LeBron, Kobe and Low Carb Context

Last year, NBA superstar LeBron James broke my heart and left my beloved Miami Heat for his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. And to kick a vegan Heat fan when he’s down, one of the biggest secondary storylines that offseason was about another of LeBron’s summer 2014 decisions: he cut carbs from his diet and became a “keto-paleo” dieter.

If you’re unaware of what that entails—it’s typically a diet of a lot of meat and eggs, with almost no carbs. No milk, cheese or dairy. No bread. No pasta. No rice. No sugar. No honey. No beer. No potatoes. No fruit. Only some types of veggies. And several other possible dietary restrictions as well. (But bacon? That’s perfectly acceptable for keto-paleo dieters.)

After some weeks on the restrictive diet, LeBron re-emerged in public as an astonishingly skinny version of himself. NBA fans and analysts were stunned at his weight loss. Of course, LeBron is a bulky human, but compared to the old LeBron, the new carb-cutting LeBron was, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “suddenly skinny.”

This news got people buzzing about low-carb eating. LeBron’s “weight loss has sparked as much interest in low-carb diets as the Atkins’ craze did back in 2004,” according to Sports Illustrated.

He stuck with the diet for at least 67 days leading up to training camp, although it’s unclear to what extent he continued to limit carbs, or whether he otherwise changed his diet, as the season progressed.

LeBron went into the season claiming that the diet “did make me quicker, so it will help our team.” A quicker, meaner, leaner LeBron? Cavs fans were cautiously stoked.

But by November, the low carb buzz and ‘skinny’ LeBron articles began to fade into the world of forgotten offseason storylines. At that point, we were a month into the NBA season. And a new LeBron headline emerged:

LeBron James is at center of Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles.”

“[LeBron is] the best player in the NBA and he hasn’t played like it.” Those sound bites are courtesy of the Northeast Ohio Media Group (an unnecessarily dull name for a media company, which is made up of many news outlets, including The Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Something was off with LeBron. He didn’t look like himself. He was underperforming. Fans and observers were legitimately concerned. Some, like Bill Simmons, outwardly wondered if his poor play had something to do with his diet. Fans on Twitter joked that LeBron should re-introduce carbs into his diet because it looked like he had no energy.

January 2015 arrived, and after 39 games, the star-studded Cavaliers—widely expected to dominate the league prior to the season—had a losing record.

Around that time, in a highly unusual move, LeBron vanished from the court. He stopped showing up to Cavs games, not even to sit on the bench. Where was he? Miami of all places. That’s where he went to undergo two weeks of rest and rehabilitation.

‘I’m serious, I haven’t felt right in a long time,’ James told Northeast Ohio Media Group. ‘The way I was playing out there, that wasn’t me. I had to do something.’

LeBron would end up missing more time last season than any other in his career.

Fast forward to June, and the Cavaliers were in the Finals, led by a nearly unstoppable LeBron James.

What gives? Did LeBron reintroduce fried plantains back into his diet when he went back to Miami? Well, there were certainly valid explanations that have nothing to do with diet. LeBron had that two-week rest period; the Cavs bolstered their roster with a mid-season trade; and the team had time to gel.

As for LeBron’s reasoning for the unprecedented two-week rest, it’s important to remember that the dude had played 11 grueling seasons without any major time off, not to mention he was coming off of four Finals appearances in a row. The man deserves as much rest as he can get. As for specifics of what changes he made during his time off, even the Northeast Ohio Media Group didn’t find any concrete answers. “He wouldn’t divulge much,” they wrote. And not a peep was written about his diet.

All summer we heard about the new, revamped low-carb LeBron. Then he started the NBA season and looked like a far less effective version of himself. Could his summer keto/paleo diet have anything to do with that? What type of diet did he stick to during the season? Did he switch his diet to include more carbs after his lackluster start?

Eventually we were at a point in the season where sports stories were about team chemistry, not players’ body chemistry. So there weren’t many places to find the latest on LeBron’s eating habits.

Finally, in the middle of the 2015 Finals, an answer emerged.

LeBron was consuming carbs. Lots of them, apparently.

Ken Berger of CBS Sports reported on LeBron’s post-game recovery plan: it involves gulping down “carbohydrate-rich recovery fluids.”

Imbibing a carefully prepared combination of water and carbohydrate-rich recovery fluids provided by his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, James immediately began the process of refilling his glycogen levels — the stored form of carbohydrate found in the liver and muscle tissue. If you equate James’ body to a Formula-1 racecar, refilling glycogen is as important as refueling during a pit stop.

Using carbohydrates to replenish glycogen? That’s a keto-paleo dieter’s worst nightmare. It’s exactly how keto dieters don’t want to energize their muscles.  Unfortunately, Berger reported on LeBron’s high-carb habits, but didn’t mention the context of LeBron’s low-carb diet to start the season. I’d be interested in hearing LeBron or his trainer’s thoughts on it. After their experience with it, would they recommend the low-carb diet to anyone?

LeBron would come up short in the Finals, but it’s quite an achievement he made it that far. His All-Star sidekicks were injured, though I should give a shoutout to James Jones, LeBron’s reliable vegan teammate who, at 34, played in all 20 of the Cavs’ playoff games.

All in all, this is a mere anecdote. But it’s an anecdote that spread far and wide in 2014, and got people very interested in meat-heavy, low-carb eating. People should know that LeBron didn’t stick with it, and it may have even contributed to the most injury-prone season of his career. No matter how you feel about the low-carb diet, it certainly deserves to be looked into further.

The Los Paleos Lakers

LeBron was not alone in the NBA Extreme Low-Carb Dieting Club. (I’d imagine this club’s ‘No Beer & No BBQ Sauce’ cookouts have pretty low turnouts).

Count the 2013-2014 L.A. Lakers team in as well. That’s right, the entire Lakers team adhered to a low-carb diet, for at least that season. That’s when the Lakers brought in low-carb advocate Cate Shanahan to revamp the team’s nutrition program. How did she do it? She restricted the players’ diets to no more than 25 percent carbohydrates. (For reference, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends people get 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbs.)

Lakers star Kobe Bryant was all in. “It’s something that we all had to adjust to, but we trust Dr. Cate implicitly,” he said.

Again, we can credit Ken Berger of CBS Sports with the scoop on this story in December 2013.

But in February 2014, not even two months after the CBS article ran, the Lakers made headlines for a new reason—the team became so riddled with injuries, they literally ran out of healthy active players in a game. Thanks to a rule that almost never gets used, the Lakers finished the game with a fouled-out player as the fifth man on the court. Amazingly, they pulled out the win in overtime. So kudos for that, I guess.

As for the Lakers bench, it was filled with a smorgasbord of injuries. Kobe Bryant fractured his knee just 10 days after the CBS article ran. He was out for 6 weeks. Steve Nash was suffering various injuries, especially back problems. Jodie Meeks had a sprained right ankle. Pau Gasol had a strained groin. Jordan Hill had a strained neck. Xavier Henry was out with a knee injury. Nick Young injured his knee during this epic game. And Jordan Farmar was forced to sit out with a calf injury.

In August 2014, when the Wall Street Journal came out with the ‘OMG LeBron So Skinny’ article, there was no mention of the Lakers’ team-wide low-carb diet from the previous season. But the article did mention that Lakers’ stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were strict adherents to the same diet as LeBron. In fact, Nash, who back in 2009 during a  healthier, higher-carb chapter of his life would start his days with cereal and almond milk, had since become so immersed in low-carb eating by 2014, the article described him as “fanatical” about it.

Yet by December 2014, Kobe sat out due to a wide array of injuries, including sore knees, sore Achilles’ tendons, and sore feet. In January 2015, he tore his rotator cuff and would sit out for the rest of the season.

As for Nash, his injuries were so severe that he didn’t make it onto the court at all that season. He announced his retirement in March 2015.

That’s back to back seasons of multiple injuries for both players.

To be fair, Nash retired at 41. Kobe was ruled out for the season at 36. These aren’t 20-year-old rookies. I’m trying to play devil’s advocate here. These are guys who have played several unthinkably long and intense seasons. Their bodies are understandably worn and weary. And like LeBron’s story, these are just anecdotes. Without further proof, you can’t confidently pin the blame solely on their low-carb diets. You also can’t fault them for looking for uncommon ways to try to revitalize their aching bodies.

But Kobe, Nash and LeBron have been the subject of so much low-carb media coverage, yet they have a downright awful track record with the diet. It’s perplexing: there’s been virtually no follow up to their pro-low-carb stories from 2013 and 2014. Their low-carb diets were presented as something of a success story, yet history appears to show their low-carb phase as a pretty massive misstep for all three of them.

In fact, according to Berger’s 2013 article on the low-carb diet, there are a few other adherents to the diet in the NBA (at least at the time of that article): Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Ray Allen. None of their stories support low-carb dieting either.

Here’s the deal with Derrick Rose, directly from Berger’s low-carb article:

‘Sugar is one of the reasons that people don’t recover the way that they were supposed to, and I had surgery,’ Rose said earlier this season. ‘So taking all that into consideration, I was just trying to put everything on my side, giving myself a chance to come back.’

Rose made it back, but only 10 games into a successful return from the ACL injury, he tore the meniscus in his other knee. He is out for the year again . . .

Yikes. Rose would go on to miss 72 games in 2013/2014, and 31 games in 2014/2015. In full fairness, he had a reputation even before this as an injury-prone player.

As for Dwight, he missed 41 games in 2014/2015, and he entered the current season with nagging back and knee injuries.

Ray Allen is cited in many of the low-carb articles as one of the figureheads. But why? He adopted the diet for a short period in the summer of 2014, just days after making perhaps the greatest shot in NBA Finals history. As training camp progressed, here’s what happened:

With his activity level ramped up — practices, weightlifting sessions, the endless shooting he does to hone his craft — he began to feel depleted. So he did something that even one of the world’s top proponents of the Paleo diet acknowledges is OK for athletes with a high activity level: He increased his consumption of carbs.

