Your Brain on Plants: Micronutrients and Mental Health

your brain on plants

Plant-Based Diets, Micronutrients and Mental Health

Do vegetarian and vegan diets contain the micronutrients our brains need to function properly? Or do they put people at risk for serious deficiencies that increase the likelihood of developing psychiatric disorders?

In my last post, Food Fights: Are Vegan Diets Healthier for the Brain? we compared big-picture health effects of plant-based diets to meat-based diets, and discovered more similarities between them than many might have expected. Today, we go micro! We will explore each nutrient’s function in the brain, and the psychiatric symptoms that can develop if we don’t get enough of each one. I created this comprehensive summary of the science to be a resource for everyone, regardless of chosen diet, so that we may all improve our understanding of how to help our brains function at their absolute best.

You will notice that certain essential nutrients are missing. This is because those nutrients are generally easy to obtain from both plant-based and omnivorous diets. I also chose to reserve coverage of deficiency testing and supplementation for future posts, as complete discussion of any one of these fascinating nutrients would have been pages long (and believe me, I was going there…)

Before we get started, a few definitions:

  • Vegan = completely avoids all animal foods, including dairy and eggs
  • Vegetarian = avoids all animal foods except for dairy products and/or eggs
  • Omnivore = eats plants and animals (may or may not eat eggs or dairy); pescatarians are included in this category
  • Meat = the meat of any animal—red meat, poultry, seafood, etc.
  • Animal foods = meat, eggs, dairy products

Ready? Onward!

Plant Micronutrients

Most people think of fruits and vegetables as teeming with the vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants we need to live and thrive. It is true that many plant foods are rich in many of these substances, but just because a food contains a particular nutrient doesn’t mean we can access it. Unfortunately, plant nutrients often suffer from low “bioavailability”—which means that they are hard for us to extract, absorb, and utilize. Below I summarize the most important potential brain nutrient deficiencies that ALL plant-eaters—vegans, vegetarians and omnivores— need to be aware of, as well as key deficiency risks unique to vegans and vegetarians.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins (A, D, K2)

Vegan diets increase risk for certain fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies. Low-fat vegan diets further increase risk for these deficiencies, because sufficient fat must be eaten with every meal in order to absorb these vitamins from food.

Vitamin A

Contrary to popular belief, plant foods are lousy sources of vitamin A. In fact, they contain no vitamin A at all! Instead, they contain carotenoids, which we must then convert into retinol, the form of vitamin A our bodies can use. This is 12 to 24 times more difficult than obtaining retinol from animal foods. This helps to explain why childhood blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is rampant in dozens of developing countries, particularly in Africa and South-East Asia:

“Poor bioavailability plays a predominant role in the development of [Vitamin A deficiency] among communities that mainly rely on plant-based foods.”  1)J Health Popul Nutr 2013;31(4): 413–423

Fortunately, vitamin A deficiency in the U.S. and other developed countries is very rare, due to the abundance of animal foods and because many processed foods are fortified. Although vitamin A is important to many aspects of brain function including vision, learning, and memory, I’m not aware of any human studies demonstrating that vitamin A deficiency causes psychiatric disorders.

Vitamin D

Brain gets vitamin D from the sunThe form of vitamin D our bodies need is vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). We can make Vitamin D3 from sunshine or obtain it from animal foods.

The form of vitamin D found in plant foods is vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Our bodies can convert some D2 to D3, but D2 is less potent, doesn’t last as long in the bloodstream, and may be harder to store in our body fat for rainy days and dark winters.2)Tripkovic et al 2012 Am J Clin Nutr 95(6): 1357–1364, Wilson LR et al 2017 Proc Nutr Soc 1-8 If we spend enough time in the sun, we don’t need to obtain any vitamin D from our diet at all, yet many people (regardless of chosen diet) are deficient. Most studies have found that vegans have lower blood levels of vitamin D3 and are more likely to drop to deficient levels during winter months than omnivores.3)Crowe et al 2010 Public Health Nutrition 14(2): 340–346; Wilson LR et al 2017 Proc Nutr Soc 1-8

Vitamin D3 is important in brain growth and development, regulates calcium levels within the brain, helps protect brain cells from damaging oxidation, and supports the health of the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center). Lower levels of vitamin D3 are associated with an increased risk for schizophrenia, autism, depression, and dementia.4)Eyles et al 2013 Front Neuroendocrinol 34(1):47-64 But that doesn’t mean deficiency causes those conditions. Can D3 supplements help with psychiatric disorders? I did not find any clinical trials studying D3 supplementation and psychosis or dementia, and found only one study showing slight improvement in depression symptoms.5)Sepehrmanesh et al 2016 J Nutr 146:243–8 However, several recent studies of Vitamin D3 supplementation have shown promising improvements in autism symptoms.6)Feng et al 2017 Nutr Neurosci 20(5):284-290

Vitamin K2

When most people think of vitamin K they think of vitamin K1, which is abundant in many plant foods, but vitamin K2 is just as important and often overlooked. Vitamin K2 is confusing because it comes in many forms, but the essential form we need is called MK-4, which only exists in animal foods. In the brain, MK-4 is required to build critical cell membrane components called sphingolipids, as well as to support the overall health and function of brain cells.7)Ferland 2012 Biofactors 38(2):151-7 It stands to reason that MK-4 deficiency could cause mental health problems, but I’m not aware of any human studies exploring the potential connection between K2 deficiency and any psychiatric disorder (K2 is poorly studied in general).

The body can convert a little bit of K1 into MK-4 (vitamin K2), but not nearly enough to fully meet our needs. Therefore, savvy vegans turn to natto (fermented soy), which contains a bacterial form of vitamin K that our bodies can turn into MK-4 a little more easily. For an excellent education on vitamin K, please see Chris Masterjohn PhD’s article The Ultimate Vitamin K2 Resource. He recommends that vegans take special supplements instead of relying solely on natto to meet their K2 requirements.

B Vitamins

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

Vegan diets contain virtually no vitamin B12. Without this essential vitamin, the body cannot synthesize DNA, RNA, red blood cells, or myelin (the substance that wraps around and insulates our brain circuitry). Not surprisingly, B12 deficiency can CAUSE a whole host of serious psychiatric problems, including depression, psychosis, memory problems, mania, and changes in behavior or personality.8)Lachner et al 2012 J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 24(1):5-15

Severe, prolonged B12 deficiency is fatal. Most vegans and vegetarians are aware of this danger and either take supplements or consume fortified yeast (yeast doesn’t naturally contain any vitamin B12). Unfortunately, deficiency is still far more common than it should be, with some studies finding that as many as 86% of adults (regardless of chosen diet) are deficient. Researchers report wide ranges of values, but overall, vegetarians tend to have lower B12 levels than omnivores, and vegans on average tend to have the lowest B12 levels.9)Pawlak R et al 2014 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 68, 541–548 Unfortunately, B12 blood levels often don’t always tell the whole story, so proper assessment requires additional tests, most commonly methylmalonic acid and total homocysteine levels.10)Stabler 2013 N Engl J Med 2013; 368:149-16 [More on the nuances of proper B12 testing and supplementation in a future post.]

Other B vitamins

Vitamin B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin) and B9 (folate) all work together to extract energy from food and build vital molecules. The brain is a high-energy organ, so even temporary, mild deficiencies of a single B vitamin can significantly disrupt normal brain function. All B vitamins are water-soluble, so what isn’t used is lost in the urine rather than stored in body fat. This means we need to eat good sources of B vitamins as often as several times per week in order to keep our brains functioning at their best.

