BBC as we know have since many years involved in controversies, bias, lies, and even false news !
One can remember how International media for example used fake videos and pictures from Pallywood (Palestinian propaganda industry) to blame Israel of having killed children.
On January 20, 2020, BBC published an article by Zaria Gorvett: How a vegan diet could affect your intelligence
This cannot be true, else, how can one explain, that there are barely no famous scientists and major discoveries from African and Muslim countries ? How can one explain apart from Israel in the Middle East, the IQ quotient in other regions are not high. yet, there are many vegetarians like: Albert Einstein, Pythagoras, and famours writers like Rousseau and politician amongs others like Mahatma Gandhi (https://www.britannica.com/list/8-of-historys-most-famous-vegetarians)
The same BBC reported that:
The BBC just reported on a study by Southampton University scientists which showed that individuals who were vegetarian by the age of 30 recorded an average of five IQ points higher than meat-eaters. The initial IQ tests were performed in the ’70s, and the results of the study (after adjusting for social and economic factors) demonstrated that the intelligent children were significantly more likely to become vegetarian later in life. Researchers have hailed this study as a compelling explanation for why “higher IQ in childhood or adolescence is linked with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease in adult life.”
Incidentally, the study also showed that vegetarians were more likely to be female, which may be evidence that girls are smarter than boys. But I don’t really need to think about that.
BBC busted !
I think, either there are blinded by stupidity or by bad faith !
BBC Article Saying Veganism Affects Intelligence Uses Outdated Data
Articles like this do nutrition journalism no favours as misleading the public is irresponsible and dangerous
The BBC recently posted an article titled How a vegan diet could affect your intelligence, asking whether the diet’s ‘shortcomings’ could be ‘affecting vegans’ abilities to think’.
Was the author having a brain freeze when she wrote this article? It features a mismatch of outdated and obscure articles, which were cobbled together to argue that vegans are missing out on brain food.
But don’t be fooled.
A look at the arguments
As a vegan with a Ph.D., who works alongside many sharp and bright vegans at Viva!, I have strong anecdotal evidence to the contrary, but let’s have a look at the argument anyway.
Author Zaria Gorvett begins with our ancestors. She makes the common mistake of thinking that eating meat made us human or ‘clever’. The expensive-tissue hypothesis, proposed by scientists Leslie C. Aiello and Peter Wheeler 25 years ago, suggested that a ‘high-quality’ meaty diet enabled us to reduce the size of our gut, freeing up energy to increase brain size. In other words ‘meat made us smart’.
This is now considered outdated thinking as recent research, published in the journal Nature, refutes this, arguing that a higher-quality diet, including some meat but also improved by cooking, coupled with the energy saved by walking upright, growing more slowly and reproducing later, fuelled the growth in brain size. Prehistoric humans ate some meat but that alone didn’t make them smart.
Turnips v tuna
Gorvett says it’s hard to imagine our ancestors choosing turnips over tuna; yet that’s exactly what they did! Recent evidence shows that people in Palaeolithic times ate a far more plant-based diet than previously thought.
More than 9,000 remains of edible plants found in a Stone Age site in Israel provides compelling evidence that they enjoyed a varied, plant-based diet, including root vegetables, leafy veg, celery, figs, nuts, seeds and chenopodium seeds, similar to quinoa.
This is echoed by other research that Neolithic farmers, like their predecessors, also relied heavily on plant protein.
Gorvett dredges up a contemptible 2003 study, funded by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and designed to use starving children in Kenya to promote the sales of meat in the developed world.
It looked at the effects of giving meat, milk, vegetable oil or nothing to children living on a subsistence diet. Of course, compared to plain vegetable oil that provides no nutrition other than empty calories – meat improved the growth and development of these starving children.
All this showed is that a diet lacking in energy, carbohydrates, fat, and protein is inadequate – nothing new there! That’s like finding that coca-cola benefits thirsty children suffering in a drought.
