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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Letter to the Editor | VegSource Interactive, Inc.

Robert Cohen:
Dangerous Disinformation

Letter to the editor by Stephen Walsh
The views expressed in Letters to the Editor
do not necessarily reflect those of VegSource

June 2, 2002 -- In this essay, I discuss several of Robert Cohen's e-mail circulars from the last three months to highlight how he consistently distorts the truth in manner that helps promote his soy milk maker while denigrating other soy milk providers and dangerously misleading his readers on key health issues. The blatant distortion revealed below is nothing new (see www.vegsource.com/articles/cohen), but confirms that Cohen is unfit to be given a platform in the vegetarian community.

In this essay, ">" indicates an extract from Cohen's e-mail newsletters. Cohen's posts have been edited for brevity, by deletion of irrelevant material, but links to the originals are included so that readers can readily examine them for themselves.

June 1st 2001: NOTMILK - SOYMILK PROVIDES MORE CALCIUM THAN COW'S MILK
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/notmilk/message/925

>SOYMILK HAS MORE CALCIUM THAN COW'S MILK!

>I was more than amazed when I made this discovery!

>Let's compare commercially prepared soymilk
(in carton containers) and the soymilk you make
fresh in your SoyToy to cow's milk.

>*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*
In order to absorb one milligram of calcium, one
needs an equal milligram of magnesium. Therefore,
in examining calcium values of food, one must also
consider the amounts of magnesium.
*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*


 



>CALCIUM & MAGNESIUM

>One cup of cow's milk contains 290 mg of calcium.
One cup of cow's milk contains 32 mg of magnesium.

>One cup of store-bought soymilk contains 10 mg of calcium.
One cup of store-bought soymilk contains 47 mg of magnesium.

>One cup of homemade soymilk contains 32 mg of calcium.
One cup of homemade soymilk contains 33 mg of magnesium.

>CALCIUM SUMMARY

>One absorbs the same amount of calcium from
a glass of homemade soymilk and cow's milk.
You will absorb only one-third the amount of
calcium in store-bought soymilk.

>In examining both numbers together (mg of calcium
and mg of magnesium), the lower of the two numbers
becomes the lowest common denominator. Yes, cow's
milk is saturated with calcium, but the low level
of magnesium means that only a small amount of that
dietary calcium is absorbed. Although there are
290 mg of calcium in one cup of cow's milk, the
32 mg of magnesium limit calcium absorption to
a mere 32 mg. Homemade soymilk contains 32 mg
of both calcium and magnesium. Exactly the perfect
proportion!

>Commercial soymilk does not.

>Robert Cohen

Claim: Unfortified soy milk, such as that produced from the machine Cohen sells using about 2oz dry beans per quart, provides more absorbed calcium than both cow's milk and commercial soy milk, because magnesium must be absorbed 1:1 by weight with calcium.

Reality: Calcium from cow's milk is well absorbed. Fortified soy milk containing added calcium is a comparable source of absorbed calcium to cow's milk. Unfortified soy milk from whole beans is a poor source of calcium as it contains very little. Unless magnesium is so low in the diet as to cause severe deficiency (very rare), dietary magnesium has no measurable effect on calcium absorption. Cohen's claim that calcium absorption requires an equal weight of magnesium is flatly contradicted by nutritional research.

In this one brief e-mail, Cohen promotes three baseless misconceptions which are to his commercial advantage.

  • Unfortified soy milk is a useful source of dietary calcium. It isn't.
  • Cow's milk is a poor source of calcium. Although a third of the calcium absorbed from cow's milk is lost in extra protein induced losses, in contrast to calcium from green leafy vegetables, it is still a good source of calcium.
  • Commercial soy milk is a poor source of calcium. If fortified with calcium it is a much superior source of calcium compared with the home-made unfortified version; otherwise both commercial and home-produced soy milks are poor sources.

23 May, 2002: NOTMILK - - TOUCHING EVERY BASE
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/notmilk/message/914

>This column is about touching all of the bases.
There is a new soy company called Frulatte. They
make soy smoothies.

>In an attempt to manufacture their version of
a "perfect" product, the Frulatte people have
tried to touch every base by including one
politically correct additive after another
into their soy-based drinks.