Even the paleo guru quoted in the article (Robb Wolf) said increasing carbs is “absolutely what needs to be done. When you start looking at any type of high-level athlete, they need a lot of carbs to be able to function optimally – potatoes, some sweet potatoes, some white rice.”

The article continues: “Allen sometimes eats pancakes or waffles, but only in the morning, so he has all day to burn them off. He doesn’t eat red meat or pork, an idea that Paleo zealots might have a hard time digesting.”

Somehow, despite eating waffles and pancakes, Allen is still mentioned in pro-low-carb articles, like the ‘Skinny LeBron’ Wall Street Journal piece. It’s hard to explain how he has earned this reputation. He tried low-carb for a short while, then he felt depleted, and added carbs back into his diet. Is that really a low-carb success story? And now he eats pancakes and waffles, but only in the morning. Whoa whoa whoa, stop the clock. As much as I think breakfast foods should be the norm every meal of the day, restricting your pancake and waffle consumption to the morning hours is pretty typical. And no red meat or pork? Now Ray is talking my language.

Blake Griffin is also mentioned in Berger’s article. But he isn’t a low-carb dieter either. His diet includes “rice and other quality starches (sweet potatoes, occasional white potatoes).” Delicious.


Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant continues to slop up bone broth, and the media continues to rave about how it has contributed to his recovery and longevity. The Washington Post wrote a story calling bone broth “Kobe Bryant’s secret Stone Age weapon.” The only player he seems to be attacking with it is himself. Just last week, Kobe said after a game: “Right now, I’m barely standing up. My back and my legs, man, it’s killing me.” Maybe we should leave bone broth in the Stone Age.

Before last season (and before LeBron’s struggles from November to January) the Lakers’ low-carb diet guru Shanahan said about LeBron, if he is successful with his low-carb approach, he “will be a monster” on the court next season. LeBron wasn’t a monster. He was less effective and injury-prone. Only after rehabilitation and a return to a higher-carb recovery diet would he get back to form. I wonder what Shanahan’s thoughts are on all that. Meanwhile, Shanahan has since relocated from California to Colorado (but according to her website, she says she still consults with the Lakers).

By and large, these are stories of wealthy celebrities engaging in what could be called a “fad” diet (albeit celebrities whose health and well-being we witness about 82 games a year). In all fairness, this applies to celebrity stories and wild health claims about any diet, including plant-based diets. Those stories can be interesting here and there, but they can also generate a lot of questions. Considering so many of the NBA’s low-carb figureheads have suffered such notable, long-term injuries since they adopted the diet, did low-carb eating really deserve the positive attention from the media? One thing the low-carb diet does deserve, is context.


Why Might They Get Injured? 

There are many scientific reasons why a low-carb diet isn’t a great idea. Many of the LeBron articles from 2014 cautioned readers of the consequences. Here are just a few:

From Today, which quoted registered dietitian Elisa Zied:

  • Carb-rich foods are an important source of B-vitamins, iron, fiber and magnesium.
  • “Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, the important fuel needed by your brain, red blood cells, your entire central nervous system and even your muscles.”

The note about magnesium is especially interesting. Magnesium is a nutrient that plays important roles in both muscles and bones. You’d think something like that would be found in milk or meat, based on their respective popular reputations. Yet, it’s a mineral that’s only found in significant quantities in carby, vegan foods. The best sources are almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts and peanut butter, cereal, beans, bread, avocado, potatoes, and rice. So next time you meet a keto paleo, ask them where they get their magnesium.

From Details Magazine, which quoted registered dietitian Jim White:

  • Low-carb diets raise the amount of ketones in diet, which “turn the blood acidic and cause horribly bad breath, [and] nausea.”
  • And also “brain fog and a really crappy mood.”
  • “Low-carb diets make dehydration—which is already a major threat to athletes—much more likely.”

From Business Insider, which quoted dietitians Alissa Rumsey and Joy Dubost:

  • Whole grains are nutrient-rich sources of food that provide important vitamins and minerals into the diet. “‘And when you start restricting that, particularly for a length of time, you can run the risk of nutrient deficiency,’ Dubost said.”
  • “It takes significant planning and resources to get the nutrients you need while refusing to eat grains, sugars, and dairy. LeBron has every resource in the world at his disposal. He has a team of people making sure he’s getting the nutrients he needs. Normal people don’t, which makes trying to mimic a diet like LeBron’s difficult.”

Kobe Bryant’s favorite low-carb food of bone broth remains in the news. Mother Jones recently unleashed a comprehensive attack on bone broth. NPR also criticized the claims of the pro-bone broth crowd. The gist of it: there’s basically no scientific studies that show any benefit to consuming bone broth. It’s all broth, no substance.

As a fan of basketball, vegan food, and good journalism, the low-carb storyline grabbed my attention. Hopefully NBA writers revisit the topic with LeBron and Kobe, and challenge the health gurus who influenced them. Until then, have a great NBA season, and don’t forget to eat your beans.

Has everyone been catfished into thinking vegetarians are a bunch of drunk phonies?

About a week ago, Fox News reported that one out of every three vegetarians eats meat when drunk.

If you read the article, you’d see that the study was conducted by (direct quote here) a “U.K.-based discount code website” called VoucherCodesPro. If your reaction to that phrase was anything like mine, you might wonder—what the heck is VoucherCodesPro, and why in the world should anyone trust a survey by it, or any “discount code website” for that matter?

Reddit user jpop23mn posted the article on reddit.com. In true reddit form, the comments section included no shortage of puns and one liners, and, fortunately, plenty of people who had some tougher questions, like wondering what in the world “VoucherCodesPro” is.

Despite the skeptical reddit comments, it garnered an incredible amount of interest, with nearly 5,000 overall upvotes, enough to ensure it remained visible on the reddit homepage for most of the day.

The headline itself is Internet clickbait gold. It’s a soft, cynical story that is prime for generating a ton of buzz, arguments, anecdotes and shares on social media. First of all, it’s a surprising statistic. Second of all, there are those who might simply find the story funny. And third, there are plenty of haughty anti-vegetarians who take articles like this and run with them, possibly because they might be a bit defensive about vegetarianism, and will jump at any opportunity to show that vegetarians are flawed.

There’s maybe no better exemplification of that response than on the popular Internet-based talk show, The Young Turks, who reported on the study. Check it out for yourself. The co-host, Ana Kasparian, who once shared this unoriginal video, showed off some anti-vegetarian smugness and shared a personal anecdote as additional proof.

What’s far more troubling than any of that, however, is the overconfidence with which she delivers the survey results of this random UK-based discount code website, and how easily her co-panelists and the audience seem to slop it up, like a bowl of cinnamon maple oatmeal made with almond milk.

Why is that troubling? Because I can say with 90% confidence that this study is completely made up. All of that “data” that Fox News and The Young Turks discussed as fact? Made up. Fake. Nonsense. Pulled out of thin air.

I’m giving myself a 10% margin of error, because I can’t discount (pun intended) the small possibility that the company actually did conduct some type of study, even though I’ve found zero proof of it. Plus, if a random UK-based discount code website can make up numbers, then so can I about how confident I am!

And with that, I give huge props to another Ana, this one spelled with two n’s. Anna Starostinetskaya is a writer who did call bull on this story. She writes for VegNews, which, sure, obviously has a (tofu) stake in this game.

As Anna puts it, “The problem is that the . . . source—a United Kingdom coupon code site called VoucherCodesPro—has revealed no evidence of this study . . . VegNews reached out to VoucherCodesPro, as well as the various writers behind the third-party articles, but nobody could point us to the study in question.”

Reddit, Fox News, and The Young Turks were not the only third-party media outlets that reported the study as truth. Far from it.

USA Today reported it. People Magazine covered it. So did the Huffington Post. And The Daily Beast. And E! Online. And the New York Daily News. And SFGate. And Tech Times.

Same with Mother Jones. And Grist. And Mens Fitness. And mic.com. And AlterNet. And Mother Earth Network. And Jezebel. And Elite Daily.

Food blogs like Delish.com and The Daily Meal.

Even anti-vegetarian livestock periodicals got in the game too. Like AgWeb and Cattle Network.

The story originated in the UK and was covered by many of their major news outlets there as well, like The Independent, The Telegraph, and The Sun.

Tons of local TV news shows, national morning talk shows (like Live With Kelly and Michael), and radio shows covered it as well.

Not to mention the huge numbers of shares and retweets on Facebook and Twitter.

Phew. All of that, thanks to a small, scrappy UK-based discount code website.

I don’t know if Anna heard from anyone at the website. I made my own attempts, and have not heard back at the time of this posting. But I put my Internet sleuth skills to the test to see if I could find any answers. And here’s what I discovered:

Exhibit A: Nick Swan VoucherCodesPro is a coupon website. It was created a few years ago by a guy in the UK named Nick. This is according to VoucherCodesPro’s own About Us page. (I’m going to shorten the site’s name to VCP from here on out.)

On Nick’s Twitter page he says he’s a programmer and a fan of golf. Seems like an okay dude. The company that owns and runs the website is MSH Limited. Nick’s the only owner, officer and shareholder. (You can check the UK government’s records on that.)

Exhibit B: George Charles The press release for the drunk vegetarian study on VCP’s website—which is basically what all of the various news sites copied and pasted (or “reported” on)—states that a guy named “George Charles” is the founder of VCP.

Wait a second, I thought Nick is the founder? Let’s check the About Us page again. Hm, it lists about 10 staffers. No George. Not even a Charles. Certainly no George Charles. And there’s no George Charles listed anywhere in the UK corporate filings. The ‘In the Press‘ section seems to confirm that Nick is the founder.

