The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

CALIFORNIA STUDENT WINS $5,000 VEGETARIAN RESOURCE GROUP SCHOLARSHIP

Posted on June 30, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

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Jasmine Westerdahl has been involved in promoting vegetarian nutrition and cooking classes in various communities most of her life in both Hawaii and California, including assisting in doing vegan cooking on a television show in Hawaii called Tasty and Meatless. Jasmine is the youth representative and coordinator for her church health committee. She volunteers and coordinates other youth in assisting with community vegetarian cooking classes and lectures.

Patricia Bragg from the Bragg Live Foods Company said, “For the past seven years, Jasmine has been an enthusiastic volunteer for both the Bragg Live Food Products Company and our nonprofit Bragg Health Foundation. For our health product company, Jasmine has represented Bragg at national health food industry trade shows and conferences. She has professionally educated consumers and health food retailers about our line of vegan food products. She also helped test recipes for our vegetarian cookbook and assisted in evaluating new vegan/vegetarian food and beverage product formulations for our company, so that they could be kid tested. Volunteering for our nonprofit foundation, Jasmine represented us at community health education events, lectures and seminars, fairs, and our exhibit booths.” (Also, Jasmine assisted The Vegetarian Resource Group at our booth during the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Meeting and we witnessed firsthand her knowledgeable and professional demeanor.)

Jasmine attended a Seventh-day Adventist school. She said that more than half of her school’s student body are not vegetarian, but she has had the opportunity to educate her classmates about vegetarian diets. A faculty member stated, “Jasmine always is volunteering and helping with community outreach through helping educate about nutrition throughout the community. She is always first to help and last to stay. A leader to me is not always the loudest person but the person who works hard for no credit but to do the right thing. This is in essence Jasmine.”

As a lifelong vegan, Jasmine said, “I have a passion to continue my education through college and university in nutrition with a strong desire to one day be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in vegetarian nutrition to my patients and clients. I believe in vegetarian nutrition for both health reasons as well as for the compassion for animals.”

The deadline for the next Vegetarian Resource Group Scholarship for graduating high school seniors is February 20, 2017. For details, go to http://www.vrg.org/student/scholar.htm

To support Vegetarian Resource Group internships and scholarships, donate at www.vrg.org/donate

Review of Vegetarian Sports Nutrition by D. Enette Larson-Meyer

Posted on June 29, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Christiana Rutkowski

The book Vegetarian Sports Nutrition by D. Enette Larson-Meyer is a comprehensive, well-explained, easy to follow book about eating a vegetarian or entirely vegandiet while participating in athletics, ranging from an elite athlete to a recreational jogger.

This book, 230 pages in length, breaks down common misconceptions and misunderstandings about not consuming meat, dairy, eggs, and other products made from or coming from animals. The book includes many concrete scientific facts, evidence, and easy to understand knowledge to explain to readers just how easy it is to thrive and compete while eating a diet free from many or all animal products.

The best part about this book for me was its inclusion of many different ways to calculate an individual’s caloric needs as well as each individual macronutrient amount appropriate for their own lifestyle. I think something that often happens with athletes is that they underestimate how many calories they need, which can result in issues like low iron, other vitamin deficiencies, inadequate energy, and overall performing or training less than their best.

Not only does this book give basic concepts for consuming a diet rich in plant-based foods, but it also breaks down each contributing factor, providing many pages for each macronutrient (fat, protein, and carbohydrates), bone health, individual vitamins and minerals, physical ailments like muscle cramps and inflammation (and how to combat both), supplements (and whether one should or should not take them), and how to come up with and customize a meal plan based on unique one’s own unique lifestyle and physical activity.

Another difficult area for many that decide to embark on a more plant-based or entirely vegan diet is figuring out what to eat (and how much). Larson-Meyer provides the reader with an endless amount of dietary choices that give a wide variety of foods to make it possible to consume plenty of each macro and micronutrient, while keeping the choices exciting, tasty, and also very easy to attain and/or prepare.