All of the B vitamins except for B12 can be found in plant foods, yet some studies find that vegans are more likely to be deficient in vitamin B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine).11)Schupbach R et al 2017 Eur J Nutr 56(1):283-293, Vudhivai N et al 1991 J Med Assoc Thai 74(10):465-70., and B2 (riboflavin). Riboflavin seems to be the one that vegans need to pay the most attention to, as studies have more consistently shown higher risk of deficiency of this B vitamin in vegans compared to vegetarians and omnivores.

“Riboflavin deficiency is endemic in populations who exist on diets lacking dairy products and meat.”12)Powers HJ Am J Clin Nutr 2003;77:1352–60

All three of these B vitamins can be found in plant foods, but often in smaller amounts than animal foods, so it can be challenging to obtain adequate amounts from a vegan diet unless great care is taken to include just the right mixture of foods.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Riboflavin deficiency disrupts normal serotonin metabolism and brain energy production.13)Lanska DJ 2010 Handb Clin Neurol 95:445-76. Chapter 30: Historical aspects of the major neurological vitamin deficiency disorders: the water-soluble B vitamins. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter (brain communication chemical) that helps to regulate mood, appetite and sleep, among other things. Deficiency can cause fatigue, personality changes and general brain dysfunction.14)Kennedy DO Nutrients 2016, 8, 68

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Niacin is also required for proper serotonin metabolism and brain energy production. Severe niacin deficiency leads to pellagra, a disease which can cause depression, psychosis, delirium and dementia. Pellagra was common over a century ago in communities living on corn-based diets. Corn happens to contain a form of niacin our bodies can’t use, AND is low in tryptophan (the amino acid needed to form serotonin) resulting in a one-two punch to serotonin activity in the brain.15)Lanska DJ 2010 Handb Clin Neurol 95:445-76. Chapter 30: Historical aspects of the major neurological vitamin deficiency disorders: the water-soluble B vitamins.

Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)

Pyridoxine is essential for the synthesis of numerous neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, and melatonin. The primary symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency are depression, difficulty concentrating, and dementia.16)Lanska DJ 2010 Handb Clin Neurol 95:445-76. Chapter 30: Historical aspects of the major neurological vitamin deficiency disorders: the water-soluble B vitamins.

Essential Minerals


Most plant foods are quite low in iodine compared to many animal foods. Iodine is a required building block in thyroid hormone, which is critical in brain development and maintenance. Lack of iodine, particularly in early life, stunts body and brain growth. Iodine deficiency affects two BILLION people, and is the most common preventable cause of intellectual disabilities in the world.

Little is known about how simple iodine deficiency (without hypothyroidism) might affect brain function beyond infancy, although a recent Polish study found a correlation between lower iodine levels and certain symptoms of autism.17)Blazewicz et al 2016 Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology 34; 32–37. Two randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials found that replenishing iodine to normal levels in schoolchildren improved their cognitive function.18)Redman K et al 2016 Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 56:2695-2713

Fortunately, iodine deficiency in the United States is uncommon due to the widespread use of iodized salt. Vegans, on average, have lower iodine levels than vegetarians, and are more likely to meet criteria for iodine deficiency on paper, but nevertheless appear to have normal thyroid function.19)Leung et al 2011 J Clin Endocrinol Metab 96(8): E1303–E1307.


Many plant foods are lower in iron than animal foods, and to make matters worse, plants contain a form of iron that is far more difficult to absorb than heme iron, the form found in animal foods.20)Miret S et al Annu. Rev. Nutr. 2003. 23:283–301 Most vegans and vegetarians have about the same amount of iron in their blood as omnivores do, but their total body iron stores (how much they have in reserve) do tend to be lower.21)Gibson RS et aAm J Clin Nutr 2014;100(suppl):459S–68S

brain pumping ironWhen people think of iron deficiency, they think of anemia (lower numbers of red blood cells in the circulation), but the truth is that the brain needs iron just as much as red blood cells do. Iron is required for neurotransmitter production (serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine), generation of brain energy, hippocampal function (memory!), cell signaling, and infant brain development (which means that expectant and breastfeeding mothers must take in plenty of iron). People with iron deficiency may be more likely to have psychiatric problems such as depression and schizophrenia,22)Kim and Wessling-Resnick 2014 Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 25: 1101–1107 but we don’t yet have studies that can tell us whether iron deficiency alone can cause these conditions.


Plant foods are far lower in zinc than animal foods. Zinc deficiency is much more common among vegans than iron deficiency, and yet gets far less attention, perhaps because it is difficult to accurately measure zinc levels in the body. A 2017 Swiss study found that 47% of vegans had inadequate zinc levels compared to only 10% of omnivores.23)Schüpbach R et al 2017 Eur J Nutr 56 (1): 283–293. The brain requires zinc for serotonin synthesis, vitamin B6 activation, and cell signaling.24)Villagomez and Ramtekkar 2014. Children 1: 261-279. People with low zinc levels are more likely to be depressed, but more importantly, some clinical trials show that combining zinc supplements with antidepressants improves outcomes.25)Gronli O et al 2013 PLoS One 8(12):e82793 and Lomagno K et al 2014 Nutrients 6(11): 5117-5141 There’s even been one randomized controlled trial demonstrating that zinc supplements alone can reduce severity of depression symptoms.26)Solati Z et al 2015 Nutr Neurosci 18(4):162-8.

Some studies suggest that zinc deficiency may play a role in childhood ADHD symptoms, but the jury is still out.27)Ghanizadeh and Berk 2013 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67: 122–124 Older people with zinc deficiency are more likely to have poor overall mental health, but no causal relationship between the two has been established.

Our bodies can store iron, but we have no good way to store zinc, so we must eat high quality sources of zinc on a regular basis, or take supplements. The challenge for those choosing a vegan diet is that the plant foods richest in zinc also happen to contain compounds which interfere with zinc absorption—which brings us to the fascinating topic of antinutrients!

Plant Antinutrients and Mineral Deficiencies

Phytic Acid

The grains, beans, nuts and seeds that vegan diets rely upon for protein are technically all seeds. For example, grains are the seeds of grasses. Seeds are higher in protein than most other plant parts, but they are unfortunately also high in phytic acid, a mineral magnet that interferes with our ability to absorb iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. Seeds use this clever molecule to hold on to precious minerals so they can’t be washed away in the soil while waiting to sprout. Unfortunately, seeds don’t just selfishly hoard their own minerals. Phytic acid also steals minerals from other unsuspecting foods you may eat with your seeds, making it more difficult for you to extract minerals from everything you eat. Take a look at how much black beans (a legume) and corn (a grain) interfere with zinc absorption!

phytic acid interference with zinc absorption

This study illustrates the significant impact of phytic acid on zinc absorption. The graph indicates the rate of zinc absorption from oysters alone, and oysters when eaten with black beans or corn tortillas. (Solomons et al. 1979 J Lab Clin Med 94(2):335-343)


A wide variety of plant foods contain goitrogens which interfere with iodine metabolism and thyroid hormone production. Examples include soy, millet, cassava, rutabaga, and the entire cruciferous vegetable family, including kale and broccoli. [I have a whole post dedicated to this topic if you are curious to learn more.]