A fair comparison would have measured meat against a protein-rich plant-based food such as nuts, seeds, tofu or a soy-based meat substitute.
The list of nutrients vegans ‘miss out on’ was then rolled out, including omega-3 fats – which actually can be found in flaxseed oil and walnuts thanks.
B12 is mentioned again. Sure vegans need to ensure a good B12 intake but so should everyone, as low levels of B12 are common in the entire population, regardless of diet. Everyone over 50 in the US is advised to take B12 supplements and meat and dairy only contain it because animals are fed or injected with supplements.
Gorvett talks about B12 deficiency making one vegan child slip into coma. This highly unusual case occurred in the US in 1979. This fear-mongering is irresponsible given the damage the average UK diet is doing to children – the first generation who may die before their parents.
Appropriately planned diets
Apparently forcing a vegan diet on your offspring could be harmful. But all major health bodies agree that well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for all people at all ages.
For example: “It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
Gorvett says vegans are particularly prone to iron deficiency, citing a 2004 German study looking at 75 vegan women.
I guess she missed the 2016 EPIC Oxford Study, one of the largest studies of vegetarians and vegans ever undertaken, comparing the diets of over 18,000 meat-eaters, 4,500 fish-eaters, 6,600 vegetarians and 800 vegans. They found vegans had the highest iron intake, followed by vegetarians then fish-eaters and with meat-eaters coming in last.
Vegans are also missing out on vitamin D, apparently. Well, we are not alone – the 2016 National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that one in every two girls aged 11 to 18 is failing to meet even low targets along with over a quarter of women.
Boys and men have higher intakes but still, nine per cent of boys aged 11 to 18 are falling short. Public Health England recommends 10 micrograms a day and suggest everyone should consider taking a supplement in the winter months.
‘Irresponsible and dangerous’
Then there are the not so commonly known nutrients: taurine, choline and creatine – this last one is a compound found in the muscle of meat and fish that forms carcinogenic (cancer-causing) heterocyclic amines when it combines with amino acids and sugars found in muscle meats at high cooking temperatures. I’m happy to give that one a miss.
I recently wrote a piece for Viva!’s magazine Viva!life about the trend in vegan-bashing articles and this FOMO (fear of missing out) approach is popular click-bait claptrap.
However, articles like this do nutrition journalism no favours as misleading the public is irresponsible and dangerous.
A recent article published by the BBC claims that vegan diets can be detrimental to brain health – so naturally, there has been a lot of speculation on this topic. What’s the truth when it comes to vegan brain health? Today I’m answering this question and explaining the science behind it.
Recently, the BBC posted an article on their website titled, “How a Vegan Diet Could Affect Your Intelligence”. I’m here to set the facts straight and debunk the sensationalized, biased and blatantly false claims laid out in this article.
This is one of several opinion pieces written by the BBC in the past year not-so-subtly attacking a plant-based diet. Typically, I would prefer not to call attention to articles that are pure nonsense, like this one, but in this case, I felt it was important to address the claims and falsities as I know many people have questions about them.
I also want to demonstrate the importance of using a critical eye when reading news articles. This is an example of how a seemingly reputable outlet can publish an astonishingly inaccurate opinion piece under the guise of journalism by cherry-picking studies and lying by omission.
The piece is biased, poorly researched, and in some cases, flat out factually inaccurate. Let’s start with what the author got completely wrong.
The article claims that to get the daily minimum required amount of vitamin B6 – a micronutrient important for cognitive development and immune function – vegans would have to eat about 5 cups of potatoes a day.
The RDA for B6 is 1.3 mg a day for adults. According to the USDA national nutrient database, one large russet potato contains over 1 mg of vitamin B6. Since a large potato equates to about 2 cups chopped, you’d have to eat about 2 cups of potatoes to meet the RDA – not 5 cups.
However, you don’t have to eat any potatoes if you don’t like them. B6 is widespread in a plant-based diet – good sources include pistachios, fortified cereal, and chickpeas. If your family is eating a balanced plant-based diet, you’re easily meeting your B6 needs.
