“Is this a whole food?” – A List of Whole-Food Health-Promoting Alternatives

If you are still wondering why on Earth it matters that foods should be whole foods, look into Whole foods FAQ. That article addresses the “Why?” part of the question. Why whole-foods? Why not processed foods? Why low-fat? Why no oil? Why no salt? Why no sugar? Basically explaining why there is a problem.

What about the solution?
Well, the present article is the “What?” part of question. What is a whole food? What is not? What to buy instead? What to do instead?


whole or not

Do we really need restaurants and take-aways to “eat out”?
Restaurants, take-aways, cafés, and other food venues


There are two ways I know to explain which foods are whole food, which are not, which are acceptable health-wise and which are not. Different people learn in different ways. Some prefer to learn by concepts, some prefer by examples.

If you learn with concepts, what to chose is easy, neat and concise:

“Eat nothing else but low-fat whole plant foods.
If it’s not entirely made of plants, don’t have it.
If it doesn’t look like a plant, make sure the low-fat whole plant food was used and nothing was discarded, nutritionally damaged, extracted nor added that is not a low-fat whole food plant itself.”

That’s it, done. I always prefer positive wording. Simple powerful concepts like this work really well for me. The whole-food concept is a like an alphabet. Once you get the new concept right, the pantry and fridge look more like it, and you then build upwards from that and can’t possibly go wrong. That approach can’t possibly be mistaken for something restrictive. There’s no right way to eat the wrong foods when it comes to health, so drop meals and products that contain processed foods altogether, don’t try to fix processed foods. That strange planet of delicious disease is already obsolete. Just focus on building a *whole* new edifice, that of delicious health, with solid whole-foods foundations.

Now, if you learn best through examples, it’s a bit different. There’s no other way for this than go through a “good/not good” list which may look like a long prohibitive list. But what is really prohibitive? Could it be the insane extent of our reliance on processed foods that is prohibitive to our health? Reading this, chances are that you leave animals alone and off the plate. So imagine making a list of all animal foods people should replace or stop having? It will inevitably be a long list, and will inevitably seem restrictive to some. But you would know better, you would know the reality of it from experience. You would know, that there is no restriction/prohibition when you actually eat far more nutrients, add more years to your life and more life to your years. You would know, it’s not about cutting/eliminating foods (or rather non-foods), it’s fundamentally about having the right foods and nothing else.

Particularly nowadays, and particularly in certain foods cultures, listing all the processed foods we should be weaning from or replacing to eat the right foods can be quite a mouthful!
But I braced myself today to put it all down so it can go to help whoever wants to go whole-food; starting from where many people are (processed foods from supermarkets, restaurants, cafés, take-aways) and moving to food compatible with health that you prepare yourself from whole plants.

Finally, I must insist on two points:

  • Of all processed foods or non-foods below, oil, salt, and sugar will be of particular concern due the particular health concern with these. Please do not use them and consider instead the easy alternatives offered below.
  • Every transition in life can take time to be operated painlessly and sustainably. This list should not scare you. It took us about a year from quitting sugar to being almost 100% whole-foods with no oil, salt, or sugar. With the advice below we could have done that much faster! If you can operate all these changes cold-tofu, do it, you have all the tools now! If you need time, do them one step at a time, just keep challenging yourself until you reach the destination. Pain should not be part of this journey. Do observe priorities: Start first with eliminating oil and high-fat foods. Meanwhile, reduce down to zero your use of sugar and salt gradually enough so it’s not a pain. Meanwhile also, replace the non-whole foods by whole foods. Start with those you eat most, what is it for you? pasta? bread? and rice? Then expand to other things. Expanding your whole-food repertoire can also be done adding whole foods you never had before. We’re learning for example how to prepare whole grain groats as a staple, or legumes. It’s not a very Anglo-saxon thing to do but if other cultures figured it out, and it’s whole foods, that’s more options for you!


In short: no oil *at all*, nothing that is high-fat. Assuming a 100% oil-free low-fat whole-food nutrition: no more than 1~2 tablespoons daily total of any combination of nuts/seeds/avocado. Coconut best avoided. Absolutely zero of all of these of recovering from cardiovascular disease.

Oils and fats are found naturally in all low-fat whole plant foods in sufficient amounts. By energy: kale: 12%; brown rice: 6%; potatoes : 1%, etc. Given enough diversity in a low-fat whole-food plant diet, *all* our fat nutritional needs are met, including omega-3. Yes, from just plants only. The addition of fat extracted from whole foods like oil, or even high-fat whole foods in large amounts, is not just unnecessary, it contributes to cardiovascular and metabolic disease ending in heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, higher incidence of cancer, and of a number of degenerative diseases.

Not whole foods because all oils are extracts (DO NOT USE)

Everything that is called “oil” when you buying it from a supermarket, an online store,  “health” store, organic shop, or even of you press it yourself from your uncle’s organic olives. It doesn’t matter. Do not have any oil, whether it’s:

  • Cold-pressed oils
  • Extra virgin oils
  • Extra virgin cold-pressed oils
  • Organic oils
  • High-end oils
  • High-quality oils
  • Vegetable oils
  • Coconut oils
  • Olive oil
  • <plant> oil
  • Minimally-processed oil
  • coconut cream
  • coconut milk
  • grated coconut
  • all chocolate (=> cocoa powder although not technically a whole food, is a high-fiber less-high-fat food, a far more acceptable alternative to chocolate if you’re going to use chocolate)

Whole foods, but use at most in very low amounts*

* Very low amounts = ~1 teaspoon per person per meal max. Absolute zero if recovering from cardiovascular disease.

  • nuts and seeds
  • cocoa beans
  • avocado

Whole-foods, but best avoided or kept for occasional use*

* Occasional use = 1 tablespoon per person once a month at most maybe. Absolute zero if recovering from cardiovascular disease.

  • coconut flesh from fresh coconut (even then still among the worst possible whole-food fat there is, almost entirely saturated fat). At home we cut one yearly and freeze it for the whole year. That’s becoming how much coconut we have yearly for two people. Amazing taste, but not worth it as a staple.


Just skip the oil. Below is how to do that depending on how you use oil and what you use it for. I know it’s hard at first to think it’s even possible to cook without oil. But, trust me, let go of being anxious around this, everything below is based on 6 months of kitchen experience of home-cooking without any oil at all.

How to replace oil to heat up spices
If you need to develop the aroma of certain seeds like is done in Indian cooking, just dry roast on less-than-medium heat for a few minutes while stirring, then add wet foods (like chopped onions/garlic) first, then ground spices.

How to replace oils for stir-fries and caramelizing onions/garlic:

There are a few alternative options to oil-frying:

  • Water-frying on high heat with just enough water so it won’t stick nor burn. Add ground spices if needed only after the onions/garlic have softened and become transparent.
  • OR: Chop onions and garlic very finely and stir on less-than-medium heat in a pan on its own (no added water). Because it is chopped finely it will cook at similar temperatures as with oil, without burning because finely-cut onions/garlic give off their own water.
  • OR: If stir-frying or frying is important to give a certain taste to food: consider baking instead. It works for French fries, potato wedges, garlic, bell-pepper etc. If you ever find that it makes the foods too dry, then bake a combination of dry/hard foods along with moist/wet foods. You will end up with nice glossy foods that look and feel exactly as if they were stir-fried.

These may not always give exactly the same result as with oil of course, but close enough that  people will not even notice you changed something.

How to replace oil/added fat in baking:

Don’t be anxious, just skip the oil, it works in many cases for cakes, breads, etc.

In cakes and breads, oil serves the purpose of holding moisture, that can be done with prune paste. The amount of prune paste* is amount of oil needed divided by 3, there will not be a prune taste. Don’t worry your final food will not taste of prunes. Try for yourself.

*For Wellington, large bags can be found at reasonably low cost at Moore Wilsons.

Other ingredients help hold moisture as well: certain flours more than others, aquafaba, ground flaxseed, applesauce, and other whole-food vegan egg replacements. Also wet foods like applesauce, zucchini, beetroot, bananas, give great moisture-holding.

For dressings and dips:

See Section below “Dressings”.

To prevent sticking:

Use baking paper, non-stick pans, cast iron pans if you don’t like non-stick coatings, or even any regular stainless steel pot with lower heat.


Most sugars even the “brown” ones are generally extracted saps from trees or flowers, roots or corn, etc. Them being brown or having some nutrients does not make thin either health promoting not whole-foods. They are of similar concern as white sugar.

The sugars naturally found and consumed in whole foods do not pose health problems.

Commercial sweeteners are absolutely not whole foods, they are not even foods. Do not use them.

Besides, some do pose health concerns (like stevia or aspartame) others are experimental (erythritol) and may well be the next aspartame or MSG scandal, a risk we don’t run with corn or dates natural sweetness. The only safe whole-food sweetener I know that is a powerful natural sweeteener called Luo Han Guo (more below)

Sweetening sources that are not whole foods – DO NOT USE

Anything that doesn’t look like a whole plant food, and with the word sugar, syrup, or molasses in it, to list only a few:

  • raw cane sugar (or Sucanat)
  • raw sugar
  • brown sugar
  • coconut sugar
  • palm sugar
  • blackstrap molasses
  • maple syrup
  • rice syrup
  • malt syrup


The most powerful alternative to sugar is to let your taste buds have less sweet foods so that they can learn to become more sensitive to the natural sweet taste of food and beverages. That should allow you to enjoy beverages with no added sweetness of any kind, and to enjoy food at a lower sweetness level. This being said, there is nothing wrong with enjoying sweetness or sweet foods, as long as that comes from whole foods and not extracted sugars.
There are some very common whole-food sources of sweet flavour that you can use:

  • Apple sauce
  • Date paste
  • Date sugar when it’s made from dried pulverized dates = “date flour”
  • Prune paste
  • Banana
  • Raisins, currants, sultanas and other dried fruits but read the ingredients: some come loaded with oil, sugar, preservatives which you can tell form the ingredients or the sodium content for preservatives.
  • Sweet potatoes like baked orange kumara
  • Jackfruit*
  • Sweet corn
  • Whole-food sweetener: Luo Han Guo*, found in the near tea in many Chinese Shops. Boiled in water it is a very potent natural sweetener with, a long history of usage and not a single known health concern to my best current knowledge after researching it. It might be pulverizable into a powder for use in cooking, baking etc.

* For Wellington: This can be found at Yan’s Supermarket off Webb Street. For Lo Han Guo, see tea section.


The issue with salt has little to do with whole-food or not. Salt is simply not a food, so the wholeness of is secondary and does not frankly matter. Added salt is used as a flavour enhancer, for people who have grown a habit for it and not yet weaned off.

Unfortunately it is the source of unnecessary stress/damage on cardiovascular health because it creates a state of hypertension to push the sodium out of the body.

Hypertension leads to serious health concerns, and is considered a cardiovascular disease, yet it is virtually entirely caused by eating a lot of salt or preserved/processed foods.

There is no right way to eat the wrong foods so all the salts below are salts and should never be part of food.


  • Himalayan pink salt
  • Sea salt
  • Kosher salt
  • Celtic salt
  • Guerande salt
  • black salt (also known as “kala namak”)
  • blue salt
  • soy sauce
  • or anything with the word “salt” in it or with outrageously high amounts/concentrations of salt or sodium in it.

If you buy partially processed products (like the jarred salt-free tomato paste we use off-season) always read the ingredients and nutritional content. Sodium per 100g in natural whole foods is rarely ever above a few dozens. Jeff Novick recommends the sodium content (in mg) should never go above the kcalorie energy of the food per 100g, cool trick. That’s more a of “low-sodium” piece of advice, but it comes handy as an extra tool to make sure no sodium is added.

Be aware that salt and sodium also are virtually everywhere in processed foods, from canned foods too cookies, to even dried fruit! In restaurants you may order salt-free food but if they relied on processed foods like pasta, or sauces, etc, those also come generously loaded with sodium. As I said in introduction, do not waste your time trying to fix a broken system, build your own, without any of the inescapable nonsense.


Quitting all salt is the single best alternative to salt.
It can be done painlessly over 3 weeks to 3 months. After only 3 weeks most people start developing a dislike for salted foods and a preference for unsalted foods.

Immortalizing the moment when we stopped using salt at home :)

Immortalizing the moment when we stopped using salt at home :)

What to do about flavour? Preparing food for people that are used to salt?

Simply use more of natural flavours!

We put more of the flavourful foods in our cooking: slightly more spices, more carrots, more celery, more onion, garlic, more whole-food sweetness to lift up the taste without salt, more sourness (from lemon or tamarind) or more whole-food sweetness from dates or other naturally sweet foods. If you hit the tongue right it won’t need a bang from salt, even the highly-demanding tongues and palates of people who have not yet weaned off salt.

People on low-sodium dietary lifestyles have used all sorts of spices instead of salt.

How to do about salt-containing products? like canned chickpeas, dried fruits with high sodium, spice mixes, etc? Dont’ use them. Find salt-free options if it’s trivial to find or just save time and make your own.

If you have concerns about health:

  1. The sodium in whole plant foods is far more than sufficient to meet our body’s needs in sodium. Look around how many mammals and animals do you see walking around with salt shaker? Salt does not contribute to health.
  2. For iodine which is important, you don’t have to have get it from chronic hypertension (i.e. salt), just introduce unprocessed seaweeds *gradually* (for safety) and check their iodine content before using them. While you sort that out an iodine supplement is very encouraged.


Not whole-foods:

  • Any white rice, because it is polished and the nutrient-rich outer layer (rice bran) is removed.

Whole-food alternatives to milled/polished white rice:

  • Brown rice
  • Red rice
  • Black rice
  • Brown Basmati rice
  • Brown Jasmine rice
  • Brown Thai rice

Note: There are different “whole” grades of the rices below. Some rices that look whole (with a bran on top) are actually partially milled (to remove bran partially) or partially polished. Producers undoubtedly derive extra profits from bran as a by-product, sold as animal feed, for rice bran oil, etc. Ideally you want a rice that is unmilled and unpolished. Visual examination might be enough, I’ll start paying attention and see if I notice differences.


