I love Wikipedia.
It is one of my all-time favorite site.
Barely a day goes by without me checking Wikipedia for some quick facts on a subject.
However… I have realized that it isn’t a very reliable source for nutrition information.
Many of the topics seem unbalanced… especially controversial nutrition topics.
It also seems that vegan proponents are influential on Wikipedia and many important pages are tainted with their propaganda.
I took screenshots of all the pages where I found false, unscientific claims that resemble propaganda more than anything else.
Just to be clear… this is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of propaganda:
“Ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.”
Western Pattern Diet
First of all, there is the page for the Western Pattern Diet (also called the Standard American Diet – SAD).
On this page, there is a paragraph under the sub-headline “Health Concerns”:
Note the words “argue that” … they are citing the arguments of a few vegan scientists as proof.
This is called “appeal to authority” and is a logical fallacy when used in this way. It doesn’t prove anything.
They are saying that animal fat and animal protein are the reason the Western diet is so unhealthy and that a low-fat vegan diet can both prevent and reverse chronic, Western diseases.
I’ll get to the claims and references in a minute, but I agree that the Western diet is unhealthy… but it doesn’t have anything to do with unprocessed animal foods.
Now to the page for the low-fat diet:
Again, note the word “claim that” – another appeal to authority.
The claims are the same as before, that animal protein and fat are the main causes of chronic, Western Disease… and that a vegan diet can reverse them.
The references they are citing are mostly the same.
Vegetarian and Vegan Nutrition
Are you starting to notice a pattern here?
It is almost as if someone copied the same paragraphs and references (with minor changes) and put them on various different Wikipedia articles.
These are not scientific arguments but fallacious appeals to authority… and the references do NOT support the claims.
These articles also seem highly unbalanced. There are many other problems with vegetarian and vegan diets that are not mentioned, including reduced intake of Creatine, low testosterone, reduced muscle mass and others (1, 2, 3).
One of the food groups that have been demonized by vegans are dairy products.
Placing these claims on dairy pages is a bold move, especially given that there is not a single controlled trial linking dairy products to these diseases.
So… on the dairy page, there is a paragraph about some vegan docs making weird claims about animal fat and animal protein, but nothing about it being the best dietary source of calcium and highly beneficial for bone health.
That doesn’t seem right.
The article on red meat is incredibly unbalanced.
It seems to be written with the purpose of convincing people that red meat is harmful.
However, the way they put it in words doesn’t make it clear what these studies concluded about red meat itself… that it does NOT raise the risk of death, cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
They also cite dozens of observational studies linking red meat to cancer, but fail to mention the meta-analyses that found this effect to be very weak for men and completely absent for women (9, 10).
There are also several points about how vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters, but no mention that this is probably due to health consciousness, a big confounder in these studies.
There is no reference to the study showing that vegetarians are no healthier than meat eaters who are also health conscious (11).
The truth is, that there really isn’t any actual evidence that (unprocessed) red meat contributes to any disease. Reading this Wikipedia article, you might think that it was a highly toxic substance.
A Look at The References and Claims
In the screenshots above, you will see that there are several references they are citing to support their points.
One book that is commonly referenced is called Veganist, a book written by a woman called Kathy Freston.
Many of the vegan docs gave their opinion in the book in a Q&A format, without citing any studies.
This book, written by a layperson, with NO references to studies, is being used to support the claims that animal fat and protein are detrimental to health.
They also commonly include references to other books that were written by these vegan doctors. These include books by Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. T. Colin Campbell (The China Study), Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish.
Now, I’m sure these scientists and docs have done lots of good work, but citing their books really isn’t proof of anything.
There Are Also a Few Studies
Finally, they cite several studies and papers that are published in respected peer-reviewed journals.
One of them is The Lifestyle Heart Trial, conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish. It was an impressive study, which showed that Ornish’s program could partly reverse heart disease in men (12).
However, the intervention didn’t just use a low-fat vegetarian diet. The subjects also exercised, stopped smoking and meditated, along with a handful of other things.
Impressive results, but there were many confounders in the study. It is possible that something other than the diet (like the exercise) caused the beneficial effects.
Another paper often cited is by Dr. Caldwyn Esselstyn, where he says that cholesterol levels under 150 mg/dL can prevent heart disease. Then he makes a case why a plant-based diet could help people reach these low cholesterol levels (13).
But he forgets to mention that cholesterol levels that are too low are also associated with death, from other causes (like cancer and suicide):
Then they cite 2 other randomized controlled trials:
One was done by Dr. John McDougall, showing that a low-fat vegan diet reduced symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis and inflammatory markers. However, the study was only 4 weeks long and included only 24 subjects with no control group (14).
The other one was done by Dr. Neal Barnard, which showed that a low-fat vegan diet lead to better results for type II diabetics compared to a typical diabetes diet (15).
In this study, which went on for 22 weeks and included 99 participants, the vegan group had greater improvements in many health markers and lost more weight.
Overall, these references are very weak and definitely do NOT prove that a vegan diet can reverse anything.
What About Animal Fat and Animal Protein?
The claims that animal fat and protein cause disease are completely bogus and not supported by the best available evidence.
The protein argument is just plan ridiculous… many studies show that animal protein has health benefits, for weight loss, diabetes, blood pressure, muscle mass, bone health, to name a few (19, 20, 21, 22).
Not to mention that humans have been eating animals throughout evolution and most of the chronic, Western diseases are relatively new.
Blaming new health problems on old foods simply doesn’t make sense.
Veganism is Mostly Based on Pseudoscience
I’d like to point out that I believe that vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy for some people… but it doesn’t have anything to do with the animal foods.
One thing that these diets recommend is avoidance of refined sugars, refined carbs and processed food in general.
This is the reason these diets have health benefits. I’m sure they would lead to even better results if they included at least a little bit of naturally fed, humanely raised animals.
The fact is that there are very few actual studies that support vegan diets… and there is literally zero evidence for the claims about harmful effects of animal foods.
There has even been a large controlled trial done comparing a low-fat vegetarian (Ornish) diet to 3 other diets (including a low-carb Atkins diet). After 1 year, it turned out that the low-fat vegetarian diet did much worse than Atkins (23).
This is the biggest and best study ever done on low-fat vegetarian diets, but it never gets mentioned because the results are unfavourable!
The truth is that the “health benefits” of vegan diets are based mostly on a few cherry-picked observational studies, combined with some animal studies that are taken out of context.
If some people think that avoiding animal foods is the right thing to do from an ethical perspective, then that’s all fine. I suppose there are some good ethical and environmental arguments to avoid meat, even though I don’t agree with them.
But I find it strange when people talk about “ethics” – then in the next sentence tell people blatant lies about the health effects of animal foods. That’s certainly not ethical.
If you’re getting good results on a vegan diet… then great. Do what works for you.
But don’t use lies and fear mongering to scare people from eating animal foods that are perfectly healthy.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, you must take all health information you find (online and elsewhere) with a grain of salt. Look for other opinions and weigh the arguments before making a decision.
It appears that vegan proponents are highly influential on Wikipedia, with unscientific propaganda spread over many key pages and potentially reaching thousands of people per day.
It is clear from looking at the science, that their claims are not only misleading, but blatantly false.
Pseudoscience and propaganda do not belong on a respectable website like Wikipedia.