Lastly, what makes this book very interesting is its appeal to not just individuals looking to eat plant-based, but its specific focus for athletes looking to train and compete while refraining from eating animal products. Personally, I feel one of the most important things about transitioning to a more (or completely) vegan diet is educating oneself on the knowledge and science behind it. Especially as an athlete, it is critical to get enough calories coming from a variety of plant-based sources, and this book provides a ton of information and useful knowledge to the reader.

To order Vegetarian Sports Nutrition, go to:
http://www.vrg.org/bookstore/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=79

The Vegetarian Resource Group’s Guide to Leather Alternatives

Posted on June 28, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

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In addition to not eating animal products, vegans do not wear animal products including leather. The Vegetarian Resource Group has an extensive guide to businesses that sell shoes, wallets, handbags, belts, jackets, and more that are made with alternatives to leather. The guide includes companies in the USA and other countries.

Are you looking for vegan work boots, ballet shoes, guitar or camera straps, biking gloves, cowboy boots, motorcycle gear, musical instrument cases, tool belts, iPhone cases, lap top and iPad carrying bags, dance shoes, watchbands, snowboarding boots, rock climbing shoes, and other items? If so, the entire guide can be found here: http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/leather.php

To support the research for this guide, please donate here: http://www.vrg.org/donate

OHIO STUDENT WINS $5,000 VEGETARIAN RESOURCE GROUP SCHOLARSHIP

Posted on June 27, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

Riley Howard

Riley Howard became vegetarian after her sister started ordering vegan literature from PETA. In sixth grade she began bringing pamphlets to school to distribute to students during lunch times. Riley became vegan in eighth grade. She started an animal rights club in high school, which organized campus screenings, bake sales, and vegan potlucks during school. Riley stated, “I’ve found a lot of success modifying my advocacy…I used to show cruelty investigations, but I saw how much more harm that does than good. Instead of having members walk out in the middle of meetings, people stay the whole time, engage in conversation, and perform social media outreach.”

In January of her junior year, she went to Chicago for a month to intern with Mercy for Animals, jumping between office work and outdoor leafleting. She did another internship with them in Los Angeles.

In 2015 at school she organized a screening of Cowspiracy for 200 members from the local community. “I talked to athletic coaches and got them to agree to cancel practice for the screening. Students brought their friends and family.”

She currently had her school agree to add more vegan items to the menu. “They bought a rice cooker, through which they provide self-service rice, quinoa, and other whole grains. They have started offering nutritional yeast and vegan dressings in the salad bar. They’ve agreed to provide a daily vegan cooked meal. Now they sell veggie burgers, portabella sandwiches, vegan grilled cheese, and various vegetables and rice dishes. They also sell vegan sorbet, which has been a huge hit.”

Riley was an apprentice crew leader for the Student Conservation Association in Texas. “I made quite a few vegetable rice/quinoa dishes that were a big hit among all the crew members…I made sure to make food for the group that was not only vegan but tasted good to nonvegans.”

Riley is also a gifted artist. Her work can be found at http://riles-art.tumblr.com/post/143751447445/not-so-different-colored-pencil-and-ink-on

One reference stated, “Riley does not simply think outside the box; she affirms that there – is in fact – no box. After thirty years as an educator, I have learned that I have not seen it all, because I have never before experienced Riley Howard. Quite simply, Riley gets it. She gets life’s complexities and its redemption. She gets the purpose of compassion. Riley is helping the environment, animals, humans… all those in need.”

The deadline for the next Vegetarian Resource Group Scholarship for graduating high school seniors is February 20, 2017. For details, go to http://www.vrg.org/student/scholar.htm

To support Vegetarian Resource Group internships and scholarships, donate at www.vrg.org/donate

Is it more expensive to eat a vegan diet?

Posted on June 24, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Casey Brown

Some people think that vegan diets are expensive and time-consuming, however that is not the case any more than meat-based eating. Vegan diets can be affordable and convenient by focusing on whole foods rather than specialty vegan products and convenience foods. If you are looking to go vegan on a budget, here are some tips!

Tips for budgeting:
● Don’t focus meals around vegan alternatives such as vegan cheese, mock meats, and other specialty items. These make a treat every now and then (even once a day), but they are more expensive. It is healthier and less expensive to focus more on a whole food, plant-based diet that is rich in grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit.

