In Part One of this blog, “How I Went From Eating Mostly Veggies to Mostly Meat,” I talked about my history with food and how I came to try a plant-based diet. In this next part, I’m going to share with you my last and final attempt at veganism and how I made the mental shift into understanding the role of animals in our food and in our lives.
Moving On From Plants
After getting back from our trip to Austin, TX in 2013 and having my experience with eating meat again, I decided it was time to go back to veggies. My mindset at the time was all about eating colorful, healthy foods from the plant kingdom. That is what I thought of as eating optimally because everything I had been told up until that point was that vegetables were the ultimate health food. In hindsight, my biggest problem with this way of thinking is that I didn’t research outside of my mental bubble to fully understand if that was actually true. Each new resource I discovered, from Forks Over Knives to Mind Body Green, all had a bias and an agenda. I was following a snowball of information without checking my sources or confirming the facts because I believed them to be authorities on the subject. Unfortunately, this is how many people consume information because it is ingrained in us to just listen to and learn from experts.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to any experts, though. What I’m trying to convey is the importance of double and triple checking the information you come across for accuracy and truth. There’s a lot that goes into funding specific research studies that the general public is not privy to. When bad science is used to generate recommendations for the public in the form of media articles, there’s a lot of click-bait and fearmongering that’s created in the form of catchy titles that spread misinformation far and wide. I digress.
So, for my last stint with plant foods I left all animal products behind and focused my diet and life on avoiding eating meat and using animal products. I have always been one to donate to charity, so I signed up for monthly donations to animal welfare non-profits. I checked every product I used to make sure there weren’t any animal ingredients listed and that they were cruelty free. I was mentally devoted to doing what I thought was right, until one day my craving for beef was too strong to ignore. It was summertime, and my husband and I were laying out getting some sun on the rooftop of our apartment building. I was starting to get hungry, except this time I was craving a hamburger. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I turned to my husband and said, “I’m seriously craving meat right now. All I can think about is eating a burger.” His response? “Let’s go get one. Where would you like to go?” He is always supportive of whatever goal I’m working on, but I think in that moment he must have known something that I didn’t – it was time to listen to what my body was asking for.
We went to a local burger place, and I was so happy to be eating meat again. It felt right for my body, but I was still struggling with the guilt of what (or who) I was eating. Back then, I didn’t know what I do now about the health benefits of eating meat, but somehow I knew it made sense and that animals have always been a vital part of our human existence. I have never been and will never be okay with factory farming, CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation), animal abuse/cruelty, and wasting/disrespecting the life that has been sacrificed for our ability to thrive. The more I learn about regenerative farming and ruminant animals, the more respect I have for the role they play in maintaining environmental homeostasis. In some form or another we evolved alongside each other, and ruminants have been able to continue existing because of humans keeping them protected from predators out in the wild. Our ancestors prized and appreciated meat in a way that many people today don’t because, unfortunately, society has become too disconnected from the food system. Now, the question is – How do we reconnect and discover what we should be eating for optimal health, while fixing the mistakes of the past that have damaged our health and the environment? It’s complicated, but also not. Let me explain.
Eating Meat Throughout Evolution
First, I want to talk about why meat is so important for human health and why we shouldn’t fear it as we’ve been made to for the past 100 years. Common sense and logic are crucial tools to use when trying to make sense of conflicting data and recommendations. When we are told something is one way, we need to ask ourselves a lot of questions to start the process of analysis and compare the new information with what we already know about human and anthropological biology. From Neanderthals to Homo sapiens, humans have been hunting and consuming animals for sustenance for thousands of years. Eating animals nose to tail is what allowed our brains to develop and grow into what they are today. The growth occurred because of eating animal fats and complete proteins, which are literally what feed our brains as we know them today. Did you know that the human brain is made up of 2/3 fat, of which 25% is saturated fat? The brain requires protein and fat to function, and even makes its own cholesterol independent of the foods you eat! So you see, cholesterol is something that our bodies already produce and use in order to function. Why then, would something that is naturally occurring suddenly be deemed unhealthy? It just doesn’t make logical sense.
When you look at ancestral diets in comparison to modern diets, you start to see where things took a turn for the worse. Chronic disease is a modern day problem that plagues society, and it all started when our diets changed from eating traditional, seasonal foods to modern day processed junk. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer just weren’t as prevalent in days of the past when ancestral diets were more common. Dr. Weston A. Price was a Cleveland dentist who wanted to better understand the cause of dental decay and degradation. He did not set out to uncover the optimal human diet, but through the process of observing isolated groups of people and their surprisingly great dental health, his research evolved into discovering how traditional diets resulted in healthier teeth, bone structure, and overall health and longevity.
