That said, I square of dark chocolate should be fine.
            Also, due to climate change, disease, and increased demand, chocolate prices are going to increase heavily. The plus side will be that, with the cadmium levels, we will have another reason to limit consumption!

            Re: Reduction of fat calories. Yes, that is a large calorie reduction. Assuming you do not supplant the nuts with a less dense energy source, pushing your calorie intake back up, then you would lose weight more quickly, especially at the level of exercise you maintain.

            Re: Carbs and government guidelines. I agree with your statement re the Paloe and Adkins diet. The beliefs of the Paleophiles and Adkinites are an entirely other issue, and another rabbit hole we could dive into. Although I do not agree, for the most part, with their reasoning,science, or archaeological and evolutionary “evidence,” I cannot fault them for not giving much credence to government guidelines. If you have watched the videos, and read the sources cited, posted by Greger on how industry influences are food regulations, watched movies like “Food, Inc.” or “Forks Over Knives,” or read the great book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Industry Hooked Us,” then you, like me, would give little credence to USDA guidelines. The USDA is tasked with two diametrically opposed interests: on one hand, it is supporting “farmers” (factory farmers and industry organizations) who grow corn, wheat, sugar, and soy, and who raise livestock for beef and dairy, through regulations and heavy subsidies; and, on the other hand, it is tasked with ensuring our collective health through dietary guidelines–guidelines that determine how much we should eat of these very things grown by factory farms. Positions within the USDA and FDA are a revolving door with the food and food manufacturing industry.

          • jason

            Surprised you didn’t see my longer precursor (starting with the words, “Thanks yet again, Neil…”); it’s located just slightly below your latest reply–to which I’ll now reply.

            I didn’t know about the cadmium in chocolate–or cocoa. Guess I’ll have to lower my cacao consumption from a couple Tsp. of cocoa and 1/2 to 1 oz. of chocolate. Maybe cut them in half. I use cacao for its beneficial effect on blood pressure and endothelial function, as Dr. Greger has recently documented. Cacao (cocoa and chocolate) also has a lot of magnesium, but I can easily get that elsewhere. Re: cadmium, apparently tea also has cadmium, but tea-drinkers tend not to absorb much. Perhaps drinking tea also helps block cadmium absorption from chocolate?

            Once we start worrying about various pollutants in food, we can go crazy.I think the solution is to cut down but not eliminate these foods. Even shellfish in limited amounts ought to be OK–though I did get sick once from eating clams which were infected by bacteria, and have (rarely) gotten hives from spoiled fish. A little bit of pollution, however, should be tolerable, and I would think that would go for heavy metals like cadmium (mercury is another matter).

            Yes, substituting 700 or 900 calories worth of carb-containing whole plants for the nuts would mean an awful lot of broccoli or pumpkin. I already eats tons of fruit. I could up my grains(from about 5-6 servings, or nearly 3 cups/day), or certainly eat more beans. But I’ve noticed with me, at least, that beans can be nearly as much of a pleasure trap as nuts, and I can easily wolf down 900 calories or more in a single meal. Still, I think beans would be the logical substitute for nuts. They’re also cheaper than nuts.

            Re: the guidelines issued by public bodies–whether of the WHO, the EU, US, Japan, etc. I tend to believe them when they agree on the macronutrient ratios–i.e., when they are unanimous in recommending that people eat 50% or more carbohydrate calories, 20-30% or so of fat calories, and 10% or more protein calories. It is true that the US guidelines for protein are very broad, but virtually all public guidelines do recommend we get about twice as much carb calories as fat calories, and about twice as much fat calories as protein calories. Taking the midpoints of the USDA ratios, we would have 55% carbs; 28% fat; and 22% protein. Yes, I know the percentages add up to more than 100%, and that’s entirely due to the ridiculously broad protein guideline of 10-35%. That itself probably arose because of the milk, meat, and egg lobbies. But ignoring that blemish and just taking the first two suggested ratios, we would get 55-28-17, which would not be far off from an “ideal” proportion of carbs, fat, and protein.

