In all things human


“What I’d be concerned about is the long-term effects,” said my friend Ashley.

Ashley is the fabulous strawberry blond of hummus and quinoa fame.  She’s also a pediatric nurse who also works in palliative care.  She is a full-on “broad,” outgoing, direct, and someone who will always have your back.  “You see these long-time vegans who are now having all these health problems.  Like my friend Josephs’ mum.”  Joseph’s mum is a long-term member of the Mount Madonna Yoga Center.  “They’re showing signs of diabetes.”

“Diabetes?  How’d that happen?”

She shrugged,  “I don’t know.”

“I feel like I’m eating better than I have in a long time.  Because I’m actively thinking about getting the nutrition I need,” I said, “I can’t take it for granted, so I’m more focused on it.  I actually pay attention to what I’m eating more now.”

She shrugged again, “I don’t know.  I just know that people have gotten sick.  You have to trust how your body feels.”

Hmmmm.  All the vegan sites talk about how much healthier being vegan is.  This is the first time that I’d heard about nasty long-term effects.  I knew I had to be careful about getting the right kind of nutrients, but this sounded serious.  Can I evaluate how good this is for me by how I feel, if the long-term effects may creep up on me insidiously?

estrogencancerMore doubts

My friend Susan gave me a tub of soup.  Susan is one of my best friends, a fellow yoga teacher, and an outstanding chef.  “It’s vegan, potato leek with tofu. I don’t think you’re getting enough protein.”  She laughed, but she was also not entirely joking.

“Why not?”

Susan throws back her fabulously curly dark hair, “Well, I just know how I feel.  I was vegetarian for years.”

“You were?”  I was startled.  I hadn’t known.

“Oh yeah.  Then I really wanted a hamburger, and finally I broke down and I ate it.  And it was the most delicious thing I’d eaten.  I couldn’t go back. ”  She paused,  “I didn’t realize how much I needed the protein until I ate it, and figure out how tired and run down I’d been feeling.”

She looked at her soup, “And you have to be careful with tofu and estrogen.  Don’t eat too much.  It’s not good for you.”

“Why?”  I’m stymied.

“Estrogen.  If you get diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the first things they do is take all the soy out of your diet.”  She nodded at my startled look.  “Oh, yeah.”*

I looked at my soup.

“I swear the by Zone diet.  Keep the sugar from spiking, keep the yeast down.  It works for me.  But you have to listen to your body.”


More food for thought.


*On further research, the role of soy and breast cancer seems to be unraveled – or at least highly contextualized.  Check out this article from the American Cancer Society.  However, when I’ve asked friends about trusting posts from the American Cancer Society, I’ve also gotten knowing looks: “Money,” they say.  “No one makes money unless you get sick.  There’s big money in cancer.”  So who do you trust?

nci-logo-english“Paradoxically, estrogen can be both a beneficial and a harmful molecule.  The main beneficial effects of estrogen include its roles in programming the breast and uterus for sexual reproduction, controlling cholesterol production in ways that limit the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries, and preserving bone strength by helping to maintain the proper balance between bone buildup and breakdown. Unfortunately, in addition to these important beneficial effects, estrogen can also be harmful. The most serious problem arises from the ability of estrogen to promote the proliferation of cells in the breast and uterus. Although this ability to stimulate cell proliferation is one of estrogen’s normal roles, it can also increase a woman’s chance of developing breast or uterine cancer.”  – Understanding Estrogen Receptors, Tamoxifen, and Raloxifene, National Cancer Institute.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Stephanie

    Oh do NOT get me started on the soy debate. Look, Ahsley speaks of one woman- ONE- whom she knows peripherally; that’s not the full picture. It’s interesting for me to follow this because I identify as an ethical vegan. Everyone else you speak to doesn’t. It’s a food choice, a health choice; when one makes the ethical choice- when the penny drops, when you choose to live a lifestyle devoid of cruelty and sufering- you do the work required to broaden your perspective and knowledge base. Too many people are concerned about protein- cite me one instance of anyone ever dying of a protein deficiency- and feeling weak on a VEGETARIAN diet. Vegetarian is miles away from vegan. If people don’t look into broadening their palates, eating outside their meat/veg/starch profile, they go to substitutions, ie a tofurkey sausage for a protein and mac and cheese for a side; instead of steamed kale with nutritional yeast (high in protein and B12), hemp seeds, some tahini sauce over quinoa and chickpeas (my dinner). It’s easy to be a junk food vegetarian, subsisting off of dairy and eggs, which create their own issues.
    You sound like you’re thinking broadly and including varied nutrient sources which is what Susan very well may have been missing. Her body wasn’t craving hamburger- she might have been low in certain aminos and minerals that are just as easily procured from plant based sources however most of the population isn’t well versed in plant based nutrition so they default to old habits and emotional eating familairities and cite how much better they feel when they have no idea what the true underlying issue was. My whole issue with “eating what your body feels like” is that unless you’re a certified holistic nutritionist, with a well versed understanding of science and plant based nutrition, you’re flying blind and fiddling around within your current scope of knowledge. I know because as a 9 year vegan who was diagnosed with Crohn’s over 4 years ago, it took everyone involved a good 6 years to figure out what was going on with my GI tract, none of which was related to being vegan. In fact, I”m so low on a Crohn’s scale it’s believed to be a direct result of my being plant based and gluten free. My longwinded point is that unless we as individuals do the research and increase our knowledge base- all sides of the issue- everyone will have a contrary opinion. I know tons of longterm vegans living ridiculously healthy, high functioning lives. Compared to the opmnis in my life? Wow. Most of my non vegan friends have massive issues directly related to their diets. But for every time someone tells me, “you’re the healthiest vegan I know”, I challenge them to name the other vegans in their lives. Generally it’s zero. Then they counter with well, most vegans are so sickly looking- again, they can’t name anyone yet I can look all around me and single out dozens of unhealthy omnis. And so it goes.
    Back to the ethics vs diet note- for me, it’s never a choice. I catered extensively all month- and cooked and served tons of cheeses, animals, you name it- everything I haven’t touched for almost 9 years. Did I look at some of it with fond memories? Of course- it’s xmas, it’s all tied into my identity of my childhood and growing up with this food; the baked stuff is hard because it’s not as obvious as the full bloody pig laid out on the table in front of me one night. But I see the whole picture differently. That glass of egg nog, that platter of $800 worth of cheeses, the tenderloin, the tortieres, the veg sides slathered in butter- all of it comes at a horrific cost to the animals and the earth and in the end is just not clean nutrition. So I learned to re create some favourites but mostly, my diet exploded- my world got larger, food wise. And at 41, I”ve never been healthier, physically or emotionally.
    Ok, I”ll shut up now. I just wanted you to hear from a long term highfunctioning vegan who loves you immensely and has the utmost respect for everything you are.

  • Sarah

    The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith offers a whole bunch more food for thought. I’ve never actually made it all the way through but I was really impacted by what I did read. 🙂

  • stephanie

    Oh god, the vegetarioan myth is full of ridiculous bad science and misinformation. SOme of the most infuriating bs out there. I’m amazed at the amount of misinformation and lack of research people are will to do. What are people so freaked out by? Where do you think all of the animals you eat get their nutrition from? Plants. Broaden your horizons- there are and endless array of resources, Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Melina Vesanto, The China Study by COlin Campbell, The Thrive Diet and by Brendan Brazier, endless vegan food blogs, both ethical and food based…it’s just different, not inferior. I”d argue it’s a far healthier way to eat- check out Dr Ornish and Forks Over Knives.

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