I’ll chalk it up to be being a careless typo. Because if you search for “George Charles” and VCP, you won’t find mentions of him in any context other than in articles about VCP surveys, and he’s either referred to as a founder, a marketing director or a spokesperson.

The press release, along with other prior surveys, quotes George himself. And almost all of his quotes end in exclamation points!

I really couldn’t believe the stats from this research! I know a few vegetarians who sometimes crave meat, but it seems that a few are giving into their cravings when drunk! —George Charles, Founder (or spokesperson?) (or study organizer?) (or marketing director?)

Imagine any other author of a major survey quoting themselves with exclamation points. “Our study found the cure for diarrhea! It’s totally cool and insane and quirky! I’m a responsible, trustworthy authority on this subject!”

Sometimes Nick, the true founder (apparently), is also quoted in the VCP press release blog posts. And sometimes his quotes have a lot of exclamation points, with a similar sort of pace in the sound byte. Like this one, from a VCP study on how much people spend on their pets:

Britons seem to be spending a lot of money on their pets! Having a pet is a great privilege and really does make a difference to your life, in my opinion. I’ve got a cat called Carragher and he really is like another member of the family! —Nick Swan, Founder (probably)

There is no biographical information about George. In fact, I can’t find any other mentions of him, other than press releases, which news outlets pull quotes of his from. There’s no Twitter page. No Linkedin page. Nothing else about George on the VCP website. Maybe George, despite his exclamation point exterior, is a recluse and doesn’t want to be listed on his own company’s website. George Charles, you sneaky, possibly non-existent company executive!

Exhibit C: The Studies

If you make any search for VCP and either “George Charles” or “Nick Swan,” you’ll find dozens of studies that VCP has allegedly conducted. They all tend to follow the same couple of patterns: such as confirming or exploiting a stereotype or suspicion people have about a group, or about consumer spending habits.

Men spend a lot more than women when they go out!as reported by Metro.

People steal at self-checkout counters!as reported by the Telegraph.

Men lie about how much they spend on engagement rings!as reported by Mirror.

BMW drivers are the most aggressive car drivers on the road!as reported by NBC News. Ugh, not you too NBC News!

The BMW one interested me, because like vegetarians, BMW superfans are a narrow class of people who might be perplexed at the results (compared with broader, less-likely-to-be-offended groups like “men” or “self-checkout shoppers,” prideful BMW drivers might actually be offended). Sure enough, I found a thread on a BMW fan site called Bimmerfest, with at least a couple of people questioning who the heck VCP, the source of the survey, actually was. But no further digging by anyone there. Some people just went along with the survey’s results.

But where are these studies?

I looked at VCP’s last year’s worth of study blog posts. None of them link to any hard results. There is nothing about the methodology. There is no hard data. They just follow the same formula. There’s a glaring lack of evidence that VCP actually conducted any studies whatsoever.

See VCP’s original content for yourself: People hate how much time they spend on their cellphones. Men crave fast food, women crave chocolate. The drunk vegetarian study (see above). People spend a lot on their pets. And so on. Where’s the proof?

Conducting a legitimate study, after all, is extremely expensive. I couldn’t find any recent numbers on this, but this older article from entrepreneur.com explains that surveys cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to administer, especially for larger surveys like VCP’s that involve interviewing thousands of people. How can a company of its size afford to churn out 6 or so large surveys each year?

The writer of The Daily Beast article (Vlad Chituc) managed to speak to someone involved with VCP. From Mr. Chituc: “I did exchange emails with a member of the PR firm that represents VoucherCodesPro, but they preferred not to be named and gave me a rough description of the methodology. In any case, these results should be taken with some healthy skepticism.”

I wish Vlad would expand on that, but it seems he was left unconvinced. He received only a “rough description” of the methodology, and he urges his readers to exercise some “healthy skepticism.” Unfortunately the headline to his article is a conclusive “Why Drunk Vegetarians Eat Meat.”

Exhibit D: SEO You Later

Golf and programming aren’t VCP founder Nick’s only interests. On his Twitter page, he says he’s also interested in marketing and SEO. And SEO might explain all of this.

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” That’s the process of increasing the visibility of a website without paying a search engine for advertising. Or put differently, it’s about different tips, tricks and strategies to get your website seen by as many people as you can. The goal is to get the various search engine algorithms to give more weight to your website, so that it appears higher in Google search results. (Or Yahoo, or Bing, or Lycos. Does Lycos still exist? Just checked, it does.)

There are tons of perfectly ethical ways of optimizing your company’s visibility on the Internet. There are also some unethical ways.

Creating a completely false and made up survey about click-baity topics that will likely get spread around the Internet, with your company’s name and website plastered all over the place? That’s more on the unethical side of the spectrum.

It’s also pretty bold. These studies all plug the VCP website like crazy. There’s no attempt to say these studies came from anywhere other than a coupon website. And so many of these huge news outlets have fallen for the bait. If it turns out these are all completely fabricated studies, then wow. I’d really like to know what Nick thinks of this. Is he surprised at how easy this all is? How did he get media outlets to notice the studies? Did he count on so many writers to not put in any effort to verify the studies? Or to demand a copy of the surveys? Or to speak directly to someone from the company who can speak competently on them?

Oh, and those 10 staffers listed on the VCP website? It looks like only three or maybe four of them are actual people. The rest seem to just be fake names connected to Twitter accounts that churn out content as part of the site’s SEO strategy.


I think you get the point already, so I’ll try to sum up my final thoughts on all of this.

1. If I’m Wrong: If I turn out to be wrong about VCP and about these polls being completely made up, I strongly suspect the truth isn’t much better. I imagine that these numbers could have been pulled from online targeted surveys. Maybe something like one you’d get offered to participate in while browsing Facebook. Or a poll a marketer displays for people who browse shopping websites.

Such surveys are not reliable, or scientific, or trustworthy. While I think such a survey would be more ethical of VCP, it still looks really, really bad for the media to trust VCP. Which brings me to #2.

2. Not A Good Look For Journalism: When you see all of these news outlets report the same thing, you have to assume at least one reporter—if not two, three or all of them—spent some time verifying the study. Apparently none of that happened. Again, I’m still holding out a small percentage of hope that I’m wrong about this. But I’m just some random Internet blogger. It’s up to one of the many reporters who passed along these surveys to scrutinize their sources. Like Anna over at VegNews did. How, apparently, did not a single one of these reporters, after they typed (or copy and pasted) the words “a survey by coupon website Voucher Codes Pro,” stop and think to themselves: What? Is this a legitimate source?

To be fair, there are many publications that haven’t posted any VCP marketing nonsense. I didn’t find any Wall Street Journal articles citing VCP as a source, for example. And Wall Street Journal is a publication that would love to report on a good consumer spending study.

3. If It’s True: When I first saw the headline about the drunk vegetarians, and I saw how widely reported it was, I admittedly trusted it. If the survey has any truth, it shows vegans as weak-willed phonies. With that said, when push comes to shove, I don’t like when people run with generalizations like this. If 30%, or even 90%, of vegetarians ate meat while drunk—that shouldn’t stop someone from being a principled vegan with a modicum of will power who doesn’t. It’s also unfair to the 70% of vegetarians who are principled. Attack a set of beliefs based on the rationales behind it, not stereotypes or a caricature of the believers, even if there’s a small amount of truth to it.

The next thing I thought about is the one or two people I’ve come across in my time being a vegan, who told me that they, too, are vegetarian, but then quickly followed that up with, “Oh, I also eat chicken.” To be clear, barely anyone says that, but it’s not totally unheard of.  So to the extent there are people who are vegetarian plus, chicken, or kabobs, or burgers—these people aren’t vegetarian! Vegetarian plus chicken and burgers literally describes the standard diet of much of the developed world. Just because a person labels themselves something doesn’t make them that thing. Being a vegan or a vegetarian is purely an action-based belief system. You either commit to doing it, or you don’t.

And it’s not a lot of food that separates vegetarians from non-vegetarians. Although that small amount of animal product has a major impact on the animals, the environment and health, it’s small enough to show how easy and do-able vegetarianism actually is. I touched on this in my vitamin and mineral post. My point is, it’s really not a daunting amount of food you need to replace. Swap in a Field Roast patty, or a BBQ tofu steak, or a Mexicali black bean sliders for your lunch sandwich—and Gardein meatballs, or walnut meatballs, or tempeh meatballs for your dinnertime spaghetti, and there’s a decent chance you’ve replaced all of your meat for the day.

4. Don’t Discount Good Studies: It’s a bummer that these phony studies are so pervasive. People already don’t trust all the health and nutrition studies that flood the media every day, and in some cases, rightfully so. This massive journalistic lapse certainly won’t help matters. But there are actual good studies out there, by actual reputable institutions (not coupon code marketing websites), from actual trustworthy journals.

Take this article from Forbes as an example. It’s about the link between eating red meat and an increase in heart disease. The study was conducted by the Cleveland Clinic and it was published in a reputable journal.

There’s also this self-contradictory study: The Avocadbro recently found that 100% of UK-based coupon code websites are highly untrustworthy sources of…well, anything besides coupons.

This has been another edition of Law & Order: Special Vegans Unit.

Dude, Where’s My Calcium? Why Vitamins and Minerals are Disappearing From Some Foods

I discussed in a previous post why I think it’s completely unfair and misguided to criticize anyone (vegan or otherwise) for supplementing their diet with added vitamins and minerals. Mainly because most people already supplement their diet, whether they realize it or not. Cow’s milk is a big example of this—Vitamin D is added to most brands of milk and yogurt. A whole array of vitamins and minerals are commonly added to cereal and grains. Not to mention a lot of people chow down on energy bars and protein shakes, both of which tend to be loaded with added vitamins and minerals. Plus, many common animal products aren’t great sources of key micronutrients as it is.