Not whole foods:

  • Split peas
  • Split beans
  • Red lentils (they are what’s left when you remove the highly-nutritious brans)

Whole-food alternatives to split legumes:

  • The unsplit whole grains, i.e. your typical chickpeas or lentils or beans with their skin.


Not whole-food:

  • Standard pasta. This is why:

Whole-food alternative to white pasta:

  • Wholemeal or whole grain pasta
  • Any pasta made at home from whole grains or whole grain semolina.

Note: Commercial use of the term “whole” can be abused in “wholemeal” pasta due to expectable partial amounts of whole semolina or recombined whole semolina made from refined semolina some extracted bran or fiber to give a whole “feel”.


Not whole-food:

Most breads marketed as “whole meal” or “whole grain” use most often only a small amount of whole-meal flour 10% to 25% only typically. The rest is baker’s white flour, a highly- refined product. Besides whole-food aspects, baker’s flours or bread flours and the wheats they come from are generally under a lot of pressure to be high-protein, high-gluten, and have extremely specific characteristics all highly focused on one thing: to make their final processing standardized and idiot-proof. That requires both high selection of the wheat, and high processing, both of which make the job easy for bakers but has led to wheats that can nutritionally poor since nutrition never was the concern, unnecessarily high-protein, unnecessarily high-gluten, and which generally seem to cause more health issues than more traditional wheats, not specifically selected or refined for bread or bakers. Few people that are not bakers or cereal producers know this.

Commercial breads also come with high amounts of salt/sodium. About a gram of salt per 100g, and I know from personal experience it’s outstandingly easy to eat not just 100g of bread a day, but many hundred grams, which is utterly unnecessary hypertension on our blood vessels and the organs they supply.

Whole-food alternative to store-bought non whole-food breads:

I already wasted ample time looking for truly 100% whole and salt-free bread, let me save you some time. Like many quests to find healthy foods processed by industry, it was a quest for the Yeti, the Bigfoot, and the Unicorn combined. I would have made enough bread healthy bread for the year not looking for one.

Solution? Make your own bread at home, with baker’s yeast or a sourdough culture, no salt, and if you want to flavour it maybe throw some fennel seeding in the dough. That’s what we’ve been doing.

If you are a breadoholic, invest 50~100$ into a kneading machine and visit op-shops for secondhand baking trays, rolling pins, whatever you may need.

We don’t often make bread anymore, maybe once or twice a month, about 2 kg, and it never lasts as long as we wish it did! At that pace, I actually love and very much enjoy the (minimal) kneading that is required. No machine or fancy equipment here. Home bread-making can be made very easy and very little time-consuming.

There are many recipes online to make bread from 100% whole flour from any grain or seeds that’s suitable to you.


Not wholefoods:

  • Pretty much all commercial dressings, primarily due to oil, sugar, salt and other refined ingredients.

Whole-food alternatives to dressings:

  • Find recipes for oil-free dressings, and remove salt, replace sugars by whole sweet foods, and high-fat foods by low-fat foods.
  • Create your own: Play with sweet whole foods (e.g. apples, raisins and dates), sour whole foods (like lemon or lime) and instead of fatty base like oil or cashews use a starchy base like blended and cooked pea, beans, or grains with enough water will make a nice and runny cream.


Not whole-foods:

  • Baking powder (+ extra concern with sodium content as it is sodium bicarbonate)
  • Baking soda (+ extra concern with sodium content as it often contains sodium bicarbonate or other sodium salts)
  • Citric acid
  • Tartaric acid
  • Various essences, either natural or artificial flavours

Whole-food alternatives to baking needs:

  • Baking yeast
  • Sourdough cultures
  • Aromas: spices, spice-seeds (fennel, caraway, etc), herbs, real vanilla, grated lemon, dried fruit, orange peels, bananas, etc.

This will not rise instantly, the rising processes takes longer, but good news: you don’t have to sit and stare at breads and cakes leaven! Yeasts are shy and prefer making babies when no one is starring at them and desperately waiting for them to be done 😛 Set an alarm and go on about your life while it’s rising 🙂


These are of particular concern to health not because of the whole-foods being pickled, but because of the ridiculous amounts of salt, oil, sugar and preservatives used to keep those.

I created a project group on Facebook especially for the purpose of pickling and fermenting foods without resorting to any salt, sugar or oil: sauerkraut, pickled lemon, etc.
Whole-food plant-based fermentation, no oil, no sugar, no salt

Salt-free purple cabbage sauerkraut culturing as I write

Salt-free purple cabbage sauerkraut culturing as I write


It’s a very good question!
We all like to go out, have lunch and dinners with friends.
How do we do?

At this point of time, my partner and I eat about 90% of our meals from home-made food. It’s all low-fat, whole-food vegan, with no oil, no salt, no sugar.

We eat from restaurants and cafés about twice a week, that the 10%. The food we eat out is not always perfect, but we try, and it’s been worth trying so far, even if sometimes it’s a bit of a sport. Restaurants like all businesses care first and foremost about one thing, that is making profit. The health officer in that trade is you and you alone, so you get what you encourage and ask for. Restaurants follow what the people holding the money want, and these people need to express their needs.

Do we really need restaurants and take-aways to “eat out”?

Everything you didn’t make yourself from scratch using whole plant foods is eating out. If you got your act sorted out, that eating out remains the only possible source of unhealthy eating.
Before zooming on restaurants and take-ways, let’s talk about “eating out”.
First of all there are a number of reasons why people eat out. Convenience, hanging out with people, getting food inspiration, etc…A number of these needs can be met without having to go to a restaurant. Since it can be a bit of challenge getting truly healthy whole foods from restaurants, with the help of like-minded friends we have been federating a culture of healthy eating among our friends and communities. So we’re having more potlucks, more dinners and meals at each others house, etc. To some extent, so many restaurants could exist only on a base of lack of community bonds, lack of time spent in the kitchen, and lack of direct sharing in people’s life. This is easy to remedy: Share and make foods for yourself *and* your friends!


That’s our growing whole-food gang, meeting for a lovely autumn picnic. We’re heading towards doing this at least twice a month.

There is also nothing wrong with bringing your own food to work, going to the company/school canteen with your boxes, and sitting at your friends table with your own food. The spotlight won’t be on you too long if you know why you’re doing it and how to articulate it. In fact you may get them to join you…who doesn’t want to spare themselves a heart attack? diabetes? hypertension and all the plagues of animal-based eating?

Restaurants, take-aways, cafés and other food venues

When eating out we skip everything that is deep-fried, or fried, expect stir-fries, more below on this. What’s left is either vegan or not, and to keep choices large, I include non-vegan options so I can explore if it can be veganized (in passing that encourages vegan options). If something is a stir-fry, I ask to water-fry as I ask for “vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar”.

“No oil” is currently the most frightening new challenge for most restaurants. Oil is still very central to restaurant/café kitchens and it often seems unconceivable for them to not use oil, either for cooking convenience, time-saving, or for taste. It’s not rare that the person taking our order would go and check with the kitchen to see if they can do that.

Good news though: most often restaurants can remove oil, sugar or salt to some relevant amount, if not entirely. There is of course the odd one out where the waiter “vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar” and the food comes either stir-fried with oil, or drizzed with it, or far too salty or sweet, it happened…but quite rarely. There is also the odd one out where a restaurant would insist “The chef doesnt’ want to do a stir-fry with no oil, he/she/it needs oil”. Other times, they would honestly say they wish but they can’t because the food is batch-prepared with oil, sugar, or salt. But most of the time they can remove something, if not all.

Where my face is not familiar yet, waiters taking my food order the first time often (unwittingly) patronizingly tell me that the food will not be very good. But that’s their worried untrained palate speaking, so it’s worth insisting that they shouldn’t worry about taste and that I eat like that everyday and like it a lot. They can get surprisingly insisting that your palate will not find it tasty basically, afraid perhaps to serve a customer a very unpalatable experience that may convert into bad business. But be “kindly firm” in those cases. And when you’re done with your meal and thank them before leaving, tell them what you thought about the food (it’s usually good!). It’s usually only the first time, it gets smooth and easy when you go regularly to the same food places. Once you develop relationships with them, if they’re open to it, they eventually get interested into your motivations to order in this unusual way for them.

A friend, Caitlin, also gave me the tip of ordering a few hours in advance, ahead of peak hours. Not sure why that works, but it works for her and for other people apparently.

We have had some really lovely restaurant experiences, some waiters, chefs or restaurants owners that would have dealt with disease themselves or through a close person. They’d know about why eating the way we do is vitally important, and they were accommodating. Such a breeze when that happens!


Rangoli Restaurant, Kapiti, NZ. Highly recommended!

Such an accommodating place served us this, everything is no oil, no salt, no sugar. 3 out of 4 plates here are low-fat whole foods: Kachumber (Indian salad), wholemeal bread (Indian roti), and the best chana masala (Indian chickpea curry) I’ve had in my life. Only the rice on the top left is not a whole food, but white rice. Not bad at all overall relatively. The restaurant is Rangoli, in Kapiti, NZ. Great friendly/kind service, rather cosy, amazing food, some vegan wines too.

So far, I talked oil, salt, sugar, but that doesn’t make a tofu burger whole-food, does it?
No it doesn’t. At this point of time, most breads in restaurants are white breads (less so in Indian restaurants), pasta is still always refined white pasta, rice is not yet routinely brown rice or another whole rice, etc…We make do our best with what we have at hand. More and more, I do ask though about the wholeness of the pasta, rice, breads. I would know the answer in advance most of the time, so why do I keep asking? Because customers’ questions always act as subtle requests and they are! It can start very constructive educational conversations for the staff and restaurant, as well as for us in terms of the challenges that they encounter, which we may able to help with.

A restaurant we often go to even started to put on the menu that whole-food options are available with no oil, sugar or salt. The owner, it turns out, already had a preference for oil-free food and whole foods and just needed someone to request it to feel motivated to pursue that route.

Adulis Restaurant, Wellington, NZ. Highly recommended!

This restaurant is in Wellington NZ:  Adulis African restaurant, proposing currently essentially Ethiopian/Sudanese foods. Currently in the process of going using more whole foods and pro-actively encouraging options with no oil, salt, sugar. Wonderful! This is at long last the future that many of us have been waiting for, it’s amazing! And again, restaurant owner also very cheerful and friendly person, and so is staff generally. That’s becoming more and more one of regular healthy go-tos.


Was this helpful to you?
What did you learn from this?
Do you feel I forget something important in this list?
Is there something you want to suggest adding?
Do you have short videos (< 5 min) that show clearly the products we’re used to being processed from a whole food to an extracted, refined, nutritionally damaged product?
What struggles are you facing with going WFPN (whole-food plant nutrition)?
or with quitting salt, sugar, and oil?

Post you comments below!

Whole foods FAQ – Why whole-food plant-based? Why no oil, no salt or no sugar?

This is a list of frequently asked questions regarding whole-food plant nutrition and the health benefits that are associated. For each question/topic, a series of educational resources are provided, mostly in video format.


  1. What are whole foods?!
  2. Why low-fat whole-food plant nutrition?
    (more commonly known as “whole-food plant-based” or WFPB)
  3. Why low-fat and no oil?
  4. Why no sugar?
  5. Why no salt?

1) What is a whole food and what is not?

As the name indicates, a food that is whole or integral.
Whole foods means edible foods in their whole, or natural, or recognizable form, that have not (or minimally) been refined, transformed, processed, or extracted.
Why the distinction is tremendously important from a health standpoint will be explained in later sections.


  • A sunflower seed is a whole food, and sunflower oil pressed from the sunflower seeds and heavily refined is not a whole food. The high-fat concern is a concern too.
  • A beetroot is a whole food, and the sugar extracted and refined from beetroot is not a whole food.
  • Corn seeds from a corn cob are a whole food, but high-fructose corn syrup and corn starch are heavily processed extracts so those are not whole foods.
  • Whole-meal wheat flour directly obtained from grinding whole wheat grains is whole-food, but wheat bran or white flour because they use only part of the wheat seed are not whole foods.

Ok, now that you get it. Why is the distinction important? Excellent question! That’s all below. You will understand when you watch the fundamentals in Part 2.

2) Basic knowledge about low-fat whole food plant nutrition

Documentary Forks over Knives, sorry for this one I only have the trailer, you’ll have to check your Netflix, look for DVD at your library, or rent it on Amazon Prime or other Video-on-demand websites.
This an absolute must-watch.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7ijukNzlUg

Documentary Planeat


Documentary Plant-pure Nation
Full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llQ7V9Jv5a0

3) Why “no oil” in whole-food?

Make Yourself Heart Attack Proof – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYTf0z_zVs0


4) Why “no sugar” in whole-food?

Documentary Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

If Fructose is Bad, What About Fruit? (5-min video)

5) Why “no salt” in whole-food ?

High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice (5-min video)

The Evidence That Salt Raises Blood Pressure (5-min video)

Manufactured controversy over Salt #1 (5-min video)

Manufactured controversy over Salt #2 (5-min video)

Amaranth Veglaze — Ditch the eggs, this vegan glaze is glossy and won’t stick


Okay…Posting new recipes publicly is a new thing for me that took me some time to warm up to…

You see, as a researcher and advocate, I’d usually be busy sharing with people how to  proactively help preventing cancer far beyond “just” good nutrition and exercise, that is by regular fasting + some nutrient supplementation + chemoprevention (though essentially plants).
Otherwise, I’d be busy educating on how to avoid the other third of unnecessary suffering and premature death – cardiovascular disease – by relying on low-fat whole-foods plant-only nutrition, with no oil/no sugar/no salt. In short, by eating what healthy cultures call “food” as explained in detail in the fascinating Forks over Knives.
I’d normally be busy working towards the abolition of animal exploitation, by engaging with people on the many issues tied with eating/using animals and typically pointing to documentaries Earthlings, Gary Yourovsky’s speechCowspiracy or Forks over Knives for people to transform by-default cluelessness into conscious, educated choices.

