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[flagged] Brain food: a nutrient vegans lack (economist.com)
34 points by cyunker 51 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments



As a vegan who tracks their nutrients and vitamins pretty closely, I do not have trouble getting enough choline. The big hits in the vegetable world are: soybeans, cauliflower, potatoes, peanuts, kidney beans, quinoa.... and on and on. There's really no difficulty if you eat a sufficiently diverse diet.


What’s the recommended way to track? Is it done by blood tests?



Does anyone else find this obsessive attitude towards vegan/vegetarian diets and their supposed lack of nutrition to be thinking about the wrong problem?

We evolved over a long period of time to basically eat whatever we could hunt and find. Depending on location that might have included meat or meat might have been very hard to come across indeed.

It's unclear to me that we'd have such a strong dependency on specific foods. I think for the most part what happens is that it's actually way too easy in modern life to hyperfocus on a specific subset of nutrients to the exclusion of others. Someone could go days at a time eating bread and potatoes alone with various condiments/spices for example and eventually get ill because then they would of course be missing something.

A lot of the vegans I know, myself included, tend to bias towards that, because like, roast potatoes are gorgeous innit.

Does that make sense at all? Basically that, if you had some sort of like, randomized stock cupboard (I don't know how the sampling would work), you'd be fine in almost any circumstance even if you deliberately excluded certain things?

B12 is apparently difficult in modern times primarily because we clean things. My understanding was that earthy foods or a berry you eat from a tree might have natural B12.

So maybe we just need to stop being... err.. picky eaters? (exclude meat, but don't _choose_ your meals as much)?

The way the media makes it sound, before agriculture almost every human must have been chronically malnourished. It doesn't sound like a legitimate evolutionary path.


I think it's just a backlash towards the more militant vegans who make all the noise. Veganism predicates itself on moral grounds (no animal products period, because hurting animals/climate change/etc), not nutritional ones like vegetarianism, and as with any moral cause some people decide to get all Deus Vult! about it.

So as a response the opposition points out that veganism "morally" excludes certain nutrients as a way to call it an unhealthy/stupid lifestyle.

And there's technically a legitimate point to it IMO, maybe being pure vegan is nutritionally sub-optimal compared to some other options. Maybe kids shouldn't be vegan for ideal health. At the very least you have to seriously worry about various nutrients that you don't have to worry about with a less restrictive diet. But IMO that's like saying people into restoring/driving antique cars are driving sub-optimal vehicles. Yeah it's technically true, but that's their lifestyle/hobby so who cares?

And "malnourished" depends on your definition. It's no coincidence that we started growing taller and having more babies with the advent of agriculture. It's like putting a plant under a grow-lamp. Is the plant fueled by natural if imperfect sunlight "malnourished" relative to the plant under the grow-lamp?


I see more anti-vegan militant people than I see actually militant vegans, then again I might be biased. I think the "backlash" is more an effect of cognitive dissonance than anything else, people "have" to push back as they have an inherent desire to justify their actions and beliefs to themselves.

If I have a problem I don't want to admit to myself I just blame it on you, that way I don't have to deal with the problem. This is exactly how cognitive dissonance works and how our minds "solve" it.

Also why would anyone care about "militant vegans" at all if they didn't feel some kind of inner discomfort about it.

The choice for a vegan diet isn't necessarily just a moral one.

Half of people say that animals/morals is their main reason, health takes the other half. Today there are even more reasons as we learn more, like climate (one of the biggest things any individual can do) and fitness.

Also a vegan diet isn't sub-optimal to a normal diet or vegetarian diet, quite the opposite, there's literally years difference in life expectancy.

I don't care what anybody eats, that's their own business, but I like to be factual.


I think it's really difficult to quantify sub-optimal in this context because it requires the identification of like, actual serious benefits or bad effects, as you say re defining 'malnourishment'.

If you could show that, for example, on average a meat eater had a higher IQ than a vegan (or vice versa), or is stronger or something, and you somehow exclude the confounding effects (e.g. vegans in the West are generally wealthier and more educated than the average) that'd be a solid example.

A lot of the time it seems to come down to things like short-term digestive effects or specific deficiencies.

The car example is interesting. I wrote a reply about this earlier actually. I recently went from a 1998 banger to a 2019 shiny fancy thing. They pretty much do exactly the same thing. The 1998 car was theoretically less reliable but in practice it never skipped a beat.

I mean, it's less shiny, makes more noise, pollutes more. But 'sub-optimal' - I mean it really depends on your metric. In terms of going places it was the same.


For every “vegan diet problems” article out there, there should be a “fiber deficiency” article written for people eating a SAD.


Similar attitudes exist, or perhaps we could call them myths, exist for meat - that you don't get all of the nutrients you need if you only eat meat.

In part I'm sure it's perpetuated, for every diet, by whatever industry or industrial complex wants to create "news" and attention for themselves - which can include creating misinformation against the opposite.

Superfoods that are fads is an easy example, also, you don't ever hear about the healthiest fat weight loss diet - which is water fasting - because a company generally can't make money off of telling you to not eat.

I agree with you that through evolution there would have been different sources of food for different groups, with more or less meat/animal sources available, and so there will be different lineages of evolution that thrive with certain foods and where those same foods may be harmful to others.

There hasn't been adequate research done for diet, to factor in all variables that are important - including starting state of health of someone's GI tract. To do a proper, holistic and fully inclusive research, will be a big and expensive undertaking. And observational studies isn't adequate research IMHO, as they miss important nuances and help perpetuate whatever ideology someone is pushing/cheering for.


With the exception of fish, for probably a very, very long time we ate a lot of fish.


Upton Sinclair effect - It is difficult to get someone to come to terms with necessary lifestyle changes when their wasteful, resource-intensive lifestyle depends on them not understanding it.


>We evolved over a long period of time to basically eat whatever we could hunt and find.

And our best energy packed food was still meat in that period of time...


Choline is very common in vitamin B12 supplements, which most vegans - assuming they aren't the poorly educated lifestyle type of vegan - know they need to supplement unless they want to make algae and seaweed staples of their kitchen.


Floradix FTW. That stuff saved my life.


Can vegans, then, take a pill that provides this?


Amazon sells many choline supplements. I haven't at all looked into their bioavailability or efficacy.


Is this the entire article or this an excerpt for an article hidden behind a paywall? I can't seem to access whatever this is except for a paragraph and an incognito window isn't helping.


I am always surprised when I see that vegans/plant-based dieters may be lacking one or more nutrients in their well balanced diet. Most of the time you should only be concerned about getting all vital nutrients if you're following non plant-based diet.


This is a flawed line of reasoning given that the overwhelming majority of meat eaters also eat a significant percentage of their calories from plants. It is referred to as a balanced diet for a reason.


Anecdotally, most people who eat meat-based diets really downplay the role of vegetables in their diet. Eating meat is more masculine and the only food worthy of focusing on. Vegetables are relegated to dressing up meats or acting as half-forgotten side dishes.

Disclaimer: I am not vegetarian/vegan but eat one or two meatless meals per day.




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