Again, I think this is a good thing, assuming you aren’t getting too much of any individual vitamin or mineral. That’s something the Environmental Working Group is concerned with. They concluded that cereals and snack bars tend to over-fortify some micronutrients, which can be especially problematic for children who require lesser amounts than adults.

But apparently this is becoming less of an issue. If you check the nutrition facts of a lot of products, especially organic cereals, you’ll find that micronutrients have been either reduced or, in some cases, completely removed.

It was difficult to track down the reason for this. I found a 2007 article from the New York Times that observed how organic cereals aren’t usually fortified while conventional cereals usually are. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes has a bunch of added vitamins and minerals, in addition to the base ingredients of sugar and cornmeal. Meanwhile, the organic alternative merely has the sugar and cornmeal, albeit from organic sources. Organic is great because it means less chance of consuming pesticide residues. But what’s the point of eating cornmeal and sugar if you aren’t also getting a nice dose of important vitamins like B12 and D? You might as well have pancakes for breakfast instead.

But the New York Times article failed to answer why organic cereals tended to not have any added vitamins and minerals. In the last year or so, that answer was finally reported as major brands, like Post’s Grape Nuts and General Mills Cheerios began to reduce the vitamin and mineral content of their cereals.

It turns out these brands—Cheerios, Grape Nuts, as well as various organic brands—all have one thing in common: they all pledged to go GMO-free under the Non-GMO Project label, which has very strict non-GMO requirements. It turns out, their vitamin and mineral suppliers apparently use GMOs to extract those nutrients. (Or, confusingly and troublingly, these companies somehow don’t have enough info on their suppliers to determine whether the ingredients are GMOs). That’s why these cereal companies have dumped their vitamin suppliers thereby forcing themselves to become less nutritious.

As far as GMOs go, I don’t generally have strong feelings one way or the other at this point. I don’t know that there’s clear evidence against consuming them, but I also think that GMOs should be carefully studied and scrutinized before being released to the masses.

But, on the other hand, whatever might be unhealthy about GMOs, I highly doubt that applies to the individual, isolated vitamins and minerals that can be extracted from them. For example, it doesn’t make sense to me that calcium carbonate extracted from a GMO source would be any different than calcium carbonate from a non-GMO source. It’s still calcium. But, if you are a cereal company and you want to carry the Non-GMO Project Verified label, then you have to fire your supplier of calcium if they extract it from GMOs.

And that’s basically what has happened. Grape Nuts stopped adding vitamins A, D, B12, and B2. Cheerios stopped adding B2. Popular organic brands Barbara’s and Cascadian Farms used to add vitamins and minerals, but don’t appear to fortify any of their cereals anymore. What is great about cereal is that it’s an easy, tasty way to get lots of important vitamins. Given these changes, aren’t they now just empty calories? I don’t see the point.

It’s not just cereal companies. Silk Almond Milk used to add B12 to its product. Not anymore.

Personally, I don’t eat much cereal. But up until recently, my mornings began with Vega One smoothies, which were very nicely fortified with a helpful (but not too excessive) 50% of the daily values of B12, zinc, iodine, iron, D and calcium. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore and I no longer buy the product. Like these other companies, Vega recently reformulated a bunch of their products because—you guessed it—they signed onto the non-GMO pledge. So, while their Vega One shakes now boast the Non-GMO Project Verified label, they have no zinc at all, and 25% less iron, 30% less calcium, 35% less B12, and 46% less iodine.

Hopefully there’s some benefit to all of these companies abandoning any hint of GMO usage. But at this point in time, I’m not aware of any upside. These companies were probably already 99.9% GMO-free (the 0.1% being the vitamins and minerals)—so if the only change they are making is getting rid of added vitamins and minerals, then that’s a shame. I hope all of these companies either dump the non-GMO label and get back to being more nutritious, or else find a non-GMO source for the missing vitamins and minerals.

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Vegan Cheeses (UPDATED 2015)

“I can’t give up cheese.” You’ve heard it a million times. You might have even said it yourself at one time. Cheese, for the zero of you who have never heard of it, is coagulated milk extracted from a lactating cow’s udders. It’s a classic example of a food that triggers the “savory” or “umami” taste sense.


People love its salty and fatty essence. In the US, we seem to sprinkle or melt it on…everything. And that hasn’t been an easy thing for vegan food makers to respond to. That is, until now. Thanks to some brilliant chefs and food companies.

If you haven’t already, read this quick write-up on why you should try vegan cheese. Also watch this incredible news piece by Borat on what vegan companies have to compete with.

Look, a lot of dairy-free people (myself included) spent most of their lives eating dairy cheese. We’ve seen it all. We’ve had it all. We enjoyed cheese very much. It tastes really good. And we still want it, albeit without the cow. Nowadays there are several vegan cheeses that truly hit those salty, melty, cheesy, creamy notes. And I can genuinely say that many of the store-bought vegan cheeses, especially the newer varieties, are legitimately really good.

Now, to the reason you probably wound up on this page.

This is The Avocadbro’s Official State of the Vegan Cheese Union.

It’s categorized by what you should use each product for. Some are better eaten melted. Some are better cold. Some are good in both situations. Some companies specialize in cream cheese. Others have great mac and cheese options.

I love the taste of dairy and cheese. I’m cool with “foodie” and “fancy” cheeses, but the cheese I really, really like is whatever that golden, creamy amazingness that I grew up eating on macaroni and cheese, in a grilled cheese sandwich, and wedged between two slices of cold cuts. Don’t worry, this guide will cover the whole spectrum.

Each product is listed in order of how good I think it is (the best products are at the top of each category). And if a product is lackluster, I’ll mention that too. I think it’s worth knowing which ones to avoid as much as it’s useful to know which ones are great. Some products might be in more than one category. All products are from the US / North American market. Europe’s got their own vegan cheese scene, some of which apparently is really good. More on that below.

I’m going to come back and update this post from time to time as I come across anything new. I’ve done a lot of trial and error and read a lot of reviews on vegan cheese. This post is the result of that. Let’s do this.


These are for cold sandwiches.



  • best flavor? Creamy Original
  • any other flavors? Tomato Cayenne; Coconut Herb
  • does it melt? Yes, but best eaten chilled / not melted.
  • should you recommend it to others? YES!
  • what’s in it? mainly coconut oil and potato starch. No gluten. No palm oil.
  • Website.
  • anything else? Get these now. They are brand new as of late 2014. The reviews are nearly unanimous. They’re are a game-changer.

2. FOLLOW YOUR HEART slices—These Follow Your Heart slices are a new product as of 2015. And they’re great.

follow your heart

Don’t confuse this product with Follow Your Heart’s “Vegan Gourmet” product line. Different cheese we’re talking about here.

  • flavors? American, Provolone, Mozzarella, Garden Herb
  • does it melt? Yes, but in my experience this doesn’t taste as good melted as the Field Roast Chao, for whatever reason. See below for the best meltable vegan cheese.
  • should you recommend it to others? Sure.
  • what’s in it? mainly coconut oil and potato starch. No soy. No gluten. No palm oil.
  • Website.
  • anything else? These are not the same as the Follow Your Heart “Vegan Gourmet” blocks of cheese that have been in stores for years.
Confused? Same company, different product line. This has been around longer and, in my opinion, is not as good as the one above.

Confused? Same company, different product line, not as good (in my opinion).

  • I am not a big fan of those Vegan Gourmet blocks, but for whatever reason, they seem to be the most widely available vegan cheese.
  • I want to thank Follow Your Heart for making a good “American” flavored cheese slice. Fancy cheese snobs rip on American cheese because it’s not “real” cheese, but so what? This is the flavor I grew up eating and it’s one of the most popular cheese flavors in the whole USA. What flavor cheese do local diners use on their burgers? American. What about the cheese on breakfast sandwiches? American. What flavor is Kraft’s “original” mac and cheese? American. What is George Washington? American. Yet barely any vegan cheese brand makes American cheese. So thank you, Follow Your Heart. I will follow my heart, and it’s taken me straight to your product. (Tofutti and Go Veggie!/Galaxy also make American cheese–more on that below).
  • one more thing: These have almost the same ingredients as Field Roast slices. And they’re both made in Greece. Weird coincidence? I did a little digging, and there is a popular, widely liked brand of vegan cheese in Europe called VioLife. VioLife is based in Greece. It looks like VioLife licensed out its formula to Field Roast and Follow Your Heart. So that explains that. If you’ve ever wanted to try VioLife in the U.S., apparently you can.

Violife is sold throughout Europe. Field Roast and Follow Your Heart apparently use its formula.

3. TOFUTTI slices


  • flavors? American; Mozzarella
  • does it melt? Yup.
  • should you recommend it to others? I’d recommend it to other vegans, but I’m not sure I’d have a non-vegan try it.
  • what’s in it? Contains soy and may contain palm oil. The ingredients list is a little more extensive than other more naturally sourced brands.
  • Website.
  • anything else? Try these. Tofutti doesn’t get the same attention as other companies. It’s been around longer. And for some reason these slices are harder to find. Reviews for these are largely very good, although some dislike it.

Worth mentioning:

  • Go Veggie! slices (Galaxy Foods): (see below).
  • Daiya slices and blocks: (see below).


These are for melts, quesadillas, grilled cheese, mac and cheese and so on.

1. DAIYA slices and blocks


  • flavors? Cheddar; Swiss; Provolone; Jack; Smoked Gouda; Jalapeno Havarti
  • does it melt? Yup.
  • should you recommend it to others? Yes, but only for melting. It tastes better when melted. Most people who do not like Daiya, seem to dislike eating it cold. I like eating the blocks cold, but I didn’t include this in the chilled category. Try it melted.
  • what’s in it? mainly tapioca starch; the slices have palm oil; the blocks have coconut oil.
  • Website.
  • anything else? Daiya also makes frozen pizzas and cream cheese. See my thoughts on those below.