● Shop around. Go to a few different grocery stores in the area to compare prices and find the best deals.

● Stay local. Farmer’s markets are a great place to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables at a lower cost. While some of the produce may be more expensive, they often have better deals on in-season harvest. Make sure to look for sales and compare the prices with other stores in the area. If the produce is on sale, items can be bought in bulk and frozen for later (this works great for berries). Many farmers markets also offer ‘seconds’ (blemished and bruised produce) for a discounted price.

● Buy in bulk. As mentioned previously, many vegan staples can be bought in bulk. Wholesale stores, health food stores, and normal grocery stores offer large quantities of food for a lower cost. It is helpful to compare unit prices when shopping in order to determine the best deals. Some foods that are best to stock up on include nuts, seeds, produce, pasta, rice, oats, and other items. Buying large quantities can seem expensive, but it will provide more food for its value. With this being said, it is important to only buy food you will actually use. Otherwise you will end up wasting food and money.

● Buy canned and frozen options when less expensive. Beans and vegetables are good items to buy canned. Dry beans are also inexpensive, however they take more time to prepare. Frozen fruit and vegetables are a great way to stock up on these items, and they will last longer than fresh produce. Frozen options are not always cheaper, so it is best to always compare prices while shopping.

● Prepare your own food. Prepackaged and pre-cut foods are more expensive, so it will save you money to prepare them yourself. Preparing your own meals, hummus, trail mix, and other foods can help to eliminate costs.

● Buy store brand foods and go for sales. Store brands typically contain the same ingredients as name brand foods, but at a much lower cost.

● Invest in a reusable water bottle. This way you do not have to buy water bottles at the store every week. These can be filled up at home and while on the go! Opting for water over other drinks is also a cheaper and healthier option. Plus these bottles are better for the environment!

● Plan meals ahead of time. Make a grocery list according to your meal plan and stick to the list while shopping. This will prevent you from buying more food than needed, eliminating food costs and food waste.

● Grow your own garden. This may not be practical for everyone, but growing your own produce or herbs can cut costs, and it is also a really fun experience!

Need some cost effective ideas for meals? Here are some meal ideas you can make while on a budget.

Breakfast:
● Oatmeal with soymilk, a banana, and peanut butter or other toppings (cocoa, fruit)
● Smoothies – these are great if you find a good deal on fruit!
○ You can even make a smoothie bowl and top with granola, fruit, or nuts

Lunch/Dinner:
● Beans with rice, veggies, and any kind of dressing or seasonings you want to add
● Stir-fry with veggies, tofu, and rice
● Pasta with tomato sauce, nutritional yeast, avocado, and spinach
● Burritos with rice, beans, and vegetables

Snacks/Dessert:
● Banana ice cream
○ Blend together 3-4 frozen bananas, 1 cup non-dairy milk, and fruit, cocoa, PB, or anything else (for flavor)!
● Carrots and other veggies with hummus
● Trail mix, nuts, or seeds
● Fruit

Price Comparison:
(Prices were obtained from Giant Supermarket in Maryland. Prices will vary by brand/store):

Burritos:
• Homemade: $1.19 ($0.21 for one tortilla wrap, $0.20 for 1 serving/0.5 cups black beans, $0.16 for 2 servings of cooked white rice/1 cup, and $0.62 for 1 serving of Daiya cheddar cheese)
• Frozen vegan burrito: $2.69 for 6 oz. Amy’s Organic Non-dairy burrito made with beans & rice. ($0.49/oz)
• Frozen meat burrito: $2.50 for 5 oz. Red’s Natural Foods Burrito Chicken and Cheese ($0.50/oz)

The store-bought burritos are similar in cost. Amy’s burrito is an organic burrito, and it consists of a flour tortilla with pinto beans, rice, and veggies in a Mexican sauce. It costs more than the non-vegan burrito, however it was slightly cheaper per unit price. Red’s Natural Foods Burrito is also organic, and it consists of a tortilla filled with chicken, brown rice, pinto beans, a cheese mixture, and a red chile sauce. These burritos are similar in contents and in price. The homemade burrito is less expensive, and it consists of a tortilla with black beans, rice, and vegan cheese. Other toppings and sauces could be added for minimal cost. Buying any of these options in bulk when possible (either the frozen burritos or the ingredients for the fresh burrito) could help to reduce the cost. But remember, don’t buy more food than you will be able to use.