I became a scientist/researcher to help people. What is the point of more research, when best practice was already researched, found, documented, but then ignored and unused? So I’ve been spending less time with facts and figures, more time directly with people, communities, always around food.

Food is where many decisions are taken daily on the relationship we want to have on the process of Life; a destructive self-dooming one, or one of universal thriving.

So today, my first publicly-shared recipe is also one my favorites because it’s been a fun challenge. I found a new use for nature’s magic, and made a Veglaze.

It’s short for vegan glaze, a glazing agent or egg wash substitute that leaves animals alone, and calls only for whole-food ingredients. The happening and lovely Wellington (NZ) Vegans voted to call it Veglaze!

It’s a small, fun, little thing, yet, I love it!

Q: “Why don’t you just use eggs, I don’t get it?”.
A: Fair question. This is why. I cannot possibly explain it any better.


Ever found yourself making burger buns, or some sort of vegan bread and wanted the top to look super-shiny? Obviously the last thing you want to use is an egg, or anything based on sugar, other processed foods, or anything leading to sticky fingers?

So let me guess…

You went online and looked for the name of that stuff we use to make burger buns and brioche breads shiny…what is it called…Oh yeah, it’s called an “egg wash” or a “glaze”, “glazing”. You found pinterest pictures with a dozen different options that leave animals alone, using soy milk, aquafaba, cornstarch, olive oil…and you tried it on your buns. All you truthfully get is this: your buns are browner, but still obviously dry-looking and nothing even remotely close to shiny, glossy, glazy…

I know your frustration, I grew up with brioche breads and burger buns as shiny as my lovely dad’s balding head. The brioches used eggs, we didn’t know any better back then. Nonetheless, there’s something strange about food that makes it very appealing when it’s shiny. Well, this is not a browning agent, I like to call a spade a spade, or “a cat a cat” as the French say, and this is the deal folks! A true Veglaze!

I hope you will feel the same satisfaction as we did with the shiny Hot Cross Buns we baked.

Walking in the footsteps of the amazing Aquafaba project, this will be the Veglaze project group on Facebook, focusing exclusively on veglazing, to replace the glossy effect obtained by eggs washes in baking, or by unhealthy/processed foods undesirable in a whole food pantry (sugar, oil, processed flours…).  This is a place for people to posts their own attempts, new uses, findings, fails, etc…A Veglaze is a concept, what plant the Veglaze uses can vary and hopefully will expand.


This is is about Amaranth seed veglaze


Start with ½ (one half) cup of amaranth seed.
This will yield us about 1 ~ 1 ½ cups of Veglaze by volume, 200~350g by weight.
Egg white equivalent: Not sure at this point, but I veglazed 3 batches of 12 large hot cross buns with it. So relax, this will make more than enough if you’re veglazing less than the size of a standard oven tray.

20160322_153038Add 4 cups of room temperature water. And set on the stove on medium for 30 min. No lid on.

20160322_155419It will start to boil after about 10 min.


This will be what it will look like after 30 minutes of cooking. See that glossiness?


Pour in a strainer.


Squeeze it a bit *gently* if needed. You want to strain it, not press the grains through the sieve. The pictures shows a thicker experimental version. But with 4 cups of water as per this recipe, it should strain even more easily.


This is what you get from a first pass of sieving. Lots of a glossy Veglaze in the making, but still with lots of amaranth seed germs in it.


Sieve that one more time.

Picture 89

Et voilà! A uniform, transparent clean veglaze.


Egg white replacement: If you want to use it as a transparent veglaze, use it as it is.
Full egg or yolk-containing replacement: If you want the Veglaze to also have a browning shine (like for brioche, pain au chocolat, challah, etc.)  add tamarind paste, or turmeric for color and maybe a plant milk for a creamy aspect. In all cases, share your successes and fails in the project. Here (as per the picture above) I experimentally added a bit of soy milk. Another previous time, I had successfully tried before with tamarind paste and turmeric powder.

Q: When to veglaze?
A: Either before baking and/or  5~10 minutes before the end of baking.


I’ll count on you guys to upload more “WITH vs. WITHOUT” photos, I was busy making ALL the buns veglazed whenever I could, only our car or my hair I haven’t used this Veglaze on…yet! 😀 But I did take some photos.


Above is WITHOUT VEGLAZE picture, where you can see the dull dry surface. Anything shiny? Oh hold on…
Ah okay…now we’re talking. WITH VEGLAZE.

Why do I love this stuff so much?

  • it leaves animals alone
  • it works, shines, and makes relevant foods look beautiful
  • it’s easy to make
  • tasteless, it won’t interfere with wonderful taste of the vegan whole-food treats you veglaze with it
  • stores in the fridge for days. Leftover can be used like vegetable stock or water
  • inexpensive: a small amount veglazes large surfaces
  • prevents madness: leaves clean fingers, doesn’t stick to fingers nor have a greasy feel.
  • suits whole-food kitchens as it does not include oil, sugar, or other processed products in order to live long happy healthy lives
  • can be made year-round
  • safe: no risk of food-poisoning typical to eggs
  • nothing goes to waste: the amounts of cooked amaranth grain it makes are very realistically sustainably edible.


The Aquafaba project might provide part of the answer. The glossy aspect here adds to the open mystery. I’m guessing proteins and saccharides have a lot to do with the shine and viscosity of the mucilage.
All I know from practice, is that the dry-food to water ratio to get separate grains of amaranth is close to 1:10 which is enormous. In fact pretty close to the dry to wet ratio of many seaweeds, which are excellent water binders. That is a rather high water binding capacity. This suggests that amaranth seed mucilage (or “glamAranth” like a friend calls it because it makes foods look glamourous) could likely be a highly-efficient egg-substitute not just for veglazing but all sorts of uses previously relying on eggs, and the many problems that inevitably come with using eggs.


How I found that amaranth could be used to make Veglaze is one of those little fun little quests I love to play with and try to solve.

I was making a first big step towards whole-foods, looking into buying/eating whole grains instead of the processed grains we were having as staple: pasta, polished white rice, couscous, etc. Amaranth was one of many whole grains in this book. Its small size fascinated me, so I bought it out of curiosity along with 20~30 other whole grains, seeds, pea and beans. With amaranth, the aim was to have something like couscous, separate grains, just “nano-sized”. Like everyone I cooked it, using a ratio I am comfortable with, that of brown rice to water (~1:2 ratio by volume).  And like everyone cooking amaranth for the first time, I got a sticky mess so impossible to sieve that I broke my sieve trying to get the gooeyness out! The tiny bits of gel I managed to squeeze out was very much reminding of egg whites. I took note of that but remained focused on the grains more than the Veglaze.

So I added a lot of water, enough to make the grains separate and I sieved that.
Wonderful, nano-sized couscous!
Now I was left with quite a lot of thick water and set on reducing that to see if it could glaze like eggs do. I put some of that thick water in an hollow oven tray for some time to dehydrate it. Put it in the warm oven, turned it off before going to sleep, then completely forgot about it! The days pass and I see the word “amaranth” somewhere and remember “Oh snap! The amaranth gel has been in the oven for days!!!” Ready to encounter a moldy stinky mess,  I rushed to the oven, held my breath and opened slowly in apprehension…But what I saw was quite different from the doom I had imagined!

The water had completely dried out. What was left behind was a blessing of serendipity!

The oven tray was clean and spotless, in fact so shiny I could see my ecstatic face in it! The water had dried, and that was a ~1 mm dry thick layer of shiny varnish. At that point, I definitely knew amaranth would make an excellent glazing for baking (and maybe other things). That mistake had conveniently saved me a few experimental steps.

Soon enough, I found excuses to bake various breads and cakes (100% whole-meal and whole-foods of course) and played around for a bit. Although it shined, it still needed more tries to find the right thickness or amaranth/water ratio. On the first attempts the gel was so thick, that the veglaze once cooked looked like those transparent slug trails in the garden…Not quite as appealing as I was aiming for!

So I kept playing with ratios and mixes and got to something pretty good now. I am still fine-tuning the ratios and making the recipe as easy and simple as possible. I’m sharing it already though so anyone can benefit from this as it is now. You can take on from here with your own uses, experiments, attempts. Whether they’re brilliant glows (successes) or whether you slip down some slippery slopes (opportunities to learn) share it anyways!

Join the Veglaze group on Facebook and share your experiments, trials, errors….

=> Facebook Veglaze Project – A community project with open discussion and sharing, trial and error etc. If you knew aquafaba, you will feel like at home!
Warning: The group *does* encourage healthful whole-food pantries. Remember to Read the pinned post.

Comments? => on the veglaze project group above 😉

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Iodine in Common Edible Wild NZ Seaweeds – An Alternative to Iodized Salt!

Iodine content of New Zealand’s Common Edible Wild Seaweeds, for (low-sodium) adequate iodine intake

This article documents the amount of edible seaweeds commonly found on NZ’s shores, that adults can rely on as their exclusive source of iodine, in replacement for iodized salt. Why would anyone drop salt? That you will get a hint in the second part “The Story” but first…the facts!

It took me so much time to compile all this info together, so today is a very exciting day, finally putting this out for everyone to enjoy 🙂 Here’s the menu, and I wish you a lot of fun in foraging, and a healthy long happy life away from the unnecessary pains of hypertension! Later (in a future post hopefully) I will tell you the story of why I gave up salt completely, and how to achieve that in just about 3 months painlessly. But this post for now is more about the “how” part of staying away from salt.

This article is a work in progress. Since I am starting to have a set of actionable data, I am sharing so you can enjoy it as well.


Things to know beforehand to use the facts intelligently
Safety precautions
Seaweed preparation

Seaweeds Iodine/Sodium contents and daily intake

– Long sea lettuce – Ulva stenophylla
– Nori – Porphyra species– Karengo (Maori)
– Wakame – Undaria pinnatifida
– Bull Kelp – Durvillaea antarctica – Rimurapa/Rimuroa

– Neptune’s necklace – Hormosira  banksii
– Bladder kelp – Macrocystis pyrifera – Rimurimu
– Paddle weed – Ecklonia radiata

Methods of calculation

PART 2/2 – THE STORY (of how you are bound to come to seaweeds to replace iodized salt)



Part 1/2: THE FACTS

Things to know beforehand to use the facts intelligently

Safety precautions

The seaweeds below are found virtually everywhere on New Zealand coasts, if one is not, another will. There is no need to go specifically to the sites listed below, those are just sites chosen by the scientists for their own reasons. In any case, do your foraging safety homework first: always have a buddy, never pull but instead cut live seaweeds so they can regrow, watch your steps to avoid seasnails on rocks, small standalone rocks can make you fall, no stream pouring nearby, no industries and boating activity nearby, no sewage discharge nearby…I can’t be thorough here on these.

Basically, this article is not a thorough coastal foraging guide. There are some specific things you may want to know for different aspects of safety, other things you may want to know to minimize your impact on the intertidal biodiversity, some sites may be tapu (considered sacred by Māori) and better left alone, etc. All I do here is document the iodine/sodium content of a few common edibles.

Also, this articles focuses on iodine requirement for adults. If you need the numbers for children or adolescents contact me, I’ll be happy computing them and updating this article for you.

Seaweed preparation

The quantities below only apply to cleaned and dried seaweeds, not to wet seaweeds: not drained, not seaweeds that feel dry-ish to the touch. By dried I mean something you put effort into drying: crispy-dry if thin seaweeds or corn-chips-cracky/dry if thick just to be very clear. The cleaning to reduce salt content consists in soaking in freshwater (non-salty) baths with several water changes.


Seaweeds are known to show some variation in their characteristics like nutrient content, between species even closely related ones, based on the micro-ecosystem, weather, seasons, etc…In fact this applies to all plants, but people tend to be used to the idea that all foods contain exactly what the nutritional facts state. They don’t, those are averages and estimates from ranges that sometimes are very wide! This being said, some of these seaweeds  have been measured in different places of a coherent geographic area (NZ) and at different times of the year. Also, the ranges of iodine are generally always in the same narrow range, most often.


Different seaweeds have different “iodine species” (different molecules that contains iodine) and they are not digested the same. So it’s difficult to know how much iodine is absorbable exactly from seaweeds in general, let alone variations among people etc. This article assumes all iodine in the plant is absorbed, it may not be the case, but this assumption provides a additional margin of safety to stay clear from excess. As for staying of deficiency, minimum iodine requirements are likely to be met at doses between the recommended daily value and the tolerable upper limit. Both will be provided.


The unit below will be “mcg / g” means microgram per gram. I prefer this unit for iodine because daily requirements are expressed in micrograms and grams are something people can measure in their kitchen. This unit is the same as “mg / kg” (milligram per kilogram) or “ppm” (parts per million).


The little number between brackets (i.e. [1] or [5]) is to direct to the source of that information, listed below in Sources.

Seaweeds Iodine/Sodium contents and daily intake

If you found in the literature, or measured in your lab other values from these for LOCALLY HARVESTED/FARMED (in New Zealand) seaweeds named below, please comment the sources or drop me an email and I’ll get in touch with you to ask for the more info to update this article.



Long sea lettuce – Ulva stenophylla – (Maori name?)


Image credits: Photo: Algaebase;
Illustration: Setchell and Gardner, 1920b

More info: http://www.marinelife.ac.nz/species/1052
Note: Ulva stenophylla is a specific species of Ulva (sea lettuces). Data provided may be different for other Ulva. To illustrate that, for instance Ulva stenophylla was found to have double the protein of Ulva lactuca [1], another sea lettuce. Nothing guarantees all Ulva have the same nutritional profile.