Oxalates are corrosive compounds which naturally occur in plant foods and interfere with iron, calcium and magnesium absorption. Plants use oxalates to regulate their own internal mineral content and help defend against predators.28)Franceschi and Nakata 2005 Annu Rev Plant Biol 56:41–71 Foods rich in oxalates include cocoa, beets, sesame seeds, rhubarb, sweet potato, coriander, currants, and spinach. In fact, thanks to oxalates, virtually none of the iron present in spinach makes it into Popeye’s body.29)Noonan SC et al 1999 8(1) 64-74 If only steak came in a can…


Tannins are darkly-pigmented astringent compounds which naturally occur in plant foods and interfere with iron absorption.30)Clemens S 2014 Plant Science 225 p 52-57. Tannins are found in a wide variety of foods including legumes, nuts, cocoa, wine, tea, berries, pomegranates, and many other fruits.

Of course, most omnivores eat plenty of grains, beans, high-tannin, high-oxalate and high-goitrogen plant foods too, which may help to explain why so many omnivores are also deficient in key minerals.

Essential Fatty Acids: DHA and EPA


Vegan diets contain absolutely no DHA or EPA, the forms of essential omega-3 fatty acids required for brain and immune system function (and vegetarian diets contain only small amounts from eggs and dairy). The brain is extremely rich in DHA, which is required to make myelin (the material that wraps around nerve cells, insulating brain circuits), and to keep cell membranes fluid and flexible enough to pass neurotransmitters back and forth. DHA is critical in the formation of healthy synapses (connections between brain cells), therefore infant brains require lots of DHA to develop properly. In short, DHA plays a “unique and indispensable role” in the “cohesive, organized neural signaling essential for higher intelligence.”31)Dyall SC 2015 Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 7(52)

omega 3 levels in vegansIn comparison to omnivores, EPA and DHA levels can be about 30% lower in vegetarians and more than 50% lower in vegans.32)Rosell S et al 2005 Am J Clin Nutr 82(2):327-334 This is primarily because the form of omega-3 (ALA) found in plant foods (flax, chia, walnut, etc.) is very difficult for the body to convert into the DHA our brains need. At best, women convert only about 9% of the ALA they consume into DHA, whereas men convert a dismal 0-4%.33)Arterburn 2006

The only veg-friendly supplements on the market that contain any EPA or DHA are those derived from algae. [Plant-sourced omega-3 supplements such as those from flax or chia contain ALA only]. Therefore, I strongly recommend that every vegan and vegetarian take an algae-sourced omega-3 supplement. EPA and DHA are hard to come by even in most omnivorous diets, because the foods that naturally contain them (oily fish, pastured animal fats/organs) are ones that people don’t eat much of these days, so even omnivores may need to supplement.

There have been numerous studies demonstrating that people with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their bodies are more likely to suffer from ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, but these are just associations. What’s more important is that omega-3 supplements rich in EPA seem to have positive effects on people with major depression, bipolar disorder, and those at risk for psychotic disorders.34)Messamore and McNamara Lipids in Health and Disease 2016; 15:25

It is unclear why EPA seems to work better as a supplement than DHA, but it clearly does.35)Sublette et al 2011 J Clin Psychiatry 72(12): 1577–1584 At the recent International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry research meeting, I spoke with leading fatty acid researchers Michael Crawford PhD and Alex Richardson PhD about this, and they suggested that EPA’s superior effectiveness in short-term studies is likely due to its fast-acting anti-inflammatory properties. They emphasized that DHA remains vitally important long-term to brain structure and function despite its weaker performance in clinical trials. Some suggest that the effects of DHA supplements may take years to notice, so most clinical trials are far too short to demonstrate its importance.

[Note: just as important as improving EPA and DHA intake is reducing the amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Please see my previous post or my Fats Page for details.]

Do Vegans Get Enough Protein?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that vegans suffer from true protein deficiency, despite the fact that plant proteins are more challenging to digest and absorb than animal proteins.36)Tome D 2012 Br J Nutr 108 Suppl 2:S222-9 Fortunately, it appears that most people in the developed world meet their daily minimum requirement for protein without even trying. That doesn’t mean that some of us aren’t walking around with less than optimal protein intake, it’s just that we don’t have a shared understanding of what the symptoms of mild protein deficiency are or what our optimal daily protein intake should be.37)Fukagawa NK 2014 Am J Clin Nutr 99(4):761-2 This is an area of great controversy in the nutrition nerd networks (of which I’m a proud card-carrying member). Please see my Protein Page for more information.

Do Vegans Have Low Brain Cholesterol?

We are often told that one advantage of a vegan diet is that all plant foods are naturally 100% cholesterol-free. Yet the brain (and indeed, every cell in the human body) requires cholesterol to function properly.

the brain makes its own cholesterolThe human brain is loaded with cholesterol—on purpose. Although the brain represents only 2% of total body weight, it contains 20% of the body’s cholesterol. Cholesterol is required for brain cell membrane structure and function, and is a vital component of myelin (brain cell insulation). This leads some to worry that vegans are at risk for low brain cholesterol, but is there really any cause for alarm?

Even though vegan diets contain zero grams of cholesterol, there is good reason to believe that vegans might not suffer from low brain cholesterol after all. This is because the brain does not obtain its cholesterol from the foods we eat! Cholesterol is too big and bulky to cross the blood-brain barrier—so the brain makes all of its own cholesterol on site. Cholesterol can be manufactured out of anything—carbohydrate, protein, or fat—so regardless of what we eat, we can always make plenty of cholesterol. Case in point: plenty of vegans have “high cholesterol” despite eating zero grams of cholesterol per day–if you don’t believe me, simply google “vegan high cholesterol” or see this interesting case study.

There are some (epidemiological) studies weakly suggesting that people with lower total cholesterol levels may be more likely to have depression and suicidal ideation,38)Wu S et al 2016 J Psychiatry Neurosci 41(1):56-69 but these cannot show a cause and effect relationship. And again, just because blood cholesterol may be low doesn’t mean that brain cholesterol is low. Unfortunately there is currently no way to directly measure brain cholesterol content in living human beings.39)Hughes et al 2013 J Alzheimers Dis 33(4):891–911 Furthermore, there is no consensus about what constitutes a low LDL level in the first place. In other words, we aren’t sure how low is too low. 40)Persons and Fiedorowicz 2016 J Affect Disord 206:55-67 For more information, please see my Cholesterol Page.

So, Do Plant-based Diets Increase Risk for Mental Health Problems?

Yes, unfortunately they do.

Taking all of the above information in, you may have noticed two interesting things:

  1. Most brain-essential nutrients are easier to find in animal foods, and in some cases are ONLY found in animal foods.
  2. A staggering variety of plant foods interfere with our ability to process vital nutrients, making them harder to absorb, utilize and/or store.

If you were a curious alien who had just landed on planet Earth and were reviewing the facts about human nutrition for the first time (this would absolutely be the very first thing I would do upon arriving on a foreign planet), you would logically conclude that consuming animal foods is critical to human health. You may even go so far as to wonder—as I do—whether we would be better off not eating any plants at all! While we don’t have the clinical studies to prove it, my suspicion, after having studied this topic for nearly ten years now, is that the more plants we eat, the harder it is for our brains (and bodies) to operate at the top of their game.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Just Eat Animals?

If we were Spock-like beings, unencumbered by emotion, we would probably all see the logic in eating animals for our own health. However, there are many reasons for choosing a plant-based diet that have nothing to do with human health goals.

trends in vegan and vegetarian diets in college students

Approximately four percent of my Smith College student patients report eating a vegan diet (that’s about twice the national average compared to other college campuses across the country), and the great majority of them cite compassion for animals or environmental concerns—not health—as their primary motivation.