2. TEESE sliceable cheese


  • flavors? Cheddar; Mozzarella; Nacho Cheese Cause; Creamy Cheddar Sauce
  • does it melt? Yup.
  • should you recommend it to others? Yup, for melting.
  • what’s in it? tapioca starch, coconut oil, sunflower oil. No soy, gluten, palm oil, tree nuts.
  • Website.

Worth mentioning:

  • Field Roast Chao slices: I like them melted, but they’re great straight out of the fridge. (see above).
  • Follow Your Heart slices: Pretty good melted, but better straight out of the fridge. (see above).
  • Vegan Gourmet blocks (Follow Your Heart): As I mentioned above, these are different from (and not as good as) the Follow Your Heart slices and blocks, which are a brand new product. Same company  makes them, but they are very much different. And hey, a lot of people like the Vegan Gourmet blocks. I’m not much of a fan, but you should try for yourself.
  • Tofutti slices: Also pretty good melted from what I remember. (see above).
  • Go Veggie! slices (Galaxy Foods): For most purposes, this brand is not my favorite. I just don’t find them as good as some of the other vegan cheese brands. But you should trial and error for yourself. They make a ton of vegan cheeses, including shreds, slices, cream cheese, and parmesan cheese (their best product). Their slices come in American (respect), Mozzarella and Pepper Jack. But their product line can be confusing. Their products are either lactose free (not vegan); soy and lactose free (again, not vegan); or dairy free (yes vegan; their dairy free is also soy and lactose free).

Only one of these is vegan. (Hint: it’s the one on the left.)

  • Good luck sorting that out and be sure to look out for labeling that says they are “dairy free.” I imagine a lot of their customers mistakenly buy some of their non-dairy products thinking they are all dairy free. Website.


This for pizzas, chili, quesadillas, and other foods you want shredded cheese on. Daiya is probably the top, and it’s best when melted.

1. DAIYA shreds: This is my go-to for shreds. Like other daiya varieties, it is best when melted. Comes in cheddar, mozzarella and pepperjack. They’ve been in the game for a few years now. Use the shreds within a few days after opening the package. I’d freeze them if the bag is open longer than a few days. Website.

daiya shreds

2. VEGAN GOURMET shreds (Follow Your Heart): Similar ingredients to Daiya. I’ve never tried them, but I’ve heard good things. Comes in Mozzarella, Cheddar, and Fiesta Blend. Website.

vegan gourmet

Worth mentioning: 

  • Go Veggie! shreds (Galaxy Foods) (see above).
  • Trader Joe’s vegan shreds (see below).


1. KITE HILL cream cheese: This is the best vegan cream cheese, and it’s brand new as of 2015. It’s made from almonds. Also comes in chive flavor. The only bad news is, right now, it’s only sold in select Whole Foods. Seriously, get this if you can, it’s the best. Kite Hill also makes fancy cheeses which all have really good reviews. Website.

kite hill

2. TOFUTTI cream cheese: Tofutti has been in the cheese game for a while and this product is the easiest to find. Word of caution, they make 2 types. One has trans fats and is sold in a white container. The trans fat variety is apparently more creamy and delicious than the non-trans fat kind. I mistakenly bought it once and personally don’t recall a difference. It’s probably best to seek out the trans-fat free version (yellow containers) if you’re going to eat this regularly. It comes in Plain, French Onion, Garlic & Herb, and Herb & Chives. Tofutti’s packaging is lousy. Double check the lid to make  sure you’re getting the variety you want.

tofutti cream cheese

Worth mentioning:

  • Daiya cream cheese: Pass on this. Their cream cheese tastes like frosting without any sugar. Which makes it bad for bagels, but I’d imagine really great as a base for frosting (assuming you add a sweetener). Comes in Plain, Strawberry, and Chive & Onion.

daiya cream cheese

  • Go Veggie cream chesse (Galaxy Foods): It gets the job done, but I don’t think it’s up to par with Tofutti and certainly not Kite Hill.
  • Vegan Gourmet cream cheese (Follow Your Heart): I haven’t had this one in a while, so I don’t want to comment on my own opinion too much. I remember not liking it as much as Tofutti, but maybe things have improved. It’s also made with palm oil.
  • Trader Joe’s vegan cream cheese: A lot of people are really into Trader Joe’s products. I’m a fan myself. But an interesting thing about them–most (if not all) of their products are just popular brand name products that are simply repackaged under the Trader Joe’s name and sold at a lower price. The lower price is awesome. With that in mind, and based on a quick comparison of ingredients information I found online, it looks like Trader Joe’s non-dairy cream cheese is actually just Go Veggie / Galaxy cream cheese. The same goes for Trader Joe’s vegan cheese shreds–basically the same ingredients as Go Veggie brand.


1. TREELINE cheese spreads: French style cheese. It’s really, really good and addictive. Schedule 1 Narcotic level. It’s also pricey, but a little goes a long way. Non-vegans seem to unanimously love this stuff. Website.


2. WAYFARE cheese spreads: Tasty cheese spreads. Good stuff. Comes in Cheddar, Hickory Smoked Cheddar, Mexi Cheddar. Website.


Worth mentioning:

  • Dr. Cow: They make a cashew cream cheese spread, which I tried once a few years ago, not my favorite, but who knows I might have judged it too harshly. See below for more info because they are a ‘fancy’ cheese company.


1. TOFUTTI sour cream: They make the best vegan sour cream. Like their cream cheese, they make 2 types: one with trans fat (again, in a white container), and one without (blue container). The one without trans fat is great.

tofutti sour cream

Worth mentioning:

  • Vegan Gourmet sour cream (Follow Your Heart): Pass on this. It just doesn’t taste good. I’m mentioning it to be comprehensive and warn you to pass (although apparently some people like it). Then again, if you try this first, hate it, you might like Tofutti even more than you otherwise would in comparison.
  • WayFare sour cream: Make sure to stir this one a bunch before serving it. I haven’t been able to get into this brand, but maybe you’ll like it.


These are the fancier vegan cheese companies. Unhelpfully, I’ve heard incredible things about all of them. Seriously, rave reviews. Also unhelpfully, I’ve only tried a couple of these. That makes it hard to sort these in any coherent way. Also, there are so many varieties from each company. For most of these, you can buy them online. They all tend to be pricey.

1. Miyoko’s Creamery: Word is they are meltable. There are a dozen varieties. Miyoko, for those who don’t know, is a renowned vegan chef who has made some incredible innovations in the vegan culinary world. Outside of California, your best bet is buying these online. Website.

2. Treeline: Their soft, spreadable cheese is amazing. They also have harder aged cheeses. See above for their cheese spreads Website.

3. Kite Hill: They make an amazing cream cheese (see above). Yet again, amazing reviews for their other products, which include soft cheeses and ricotta. Website.

4. Vromage: Amazing reviews. Never tried it. They make goat cheese, gorgonzola cheese, truffle, feta cheese, asiago, brie, cheddar, camembert, pepperjack and picorino. You can buy these online. They have a storefront in LA, too. Website.

5. Vtopian: Another fancy vegan cheese. Another fancy vegan cheese company beginning with a V followed by a consonant. What can I say? The reviews are again amazing, but I’ve never tried it. You can buy online or locally if you’re in the Eugene, Oregon area. Website.

6. Dr. Cow: A bunch of aged cheeses and spreadable cashew cream cheese, which I mentioned above. You can buy them online or in some stores and restaurants. Check their site for the deets. Website.

7. Avellana Creamery: Rave reviews. Never tried it. Made from hazelnuts. Check them out. Website.

8. Punk Rawk Labs: Yet another artisan vegan cheese maker with rave reviews. Website.


These recipe books gets mentioned time and time again as the best vegan cheese recipes out there. They are all highly regarded. In no particular order:

This is a section dedicated to vegan cheese companies that had a lot of hype, but vanished before pretty much anyone got to try them.

1. Dairy Tree: In 2013, there was an absurd amount of buzz for this company on social media. Their various pages (instagram, twitter, facebook) garnered tens of thousands of fans without having released a single product to the public. A few lucky reviewers got to try their products in early 2013 and seemed to agree it was amazing. (Check out #5 on this piece on VegNews). Sadly, Dairy Tree’s social media sites have been radio silent since June 2013 when they announced they were busy finalizing their production plans. You can still visit their facebook page to see lonely commenters requesting updates, as well as some photos of what they were working on (meltable cheeses, bleu cheese, mozzarella, dips, dressings, mayo and butter).


I’m not sure what happened to Dairy Tree, but one thing is for sure: it would have been really tough to keep track of all of these vegan food companies and their pleasantly nature-sounding compound-worded names. We’ve got Treeline, Kite Hill, Hampton Creek. Dairy Tree might have been one too many.

2. Playfood: Back in the mid-2000s, there were not a lot of vegan cheese options. But a company called Playfood made a line of cashew-based cheeses that the LAist described as “[e]xtremely addicting.” It came in Cheezy Cheeze (cheddar), Nacheezmo (nacho), Cream Tang (sour cream), and Whip Cheeze (cream cheese).


If you search online for mentions of Playfood, you’ll find people saying how good the cheese was, and wondering where it went. You’ll also find out that Playfood was a joint collaboration between vegan chef Heidi Van Pelt and Taran Noah Smith, who is known for playing the youngest son on the sitcom Home Improvement, as well as for getting slimed on the panel of Nickelodeon’s Figure It Out. The couple split in 2007, according to ABC News. Today, Ms. Van Pelt appears to be running a vegan restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri. And the last iota of evidence of Playfood’s existence is an empty twitter account created in 2009 under Mr. Smith’s name.