Dr. Price conducted observational research around the world on traditional groups of people who were not influenced by a Western diet and compared them to those who were. What he found was shocking at the time; within just one generation of switching to a diet heavily influenced by modern foods, you could begin to see how nutritional deficiencies affected proper growth and development. Dental arches and facial bone structure were no longer broad and spacious, but instead narrow and crowded causing teeth to become crooked. Tooth decay was rampant and health began to decline as a result. What was striking was that none of the traditional diets were exactly alike, but they all shared one important factor – all included some type of nose to tail animal foods.
The healthy traditional diets were local, seasonal, fresh, and most importantly nutrient dense. Eating close to nature started making so much sense to me after researching the Weston A. Price Foundation and hearing countless experts on podcasts, videos, articles, and research studies discuss the benefits of eating animal foods. The more I started to learn and question modern nutrition dogma, the more I began piecing together a way of eating and living that we (humans) have become so disconnected from in modern times. The present day lifestyle doesn’t have time for preparing food like our ancestors used to, and because of this we have come to rely on the convenience of grocery stores, prepared foods, and dining out in order to save time and energy in our busy lives. Certain luxuries like grocery stores are taken for granted because it’s all we know and are accustomed to, but getting food hasn’t always been so easy. Now when we think of food, we think of it as what we see at the store – pre cut, in packages, and readily available no matter the time of year. Do you ever wonder why a tomato you eat in the U.S. tastes so different from a tomato in another country, like Italy? I’ll never forget my experience eating tomatoes over the summer in Serbia and getting to taste what an in-season, ripe tomato is supposed to taste like. The more we distance ourselves from how the food we eat gets to our plates, the more susceptible we are to making arguments and judgments about what we should and shouldn’t be eating.
Nutrient Density & Bioavailability
An important fact to note in this discussion is that there is no proof of a successful multi-generational (5 generations at least) group of vegans in the history of human existence. That’s right! Every remote tribe that has been observed has consumed some amount of animal foods, and most of them are free of modern day diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Even mountain gorillas consume insects. Going back to nutrient density and bioavailability, plant foods just don’t compare to animal foods.
For example, 100g of raw beef liver contains:
- 20.4g of protein
- 1.9mg of vitamin C
- 6.5mg of heme iron
- 16,899IU of vitamin A
- 59.3mcg of vitamin B12
- 497mg of phosphorus
- 290mcg of folate
- 7mg of omega-3
- zinc, selenium, retinol, riboflavin, copper, the list goes on and on.
It’s truly a superfood in the real sense of the word. Unlike the heavily marketed “superfoods” you can find in the grocery store today, liver hasn’t been promoted as a health food in modern times, but it should be. A common superfood that comes to mind is pomegranate juice. A certain brand of pomegranate juice comes in a shapely bottle showing off the dark purple juice that is supposedly chock full of antioxidants to boost health. What most people don’t realize is that one of those small bottles contains 38g of carbs and 32g of sugar….IN ONE SERVING. Not only that, there is no legitimate scientific evidence that pomegranates do anything significant for our health, and in fact, they could be causing metabolic damage by elevating your blood glucose and spiking insulin. Is it worth it in the long run to buy falsely labeled health food products made of fruits and veggies in the hope that it will cure or boost your health? Likely not. You’d be better off to just eat some salmon, avocado, sardines, eggs, or beef. These are some of the true superfoods that are filled with nutrients our bodies need to function properly and run optimally. Another important factor that makes animal foods superior to plant foods is bioavailability. This means that the nutrients in animal foods, like beef liver, are more readily available and able to be absorbed by our digestive systems.
Take spinach for example – spinach is touted as a health food full of vitamins and minerals, and it’s especially known for being rich in iron. Right? Actually, the truth is in the details and these are the details that most of us don’t know. Spinach contains nonheme iron (the less absorbable variety) which means that when you eat spinach you’re not going to absorb very much of it, if any, especially if you are dealing with gut issues. On the other hand, heme iron can only be found in animal foods and is able to be absorbed by the human digestive system. So, this starts to paint the picture that our bodies can absorb iron from meat, but not so effectively from plant sources. In addition, the amount of nutrients in plants like spinach actually decrease significantly from root to plate, meaning the purported nutritional values aren’t what you’re getting when you eat it. From cutting the spinach from the ground, to transporting it to a store or farmers market, to proper storage temps and cooking methods, there’s a lot of nutrients lost before you ever take a bite of your prepared veggies. The last thing that I’ll mention here that deserves an entire post on its own is plant oxalates. I had never even heard about oxalates until I was deep down the nutrition research rabbit hole, which in my opinion, is problematic because it’s just another example of seriously important information that is not widely known or available.
