Vegan Diet Debate
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Read my comments in the Calgary Herald regarding the recent controversy of vegan diets and health here:

originally published in

originally published in

CALGARY — A prominent Ottawa-based weight loss expert is taking Alberta Health Services to task for “dissing” vegan diets in a background document the provincial health authority put together in response to a controversial food film.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff contends a memo circulated to AHS’s 500 registered dietitians last year implies animals are supposed to be eaten as part of a healthy diet, while vegetarian or vegan diets pose extra risks.

“This is just a statement that suggests vegetarian and vegan diets have risks that diets that include animals don’t,” Freedhoff said in an interview Thursday.

“If the point of this was to provide health-care practitioners with information to answer questions posed consequent to a popular diet, I think it should answer the questions that are posed by the popular diet, not actually caution people off a particular way of eating, which is what this one does.”

Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medicine Institute and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, took to his Weighty Matters blog Thursday to ask: Why is Alberta Health Services Dissing Vegan Diets? He posted the AHS memo.

But Alberta Health officials say they’re not knocking plant-based diets. 

The backgrounder presents balanced, evidence-based information for dietitians whose clients ask questions about following a vegan diet, said registered dietitian Karolina Sekulic, AHS nutrition services program lead for education resources.

The one-page document was developed for “professional reference only” in May 2012 in response to questions spurred by the film Forks over Knives.

healthy saladThe contentious film claims that degenerative diseases can be prevented or reversed by following a vegan diet and rejecting animal-based and processed foods.

In the memo, AHS explores both of those issues, discussing well-planned vegetarian diets and noting that food of animal origin can also be part of a healthy diet.

“Nutrition Services is committed to providing evidence-based nutrition information to its patients and clients, and therefore supports the inclusion of foods from all four food groups as part of a healthy diet. This includes both well-planned vegetarian diets, as well as diets containing foods of animal origin,” the document states.

According to Sekulic, AHS working groups regularly develop resources on a range of nutrition topics, such as post-surgery, or healthy vegetarian eating.

On occasion, the health board will put key messages on topical subjects, such as the response to Forks and Knives, she said.

“There are different ways people can approach a healthy diet. There are many factors that affect the foods people choose,” Sekulic said.

“It wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of one or the other, it was meant to provide key messages to dietitians in case they got questions about following a vegan diet.”

But Freedhoff felt the backgrounder was “unnecessarily alarmist,” pointing out that proper planning is important for all diets, not just plant-based ones, as emphasized in the memo.

“This suggests a lot more difficulty and a lot more concern than actually exists, and I think it definitely steers people toward unnecessary sources of nutrients,” said Freedhoff, a food industry critic.

“Milk is not a magic fairy food. Dairy is not a magic food group.”

Calgary registered dietitian Andrea Holwegner said she interpreted the AHS document in a different light and didn’t find it critical of a vegan diet.

Holwegner, owner of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting, said clients come to her with questions on an array of eating plans, with trend diets such as paleo and wheat belly garnering attention.

A variety of factors, including enjoyment, environmental focus and politics, influence the way a person eats, she noted.

“There are so many different ways to eat healthy, and a vegan diet is one way you can achieve healthy, but it’s certainly not the only way,” she said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As seen in


Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This