Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vegging Out

The July, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association has a position statement on vegetarian and vegan diets. Their position states that, “Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” This is disturbing advice, especially since the ADA defines a vegetarian diet, “… as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods.”

Brain growth is very rapid during infancy and childhood. Brain growth requires the fatty acids arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A healthy, well-fed mother provides these fatty acids in her breast milk. Infant formulas need to be supplemented with these fatty acids; not all of them are. Research has shown that breastfed infants have, on average, higher IQs than do formula-fed infants. Here’s the takeaway message: brain growth requires animal-based fatty acids, not plant-based ones.

Monkey species like capuchins that eat meat are smarter than ones that do not like howlers. Chimps and orangutans show more complex behaviors in the wild than do the vegan gorillas.

Among the best sources of the brain growth fatty acids are fish and shellfish. There is evidence that brain growth was spurred in our hominid ancestors when they began including fish and shellfish in their diets. If not for that dietary change, we would probably still be small-brained hominids dodging cheetahs on the savannas.

The fatty acids AA and DHA are also needed to maintain brain health throughout one’s life. Lack of these fatty acids leads to neurological disorders, even dementia.

Vegging out means sitting around passively doing little thinking, i.e. a couch potato (a relatively useless vegetable). If you don’t eat fish and shellfish your brain will veg out. If you want to do that to yourself, well… However, deliberately stunting your infant or child’s chances for healthy brain development…? How can the ADA really believe that vegging out is a good option for anyone?

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