            In comparison, the Paleo diet, for all its virtues in avoiding processed food and dairy and incorporating vegetables, is on Mars, and so is the Atkins diet–at least as recommended in its ketogenic weight-losing stage. I would be wary of adopting long term any diet which diverged so much from the conventional wisdom as outlined in the recommendations of the public health organizations of the WHO, EU, US, and Japan. Ditto for getting radically different amounts of micronutrients as outlined in RDA’s and tolerable upper limits. Surely the scientists on all of these boards know something about nutrition and human health? I would be less likely to give credence to specific suggestions on how to obtain specific nutrients–e.g., drink milk to obtain calcium. That would be playing favorites, and governments do far too much of that recently, as witness the various and sundry corporate bailouts. When government starts shaking hands with corporate interests, that’s when I start getting suspicious and cautious. But a general outline of macronutrient ratios or RDA’s of micronutrients I think is helpful. We all have to start SOMEWHERE. People whom I trust generally follow these guidelines, or provide careful arguments when they deviate from them, while the Atkins and Paleo folks are beyond the pale…arrogant with a superior know-it-all attitude. I admire Dr. Greger for not being a firebrand and revolutionary, or for being a cautious revolutionary,who always provides evidence.

            One issue I’ve been meaning to bring up with you is Glycemic Load. I’ve been tracking this, as Nutritiondata provides a GL figure for most foods, and I have been pre-diabetic for the last few years, at least based on fasting blood sugar (mostly between 100 and 110; seldom 110). Nutritiondata suggests we limit ourselves to a GL of 100 per day, while I find I have been averaging nearly 180 on my WPF diet. The only way I could get my GL down close to 100 would be to eat many fewer calories, for virtually all of my diet is glycemically pretty high.

            My question: is glycemic index or load bunk? I used to think not, given my FBS readings, but on the other hand my HbA1c was only 4.8, so I’m probably at low risk for diabetes.

            I suspect that the tremendous amt. of fiber I eat is protective as far as diabetes is concerned, as is the low amt. of saturated fat I get. Maybe fiber lowers the effect of a high glycemic load food, but in that case, you’d think they would have factored the fiber into their GL calculations?

          • Neil

            Jason, the last response of yours that I see is “glad you checked
            back.” I don’t see the “Thanks yet again” response. Ironically, I am retyping
            my reply now because the shock wave software or something on my computer crashed,
            wiping the page! Darn! I’m writing this in a Word doc now.

            Re: Cadmium in tea. Interesting. I
            didn’t know that. After researching a bit, it seems that tea sequesters arsenic
            and cadmium in its roots, with little getting to the leaves. So looks like we’re
            safe. Good because I have a pitcher of hibiscus-green tea in fridge at all


            Re: Over-analyzing harmful aspects
            of food. I agree. We can over-analyze foods and their toxin level. On the other
            hand, in today’s over-populated world, filled with industrial and
            pharmaceutical chemicals and drugs in our food supply and the environment,
            sometimes it is good to know what to avoid. Rice, for example, takes up arsenic
            like a sponge, storing it in the germ. Brown rice is the worst. Rice from China
            is the worst. Polluted environment and fertilizing paddies with chicken manure;
            chickens fed arsenic-laced feed. So, if one has a diet where rice is the
            primary calorie source, buying rice from California-with the lowest-tested
            arsenic levels—can be an easy measure to reduce toxin levels.


            Re: Replacing calories with
            less calorie-dense foods. Yes, that was my point. Replacing calorie-dense
            foods, such as nuts and added oils with broccoli, pumpkin, or something with
            lots of fiber/bulk fills us up, but not with calorie overload. I love beans,
            but think I’d get more calories from a bowl of trail mix next to me than a bean
            dish next to me! And nuts aren’t cheap, as you note.

