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by Jack Norris, RD & Virginia Messina, MPH, RD
Da Capo Lifelong, 2011
Review by Aline Medeiros Ramos on Feb 7th 2012
Vegan for Life, by Ginny Messina and Jack Norris, is a great read for both longtime vegans and people considering going vegan. It is quite a comprehensive book, whose authors are not only very knowledgeable about the latest nutritional research, but also manage to present it in a very accessible manner.
Although the book is quite ambitious and aims to cover a little bit of everything from nutrition to meal ideas to ethical issues, Vegan for Life does not focus too much on the ethical aspects of choosing a plant-based diet, nor does it engage in deep philosophical arguments concerning the use of animal products. The last chapter of the book ("Why vegan?") does mention a lot of these ethical issues, but, especially because this comes at the very end, none of it seems meant as a form of persuasion founded on guilt, as one may often find in other books on veganism, which usually start by listing all the negative consequences of a non-vegetarian or non-vegan diet. In addition to this last chapter, there is also a short introduction where the authors explain why they became vegan, but aside from those, the core of the book is really dedicated to the essential – and scientific-based – nutritional and health information one must have before and while following a vegan diet.
Because both authors are dietitians, they warn the readers about the potential dangers of resorting to junk-food veganism, but they do not, conversely, try to convince the reader to completely avoid junk food or industrialized products. They are aware of the pitfalls of a strict vegan diet and try to offer balanced and easy solutions to issues vegans face when they need to buy groceries or order a meal at a restaurant.
Besides bringing very up-to-date information on food nutrients and supplements, Vegan for Life is also carefully written to account for the specific needs of people in all stages of their lives, or with different lifestyles: pregnant and breast-feeding women, children, teenagers, menopausal women, people over fifty, and athletes.
In this book you will find clear information on the nutritional values of various types of food and food combinations, and learn why and how to use supplements such as B12, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and iodine, among others. Messina and Norris also do a good job highlighting some of the most common myths about the use of those supplements in vegan diets. Most notably, they explain why one should not wait three years before taking B12 supplements when one has gone vegan. B12 supplements are needed right away, to make sure anemia as well as other consequences of B12 deficiency are avoided. To better illustrate the essential facts about those vitamins and minerals, the book contains some very useful charts and tables on the nutritional values of certain foods, as well as of our needs for some key nutrients.
In spite of accentuating all positive aspects of a plant-based diet, the authors are not afraid to raise the two sides of contentious issues when that is needed. In chapter 15 - "Is it safe to eat soy?" - for instance, they talk about all potential benefits of this legume (for lowering risks of heart disease and breast cancer, for example), but also mention the possible harmful effects of excessive consumption of some forms of soy, especially when associated with unbalanced diets (like interference in thyroid function). But since there is an ever-growing number of studies on soy, and none is categorically conclusive, the authors carefully emphasize that soy products do not have to be an intrinsic part of a vegan diet. In fact, they suggest that people who choose to include soy in their diets limit its intake to three or four servings a day.
Now, the most interesting chapter for those transitioning to veganism is chapter 8 ("Making the transition to a vegan diet"), which is also where the authors leave some of the scientificity of the previous chapters aside and give a more detailed account of what kinds of ingredients and meals best constitute a vegan diet.
Although this is not meant to be a cookbook, it does contain a few suggestions for vegan meals (including ingredient substitution), and to make a vegan diet easier to follow with some ingredients easily found in grocery stores. Messina and Norris also give recommendations for some product brands, which is a great thing for people who are not yet familiar with the range of products available for all vegan tastes and styles. In fact, the authors always make sure to emphasize that a huge part of the success of a vegan diet depends on the trial part of "trial and error:" if you have tried some vegan product or food and did not like it, they always suggest that you try a different brand, or recipe. The important thing is to give it at least a second chance.
All in all, with chapters covering a full range of aspects of a vegan diet, this book is (perhaps together with a good vegan cookbook) a great starting point for anyone who wants to become vegan, and an excellent reference even for people who have always followed a vegan diet.
© 2012 Aline Medeiros Ramos
Aline Medeiros Ramos, PhD candidate in philosophy, Université du Québec à Montréal firstname.lastname@example.org