>They add Vitamin B-12. They add Vitamin D-3.

>Where does commercial Vitamin B-12 come from?
Animals, primarily beef liver.

>Where does Vitamin D-3 come from?
Animals, primarily sheep skin and wool.

>I spoke to Frulatte's chief chemist, Chris
Jensen.

>Chris also promised to get back to me regarding
the source of the Vitamin B-12 his company
uses. I spoke to him yesterday, and he told me
that it's microbrial. I am waiting for details.
Those same "microbes" producing Vitamin B-12 in the
human body live in the lower recesses of our
intestines in regions where the sun don't shine.

>Commercially prepared Vitamin B-12 from microbes
is extracted from feces.

>Robert Cohen

Claim: B12 added to commercial soy milk comes from animals, primarily beef liver, or from faeces.

Reality: B12 in commercial soy milk and other fortified foods comes from the excretions of hygienically fermented bacteria. As is often the case, Robert Cohen takes a grain of truth as the seed for an outright distortion. Some of the bacteria used in fermentations for B12 were first isolated from faeces or manure but there is no faeces used in the fermentation process that produces all commercial B12 and is at least as hygienic as the more familiar fermentations used to produce beer. The Encyclopedia of Microbiology (2000) gives a clear explanation of the process used
(http://www.academicpress.com/microbe/pdf/lederberg_EoM2_837-853_V7.pdf).

Bacteria are the ultimate source of B12 for all land-dwelling animals. Our ape relatives get their B12 from insects, faeces and in some cases small amounts of meat. Fortified foods and supplements allow us to get our B12 hygienically and without any harm to any sentient being.

Cohen promotes a baseless misconception to his commercial advantage and the detriment of his readers by suggesting that vegans should not consume B12-fortified products, such as many commercial soy-milks, or other forms of commercially produced B12. His suggestion that commercial B12 comes from animals or faeces is simply untrue and is dangerously misleading as it deflects vegans from getting vital (and entirely vegan) vitamin B12, as recommended by all major vegan and vegetarian societies.

Cohen's observation that D3 is derived from animals is correct. D2 is the only form of vitamin D suitable for vegans.

26 March 2002: Silk - the deadly poison
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/notmilk/message/858

>Do you buy SILK soymilk for yourself
or your loved ones?

>If you answered in the affirmative, you
may be placing your family in grave danger.

>GOT SILK? GOT CANCER!

>SILK contains a dangerous substance,
carrageenan.

>THE WARNING

>Dr. Andrew Weil recently warned his readers about
the dangers of carrageenan. This well-respected
medical doctor wrote:

"Carrageenan can cause ulcerations and
cancers of the gastrointestinal tract."

http://www.drweil.com/drw/app/cda/drw_cda.php?command
=TodayQA&pt=Question&questionId=44833

>In order to get more information, I spoke on
the phone today (3/25/2002) with one of America's
carrageenan experts, Joanne Tobacman.

>I explained to Dr. Tobacman that I rejected animal
studies (as cited in Dr. Weil's column), and
requested evidence that carrageenan might be
dangerous to humans.

>I learned from Dr. Tobacman that carrageenan is
highly sulferated. Forty percent of carrageenan,
by molecular weight, is sulfur. You may recall
from previous notmilk columns that amino acids
containing sulfur create an acid condition in
the bloodstream, and that the human body neutralizes
the acid by leeching calcium from bones. Methionine
is one such amino, and methionine converts
to homocysteine, an amino acid that Dr. William
Castelli calls a key to heart disease. Castelli is
the lead researcher in the Framingham heart study,
the largest heart study in the history of mankind.

>Robert Cohen

Claim: Commercial soy milks containing carrageenan are dangerous as carrageenan will raise homocysteine levels, promote bone loss and promote
cancer.

Reality: Carrageenan in the form added to foods has been classified as non-toxic and non-carcinogenic based on several recent independent reviews, including one by the World Health Organisation. Carrageenan is a non-starch polysaccharide (a form of fibre). Very little of its sulphur gets into the blood and even if it all did it would have absolutely no effect on homocysteine as it is not in the form of amino acids. Cohen attempts to tar carrageenan with the same brush as sulphur-containing amino acids, but there is no connection whatsoever.