Dangers of Plant Antinutrients
What exactly are oxalates? In the simplest of terms, oxalate or oxalic acid, is one of the most potent plant antinutrients. I know what you’re thinking – plants have antinutrients? Yes, it’s true. Plants are not 100% healthy for humans by design. Let’s consider what the benefit of producing antinutrients is for a plant. The primary role of antinutrients are to deter predators from consuming plants by creating compounds like lectins, phytates, and oxalates (among others) that negatively affect taste, digestion, and absorption. You can think of these as plant defense mechanisms that are meant to ward off predators by making it very unpleasant to consume. If you eat seeds from a plant they pass right through your digestive system and wind up in the toilet because your body cannot (more like will not) digest and absorb them. This is because seeds are some of the most toxic, heavily defended parts of a plant due to their need for seed propagation. Oxalates are particularly problematic because even though they are considered to be toxic for the body they can bioaccumulate over time. This build up of toxins in our body’s tissues causes a wide range of ailments like inflammation, fibromyalgia, leaky gut, joint pain, brain fog, fatigue, and the primary culprit…kidney stones. Oxalate crystals are formed in the body and bind to nutrients, most notably calcium, which interferes with nutrient absorption.
“For example, although the calcium in spinach is 115 mg per half cup cooked, because of the interference of oxalic acid, you would have to eat more than 16 cups of raw or more than eight cups of cooked spinach to get the amount of calcium available in one cup of yogurt.” – healthygut.com
The point of all of this is to think about vegetables from both sides of the equation – the good and the bad – and then weigh your options. At some point, we all have to factor in quality of life and enjoyment in our pursuit of optimal health. I’m not anti-vegetables by any means. I still eat some here and there, but after extensive research I don’t think they’re some magic pill that you need to fill your diet with in order to be healthy. In fact, what I have come to believe is that there are more potential negatives associated with consuming vegetables than there are with consuming animal foods. There are way more allergens from plants, like gluten and soy, that can seriously damage our gut and hormonal health. Once I started piecing together all of this new information, things became clearer and I realized that the greenwashing of the past 50 years that made everyone believe vegetables were healthier than meat was not based on proven scientific evidence. It has been the product of years of misinformation starting with Ellen G. White and the Seventh Day Adventist church. There’s a great podcast that goes into this topic in plenty of detail and explains the history of vegetarianism in the United States and how a few influential people were able to affect dietary guidelines and practices for decades to come.
It’s Time to Take Back Our Health
Questioning authority is frowned up on in our society, but we are in a critical time where people are sicker and more unhealthy than ever before and we can’t afford to continue with the current status quo of nutrition. Ask questions, research new topics, listen to smart people who don’t have a vested interest or bias, and collect the facts. We have so much to gain, and everything to lose if we continue on this path of health destruction. In closing, I want to challenge you to eliminate carbs and sugar from your diet for three weeks. See how you feel and analyze it. Consider if how you’ve been eating, whether you think it’s healthy or not, is really the optimal diet for your body and health. You just might be surprised by the results. And remember this:
- Survival foods are energy dense, optimal foods are nutrient dense.
- Meat is more nutrient dense and bioavailable for humans than plants.
- Plants have endogenous antinutrients, animal foods do not.
- Some common plant allergens are – wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, legumes, nightshades, and sesame.
- “There are no unique nutrients in plants that we can’t get from animals.” – Paul Saladino, MD
- Saturated fat and cholesterol are necessary for good health and aren’t the cause of heart disease.
- 75% of your body’s cholesterol is produced by liver, which is influenced by your insulin levels. – mercola.com
- That means, only 25% of your total cholesterol comes from the food you eat.
- There are no clinical trials that prove meat causes cancer or heart disease.
- Healthy user bias and unhealthy user bias must be taken into consideration in health study reporting.
- The WHO report claimed red meat and processed meat cause a 1.18% increase in your chance of getting cancer. This is negligible and within the realm of error according to scientists, yet it was reported to the public as significant. Compare that to smoking and the increase in risk of lung cancer at 25%.
- Read about the problems with relative risk vs. absolute risk with reporting numbers in studies.
- Epidemiological studies should be taken with a grain of salt.
- Speaking of salt…stop fearing that too. It’s necessary for health, and you won’t have a problem if you cut out processed foods.
I’m still getting used to my own mental shift, but the results speak for themselves. I have lost weight, gained energy, improved my mood and digestion, and overall feel better when I eat more animal foods and less processed/plant foods. Until next time…stay curious!