Dr. Evgen Benedik Still Opposing Science
I have only commented on excerpts from the original article (Zakaj morajo dojenčki in otroci jesti meso; eng. “Why Infants and Children Must Eat Meat”) due to it being too lengthy and repetitive. My commentary on Dr. Benedik’s statements from 2018 (in Slovene) is available here:
(Excerpts from the article are in black while my comments are marked green):
Dr. Evgen Benedik opposes scientific consensus
In Slovenia, as elsewhere, there is an increasing number of parents preparing vegetarian and vegan meals for their children, in spite of paediatricians recommending a varied diet that includes food of animal origin. Clinical dietitian Dr. Evgen Benedik explains why a meatless diet for infants and children is unsuitable and what to consider if a child does not eat meat.
Clearly this is a merely personal opinion of Slovenian paediatricians and not the position taken by science. The scientific consensus from the largest and most well-established organisation dealing with food and nutrition on the planet, with a global count of over 100,000 experts, is that vegetarian and vegan diets can be suitable for all segments of the population, including children:
“These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
Furthermore, the title and an introduction of Dr. Benedik’s article are not in line with the review written in 2014 by the team from the Paediatric Clinic where Dr. Benedik is based, which permits a meatless diet: “Parents should be informed that vegetarian diets may be appropriate if they are adequately planned and implemented, and if they meet the nutrient intake requirements (reference values) while taking account of nutrient bioavailability according to a child’s age.”
Dr. Evgen Benedik opposes the Council of Europe
According to the latest (Slovenian) nutrition guidelines, solid foods are introduced at six months of age and up to one year of age we can include almost any food with few exceptions. Thus in their first year of life, babies could already try a variety of thoroughly cooked meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products as well as nuts.
However, considering that a healthy vegan diet is suitable from a health perspective, vegan children should clearly not be forced to consume animal products, as this is not in line with their own or their parents’ beliefs. Forcing animal products on vegans is discriminatory with respect to belief. In fact, veganism is endorsed by the Council of Europe as a serious and coherent belief.
Dr. Evgen Benedik subscribes to the position of ESPGHAN, of which he is a member
The Slovenian Paediatric Association as well as the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) recommend that children have a varied, mixed and balanced diet until 18 years of age.
On a global scale, ESPGHAN’s position on a vegan diet for children is irrelevant, since it is not founded on a scientific analysis of the whole field of vegan nutrition but it is rather remaining an opinion that has no scientific bearing.
It is based on a single review article. The conclusion of this (rather low-quality) review article is not that vegan diets are inappropriate for children, but that care must be taken – which is of course necessary – regardless of the specific eating plan a child is following.
It is important to understand that in science, the locality of an organisation plays no role. Instead, it is the quality of all the evidence gathered in a particular field that matters. To refer to an irrelevant organisation due to its local status borders on nationalism, and to have an open membership in it is a conflict of interest.
Dr. Benedik does not understand macro- and micronutrient density
Paediatricians accordingly advise that children should also consume food of animal origin, which are very energy- and nutrient-rich, especially in terms of protein composition, and are sources of vitamin B12, zinc, selenium and iron.
The great thing about a vegan diet is that it contains a wide variety of foods, ranging from the most energy dense (sugar, oil, etc.) to the least energy rich variety of whole foods. A vegan diet is also richer in micronutrients than an omnivorous diet.
Let’s take as an example the vegan form of vitamin B12, which is not protein-bound and as such is much more suitable for babies and the breastfeeding mother, as it facilitates more reliable absorption.
Plant-based (non-heme) iron may also be considered superior, because its absorption can be regulated by the body as needed.
On the other hand, the animal-based (heme) form of iron comes in package with cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fats and animal proteins, all of which pose completely avoidable health risks.
Dr. Benedik does not understand proteins and amino acids
In addition, many people may not know that: “Not all proteins are the same. What matters are the amino acids that make up each protein. Animal-based foods, with the exception of processed meat products, have a significantly better amino acid profile than plant proteins, and amino acids are the basic building blocks of almost every organ in the body”, he explained. Therefore, animal and plant based foods cannot be comparable in any way.
Science disagrees with Dr. Benedik. A perfunctory glance at the food nutrition table and a pinch of elementary school maths is all it takes to understand that the idea of “good quality” and “poor quality” protein is nonsensical. This idea is based on various outdated protein evaluations (PDCAAS, DIAAS, etc.), which are completely useless in practice because they do not take into account that a person eats more than one foodstuff in the course of a day, and that the body’s own amino acid pools balance out the “unbalanced” sources of protein.