            Re: Guidelines on macro and micronutrients. I agree with you
            that the macro guidelines are good rough estimate, and more worthwhile than
            most of the micronutrient guidelines. But, I have to ask, what is the point for
            the general populace? I have never heard of someone, who is not malnourished,
            suffering from a lack of protein, carbs, and/or fats. There is overconsumption
            of one or all three, and consumption of processed foods containing these. Even
            on a fad diet, the body can compensate, to a certain extent, with overly high
            amounts of one macro, as long as calorie intake is enough. But if one is
            getting enough calories (i.e., is not malnourished), from a WFPB diet, the
            ratios are well within the guidelines. I feel that macro calculations are an
            esoteric endeavor relegated to very focused people like yourself and dieticians
            who offer up some ratio they’ve devised to their clients. But 99.9% of people do
            not have the time or interest to do such calculations each day.

            Re: Fad diets. One has to look at current photos of the main
            proponents of these diets to judge their efficacy. Sally Fallon (Weston Price);
            Loren Cordain (Paleo); Adkins and Gary Taubes (Adkins; eat fat, no veggies).
            They are all dumpy and overweight. Look at Drs Fuhrman, Barnard, McDougall,
            Esseylsten, Ornish, etc. All lean.

            Re: Glycemic Load. I’ve never delved into this issue. I did a
            bit of research. I am going to shelve the GI and GL levels as somewhat subject,
            likely irrelevant for most, and unnecessary if on a WFPB diet. This meta-analysis
            of GI and GL studies has this to say:

            “Based on the evidence found in this review, it seems
            premature to include GI/GL in dietary recommendations.”

            “Generally, the associations between GI or GL and
            heart disease, measures of insulin sensitivity, diabetes, blood lipids, or
            measures of obesity were mixed. Generally, the associations between GI or GL
            and heart disease, measures of insulin sensitivity, diabetes, blood lipids, or
            measures of obesity were mixed. longitudinal) generally showed inconsistent
            results that were weak or non-significant. When looking at adjusted analyses
            only, the picture is still inconclusive. The majority of analyses show non-significant
            associations, and the significant associations reported show a mixed picture
            with both positive and inverse associations observed for several outcomes. Whether
            a lowering of dietary GI and GL should be part of the dietary recommendations
            for healthy populations is, in our opinion, still debatable. The evidence from
            this review is not strong, aside from a small protective effect of GI on a few


            You eat a lot of starchy foods. Your glycemic index, however
            that may be calculated, may be higher than someone on an Adkins or Paleo diet.
            But you eat whole, unprocessed foods and exercise regularly. Jason, with your focus
            on things such as macros and GI/GL, I am beginning to think you are simply trying
            to find ways to convince yourself that you or your diet are unhealthy! The
            GI/GL thing reminds me a bit of the BMI—unnecessary and unhelpful. One doesn’t
            need a GI/GL, if one is on a WFPB diet. And one only need to see if a person
            has belly fat to determine if they are overweight. No BMI needed.

            I have a question for you. I am contemplating taking out my amalgam
            fillings by a dentist skilled in doing so. Amalgams are up to 50% mercury. I am
            just fearful of the dentist, and repercussions—like root canals—from the
            drilling out of the amalgams. I’ve watched these videos, and read up on it a

            leaning towards removal.

          • jason

            Sorry for your losing what you’d already typed (I know how that feels), particularly as your responses are so informative…which is why I’m a little embarrassed that you ask me for advice on mercury containing dental amalgams. You probably know more about that than do. It seems to me that probably hundreds of millions of people have them, and so are in the same boat.I’m sure I have some. My gut instinct would be to’let sleeping dogs lie’, figuring that removing them might actually increase your mercury absorption. At least I’d research the topic thoroughly before doing anything. Let me know what you find!

            My precursor post is located below this subthread (below jj’s post and my reply).

            As to my preoccupation with macro-nutrient ratios, perhaps this is due to my early practice of Macrobiotics, which itself had several different diets or regimens: for example, the infamous diet # 7, which was nothing but (unrefined) cereal grain (no fruit or vegetable) to which some hippies committed themselves excessively, in the attempt to reach Enlightenment–some apparently dying from insufficient nutrition. The Number Seven diet and the other numbered diets were devised by the modern, but somewhat doctrinaire Japanese founder of Zen Macrobiotics, George Ohsawa, but later practitioners of Macrobiotics, while abandoning strict “diets” as being often counter-productive, still held to the ideal of ‘principal’ food: that grains should constitute the mainstay of human diets (as they pretty much had since the advent of civilization); that vegetables and beans were secondary, fruits, nuts, and animal products tertiary (depending on climate), and other items were to be avoided or to be consumed rarely. Nothing was verbotten to a free, healthy individual; Ohsawa famously said that “He who cannot smoke, drink, eat fruit or meat is a slave.”

