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Have you seen it yet?

If you have, and you’re thinking you’ve got to ‘go vegan’ as the main takeaway, it’s worth considering whether all the information presented should be taken at face value, or if, just perhaps, some of it may have been taken just a tad out of context.

The latest in a series of documentaries, many of which contain scientific backing and sound research, Game Changers, is “a revolutionary new film about meat, protein and strength”, and “tells the story of James Wilks, elite Special Forces trainer and The Ultimate Fighter winner, as he travels the world on a quest to uncover the optimal diet for human performance. Showcasing elite athletes, special ops soldiers, visionary scientists, cultural icons, and everyday heroes, what James discovers permanently changes his understanding of food and his definition of true strength.” (1)

The film and the website, both extremely well produced and presented, give a host of reasons why ‘eating meat is bad’ including the old go-to that ‘meat causes cancer’, that animal products create inflammation in humans, and that livestock require excessive land because animals are actually just the “middlemen,” consuming on average six times more protein than they even produce.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Now all those things are relatively true… if we’re talking about beef sourced from inhumane stock yards, chicken from deplorable battery-cage production facilities stacked as high as the ceiling who never see the light of day, and pigs stuffed into pens so small they cannot turn around.

None of these practices are acceptable and as a starting point, should never be supported in any manner.

Add to that, the way in which our common foods are packaged and processed, then served to us in giant portions on a platter; or a to-go bags from many of the nearly quarter of a million fast food eateries that existed as of 2018. (2)

Preservatives are added to allow a longer shelf life. Sugars are also added to cater to the cloyingly sweet palate so many Americans have unknowingly created for themselves after a lifetime of including the white powder as part of their ‘everything in moderation’ directive. Finally, there’s the FDA approved colors and stabilizers. What ends up in our greasy burger, wrapped in paper, is certainly far from anything that should be a part of what any of us eat regularly, if ever.

But what about properly sourced animal-based products, eaten in the proper quantities (as in small to moderate), balanced with a plethora of local, in season veggies, fruits and ample natural fats?

That’s a horse of a different color.

Below are ten reasons why ‘going vegan’ after watching this film—or for any other reason, for that matter—isn’t necessarily the best course of action.

 

1. Proper Sourcing of Animal Products Benefits the Environment

When properly managed, raising animals on pasture instead of factory farms is a net benefit to the environment. To begin with, 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 top-soil and moisture. As you will read in the bulletins below, 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. (3)

2. Portions

Meat, eggs, and dairy products from pastured animals are ideal for your health. Compared with commercial products, they offer you more “good” fats, and fewer “bad” fats. They are richer in antioxidants including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Furthermore, they do not contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs. At one point in Game Changers a group of three pro ball players were interviewed; two of whom regularly ate excessive portions of steak or fried chicken as part of their pre-game meal. The third was vegetarian, and often ate a bean and cheese burrito.  Not only was the sourcing of the proteins sub-par for the first two, at-best, the sheer size of the steak was enough to feed four athletes.   For comparison, a pre-game meal for a large man, consisting of 4-6 ounces of grass fed and finished rib eye,  paired with a large arugula, avocado and olive oil salad, a large portion of steamed broccoli with fresh lime, and six ounces of baked yam would provide ample carbohydrate, fat and protein, a high level of nutrient density, fiber and a net alkaline load on the body. This meal would set the athlete up for proper digestion and assimilation; just what is needed to perform at a high level, not solely in sport but also in daily life.

3. Plant Based Needn’t Mean Vegan

Whoever decided that a plant-based diet and moderate portions of mindfully sourced proteins cannot be one and the same?  I consider the way I eat and the way I feed my family, including our 7-month old son, to be plant based.   If over 80% of what we are eating is local, in season, organic veggies and a little bit of fruit, how could it be classified as anything else?   When we portion our meat properly, and not in the greedy manner we’ve grown accustomed to, we are, in fact, plant-based and treating our body and our planet respectfully.

4. Vegan-Labeled Food Isn’t Necessarily Healthy

Any diet that one may choose to follow can be taken out of context, even if it is based on sound principles.  We saw it with gluten-free, then Paleo and now keto.    An authentic Paleo Diet, which mimics the foods our ancestors ate using readily available foods we can source in our modern day society from our farmer’s markets and our own backyards, is a far cry from a grocery cart full of Paleo-labeled pancakes, breads, cookies, and pasta.    If what one gleans from this film—or other documentaries like it including What the Health or Forks over Knives—is just to nix any animal products, then all they are doing is taking a lateral step in terms of the net inflammation in the body.   If it’s in a package, it’s quite likely to be highly processed and low or completely lacking in nutrient density.

5. Vegan Food Production Can Also Be Toxic to Our Planet

Soy crops rob the soil of nutrients without giving back. They’re one of the most pesticide laden crops and they are now almost all genetically modified. The major part of it goes to feed livestock, who get sick eating it. Some factory produced cuts of meat are now injected with extra soy. This is yet another reason to stay clear of factory-farmed animals: save yourself and the environment from soy.

