Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Becoming Vegan Review

Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant–Based Diet by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co, 2000.

If you are vegan, or want to become a vegan, or simply want to eat a very low level of animal–based foods, then this book belongs on your bookshelf.

Davis and Melina are registered dietitians, and this fact alone initially caused me to regard their work with suspicion. My road to becoming a vegetarian and ultimately to an entirely plant-based diet involved ignoring the advice of physicians, dietitians, and nutritional scientists, who told me throughout my childhood and young adulthood that eating animal products is necessary for health. Even today nutritional and health care professionals who accept that a plant-based diet can be healthy often can not offer any practical advice, because they were trained in and practice in an animal-eating intellectual framework. However, just as T. Colin Campbell has redeemed nutritional scientists in my eyes, and doctors such as Neil Bernard have redeemed MD’s, so Davis and Melina have redeemed dietitians. They wrote Becoming Vegan entirely within a plant-based framework. No "Eat hamburger, but if you're a vegetarian eat beans instead" advice here.

They systematically examine all the major nutritional categories: Protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals. They show how an entirely plant based diet can provide all the nutrients necessary for a healthy life when it is done correctly. And they show how to do it correctly. For the few nutrients where unfortified plant foods alone may be deficient – examples include vitamin B12, vitamin D for people who do not get sufficient sunlight exposure, and calcium for people who do not eat ample quantities of greens and beans – they recommend vegan supplements or fortified plant foods.

Then comes the "different strokes for different folks" part of the book. Not all vegans have the same nutritional needs, so Davis and Melina thoroughly and systematically examine the nutritional requirements for children, adults, seniors, people who are overweight, people who are underweight, and athletes. They have a heartfelt chapter on the needs of vegans with eating disorders.

Davis and Melina base their book on science, not speculation; on fact, not opinion. They also have a respect for and identification with those who would eat a plant-based diet, whether for health, to reduce our impact on the environment, or to relieve the suffering of animals.

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