Sunday, July 31, 2011

Health education with Dr T. Colin Campbell - Nutrition, Food and Supplements


As my hero Dr John McDougall has just spoken out on the supplement issue, here is my own assignment on ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) on that topic from Dr T Colin Campbell's Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition.
This research on the Vitamin C story was by far the most difficult assignment for me.  I gained valuable insight into my own regular dependence on supplementation in favour of healthier food choices.
Dietary supplements are often promoted as healthy alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by doctors. Contrary to this perspective, Dr. Matt Lederman suggests that supplements may not be as innocuous as commonly thought:

"Our bodies were designed to get their nutrients from food in a system that has evolved over billions of years. Supplements are not food. We absorb vitamins and minerals from our food better than from a supplement. Modern chronic disease is not due to specific nutrient deficiencies. And supplements don't cure or prevent chronic disease.

"The data continue to show that supplements in general do not improve health (unless one has a proven deficiency) and often cause harm once well studied (vitamins A, E, and beta carotene all increase mortality). As far as I am concerned, supplements are medications at best and should be treated as such."
Choose a common supplement that you take yourself, think could be beneficial, or that you are interested in, and research it. Filter through the advertisements, advice, and promotions and seek out alternative views. Are there any concerns with taking this supplement? Think about the life cycle of this supplement from production to consumption, and imagine the impacts of making, selling, and consuming this product.

Consider looking at such issues as where this supplement comes from, how it is manufactured, what it is made of, how the quality of this supplement is regulated or measured, who is selling it, the relative costs and benefits of using it, and anything else that will help you to consider the costs to individual health or greater well-being involved with taking it.

In a brief overview, share with the class:
A. Your supplement of choice
B. The three to five most compelling reasons you discovered to avoid taking this supplement

In our follow-up discussion, explore any changes to your views on supplements, or what supplements you still consider beneficial and why.

Why C?

I must address vitamin C, our family's traditional supplement (and the only one apart from B12 that I use regularly). My parents believed that Linus Pauling's research is sound, and from a very young age, I have had pure ascorbic acid (vitamin C) dissolved in juice.

I normally take about a gram of ascorbic acid in water in the mornings. When I am sick, I increase the dose to many as many grams as I can manage. I have always believed the evidence shows that vitamin C supplementation has multiple benefits as an antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and general immune system support. The basic argument is that humans need vitamin C, do not produce it, and do not get enough from their food for optimal health.

Over this course, I have come even more to the point of view that whole foods are health promoting. Dr Lederman's supplement lecture also showed compelling evidence about problems with individual supplementation. So I have been very interested to look more deeply into the available research on vitamin C.

There is almost too much research on vitamin C! (I even found a reference to using C in dogs...

Vitamin C as medicine
Dr Lederman says "supplements are medications at best, and should be treated as such." So I will mention but not discuss the overwhelming (and fascinating) area of IV supplementation of vitamin C in 20g megadoses successfully treating severe illness like cancer and septic shock.

Also, while controversial at the "popular medicine" level, there is reliable and repeated evidence showing that oral vitamin C megadose (several grams/day) treatment at least reduces the duration of minor illnesses such as flu or upper respiratory infection. I can personally vouch for Vitamin C's anti-inflammatory activity reducing uncomfortable symptoms of such infections.

Daily supplementation
Daily supplementation is recommended at about 1g/day for general immune support, antioxidant behaviour, etc. This is far above the RDA's level needed to prevent scurvy from severe vitamin C deficiency.

"The RDA continues to be based primarily on the prevention of deficiency disease, rather than the prevention of chronic disease and the promotion of optimum health." Oregon State University
Studies have shown that C not only aids recovery from illness, it also may help to prevent infection in high risk populations. C supplementation has also been associated with reduced coronary heart disease in women and a long list of other health benefits.

Concerns about vitamin C supplementation

There is a wealth of controversy about vitamin C in the medical world. One major factor is a disagreement about how C is absorbed in the body: the concept of tissue saturation as studied by the National Institute of Health implies that absorption is maximised at a low level of C intake. These studies have been highly criticised and not well defended.

Excess vitamin C has also been theorised to cause kidney stones. As a close family member has been diagnosed with kidney stones, I checked this out very carefully, but it is generally agreed that there is more evidence that vitamin C prevents kidney stones!

A last personal anecdote: I have always had thin enamel on my teeth. At times when I have used oral megadoses to fight an infection, I have damaged my teeth temporarily when I haven't been careful to neutralise the acid in my mouth after I take it.

What about whole foods?