Wild samples (3): 27 ±12 mcg/g [1]
The adult DRI of 150 mcg/day is attained with: ~10g (washed, dried, sodium: ~20mg)
The NZ Tolerable upper Limit is attained with: ~35g (washed, dried, sodium: ~55mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)

Wild samples (3):
Onehunga Bay, Auckland April 2004
Onehunga Bay, Auckland April 2004
Onehunga Bay, Auckland August 2004


Nori – Porphyra species – Karengo (Maori)

Nori – Porphyra species – Karengo (Maori)

Image credits: (left) Kim Westerskov;
(right) Wendy Nelson, NIWA

More info: http://www.marinelife.ac.nz/species/990
Wild samples (3): 64 ±21 mcg/g [1]
Commercial sample (1): 45.03 mcg/g [1] (within range of wild)

DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~4g (washed, dried, sodium: ~6mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~13g (washed, dried, sodium: ~22mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)

Wild samples (3):
Nelson May-October 2004 (3)

Commercial sample (1):
Kaikoura Coast 2004


Wakame – Undaria pinnatifida – (not a native plant => no Maori name)

Wakame – Undaria pinnatifida

Image credits: © Jon Sullivan
Image cropped from original..
Cc by nc small some rights reserved

More info: http://www.marinelife.ac.nz/species/1053
Wild samples (3): 171 ±28 mcg/g [1]
Commercial sample (1): 100.67 mcg/g [1] (close to range of wild)

DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~1g (washed, dried, sodium: ~40mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~5g (washed, dried, sodium: ~200mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)

Wild samples (3):
Nelson, April–September 2004 (3)

Commercial sample (1):
Wellington Harbour, 2004


Bull Kelp – Durvillaea antarctica – Rimurapa/Rimuroa (Maori)

Bull Kelp – Durvillaea antarctica - Rimurapa/Rimuroa (Maori)

Image credits: © lupra, all rights reserved

More info: http://www.marinelife.ac.nz/species/808
Wild samples (3): 291.9 ±270 mcg/g [1]

This seaweed has a very wide variation of iodine content. Only a tolerable upper limit can be given for the worst-case scenario.
That amount which should be safe in terms of avoiding excess can be in certain cases too low to meet daiy recommended value. This seaweed is safe for occasional seasoning, but not recommended to rely on safely as one’s daily only source of iodine.
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with *potentially*: ~2g (washed, dried, sodium: ~100mg)

Wild samples (3):
Piha, Auckland, NZ , April 2004 (2)
Maori Bay, Auckland, NZ, in August 2004 (1)



Use only as seasoning: from the same way most people sprinkle salt or pepper, to rather the way toddlers would sprinkle super hot chilli pepper in their food 🙂


Neptune’s necklace – Hormosira  banksii  – (Maori name?)

Neptune's necklace - Hormosira banksii

Image credits: © Melissa Hutchison
Image cropped and levels adjusted from original..
Cc by nc small some rights reserved

More info: http://www.marinelife.ac.nz/species/862
Wild samples (3) : 1041 ±292 mcg/g [1]

DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,2g (washed, dried, sodium: ~10mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,8g (washed, dried, sodium: ~50mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)

If you do not have a microgram scale, to visualise how much that is, start from a large amount that your scale can measure (i.e. 10g) and divide the pile of seaweed just visually and with your hands, until you divide enough to reach those values. Divide 10g ÷ 2 =5g, ÷5 =>1g, ÷5 => 0.2g, *4 = 0.8g

Wild samples (3):
Piha, Auckland April 2004
Ti Point, Leigh April 2004
Beaumont, Auckland August 2004


Bladder kelp – Macrocystis pyrifera – Rimurimu (Maori)

Bladder kelp – Macrocystis pyrifera – Rimurimu (Maori)

Image credits: © Sue Mcgaw
Image cropped from original.
Cc by nc small some rights reserved

More info: http://www.marinelife.ac.nz/species/894
Iodine concentrations reported:
2115.81 mcg/g* [1]

DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,07g (washed, dried, sodium: ~3mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,5g (washed, dried, sodium: ~20mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)

* Commercial sample (1):
Tory Channel, near Nelson, NZ, 2003. (Sold as “kelp pepper”)


Paddle Weed – Ecklonia radiata – (Maori name?)

Paddle Weed – Ecklonia radiata

More info: http://www.marinelife.ac.nz/species/811

Wild samples (4): 3990 ±242 mcg/g [1]
Commercial samples (1): 3719.45 mcg/g [1] (within range of wild)

DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,04g (washed, dried, sodium: ~1mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,25g (washed, dried, sodium: ~8mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)

You need a microgram scale if you want to visualize these amounts.

Wild samples (4):
Maori Bay, Auckland April 2004
Matheson Bay, Auckland April 2004
Beaumont, Auckland August 2004
Takapuna, Auckland August 2004

Commercial sample (1):
Wairarapa Coast 2004


Methods of calculation

Detail of the method used for calculating amounts of seaweed to attain adult DRI or TUL:
For DRI, the worst-case scenario is when the wild seaweed has the lowest possible average concentration.
This is because you want to have at least the DRI, so even the lowest concentration (in theory*) meets the needs.
Worst-case iodine concentration = Average of wild <minus> standard error (the number after ±)

For TUL, the worst-case scenario is when the wild seaweed has the highest possible average concentration.
This is because you want to not exceed the upper limit, so even the highest concentration (in theory*) meets the needs.
Worst-case iodine concentration = Average of wild <plus> standard error (the number after ±)

Then divide UL or DRI by worst-case concentration => How much covers the needs.

The sodium estimations are obtained in the following way: Average sodium concentration for that species <multiplied by> amount to meet DRI or TUL. The sodium quantities have their own standard error (small variations) but since the sodium amounts are extremely very low, high precision is irrelevant.

* There is no guarantee that seaweeds you may forage will match these number. They are quite likely too, but also may no. That means you can get “worse” with what you forage than my worst case-scenarios. Realistically, since people eat seaweed without caring at all to begin with, the guidelines and maximum edible amounts are very useful and far less risky than eating with no guideline.


Part 2/2 – THE STORY

Seaweeds are like Rome, all roads lead to them. I love to forage, to try new things in the kitchen, to try plant foods I never had, and to make sure people have the nutrients and health they need. These are some of many avenues where my insatiable curiosity roams to play, and each of them separately took me to seaweeds, like by enchantment. Can you imagine how fulfilling it can be walking by the beach and just snapping photos of seaweeds and intertidal species, going to the library to find books with pictures, learning to recognize, and then be foraging, preparing, something delicious and which takes an important place in nutrition? As fulfilling as falling in love for the first time. That is what life is all about, and I have yet a new lover. This time it is seaweeds!

Since transitioning to whole-food eating for evident health reasons, my partner and I no longer consume salt at home, like, interestingly, millions of other land-bound animal species that do very well without a salt shaker. Yes folks, sodium is of vital importance. What you may not know is that all the vital sodium you need, and far more than you need, is in all sorts of plant foods you eat, but we’ll keep the detailed story for another day, subscribe the RSS if you want to keep posted on new posts. Anyhow, since something as harmful as salt had been chosen as a vehicle for iodine fortification: if you skip the salt, you also skip the iodine, at least in iodine depleted soils like in New Zealand.
So we had three or really two choices:

  1. Replace the salt shaker by some sort of iodine supplement (in cooking, or as a tablet) but we had lost the salt shaker reflex and it is weird taking a pill each breakfast. You see, a cherry-flavoured vitamin B12 that melts in the mouth, once a week, is not a problem, but an iodine drug-like pill everyday, in a pill box and had with a glass of water, not for us…too medication-like.
  2. Rely on eating sea-animals (fishes, mollusks, etc…) but there’s a major problem with that.
    Recently, we fixed an urgently needed upgrade in our frankly standard and deficient knowledge on animal exploitation and the pressing issues related. Watch these documentaries Earthlings, Seaspiracy, Cowspiracy, to get a better idea what made us a bit less less ignorant on rather very important things. Anyway we decided it made complete sense to stay clear of intentionally killing/exploiting animals and better to instead just leave them alone along with the ecosystems they live in => Everything but sea animals, not even an option.
  3. Simpler, tastier, and far more fun: Learn to forage seaweeds! Go have a fun walk on the beach regularly, forage seaweeds and eat the right amount regularly. Use the right ones as a food and the right ones as a pepper (to sprinkle in small amounts).

Option #3 is very appealing now 🙂

Before that, my first approach was “iodine supplementation only” as can be appreciated in this article.  I was quite wary of variations in iodine content of seaweeds, some of which are enormous, and I did not want to take the risk. Having learned a bit more about seaweeds since that article, and a bit more about iodine acceptable intakes, I feel safe dropping the iodine supplement and relying more on locally foraged seaweeds. A decision like this is not done lightly and required good hands-on and knowledge on a few things:

  • knowing iodine concentrations in local seaweeds locally documented (so basically not something you read about “kombu” or “kelp” in general as a product, but science journals publishing iodine levels in clearly named and specific seaweed species harvested locally). That’s the only thing this article will help with.
  • a good ability to recognize exactly those species when foraging (not too hard but must be learned and practiced)
  • foraging safety (i.e. foraging fresh seaweeds instead of decaying ones, away from sources of pollution such as manufactures, landfills, sewage …)
  • nutritional awareness (safe levels of iodine).


[1] JL Smith , G Summers & R Wong (2010) Nutrient and heavy metal content of edible seaweeds in New Zealand, New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science, 38:1, 19-28, DOI: 10.1080/01140671003619290

Saving the meat, or the predictable future of meat research, PR, and consumption

When popular media relayed WHO’s statements on the carcinogenic nature of processed and cured meat, were you surprised? I was not. I knew the science, and the politics, I just wish everybody knew as well. This is what motivated me to write this article.
About the facts:
The facts come in a bit late, don’t they? And how selective was that still!
There is far more to animal products consumption and disease than the reductionist link between processed/red meats on just cancer. So from the science standpoint, that WHO announcement really did not teach me anything new, it also came to the public, far too late.
The question is: Why? Why isn’t the full extent of best practice widely broadcast loudly to the public as soon as the evidence is strong enough?
Well, the second aspect in which the WHO statement failed to surprise me is politics.
About the politics:
History has a bad habit of repeating itself. There is a major political dimension to such statements. It is not the first time that a major industry faces the economical threat of the truth coming into the public’s hands. This has been well-documented and the patterns are crystal-clear to me. But I want you to see it as well because it helps make wiser and life-saving choices. Today I want to save you thousands of pages of reading and get that clear in this relatively short and well-documented article. That’s the good news of history repeating itself, those who know the patterns can predict things far ahead of time, I’d love everyone to know! So let’s go back in a history similar to that of meat: the history of the cigarette. Let’s see how it helps predict the truth about our past relationship to meat, and more interestingly the future of meat. Let’s travel in the inevitable future and hopefully make it happen faster.

To do so, I will simply share my notes on the chapter “Saving the Cigarette” by Devra Davis in “The Secret History of the War on Cancer“. I highly recommend this book if you want a well-documented account of industry vs. health battles in recent history she has been at the forefront all her life. She focused on stories looking as far as the Nazi times up to now. I will elaborate on the Nazi German bit. We will also see if the pattern of public manipulation and fraud that happened with tobacco can apply to the meat, dairy, and egg industry. It may have already started…So we will pause one example of a communication from the meat industry, and analyze communication strategies in details. Because I love to have a solution to offer when I point to a problem, I’ll leave you with further practical advice of things you can do right now to avoid being taken advantage of any further. Happy ending…

But first, the rather epic story of the cigarette.


Chapter 7 : Saving Cigarettes

From the 1960s, US NCI’s smoker head Kenneth Endicott, and anti-tobacco Ernst Wynder got together to try and devise a safe cigarette. Wynder who had linked tobacco to cancer, also knew, perhaps from Graham’s death, that smokers wouldn’t give up smoking even with the best facts. Since it was going to be harder to get more smokers, the strategy now consisted in keeping the smokers addicted for longer. Filters were introduced but that was not enough. In 1967, $30 million of taxpayers money was spent by NCI to create a safer cigarette, about the same amount in the U.K.
Some cigarettes with filter actually had more nicotine and tar than unfiltered cigarettes, and the cigarettes that were retaining tar was also retaining taste and did not sell. In the efficient filters, it was crocidolite that was used, a filter for radioactive particles, made from a blue kind of asbestos. Less cancer-causing tar, more cancer-causing asbestos.
Because filters removed taste, the idea became to have a filter but one that would allow taste-causing tar to flow through. Then cigarette manufacturers found that by mixing some of the tobacco scraps with tobacco, the tar readings were lower but the smoke was still good.
NCI gathered bright scientists and funded their mission to develop a safer cigarette, even if privately the scientists knew “safe cigarette” is an oxymoron.
1969: Gio Gori became head of the Less Hazardous Cigarette Working Group, who unlike Wynder, had little knowledge and was easily disliked. He particularly lost credibility when he stated that filter cigarettes are safer, when in fact in was thought they’re worse because people smoke deeper and more cigarettes with filtered cigarettes. From 1954 to 1976, so before and after filters, the average smoker went from 22 to 30 cigarettes a day. But to attract public funding for research on a safe cigarette, Gori went against all his more scientifically-versed colleagues to build strong ties elsewhere, and promised that a safe cigarette was around the corner. He successfully had a set of research published, which ultimately made it to the prestigious journal Science. The tobacco sales doubled within two weeks for the brand mentioned in the paper as safe. However Califano, a powerful aide to President Johnson, wanted in 1978 to set up extremely hard preventive and tax rules on tobacco but faced opposition and threats from tobacco defenders saying he disregarded “economic realities” of the tobacco industry. North Carolina, the main producer of tobacco, was a part of Carter’s 1979 reelection growing campaign.
1979: The AMA (American Medical Association) officially recognizes that tobacco causes cancers, 15 years after the Surgeon’s general report. Days after, Gori published articles referring by brand the least hazardous cigarettes, which soon got him fired from government.

Sheehy of British American Tobacco preferred to carry out research on acceptability that smoking is personal and small risk and of the low risk of passive smoking, rather than on accepting that cigarettes are unsafe and designing a safe one.

The debate over tobacco capitalized on the scientists ability to love arguing, while it was clear compounds gave cancers to animals. The tobacco industry’s last science-based efforts was to nail in people mind that studies on rodents don’t apply to humans, although only 300 genes differ.