Ice Cream:
• Pint (2 cups) of homemade banana ice cream: $1.24 ($0.90 for 3 bananas and $0.34 for 1 cup of store-brand almond milk)
• Store bought pint of nondairy ice cream: $4.99 for any flavor So Delicious dairy-free ice cream
• Store bought dairy ice cream: $1.00 for pint serving of store-brand vanilla ice cream (sold by the gallon)

The homemade banana ice cream comes in at a similar price as the store-brand vanilla ice cream. Of course, other ingredients can be added to the banana ice cream for more flavors, which will slightly increase the cost. The non-dairy So Delicious ice cream is fairly expensive in comparison. This is an example of one of the vegan ‘specialty’ items previously mentioned. Meat and dairy replacements can be more expensive at the store, however they make for a nice treat every now and then. Banana ice cream is a great alternative in this situation!
While some of the vegan options might not have been cheaper than the non-vegan options, they are typically similar in price. As mentioned before, as long as you are not relying on specialty vegan products, then your budget should not be more expensive!
See more info at:
http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2006issue2/2006_issue2_mealplans.php
http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2003issue1/vj2003issue1quick.htm
http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2015issue1/2015_issue1_vegan_shoestring.php

The contents of this posting, our website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgement about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

Casey is doing an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group this summer.

CbTFvisV

Field Roast Dogs and Burgers at Camden Yards

Posted on June 23, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

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A VRG staffer attended the Orioles game last night, eager to find out how available Field Roast vegan dogs and burgers would be. Happily, we can report that we saw the vegan dogs and burgers at many O’What a Dog and Baseline Burger locations on each level. The items are listed on the menu board as “Vegan Dog” and “Vegan Burger” clearly so that you don’t have to wait in line at the stand to find out if it is one that serves the option.

When our staffer ordered her vegan dog, the cashier said “I’ll have to check if we have any left! Those things sell out quickly!” Luckily, they did, and it was hot and ready quickly….and delicious!

If your’e vegan and vegetarian at the ball game, be sure to come on an empty stomach to continue showing just how in-demand veg options are!

Other vegetarian options available at Oriole Park at Camden Yards:

Cheese Pizza (Pizza Boli Stands)
Nachos (Nacho Portables)
Fries (Baseline Burgers, Das Sausage Haus, and Baltimore Burger Company)
Soft Pretzels (O’ What A Dog)
Hand Rolled Soft Pretzel (Pretzel Kiosk)
Vegetarian Edamame BAO (TAKO-Asian)
Salads (Pizza Boli Stands, Eutaw Market, Dempsey’s Restaurant)
Veggie Wrap (Eutaw Market)
Fresh Fruit (Eutaw Market)
Vegetarian snack items (Eutaw Market)
Vegan Hamburger and Frankfurters-(Located at O’ what a Dog’s and Baseline Burgers.)

CONNECTICUT STUDENT WINS $10,000 VEGETARIAN RESOURCE GROUP SCHOLARSHIP

Posted on June 23, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

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Lauren Hickey was a vegetarian since seven years old. She stated, “As my mother tells it, one day I looked up from my dinner plate and blurted ‘Mommy, what’s this made out of?’ … When my mother so gently explained that the meat I was eating was once an animal, I was suddenly alarmed and upset. I simply couldn’t understand how I would eat something dead that I coo at and cuddle with alive… As a second grader, I soon realized that although being different took a dose of courage, it was strangely thrilling … Since seven years old, I have unwaveringly abided to my principles… In third grade, I stood in front of my enrichment class, beaming as I enlightened them on my area of expertise: vegetarianism… After presenting my slideshow to the class, my mom and little sister strolled into the classroom on cue with samples of mangos and hummus.”