This recent story on VegSource holds the key. If I ate fruits and leaves all day, like our close relatives the gorillas, I would get much more vitamin C from my food.

Roughly estimated, I could get 1000mg of vitamin C from whole raw food in a day from:
100g kale, 200g kiwifruit, 200g broccoli, 200g cauliflower, 50g parsley, 200g oranges, 100g strawberries and 100g yellow peppers. Clearly, this would be a diet much closer to those healthy gorillas!

The vitamin C would be arriving in small doses all during the day (generally agreed to be the best way for the body to use it). And my immune system would need less protection, since I would not be eating processed or high fat foods.

I would struggle to get megadoses of the multiple grams from whole foods only, but arguably I would rarely be sick enough to need them.

I find no compelling evidence of dangers of supplementing with vitamin C and instead, some great advantages to people eating a modern diet. We have two children in public education (germ zoos) and have chosen not to vaccinate, so I would not hurry to stop supplementation.

However, ascorbic acid supplements are not cheap, and vitamin C is readily available from fresh fruits and vegetables. My review of vitamin C research motivates me to add more, and a wider variety, of fresh fruits and vegetables to my and my family's diet and reduce the amount of the expensive supplement I use on a daily basis. This will be more palatable and easier on my teeth.

And if we ever eat like healthy gorillas, I know we can stop supplementing!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Green Diet - my open letter to the New Zealand Green Party


I received a letter from the very popular former co-leader of the New Zealand Green Party, Jeanette Fitzsimons: 
The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is a popular, modern and successful party that has left an indelible mark on New Zealand's politics and culture over the past 40 years....
For years we have pushed to have climate change recognized as the single biggest issue of our time. Recently, the Dominion Post's lead story read "Climate change evidence 'undeniable'." Scientists say we need to act in the next 10 years to avoid catastrophic damage.... 
That is why we are campaigning on shifting our economy to create green jobs, linking the concerns of our nation (the economy and climate change) together. Making homes warmer and more fuel efficient, providing better public transportation, stopping off-shore drilling and new coal mines complement our goal of restoring our planet's ecosystem.... 
Please contribute...
I have given my party vote to the Greens in all recent elections and intend to do so again.  However, I felt compelled to respond to her and to Green MPs Gareth Hughes and Animal Welfare Spokesperson Sue Kedgley:
Hi Jeanette, 
I also believe that climate change and the environment is the fight we need to win.
That’s why I challenged Gareth Hughes at the recent SAFE animal rights conference.  When is the Green Party going to stand up for the only truly sustainable diet for our environment – a vegan diet?  Gareth disappointingly indicated that he considered diet a personal choice.
I was involved several years ago in an email discussion the Greens did about adopting a vegan policy.  While it was eventually revealed that your own research shows that even in clean green NZ, meat and milk production is an environmental nightmare, it was clear that several members involved in the discussion didn’t think we should ever be telling people the right way to eat.
And there this crucial issue has foundered.  No policy was even adopted to require that Green functions buy so-called “cruelty-free” meats.
The Green Party tells people the right and wrong ways to travel.  To treat employees… indigenous people… children.  Was the successful repeal of protection for parents hitting children supported because it was popular - or because it was the right and civilised way forward?
Where is your precedent for accepting the status quo and preferences of an ignorant majority? While ignoring the plight of all farmed animals and institutionalised cruelty, you are also dooming the environment.
This is not Green.
Go beyond tut-tutting about the size of chicken cages and accept the UN’s declaration of the impact of animal farming on the environment.  Be green in the consumer choice you make most often each day – the food you eat.

Jessica Parsons

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Voldemort goes Vegan!


I enjoyed the final final really the last Harry Potter movie just a few days ago.  (I was surprised to find that the critics enjoyed it even more than I did.)

I won't spoil the end for fact, I can't since the story is already published and everyone knows the good guys win after lots of action and magic.

As a vegan, I enjoyed this short video (by Ciddy Fonteboa) with some of the same great characters perhaps even more....  The Death Eaters hear all about a plant-based diet and don't miss the part about Severus Snape and the organic garden with the dragon dung compost pile!

Art like this is not just funny but represents a much-needed connection between serious vegan activism and mainstream culture.

More of Ciddy Fonteboa's work is here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stand up for your health

We now have our lovely new au pair in our house!  The kids love him already.  He has already helped enormously cleaning out the Auckland Explorers' activities cupboard and played endlessly with Nadia while Alex is at my parents.

This is also a major triumph for our decluttering efforts.  Our old office:

is now his bedroom:


Making an entire room available is no small accomplishment for a family with children.