Coming soon: This post is a work in progress. There is a lot of vegan cheese to get to. I plan on updating it with more categories and content. I’m working on Mac and cheese. Cheesy snacks. Future products I’m looking forward to. And a bunch of other categories. Stay tuned. This is only the beginning.


Give Vegan Cheese A Chance

Click here for the Official Guide to the Best Vegan Cheese.

This is the intro to the official guide. If you’ve never tried vegan cheese before, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Automatic bias. When it comes to vegan “cheese” (and “meat” for that matter), a lot of people automatically judge it. Some people have this bias without ever trying vegan food. Try not to have a closed mind about it. Even if you’ve had vegan cheese before and were underwhelmed, give it another shot. Some brands are good, some not so good. Some companies have good varieties, and some not so good varieties. Some companies were once not good, but have since stepped up their game. Think about almond milk. There are at least 10 different companies making almond milk around the US. They all taste a little different. Some I don’t like. Some are okay. Some are amazing. And some that I like now, I didn’t like when I took my first sip. Don’t let a subpar first impression hinder that crucial second chance.

2. Magic taste buds. Even if you initially don’t like a product or brand, you might the next time you try it. When it comes to taste, there is a lot of crazy biological stuff going on inside the body and your mind. At a minimum, scientists have found that our taste buds change and adjust depending on what we are eating or not eating. If you can simply refrain from eating certain things for a matter of days or weeks, your taste buds will adjust. It’s amazing. And you’ll wonder, “How the heck didn’t I love this from the get-go?” Or, “How did I once like this?” That’s the mystery of our taste buds.

3. Cheese addiction? There are theories as to why we are so attached to milk and cheese products. It might be from the fact that milk is the first thing we consume at the start of our lives, so we have some sort of deeply entrenched attachment from that. Some theorize that milk has a “drug-like” reaction in the mind, like an opiate. Others say it is simply because humans have an evolutionary preference for highly caloric foods. Whether it’s either of those reasons, or whether it’s a perfectly reasonable desire to consume savory/umami foods, the dairy-free options of 2015 have you covered.

4. Weird ingredients? Nope. You might assume vegan cheeses are made with ingredients you’ve never heard of. That’s not true. Most (all?) of the brands are natural and non-GMO (if you care about that kind of thing). You’ll see ingredients like coconut oil, almonds, tapioca flour, or cashews. Not that weird. Even a paleo/caveman dieter probably doesn’t have much issue with food that’s mostly made from coconut oil or tree nuts. And remember, weirdness of ingredients never stopped you from spreading cream cheese  from a lactating cow on your bagel.

5. Don’t forget what motivated you to venture slightly out of your norm to try vegan foods. To try Daiya or Field Roast instead of Kraft or Cabot, you probably learned how cruel the process of extracting milk from lactating cows is. Cheese, yogurt, milk. It all comes from the same place. And it’s usually loaded with hormones, both naturally occurring estrogen from lactating cows, as well as added hormones. So, if vegan cheese is somewhere less than the 1000% of exactly what you remembered your favorite grilled cheese tasting like, and now you are second guessing every decision you’ve ever made, let your ethical motivations fill the gap.

Hungry now? Check out my Official Guide to the Best Vegan Cheese.

What the Hellmann? Five Reasons the Biggest Name in Mayo is Blowing It

Unilever is a massive corporation that makes a bunch of junk you’ve probably heard of. They’re most famous for being the owner of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, a product which features something called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (a preservative that they abbreviate as EDTA, so as not to terrify you too much if you happen to read the ingredients label.) Very wholesome.

Unilever also owns Lipton tea, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Q-tips and Axe body spray (they sound just like my ex-roommate). As if owning Axe body spray isn’t enough of a stain on society and Ed Hardy shirts everywhere, the company is also responsible for acquiring natural body care brand St. Ives in 2010, and then apparently forcing them to start testing their products on animals.

Their latest claim to fame is suing Hampton Creek, a socially responsible startup company that’s trying to make products that are healthier for people, animals and the planet. You know—the kind of products that probably don’t have ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid in them to prevent the egg ingredients from going rancid.

Indeed, there are no eggs in Hampton Creek’s “Just Mayo.” And that’s why Unilever is suing them. Just Mayo doesn’t contain eggs, which is unfair (according to Unilever) because the traditional, technical definition of “mayonnaise” includes egg.

If you haven’t heard of Just Mayo, then you probably haven’t strolled down the condiment aisle too recently at Target, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, ShopRite, Costco, Dollar Tree, Safeway or any of the other major grocery stores that carry the product.

Frankly, Hampton Creek is crushing it right now. And the lame conglomerate Unilever is having none of that. This is a new problem for Unilever, who, along with a few other massive companies, have had basically an oligopoly on the shelves at stores like Target and Wal-Mart. Until now.

Here are five reasons why big bad Unilever has made a colossal mistake.

1. Free Press for Just Mayo: They’ve given Just Mayo a ton of free press. Right now, the following outlets are carrying stories online about the lawsuit: Fortune, Forbes, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Salon and not to mention plenty of food blogs and Twitter users.

See, everyone knows Hellmann’s mayonnaise. But not too many people know Just Mayo. And now, because of this lawsuit, a lot more people are about to find out about this alternative by reading about it, watching reports about it on TV, and seeing it on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Great job.

2. Bad Press for Hellmann’s: Does anyone like the story of a greedy mega-corporation suing a much smaller, more socially responsible start-up? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a lot of genuinely pro-Unilever people out there in this story. And what’s worse, it’s pretty obvious they are only doing this because they want to harass a competitor. That’s very anti-free market, and frankly a little bit un-American.

3. Bogus Legal Claim: It’s hard to look at what exactly Unilever is claiming without considering the political circumstances. Their legal claim is relatively hollow and they have plenty of resources to sue and harass smaller companies. It’s clear they are threatened by Just Mayo.

The basis of their claim is that Just Mayo shouldn’t be able to call itself “mayo” because it doesn’t contain eggs. It’s deceptive to consumers, they say.

It seems their entire claim also sort of inherently proves them wrong. If people are getting so easily tricked into thinking eggless mayo is traditional mayonnaise, then maybe eggs are not all that essential to making mayonnaise.

Nevertheless, Unilever is totally serious about this. Here’s what they want: (a) removal of all Just Mayo products from stores, (b) Just Mayo’s profits; and (c) triple damages.

Public health attorney Michele Simon has a lot of doubts about Unilever’s legal claim. She wonders, “Hampton Creek is completely up front about what it’s doing: making a plant-based mayonnaise. Moreover, the product has been covered in major media outlets like Time, Forbes, and Fortune so how can it possibly be deceiving anybody?”

Right on. Just Mayo’s jar itself displays that it is “Egg-Free” and “Vegan.”

4. Eggless Mayo is totally a thing. And the companies that sell eggless mayo usually call their product “mayo.”

Spectrum sells one. Trader Joe’s sells one. Earth Balance sells one.

I think it’s safe to say consumers (and other companies) understand that some brands make mayo without any egg.

(Popular brand Vegenaise calls their product an “egg-free mayonnaise” in marketing materials, but the name of the product itself doesn’t include the word mayo or mayonnaise, so I didn’t include it on this list. However, their labels do boast that it’s “Better than Mayo.”)

5. Unilever is completely disorganized: Just because Unilever is massive and profitable, doesn’t mean they aren’t a complete mess.

Unilever’s venture capital arm literally owns an egg-free egg replacement company. It’s called Alleggra Foods, and they proudly display its use in mayonnaise. That’s right: mayonnaise made without egg.

Apparently Unilever tried making a commercial vegan mayo around 2006, but it didn’t come out right. Now it looks like they sell their “egg replacers” to food industry buyers (rather than consumers).

Some clever people on reddit’s /r/vegan subreddit discovered that Unilever makes a Hollandaise sauce. According to the FDA, “Egg yolk is the customary emulsifying ingredient in hollandaise sauce.” And further, “Starch is not an acceptable ingredient.” Unilever’s Knorr Hollandaise does not have any egg in it, and the second biggest ingredient is corn starch. Whoops.

Unilever also has a lot of quality people working for them who have said really nice things about Just Mayo. These are Unilever employees, and Hampton Creek has pulled some of their more notable quotes.

From Unilever’s Head Chef, “You guys have a good product.”

Unilever is unleashing a major ad campaign to raise awareness about sustainability called “Project Sunlight.”

Which makes this pretty astounding, from Unilever’s Global VP of Marketing, “Love what you are doing . . . at Hampton Creek!!! Very much in line with our Unilever Project Sunlight #brightfuture philosophy.”

And from Unilever’s official website marketing materials: “. . . [W]e are also exploring ways to further meet consumer needs for products with different nutrition profiles and preferences for plant-based protein sources through the use of egg-replacement ingredients in some product categories.”

Not a good look, Unilever.

Just Mayo, keep up the good work. As for you, Unilever? You should quietly drop the lawsuit. You should get organized. And you should start spending your precious resources on making an awesome eggless mayo. As soon as you do that, I’ll be enthusiastic and write about it here.

As for everyone else? In the mean time, sign this petition. Tweet at Unilever and Hellmann’s. And buy egg-free mayo products.

If you’re passionate about promoting sustainability, veganism, or new, good ideas, then this is a great time to get involved. Hampton Creek is the kind of company that’s going to make veganism and sustainability mainstream. And Unilever has volunteered themselves as the villain in this debate. Let’s turn them into an ally.

UPDATE (12/18/14): Unilever has dropped its lawsuit against Hampton Creek.