In addition, it would be high time for Dr. Benedik to learn how to use the following nutrition database:
Dr. Benedik does not understand that palaeontology is not food science
Instead he argues that only a properly planned lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, excluding meat and fish, but including eggs and dairy products, is suitable for a child,
contradicting the title of the article, which misleadingly claims that children must eat meat.
and certainly not other more restrictive forms of vegetarian eating, such as a vegan diet, both for the sake of current guidelines and for purely evolutionary reasons.
It is frightening to see a qualified food technologist, working at Division of Paediatrics at UMC Ljubljana, resort to some kind of evolutional theory to determine an appropriate menu. Not only is he using his title and ‘authority’ to comment on subjects that surpass his expertise, but it is also clear that he does not even understand the basic principles of evolution. Namely, after the transition to eating an animal-based diet natural selection did not optimise our bodies for a long and healthy life, but for maximising the probability of survival until reproduction (transmission of genetic information). Aside from that, evolution had little influence on the “optimal” functioning of the human organism. It is no coincidence that virtually all diseases associated with the consumption of animal-based food (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.) typically only appear after a human has reached reproductive age. It is therefore childish to base our assumption of living long and healthy lives as omnivores on evolution. It is not palaeontology and a childish (mis)understanding of evolution that helps us to determine the optimal diet for a long and healthy life but modern scientific research into the impact of different types of diet on the body of the modern human being.
Incidentally, our ancestors often consumed fellow human beings in order to survive. If we subscribe to Dr. Benedik’s logic, we should do the same today for optimal health.
Dr. Benedik does not understand that theology is not the science of nutrition.
Human is an omnivorous creature and Mother Nature made us this way for a reason.
In addition to not understanding omnivores within the context of evolution, Dr. Benedik uses the “appeal to nature fallacy”. He tries to convince us that because being omnivorous is “natural”, it is also “healthy”.
Furthermore, he uses words that personify nature (“mother” nature), recklessly attempting to suggest that nature is some form of creation by a deity. Yes, such individuals are employed as assistant professors at the Biotechnical Faculty in Ljubljana, and they are responsible for the health of Slovenian children.
Dr. Benedik does not understand the role of food supplements
Of course, the advocates of a meatless diet will disagree with me and defend the guidelines (Australian, UK, American – even ESPGHAN supports a meatless diet – etc.), because they also support a meatless diet for children, which must of course be adequately planned and supported with appropriate food supplements.
Those who you claim are “advocates of a meatless diet” are in fact advocates of the scientific method, and they disagree with you, Dr. Benedik. Of course, a vegan diet must also be properly planned. Does the need for supplements in a vegan diet make it worse? Because supplements are not ‘natural’? Is an omnivorous diet also bad because it requires the addition of iodised salt or because pregnant women have to take folic acid in the form of a ‘supplement’ that was not ‘created by Mother Nature’? Of course, these supplements are acceptable to Dr. Benedik because they are in line with the ideology of carnism. Yet according to him, the supplements that are part of vegan values make following such a diet “risky, difficult, expensive and requiring a lot of knowledge…”
Dr. Benedik’s dictatorship of incompetence
“The fact is that in the countries mentioned above, where such guidelines have been adopted, the health system is different from ours, so caution is needed when generalising such dietary guidelines,” he stressed.
From what we know so far in this universe, we can conclude that the laws of physics and the scientific method work the same everywhere. This means that if vegan nutrition is healthy in America, it is also healthy here, in Slovenia. And if there is a need for vegan nutrition in Slovenia, then the health care system must also adapt to the science of vegan nutrition, rather than people having to adapt to the distortion of scientific facts by some ideologically driven individuals, of whom Dr. Benedik is a fine example. Such thinking is a textbook example of discrimination in Slovenia, because some individuals have usurped complete control over dietary judgments and without any possibility of scientific discussion or challenge, this could also be called a ‘dictatorship’. Furthermore, given that their judgements are purely subjective, ideological and mostly contrary to science, we can rightly call this a ‘dictatorship of incompetence’.
Dr. Benedik does not understand mathematics
“As mentioned, meat is an important source of protein, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium and iron in our diet.”
Yes, meat is an important source of these nutrients in an omnivorous diet, but not in a vegan diet.