Downstairs is similarly transformed: one end is the kids’ art area and guest futon and the rest is our new office. 
We were very pleased to use our guest room last night to house a fellow vegan from Christchurch on his way to SAFE's Why Animals Matter conference, now finishing up here in Auckland.

Standing Desk
I am trying a standing desk in this new office.  The idea appeals because I’d like to:
We had a head start:  some simple stands to lift the monitor and keyboard, plus the monitor's own adjustability, and my own lack of inconvenient height.

I read one report of losing 3 pounds in one week after making this change:   SOLD!
Other views at SmarterWare minimalist Life, and LifeHack.

I have a Swiss ball and a piano stool available, but after a few days of standing, I can already feel the effects.  I can still do all I need to, and I’m keen to continue.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Caged chickens in New Zealand need your help – act now!


Over three million hens in New Zealand live short and cruel lives crammed inside wire cages to produce almost 1 billion eggs.

For over 20 years SAFE has campaigned to ban these battery cages. Open Rescue have bravely entered farms to document cruel conditions and rescue birds.

One ordinary New Zealander, Carl Scott, spent an entire month living in a cage to raise public awareness.

This year the Government is in the process of reviewing the Code of Welfare for Layer Hens.  But their current plan is hardly an improvement: colony cages have already been condemned internationally. 

The time is now
We can make a change.  It's an election year.  Wherever you are, speak up for these young female birds and improve their terrible conditions. Even a short statement will make a difference:

“We are appalled at the treatment of layer hens in New Zealand.  Colony cages do not comply with the Animal Welfare Act; follow Switzerland’s example and ban battery cages outright.”

New Zealanders

  1. Contact your local MP - Directory of all NZ MPs
  2. Contact New Zealand Prime Minister John Key
  3. Contact New Zealand Green Party Animal Welfare Rep Sue Kedgley


  1. Contact New Zealand Prime Minister John Key
  2. Contact New Zealand Green Party Animal Welfare Rep Sue Kedgley
Share this message using the links at the end, and other ways to take action

For more information
Read the whole story at SAFE’s NoCages campaign.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Harvard joins the food police - you really are what you eat

Diet enemy #1
Health-conscious?  Here's news you need to know. 

A comprehensive mainstream study from Harvard University confirms the health and weightloss message from my favourite fringe doctors (like Dr McDougall and Dr T Colin Campbell).

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health:
“This study shows that conventional wisdom — to eat everything in moderation, eat fewer calories and avoid fatty foods — isn’t the best approach."
“There are good foods and bad foods, and the advice should be to eat the good foods more and the bad foods less. The notion that it’s O.K. to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want.”
I have to stop quoting.  The whole article is a must read, covering specific types of foods linked to weight gain, exercise, health, television, slow weight gain, and the failure of the single factor approach to weight loss.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

6 Cosleeping Rules - Simple safety and beyond

The boys get some rest.

I highly recommend co-sleeping to any parent expecting a new baby.

It's not the best publicised option, but it's the most common family arrangement worldwide with huge benefits.  The risks are quite frankly and irresponsibly exaggerated.

Co-sleeping is one facet of attachment parenting - a wide-ranging philosophy questioning the current Western custom of separating children from adults as quickly as possible.

It starts from the race to cut that pesky umbilical cord and gallops madly off in all directions from there.

So what do you need to know?  Start with basic safety, but there's more to learn from those in the know...

6.  Make room

The more room you all to sleep on, the more comfortable everyone will be.  Once past baby stage, small children move very easily in their sleep and can and will roll all around the bed. 

Like cats, children are also likely to snuggle up to your warmth no matter how much cold bed is available.  Or they may lie sideways or head down.  Some real estate on our bed is already taken up with pillows and rolled up blankets to protect against bumps into a cold wall at night.

We have a king-sized bed which first had an open-sided cot, and now has a double next to it.  We don't always need all that room, but...

5.  Stay safe

As your children get larger, they move even more!  And harder!  Adults move a bit when asleep but with smaller bodies, kids' involuntary sleep twitches can send arms and legs hammering out at startling speeds and angles.

So if you have little feet in your face - get some distance between you.  See The Dangers of Cosleeping.

4.  Dress for the occasion

To get the full benefit from co-sleeping and breastfeeding, your nightwear needs to button down or lift up so easily you can do it while barely awake.

You may also need to bring extra blankies to bed when you are co-sleeping with your child, especially when breastfeeding. 

The recommended level for the covers is at your child's chest.  If your child falls asleep after a lying down feed, your child's chest is no higher than your rib cage.  If you are not lucky enough to have central heating, your top half is going to be pretty chilly, and those nice warm knitted blankies you got from Auntie Selma will be very welcome for covering your shoulders when you can't bring yourself to disturb a sleeping child by wrestling for covers.

