The Fit Vegan – Dr. Klaper’s Vegan Health Study
Michael Klaper, M.D. is a staunch advocate of the vegan diet and lifestyle, read in the broadest way. As Dr. Klaper explains:
Frequently, situations arise where our actions make a statement about our true feelings towards life. What we order in a restaurant to eat, from what material the shoes, belts and wallets we choose to buy are made, what soap we buy to wash our hands - all these actions make statements about how much we care about life.
The vegan person says,
"It does matter what I do.”
"It matters how much harm I create or do not create."
"It matters how much healing I can bring into the world around me".
It is from such a vegan ideal that the healing of the world can come.
It’s refreshing to see this level of openness from a medical professional. And while some might argue that this position might open a challenge to the credibility of a scientist, perhaps we should allow our ethical considerations to provide some guidelines in science. If a dietary commitment increases peace and respect, is it not the hallmark of a true professional to research this and ensure that it can be followed without risk to health, or perhaps even demonstrate that it has much to offer?
In 2005, Dr. Klaper, who specializes in vegan nutrition, published the preliminary results of the Vegan Health Study, which followed over 900 vegans through questionnaires, as well as testing blood and urine samples of some of the participants. The results of the study were positive, suggesting that a properly balanced, vegan diet, based on whole foods and with special attention to the supplements discussed here, can offer many health benefits. Klaper’s list of benefits includes relief from, or even prevention of, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, as well as some kidney disorders, immune-inflammatory diseases, toxin exposure, gastrointestinal diseases and eye disorders.
Dr. Klaper has shown that a low-fat vegan diet can, remarkably, reverse heart disease. Not just slow it down, or halt progression, but actually encourage your body to heal the damage, and return to a healthier state. Becoming vegan prior to the time of highest susceptibility to cardiovascular disease is also an excellent way to prevent this condition.
Of course, being vegan doesn’t render one immune to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, particularly if one doesn’t follow popular advice such as limiting sodium, avoiding cigarettes, and staying physically active. And the benefits apply most strongly to those who maximize the amount of whole foods in their diet. If one is mainly replacing animal products with highly processed faux meat and dairy alternatives, the benefits aren’t as great.
Klaper also discovered that certain cancers have been shown to appear less in vegans than in non-vegans. The chances of developing prostate cancer are probably lower in vegans than in those who eat the typical omnivorous diet, “due to the reduced intake of meat and dairy products, and the increased intake of protective phytochemicals” – meaning eat your vegetables and fruits, says Klaper. Get plenty of fiber to help prevent colorectal cancers.
Special Dietary Concerns
Every week, it seems, a new report connects diet and cancer, but it’s rare to see one promoting any animal products as healthful, and almost all suggest eating less animal products. For example, the BBC reported recently that red meat has been shown to increase rates of breast cancer: Older women who ate one 2-ounce portion a day (57 grams) had a 56% increased risk compared with those who ate none. That’s just a few mouthfuls, the size of a common candy bar. Doubtless many people commonly eat much more meat than this daily.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Cancer Institute indicate that around a third of all cancers are diet-related, and being vegan can significantly reduce cause for concern greatly. The vegan diet can also help people with Type 2 diabetes, or even prevent or reverse the onset of it. This disease is a growing concern for many, but rarely seen in the vegan population. As Dr. Klaper explains, that’s likely due to the extra fiber, plant sterols and soy protein, and the reduced intakes of total fats and refined carbohydrates. So there is a common theme here: Fiber appears good for health, as do other nutrients found in plants, and the proteins and fats found in animal products create risk.
Dr. Klaper’s studies show that protein -- often the focus of concern for people considering the vegan diet -- appears in a plant-based diet in adequate amounts. Klaper described the amino acid status as “sub-optimal” in some cases, but a varied diet takes care of this. (Readers may recall learning about this in my previous column; see the last issue of ActionLine or our Web site for more details.) In fact, advice to vary one’s diet is given to everyone, not just vegans. So another theme here is that meeting your requirements will not pose more of a burden to the vegan than to omnivores.
That said, Dr. Klaper’s study was also helpful in pointing out key areas that vegans would do well to pay attention to. Although many nutritional requirements were easily met in the vegan population, some deficiencies were common across the board. Levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine were low in many of the vegans sampled. These nutrients are less common in vegan foods, and the study confirmed absolutely that vegans require B12 supplementation, though this is easily remedied with a daily or weekly tablet. Supplementation is best found in a vitamin supplement of 10 micrograms a day, or a 2000 microgram sublingual tablet once a week. Other sources include s ome plant-based milks and breakfast cereals which are fortified with B12, or B12 Fortified Red Star Nutritional Yeast (this can be used as a mild seasoning; make sure it’s fortified).
Vitamin D (vegans take D2, not D3) can be found in fortified foods, such as soy milk. Many nutritionists recommend (25 micrograms – that’s 1,000 IUs, or International Units -- each day, especially for those who don't get sun exposure.
Getting your daily requirement of 150 micrograms of iodine means enjoying your sea vegetables (such as the seaweed found in vegan sushi or miso soup); iodine also appears in iodized salt.