Lauren joined the Colchester Board of Education as a student member in 2014. She states, “Two years ago I initiated a Farm to School program in my town and established our high school’s first organic garden. Colchester’s Farm to School Initiatives is a program that reaches every school in the district with fresh vegetables from local farms and multiple school gardens. I initiated a weekly program at the intermediate school in which I teach a weekly class of 39 students in grades 3-5 about fresh food and environmental consciousness. I wrote and received a grant for fruit trees that the kids planted in the spring. I helped coordinate collaboration between the AP Biology students who took a field trip to the elementary school, where the second graders taught THEM how to compost.”

When teaching the third to fifth graders, “It moved my heart to hear a student tell me that he wants to save the environment and all the animals. I was filled with joy when every kid jumped out of their seat with both hands in the air when I asked, ‘So who liked the kale?’ I even teared up watching the kids take enormous pride in planting trees with their own hands that will bear fruit for generations.”

“My vegetarian journey began when I was 7 years old when I… realized that I could not agree with killing animals… I have made a conscious effort to frame my vegetarian mission in a very positive way rooted in encouragement…” When I was in fifth grade, I wrote an essay for the Connecticut Higher Education Trust on my future career goals and how college would help me achieve them. I declared I would become an ‘animal activist.’ In retrospect, I was not too far off the mark. I plan on going to college and majoring in Environmental Studies… In college and beyond, I plan on promoting vegetarianism by engaging in an environmental or animal activism club, working in the organic garden, and ensuring dining hall food promotes values… Maybe one day I will live out my 5th grade dream of giving speeches around the world.”

The deadline for the next Vegetarian Resource Group Scholarship for graduating high school seniors is February 20, 2017. For details, go to http://www.vrg.org/student/scholar.htm

To support Vegetarian Resource Group internships and scholarships, donate at www.vrg.org/donate

Please participate in a survey about your attitudes, feelings, opinions, and behaviors concerning social, economic, environmental, and animal-related issues.

Posted on June 22, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

Please participate in a survey about your attitudes, feelings, opinions, and behaviors concerning social, economic, environmental, and animal-related issues.

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Dear Respondent:

This is a survey about your attitudes, feelings, opinions, and behaviors concerning social, economic, environmental, and animal-related issues. Please read each question carefully and follow the instructions given. It should take about 5 – 15 minutes to complete the survey. For each Fully Completed survey (or all questions answered) the Vegetarian Resource Group will receive a donation of $1.00.

Click the link below to find study details; then click the ‘next’ button to indicate your willingness to participate and begin the survey.
http://www.compos-sui.com/KB_SurveyDir_1.htmlIf you have any questions about this survey, please contact:

Dr. Karin Braunsberger
Professor of Marketing
Kate Tiedemann College of Business
University of South Florida St. Petersburg
E-mail: braunsbe@usfsp.edu

Support The Vegetarian Resource Group — Purchase a book from our catalog!

Posted on June 22, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

The Vegetarian Resource Group Book Catalog offers a wide range of vegan books including:

Grills Gone Vegan
Artisan Vegan Cheese
Gluten-Free Tips and Tricks for Vegans
Vegan Meals for One or Two
Teff Love
Vegan Brunch
More Fabulous Beans
Soups On!
Simply Vegan
Nona’s Italian Kitchen
The Natural Vegan Kitchen
Asian Fusion
The Joy of Vegan Baking
The Indian Vegan Kitchen
Vegan Soul Kitchen
The 4-Ingredient Vegan
The Lowfat Jewish Vegetarian Cookbook
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World
The Almond Milk Cookbook
Food Allergy Survival Guide
The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book
And so many more….

FREE media mail shipping for orders over $30 in the United States only!
Visit http://www.vrg.org/catalog/ to order books online and support VRG’s outreach at the same time!

“Mutant Vegetarians??” Sensational Headlines and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Requirements

Posted on June 21, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Riccardo Racicot, MS

“Study finds that Vegetarians are Mutant” (1)
“Vegetarian Diet May Alter Human DNA, Raising Cancer, Heart Disease Risks” (2)
“Being a Vegetarian Could Kill You, Science Warns.” (3)

These sensational headlines are based on new research published for advanced access in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution by a research group from Cornell University (4). As a molecular biologist and nutrition researcher I was skeptical about these claims and was eager to learn more about the study. What I found was a fantastic study with exciting findings in need of no embellishment.