3.  Co-sleeping vs other fun stuff

Once you have some energy, you and your partner will need to find somewhere else for getting into the sort of trouble that led you here in the first place.  Give some thought to your own comfort!

2.  Cozy chats

If your little buddy starts talking to you at night, you probably don't have to talk back.  A dream conversation (no matter how intriguing) usually just requires a reassurance and a pat back to deeper sleep.

When she starts fighting with her brother in her sleep, feel free to use a timeout.

1.  Enjoy it

This is positively rule #1.  These are such precious hours bonding with your growing child, and that is never wasted.

Watching Nadia wake up and her first smile of the day, the sillies and the giggles and the little traditions we share only with each other... the only thing to regret is having been unable to do this very long with Alex.

Good night!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Breastfeeding and Burkas


In some cultures women are expected to hide their bodies.  Other cultures do not follow these illogical customs.

Within the culture, women can be the strongest voices in continuing the practice.  They demand that other women cover up and claim they are themselves more comfortable covering up, as they feel immodest otherwise.  They claim it is their right to choose.
Right to choose

The burka causes worldwide debate.  When the entire female body is a sexual advance to men, can we achieve equal respect between the sexes (as is our aim in the western world)?

Yet for most of the western world, women's breasts are also required to be hidden.  Puritan, Victorian, Muslim...the shame is the same. This is so accepted as to be invisible.

The price of shame

There are many costs, but one is fundamental.  Too many women are so ashamed to show their breasts that they are crippled when breastfeeding their own babies.   Baby burka, anyone?

Breastfeeding has become so darn discreet that some girls and women never see it.  Others see it as weird, icky, funny...anything but natural and normal.  They believe that feeding artificial baby milk from a bottle is probably just as good.  

Here's a recent and dangerous myth:  breastfeeding is only for small babies and not children who can walk and talk.   People in other cultures and times benefit from natural weaning after years of breastfeeding.  In our culture, despite formal medical recommendations, the very idea is shameful or even abusive.

A healthy breastfeeding relationship is the soundest base for a child to begin a healthy vegan diet.  With worldwide concerns over children's weight and health, (NZ and wider) this is vital.
BF Alex.jpg

The real shame

A culture fixated on sex and money owns our bodies and our babies' birthright. 

Breastfeeding mothers, will your children learn comfort or shame in breastfeeding?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Decluttering, out you go!

Yet more little steps to keep our home sane. 

We just enjoyed hosting a visiting teacher from Bavaria - she just finished 6 months of backpacking through New Zealand and had some pretty worn out clothes to show for it.

So our charity shop got her rags plus my latest collection.

Now we are madly preparing for our next visitor, our au pair also from Germany who will stay for a year!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Christchurch Vegetarians still shaken


Auckland made the news briefly for our small unexpected earthquake on July 6th.  It was very shallow (9kms) and practically on my doorstep (1-2kms away).  Of course most earthquakes are unexpected, but Auckland really isn't known for them.  The last one I felt was more than 20 years ago.

This was just one shake.  It was over before anyone could even think about being scared.  But Christchurch has continued to suffer multiple daily aftershocks larger than this for months on top of the two major earthquakes that devastated the city and destroyed their Vegetarian Centre on Feb 22nd.   

Please respond if you can to this appeal for help from our mates down in Christchurch.  There is so much need in Christchurch that it is quite overwhelming.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Can you afford FUD in your food?


What is the cost of a healthy diet?

The Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Otago does a yearly survey of the cost of a selected range of groceries. 

The grocery list is based on the New Zealand Food and Nutrition Guidelines.  They report on costs for choosing various levels of food variety and convenience.

So far, so good.  Might be a useful cost-of-living measure. 

What's the problem?

It's not the data.  Here is the introduction to their Information Package:

"Most healthy families or individuals will meet their nutritional needs when spending the amount of money specified as the basic costs..."
Back up the grocery truck, we forgot the supporting data!  Spending the basic amount of money on similar foods as the study will provide most with basic nutritional needs.  The money alone is unrelated.

"However, spending less than this amount increases the risk of not getting all the necessary nutrients."
Does it?  Nutrition depends on the foods chosen, not the amount spent.

"Many people will not lack energy or nutrients when spending less than this amount on food if they make careful management choices."
Sounds tricky - how do I know if I'm one of the many?

"However, the chances of consuming an inadequate diet increase as the amount spent to purchase food falls below the basic costs."
So what are my chances?  Can I see a graph? 