Next, the article claims the typical vegan diet is “scarce” in iron. They reference a study that found that participating vegans were consuming 40% less iron than the recommended daily amount. This cherry-picked study is easily refutable, as the bulk of research shows there is no significant difference in iron intake between plant-based eaters and omnivores. In fact, some studies have shown that plant-based dieters often consume more iron than omnivores.
While it is true that plant-based, non-heme iron is less bioavailable than the heme iron found in animals, the reduced absorption can be overcome by pairing high iron foods with vitamin C rich foods. Vitamin C has shown to increase the absorption of plant-based iron as much as 3 to 6 times for every 50 mg of vitamin C added to a meal.
Finally, though vegans and vegetarians generally have lower iron stores, research has not shown that plant-based adults have a higher incidence of iron deficiency. Iron is the number one nutrient deficiency for adults and children of all dietary patterns.
Therefore, it’s important that everyone focuses on incorporating iron-rich foods in their diet, and plant-based dieters should employ strategies to maximize iron absorption. This isn’t hard though. Most plant-based dieters naturally pair iron and vitamin C-rich foods together like oatmeal and strawberries, beans and bell peppers, or leafy greens and grains.
Another false claim in the article is that folate is a nutrient of concern for vegans. This is incorrect and shows the author’s blatant lack of nutritional knowledge. Plants are the top sources of folate in the diet.
In fact, one study showed folate concentrations were highest among vegans, intermediate among vegetarians, and lowest among omnivores.
The last glaring inaccuracy I want to point out here is about choline. The article states that soy does not contain choline.
It’s actually one of the best dietary sources of choline with ½ cup of soybeans providing 117 mg of choline. Eggs, one of the best animal sources of choline, only have about 30 mg more per egg.
Vegan diets and brain health
Now let’s talk about the arguments the author uses to make the case that a vegan diet is bad for brain health. First, they cite a study of Kenyan school children that aimed to compare the cognitive effect of adding a serving of meat, milk, vegetable oil, or nothing (the control group) to the children’s daily diet.
Results showed the children in the meat group performed the best, followed by the control group, then the oil group, and then the milk group. The BBC author attempted to equate this study to a comparison of omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan diets. There are just so many issues with this study and the author’s attempt to extrapolate the results to vegan diets.
The biggest issue is that meat, milk, and oil are incredibly nutritionally different. It’s like comparing apples to orangutans. Meat is an excellent source of iron, an important nutrient for brain health (though remember as we just talked about – plants contain plenty of iron too).
Milk, on the other hand, is a very poor source of iron. Not only is it extremely low in iron, the calcium in milk actually inhibits iron absorption and kids who drink too much milk are more likely to be iron deficient. Oil contains zero iron. However, it does not inhibit iron absorption.
See the common denominator here? It’s iron. The children eating meat likely did the best because they received additional iron in their diet, not because they received meat. The milk group, despite receiving more protein than the oil and both more calories and more protein than the control group, likely did worse because milk inhibits iron absorption.
A smart study would have used an isocaloric amount of soy instead of oil for comparison as it contains protein, fat, and iron and is more nutritionally equivalent to meat.
Finally, many of the Kenyan children in this study had stunted growth and ranged from moderately to severely underweight. It’s simply not appropriate to compare a population of malnourished children to those consuming a well-planned plant-based diet.
The BBC author should have found a study that looked at adding meat to a nutritionally adequate diet, alas no such study exists.
Next, the author points out a few nutrients that are absent or low in vegan diets.
B12 and brain health
First up, B12.
The article emphasizes the health-risks of B12 deficiency and the commonality of B12 deficiency among the plant-based population.
They are absolutely correct that B12 deficiency can cause serious, irreversible damage to the brain but what they gloss over is the fact that B12 deficiency is easily prevented with supplementation.
Let me make this clear – all plant-based dieters, vegan, vegetarian or otherwise – should supplement with b12. Supplementing with B12 is a simple, affordable way to avoid deficiency, and anyone following a properly-planned vegan diet already does this, which negates the author’s argument.
