As I promised last week, there are several arguments that support my decision to not be a food extremist – this week I will detail the first four reasons supported by science on why humans should eat a balanced diet and why we need more than just plants as nutrition.
Argument #1: Many vegetarians postulate that cows eat grass and get all the calcium and nutrients they need, so eating a plant based diet is what we should do because it works for 800 pound cattle.
- The truth is, we don’t digest like a cow, nor do we have four legs with four stomach chambers. In no way is eating a plant-based diet the same as grazing. Cows chew their food, regurgitate it, and chew it again. They also have a very complex, four-chamber digestive system (ruminants) that is nowhere close to our human digestion. A little trivia for your next party: Monogastric (one stomach) herbivores can extract more nutrients from smaller amounts of food than ruminants can and therefore could survive in more diverse conditions. Therefore using this argument as evidence that humans should eat mostly plants makes no scientific sense, it’s like comparing apples to strawberries. Yes, we should eat more plants, but we’re not designed to eat solely a plant-based diet.
Argument #2: We can get everything we need from eating plants. Actually, we just aren’t designed to have enough time and energy to eat plants alone.
- Another notable fact is that herbivores spend most of their time and energy eating many pounds of grasses, leaves and twigs daily just to survive. Elephants spend 16-18 hours eating daily. If humans were true herbivores then we’d only have time to eat and sleep. We aren’t designed to just chop, chew, digest, poop, and sleep all day. We have evolved to do so much more and therefore our eating must has evolved with us. Fortunately, we can digest starches and fats through the enzymatic process of human digestion, and store them as fuel for later, which helps remove us from the endless cycle of eating that limits a true herbivore.
Argument #3: I’ve heard vegetarians and raw foodies attempt to use gorillas as yet another comparable example.
- They are big and strong and they eat mostly plants (they also eat grubs and bugs when they can). The gorilla argument is also a weak point. Some vegetarians believe that a gorilla is big and strong so what they eat is somehow an argument for humans to eat that way too. Well, it’s just not true. Not everything someone ‘believes’ is the scientific fact. Here’s the real information: A gorilla needs a large belly because their intestines are longer and larger than ours, more space is required to ferment it’s food while accommodating all the bacteria needed for that fermentation process. The bacteria in their gut is also specialized, we don’t possess the same kind of bacteria that they require for their fermentation digestive process, so solely eating the same kinds of foods and arguing they can make us as strong as a gorilla just doesn’t make sense. Conversely, a large belly in humans is a sign of obesity, with a little insulin resistance to boot. Once again, it’s just not appropriate to compare the two.
Argument #4: Vegans and raw foodists claim they can get all the amino acids they need from plants, but it’s not exactly accurate.
- First, let me explain what they are. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which is required for all tissue repair, anti-aging and regeneration. Muscle alone accounts for about half of the protein in the body and must be replenished to repair itself. Protein is also necessary for collagen growth (healthy skin, hair and nails), hormones, appetite, and enzymes that break down food to name a few. Have you ever seen a very thin, even emaciated raw foodist or vegan. They tend to have measurably lower muscle mass and this is why, of course there are some genetic exceptions. I’ve also seen a chunky vegetarian because they are carb loading to help curb their hunger because they are nutrient and protein deficient. There are 20 amino acids that we know of, and they can combine themselves in various sequences to give us what we need. However there are 8 amino acids that the body can not make, which must be consumed. These are referred to as the 8 essential amino acids, they are: Isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine (histidine is also regarded as essential for infants). It’s impossible to get your daily requirements of the essential amino acids from plant foods alone, unless you incorporate very unhealthy, and processed foods such as soy products (causes significant imbalances in hormones because it’s estrogenic and stops thyroid function – goitrogenic), seitan (glutinous and highly inflammatory to the gut and brain), corn (mostly GMO in our country), and processed pea and potato protein. Our bodies were not designed to breakdown, digest, and absorb these highly processed foods. Consider a soybean and then look at a chunk of tofu. The process through which it must go is complex and simply not good for us, and it causes significant hormonal imbalances. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can take special amino acid formulas to help you supplement the deficiencies in your diet, but I’d like to move away from so many pills and use food as our medicine.
Please check back next week for my last four arguments for finding balance without being a food extremist along with a personal story. Again, I want to stress that these “arguments” are for your benefit and long-lasting health and wellness – I care about you as a human.
Blessings of Vibrant Health,
Kristin Grayce McGary
Health and Lifestyle Alchemist