It is my job as their psychiatrist to educate my students about the mental health risks of eating a plant-based diet, and to make the responsible, science-based recommendation that they reintroduce some animal foods into their menus. How many vegan students have I convinced to change their diets in the past four years? ZERO.

So, it then becomes my job to educate them about how to optimize the quality of their plant-based diet through proper supplementation and avoidance of high-risk foods such as refined carbohydrates and processed seed oils (see previous post).

Food is incredibly personal—more personal and socially charged, perhaps, than religion or politics. We each make decisions based on our own priorities, and should respect each other’s choices. I just want people to have the information they need to make informed decisions.

Meat Quality and the Environment

While it would be psychologically simpler and more comfortable if we didn’t need animal foods, it appears to me that animal foods are an important part of a healthy diet. In a perfect world, we would all eat only the highest quality animals—either wild or humanely/naturally-raised. I am fortunate to belong to a local meat CSA where animals are raised naturally and humanely, but not everyone has that luxury, of course, and when traveling or eating out, we all lose some control over our options.

I am not qualified to comment on the environmental impact of animal-based diets, as I haven’t personally studied the science, but there are many others who have. It appears that the questions of whether plant-based diets are the most sustainable for our species and healthiest for our planet are at least open to debate, and that if animals are raised naturally, there may even be certain environmental benefits. It seems there are no easy answers, so we each have to wrestle with these dilemmas in our own ways. My goal is not to answer these questions or solve the larger problems that population growth and human culture creates, but to understand what foods we need to be healthy. Those of you currently eating a vegan diet who wish you could ethically add some animal food to your menu for health reasons may find this article about oysters interesting.

Are Carefully-supplemented Vegan Diets Perfectly Healthy?

I don’t think anyone knows the answer to this question. My personal take on supplements is that the human body is best-adapted to obtaining nutrients from whole foods, and we are probably healthiest when we use that strategy. We may not be well-adapted to processing isolated nutrients in pill form once a day, but supplements are a critically important strategy for those who choose plant-based diets, don’t have access to high-quality animal foods (much of the developing world), or have health issues that interfere with normal digestion and absorption of nutrients from whole foods. I will be addressing the issue of supplementation in more detail in future posts.

The Bottom Line: The Brain Needs Meat

There are many valid, respectable, understandable reasons to choose a vegan diet, but as far as I can tell, better health is not one of them. That being said, given everything I have learned about how plants operate within the human body, the only meat-eaters who may be able to claim a “healthier than thou” stance in comparison to plant-eaters are the ones who don’t eat any plants at all. But this is not a contest—it is a search for understanding. My study of nutrition has convinced me that red meat, poultry and seafood are the most nutritious foods for the human brain (and body). So, if you’re only avoiding meat because you think you’ll be healthier without it, I am here to tell you that I find no evidence that eating meat is risky. In fact, everything I’ve read indicates that NOT eating meat is risky. So, enjoy that juicy, nutrient-dense, antinutrient-free steak, duck, salmon or oyster. Doctor’s orders😊

In the near future, I’ll be writing about which tests are best to help you figure out if you have any micronutrient deficiencies, and how to bring your levels back to normal with foods or supplements. To be notified of new posts as they become available, simply sign up below.

Come hear my new presentation entitled: Plants vs. Animals: Bring It On! at LowCarbUSA West Palm Beach, Florida from Fri Jan 19 through Sun Jan 21, 2018. See the full line of speakers and register here. Space is limited for this wonderful conference which is designed to maximize interaction between audience and presenters. Hope to see you there!

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  • TeeDee

    Thank you, Dr. Ede, for a super informative and balanced article about plant-based diets. It’s much appreciated 🙂

    • Thanks for reading, TeeDee. Appreciate the positive feedback!

  • Bill Robinson

    Dr. Ede:




    • TH…ANK…Y…OU, BILL!

    • Larry Wilson

      Surely you mean EGGS…CELL….ENT!

  • Fab Three

    Thank you Dr. Ede. Your articles are well researched, very helpful and an awesome resource. Based on other articles that I’ve read, it appears that colon cancer survivors and those fighting elevated PSA levels should avoid intake of heme iron, glutamine, choline, casein, arachidonic acid and other micronutrients common in red meat, poultry, dairy and eggs. Do you see any downsides to a diet of only plant foods plus a small amount of seafood?

    • Thanks for your kind words, Fab Three.

      People who have had cancer must avoid EXCESSIVE intake of all nutrients, as cancer will take advantage of just about everything it has access to. The most important thing is to eat in a way that reduces insulin levels by eliminating carbs (less than 20 g per day; the lower the better), replacing carb calories with healthy natural fats, eating only the amount of protein your body needs per day (this minimizes glutamine), avoiding not just casein but all dairy (raises insulin and growth factor levels), and eating a “clean” diet (natural whole foods).

      I do not see any downsides to a pescatarian version of a ketogenic diet for cancer survivors, but would be very careful in the choice of plant foods included in the diet for everyone with cancer. The grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are particularly harsh on our gut and immune system, for example, so my personal opinion is that those plant foods should be eliminated if at all possible. I haven’t researched choline but at first glance it looks as if the argument is epidemiological (untrustworthy if so). I also haven’t researched the arachidonic acid argument.

      I have looked at the heme argument and the “red meat causes cancer” argument in detail here:

      • Fab Three

        Dr. Ede, Thank you so much for taking the time to provide this very helpful follow-up information. Do fiber carbs need to be kept low or just sugar/starch carbs?

        • Depends on how carb-sensitive you are and how your body processes fiber. According to the absolutely fabulous Dr. Eric Westman, many of us also need to count fiber as carbs. I think everyone’s threshold is different, but 20 g/day is a good place to start, then you can adjust up or down from there, depending. Most people start by not worrying about fiber and counting net carbs rather than total carbs to see how their blood sugar and ketones respond before deciding whether they need to worry about the fibrous carbs.

          • Fab Three

            This is very helpful advice. I really appreciate it.

  • Jodey Grist

    Very good article, though you did fall back on the omnivore stance, what about us zero carb carnivores? 😉

    • I thought I had your back, Jodey! I said I wonder if we should be eating any plants at all, and said that the only people who might be able to claim a healthier-than-thou stance are the ones who don’t eat any plants at all:) I have eaten a zero carb diet at various points myself, and currently eat just a few carefully-chosen plant foods that don’t seem to bother me. I don’t eat them because I think they’re good for me…I eat them to make my ketogenic diet more varied and sustainable. I unfortunately can’t eat eggs or dairy due to sensitivities, and insulin resistance limits how much meat I can eat per day. Big fan of zero-carb philosophy!

      • Dave

        Great article. I’d love to be vegan on compassionate grounds, but have always been convinced it’s endemically unhealthy. Indeed, any diet that requires supplements (other than modern depletion of minerals due to poor farming techniques), is clearly not for humans…

        I had the same question a Jodey though. I’ve been Paleo for 5 years now and (v)LCFH for the last couple. I’m thinking of trying ZC, but am worried that my microbiome won’t be happy with the change…

        • Jodey Grist

          From my personal experience, there’s some adaptation, especially if you’re coming from paleo rather than keto as I did – but just keep going and you’ll be fine. I know my opinion doesn’t count medically or scientifically speaking, but the research I’ve done (and I’ve done a lot) suggests to me that humans are carnivores, based on what is healthiest for us and not on what we can survive on in desperate situations.