Sir Bradford Hill despair of the manipulation of public health studies in the debate over the hazards of smoking, and laid down principles to decide whether an exposure gives a specific health condition. By looking at statistics, statistician look for measurable differences between groups and then try to estimate if these differences are statistically relevant or not. To do so, we calculate the odds that the measured difference is accidental, it is the p-value, P can range form 0 to 1. If p=100%, the measured difference means nothing, if p=0,05 (the arguable maximum accepted limit in modern science), there is a 5% chance the results would be random.
For rare events or small numbers, the p-value is not used but confidence intervals instead. A confidence interval of 95% means there is a 5% chance the result would fall out of that range.
Epidemiologists also look at the dose-dependent effect of exposures, even if some people are armed with better resistance than others.

Hill urged to statisticians : “Too often I suspect we waste a great deal of time, we grasp the shadow and lose the substance, we weaken our capacity to interpret data and to take reasonable decisions. (…) All scientific work is incomplete (…) that does not confer us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, or to postpone the action it appears to demand at a given time”.

Hill also know that the problem is not only a statistical one, it is a political one. The Carter administration was filled with the influence of the tobacco industry. Most people were smokers, and the people in key pro-health positions were ordered to not carry out work that somewhat poses a threat to the tobacco industry. PR specialist Bernays had devised a very clever plan for his very rich client and knew how to manipulate public opinion, and use the biases of smoker scientists or people in government to act on the side of the plans for the tobacco industry.

That idea that health is the consequence of lifestyle was not a popular one in the U.S., where people believed bad health was a result of poor morals or bad luck.

But that changed as medical practices changed and statistical work could tell what was worked and what didn’t. That work gave a hard time to the tobacco industry, which would accept the evidence one bit at a time, and delay its acceptance as long as possible.

Judge Gladys Kessler has clear opinions about the ability of democratic societies to rely on expert advice as she found tobacco firms guilty of using zeal  and deception for financial success without regard for the consequences on the public. What information is permitted to get to the marketplace, who decides when to release findings about public health hazards are not determined by scientific inquiry but by the social and economic realities that constrain them.


So there you go, I hope it helped open some eyes on reality of manipulation and deceit through PR campaigns from interested corporations, and their political networks of influence.

Remember here, this is the time line of research from Chapter 3 of the same book) :.

  • 1939: Dr. Franz Müller provided the first irrefutable proof that smoking causes lung cancer. He investigated lung cancers from autopsies to collect information on lifestyle habits and published in 1939 a dissertation in the Journal of The American Medical Association. Shoniger and Schairer confirmed these results, along with effects of asbestos, chromates and dust. British celebrity epidemiologist Richard Doll in comparison published rather late (1950) and without being conclusive on the dangers of Tobacco.
  • 1940: Angel H. Roffo, from Argentina, publishes research showing that lung cancer is caused by tobacco tars, not nicotine.
    German research had begun with Kaiser Wilhelm much before, and from 1942 to 1944, 7 dissertations on tobacco were published by the Scientific Institute for Research into Hazards of Tobacco


  • 1957~59: Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney declared smoking was causing cancer in 1957 and 1959, his last publication was withheld by the AMA officially because there was not enough evidence to decide. It was about avoiding to cause trouble to member of Congress whose votes were much needed on various issues, like the threat of a national health insurance which the AMA feared.
  • 1979: The AMA (American Medical Association) officially recognizes that tobacco causes cancers, 15 years after the Surgeon General’s report.

Let’s see this in pictures.



  • Notice how the sales doubled during the austrich-policy time
  • 40 years of silence: 80 years of good sales aggravated damage. It took 40 years for official recognition, and about 40 more to get back to where we started, the levels of 1940.

How did that translate into lung cancer death?

Picture 191

Epidemiologically, few things in cancer correlate as predictably as smoking and lung cancer.

So…how many people died unnecessarily and prematurely, only out deceit and denial?

Quick and dirty estimation:
We will focus on the US only since this is US data.
We will assume symmetrical bell curves, and even simplify them as triangle shapes.
The average population will be 200 Million all across, which is grossly inaccurate but sufficient to guesstimate.

Women’s death rate will be about 1/3 of the male’s rate when relevant

Two scenarios:
1) In a perfect world where best evidence goes immediately into practice and tobacco sales go down in 1940 (who cared then?):

  • 20 years of delay between cigarette sales pattern and death curves
  • Best evidence available in 1940 => hypothetical peak of death of lung cancer in 1960 at 45 per 10^5
  • Death curve: Beginning to hypothetical end of curve death reached in 1960+30 = 1990.
  • Total 60 years to peak then down. Max at 45 per 10^5. 200 M people gives 60 • 45/100,000 • 200,000,000 = 5.4 million males => roughly 6 million people (women barely smoked then)

2) In the real world, where it takes gigantic efforts for best evidence to make it out:

  • Same calculation, but with 1930-2050 as a base, and a lung cancer death rate peak at 90 per 10^5 gives 120 • 90/100,000 • 200,000,000 = 21.6 million men => 28 million people

In the US alone, due to the delay in application of best evidence regarding smoking, a total of ~22 million people have been killed by smoking, through lung cancer alone, all of them preventable (among other way to be sick or die of smoking).

A genocide?



If you read further through Devra Davis’s book A Secret History of the War on Cancer, you will find that a lot of unorthodox things happened after the Germans lost, among a few:

  • Science, knowledge and technology was stolen form the Germans, in fields that have little to do with war or safety, but a lot to do with money and financial gains
  • Some German scientists were bought and cleared from their charges by U.S. firms
  • Science done by Germans under Nazi times was recycled, re-appropriated and not fairly cited.
  • Knowledge about the toxicity of certain chemicals and foods had been thoroughly documented in Germany at that time and is part of the knowledge that was stolen but intentionally secretly kept by corporations among the Allies.
  • Germans under the Nazi times (perhaps for the wrong reasons) were increasingly adopting very healthy lifestyles. They advocated a vegetarian lifestyle and a particular hatred for smoking was developed for many reasons, far before the effect on cancer was scientifically proven beyond doubt.

Inevitably, you are left to wonder: If so many things have been gladly stolen from the Germans, why were some valuable things like toxicology knowledge and a culture of optimal health not taken as well?

As the book The Nazi War on Cancer puts it:


1939: Germany sets up a Bureau Against the Dangers of Alcohol and Tobacco. Workers missing too many days of work due to smoking related illness are forced to rehab, and fertile women are advised to have vegetarian diets and are banned from buying cigarettes.

Extreme, forceful techniques, no doubt. But the point is serious health advocacy was in place in 1939. Why did the Allies wait for so long to start taking effective action at all on Health Advocacy on the leading causes of illness and death?




The pattern of delaying the application of best practice has happened over and over again. It is predominantly a matter of politics, and financial interests, more rarely matters of public acceptance. To cite a few the history of iodine deficiency, proactive cancer prevention (though fasting, supplementation and chemo-prevention) cancer treatment, toxicity of glyphosate, of leaded gasoline, toxicity and uselessness of statins etc…the list is virtually endless. That’s just in medicine, I am not even touching the history of science!
So, it is hard to predict the future in detail, but based on court cases it is rather safe to speculate that the following scenario is very likely:

  • “There is not enough evidence”: Eternally asking for more proof, or claiming that there is not enough evidence. This creates a delay and buys time.
  • Creating doubt: Bribed bad science financed to defend that meat is not that unsafe, usually coming from trusted sources of information.
  • Reassuring people: Attempts to make “safe meat”, looking for good ways to do the wrong thing.
  • Rallying the biased and influential: A persistence to portray meat as healthy and nutritious, using the bias of doctors and researchers that are very dependent on meat personally. It’s common in science-washing. As for influence, remember the Camel ads?  More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette.
  • Diverting focus: Financing studies that focus on other dangers things than meat, other contributors to cancer and disease. Cigarette manufacturers have financed studies on the the risks of chemical pollutants to divert attention.
  • Limiting focus: Only cured and processed meats, not all meats. The same was done in France where only the Roundup brand (from Monsanto) of glyphosate was banned only from gardeners shops, instead of all glyphosate from where it’s most used: in the fields by crop producers.

More of these tactics are well documented by Devra Davis. As an epidemiologist, she is well used to the old same textbook tactics being used over and over again.

I will focus on the attempts to make meat safer, which is not without reminding us the attempts to make a safe cigarette. Why would the meat industry try so desperately? Let’s see things from their perspective:

Picture 192
This caption is from: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death in the US, a speech by Dr. Greger from NutritionFacts.com

It shows some extract from the paper: “Red meat and colon cancer: should we become vegetarians, or can we make meat safer?” published in the Journal of Meat Science in 2011.

Let’s analyze the statements above:

“If these recommendations [to reduce meat intake] were adhered to, cancer incidence may be reduced, BUT FARMERS AND MEAT INDUSTRY WOULD SUFFER IMPORTANT ECONOMICAL PROBLEMS.”

“These additives, and others still under study, could provide an ACCEPTABLE way to prevent colorectal cancer.”

It’s about keeping business going, health outcomes are secondary to that.

I am quoting below bits of the abstract, and will break it down so that you can see the tactics employed. I put in italics the bits you should pay attention to.

1) “The effect of meat consumption on cancer risk is a controversial issue. However, recent meta-analyses show that high consumers of cured meats and red meat are at increased risk of colorectal cancer.”

2) “This increase is significant but modest (20–30%)”

3) “Current WCRF-AICR recommendations are to eat no more than 500 g per week of red meat, and to avoid processed meat”

4) “Dietary additives can suppress the toxic effects of heme iron.”

1) LIMITING FOCUS: Here we limit our focus only on the effect of meat on cancer only of all health consequences. Of all possible concerns meat contributes to, we will only focus on the colorectal cancer specifically. Of all meats we will only focus on red and cured meat. Of all consumers this concerns only high consumers. Is this reductionist? What defines high consumers? Let’s continue.
2) DISCOUNTING GRAVITY: We also deem that a 30% increased risk of that very specific cancer is “modest”: How many people die from this modest risk increase?
Quick and very conservative back of the envelope calculation, staying within the extremely narrow focus of the study.
Let’s assume 1 billion people eat too much meat,
Lifetime risk is ~5% in the US, with ~50% survival. let’s assume it’s that same rate in all countries that eat too much meat.
If all of them have indulged, taking only a 20% increased risk because of meat, that’s 20% of 5% => 4% is what the rate should be if people were not “high consumers”.
The extra lifetime risk of only cancer, only colorectal, only because of meat is 1%. Sounds small? Hold on.
1% x 1 BILLION people = 10 MILLION people that develop colorectal cancer only because of meat.
5 million of them dying of meat-induced colorectal cancer. Is that modest?
And anyway, the real numbers of meat-induced avoidable deaths are more likely to be around not 0.5% like above but around 50% of all people in those countries, essentially of cardiovascular disease/accidents and cancer. That’s 500 million, 100-fold what the study points to.
3) DIVERTING FOCUS: It’s people’s fault. Look, we are good people, we do tell have recommendations written somewhere saying that people should eat in moderation, such as eating in a week what they eat in a day. Meat consumption in “first-world” countries is close to 300g/day all meats included, that’s 2300g of meat a week, rather easy to end up putting in that 500g of red meat and 500g of processed meat. In practice such obscure recommendations have little effect if any. What is the “WCRF-AICR” anyway?
4) THE SAFER MEAT: And don’t worry, additives are here to save the day and make more safe what we reckon has toxic effects.


No, and that’s the good news. What would you do if you became aware that a craving or bad habit of yours was planted in your head, deliberately, assuming you are weak and have poor control of yourself? That is precisely what happened with tobacco; new adverts running while tobacco manufacturers knew the science and the harm. It was about creating new addicts and keeping the old ones. There are people that started smoking their first cigarette from 1940 to 1980, all ignoring they were being manipulated by people who knew the harm, but hoped the smokers would not find out the good research in a pile of junk. So are we manipulated now to do things that are not good for us? Are we the new tobacco fools only with meat? Will we look back in 50 years thinking it was ridiculous of much meat people used to eat while it was clearly a carcinogen?
More importantly what can we do now?

Well, there is no nicotine in meat. That’s a big bonus to your advantage!
Millions of people have gradually moved on to a plant-based diet, and for having done that change myself, it’s rather easy, and certainly far easier than I thought. Here are some resources to help this transition. Watch this documentary about:

  • How meat is produced: Earthlings
  • The environmental aspect of meat consumption: Cowspiracy (Official Trailer)
  • The health aspect of meat consumption: Forks over Knives (Official Trailer)
  • The story of people who have switched to a plant-based diet: Vegucated
  • Watch Dr. Greger’s regular science-based videos with updates on nutrition: NutritionFacts.com
  • More science: Check out T. Colin Campbell’s work. The book “Whole”, “The China Study”, and his website NutritionStudies.com

“I’m convinced, what can help me?”

  • Join a local vegetarian or vegan community, on Facebook , Meetup, etc. This is by very far the best piece of advice I have. It’s great for support to be connected with people that have made or are making the important change you are making. Some branches or groups have regular meet-ups and events with delicious food and nice folks, it is so in New Zealand 🙂 It’s also practical to ask practical questions such as “where to find plant-based meat?”, what are some restaurants that provide plant-based meals, are there doctors that are up to date with nutrition and that won’t poopoo you etc…
  • FAQ of very common questions: Gary Yourofsky – The Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear
  • If anything here was of interest to you, save this article for future reference, and share it or some of it with others. That’s more to help others, and to help with the general situation. You can make a change, that’s what got me sat for three days putting up this article 🙂
  • Contact me if you have any question or concerns. I’ll do my best to help.

[Vitamin D] Where to get Vegan Vitamin D3?

This article assumes that you are somewhat educated about Vitamin D or know what you are doing. It will focus only on the sourcing of vegan vitamin D3 in the form of cholecalciferol, extracted from lichen (which is vegan). The article also assumes that you have figured what doses you are looking to use.
This this list intentionally  ignored any formulation that aims to supplement other things than vitamin D3, so excluded are multivitamins, combos, complexes, bone health pills…
Vitamin D2 was intentionally excluded, although it was proven to increase serum levels of vitamin D, it does not exactly function like vitamin D3.