Monsanto, the largest soy producer now sues every farmer who gets their soy cross-pollinated by Monsanto’s patented GMO crops. Cross-pollination used to be the way plants reproduced, now it’s illegal! It should actually be the opposite, where the farmers sue Monsanto for infecting their crops, but of course Monsanto is now too big to be vulnerable. They have very strong political power because of the lobbying they do. (4)

And that’s just the part we ingest. It is also packaged in plastic waste which is collected for recycling and shipped to Indonesia. There, some is burned as fuel by tofu makers, producing deadly chemicals and contaminating food. (5)

6. Vegan Diets Can Also Create Inflammation

It’s not only poorly sourced meat, dairy and poultry that can create inflammation in the body; grains, beans, vegetable oils, and some nuts and seeds, can also do an excellent job. Naturally occurring substances known as anti-nutrients, including saponins, lectins or phytates, found in plant-derived foods, interfere with absorption and/or the proper functioning of nutrients in the body.

Anti-nutrients are compounds that are produced by plants as part of their defense mechanism. They are very resistant to digestion and consequently, stay intact in our gut and, in turn, can have a damaging effect. Not only do they bind to nutrients in our healthy food options, decreasing the nutrient value of those foods, they can increase gut permeability as well as bind receptors in the gut. Both mechanisms allow these antinutrients to cross the gut barrier and get systemic access, something that should not happen. This then leads to a multitude of symptoms that can manifest throughout the body, ranging from headaches, mental fogginess, joint pain, and the onset or exacerbation of autoimmune conditions…just to list a handful of the maladies that can ensue. (6)

7. Small Amounts of Mindfully Sourced, Natural Proteins Are an Essential Component of a Healthy Human Diet 

Studies show that the modern human brain consumes 20 percent of the body’s energy at rest; twice that of other primates. Historically, meat and cooked foods were needed to provide the necessary calorie boost to feed a growing brain. Meat must have been an integral, and not sporadic, element of the pre-human diet more than one-million years ago. (7)

8. Properly Sourced Animal Foods Play A Crucial Role in A Baby’s First Foods 

Animal-sourced zinc stimulates healthier bones and low zinc stunts growth.  Vegan children, especially boys, tend to be shorter because getting enough zinc from birth through age five can metabolically program your child’s height.  In addition, higher zinc levels lead to improved cognitive development.  In one study, researchers compared adding meat or iron fortified cereal to exclusively breast-fed infants and found that the meat-fed infants had substantially higher rate of brain growth and demonstrated trends towards other advanced developmental advantages. (8)

9. Performance on the Field / Performance in Life Also Depends on Our Genetics, and It’s Not One Size Fits All

We’re all individuals.   The idea that all humans should eat exactly the same way makes about as much sense as the idea that every woman across the world should have a menstrual cycle that lasts exactly 28 days all the time.   If we begin by taking a look-back to a few generations earlier, we can see what our own genetics would likely predispose us to.  And while certain populations certainly tend to have a more meat-based diet and others a more plant-based diet, if we go back a hundred years or so, you can rest assured that most people were not going out of their way to avoid any and all meat and animal products as a means to prevent heart disease or keep their blood sugar from climbing up even further to the pre-diabetic range.  They ate locally, seasonally and fresh.   They ate food.   It was only in the past 75 years or so that food began to become an industry; a hugely profitable giant.    If we do nothing else, just by taking a moment to see what our own families ate, we can see how that compares to what we’re eating now and make small changes to mimic what they did.

10. Here’s an Idea: What if We Nixed All the Labeling and Just Ate Food?

I always find it interesting to learn all the new ways we choose to label the way in which we eat.   Pesco-vegetarian. Pegan. Part-time vegan.   Weekend Paleo.   What if we just dialed it way back to tuning into what food really is: food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for an organism. Food is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The substance is ingested by an organism and assimilated by the organism’s cells to provide energy, maintain life, or stimulate growth. (9)  Confused and overwhelmed about how to decipher confusing labels?   Choose things that do not come in a package with a label.   There’s no doubting what’s in a bunch of kale or an avocado!

 

Summing It up…

Undoubtedly, documentaries of this nature do a great job at raising awareness and granted, if someone following the Standard American Diet makes positive shifts as a result, that’s fantastic.

But to eschew all animal products regardless of where they’re sourced,  how much we eat, and in what manner they’re prepared isn’t the straightforward answer one might think if they walk away from the film without mulling over some of the points shared above.

 

References

  1. https://gamechangersmovie.com
  2. https://www.statista.com/statistics/196619/total-number-of-fast-food-restaurants-in-the-us-since-2002/
  3. http://www.eatwild.com/environment.html
  4. https://paleoleap.com/dangers-soy/
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/14/world/asia/indonesia-tofu-dioxin-plastic.html
  6. https://thepaleodiet.com/antinutrients-the-antithesis-of-true-paleo/
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/sorry-vegans-eating-meat-and-cooking-food-is-how-humans-got-their-big-brains/2012/11/26/3d4d36de-326d-11e2-bb9b-288a310849ee_story.html
  8. “Super Nutrition for Babies: the Right Way to Feed Your Baby for Optimal Health.” Super Nutrition for Babies: the Right Way to Feed Your Baby for Optimal Health, by Kelly Genzlinger et al., Fair Winds Press, 2012, p. 41.
  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food

 

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.

Who ever 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.

References

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/30/health/red-meat-heart-cancer.html
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/14/business/the-new-makers-of-plant-based-meat-big-meat-companies.html
  3. http://www.eatwild.com/basics.html
  4. https://www.moveforhunger.org/startling-reality-food-waste-restaurants/
  5. https://kids.mongabay.com/elementary/soy.html
  6. http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/87/9/2961.long

 

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