This new research focused on the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid plays many roles in the human body and is a main constituent of cell membranes. Dietary sources of arachidonic acid include meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. Unlike most omega-6 fatty acids, which are usually consumed in our diet as vegetable oils, arachidonic acid is not found in plants. However, humans are able to convert a precursor found in plants, another omega-6 fatty acid, known as linoleic acid into arachidonic acid. In their study, Kumar Kothapalli and his colleagues at Cornell University found that some people are more efficient at this conversion than others (4).

The reason: Genetics.
To gain a better understanding of the findings of this research I spoke directly with Dr. Kothapalli. According to Kothapalli, the study demonstrated that a population which has been practicing vegetarianism for many generations actively produce more of a particular enzyme known as fatty acid desaturase, which is responsible for converting linoleic acid to arachidonic acid.

Initially, the researchers found different versions of the fatty acid desaturase gene in a Japanese population. In some people they found a small section of DNA to be deleted in this gene. Since we have two copies of each gene, this allows for 3 different variations; those with both copies intact (I/I), those which have one copy with the section deleted (I/D) and those which have both copies with the section deleted (D/D). They found those with both copies intact (I/I) had significantly higher amounts of fatty acid desaturase, indicating they would be more efficient at converting the plant-based linoleic acid to arachidonic acid than those with both sections of the gene deleted (D/D) (4).

Kothapalli and his colleagues then determined how often each variation occurs using human DNA samples. The DNA samples were taken from a population in Pune, India who are primarily vegetarian and have been vegetarian for many generations. Their DNA samples were compared with samples from the United States. The analysis found the I/I variation occurred in 68% of the Indian population and only in 18% of the United States population (4). The researchers then used global genetic data to determine how frequently the variants occur world-wide. Globally, the I/I variation was found in of 70% of South Asians, 53% of Africans, 29% of East Asians, and 17% of Europeans (4).

To confirm that the I/I variation did in fact lead to increased conversion of linoleic acid to arachidonic acid, the researchers performed biochemical tests on human samples. As they predicted, arachidonic acid levels were 8% higher in I/I individuals than D/D (4). The activity of the enzyme was also shown to be higher in the I/I group, with 31% greater conversion of linoleic to arachidonic acid than the D/D group (4).

Overall, what this study truly shows is that over generations, populations who eat predominantly vegetarian diets (that usually include dairy products but not eggs) have adapted to low intakes of arachidonic acid by becoming more efficient at producing arachidonic acid. So, why did these results garner the sensational headlines?

To understand this, we need to take a look at the current hypothesis of how different types of unsaturated fats affect our health. The best model we have today is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This ratio is used to compare the balance of different types of unsaturated fats in our diets.

According to some, the types of fats we eat have changed dramatically over the past 150 years. These researchers believe humans evolved eating foods such as lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, resulting in a dietary fatty acid ratio of 1:1 omega-6 to omega-3 (5). Today the intake ratio for the general population has tilted heavily in favor of omega-6 fatty acids to 15:1 (5). This is largely due to the increased availability of seed oils such as soy, corn, and cottonseed and inexpensive grain-fed meats. For vegetarians and vegans this ratio may be even higher because their diets often contain few omega-3 fatty acids. For example, the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are mainly found in cold-water fatty fish.

The relatively higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids is believed by some researchers to result in inflammation and pro-inflammatory diseases like heart disease and colon cancer (6, 7). The science on omega-3 fatty acids seems to be pretty clear; they are anti-inflammatory. However, when it comes to the omega-6 fatty acids, specifically arachidonic acid, the science appears to be more complicated. Arachidonic acid itself is a precursor to both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory molecules (8). This connection between omega-6 fatty acids and pro-inflammatory diseases misled some journalists to believe higher arachidonic acid production in those with the I/I variation would make them be at higher risk for those diseases. In reality, vegetarians tend to have lower risks for these chronic diseases (9).

For now, the hypothesis that the dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is relevant for health seems to fall into the realm of expert opinion rather than that of sound scientific findings. Historical fatty acid ratio findings are based on extrapolations from a handful of anthropological nutrition studies and observations on wild animals. The data suggesting a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is harmful come from small studies with few participants, cell culture studies, and epidemiological observations.