            The idea of proportionality and that nothing was absolutely forbidden (theoretically even Heroin or Meth in small enough doses) was intellectually appealing to me, though it is hard to hold these two nearly diametrically opposed concepts in the mind at the same time. We usually yearn for either more discipline or more freedom, not both–yet haven’t all great artists and creators demonstrated that we need both freedom and discipline? It may take a lifetime to master these, but I still believe in some kind of proportionality, which is represented by things like food pyramids and now, food plates. Of course these are just guides, but I do believe that there are profound differences between a food plate devised by, say, Michael Greger and one devised by Loren Cordain, both in terms of effects on the body–e.g., in some easily measured things like LDL cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as effects on the mind–the less easily measured things like whether one is a materialist or more spiritual, and for the latter whether that spiritual belief is among the more ‘Yang’ monotheistic religions, which tend to have jealous gods, or one of the more ‘Yin’ polytheistic or non-theistic (e.g., Taoism) ones–where religious practice tends to be more a matter of self improvement, like Yoga.

            You could say that religious belief tends to be an accident of birth, and to some degree this is true, though certainly less than in the past. Nowadays, if one is a Westerner, he or she can freely choose what type of diet to follow, as well as what type of religious belief (or non-belief, if one chooses) to hold. Of course I don’t mean to imply that religious belief implies spirituality, for there are plenty of materialistic, greedy religious officials, hucksters, and followers (wolves in sheep’s clothing), as there are some relatively disinterested and morally correct atheists. Spirituality merely implies a concern with things larger than the ego and the temporal. Macrobiotics held (and probably still holds) that more vegetarian inclined people tend to be less violent, domineering, and materialistic–and I pretty much agree. Still there is a branch of Christianity (Dominionism) where people take literally the passage in Genesis where God exhorts the people to dominate the plant and animal kingdoms (all other life) and dispose of them as they wish. You had Pat Robertson recently bemoan the fact that too many people have become slaves to their attraction to vegetables! So there’s certainly a faction–probably in just about any religion–which arrogantly believes Man is superior, and to a large degree insulated from the effects of his actions re: the environment, and for sure what kind of diet he follows.

            There are so many reasons to oppose an Atkins or Paleo diet besides physical health: environmental, economic, social, aesthetic, sentimental (compassion for animals), sensory…Macrobiotics explained all of these nearly 50 years ago, so there is really nothing new here. Dr. Greger (probably wisely) limits himself to facts on physical health, and so omits all the psychological Hippie notions which attracted many back in the 60’s and 70’s, but I still think they are perhaps even more important than the immediate physical stuff–unless one has a serious or acute health problem. It seems the majority has been going in the wrong direction, not merely from over-consumption of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and other processed junk, but in following low carb high (animal) protein fad diets. A world of seven billion people needs to eat LESS animal protein, not more. We already eat too much protein. Ohsawa may have been a total non-entity as a nutritionist, was no doctor (though he treated people), but was fundamentally right when he said that money = violence when it came to food. He said if a country had 100 million people and produced 100 million apples, you had the right to eat one apple, no more. This is the concept of social justice: that taking more than our share implies that others go without. This notion probably appears to many as communistic, but if you think about it, it is true. Of course I don’t literally follow it, and we also have imports, but thinking globally, the only ways to eat high protein diets as suggested by Atkins and Cordain is to a) spend more money, raising the price, thus taking away from others without your money; or b) increase production via factory farms. Both alternatives are unpalatable to me, plus I prefer vegetables.