        • Hi Dave,

          Thanks for your thoughtful feedback. Addressing the microbiome question deserves an entire post, but my short answer is this: microbiome research, particularly when it comes to mental health, is in its infancy, and is mostly about associations as opposed to causation. If your gut does well on all-meat (and many report best gut health of their lives on all-meat), then my feeling is that that is a very good outcome, regardless.

          Part of what concerns me about the microbiome conversation is that it plays into the hands of human nature’s desire to solve a complex problem by adding a simple pill (probiotics, for example) or a food group (prebiotic fermentables, for example) to the diet rather than taking something away (like sugar or flour)…we WANT it to be true but the truth is we have absolutely no idea what is going on with the microbiome and mental health yet.

          • Dave

            Thanks, Doc! In my case, going Paleo removed most of the main toxins from my diet, and soon after I started culturing my own kefir too. Will short to carnivorous one my social agenda is clear in mid October and try it up to New Years and see how I fare on that.

            I’ve always found that the only way to see if to works is just to try it.

            And to think I was strict vegetarian for 10 years back in the previous millennium 😀

          • I’d be curious to hear how it goes, should you wish to share! If you are on Facebook or Twitter, feel free to keep me posted. I usually can’t keep up with comments sections of articles for more than about a month:)

          • Dave

            I’m on both and am happy to share, be it good, or bad!

            My Twitter is @AskDrStupid – have just followed you and will Tweet you with progress.

            Thanks for everything 🙂

      • Tricia

        Are you close to zero carb? And you still have insulin resistance? That shouldn’t be, right? Insulin resistance is usually from carbs? If no carbs why still insulin resistant? Just trying to learn. My eyes are yellowish and I’m thinking fatty liver, which is usually from carbs or fat, I feel so much better on meat only but all the vegans having me doubting zero carb. Any thoughts?

        • Hi Tricia–a very fair and good question! There are many days when I do eat zero carb, but many when I eat 5 to 20 g of vegetable carb. Protein also generates an insulin response, although typically not as strong as carbs, particularly refined carbs. I find that if I “overeat” meat, my blood ketones go down to 0.2 and my fasting morning blood sugar goes up to 90s-100s instead of 70s to 80s. I may be unusual in this regard, but I’ve heard it from plenty of others so I’m not entirely alone, anyway. think everyone is different in how strongly they respond to high-meat diets.

          • Tricia

            Ok. Make sense. Have you tried water fasting to “clear out” excess sugar? I am trying to read many things to help me. Just curious if you have tried it. Thanks for responding!

          • I once fasted for 3-1/2 days, and I have tried intermittent fasting but I found it personally harder than a daily ketogenic diet.

          • Tricia

            Ok! Thanks for responding! I’m still trying to find my perfect “diet”!

          • Sheila A

            Thank YOU! I have what I was told is Reactive Hypoglycemia. I can go hours and hours without eating and have great blood sugar but if I eat potato chips or God forbid sugar, I crash immediately! Being on zero carb/extremely low carb really helps but several times I’ve eaten a large steak and gotten low blood sugar symptoms. I told myself it can’t be low sugar because ALL I ate was meat!

  • E.G.

    Great article, backed by facts. Thanks Dr. Ede.

    • Thanks, E.G.! (Hey, your initials are the mirror image of mine…cool…)

  • brilliant! thank you for all of this invaluable information.

  • Laura

    A big thank you for distilling a complicated, wide-ranging and emotionally charged topic into this concise piece that can be read and understood by many.

    • Thank you, Laura. I agree it is like the third rail of the nutrition world. But I totally get where people who choose plant-based diets are coming from (I used to eat a mostly-plant diet myself for many reasons), and I have close friends and colleagues who eat a vegan diet, so I respect! I really want that to come through, despite my obvious biases, which I can only own and be transparent about. We all have them!

  • Mike F

    Thanks for this article. Any thoughts about mushrooms?

    • Yes–they’re delicious sauteed in duck fat:)

      But seriously…I haven’t researched the risks and benefits of mushrooms yet, unfortunately. So many plants…so little time! Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share?

      • Mike F

        Agreed they’re delicious…Although thought of as vegetables in a culinary sense, they’re not plants. I’ve wondered how fungi (and other non-plant/animal things like spirulina) might fit into human nutrition.

        I’m edging my way to a plant-reduced, mostly animal-based diet and just pondering…Thanks !!

        • Agree it is a fascinating question–and thanks for reminding me about the plant vs fungi thing:) Quite an important distinction, actually!

  • Germana

    Excellent! Thanks.

  • Pamela Kenney-Beattie

    I am in my 8th month of a meat only woe. My whole world has changed for the better. Reading this article I was YES, YES, YES!!! Thank you for sharing this information, it will help people begin to heal from the nutrition misinformation (lies) we have been feeding ourselves for years.

    • Hi Pamela,

      So glad to hear that you have found a WOE that works for you! I often wonder what would happen if everyone tried a meat-only diet for a little while as an experiment…my guess is that most people would feel SO much better. Thanks for writing!

  • Juliet Matthews

    Hello Dr Ede Thank you once again for a fascinating post. I really look forward to reading your blog. You mention that some components in brassicas can interfere with iodine metabolism and thyroid hormone production. I wondered if you have any thoughts on Diindolylmethane (DIM) as a supplement – which I understand is made from brassicas and supposedly useful in breast cancer prevention strategies.

    • Hi Juliet,

      Great question. I haven’t read the scientific literature on DIM so I can’t comment specifically on it, but I can say two things. 1) I believe there is a big difference between using isolated (toxic) plant compounds as medication/chemotherapy to TREAT cancer and recommending that people eat that same toxic compound every day to PREVENT cancer. Of course it is MUCH harder to do an experiment demonstrating prevention of any disease, (because those studies would need to be long, carefully controlled and expensive) than it is to do an experiment with an extract in a test tube with cancer cells demonstrating that cancer cells can be killed by that extract. I wrote a short post about brassicas a few years ago that addresses the double-edged sword of brassica toxins: .

      I found a recent review article on DIM and cancer if you are curious to read it. I skimmed it but don’t have time to dive into it in depth. Looks like the upshot is we need meaningful clinical studies before any reliable recommendations can be made.

      • Juliet Matthews

        THANK YOU! Thank you so much Dr Ede for your thoughtful reply to my question and to the other comments here – I learn a lot from the questions and comments and your replies to them. I haven’t seen your brassica article so that is great – thank you. I will also look at the review article you mention. Thank you for your wonderfu website – it is such a great resource.

  • Juliet Matthews

    Any chance you could explain what a meat only WOE is please? !

    • Sorry, Juliet! WOE stands for “way of eating.”

      • Juliet Matthews

        Oh So obvious! thanks – I got as far as ‘world of eating’ and thought, ‘no that can’t be it…’

  • alephh

    Dr Ede: What’s your take on fact that many of the foods Vegans eat are rich in Lectins, Myotoxins, etc which are designed by plants as a defensive mechanism over the last 400,000,000 years to destroy health of any animal/human who eats them? (which is considered by some researchers the biggest negative aspect of Veganism).

    If we were supposed to eat plants, we should have fermentation-based stomach, but we don’t have one (as we are not supposed to eat plants) – however, human body uses a lot of energy to produce enzymes to handle animal meat, etc, which might be a hint what body wants for dinner.