Keywords: lichen, vegan vitamin D, D3, vitashine, cholecalciferol, plant-based, hallal, kosher, not D2, not from mushrooms, not ergocalciferol


1) Dietary with the safety of dietary supplements

Unfortunately, the free market of vitamins and supplements is poorly regulated, whether bought online, in your pharmacy, whether from reputable brands or reputable shops/pharmacies.
The dosage, content and ingredients (or contaminants) if they were measured may not be not be those on the label. They may if the manufacturer decides to impose on themselves a strict manufacturer process. But remember that by law, nothing or very few things forces them to.
If you can get a vegan prescription vitamin/mineral instead that is the absorbable safe/kind, always prefer that option over products available on the “free market”. This ensure that the vitamin/mineral is of pharmaceutical grade, precisely dosed, that the lab producing it is accountable, so in short the best quality possible. Depending on the country you live in, a check-up showing low levels may facilitate the process of obtaining prescription vitamin and minerals. Some non-conventional systems of medicine may be more willing to happily give a prescription for the pharmaceutical grade of vitamins/minerals.

2) Testing, common sense and nerdier things

Different people, even of the same skin tone, synthesize vitamin D from the sun very differently. Moreover, different people also absorb nutrients and supplements very differently. Cherry on the cake, this even changes with age, health status, pregnancy etc.
All this makes it generally hard to throw a one-size-fits all regimen either for indirect sources like sun exposure or supplementation.
Targets for serum vitamin D are much more sensible because they ignore how well a person absorbs things, and set instead a target where it matters, asking the vital question:
Do you have the vital stuff in your body? Yes? or No?

That should always be the logic we use. We can only infer that much.
Hence why I insist that each person (even the healthiest diets/lifestyles) should get checked regularly for their nutritional status, to assess their deficiencies and needs, and do so until they find the dosage that works for them.
Avoid supplementing blindly and get checked to make sure your supplementation is not causing damage, doing what you are expecting/needing it to, and not too much so eventually. It is very common sense but few people do it.
Also be aware, that strangely, even with the best of technology in the wealthiest of countries, some minerals and vitamins status tests either do not exist, or their reliability is very questionable. When it is an issue, reliability depends primarily on technology/method used, direct/indirect method (looking the status or indicators of the status), on the brand/model of equipment used to process sample, on whether the populations chosen to define “normal ranges” represent you well, the kinetics of the markers (how fast the numbers they’re measuring are changing naturally in your body, i.e. things vision and sugar levels change mildly to drastically within the day).
For vitamin D however, the serum levels of vitamin D levels are generally considered a robust method to assess vitamin D status, and the test is generally widely available.

3) Involving your doctor

You often hear “ask your doctor” about supplements. “Ask your doctor” has become so irrelevant that we are confused when to actually ask our doctors. Sadly few doctors are even educated about nutrition, let alone supplements. But there are cases where you would like to ask your doctor (even any doctor) if he/she sees anything wrong with supplementation, especially if you have health problems or taking medication, just had surgery, intending to take very high doses or supplement for a long time…that sort of thing.


Where to buy vegan/plant-based/hallal/kosher Vitamin D3?

Safest bets: Certified vegan products

Safest sources in terms of certainty that it is vegan, brands directly certified by the Vegan Society :

  • 200 UI/spray – approved by the Vegan Society
    Vitashine, dedicated producer of lichen-based D3.
    A few iherb products use the Vitashine D3 in their vitamin D3 products. They will be mentioned below in the iherb list.
  • 400 UI/drop – approved by the Vegan Society
    D.Plantes Vitamine D3++ Végétale, 20mL
    FRENCH brand and website, ships internationally for a minimum of ~20€+ for furthest shipping addresses (simulated with New Zealand for 3 bottles).
    Looks like D3 was historically the core of their manufacture and they then expended to sell other stuff.
  • ~670 UI/spray – approved by the Vegan Society
    Contains Stevia (harmful in “large” amounts)
    One Nutrition® D3-Max, 30mL
    IRISH brand with cheap/free delivery only in Ireland, 18€ flat within Europe, case by case out of Europe…).
    Quite discreet about the vegan origins of the D3, while the two above are quite loud and clear about their research and the lichen source.

Products using Vitashine

Brands from iherb.com that are not vegan-certified but “using Vitashine”*, which is vegan-certified.
iherb.com ships worldwide, at relatively low shipping costs, and rather fast if all goes well.

* The claim of “using Vitashine” is not a guarantee that the product entirely uses only that as a source of vitamin D3. Some brands go further and support this with “100% Vegan” claims or the likes.

More uncertain choices

More risky in terms of certitude that it is vegan/plant-derived/plant-based etc… :

  • DO NOT BUY any brand that claims that it creates “D3 out of mushrooms” (highly likely D2) or that is not certified vegan.
  • Unsure are: Any brand that does not contain Vitashine or is not vegan certified. Claims relying only on “Veggie capsules” or “suitable for all vegetarians” are generally utterly unreliable.
  • Confusing is: SOLGAR BRAND
    All “vegetarian” Solgar from the USA-Solgar – as opposed to the UK-Solgar which seperates vegan and vegetarian – are claimed to be vegan according to my last communication with their customer service. You are free to doubt this statement, I’m only sharing what they told me.

Here’s a copy of the email that I sent to the Solgar customer service. It’s really difficult to know when you should trust a customer service or sales person with technical aspects of the product. Perhaps too many factors of doubt to have full certitude that Solgar USA products are vegan. I leave it entirely up to your personal judgement.

(Email received on Aug 27th, 2015 from Solgar.com, the USA website)


I hope this article saved you time and was useful. If you have comments, or questions, please share below.

Conflict of interest statement

The links provided here are intentionally not affiliated. I earn no direct nor indirect commissions from this article. In advance, I have declined and will decline any promotional attempt in the comment or sent to me by email. In contrast, I invite common readers to comment if I forgot to list a product that falls under highly reliably vegan (see criteria above).

Further reading

[Iodine] Can we safely get all our iodine only from seaweeds? A practical exploration

Are you vegan? or on a low-salt diet? or heading there? Then this will be relevant to you. The question of satisfying iodine needs through seaweed is not new as you will read in the history but below. I ask here a specific and very practical question:

Based on published science, can we or not safely rely entirely on seaweeds for iodine intake? If so, which ones? why so? and what to do in practice to implement that?

That is usually my approach, very practical, and I do heavily rely on the work of people that are very focused on non-practical aspects. To figure out the answer, we will have to define what is safe? what is reliable? Since the history of iodine deficiency is frankly quite fascinating, I will start with that, and then get more specifically into the seaweeds talk.

Part One – A quick (recent and epic) history of iodine deficiency

19th/20th century

Already in 1813, following the discovery that seaweeds have iodine, a Swiss physician postulated that seaweeds consumption could reverse goiter just like another sea product which the Greeks used for goiter: marine sponges in topical use. [1]

From 1813, it took no less than a century, for iodine to start reaching our diets, through salt iodization. And there are still problems. The Salt Institute declares “In 1990, only about 20% of the world’s households had access to iodized salt and were protected against Iodine Deficiency Disorders. After a major push, access now exceeds 70%”.[2] It will always fascinate me how slowly are accepted and spread undeniably effective solutions to major medical problems.

21st century – The ironic re-emergence of iodine deficiencies, “for health reasons”

While many countries are still working on making iodized salt the norm, other countries such as New Zealand (and probably others) are already experiencing the next iodine problem, a re-emergence of iodine deficiency [3]. Why? Several reasons, mainly health-driven:

1. People cutting on (iodized) salt to reduce cardiovascular “accidents” [3]

As salt awareness is growing, people do try to cut on visible salt. They do when using the shaker and in the kitchen. If that salt was iodized, cutting on salt also means cutting on iodine.
Automatically then, your only source of iodine becomes uncontrolled and random, with the execption of New Zealand* which I will develop later. When there is no more iodized salt in your diet, you rely almost entirely on the salt chosen by restaurants and food makers you eat, from the sea products you eat, on the (usually low) iodine content of the soil that grows your food, and even more rarely on the voluntary use of iodized salt in the supermarket food, the last industry I’d expect to care unless forced by law* or consumer trends.
*In New Zealand, bread manufacturers have been forced by law to iodize the salt in bread, since people still eat a lot of bread. Think of bread as a last refuge for salt. Once you got rid of table and cooking salt, the next thing to get rid of is either bread or the salt in it. Inevitably, when that happens, iodine deficiency will become a problem again. Salt being something unnecessary and unhealthy, should not be the carrier for iodine, or anything else that is important for health.

2. People switching to rock salts (i.e. Himalayan salts)

A pink rock salt recently gone quite mainstream, Himalayan salts mined and therefore usually very low in iodine by default. Although any amount of salt is not necessary and therefore contributing to a more unlhealthy status, Himalayan salt has gained popularity as a “healthier salt” due to claims of it containing a wide spectrum of trace minerals. Besides safety issues with the uncontrolled variation of the trace minerals, and a possible content of heavy metals, Hymalayan salts in the “natural” state do not contain a relevant amount of iodine and pose an (ironic) issue of iodine deficiency. In passing, the concept of “healthy salt” reminds me of the $30 million of US taxpayers money spent in 1967 by the National Cancer Institute to create a “safer cigarette”.

3. A rise of vegetarian and vegan diets

In studies done on iodine deficiency, vegans and vegetarians are mentioned as being at particular risk of iodine deficiency. The reason is that most seafood in the Western diet is animal-based, and that most animal produce (meat, milk, cheese) comes from animals that were given a feed artificially supplemented, either for the animal’s own health, as a means of supplementing the final product, or accidentally like in the case of milk-based iodine which comes (or used to come) from iodine containing disinfectants like Betadine applied on cow tits. [4] Other disinfectants have gradually replaced the iodine-based ones, resulting in lower iodine in cow’s milk.

4. The still-existing lack of a holistic agricultural practice

Some posters on the internet, widely shared, claim certain plant foods as reliable sources of iodine. It is not true because it depends heavily on the iodine content of the soil where the plant came from. A potato may be able to accumulate iodine, but since most soils are iodine-deficient, how much iodine should we expect in potatoes? Deficient soils are still far from being thoroughly and routinely balanced with life-sustaining elements, iodine being one of many. In fact, there is more thought being put in supplementing cows and their feed than in conditioning soils for the healthiest feed of humans: plants, fungi, and other non-animal foods. Most fertilization is still entirely focused at productivity and profitability, what is not? Yet we still buy produce based on weight, price, and appearance, not enough based on nutritional content or  taste, let alone environmental and social factors. There is however a growing culture of a holistic approach, aiming at going back to basics: taking pride in actually feeding people [5]. Iodine deficiency could likely be resolved by means of fertilization and cultivation methods, among other deficiencies.Picture 103

Image credits: Alena Kumpta Watercolor Art

Part Two – The search for the perfect seaweed

Criteria to match in order for a reliable, safe, and practical intake of iodine from seaweed only:

  1. Reliably narrow range of iodine concentration, so that we know accurately enough how much iodine is contained in let’s say a spoon or 10g.
  2. The range starts away from zero iodine (so that there is no risk of getting close to none)
  3. Practical concentration: the daily requirement ideally fits in more than a pinch, but less than a lot of tablespoons, so ideally something like a gram or a teaspoon, not one kilogram of seaweed because that would not be realistic nor practical.
  4. The seaweed has long history of usage and is generally safe
  5. The seaweed is easy to source
  6. High absorbability by human digestion
  7. Low heavy metal content


  1. The range of suitable iodine for human consumption is based on official recommendations : ~160 µg/day (upper limit UL or maximum: 1,100 µg/day)
  2. That official recommendation are correct is subject to debate, and here too. Official recommendations have changed a lot historically [1]
  3. OBJECTIVE: So rounding up, we will consider safe the range 150 ~ 1,000 µg/day, remember this.

Seaweeds – Variation in content of iodine

Given the large number of seaweeds in existence, the focus was intentionally restricted to a popular few:

  1. WakameUndaria pinnatifida (the fronds are called wakame, the base part of the same plant is called mekabu)
  2. KombuLaminaria digita japonica, also known as kelp
  3. Nori – which is tricky because it’s a whole genus (Porphyra genus) contaning many species including Laver (Porphyra umbilicalis) or Karengo (Porphyra columbina) and many others. Many seaweeds fall under nori.

These are the ranges in parts per million (ppm) or equivalent units :  mg/kg or µg/g (same as mcg/g or micrgrams per gram), all units reflecting the content as packed, usually dry [6,7] For iodine in seaweeds, the microgram per gram unit because the dietary recommendations for iodine are given in micrograms, and one gram of dry seaweed is human sized; if dried it would fit in a hand or a spoon.

  1. Wakame: 39 ~ 1,571 µg/g
  2. Kombu: 25 ~ 12,000 µg/g with one measured at 21,000 [8] by EU food safety authorities
  3. Nori: 0,7 ~ 550 µg/g

How absorbable is iodine from seaweed?

While iodine is an atom, its presence in food can exist in different forms, different molecules or ions referred to as “chemical species”. It’s important to know the chemical species of in foods because that affects bio-availability (how much we can absorb and use) or things like toxicity (less of a concern here).
A study published in 2005 compared kombu  to wakame concluded that kombu’s higher content of iodide made it a more bio-available choice than wakame’s various iodine species (monoiodotyrosine and diiodotyrosine) [9]

Heavy Metals Warning

Seaweeds are notorious for accumulating heavy metals. Interesting work was done by the Health Ranger, a food activist, on a very narrow but US-popular range of seaweeds. One brand of seaweeds harvested in New Zealand showed the cleanest profile in terms of heavy metals. Be careful though when chosing “New Zealand” as a reliable criteria for clean seaweed. The mention “from New Zealand”. All inhabited land in our day dumps pollutants in the sea, New Zealand is no exception, far from the common eco-fantasy. That is why, the cleanest New Zealand seaweeds are most likely harvested in open sea far from the land, ideally South towards Antarctica, in regions far from volcanic/human activity. In my survey ofseaweeds from shops, also saw “NZ-nori”, NZ-seaweed” and other “NZ” prefixed labels in large print. That could just be marketing to write NZ somewhere capitalizing on the good perceived image of New Zealand seaweed. It could also mean the product sold is the NZ species of a certain seaweed, but that by no means guarantees it was grown or harvested in New Zealand, or in clean waters.