We at Friends of Animals extend heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Klaper for continuing the Vegan Health Study, and ensuring that we’re supplied with the best nutritional information possible to obtain. Readers are invited to participate in Dr. Klaper’s study, available electronically at www.veganhealthstudy.org.
Nutrition and Lifestyle Recommendations from the Vegan Health Study Clinical Summary
1. Make whole plant foods the foundation of your diet.
Emphasize (non-genetically modified, organically grown) whole foods daily. Enjoy a variety of fresh, colorful vegetables, including green leafy vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
2. Minimize refined carbohydrates – both sugars and starches.
Refined sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar, syrups, candy and sodas, as well as refined starches, such as white flour products and white rice products, crowd out foods that nourish and protect us, and contribute to a variety of health problems, including damage to tissues, elevated blood sugar levels, adverse effects to blood lipids (particularly triglycerides), and increased risk for Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes, as well as cardiovascular diseases and gastro-intestinal disorders.
3. Include a healthful intake and balance of essential fatty acids.
Omega 3 levels are also worthy of consideration, as most people (whether vegan or omnivorous) far surpass the ideal ratio of four-to-one Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning one that’s essential to consume because our body cannot produce it by itself. Flax oil is the most popular source for vegans, and nowadays flax waffles are easy to find in grocers’ freezers. Walnuts, hemp seeds, cold-pressed canola, and green vegetables also contain this nutrient.
Alternatively, consider taking an algae-derived DHA supplement (300 mg. a day, in “vegi-caps”), available at natural food stores. This is particularly important for pregnant or lactating people or those with diabetes or hypertension.
4. Assure an adequate protein intake (approximately 60 to 90 grams each day for vegan adults.)
This is easily done if you choose beans (such as pinto or kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, tempeh or tofu), nuts, seeds, and foods made from them.
[Please note that Dr. Klaper’s recommendation for daily protein is at the high end of the recommended range. Click here for more information.]
5. Assure an adequate supply of trace minerals.
Don’t skimp on the dark green, leafy vegetables, root vegetables or fruits. It is not enough to eat the minerals; you must absorb them. So break up the plant fibers by chewing your foods well or using food preparations methods such as grinding, juicing, grating or pureeing for soups and stews.
6. Insure a reliable source of vitamin B12.
Reliable sources include fortified foods and supplements. Fortified foods such as non-dairy beverages (rice-based and soy-based drinks), Red Star nutritional yeast (Vegetarian Support Formula), and some cereals are good choices. Select at least two servings of these foods each day. If there is any doubt that your intake of B-12 may not be sufficient (for example, if you are a long-term vegan), then a vitamin B12 supplement is advised.
7. Control your sodium intake.
Use flavored vinegars, lemon juice and other low-sodium taste enhancers, rather than soy sauce and other salty seasonings.
8. Eliminate hydrogenated vegetable oil
Avoid processed foods containing “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or shortening. Don’t gamble with the risk of artery disease, Type 2 diabetes, or possibly some cancers. Again, minimize processed foods and emphasize fresh, whole foods.
9. Consider taking a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement.
If there is any question of adequate intake of any given vitamin, mineral or essential fat, consider a vegetarian multivitamin-mineral preparation (tablet or liquid or powder) daily, or approximately two to three times per week.
10. Be sure to get a consistent reliable source of vitamin D.
Consult a medical professional to determine your optimal source for vitamin D. If you’re avoiding sunlight or live in a cooler climate, then sunshine, a natural source of vegan vitamin D, will not cover your needs during the winter months, and you will need to rely on fortified foods such as fortified non-dairy beverages or vitamin D-2 supplements.
11. Try to get 20 to 30 minutes of active, weight-bearing exercise at least every other day.
Include a balance of cardiovascular, flexibility and strength exercises. This will help you to prevent osteoporosis and it contributes to overall health.
12. For optimal health, says Dr. Klaper, a positive mental and emotional state is essential – and possibly more important than nutritional intake:
“Life is about more than avoiding disease and death. Get as much love, laughter and meaningful service into your daily life as possible. Make your life a reflection of your hopes, dreams and joys.”
Dave Shishkoff, Friends of Animals’ Canadian Correspondent, is also a velodrome bike racer for OrganicAthlete. Until a few years ago, Dave was your typical inactive activist, but shaped up after starting to feel aches and pains at the age of 28. Visit his vegan cycling blog at: http://Cycling.DaveNoisy.com
- Michael Klaper, MD, “Vision of a Gentler World” - Vegan Views (Winter 1993-94).
- “Red Meat 'Ups Breast Cancer Risk'” - BBC Health News (3 Apr. 2007).
- When using large amounts of B-12 at once, only .5 to 1% will be absorbed, so high intakes are required.
- The recommended amount of iodine for adults is about 150 micrograms per day. Children need between 70 and 150 micrograms of iodine per day, while pregnant women need 175 micrograms per day, and lactating women need 200 micrograms per day. A typical salt intake is 5 to 20 grams per day, so people who use iodized salt easily meet iodine needs. Even when sodium intake is limited to the recommended 2 grams per day, iodine needs are easily met.
- Keep your sodium intake to not more than 2400 mg per day, and preferably around 1800 mg per day. Athletes, especially those living in warm climates, may require higher amounts of sodium in their diets.