    • I agree with everything you write. We have evolved alongside plants and thus have developed ways to cope with the natural toxins within the plant foods we have eaten in significant amounts over hundreds of thousands of years. However, some plant foods are far “newer” to us than others (grains and legumes in particular), so we are poorly adapted to handling those, AND they happen to be especially heavily defended due to the fact that they are seeds Furthermore, those of us with compromised gut/immune systems (far too many of us at this point) may not be able to cope with plant foods as well as we should. So many people report doing fine with most foods until a certain age, or until they’ve been exposed to a toxin or antibiotic or viral illness, then…poof…tolerance gone.

  • Meighen-Brenda Russell

    My head is just spinning! I’ve recently read some info about the Blue Zones, where the way of eating (95% plant-based) and living are The Best. Then I see your article (skipped through it – brain fog – seen similar articles why we need animal food).

    • I’m so sorry to have caused your head to rotate! Yes, Blue Zones, in comparison to standard junky diet, certainly wins out, but it’s unclear whether that has to do with plant/animal content or whether it has to do with the lack of junky processed foods and sugar…please see my previous post for more information about why plant-based diets look better in some scientific studies:

      • Meighen-Brenda Russell

        Thanks for your reply. I was just feeling frustrated. All I can do is try my best to choose high-quality food. I really don’t want to depend on mostly vegetables and fruits for protein – I don’t want to have to eat that much.

    • tkent26

      A couple of thoughts about the Blue Zones: None of them are vegan. Most people in the Blue Zones get daily activity/exercise, and appropriate sun exposure. They have deep social/cultural/religious ties, which we can presume is helpful for stress management. They have low rates of smoking and alcohol abuse. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot going on there, health-wise, not just diet…

  • Patrik Norman

    Hi Dr Ede!
    Do you mind share wich vegetables you do eat? And how do you make your ketogenic, near zero carb, diet, enjoyable without eggs and dairy?
    Thank you! / Patrik

    • Hi Patrik!

      For the most part I do enjoy my diet. There are days when I struggle with its limitations but that’s to be expected with any dietary restrictions, I suppose. I do wish I could tolerate dairy, eggs, coconut and other nuts, but alas, I don’t…and it may be a blessing in disguise, as I’m probably better off without them. The handful of plant foods I eat from time to time: zucchini and other low-carb squashes, true lettuces, cucumbers, mushrooms, olives, glucomannan (Shirataki yam fiber) noodles, and small amounts of raspberries/blackberries, lemon/lime, carrot, jicama, spinach/chard. I think that about covers it…

      • Patrik Norman

        Thank you!

      • Patrik Norman

        Hi Dr Ede! Sorry to bother you but I was just wondering what you men by “true” lettuce?.
        Thank you ! Patrik

        • Hi Patrik

          Sorry, good question. I mean the lactuca varieties (romaine, iceberg, etc) as opposed to the trendy baby greens that can include cruciferous leaves and other greens that aren’t really lettuces.

          • Patrik Norman

            Once again, Thank you!

  • Dear Georgia Ede!
    My first “experience” of you was Ivor Cummins conversation with you, which resulted in an immediate reduction in my intake of vegetables. After having read your article, from now on, I’ll only eat avocados.
    My “case” might interest as a researcher focused on the brain. I have never had a gram of overweight, always had very good physics, and a few flues and colds are the worst I have experienced. A little more than 4 years ago, some sort of short circuit/disconnection suddenly occured in my brain. I didn’t notice when it happened, but I surely noticed it when I stepped out of the car I had been driving!
    Successively, my balance got worse, my rythme of walking got worse, and the force of my front thigh muscles was significantly reduced. But in general, I fealt great, and my rather high working capacity was not affected at all.
    I am a Swede, but I live in the highly civilized island of Martinique. I have been through all possible tests including all possible blood tests (The French inverse all abbreviations – IRM, SIDA, UE etc.). All the tests have given normal results, or even better than the normal.
    As an ancient athlete, I was not afraid of physical training. It just didn’t give any results whatsoever.
    The diagnosis I have got is: “Something in your brain, probably in the cerebellum – but maybe not.”. Not very precise, but don’t misunderstand me – that’s the best they can do.
    When I in July realized the potential of the ketogenic diet to cure brain disfunctions, I decided to give it a try. My diet is very strict – less than 10 g carbs per day (Plenty of Omega 3-fats though.).
    Of course, I don’t know if it will

    • Cheryl Gallagher

      Marten, You might enjoy reading Dr. Datis Kharrazian “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” if you have not already. I have no affiliation with him or the book, but found it fascinating while looking for some answers for myself and my family.

      • Dear Cheryl,
        Thanks for the tip! Looks very interesting, even if I doubt it is applicable to my “case”.
        Since October 2017, my weekly measured fasting ketones have varied between 2.1 and 3.3 mmol/l – optimal. My blood sugar levels have only showed a tiny increase 90 minutes after my brunch of some 1000+ kcal.
        My intention has been to create best possible conditions for the brain plasticity to work.

  • Something happend. I just wish to finish my comment.

    Of course, I don’t know if it will work. But IF it works, I don’t need any diagnosis.

    Kind regards

    Marten Gantelius

    PS: I am a MSc in Civil Engineering. I totally agree with Ivor Commins when he refers to medical research as “junk science”.

    • Thank you very much for sharing your situation with us here, Marten. I’m sorry to hear what you have been going through, but I am very interested in your experiment, Marten, and hope that you will return to let everyone know how the ketogenic diet affects your condition.

      • Dear Georgia! It has been irritating, but I haven’t suffered at all. However, if it had happened to me when I was still in Sweden, I would have been in big trouble – especially in the winter time.
        And of course, I will report to you how things progress. If a ketogenic diet could cure an “unidentified brain damage”, it would be interesting, wouldn’t it?

      • Dear Georgia! I have sent your article to my dear oldest son who is a fairly new doctor. Before studying medicin, he was a MSc in Molecular Biotechnology and a PhD in the same area.

        • Thanks, Marten–I would be happy to hear from him if he has any feedback or questions~

  • David

    Thanks so much for sharing this incredibly thoughtful and researched post Dr. Ede! Do you think a purely meat-based diet would be deficient in Vitamin E and worth supplementing? Thank you!

    • Hi David

      I haven’t fully researched this vitamin E yet, but in the past when I’ve looked into it I have come away questioning whether vitamin E is essential to humans. I like this question so much I just might write a brief post about it…in the meantime, the Weston Price site reports that vitamin E does exist in pastured animal fats and cites this page as its source: Also this Canadian site reports some vitamin E in fish:

      • David

        Thank you!

  • Andre Jaworski

    Hi Dr Ede,
    I was wondering if you might comment with your thoughts on the impact of a higher protein diet and the mTOR pathway with regard to longevity. Ron Rosedale has made me very wary of too much protein.
    Many Thanks

    • Hi Andre,

      My thinking about nutrition has been strongly influenced by Rosedale. In fact, I limit my own protein intake in order to stay “in ketosis” and keep my weight/appetite/blood sugar all in a healthy range. There is much debate in nutrition nerd circles about whether one should limit protein or not. My opinion is that it may depend on how insulin resistant you are.

    • tkent26

      Dietary protein stimulus of IGF-1 and mTOR pathways seem like “double-edged swords” to me. Too much, and it’s possible we reduce longevity. But too little, and we cannot build or maintain muscle mass and bone density. Personally, I choose strength and quality of life in the here and now, so more protein + resistance training, and having more muscle mass as we age means increased quality of life and mobility in our later years.

