I used to be a food extremist, and in a few ways, some may still label me as such, but I rely heavily on science to back up my choices. One example is gluten – I avoid it no matter what, but this isn’t what I’m labeling Food Extremism.
My definition of a Food Extremist is: A person who holds extreme views about food and acts on them. The word “extreme” is subject to your personal interpretation, however the dictionary defines it as being furthest from the center point (standard), the outermost (view or behavior). On a continuum where Standard American Diet (SAD) is in the middle, then a food extremist would be at either the far right or far left of this. Some may interpret this labeling as inflammatory, but I want you to provide you with the information you deserve so you can be an informed food consumer. I’m going to risk upsetting you for just a moment, but hang in there, I will explain everything.
I’ve done almost every fad diet, nutrition plan and way of eating over the last 30 years of my life, so I’ve been there, eaten that, experienced East Coast, West Coast & Midwestern eating; as well as European, Central American, South American, and Canadian eating to name a few. I’ve been macrobiotic, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, primal, ketogenic gut repair, metabolic type, blood type and a raw foodie to name just a few. I get it, we all have our opinions, but that’s not enough for me. I knew science had more answers for me and therefore this information will benefit you as well. Vegans, vegetarians, raw foodies, and paleo are a few labels that people willingly take on, while junk food addicts, sugar-free addicts, diet soda addicts, and the fat-free obsessed are the groups that I’m categorizing from the last 20 years of experience.
There is mostly nothing wrong with a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or raw food diet that is “therapeutic” in nature. This means it’s not long term and used to help balance the body, heal a specific disorder etc. Keto and Paleo are the closest nutritional plans that match our genetic make-up, digestive system, and teeth. However vegan, vegetarian, and raw can each lead to various deficiencies. Here’s where I may push a button. I’m not promoting a particular agenda (other than gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and junk-food free which have all been scientifically proven to cause more damage than good in the human body) – I don’t believe there is only one way to eat. The issue I have is when each profess it is the only way. When we look at our gut bacteria, our incisors (teeth), genetics, our climate, our toxic planet (thousands of horrifically toxic chemicals used in agriculture, big pharma, energy production, air, food, water, soil), moral implications, energetic impact, and stress levels to name a few, we are left with more questions than answers about how we should eat, but a few things stand out to me. I’d like to share them with you because I find I keep having these conversations with people who are considering going to a plant based diet only.
I think humans should be eating more plants, a wide variety of vine-ripened, and organic are best, but they’re not always available. I also have seen the impact of too much and too little meat on someone’s body, mind and spirit, depending on their genetics, constitution, fitness program, family goals (i.e. pregnancy), ability to digest and absorb nutrients, religious practices, geography and climate to name a few. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, please keep reading, you can argue and disagree, but please keep reading to learn more. I’m actually more on your side than you think right now.
A few more definitions before we dive in any further. Technically, humans are omnivores. This means we acquire and process our food from a number of sources, we are not “specialized” eaters, meaning we don’t have to eat a special diet like an elephant, we can eat many things from various sources. Although vegans, raw foodies and the such would try to argue this genetic, scientific fact.
Herbivores, on the other hand, have adapted to eating mainly plants (gorillas, horses, cows, giraffes, rhinos, and elephants). Their mouths have evolved and “rasp” or “grind” tree bark and grasses. Horses have wide, flat teeth perfectly suited for grazing on grasses. There are two different kinds of herbivores – grazers like cows (clip vegetation at or near ground level) and browsers like giraffe (eats leaves and twigs and green stems from plants and trees). Humans lack the teeth and digestive systems for either of these styles of eating. Vegans can argue, but it’s just biology, genetics, and anatomy. Ask a dentist or keep reading to learn about how our digestive system is different…it’s fascinating!
How are Humans who eat a plant-based diet and Herbivores in the wild or on farms different? The answer lies in our digestive system and the way we absorb nutrients. It’s actually nothing even close to how a true herbivore digests and absorbs it’s nutrients. This is a popular vegetarian argument but it’s simply not true by any stretch of the scientific imagination.
Humans are omnivores with only one stomach (mono-gastric) and our digestive process is based on enzymes breaking down our food to be either further absorbed as nutrients or released as waste. Conversely, Herbivores can have one stomach or complex, four chamber stomachs (ruminants), but they rely on microbial fermentation to break down their food, completely different from humans. Herbivores digest cellulose from plant walls, via fermentation in either the foregut or the hindgut. When you, as a human, eat cellulose in plants, your enzymes can’t break it down, and only a small amount can be broken down by your gut microbes in the large intestine. Cellulose contains insoluble fiber, which helps move things along in your digestive system, but it doesn’t negate the fact that we still have an enzyme-based digestive system.
There are several arguments for this theory and I will dive deeper into eight strong arguments over the next couple of weeks.
Blessings of Vibrant Health,
Kristin Grayce McGary
Health and Lifestyle Alchemist