Choline and brain health
Next up, choline.
I’ve already pointed out the author’s error in stating that soy doesn’t contain choline – but let’s explore this claim further. The author argues that a vegan diet is low in choline and therefore harmful to brain health.
She cites a study showing that high choline supplementation during pregnancy improved infants’ reaction times. First, this study was not conducted on plant-based dieters and second, it’s unclear if a well-planned vegan diet actually has less choline than an omnivorous diet.
While it is true that choline during pregnancy is important, the truth is that the majority of people do not eat enough choline – both vegans and omnivores. The results of the study on choline during pregnancy highlight the importance of maternal choline intake, which is why many prenatal multivitamins now include it.
We recommend that all adults and children ensure proper choline intake one of two ways: by regularly eating eggs and or soy foods or by supplementing, especially during pregnancy and lactation.
For more information on choline, check out my post Choline on a Plant-Based Diet!
CREATINE AND BRAIN HEALTH
Creatine is another nutrient of concern the author lists.
Creatine is a chemical naturally found in our muscles and brain, and it is one of the body’s sources of energy for muscle contraction. The thing is – our bodies have the ability to make creatine. While it is generally accepted that vegans and vegetarians have lower amounts of creatine in their skeletal muscle, the same is not true for the brain.
One study, linked directly by the author, shows that dietary creatine intake does not change how much creatine is in the brain because the brain relies on its own synthesis of creatine. This makes me think the author didn’t even read the study before drawing her erroneous conclusion.
TAURINE AND BRAIN HEALTH
Lastly, the author makes the claim that taurine is another nutrient of concern in a vegan diet.
Taurine is a non-essential amino acid that is involved in a variety of biological and physiological functions such as bile salt formation, retinal development, and electrolyte balance. The author states that because taurine is low in plant-based diets, this could have a negative effect on brain health and cognitive ability.
However, our bodies make taurine, and while studies show that vegans do have a lower plasma content, there is substantial evidence that renal taurine excretion adapts to dietary taurine intake. Meaning if you eat less, you store more.
Taurine is only considered an essential amino acid for preterm infants, who typically receive dietary taurine through breast milk or infant formula. While studies show vegan mothers have a lower amount of taurine in their breast milk, there is no research showing signs of taurine deficiency in babies breastfed by vegan mothers.
There is also currently no conclusive evidence that a lack of taurine in the diet has any clinical manifestations for vegans. I will note that there is some evidence that taurine supplementation may be beneficial for people with cardiovascular disease, but more research is needed to make any recommendations.
BENEFITS OF A VEGAN DIET
And that’s that – as you see, the author is quick to make false, unfounded, or exaggerated claims about vegan diets and brain health. Additionally, the author fails to mention the plethora of proven health benefits that come with a plant-based eating pattern.
Properly planned plant-based diets have been shown to reduce all-cause mortality and the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Studies show that vegan and vegetarian diets may also decrease cancer risk.
In fact, plant-based diets may actually have positive effects on brain health. Studies show plant-based diets are associated with lower blood pressure. Recent studies have linked persistent hypertension to mild cognitive impairment, which is a major risk factor for the development of dementia.
Plant-based diets have also been shown to decrease incidence of atherosclerosis, the fatty plaque that can build up in your arteries, which is also a risk factor for the development of vascular dementia. Finally, several studies suggest diabetes is a contributing risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and plant-based diets lower the risk of diabetes.
It’s scary that an organization like BBC would allow an article riddled with factual inaccuracies to even be published, but I hope this round-up has eased any fears you may have about a plant-based diet and brain health and provided you with some tools to use the next time you encounter a sensationalized article like this one.
Always aim to get your information from credible, qualified nutrition professions – and remember, if an article sounds biased, it probably is.
PIN the post! >>
Weigh-in: Have you heard other outlandish claims about plant-based diets? Do you feel better prepared to determine the credibility and biases of a source?