Plant-based diets can keep you strong, just be sure you're avoiding meat for the right reasons
It’s pretty hard to avoid all the messaging about eating a plant based diet. It’s everywhere, from social media to big media along with all kinds of people around us explaining why they’re now vegan with vigorous and convincing arguments. The basis of which may unfortunately be in bad science and those hyped up media stories. With all the big celebrities on board along with the big celebrity doctors that build their careers around it, it’s hard to not question yourself when you start to crave a cheeseburger. If you want to stop wondering about the right way to eat, you need to look at both sides of the argument. It really doesn’t take long before you start to see some big holes in one side of the argument – probably the side you least expected.
I don’t treat this topic lightly, I felt I needed to be thoroughly convinced before opening a discussion. It often really does seem like eating plants is the way to go. I’ve never actually committed to becoming a vegan or even vegetarian or long term, but I have tried the diet to see how I would feel. Personally I tend to feel lower energy, more hungry and my vitamin B12 levels drop quickly (this is my individual experience and shouldn’t reflect how others may feel on this diet) so I’ve always felt it was best to keep at least some meat in my diet, mostly fish with the some chicken, occasional beef, and every once in a while giving in to a little bacon. Studying to be a nutritionist I was always taught the value of all food, including many types of meat. There was also an emphasis on plants because this is what the vast majority of the population doesn’t eat enough of so it’s a way to seek balance. But moving to an entirely plant based diet just never seemed balanced to me. There are some vitamins – specifically B12 – that are not available in most vegetables (insufficiently when they are) and others that are scarce or poorly absorbed in their plant based forms, like iron, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. I could never reconcile that veganism could be a superior way to eat when one has to take supplements to remain healthy.
I was always taught the value of all food, including many types of meat
I fundamentally knew there had to be a flaw in the argument, so I started to look at the research and it didn’t take a lot of digging before the plant-based side of the argument started to quickly fall apart. I like to be sure and always give the benefit of the doubt, and it’s not a simple argument. There is a lot of data from both sides presented with plenty of passion and conviction. You have to remove yourself from your own position and carefully listen to the facts.
I believe there was a time where humans were eating optimally by foraging for plant foods as we stumbled across them, eating small game like birds and seafood when we could, and occasionally eating larger game when we could hunt as a group. Then we slowly learned to cook, and that we could take things like dried grains, grind them up, mix them with water and cook that for a portable meal to keep us going as we looked for more food. Over time innovation took us down a path of heavy swings in the wrong direction that led to poor health, then more swings hard the other way only to get it wrong again. Imagine though that something happens to the world, some sort of “fall” or apocalyptic event that leaves us to our own devices to gather food. We have to go back to hunting and gathering and eating whatever we can. We now know how to keep chickens for eggs and meat, cattle for milk and meat, how to grow seasonally and preserve when we can, a huge advantage over our ancestors.
Over time innovation took us down a path of heavy swings in the wrong direction that led to poor health, then more swings hard the other way only to get it wrong again.
What does the vegan eat in this story? With no more access soy protein or B12 supplements, and nuts and seeds that grow seasonally, if at all. They may survive on beans for a while, but they will not thrive. Perhaps in this story vegans become extinct, or a nicer version might be that they at least become ovo-lacto vegetarians. Or perhaps they realize the flaw in their beliefs and go back to the ways of our ancestors, eating anything they can reasonably digest, and thriving.
Interested in the science and how the argument plays out? Here are a few places you can learn and decide for yourself:
For a balanced argument on both sides listen to Chris Kresser duke it out with Dr Joel Kahn on Joe Rogan’s podcast: http://podcasts.joerogan.net/podcasts/chris-kresser-dr-joel-kahn
* Warning: this is a long form podcast and is over 3 hours long. Both doctor’s have included links for support and research for their respective sides of the argument if you don’t have the time to watch or listen. But if you do it’s worth it. Download it for when you have a road trip or flight, or listen to it in portions.
Learn about the Paleo diet:
…and get a non-nonsense take on eating healthy that may debunk it just a little:
and its follow up article:
And here is a research article with lots of links to learn a little more:
Want more? Send me a message, I’m happy to send you some additional info.