Is it Safe to be Vegan?
This 98-Year-Old Cardiologist Says, Yes!
Dr. Ellsworth Wareham (a 50-year vegan) retired from his medical
practice at age 95.
Is B12 the Only Concern for Vegans?
Dr. Wareham suggests that with a simple B12 supplement, you can safely eat only plants. My personal experience as a vegan and researcher since 2002 is that omega-3, Vit D, and Vit K are equally big concerns for plant-based folks—but also easy to supplement, provided you are paying attention.
I’ve also discovered that the most complicated thing about eating plant-based has nothing to do with vitamins or minerals, the biggest challenge is keeping your carbohydrate consumption under control.
Excessive carbs in the short term will make you feel amazing—this is part of the reason why vegetarians are initially so elated with the diet—but in the long term (we’re talking years, not decades), this high-carb eating will lead to elevated blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides and bad cholesterol levels. Ironically, all the symptoms that have been blamed on meat consumption for decades are more clearly correlated with a high carbohydrate diet, regardless of whether you’re vegetarian or not. Since plant-based people tend to have more carb options than fat and protein options out in the real world, it’s a very common nutritional faux pas for vegetarians to eat 80% or more of their calories from carbs. This could be a contributing reason why your average vegetarian only lasts for 7 years.
But Don’t Cholesterol & Saturated Fat Kill You?
In the video, Dr. Wareham suggests that dietary cholesterol in animal-based foods is a huge drawback since it’s correlated with heart disease. I’ve not found any convincing research linking dietary cholesterol to elevated blood cholesterol (they are not the same thing). More complicated still, the cholesterol-and-heart-disease connection is not as strong as once thought. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, 75% of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels; older patients with lower cholesterol have higher risks of death than those with higher cholesterol; and countries with higher average cholesterol than Americans (such as the Switzerland or Spain) have less heart disease. Clearly, the cholesterol question is not as black and white as most people believe.
Lastly, Dr. Wareham vilifies saturated fat in meat while my research shows it’s actually one of the most redeeming properties of natural animal products. By natural, I mean animals that have been raised naturally, not fed grains and chemicals while living in cages.
In grain-fed, factory-farmed animals, the animal’s fat is filled hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. But saturated fat (plant or animal) in and of itself, is wonderful and extremely healthful. According to, Dr. Joseph Mercola, “saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet, and they provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. It’s essential for hormonal balance, satiety, healthy cholesterol formation, skin and cellular health.”
The conclusion? Dr. Wareham appears to be very bright and lively for 98 years old. I hope I’m that sharp when I’m in my 90’s. His success and his experience as a cardiologist using plant foods as medicine speaks for itself – it works – but the one caveat is that he spent his career in the disease treatment business – and treating diseases is very different than preventing them. The foods that heal you are not necessarily the same foods that you need to sustain health long term, and many of these “heart reversing” protocols encourage huge daily servings of allergenic and high-glycemic whole grains which are a disaster long term.
A plant-based diet can be amazing; for me, it’s been a life-changer. Just keep in mind, you need to re-learn how to eat before you eat this way or you’ll end up a “breadatarian” (aka someone who eats bread or wheat-based foods every meal). To do it right, you need to read, study, get your blood work done – and for the love of broccoli, you need to cook real food at home!
Since I’m “Mr. Plant-Based Diet”, it might seem odd that I’m increasingly critical of my “people”, but food becomes religion very quickly and those in the vegetarian camp often ignore the writing on the wall. If you go to any vegetarian conference (or restaurant), you’ll see many of the long-time veggies are clearly struggling with their weight and health; and as someone who is privy to lots of things behind the scenes, were you to see many of these people’s blood work, in many cases, it’s not a rosy picture.
In the yoga world, many traditionalist try to live off coffee, wheat, legumes, and dairy. You only need to look at the old timers in this scene to see that over time, that “junk food veggie” diet causes huge problems. Many of the most-famous modern yoga founders were (or are) diabetic and obese by the time they reached their 60’s, so I believe if you’re going to eat like a vegetarian, it’s important that you know what you’re doing so you can benefit not just today – but for life as well.
When it comes to dietary choices, people like to draw very firm lines in the sand: are you vegetarian? Vegan? Paleo? A raw foodist? Gluten-free? I’ve lived on both sides of the fence. For the first half of my life, I ate just about anything I could find, and since 2002, I’ve eaten nothing but plants. From this experience (and a boatload of research along the way), I’ve come to realize that most dietary arguments these days are focused on 10-20% of foods I call the “it’s complicated” group; and for the most part, as we progress further and further with our understanding of nutrition, most people agree on most things.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at where almost all diet converge…
The Good Pile:
The Good Pile:
- Low-glycemic fruits
- Seaweeds and algae
- Unprocessed nuts & seeds
- Cold-processed oils
- Low glycemic fruits
The Bad Pile:
The Bad Pile:
- Trans fats and oxidized vegetable fats
- Processed sugar and excessive sugar
- Chemically-preserved foods
- GMO foods (corn, soy, wheat)
The “It’s Complicated” Pile
The “It’s Complicated” Pile
- Chicken, pigs and cows (usually referred to as “meat”)
- Fish & other seafood
- Saturated fat
- Gluten-containing grains (like wheat)
- Hypo-allergenic grains (like rice)
- Milk products
Are there people eating a high animal protein diet who are extremely healthy? Yes, millions. Are there purely plant-based people doing great with their health? Yes, far less in numbers, but I know hundreds personally. On either side of the fence, the people I know who struggle most with their health are those with excessive sugars in their diets. Sugar is the elephant in the room, not animal fat, so I think we need to stop arguing over mice and look at the elephant!
Rather than trying to define your diet by what it excludes, I think it makes more sense to focus on what is included – and then on your own, figure out how to navigate through the “it’s complicated” pile of food choices based on your personal body type, age, preferences, and beliefs.
Food is a hot topic, often as heated as religion or politics—probably because food crosses both those lines frequently. But for the sake of our health and our sanity, I think it’s important to take a step back and look at this whole wacky world of nutrition with a fresh perspective.
What do you think? Meat? No meat? Not sure? I’d love to hear your questions, comments, and feedback below…