“Where Do You Get Your Vitamin D?” and Other Questions for Your Meat-Eating Friends

One thing that scares people away from a vegan diet is the worry that something is missing nutritionally. Protein gets most of the attention, but that’s been debunked time and time again—vegan sources of protein are awesome and plentiful. Yet I’ve noticed many friends and acquaintances, even after feeling assured about protein, are still skeptical. It’s so ingrained in us that meat and animal products are essential to our diet that it just seems unbelievable to think that’s not true. The only thing that should be in-grained in us is that many important nutrients can be found in grains. (Get it? In-grained? Sorry.)

Indeed, many critics of the vegan diet say their fear comes not from concerns over protein, but from concerns that vegan foods are not good sources of certain vitamins and minerals. That’s got to be why meat is essential, right?

But here’s the thing: meat eaters need to be concerned about these same nutrients. Meat in animal products, especially the most common ones, are not strong sources of certain vitamins and minerals. Meaning most of your meat-eating friends get their vitamins and minerals from the same place vegans do: vegan foods and supplements.

Vegans should admit and take seriously the fact that there are about six nutrients that they need to put in extra effort to get. I’m talking about Vitamin B12, and to a somewhat lesser degree, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega 3s. Yet many meat eaters you know should admit the exact same thing!

As a matter of fact, the USDA has identified Vitamin D, calcium, iron and B12 as “nutrients of concern” because many Americans are consistently not getting enough of them—regardless of whether they are vegan or not.

If you look at the nutrition profiles of many of the most popularly eaten animal products, those foods are low in many of the same nutrients of concern. And that makes this fear about vegan nutrient deficiencies misguided. Vegans certainly do need to do a little extra homework to make sure they’re on top of their health. But it’s not difficult, and it’s also not too far off from the extra work our meat-eating friends need to do.

That Thing Got Heme Iron? A Look at What’s in Meat

I decided to look at six key nutrients (B12, D, zinc, iron, calcium and omega-3s) and see how much of each of these nutrients are in common animal products (eggs, milk, yogurt, chicken breast, turkey breast, pork, and beef). I partly based this list of foods off of the USDA’s “healthy eating” sample menus. When Americans eat meat and dairy, those are the foods we are talking about.

And there are certainly animal products out there that are good sources of these tough-to-obtain vitamins and minerals. I found that, generally speaking, internal organs and fluids (like liver and blood) and certain types of seafood are high in several of these nutrients.

But think about what your meat- and dairy-eating friends regularly consume each day. Internal organ meats like blood and liver? Probably not too often.

Of course you’re bound to run into a paleo, Atkins or keto-type who rave that they’ve downed a pig blood smoothie and unsalted cow liver jerky all before lunch time. They might be getting most of their tough-to-find nutrients from animal parts. Tough to debate that.

Even the foods that people do eat that offer good sources of key nutrients carry some pretty heavy baggage.

Seafood? A good source of omega-3s. But it’s usually not an everyday thing for most people. Half of Americans eat seafood only occasionally or never at all. One-third of Americans eat fish just once each week. The concerns about mercury and other pollutants have caused the FDA and EPA to jointly issue advisories warning certain people to limit their seafood meals to two or three meals each week, but that’s more than what the vast majority of Americans seem to consume.

Milk and dairy? A good source of calcium, and Greek yogurt is all the rage right now. But overall, milk consumption is plummeting. Dairy-free diets like the vegan diet and paleo diet (yup, paleos usually don’t consume milk or cheese) are on the up and up. And some people, in an effort to be more health conscious, are avoiding milk products in their otherwise standard diets. That’s probably why we see commercials for Silk Almondmilk nowadays. (Way to plug vanilla almondmilk, Silk–that stuff is like crack).

Beef and red meat? A good source of zinc and B-12. But beef and red meat consumption in the United States continues to drop, supposedly due to health concerns and cost. From 1999 to 2004, people ate the equivalent of four ounces of beef, three days a week (or 1.7 ounces per day). That number has likely dropped somewhat in the last decade, given the rising costs of beef as well as the studies and recommendations urging people to “limit,” “reduce,” and “avoid” red meat. (American Heart Association, Harvard Medical School, American Cancer Association.) There are a lot of Atkins, paleo and keto-types doing their best to repair red meat’s image, but they’ve got their work cut out for them.

What you’re about to see is that these animal products are weak sources of most, if not all, of the above-mentioned nutrients. (Don’t worry, I’m including dairy, red meat, and two popular types of seafood.) Chances are your concerned meat-eating friends are getting these nutrients from the same places vegans do (vegan sources and supplements), or they aren’t getting enough of them all together.

All the percentages you see here are the FDA’s recommended Daily Values—the same numbers you see on the Nutrition Facts box on your food packaging. And I’m using big portions of these foods—in some cases even bigger than the amounts listed on the USDA’s sample menus. I want to include the people who ask for double meat when they go to Chipotle, or anyone else with a big appetite. So I’m not shortcutting these foods—I’m using the vitamin and mineral amounts of portions that are often larger than the recommended serving amounts of these foods.

• “Eggs” = two large eggs. (twice as many as USDA sample menu)
• “Milk” = one cup of milk. (same as USDA sample menu)
• “Yogurt” = one cup of yogurt. (same as USDA sample menu)
• “Turkey” = 4 ounces (112g) of turkey breast (about twice as much as the USDA sample menu; this is the same amount as two-thirds of a package of sliced organic turkey breast.
• “Chicken” = 5 ounces (140g) of chicken breast. (which is almost twice as much as the USDA sample menu).
• “Pork” = 3 ounces (85g) or pork, a bit larger than the size of a whole pork chop, (the only pig product USDA uses in its sample menu is a single slice of bacon, which is 0.25 of an ounce).
• “Tuna” = 5.5 ounces of tuna (154g); this is a full can of tuna (USDA uses 2 ounces of tuna).
• “Salmon” = 5.5 ounces (154g) (USDA uses 4 ounces of salmon).
• “Beef” = 4 ounces—the USDA sample menu uses between 2 and 4 ounces in its meals, including ground beef and steak. Ground beef makes up 60% of all beef consumed in the U.S., so that’s the type I’m using. Maybe I’m being generous using ground beef, because steak appears to have lower nutritional values for many nutrients–ribeye has 37% less iron and 41% less zinc compared with ground beef.

The assumption here is that most people eat some combination of these things, usually three or four times, over the course of a day. Again, I’m basing this off of the USDA’s sample menu for a 2,000 calorie diet and I’ve usually erred on the side of more animal product.

Here we go.

• Eggs: Only 6% iron for two large eggs. Not to mention eggs contain a compound that inhibits iron absorption.
• Milk: 0%. Milk also inhibits iron absorption.
• Yogurt: 1%. But, it’s made of milk, which inhibits iron absorption.
• Turkey: 9%
• Chicken: 8%
• Pork: 4%
• Tuna: 13%
• Salmon: 9%
• Beef: 19%

Pretty underwhelming, right? Say you had two eggs for breakfast. Yogurt for a snack. A turkey sandwich for lunch. And salmon for dinner. Your daily non-vegan food items would give you a whopping 27% of your daily iron needs, not taking into account the fact your eggs and yogurt inhibit some of that iron absorption. So don’t rip on vegan foods and supplements, because they’re pretty clearly supplying you with most of your iron.

According to the NIH, the following are solid sources of iron: cereals, oysters, beans, dark chocolate, beef liver, lentils and tofu. There aren’t too many of you out there eating beef liver every day, so hopefully you are eating plenty of beans and grains!

Good vegan options (based on NIH and veganhealth.org): Beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, fortified cereal, dark chocolate, tofu. During meals eat plenty of Vitamin C, which increases absorption. And don’t drink coffee or tea with meals, because those decrease absorption.

• Eggs: 8%
• Milk: 7%
• Yogurt: 15%
• Turkey: 15%
• Chicken: 10%
• Pork: 19%
• Tuna: 8%
• Salmon: 8%
• Beef: 50% (but steak seems to be much lower–only 21% for four ounces of ribeye)

Let’s again imagine your animal product intake for the day was two eggs, a cup of yogurt, and a bunch of turkey and salmon. Your zinc intake from animals would be 46%. Where does most of your zinc come from then? Not from thin air, but rather vegan sources and supplements!

The NIH mentions cereal, oysters, beef and crab as good sources of zinc.

Good vegan options (based on NIH and veganhealth.org): Beans, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, bread, tempeh, miso, fortified cereal, vitamin supplement.

Vitamin D
• Eggs: 20% (only found in yolk, so forget the egg whites)
• Milk: 0% (but 30% is supplemented)
• Yogurt: 0% (but 20% is supplemented)
• Turkey: unclear — “You can’t rely on beef, pork or poultry to supply impressive amounts of vitamin D.
• Chicken: unclear — “You can’t rely on beef, pork or poultry to supply impressive amounts of vitamin D.”
• Pork: unclear — “You can’t rely on beef, pork or poultry to supply impressive amounts of vitamin D.”
• Tuna: at least 40%
• Salmon: sockeye variety has at least 112%
• Beef: unclear — “You can’t rely on beef, pork or poultry to supply impressive amounts of vitamin D.”

Vitamin D is a weird one. It’s tough to find a lot of information on whether meat has any significant amounts of Vitamin D in it at all. Vitamin D is found in things like animal organs, certain types of mushrooms and certain types of seafood. Also, our bodies make it when we are exposed to sunlight, but there are a ton of variables that can affect that, like pollution, clouds, windows, and sunscreen.

Despite popular belief, milk and dairy don’t have any significant amounts of Vitamin D! It’s supplemented. In the 1930s people were getting a disease called rickets because they weren’t getting vitamin D reliably, so milk producers began supplementing their milk products with it. Seriously, check the ingredients of your milk—even your organic milk and kefir. Indeed, according to the NIH, most people get their Vitamin D from supplements, including fortified foods like milk. This makes sense when you consider the NIH’s list of other good sources of Vitamin D: cereal, fatty fish, and liver. Ain’t nobody got time for liver.