Best seaweed verdict

Kombu: too much iodine, extremely wide range, and starts close to zero. It’s out.
Nori: wide range, start close to zero. It’s out.
Wakame: relatively narrow range (good) but starts close to zero. It’s out.

Among these three popular seaweeds I cannot see any candidate for a best seaweed taken daily on its own as the one and only source of dietary iodine. The fantasy of getting all iodine in precise amounts from seaweed alone is over for me. So what to do now?

Well, there is good news. There are other more viable avenues.

The solution: Get your iodine from more reliable sources than seaweeds

The natural way, and its limitations

  • Do not rely only on daily seaweeds unless it passes the above-discussed criteria/checklist
  • If relying partly on seaweeds, only consume a safe amount based on the method here: trusting observed ranges more than nutritional facts (generally one-shot, or copied off the net rather than measured) and always calculate to avoid the worst case scenario of toxic doses
  • If you forage, that’s wonderful. Do it intelligently though:
    • Select a clean foraging spot: Learn about the history of activity and pollution of the area you forage in.
    • Identify: Always identify the species you collect.
    • Quantify: Once you know the name of what you forage, look into the research to quantify the amount of iodine in different parts of plant.
  •  Research iodine ranges of other seaweed species (dulse, arame, …) <== and of course write me an email to show me what you found 😉

Relying on iodized salts/products

  • People with a very low-salt diet, and no other iodine source may choose a highly-iodized salt, that provides enough iodine in a very small daily intake of salt. That means a higher concentration than in normal salt. Note that iodized salts in general have by law wide ranges of allowed iodine (45±20 µg/g for NZ/Aus.). I read some research showing that the legal (already wide) ranges are not generally not respected and that an even wider range of iodine is actualy found in iodized salt products. This makes iodized salt an unreliable source of iodine if you are aiming at a rather reliable range of iodine intake.

Or even better, iodine supplements

If you consume a very low-salt diet, get a good iodine supplement, preferably pharmaceutical-grade.

  • Best of the best: Pharmaceutical-grade prescription iodine

    Did you know the iodine in your iodized last is extracted from seaweeds? So the same concerns you would have for seaweeds (heavy metals, sea-borne contaminants etc…) are legitmate to have when it comes to iodized supplements. Supplements also being very poorly regulated worldwide, my current advice is to always try to get the pharmaceutical grade,  prescription-only iodine. The dosage will be very precise, contaminants likely checked for, and manufacturing process perhaps not perfect but far more regulated and accountable than free-market supplements.
    Dealing with probable relunctance from your G.P.: If your diet has such incredibly low salt that you are realistically at risk of a predictable iodine deficiency, there is no reason why a G.P. would not take you seriously when you request an iodine prescription. You may just need to be ready that they would suggest seafoods and free-market supplement and you may need to be ready to tell them kindly why that is not an option for you. I would change GPs (and I have been) if he/she does not generally share similar views on nutrition and prevention.
    I strongly believe in prevention over therapy, it also costs less in many ways. But unfortunately the practice of things, still reserves a lot of supplements and testing to pathologies rather than preventive actions. You may experience that worldview from your doctor when you ask him/her for supplements or preventive/routine testing in a non-therapeutical context.

  • If you still want “free-market” supplements

    If this is not available to you, or you still prefer free-market supplements, get a clean iodine supplement (i.e. low on heavy metals). I looked at this link, the only (apparently) genuinely independent lab that looked at the heavy metals. Strangely it did not look at iodine content itself! At the moment I write this, I roughly trust this source but have not examined it thoroughly enough. If you have researched the trustworthiness of the Health Ranger, (whom as supplement vendor might or not have a conflict of interest) please comment below.

Exploring further

Comprehensive Handbook of Iodine: Nutritional, Biochemical, Pathological and Therapeutic Aspects

Selenium variation in Brazil nuts – Can we get all our selenium from Brazil nuts?
[1] Research on Iodine Deficiency and Goiter in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries
[2] IODIZED SALT by The Salt Institute – July 13, 2013
[3] Iodine, New Zealand Ministry of Health
[4] Are vegetarians an ‘at risk group’ for iodine deficiency? British Journal of Nutrition (1999), 81, 3–4
[5] Based on the works of Claude & Lydia Bourguignon.
[6] Analysis of iodine content in seaweed by GC-ECD and estimation of iodine intake
[8] Notification details – 2005.050 RASFF Portal
[9] Iodine speciation studies in commercially available seaweed by coupling different chromatographic techniques with UV and ICP-MS detection

Pandering of Mother Nature, or the Deceitful Marketing of Green and Healthful

As global warning is knocking at the death door of our species, the most conscious of us marvell at the advent of sustainability-driven brands. We are so eager to see change happen that we are ready to embrace, often without a question, anything that looks just like it. But are these companies and their products really delivering what they promise? Unfortunately, far from it most of the time. There are multiple reasons for that.
In a world where sales and purchases are driven by perceptions more than realities, there will always be people adapting their speech to sell the same junk. In a world where most of our knowledge is second-hand and we assume all we read and are told is just true without checking, we make ourselves the unwitting preys to unwitting predators, because there will always be people who sell junk while genuinely thinking what they sell is absolutely great, because just like us they assumed a lot of things instead of checking. In a world where people have such specific functions they end up living in their little worlds, people take part without knowing in ventures that seen as an individual contribute or create effects that are contrary to what everybody thought they were doing.
We don’t naturally care about the reality of things. We assume the reality of things and even if we don’t, we doubly assume 1) the vendors know it even better and 2) take adequate responsibility. Finally the system (division of work) isn’t working in a way where we would automatically know about the reality of things.
All these incoherences are becoming increasingly visible. So let’s look at some of the inconsistencies in the field of sustainable products, and how these inconsistency take form.

Naming and Branding
Brands containing “Earth” or “Eco”, “Wise”, “Green”…
That’s branding, and unfortunately it works like magic. That’s until the brands get an image blow when someone expose the deceipt.

I have seen cardboard packages for fabric-softeners and other products with “eco” products containing a list of products I wouldn’t want in my house. I have seen packages with graphics of flowers and leaves, and blue planets on them and a whole world and wording of sustainability…all lighting up excitement in our monkey brains that rush to assume “what more natural than something with a bamboo leaf drawn on it”? But read the ingredients, and research some of them. You will see that more often than not…it’s not nearly as green as it ants you to believe.

But also “plant-based”, “plant-extracted”, and everything that suggests it comes from a plant.
The real questions should be: The compound in question is it actually safe? or actually environmentally-friendly? quickly biodegradable with no toxic by-products? What else was used in the process? How efficient and sustainable is that extraction? Is that plant sustainably harvested?
Those “plants”, how were they grown, stored, and preserved? Could they have accumulated heavy metals from the soil they grew in?

This is the most pervasive word.
When you naturally have bushfire that naturally burns wood, that naturally creates benzene and other hydrocarbons and particles that are toxic to life, do you want to inhale those?
In the late 19th century /early 20th century, many products marketed for their medical benefits routinely contained mercury and lead, all sourced from mines, natural mines, does that make these products healthy?
If you eat certains ferns, it is natural, but many times also carcinogenic or deadly if you where to eat a death angel or a death cap mushroom. All natural, do you want to try them? No?
The almonds I buy are imported from the United States. For strange reasons, they must be pasteurized by law, but nothing says so on the label. Are foods that are pasteurized (undergoing high heat and chemical treatments) still natural?
Some grains for storage use powered pesticides, are they still natural?
Is it natural to grow “natural” foods with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides…?
Hummus from Alaska (naturally composted organic material found in nature) is ironically sold to people who care about health and sustainability nd grow their own food, but is it really sustainable?
Peat moss, used in gardening for instance, is sold to the same people, do they know peat moss takes very long to grow and is harvested in China faster than it grows?
An organic banana that is ripened with chemicals, is it a natural product? Or still organic? Let’s consider “organic”.
Is wild fish sustainably harvested?
Is that wild food even healthy at all? (are there parasites in the wild fish? or heavy metals in the wild seaweed?)
How wild is wild, is a closed culture in open sea give “wild” fish?
Is the word “wild” controlled in country with a label that strictly defines its definition?
Is “wild” only historically part of the name like “Wild rice” which is interestingly neither wild nor a rice.

Let’s first aside that are a gazillion different labels and sets of rules (of any rules) to describe what is organic.
An organic produce is grown on a land that because of the geology is rich in arsenic and lead, the farmer doesn’t know but complies with even the most stringent criteria to get the organic label. Is that healthy to eat food grown on that land?
An organic crop is naturally grown on land that previously was used using chemicals and pesticides that are persistent. Is that organic?
A wild mushroom in an ancient wild forest if probably as organic as it gets, do you want to eat one?

Naturally found in the body
This suggest that the compound is harmless since you already have some in your body. Ok, but since when is it safe to add something in on or the body just because it’s in the body?
Human blood is naturally found in the body, would you want to drink some?
Gut bacteria is naturally found in the body, would you want to inject or eat some?
And anabolic hormones are naturally found in the body, would you want to inject yourself some?

Is there a label for biodegradability? Who decides something is biodegradable? How long will it actually take? If it takes 1 day, or 1 year, or 1 century to degrade does that mean it’s biodegradable?
In the process of degrading, how much life will it damage and alter, or prevent? Let’s take crude oil as an example, a highly toxic material if you didn’t know, in a few thousand or millions years in a forest would probably digest it, but how many people, animals and will have been intoxicated? The question probably ought to be “immediately it is bio-friendly?”, as in does it actually promote life? That could be said of clean rainwater water, is “bio-neutral” as in it doesn’t demonstrably affect any living immediately organism at any time scale looked at?

I have found more than once, products that claim to be eco-friendly but packagings that are not recyclable, and ingredients that are far from being eco-friendly in the sense I understand it.
How is something like a detergent or soap that potent preservatives (meant to kill microorganisms to extend shelflife) or antibacterials (to kill microbes on your hand) eco-friendly.
Also, if a company produces the most eco-friendly product there is (something like pristine drinkable water) but does so using extraordinary amounts of toxic chemicals to keep a sterile environment, and extraordinary amount of fuel to transport it, is it deceitful or not to label the drinking water as “eco-friendly” or any of the sustainable  labeling?

“Everytime they chop a tree they replant one”
That’s the last trick I fell into.
That’s what the young lady at TARGET NZ told me when I bought wooden furniture not too long ago and asked about where the wood was sourced. Of course, I hadn’t done my homework on TARGET NZ and ended up relying on a saleswoman as clueless as I was. I realize in hindsight that I could have done this better…Anyway, here’s what she said: “Everytime they chop a tree they replant one, that I can guarantee you”.
Ok, but is it in a plantation that has been there for a long time? or is it a tree from the Amazon forest that has been cleared by poor local men working for foreign-owned companies, in a land that will become a grazing area for the cows that produce the methane ranking cows as the top contributor to man-made global warming? I don’t care where they plant that other tree, replanting a tree for each tree we have cut doesn’t alone constitute a token of sustainability, not at all. Even asking all these questions, in a small retail shop with newly-hired staff, can you sense that to get the truth about the origin of that piece of furniture is a bit of Mission Impossible? Chances are, perhaps nobody in the entire Target company would know about that…

It’s recycled
Ok, some furniture was recycled. But why not recycle for all the shop then? Or is it just to satisfy those who care?
And the recycling wood, is it safe? or was it used for pallets transporting dangerous chemicals which may have spilled on them?

There has been a trend of people seeking more and more sustainability, and there are unfortunately people, willingly, or unwittingly marketing products that are not in any way sustainable or bio-friendly or quickly biodegradable with no harm to any life form…but are marketing using terms that appeal to people as being “good” products, products that are sustainable, eco-friendly…

This was about the harm we do ourselves by letting companies decide for us what is sustainable, what is life-sustaining and what is not. There is a flip coin to this, is our assumption that anything produced synthetically, or using some chemicals, is automatically a bad thing. We are biased to think that it is, perhaps rightfully so to a large extent, because there has been countless abuses with chemicals and their wonders which turned out very harmful if not deadly. But thinking all chemicals or synthetic things are evil is the dangerous sister bias than assumes anything natural is good.

What we can do?
It’s easier to point to problems than to solve them. But I want to offer a solutions too.

What we need to understand, especially the greenies targeted by specific branding and marketing:
Perhaps it’s not about natural or not, it is about the effects we seek, and how ALL the processes involved in entire the cycle of a product are systemically beneficial to life, harmless to life, and sustainable at all time scales to life. It may not be the ultimate best practice, but if go by this tennet until we find better, it will probably be the best we can do now, and we are certainly not doing that just yet.

We can point out to the brands and in public debate why certain branding strategies are incoherent and deceitful. Most brands have a feedback line or some way to contact them.  Contact them.
They have an office, go and talk (kindly) to the CEO, forget about emails and phone calls.
As for public debate, you have a blog, Facebook, social media, relevant forums online? Use them!
You know people, talk to them, don’t assume you’re the only one who cares.

Entrepreneurs or employed by a company that makes beautiful claims? Challenge your own beliefs that you are doing something good, make sure with your providers that they provide what they claim? Ask for evidence and be the only first-hand judge of the facts you broadcast. If you’re not happy with what the market offers, make it yourself and provide to others. If you’re an employee, be interested in what your company makes, how they make it,educate yourself about the cycle of the product or service that your company provides, ask yourself, is it coherent with the marketing claims? Are we lying to ourselves and lying to others? Do other people in the company know at all? Do the customers know?