Good science, Bad Science!

Here are my guidelines for interpreting scientific results from my study for Dr T Colin Campbell's Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition.  Let's add another important test:

Does the data actually support the conclusions?
In this case, the conclusion (disguised as an introduction) is unsupported by the data.  It is also easily refuted.  They have misused their study on grocery costs to make nutrition claims.

Any scientist would know this, including the study's researchers.  This was not a peer-reviewed study.  And the only implied action from the study is flawed. 

What's behind this?

Spend $X and you are probably well-nourished.  Spend less and you risk malnutrition.
This is classic FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), a common marketing tactic in our consumer-oriented culture where money is more important than substance. 

Very likely, the researchers did not even write the introductory paragraph.

Consider who benefits from this deception:

The study seems more important

Our current government is slashing education funding - a study which pretends to provide nutrition guidance might look more valuable than a simple cost of living study. 

Frugality seems risky

We are suffering from a recession, and more than ever, consumers want to save money.  As people tighten their belts, the economy slows more.

But perhaps food scientists can boost the economy by scaring people away from frugality.  

Animal food = expensive food

I am a vegan. The study's choice of grocery purchases may well represent the food choices of the majority.  But the food list notably starts:

1. Meat and poultry
2. Fish
3. Eggs
4. Cheese
5. Legumes
6. Milk

5 of the first 6 items on the list are animal foods. Milk should actually top the list, as it is recommended in by far the largest amount (kgs per week!). Those are also the most expensive foods. 

Because it is becoming better known that we do not need animal foods, and that we eat too much of them, these foods are often the targets for cost and health-savvy consumers.

And rightly so.  When you remove or reduce these in your shopping list and choose, for example, more legumes, you spend less.  Meatless Mondays, resumed to help save the Earth, originated with rationing during times of war

The Department of Human Nutrition at Otago is the only place in New Zealand approved to train Registered Dieticians.  New Zealand's economy is heavily dependent on animal products, and government funded nutrition studies throughout New Zealand still emphasise a need to eat animal foods, despite all the evidence to the contrary.   

Healthy diet = healthy wallet
The Department of Human Nutrition chooses a diet heavy in lots of expensive animal foods, then claims that reducing the grocery bill might threaten your health. 

There is an eerie similarity to nutrition recommendations such as the ADA's "carefully planned vegetarian and vegan diets" are healthy.  More fairly, you have to plan any sort of diet carefully for it to be healthy.
And along with the 5 expensive animal foods at the top of this healthy list, check out the last 6:

 - fats and oils
 - spreads
 - tea
 - coffee
 - Milo ???? (this Nestle ad brought to you, the NZ taxpayer)
 - sugar

Reducing this grocery bill might threaten your health...or might it significantly improve it?

The bottom line

Your total at the grocery checkout is not your health score.  Check out a week's worth of food around the world for some perspective.

Voting with your dollar is crucial.  When you buy food, know what you're buying and why.  Spending more or less at the grocery store might impact your health - but learning about nutrition is a better investment.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Health education with Dr T. Colin Campbell - tune in, turn on, declare independence!


To celebrate Independence Day, I am pleased to announce that, along with my dedicated classmates and following in the footsteps of nutrition activists like J Morris Hicks, I've achieved Dr T Colin Campbell's Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition!
Declare your own independence from drugs and chronic disease today!


The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are undeniable. The public is largely unaware of the preponderance of evidence supporting the health benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet. Controversy, misunderstanding, and degenerative diseases are rampant. Campbell's eight principles provide a simple framework for understanding the complex processes underlying human health and nutrition.

Write a forty-five- to fifty-second dialogue for a public radio announcement that clearly and effectively communicates an important aspect of this message to the public.


Health news is confusing and scary - another chemical causes cancer or a gene makes mice fat or thin. One of every two people gets heart disease. Are we doomed to disease?

No! You are in control. Multiple studies show that the food you eat outweighs all of these health factors: genes, toxic chemicals, even exercise. Many doctors, for example Dr T Colin Campbell, want you to know this: Good health comes from whole plant foods like wholegrains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Disease comes from animal foods like meat, eggs, and milk, and refined foods like white flour and sugar.

What happens when you eat a plant-based diet, with too many healthy nutrients to even count? A cancer cell can't grow into a tumour, and tumours shrink. Weight loss comes easily. All your blood vessels stay clear and strong. Even risky genes don't cause disease. Study after study show these results.

The list goes on. With disease, your body is only begging you to clean up your fuel - go plant-strong today and get healthy!

Brought to you by the T Colin Campbell Foundation.