So let’s say it’s one of the five days of the week where you don’t eat fish, and your meals involve two eggs, yogurt, chicken and turkey, then that gives you 40% of your vitamin D. Again, vegan sources and supplements (other than fortified milk and cheese products) to the rescue.

Good vegan options (based on NIH and veganhealth.org): sunlight exposure, non-dairy milks, fortified orange juice, fortified cereal, UV-exposed mushrooms (it’ll say on the label if they are), vitamin supplements.

Vitamin B-12
• Eggs: 18% (but this is poorly absorbed)
• Milk: 18%
• Yogurt: 23%
• Turkey: 7%
• Chicken: 7%
• Pork: 12%
• Tuna: 77%
• Salmon: 78%
• Beef: 46%

Seafood and beef are starting to pull their weight here. But as mentioned above, many people don’t eat seafood on a daily basis, usually to avoid mercury or simply because they aren’t crazy about seafood.

The NIH lists clams, beef liver, cereal and fish as good sources of B12. Assuming you aren’t loading up on beef liver and seafood regularly, the meal plan of two eggs, cup of yogurt, turkey sandwich and chicken, gives you 55% of your daily B12 (and probably less because the B12 in eggs isn’t very absorbable). That’s it for animal products so the rest should come from vegan sources and supplements.

Good vegan options (based on NIH and veganhealth.org): fortified cereal, fortified nutritional yeast, vitamin supplement. But seriously, just take a B-12 vitamin every couple of days. They are cheap, usually taste good, and your body just pees out whatever you don’t use.

Another thought on B-12: Some non-vegans might criticize the vegan diet for being “unnatural” because B-12 isn’t found in reliable sources outside of vitamin supplements and fortified foods. Similarly, there are vegans out there who criticize B-12 supplements as “unnatural,” and urge vegans to either not worry about B-12, or to consume a “vegan source” of B-12. Other than fortified foods or B-12 supplements, there are no scientifically proven sources of vegan B-12, so don’t risk it. On the internet, there’s a ton of misinformation about how you can get B-12 from seaweed, fermented foods, kombucha, algae, local and organic produce and even dirt. None of these are proven to be reliable sources of B12, and some vegans, especially the raw food types who long for a “natural” source of B12, allow themselves to believe the myths. Hopefully one day one or some of these foods will be proven to be a reliable source of B-12, but that hasn’t happened. And as I’ve explained, don’t be ashamed that your B-12 comes from a supplement. Meat eaters aren’t ashamed that they have to take Vitamin D supplements in their milk and dairy products.

After all, one of the most detrimental things I can think of to the vegan cause is a vegan ignoring their health and contributing to the fear that a vegan diet is lacking in something. Meat eaters don’t have worry about sabotaging such a heavily diet-based cause when they suffer from nutrient deficiencies. Those stories don’t grab the headlines like stories about vegans do. Vitamin B-12 is added to many cereals, nutritional yeast and many non-dairy milks. A jar of hundreds of dissolvable tablets costs anywhere from $4 to $12 dollars. Take a lozenge. It’s that simple.

And by the way, “natural” (however you define that word) is a not a compelling term to use in an argument, whether you’re a meat eater or a vegan. It has almost no definition (people tend to define it to include whatever fits their argument). And it’s a fallacy to assume that things that are natural are good, simply because they are what you define as “natural.” Poison ivy, arsenic and tornadoes are natural yet they aren’t recommended. Likewise, it’s a fallacy to assume things that are “unnatural” are bad. There are countless human inventions, many of which we consume, that aren’t found in nature. Including cooked meat, which plenty of meat eaters would argue is natural. After all, who cares what is natural when meat eaters almost definitely get a bunch of their vitamins and minerals from supplements and fortified foods? Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

• Eggs: 4%
• Milk: 29%
• Yogurt: 45%
• Turkey: 2%
• Chicken: 2%
• Pork: 2%
• Tuna: 2%
• Salmon: 2%
• Beef: 1%

This is milk’s time to shine—milk and yogurt both have decent amounts. Although, as mentioned above, milk consumption is plummeting largely due to health concerns, and with people testing out vegan and paleo diets.

The NIH lists cereal, milk, sardines, tofu, kale and soymilk as good sources. If someone has a cup of yogurt with 45% calcium, and isn’t much of a sardine eater, where do they get the rest? Vegan sources and supplements! (By the way, a cup of Chobani-brand Greek yogurt has only 15% daily value of calcium. FAGE brand has 20% daily value. Not very impressive.)

Good vegan options (based on NIH and veganhealth.org): non-dairy milks (like almond milk, coconut milk, soymilk and rice milk–they are all usually fortified), calcium-set tofu, fortified cereal, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, turnip greens, collards, watercress and vitamin supplements.

According to the Institute of Medicine, women should get 1,100 mg of omega 3s and men should get 1,600 mg of omega 3s. For this post, I’m going to (unscientifically) take the average of that (1,350 mg) and use that to come up with rough daily value target percentages.

• Eggs: 2.8% (39 mg)
• Milk: 0.7% (9.8 mg)
• Yogurt: 2.3% (31.9 mg)
• Turkey: 11% (157 mg)
• Chicken: 11% (154 mg)
• Pork: 4% (59.5 mg)
• Tuna: 32% (433 mg)
• Salmon: 294% (3982 mg)
• Beef: 3.4% (46.4 mg)

The general thinking behind fat consumption is that people consume too many omega-6 fatty acids (corn, sesame, safflower, sunflower and soy oil) and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. So where do omega-3s come from? You can see that salmon is a good source. Possibly too good, though? Jack Norris of veganhealth.org warns that too much omega-3 can result in bleeding and bruising.

So, like many other nutrients I’ve looked at so far, omega-3s are found in large amounts in fish and animal organs. Imagine it’s a typical day without fish. Two eggs, yogurt, turkey and chicken would amount to about 27% of your recommended omega-3 levels. Heck, if you replace your turkey sandwich lunch with a tuna sandwich, you would still be below 50% of your recommended omega-3 levels. Where does the rest come from? Vegan sources and supplements, yet again.

Good vegan options (based on NIH and veganhealth.org): leafy greens, nuts (especially walnuts), flaxseed oil, and omega-3 supplements (some of which are made with algae oil). And avoid eating omega-6 oils like corn oil and soy oil.

What Does It All Mean?

Obviously these common animal-based foods aren’t completely devoid of nutrients. Far from it. They all have a ton of protein, of course. And, as I’ve shown, some of them do well in a couple of categories—dairy products have calcium, beef has zinc and B-12, fish has B-12 and omega 3s. Of course, as I mention above, these happen to be categories of food that are in the news because it’s recommended we limit their consumption due to health concerns. There are other forms of meat that are less common, but their nutritional stats are very similar to animals already included–duck (similar to poultry’s stats), lamb and goat (similar to beef’s stats, but with much lower zinc), bison (similar to beef’s stats), rabbit (high in B-12, otherwise similar to poultry’s stats), venison (similar to beef’s stats).

As for internal organs like liver and blood–apparently for reasons of taste, availability or health, I found no evidence that they are eaten in significant amounts or by a significant portion of the American public. I only care about the animal products that people are actually eating. This can be frustrating, because the mere existence of uncommonly eaten animal products with high amounts of hard-to-obtain nutrients (like animal blood and liver) gives a false comfort to meat eaters who will almost never eat these foods.

Here are couple of key takeaways from all of this:

First, people worry about vegan foods not being good sources of certain vitamins and minerals. But it’s clear that many of the common animal products people eat are also not very good sources of those vitamins and minerals. And in reality, vegan foods and supplements provide much, if not the vast majority, of many of these nutrients in the diets of meat eaters.

Second, people criticize vegans because it might be advisable to take a supplement, especially for Vitamin B12. But it’s rare for meat eaters not to rely on supplements for various vitamins and minerals. Again, you’ll always run into a committed liver and pig blood eater who makes sure to get all of their nutrients from animal products. Yet virtually everyone else is relying on supplements for one, if not two, three, four or five key nutrients.

The biggest “gotchya!” to critics of supplementing in the vegan diet is Vitamin D. Almost all Vitamin D, for most people, comes from supplements.

When foods like milk or cereal or grains have vitamins added or “supplemented” to their ingredients, it’s it’s more technically correct to say the products are “fortified.” I haven’t been strict with the terminology, but “fortified” is just food industry speak for a vitamin or mineral that’s supplemented with that nutrient. It’s still a supplement.

It’s amazing how many foods we commonly eat are supplemented (or “fortified”) with these nutrients. Breads, cereals, pastas, flours and grains are frequently supplemented with iron. About half of the iron intake in the U.S. comes from such grain products. Cereals, fruit juices and other drinks are often supplemented with calcium. Cereals also frequently supplement zinc and B12.

Half the country eats cereal every day.

Most of the popular brands are fortified. (Occasionally some of the health food stores sell brands that don’t, for some reason). Frosted Flakes have 25% B12, 10% Vitamin D, and 25% iron. Cheerios have even more—45% iron and 25% zinc and 10% calcium. Honey Bunches of Oats has 60% iron. And that’s all in a single serving. Who has just has a measly cup of cereal?

Nearly 40% of adults take an omega-3 fish oil pill. Algae oil capsules are available and provide the same amount of omega-3s. The numbers are similar for people who take multivitamins.

Not to mention all of the protein powders, energy bars and energy drinks that have invaded supermarkets, convenience stores and pantries everywhere. They are routinely supplemented with a cocktail of vitamins and minerals.

So, don’t feel ashamed to take a B12 lozenge. And the next time a vegan detractor questions where you get your Vitamin B-12, ask them where they get their Vitamin D. It might make for a pretty lame conversation, but hopefully they’ll see, they’ve probably been supplementing their entire lives.