      You may be interested in this:

      • Andre Jaworski

        Thanks, very valid point of view. It’s nice to think the two might not be completely mutually exclusive. Those mice they talk about in the paper sound a lot like modern humans. “A final point of consideration is that longevity studies in rodents are conducted in thermo-neutral, pathogen free environments, in conditions where food and water are abundant. Rodents are not required to forage for food and compete with littermates for survival (both processes that require functional skeletal muscle). In fact a recent report suggests that mice housed in such conditions have poor health and functional capacity (Martin et al. 2010). “. Maybe these factors have as much of an influence on healthspan as dietary stimulus of mTOR and IGF1.

  • tbatts666

    Dr Ede doesn’t seem to cite many sources that evaluate populations level data.
    In fact he seems to rely on starving populations as examples of plant based populations.

    You can’t just make shaky claims about nutrients and then extrapolate to brain health.

    • Dear tbatts66,

      1. May I state for the record that I am a she, not a he.

      2. I cite numerous studies from non-starving populations in this post, including populations in western Europe and Boston. If you take a look at all of the references I cited by clicking on the plus sign next to the word “references” at the bottom of the post, you will see that most citations come from non-starving populations.

      3. I watched the video you link to, which concludes that people who eat a Western diet have higher rates of Alzheimer’s Disease. I completely agree with that observation. Where we disagree is in the conclusion that we draw from that observation. Population-based data, unfortunately, cannot demonstrate cause and effect, so clinical trials must be conducted to test the hypotheses generated from observations of populations. I am convinced by numerous lines of research that the driving force within Western diets that is responsible for the rise in Alzheimer’s disease is not an increase in animal foods, but rather insulin resistance likely caused by increased intake of refined carbohydrate and other processed foods such as refined seed oils. I think a whole foods diet (regardless of whether iit is plant-based or animal-based) that is gentle on insulin levels is key. My post today was not about processed foods and Alzheimer’s, it was about micronutrients and plant foods. I have a post on Psychology Today which addresses Alzheimer’s and insulin resistance here if you are curious:

    • tkent26

      “Nutrition facts .org” is a vegan advocacy website.

  • Sian Lewis

    I think you make many valid points here – like debunking (again) the myth of a direct link between dietary and blood cholesterol. However, I feel disappointed when articles are basically good but allow bias to creep in. Such a shame… You can’t follow a statement that “noone knows the answer to the question ” on whether a properly supplemented vegan diet can be healthy with “bottom line: the brain needs meat. Do we know or does ‘no-one know”? As cited by the many vegans with confirmation bias (you tube is full of ’em) there are plenty of examples of vegans (e.g. Okinawan’s) and plant-based with occasional meat (Hadza) who seem to do very well thanks very much on their diets. So clearly it is entirely possible to thrive in a vegan diet. Likewise, the (also confirmation biased) Paleos cite their favourite study/community where meat & offal consumption is beneficial. I would argue that the ‘third way’ appoach suggested by Michael Pollan, which takes into account individual variation (genetics, epigenetics, gut microbiome, ethics, etc) is the ine that will work best. Eat the version of a whole-foods diet that makes you feel at your best, mentally and physically – and supplement if necessary. This diet will likely have a common core of lots if plant-based food, but other than that, it will be different for everyone.

    • Juan

      Those statements do seem contradictory if read in isolation. Perhaps stating “the brain needs meat” was an exaggeration, yet if you read the whole piece you can see Dr. Ede clarifies in detail the logic and facts behind every statement, which seem unbiased to me.

  • JennMcNaught13

    Hardy Nutritionals has an excellent micronutrient complex with over 30 medical journal publications backing it for safety and efficacy in the treatment of mood and mental health disoders for children and adults. Worth a look.

  • Julia Pace

    I didn’t see a comment about Paleo diet proponents who need to take a day a week to carb load to keep from getting insulin resistant. Do you have thoughts on LCHF diets causing insulin resistance? Thanks for a very thoughtful and well studied blog.

    • Alice

      Paleo and Keto diets do NOT cause insulin resistance. High carb, low [healthy] fat diets DO cause exactly that. No one who has even rudimentary information regarding insulin resistance would believe eating carbohydrate; which triggers a profound insulin response that can damage or destroy delicate insulin receptors throughout your body, is a good idea. Eating high carb or carb loading is the opposite of healthy. If you wish to lose weight on a paleo or Keto diet, it is necessary to cycle in and out simply because your metabolism will slow down in ketosis and you need to eat more calories and carbs [mainly from veg] in order to fire up your metabolism again. I have not seen absolute evidence that only one diet is appropriate for everyone, however, our human history and evolution profoundly suggests clean fat, low carb veg, moderate amounts of clean meat and plenty of clean water make up the most healthful diet we can generally eat. Keto is probably the best overall; no sugar, no fruits and strictly organic everything.

  • Miriam Dominguez Reyes

    Dr. Georgia, you should read and recommend reading The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, by Lierre Keith. Most vegans and vegetarians are on their diets because of moral and ethics, no eating death and no eating something with wyes and a mother. This book makes it very comprehensible how a vegan or vegetarian diet is full of death as well, how agriculture has been and still is responsable for the extinction of numerous plant and animal species. So not at all free of death. Being in denial about the fact that their plates are full of death, too, only thwy do not eat the animals they kill. As for me I was a vegan and have come to eating meat again theough fasting inttermittent fasting and thw ketogenic diet, wich has less and less plant in my plate. I also have come to the accwptance that I eat animals and that is no inmoral thing, that is my nature as anhuman being and I won’t continue ro feel guilty about it, and punish myself for my nature and not thrive in this life I have been given. Thank you for your articles and your blog. Always a pleasure reading. Onward!

    • Hello, Miriam
      Yes, I have read Lierre Keith’s very interesting book and do recommend it on my site, so thank you for reminding me and other readers about it! I also really appreciate your sharing the evolution of your thinking and your diet with everyone here. It is indeed a very emotional and complicated topic. Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts here.

      • Miriam Dominguez Reyes

        I thank you, Dr. Ede. Keep up the good work.

    • KaD

      And hence they are deluded. Even PLANTS have consciousness, and know you are killing and eating them as has been proven in a serious of studies.

      Some of us have mentally evolved
      beyond vegan. We realize that plants are conscious too, consciousness is
      inherent in creation; even in the things we don’t think of as ‘alive’. We
      realize you cannot live in this world without taking life; that is not a sin it
      is simply the way it is and the cycle of life that has existed since the earth
      had life on it.

  • Gerda

    I am wondering about connection of eating meat and cancer. Seventh Day Adventists have much lower cancer rates. please explain.

    • JMatys

      You mean this scientific study which DOESN’T prove that dietary habits of SDA lower (breast) cancer risk: ietary habits and breast cancer incidence among Seventh-day Adventists.
      Mills PK1, Beeson WL, Phillips RL, Fraser GE.
      Author information
      Breast cancer incidence was monitored in a cohort of 20,341 California Seventh-day Adventist women who completed a detailed lifestyle questionnaire in 1976, and who were followed for 6 years. There were 215 histologically confirmed primary breast cancer detected among some 115,000 person-years of follow-up. Mean age at diagnosis was 66 years, indicating a primarily postmenopausal case series. Established risk factors for breast cancer showed strong relationships to risk in these data. Age at first live birth, maternal history of breast cancer, age at menopause, educational attainment, and obesity were all significantly related to risk. However, increasing consumption of high fat animal products was not associated with increased risk of breast cancer in a consistent fashion. Nor were childhood and early teenage dietary habits (vegetarian versus nonvegetarian) related to subsequent, adult risk of developing breast cancer. Also, a derived index of percent of calories from animal fat in the adult years was not significantly related to risk. These results persisted after simultaneously controlling for other, potentially confounding variables, utilizing Cox proportional hazard regression models.

