Fat and Plant-Based Diets

Answer to a Reader’s Question:

I don’t argue for a 10% fat diet as the main starting point. Rather, I begin with the view that a plant-based diet is optimal and it just so happens that this diet, when done right (good quality WHOLE vegetables, legumes, fruits and cereals), is low in fat as well as in protein. It is a diet that, for most people, is 10-15% fat, and 8-12% protein. For those who demonstrate vulnerability to health disorders, the fat intake should favor the lower side. Dr. Esselstyn (in his heart disease reversal study) and Dr. John McDougall (thousands of patients) have demonstrated this very clearly. The difficulty that we, as individuals, all face is really how vulnerable are we.

On the protein evidence, I have spent my entire career working in this field and am appalled that so few people know the evidence, some of which is very old and most of which is heavily influenced by our personal reverence for this nutrient. But much more to the point, in my own work, our results propelled me to ask broader questions, even though the singular effects of animal based protein were alarming and convincing. I chose for the time being not to go down that path and agree with Dr. Katz that we need to ask broader questions–precisely as I did in the China Study.

My arguments, however, for a plant based diet are far more comprehensive, including the empirical findings that have been published by other researchers (some of which is relatively old), the work that we did in our own laboratory (some of which by traditional standards is very profound in its implications) and most importantly the concept of what nutrition really [...]

To Take Or Not To Take Fish Oil


I have been troubled recently by a number of articles claiming that DHA is nutritionally essential. The posters often promote the taking of fish oils. To their credit there do seem to be a number of papers suggesting clinical benefits for fish oils, and also that vegetarians have lower levels of DHA. There is also research linking these low levels to Alzheimers, and poorer performance in school children.

On the other side I am reminded that there are 3rd generation vegans who seem to be okay, and I also note that the founder of the vegan society is still alive and well after over 50 years as a vegan.

It is my belief that this topic is still controversial, but there is no RDA, so this nutrient must be considered non-essential. There seem to be certain cases, when ingesting excessive omega 6 oils, where DHA supplements are useful, but that is not a case for them being essential. What is your take on this?


Your question is not only interesting for the question of DHA itself but also is an interesting in reference to the definition of nutrition in general.

The meaning of nutrients has tended to be reserved for those food chemicals that are required (or essential) for life because we, as mammals, cannot make them. Thus we have determined minimum intakes and recommended allowances (about 2 standard deviations above the minimum intakes) for these essential chemicals.

However, this meaning (history) was–and still is–a very superficial, narrowly focused view. It was based on choosing which endpoint is used to decide what is “essential”. It tended to be life itself, but not always. In my view, when a broader view is taken–as exemplified by Nature herself–we discover [...]