While most of the requirements for the above mentioned nutrients can be met by a well-planned meatless diet, this requires a lot of commitment, knowledge and finances, as it also requires the use of food supplements that are not otherwise needed in a balanced diet.
I would like to see research showing that a healthy vegan menu is more difficult to put together, and I would like to see a calculation showing that legumes are more expensive than meat. But even if both were true (and they are not), the effort and money that vegans put in is a free choice that they have the right to make for themselves. And no one at the Division of Paediatrics has the right to interfere with that choice.
The only exception is vitamin D, which practically all of us are deficient in, especially in the autumn-winter months.
So Dr. Benedik confirms once again that omnivores should supplement exclusively with vitamin D, which means that they should not consume salt with added iodine and that pregnant women should not consume folic acid. And here we can seriously reflect on the expertise of this ‘ Dr.’. Genius.
Given that, as part of sustainable development we, as a civilisation, need to move away from animal products, it would also make sense to add B12 to salt just like it’s already done with iodine. In the study ‘Evaluation of diet quality of vegans and omnivores with a web-based application’, it was shown that when it comes to dietary supplements, the only major difference between the vegan and the omnivore group was the frequency of consumption of vitamin B12 in a form of a stand-alone supplement.
Dr. Benedik’s duplicity
“I should also like to draw attention to the fact that many meatless products or meat substitutes (vegan meat, vegan hot dogs, vegan pates, etc.) are nutritionally poor”, he adds.
Yes, it is true that many vegan versions of meat are nutritionally similar to real meat, but fortunately they are at least cholesterol-free, heme iron-free, generally lower in saturated fat, etc. In short, these “substitutes” are still healthier than animal-based products. And why did I put the word ‘substitutes’ in quotation marks? Because a vegan diet does not need to replace anything, since it already contains all the healthy foods needed for optimal human health and development. It would be logical to argue that meat is an unhealthy substitute for healthy foods such as legumes. Since meat is still more expensive, despite all the subsidies, we can say that it is a food of privileged westerners who have the money both for meat and for the treatment of the diseases it causes.
In an omnivorous diet, which by the way can include all of the above mentioned nutritionally poor foods, micronutrient deficient foods do not exist? Salami, patés, sausages, hot dogs, sugary drinks, refined sugar, sweets, confectionery, cream, butter, oils, crisps, jam, cakes, white flour? Expensive foods such as vegan “meat” products make up only a small fraction of the food we eat. So if Dr. Benedik wants to give advice on what to avoid in order to have a more micronutrient-rich menu, he will have to start by listing the typical omnivorous foods, which are undeniably micronutrient-deficient, but at the same time disproportionately more affordable.
Dr. Benedik discriminates against children
Parents who are still considering a meatless diet for their child should be aware of the full implications of such restrictive eating. According to Dr. Benedik, personnel at the Division of Paediatrics first try to explain to them the importance of each nutrient and to find the reason for their decision. “If they persist in their decision, we advise that the child should be fed normal food in kindergarten or school and meatless food at home.”
This may be where the main problem lies. Vegan children should not be forced to adopt other beliefs because it is not in line with the constitutional law on freedom of conscience, and because it is simply forbidden under the law on protection against discrimination.
Therefore, vegan children should eat a vegan diet always and everywhere, as this is in line with their beliefs. You, the staff of the Division of Paediatrics, are paid to help them, not to distract them from an ethical attitude towards animals, coerce them with pseudoscience, ideology and logical fallacies, causing them irreparable trauma. In fact, with your arrogant and militant behaviour towards parents, both in clinics and in articles, you force them to avoid you time and time again. This can actually be life-threatening for a child, regardless of dietary choices.
There are only two practical dietary tips in the whole article. Readers of this article would need more dietary advice, unless the authors of the article do not care about people’s health and their intention is only to scare people away from sustainable and ethical ways of eating.
For example, the reader could be directed to the excellent article Planning Well-Balanced Vegetarian Diets in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: The VegPlate Junior.
This includes The VegPlate Junior and an explanation. The VegPlate Junior can also serve omnivorous children, not only vegetarians and vegans.
And once again, the scientific position on vegan eating, which is not in line with the unprofessional opinions of Slovenian paediatricians, is as follows:
A vegan diet can be suitable for people at all stages of life, including infants, children, teenagers, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and athletes. Not only that, a vegan diet reduces the chances of developing many chronic diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, etc.).
Author: Dani Sušnik
Translation from Slovenian to English: Nataša Pucelj & M. Anžin