[Selenium] Selenium content in Brazil nuts varies greatly – Should Brazil nuts still be considered a reliable and safe source of selenium?

Selenium is an important mineral for general health and is of particular importance in the prevention of cancer or its relapses.
I knew Brazil nuts are an easy high source of selenium and I wondered “Can people reliably and safely get their selenium from Brazil nuts?
For those in a hurry, the answer is: It’s possible but not reliably.

Brazil nuts have very random amounts of selenium in them. From close to nothing at all, to 20 times the RDI* (Recommended Daily Intake), the RDI being ~65 microg/g for adults.[4]

Variation of selenium content in Brazil nuts

The following three studies show just how random the content of selenium in Brazil nuts can be:

“The average and standard deviation and range of selenium concentrations in ppm, fresh weight for nuts from [the two] regions were, respectively, 3.06 ± 4.01 (0.03–31.7) and 36.0 ± 50.0 (1.25–512.0).” [1]
Another study looked concluded that “concentrations were highly variable (median: 13.9 microg/g; range: 0.4-158.4 microg/g). [2]”
In another study, they wanted to compare selenium form nuts and from supplements. But in trying to measure the exact amount of selenium they wanted from nuts they faced “difficulties in analyzing individual nuts” because the “first 10 nuts [were] ranging from 0.816 to 1390 microg Se/g”. [3]

Content variation, a widely ignored reality in nutrition and plant medicine

As I explained in my previous post about green tea, the content of specific compounds in organic products is known to vary greatly, while too often overlooked. The presence and wide usage of nutritional facts databases for fruits and vegetables is a good example of the lack of general understanding of this variation. With variations from nil to 20 times the RDI as is the case for Brazil nuts, you would expect a gigantic red asterisk next to virtually every number on those websites. This would remind the general public that the numbers mean absolutely nothing, that they are averages of a wide range, that the quantifying was done on a single fruit/vegetable/nut or that the sample is non-representative of the real life consumption. However, such variations are the main reason for inconsistencies in efficiency of herbal products in herbal medicine, and sometimes for the lethality of treatments/foods otherwise very effective and safe. Many people today would rather get their nutrients from food and cures from plants rather than from supplements and drugs respectively. The good thing however about (reliable brands of) supplements is that unlike in foods and plant medicine, the dosage of active ingredient is measured, consistent and reliable.

Questioning the reliability and safety of Brazil nuts as a health-promoting food

Given the tremendous variations reported about selenium, it is fair to address the following questions:

  1. How does the variation in selenium content affect blood selenium?
  2. Is there a risk in having even a single small intake of the nuts highest in selenium?
  3. Supposing we vary sources, does nuts selenium (and therefore blood selenium) average to healthy levels?

This is all to answer the question: Are Brazil nuts a safe and reliable method of ensuring a healthy intake of selenium?

Note to readers: The study annotated “[2]” is led by a French team that has published several papers on selenium and Amazonian populations and may be the first most relevant direction for further study on the subject.

* RDIs are very arguable.


[1] “Selenium content of Brazil nuts from two geographic locations in Brazil”, (Jacqueline C. Chang & al., 1994)
[2] “Elevated levels of selenium in the typical diet of Amazonian riverside populations”, Sci Total Environ. 2010 Sep 1;408(19):4076-84. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.05.022.
[3] Brazil nuts, an effective way to improve selenium status (Thomson & al, 2008)
[4] Selenium – New Zealand Nutrition Foundation

Science-based Recipe for Green Tea And White Tea Mouthwash

If you have been struggling with cavities, it’s because of the combination of in short your genetics, your mouth hygiene, and your diet. What causes cavities is not directly sugar but the cavity forming bacteria S. mutans, that feeds on the sugar, acidifies your mouth thus demineralizing the teeth (dissolving them). They also form the unaesthetic and gum-harming plaque, and create glues to stick to the teeth. When you understand how cavities are formed, you understand why mouthwash exists, and why it is extremely important in the fight against cavities. Virtually regardless of diet and genetics, adding mouth hygiene by using an effective mouthwash can bring the vast army of S. mutans to a near eradication and prevent further plaque and cavities. But which mouthwash? Well two things: I hate the taste of conventional mouthwash, I don’t fancy putting in my mouth broad antiseptics, and I’m always happier when I don’t rely on “cosmetic” products, so this white tea/green tea mouthwash really got my attention. But does it really work?

Dr. Michael Greger’s website has a wonderful video called “What’s the Best Mouthwash“. In this video, he compiled scientific evidence to compare the efficacy and safety of different mouthwash solutions, commercial or homemade.
The wining solutions used green tea, and immediately it raises the usual questions: How to make it? How to use it? Are there risks (like staining teeth)? Can I use white tea instead? None these questions were addressed, making such interesting information poorly actionable. So I decided to look into the literature cited and beyond, to get some answers and hopefully convert the scientific talk into something people can easily make at home, whether health-conscious, frugal, or in places of the world with limited resources.

For those in a hurry who already decided they would go for it:

Recipe and instructions for a 0.5%green tea mouthwash :
Put 5 grams of green tea (or white tea) in 1 liter of room-temperature water, let sit 1 hour and strain. Rinse with 15mL for 30 seconds and spit. Do this after brushing your teeth or before/after a meal. WARNING: Because of the natural variation in the content of active ingredients found in tea leaves, refer to section 6) to know how to test your batch and make sure it will actually work.
Cost: ~5cts for a 500mL bottle = 2 week supply. You can’t beat that!
Based on 250g of loose green tea at about US$5 in a Chinese shop, and assuming your tea is as potent as in the study.

1) Let’s re-cap
Different studies used green tea extract, one showing how green tea helps keep a high oral pH, lowers (cavity causing) S. mutans population and reduces oral bleeding.[1] Another study showed how green tea dramatically reduces plaque accumulation, improves gingival index, and improves salivary pH. In the former study, oral pH remained above 6 (mildly acidic)  without green tea, but plummeted below 5 without (relatively very acidic). In the latter study, mean plaque score goes from 1.45 to a ridiculously low 0.11, indicating a 94% reduction in plaque. You can read more here about plaque assessments, it’s interesting.

2) Figuring out a recipe and instructions

The first study was done one a single-shot basis (not over a long period of time) and people swished 10 ml, of a 2% green tea solution that people swished for 5 minutes [1]. The sucrose solution (in your case: the meal) was taken 20 minutes after the end of swishing. Unfortunately, they mention nothing about how that “2% solution” is prepared.

The second study was done over 3 weeks. They used a 0.5% green tea solution. “The subjects were instructed to brush twice daily” and “15 ml of mouth  was rinsed for 30 s after each brushing” [2]. Unfortunately, how they prepared their green tea solution is confusing and imprecise.
When I looked into the recipe they used, I was disappointed to find a rather complicated way of explaining something simple, and they had used an ehow.com recipe: “Tea was extracted by combining 3 1/2 oz. (about 7 tablespoon) of green tea with 4 cups of still (not sparkling) mineral water. The tea was steeped at room temperature for 1 h and then poured in to the lidded container, straining the tea with sieve as it is poured followed by refrigeration. The loose tea is discarded. The 500 ml concentrated tea is mixed with 1000 ml of distilled water to get 0.5% solution of tea mouthwash”.
It doesn’t say of the water was boiled or not, so by default we’re going to assume it was not, and that it doesn’t matter whether is blended or not. There are chances all these factors make some difference in the extract content.

Nothing says where that “0.5%” figure came from, and everything about their recipe is misleading. Is it fluid ounces (volume) or weight ounces? Is the water boiled or not? 4 cups doesn’t give 500mL so why did they say “The 500mL concentrated tea” instead of just “500 mL of the concentrated”, did they use the official cup measurement or not? Ah…those moments when you wish the metric system was more popular than the Kardashians.
Anyway, I solved this ambiguity though another study about green tea [3] not mentioned in the video. That study says “As in previous studies (9), the concentration used during brewing was 2 g of tea leaves per 100 ml of hot water (2%, wt/vol)”. The percentage is in weight per volume. Problem solved.

3) Should you add amla or indian gooseberry?
You can, but the study on amla [5] used a solvent extract of amla, not a water extract. So it’s fair to wonder what is the active ingredient? is it water extractable? if so would it work? and if it interacts with green or white tea. More research reading needed there.

4) “Green teath” and the white tea alternative
Some people asked in the comments of the video if it’s possible to use white tea instead to prevent stains. White tea is the young leaf of green tea basically. First of all, do the stains happen if one swishes with cold tea or could it be the hot tea? Is it in people who drink sweetened green tea, or  green tea alone? The concern for stains can only be in our heads until we get evidence that green tea swishing – not drinking – stains the teeth. There are two ways to answer the question about white tea: 1) Understand why green tea works and see if white tea has a similar same composition in that regard 2) Confirm that white tea works, for instance by doing something as simple as a pH test using paper pH testers at home, like they did in [1]. I looked into the literature to get a feel of what is responsible for effect of green tea for oral health. That was done very fast and needs more in-depth work. This being said, it seems that it’s the catechins and especially EGCG that are at play. Does white tea have that? Yes, but it’s also a bit different : “White and green teas contain similar levels of EGCG but differ in the relative amounts of other polyphenols and caffeine” [3]. This suggests white tea extract is likely to work as a mouthwash too, with the same recipe. If it doesn’t work as well that might be because of the difference composition, or just because of the greater general variation in the content of active ingredients between batches…

5) The problem of variations and how to hack it
You’re not using the same batch as in the study so the same expression “green tea” in practice can be a very different product each time.
We can be very obsessed about precise numbers in an effort to practice good science. All that precision becomes irrelevant when you start taking into account variations. In nature, the content of any compound in living things varies tremendously. That’s how selenium in a single Brazil nut can go from almost nothing to 20 times the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake). In my past work on growing methods for crops (where health begins) I came across a study showing a 10-fold difference in vitamins and minerals depending only on growing practices. Then the studies like that on Brazil nuts confirm that the composition of the soil have a profound impact on the composition and nutrient density of foods. Then you have freshness, storage, processing , distributors mixing batches from different locations, cooking/extraction technique. All this put together results in a very wide range of minerals, vitamins, and other compounds in any living things and food. Always take the nutritional values with a truckload of salt. In the case of tea specifically :  “Total catechin content (TCC) for white teas ranged widely from 14.40 to 369.60 mg/g of dry plant material for water extracts […] TCC for green teas also ranged more than 10-fold” [4]. In one of the studies [1] or [2] the authors state very clearly that other groups carrying out similar studies failed to find an improvement in oral health due to green tea. Content variation should be the number one suspect for inconsistencies in results from studies using extracts that are not titrated for their content of active ingredients.So how to hack this variation?

For practical reasons, a pH test of saliva is the best way to know if a green tea extract is potent enough or not. Paper tests can do the job, you want a pH test mostly sensitive for pH in the range the [4.5 to 6] and keep a pH above 6 when following the protocol of the study [1] that I summed up in paragraph 2 of this article. I’m sure there’s even a way to do this pH test with very low-tech means at home without even having to buy paper strip pH tests.
It’s tricky though, because this will work the first time, and if you’re consistent with green tea mouthwash, the pH test will not give you an acidic saliva reading and you’d find yourself confused. Why? There seems to be an increased benefit of green tea mouthwash overtime as described on the pH results in [2], very likely because of a gradual eradication of the acid-forming bacteria  S. mutans overtime  (a single wash cuts S. mutans population in about half in both saliva and plaque [1]). This means you’d have to test your new batches either by using a guinea pig (homo sapiens) that doesn’t use green tea, or by not using your mouthwash for a while, re-allowing your bad bacteria to develop and be able to score you a low pH again of you weer to have a sweet drink. For practical reasons I would go for the latter even if I don’t like the idea of allowing the bacteria population to grow again. So I don’t have to do that too often I would make large concentrated batches I can keep in the fridge. This would assure that I have a lot of a good batch saved whenever I make one.

Additional notes:

1) This article is purely based on a literature review. It provides a prediction of what is expected to be the best method to sustainably achieve with low-tech means a green/white tea extract that is reliably potent. Experiments with the above method are needed to confirm or disprove what I described. The results are of interest to me, so do share in the comments what the results are for you or if you have a question.

2) The could be a possibility of the bacteria S. mutans adapting to the active ingredient in green or whit, rendering the mouthwash useless. Only long-term experimentation will tell.

[1] Int J Dent Hygiene 9, 2011; 110–116 DOI: 10.1111/j.1601-5037.2009.00440.x, “A pilot study of the role of green tea use on oral health”, Awadalla HI, Ragab MH, Bassuoni MW, Fayed MT, Abbas MO.
[2] Indian Journal of Dental Research, 24(1), 2013, ” Comparison of the effectiveness of 0.5% tea, 2% neem and 0.2% chlorhexidine mouthwashes on oral health: A randomized control trial“,  Aswini Y Balappanavar, Varun Sardana1, Malkeet Singh
[3] Nutr Cancer. 2001; 41(1-2): 98–103. doi:  10.1080/01635581.2001.9680618, “Inhibition by White Tea of 2-Amino-1-Methyl-6-Phenylimidazo[4,5-b]Pyridine-Induced Colonic Aberrant Crypts in the F344 Rat“,  Gilberto Santana-Rios, Gayle A. Orner, Meirong Xu, Maria Izquierdo-Pulido, and Roderick H. Dashwood
[4] Unachukwu, U. J., Ahmed, S., Kavalier, A., Lyles, J. T. and Kennelly, E. J. (2010), White and Green Teas (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis): Variation in Phenolic, Methylxanthine, and Antioxidant Profiles. Journal of Food Science, 75: C541–C548. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01705.
[5] Hasan S, Danishuddin M, Adil M, Singh K, Verma PK, et al. (2012) Efficacy of E. officinalis on the Cariogenic Properties of Streptococcus mutans: A Novel and Alternative Approach to Suppress Quorum-Sensing Mechanism. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40319. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040319