            A Paleo diet consisting of 55% fat calories, 30% protein calories, and 15% carbohydrate calories may be as healthful for some as a WPF diet consisting of 55% carbohydrate calories, 30% fat calories, and 15% protein calories may be for others. Both diets may be micro-nutritionally adequate, especially when amenable to supplementation. But the Paleo diet is more expensive, more environmentally destructive, less socially just, crueler to animals…as well as a mass delusion reminiscent of other mass delusions Americans have participated in recently: the idea that one can return to an idealized past which never really was and could never be in this day and age. The Paleo dieters are a lot like the followers of Ron Paul or other ‘Paleo-conservatives’: certainly preferable to the status quo, whether SAD or SAP (Standard American Politics), but nevertheless unrealistic for most people–and I say this as an admirer of Paul. All seven billion of us cannot subsist on grass-fed beef, sorry. A modern country like the USA needs to have a national health plan–and I say this cognizant of the many faults of the American profit-driven healthcare system. We can’t simply expect that all 320 million of us will fend for ourselves.

            Sorry for the rant and the digression. I came to the diet (whether Macrobiotics, or its modern descendant, WPF diet) because of its philosophy, not my clinical health. I have to believe that something is noble or socially good before I’ll do it, unless something is twisting my arm.

            Point taken on GI/GL: they are pretty much useless. I agree that the BMI is flawed, but am nearly obese and do have abdominal fat (waist = 40″), so I think it’s a (very) rough measure.

            Gary Taubes I wouldn’t exactly term ‘dumpy’ looking, though I haven’t seen any very recent photos of him. MacDougall had a funny video showing all of these people and contrasting them with the thin whole plant folks. I don’t know if the statistical sample of diet gurus is big enough to be significant, but I’m sure it’s a very strong correlation. Of course we’ve known from the epidemiological studies from the 50’s of Ancel Keys and before that Westerners tend to be fatter, as well as have more CVD than non-Westerners, and this is mainly attributable to diet.

            While I generally don’t like Taubes, I did find his article on salt to be thought-provoking. I’m sure I could find some common ground with some Paleo folks–just as I can with the Ron Paul guys–but one Paleo fellow really went overboard when he recommended up to 7 grams of sodium. That’s out of this world, devil dare or devil may care (take your pick). There’s a juvenile macho element to today’s Paleo/Crossfit community which is the polar opposite of the Macro-Hippie community of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Of course America’s been in revolt against the late 60’s just as the hippies were in revolt against their parents. We sure like drama. But taking 3 grams of sodium may not be bad, even though I restrict myself to a gram or so because of hypertension–and I’m not sure I’m salt-sensitive.

            Finally, the whole diet inventory thing isn’t that time-consuming, assuming you more or less eat the same kinds of foods everyday, which I do. Not every vegetable needs to be inventories, for some have minuscule calories. I’ve stopped taking inventory now, as I’ve got about 5 weeks under my belt, and have ascertained my macro ratios (about 60-30-10) as well as significant deviations from micro-nutrient RDA’s: in my case, Mg and fiber over triple, K double, Ca and Fe about 60% higher than recommended. My n-3 to n-6 ratio is roughly 1 to 3, and I get over 10 grams of the former, thanks mainly to flax seed. I take B12 supplements and get plenty of sun. I think I’ve got my bases covered. Several months from now I’ll probably do the diet inventory thing again.

          • jason

            Just another small addendum, again, as I misquoted Ohsawa and realized I didn’t address the issue of arsenic in rice, which is important, as I eat Thai red rice most days, and could be getting more than my quota of arsenic, especially as I live right next to a rice paddy and drink well water. The upside is I don’t get any fluoridated water. (That’s another reason for avoiding sweets and junk foods). Rice is principal food for people in Asia, but I also incorporate oats and buckwheat, and would eat rye and quinoa if they were affordable and available. I think wheat and corn are probably less desirable grains, but OK in moderation for most people. Never cared for millet.

