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Nell’s Corner: Moving Toward a Plant-Based Diet with Authenticity—and without Fake Food

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
February 15, 2020
Nell’s Corner: Moving Toward a Plant-Based Diet with Authenticity—and without Fake Food image

I am plant-based; I’ve always been that way. And I also eat meat—in small portions, and only from trusted sources that are 100-percent organic, grass-fed and finished.

Whoever said plant-based must mean vegan?

Just two weeks after The New York Times published an article relaying the message that new research “can’t prove red meat is truly bad for you” [1], a new group of companies began making meatless meat anyway. These are the same food conglomerates and meat producers that companies including Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods originally set out to disrupt [2].

Scientists and consumers alike need more than a single study to overhaul the current thinking about meat. Yet there is a growing dogma around meat, and it includes such directives as eating red meat no more than X times per month, or that a family history of high cholesterol means one should eat meat less frequently.

The general misconception that meat is bad for the planet, unhealthy for humans to consume, and that the vegan label automatically makes the item inside the package a superior choice is what is screaming to be addressed.

Let’s set the record straight.

Below are a series of factors you should consider when deciding between an Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat (plant-based “ground beef”) vegan, no soy, no gluten burger and a 100-percent organic, grass-fed and finished burger.

    The reality is that virtually all the meat, eggs, and dairy products that we find in the supermarket come from animals raised in confinement in large facilities called CAFOs or “Confined Animal Feeding Operations.” These highly mechanized operations provide a year-round supply of food at a reasonable price. Although the food is cheap and convenient, there is growing recognition that factory farming creates a host of problems, including:

    • animal stress and abuse
    • air, land, and water pollution
    • the unnecessary use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs
    • low-paid, stressful farm work
    • the loss of small family farms
    • food with less nutritional value [3]

    Accordingly, if we compare a burger made from this type of meat, it’s understandable to deduce that a vegan substitute might make sense.

    But that fact alone isn’t reason enough to shift to a vegan version of a plant-based diet.

    First and foremost, we raise that simple question again: Who said that plant-based must be vegan? I consider myself plant-based even though I do eat small portions of wild fish, grass-fed and finished beef, game meat and pasture-raised pork.

    If upwards of 80-percent of one’s diet is made of organic, in-season, locally sourced plants—mostly vegetables, a small amount of fruit, and over half the fat sources I rely upon for my daily fats (olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil)—isn’t that percentage enough for a “base” of plants?

    Next, let’s talk about portions.

    If we extrapolate from the example diet above, and assume that a small percentage of calories comes from meat that is properly sourced from local animals, and consumed in small, human-sized portions, we dramatically reduce the amount of cattle needed to feed red meat to any given local community.

    Unfortunately, we have a portion-control issue in the U.S.; not only regarding what we’re eating, but what we’re served.

    Consider the fact that approximately 85 percent of the food that isn’t used or eaten in a typical American restaurant is thrown out [4]. Not only are we presented with serving sizes reflective of an “eyes being bigger than our stomachs” mentality—does any human really need a 16-ounce rib eye?—we’re not actively considering what happens to that food we never finish.

    But is the answer to completely eschew meat?

    I don’t believe so.

    While the two start-ups, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, are non-GMO and organic, there are many other brands that may promote the fact that they don’t contain animal products and, without directly stating as much, present themselves as a healthy choice.

    We cannot allow ourselves to be persuaded by food labels that have more to do with marketing than health; one might even argue that if a food is in a package with a label, you can question its nutrient density.

    This isn’t specific to the vegan label; we’ve seen it before, for years, with things like the gluten-free label, then the “Paleo” label, and now with the keto label.

    You could fill your entire cart at Whole Foods with the above items and still walk home with no actual food—nothing fresh or with any nutrient density.

    Which brings us to some big questions: How can you measure the environmental impact of a package of tofu in a plastic container made of GMO soybeans grown in the Amazon where a rainforest used to exist [5]?

    And what’s the inflammatory impact on someone who eats tofu because his doctor advised him to cut out red meat when his total cholesterol numbers were unfavorable?

    As a recovered vegan, someone who adamantly avoided all animal products for a solid two years, I can say that my approach was ill informed.

    I was not differentiating between meats from local and factory sources. In retrospect I now understand that my actions did nothing to help support animal welfare.

    Without realizing it, I was not only boycotting the Monsantos, I was boycotting the local, human, ethically minded farmers who were trying to do things the right way to support animal welfare—the very reason I was vegan in the first place.

    So, let’s take a careful look at the benefits of choosing to eat small portions of meat from grass-fed animals [6]:

    • These meats have two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed animals
    • Ruminants raised on fresh pastures render products that contain from three to five times more CLA (cis-9 trans-11) than products from animals fed conventional diets. CLA is a potential cancer fighter.
    • Lower in total fat
    • Higher in beta-carotene
    • Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
    • Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
    • Higher in calcium, magnesium, and potassium
    • Higher in total omega-3s
    • Have a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
    • Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
    • Lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease

    And how about Mother Earth? Raising animals on pasture instead of factory farms is a net benefit to the environment.

    • A diet of grazed grass requires much less fossil fuel than a feedlot diet of dried corn and soy.
    • On pasture, grazing animals do their own fertilizing and harvesting. The ground is covered with greens all year round, so it does an excellent job of harvesting solar energy and holding on to topsoil and moisture.
    • Grazed pasture removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than any land use, including forestland and un-grazed prairie, helping to slow global warming.

    When we choose to eat meat and eggs from animals raised on pastures, we are improving the welfare of the animals, helping to put an end to environmental degradation, helping small-scale ranchers and farmers make a living from the land, helping to sustain rural communities, and giving your family the healthiest possible food. It’s a win-win-win-win situation.

    When we eat local meats in small portions and obtain the bulk of our calories from produce vendors at our local farmer’s markets or CSA (or grocers, if we are committed to reading the fine print in terms of where that lettuce grew and how long ago it was harvested), we are best able to support the health of our planet and the health of our bodies simultaneously.

    So where does that leave the meatless burgers?

    For me, it leaves them on the shelves.

    For others, it may be a balance of doing your own due diligence to see if these types of products can play a role in your overall nutrition regime.

    How are you doing in terms of inflammation? If you live in the U.S., you’re 80 percent or more likely to have some degree of inflammation or gut dysfunction.

    You can start with a self-test by cleaning up your diet, removing the potentially inflammatory foods for a period of time, and then properly testing suspected (and possibly surprising) culprits. Then you can see how your body reacts to: Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12. In other words, the ingredients of an Impossible Burger.

    Compare that to a real, whole, unadulterated meal made of actual food that you can identify—food that doesn’t have an ingredient label in the first place.

    For me, there’s just no replacing a raw kale salad with tons of olive oil, avocado, lemon, and a piece of a nice, juicy grass-fed and finished rib eye (half for now and the rest for tomorrow.)

    Net alkaline, nutrient dense, and nourishing. That is food.



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