    • Alice

      It isn’t the meat itself, it’s what’s in the meat. The processed meat you eat from the average grocery store is toxic; loaded with pesticides, anti-biotics, steroids, synthetic hormones [connected to hormonally driven cancer], nitrates, nitrites and more. Further, the animals themselves are fed garbage; everything from downer cows, gummy bears and GMO, so you’re being exposed to known carcinogens like glysophate, elements of agent orange, endocrine disrupters and more. If you eat clean, free range animals who have been allowed to eat their natural diet, you won’t have any problem with the meat.

  • Alice

    I was on a Ketogenic diet before it had a name. When diagnosed with Diabetes 2, I did the research, quickly realized the “traditional protocol” would exacerbate the problem and dropped grains, fruit and starchy veg. I took no medication but increased my exercise and had normal glucose in less than one month. When it comes to vegan and vegetarians being compassionate, I am somewhat amused as they “identify” with the animals processed for food [as do I, I love animals] but they don’t know anything about all the scientific evidence regarding the emotional life of plants. Plants have feelings too! Plant “intelligence” is not like our own … so their feelings don’t matter? The substance of life comes from living things; animal or vegetable. In order to survive, millions of plants! and animals eat each other. While always seeking the most humane methods possible, this is life. 😉

    • skylar

      meat eaters eat animals and plants too. they do both. at least vegans and vegetarians eat less and harm less. is that means if i cut a head of broccoli it will scream from the inside. eating plants then the plant will grow again but the animal it wone so stop this nonsense.

      • Alice

        Skylar, what you’re saying makes no sense. Millions and millions of animals [and plants!] eat both other animals and plants all day, every day across the entire planet. That is Nature as it exists in reality. This is the way of life. What interests me about the extremism of vegetarians, and vegans in particular, is the irrationality of it. Each of us will decide what we will and will not eat. You’re free to make that decision but don’t think that killing a plant is any different than killing an animal because it isn’t. Every living creature must kill another living creature in order to live. It is the “never eat anything with a face” that expresses the “holier than thou” notion it’s okay to kill something you don’t identify with. Once you eat that broccoli it’s every bit as dead as a cow. You can create more broccoli and you can create more cows. That’s the way it works. If you believe there’s a difference and you are morally superior because the thing you kill to eat has a different form of intelligence you cannot perceive, so be it. If you really want to know, investigate the life and feelings of plants; their ability to communicate with each other and so on.

        • JMatys


          Like with any religion or ideology, the subscribers ultimately do not see fundamental gaps and contradiction in their thinking as they – so desperately – need an Utopian kumbaya and – above all – feel a positive evaluation that they are “good people/citizens”.

  • Linda LaRue

    What I would truly like to know: What advice would you give a vegetarian or vegan to optimize their health while eating mostly plants? I’m a good example. I’ve been vegetarian for almost 45 years. It is woven into my self-identity, and it is an overarching philosophy of being. In other words, even if other diets have health advantages, that won’t change my mind. I do keto as a vegetarian. My health and weight are improving by the day. How would you advise someone like me without chiding me to give up vegetarianism?

    • Hi Linda,
      Congratulations on your health improvements! I am not a fan of chiding anyone into eating against their principles–my goal is to provide information that we can all use, regardless of our chosen diet, to improve our health, while respecting individual choices. I believe there is a huge difference between vegetarian and vegan diets, in that vegetarian diets do include some animal foods rich in vital nutrients. General suggestions for optimizing a vegetarian diet include: careful supplementation, plenty of natural fats, adequate protein, minimal refined carbs, minimal seed oils, minimal junk food/artificial ingredients, and taking care to avoid any plant foods you suspect might be bothering you. An omega-3 supplement from algae is particularly crucial. If you haven’t had blood tested for iron deficiency or B12 deficiency lately, these are also very important.

      • Linda LaRue

        Thank you, Dr. Ede. This is excellent advice. I supplement with iron, and vitamins B12 and D. My CBC last year showed slight variation in RBC size, so I figured some supplementation was in order. I’m going to look into a good omega-3/DHA supplement. I agree that a vegan ketogenic diet is difficult to do, especially if you want to focus on eating natural foods. Eggs and dairy make it much easier.

        Like your Smithies, embraced veganism as an ethic and a dietary practice in my late teens. I even developed pernicious anemia and depressed mood for a while, until I started supplementing with vitamin B12. That experience, along with significant weight gain over the years, didn’t dissuade me. This is because veganism is a heart-felt philosophy for many people, including me. Now I deal with guilt and cognitive-dissonance, wanting to be vegan, but knowing that it doesn’t serve my health well at the moment.

        I just wanted to say that your skills of persuasion were not deficient with your Smithies. I’m happy to know you have some good advice to offer people who will be vegan no more what.

        Thanks again!

  • Evguenia Ignatova

    Does anyone have any information about whether complete carnivore diets need to be supplemented with Vitamin K1 at all, given that you cannot get enough of it from animal foods?

  • Joel Ruthberg

    What about studies that have linked meat consumption to neurodegenerative disorders? Have you missed that all together?

  • Another brilliant article!

  • KaD

    Well done! I’m sure this will be entirely lost on the vegan people who for the reasons stated above can’t think straight.

    • I’m vegan and I can think perfectly straight thanks to my medications, my psychiatrist, and by ensuring I get adequate nutrition by following Dr. Ede’s and RD/MPH Virginia Messina’s suggestions. Here’s what I don’t do: I don’t go around putting down people on the internet. As a mental health advocate, a published author, and a support group facilitator, I put my energy into helping people. Put-downs indicate someone who is unhappy, so I hope that you’re feeling better now.

  • ImageArtSigns .

    WOW…this is a brilliant site with well thought out and logical information, especially this section on ‘Mental Health’ as I have been trying a ‘Vegan’ diet for the last 8 months and are having some problems, all of which you have described and answered satisfactory,…definitely ‘Bookmarking’ this so I can come back to read it all….keep up the great work.

  • Julie Browne Harland

    I’ve been low carb for a long time, and am going lower now with even fewer veges and nuts and more fat…kind of keto. Then I found out about the zero carb community, and am floored that maybe all we need is meat. Is that really true? We don’t need any other foods at all to be healthy? I’ve heard so many arguments my whole life about eating veges for anti-oxidants or vitamins or minerals, etc. Someone sent me this link, and I appreciate what you’ve explained. From reading it, it seems that you are pointing out deficiencies that vegans, vegetarians have. If meat-eaters are not mentioned, do you mean meat-eaters don’t have any of these deficiencies? If I eat mainly or all meat (along with my glass of wine), do I need to worry at all, or take any supplements? I’m not ready to only do that as I love asparagus and nuts and enjoy veges, but I need to drastically reduce veges/nuts to lose an ounce! I was intrigued by this part of your comment (in quotes below) as it implies eating meat only is healthier than eating meat with veges. Can you clarify? That part confused me. I probably missed something. And thank you again: “the only meat-eaters who may be able to claim a “healthier than thou” stance in comparison to plant-eaters are the ones who don’t eat any plants at all.”

  • Frank Mills

    Meat gave me kidney stones, IBS, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and near death. Veganisn gives me clear health, low cholesterol, 115/70 blood pressure and a normal blood profile. I switched for my life, not animals.