Indeed, as discussed below, there are much more important determinants of homocysteine than sulphur-containing amino acids.

See http://www.vegsource.com/articles/silk3.htm for a more extensive discussion of Cohen's attack on the Silk soy milk brand.

21 March, 2002: Omnivores have healthier hearts
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/notmilk/message/855

>What did scientists find when they compared
the cardiovascular systems of vegetarians to
meat eaters?

>OMNIVORES HAVE HEALTHIER HEARTS!

>In the study cited in this column, that is true.
The key here, though, is what kind of vegetarians
did the scientific study consider?

>There are vegetarians who eat absolutly no
animal products. These vegetarians call
themselves vegans.

>There are vegetarians who exclude meat, poultry,
and seafood from their diets. This group of
vegetarians consume eggs and dairy, and
are called lacto-ovo vegetarians.

>Then there are the vegetarians who drink milk
and eat dairy products. These vegetarians call
themselves lacto-vegetarians.

>Lacto vegetarians are unhealthy, as the study
below reveals.

>The largest heart study in history, the
Framingham study, continues to be conducted
in Massachusetts by a group of scientists,
including the lead investigator, William
Castelli, M.D.

>Last year, I had the honor of spending a
few minutes with Dr. Castelli. I was told that
the hottest area of research today and the
leading cause of heart disease is homocysteines.

>Homocysteines are amino acids whose center atom
is sulfur. Another amino acid, methionine,
converts to the heart-dangerous homocysteine.
Animal protein contains significantly more
methionine than do plant proteins. For example,
Swiss cheese contains 10.6 times the amount of
methionine as does soft silken tofu.

>The study in question, published in the February,
2000 issue of the Journal of Nutrition (132: 152-158),
revealed:

"Plasma Homocysteine Levels in Taiwanese
Vegetarians Are Higher than Those of Omnivores"

>A team of eight scientists (Chien-Jung Hung, et. al)
measured and compared the blood serum levels of
homocysteine of 45 female Buddhist lacto-vegetarians
(milk drinkers) to the homocystein levels of
45 omnivores (meat eaters), and found that the milk -
drinking vegetarians had "significantly" higher levels
of homocysteine than did the omniovores.

>The negative effects of homocysteine on the female
heart and female skeletal mass have been determined
to do enormous damage.

>Milk and dairy products play the key role in causing
heart disease:

http://www.notmilk.com/h.html

>and osteoporosis:

http://www.notmilk.com/o.html

>Robert Cohen

Claim: Elevated homocysteine levels observed in Taiwanese vegetarians were due to drinking milk.

Reality: As noted in the paper Cohen is commenting on, "Taiwanese vegetarian diets include few or no dairy products and consist mainly of rice, vegetables, fruits and significant amounts of soy products." Thus, it is not reasonable to claim that dairy products account for the observed elevation in homocysteine.

Furthermore, one study in Australia, two studies in Germany and one study in Czechoslovakia have directly compared vegan homocysteine levels to lacto-vegetarian homocysteine levels. In all four studies, the vegan levels were higher than the lacto-vegetarian levels, due to lower blood B12 levels and lower B12 intake. One other study, of California Seventh day Adventists, found vegan homocysteine levels to be desirably low, due to extensive use of B12-fortified foods or supplements, providing 6 micrograms per day of B12.

The commercially-produced B12 that Cohen denigrates above (as coming from animals or faeces) is the key to vegans having desirably low homocysteine levels and avoiding the health risks associated with elevated homocysteine. See www.vegansociety.com/html/info/B12sheet.htm for more information on B12 in vegan diets.

Conclusion

If one were to take Robert Cohen at face value, his soymilk maker machine would seem to produce a much healthier product than that of his competitors. In creating this impression, he has largely distorted or misrepresented the nutritional literature. His conclusions are often unwarranted and sometimes (as in his denigration of commercial B12 and his misleading information on sources of calcium) potentially dangerous to anyone relying on the information he provides.

Currently, Cohen enjoys a very visible role in the vegetarian movement as a guest speaker at important conferences and events. While this benefits his commercial interests, it discredits the vegetarian movement and gives undue credibility to Cohen's inaccurate claims.

 
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