Skepticism surrounding these findings seems justified when considering the breadth of data suggesting omega-6 intake is associated with decreased risk of heart disease. Over the past few decades, randomized trials, case-control and cohort studies, and long-term animal feeding experiments have all demonstrated a decreased risk of heart disease for those eating 5-10% of calories from omega-6 fatty acids when compared to eating lower amounts (10). In line with these findings, a 2009 science advisory from the American Heart Association, “recommends that people aim for at least 5 percent to 10 percent of calories from omega-6 fatty acids.” (10).

Kothapalli, however, is a firm believer of the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio hypothesis. When asked about the implication of the study for those eating a vegetarian diet he responded: “If they are eating a vegetarian diet they should balance the omega-3s and omega-6s in their diet. Don’t eat more omega-6 from…vegetable oils. They need to balance between omega-6 and omega-3, then they will be okay.”

To gain a better perspective on the extensive amount of variable findings, I met with leading expert on all things fat-related, Dr. Eric Decker, Head of the Department of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His answer was rather simple: the data are largely inconclusive with the exception that the general population is not currently consuming enough long chain omega-3 fatty acids on average here in the United States. Regardless who you are, vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, you should be eating more long chain omega-3s.

The US Dietary Guidelines suggest consuming the equivalent amount of DHA and EPA from 2 servings of fatty fish per week, which works out to be about 250 milligrams of EPA and DHA per day (11). On average, Americans consume 63 mg of DHA and 23 mg of EPA per day (12). In vegetarians and vegans these intake levels are even lower and sometimes even nonexistent. Vegan dietary sources of DHA and EPA are limited to sea vegetables, fortified foods, and supplements. Microalgae-derived DHA is vegan and widely available in supplement form. Sea vegetables have been growing in popularity in recent years as they are sustainable and provide EPA. A list of DHA and EPA sources can be found below:

table

Source: Sanchez-Machado DI, Lopez-Hernandez J, Paseiro-Losada P, Lopez-Cervantes J. Fatty acids, total lipid, protein and ash contents of processed edible seaweeds. Food Chem. 2004;85:439-444 and manufacturers’ information.

Unfortunately, as with most nutrition related inquiries, there is no definitive answer as of yet. The beauty of this study is that it brings us one step closer to better answers. As of now we are reliant on unreliable data for our information. With the advent of the fields of nutrigenetics (the study of the effects of dietary patterns on genetics over time) and nutrigenomics (the study of the effects of nutrient intake on gene expression) we are becoming ever closer to making personalized dietary recommendations.

For now, I am able to leave you with three definitive takeaways from this article:
1) Being a vegetarian will not change your genes
2) Being a vegetarian will not kill you
3) Eat more omega-3 fatty acids

Citations:
1. Hamaker P. Study finds that vegetarians are mutants. http://www.examiner.com/article/study-finds-that-vegetarians-are-mutants. Published March 29, 2016. Accessed May 21 2016.
2. Pascual K. Vegetarian diet may alter human DNA, raising cancer, heart disease risks. TechTimes website. http://www.techtimes.com/articles/145561/20160331/vegetarian-diet-may-alter-human-dna-raising-cancer-heart-disease-risks.htm. Published March 31, 2016. Accessed May 21 2016.
3. Li DK. Being a vegetarian could kill you, science warns. New York Post website. http://nypost.com/2016/03/30/being-a-vegetarian-could-kill-you-science-warns/. Published March 31, 2016. Accessed May 21 2016.
4. Kothapalli K, Ye K, Gadgil M, et al. Positive selection on a regulatory insertion-deletion polymorphism in FADS2 influences apparent endogenous synthesis of arachidonic acid. Mol Biol Evol 2016;March 29 pii: msw049. [Epub ahead of print]
5. Simopoulos A. Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomed Pharmac 2006; Nov;60 (9):502-7.
6. Ramsden C, Zamora D, Leelarthaepin B, et al. Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis. BMJ 2013; 346:e8707.
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Riccardo Racicot recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a master’s degree in Molecular Biology.

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