            There was a Lord Peter Wimsey detective novel as I recall (‘Strong Poison’) wherein the murderer accustomed himself to taking arsenic daily, thereby building up a tolerance/immunity to it, while doing in his rich relative with (he thought) impunity. I wonder if this is true? I don’t think I suffer from the usual side effects of arsenic poisoning, like stomach aches and lack of appetite (I never get stomach aches and have strong and steady appetite). But I have had intermittent kidney problems (high BUN and creatinine); don’t know if this could be related to arsenic intake.

            The Ohsawa quote was actually, “He who cannot smoke, drink, eat fruit or meat is a CRIPPLE” (not a slave). Makes much more sense, especially when you consider that inveterate smokers and alcoholics are slaves to their vices. I still don’t think even very moderate smoking is a good idea, but I don’t have anything against a very occasional puff on a pipe or cigar (cigarettes are more insidious).

            But the Ohsawa quote leads me to the concept of the occasional vice as a counterweight to the usual virtuous routine we all try to follow. If one is 99% virtuous, but occasionally smokes, drinks, or eats animal products is that better or worse than being 100% compliant? Might there be pitfalls in being perfect–psychological or spiritual, if not physical pitfalls? I think very probably.

          • Neil

            Jason. I’m back! House issues, 90-hour work weeks, trip to Mexico, fruit tree planting, etc., kept me on the sidelines. Hope things are well. Will give “quick” response to your last messages.

            Re: Arsenic. It’s naturally occurring in the environment, so getting it completely out of our systems is probably impossible. Rice, for some reason, more readily absorbs arsenic found in the soil than your average plant.

            The real problem is where the rice is grown in soil with lots of extra arsenic, e.g., contaminated soil from industry (like China) or by way of the use fertilizer consisting of chicken feces from factory-farmed chickens fed feed laced with arsenic (like in the southern US) . Consumer Reports says that rice from India and CA have the lowest levels. I have also started implementing the cooking suggestions to reduce arsenic (I think in a video on this site or the Consumer Reports’ article): 1.) rinse the rice thoroughly before cooking; 2.) cook in excess water; and 3) dispose of excess water and rinse rice again. Or just eat white rice, which has very low levels compared to brown rice (sacrificing some of nutrients that brown rice has, of course).

            Re: Arsenic Tolerance. Yes, it is possible for humans to become tolerant to arsenic:

            Amazing how adaptable organisms are.

            If you’re well water has high levels of arsenic, it is probably safe to say that your rice from the adjacent paddy has even higher levels. But you’d have to test that.

            Re: Wheat and Corn. Why do you say wheat and corn are “probably less desirable grains”?

            Re: Smoking. Never done it. Aversion to sucking in smoke into lungs. Any type must be bad to some extent. Will be interesting to see if lung cancer rates start moving up again in states that have legalized marijuana.

            Re: Ohsawa and Being “Virtuous”. I read a bit about the macrobiotic lifestyle/philosophy. Very interesting. Never heard of it before. Sounds like a WFPB diet with a splash of oriental mysticism (labeling some foods “yin” and others “yang”). I’m not a religious or spiritual person. I do appreciate self-reflective philosophies and ways of life. But what is 100% “perfect” or “virtuous”? Who decides the standards? Who judges? “[T]here is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Shakespeare. In other words, there is no right or wrong other than labels put on things by humans, based on their individual or group needs and wants. There is no universal, objective standard for right or wrong. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating animal products may be held, by some humans, as bad. But, if one looks at occasional smoking for ceremonial purposes by native peoples, drinking alcohol during times of poor sanitation and plumbing where alcohol was a sterilized liquid free of harmful bacteria and the well water was not, or eating meat where and when it was the only way to have enough calories for survival, then one cannot say participating in such activities was not moral or perfect. I guess I take a more pragmatic, philosophical look: do the least amount of harm as one can to oneself, others, and the environment. No one is “perfect” because perfect does not exist except in the fickle minds of the person(s) claiming to know such a state of existence.

  • Andrea Baker

    We need fiber for a lot of reasons! This has been the answer to a lot of medical condition. I myself have been suffering from hemorroids and according to it is one of the best remedy for such condition. I can now proudly say that I’m hemorrhoid free!