TABLE OF CONTENTS:
PROTEIN. Where do you get your protein from? #1 Question.
FROM THE PLANTS! ALL protein, which is made up of the building blocks amino acids, at its most basic level come from plants. Oatmeal, ham and tomatoes have the same protein per calorie ratio. ALL plants contain protein. In fact, the lowest percentage of protein any plant is 14%. On a 2000 Calorie per day diet, the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance – suggested by the government) of protein is ~ 0.8 gram/kg, about 55 gm for the average male and 45 gram for the average female (both much more than the average person really needs which is closer to 30 grams a day). 2000 Calories of broccoli or lentils provides 150-160 gm of protein. Now, no one is going to eat 2000 calories of broccoli or lentils a day but the point is that if you eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts … you don’t need to worry about protein! If you did eat that much broccoli however, you would get ALL of the required macro-nutrients (protein, carbs and fat) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) you need, except for Vitamin B12 which is made by microbes living in the soil which get washed away when you clean produce. It takes a few weeks for B12 stores to become depleted so it would not be a big deal in the short run. Eating 2000 calories of chicken on the other hand would give you way too much protein (more than 400 grams) and you would be deficient in many other nutrients, including B12. In fact, most people who are B12 deficient are meat eaters anyway. Obviously, not all calories are created equal as some people believe.
Calorie for calorie, there is more protein in broccoli than beef.
Protein itself does not get absorbed by the body. Protein is made up of strings molecules called amino acids (AAs) which come apart when digested in the digestive tract. These amino acids then get absorbed and the body uses them as building blocks to make whatever it needs. There are essential amino acids, ones which the body can’t make and we must consume, and non-essential amino acids which our bodies can synthesize. Although meat and dairy are usually touted as “complete” protein sources, containing all the essential and non-essential amino acids, all plants are also complete. Some, like beans, soy and certain grains like quinoa and hemp have higher amounts of the essential AAs but all plants contain both essential and non-essential AAs. If you eat a good variety of fruits and vegetables, you do not have to be concerned about getting enough essential amino acids.
Although the amounts and proportions might vary somewhat, amino acids are identical whether they come from plants or animal sources. When broken down, the AA profile is quite similar for: rice and chicken, milk and peas as well as grass-fed beef and beans. However, plant protein is better absorbed, more easily metabolized and has fewer waste products than protein from animal sources. The amino acid proportions are also better from plants having less sulfur containing amino acids which are more acidifying in the body. When people eat a lot of animal protein, their CRP (a measure of inflammation) goes up and their urine calcium (not often measured) also goes up, a sign of the body’s increased use of calcium to buffer the acidity from the animal proteins. Also, the blood CO2 level, a sign of acidic pH, rises. The body is continuously trying to keep a neutral pH. In order to balance the acidifying effect of animal protein, it uses its own minerals (like calcium from bone and muscle) to achieve this. This difference in AA proportions is partly responsible for why eating more animal protein, including dairy, leads to more osteoporosis. The countries and cultures which consume the most dairy also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Plant protein is also much less taxing on the kidneys than animal protein is. Plant proteins are higher in glutamic acid, which is converted into glutatione which is a potent antioxidant and vasodilator (opens blood vessels) lowering blood pressure.
Animal protein, again because of higher amounts of sulfur containing AAs, also increases urine acidity which results in more kidney stone formation. This is magnified with excessive salt in the diet. Plant protein actually makes urine more alkaline and reduces the risks of kidney stones. In fact, one of the medications given to help with decreasing stone formation contains the same minerals found in oranges and vegetables. Skip the meds and eat the plants instead!
Plant protein comes packed with various other healthful substances like vitamins, micronutrients and fiber which is essential for good gut health and slows blood sugar and insulin spikes. Animal protein comes packaged with fat, hormones, salt, bacteria, antibiotics and chemicals. In addition, we need much less protein than what we think or is even recommended. Protein deficiency doesn’t exist in this country (0%) unless you’ve had most of your small intestine removed or have a serious eating disorder. Our bodies can only metabolize ~25 grams of protein at a time. The rest has to be excreted which is very stressful on the liver and kidneys or gets converted into fat. The average American consumes at least 2x the USDA recommended amount of protein and 5x the amount recommended by the World Health Organization. People who consume a high percentage of their calories from protein (>20%) have a 75x greater risk of developing and dying from diabetes. Medium protein consumption (10-19%), which is what than average American consumes, raises the risk of a diabetes-related mortality by 23%. A 2016 Harvard study of over 200,000 people followed for 30 years revealed that just replacing 5% of your calories from of animal protein with plant protein resulted in a 25% reduced risk of developing diabetes. Such a small change can have such a huge impact.
Human breast milk, designed over tens of thousands of years to be the perfect food for growing infants, is only 6-7% protein. The healthiest and longest-lived human populations consume a mostly plant based diet consisting of only 7% protein and almost all of it comes from plants. Human protein requirements are actually quite low and range from 3-10%. DO YOU SEE THE SIMILARITIES? Mother Nature provides what we need! We need MUCH less protein than we think or certainly consume.
The protein in milk, particularly casein, while perfect for baby cows, is too large and difficult for us to digest. Calves have a particular enzyme, rennin, not present in humans, that coagulates and helps breaks down casein. According to renowned nutrition researcher T. Colin Campbell, “Cows’ milk protein may be the single most significant chemical carcinogen to which humans are exposed.”
After the age of 65, you do lose muscle mass 6x faster and protein requirements do go up a bit, but not by much, and even this is debated. Plant protein still remains a better choice if you do choose to consume more protein. At any age, the best way to build muscle mass is to do resistance exercises.
The largest, most powerful mammals on the planet like gorillas, horses, elephants, giraffes, rhinos and hippos don’t eat any animal protein. They are vegan. They do just fine.
Animal protein sources contain many harmful compounds not seen in plant proteins. Some include:
- saturated fat and cholesterol (some plants like coconut oil do have a lot of saturated fat and are not that great for you either but MOST plants don’t have saturated fats).
- IgF1 – a potent growth hormone which stimulates cancer cell growth.
- Heme iron, which causes inflammation. The iron in plants is non-heme iron and is great for you.
- TMAO. Tri Methyl Amine Oxide is a portent inflammatory mediator and causes platelets to become stickier leading to clots.
- Neu 5GC, a molecule only found in mammalian meat, causes an inflammatory allergic reaction in humans.
- AGEs. Advanced Glycation End Products are inflammatory compounds found in meat cooked at high heat, like frying or BBQing.
- Added hormones like Zeranol, banned in most of the rest of the world except Canada.
Insulin is well known as the hormone which lowers blood sugar by assisting in transporting it from the blood into the cells. It’s also a transport hormone for fat as well as amino acids, which come from protein. Protein alone raises insulin levels, independent of sugar (carbohydrate) consumption. In fact, beef raises insulin levels as much as brown rice does. This occurs with protein from animal sources and not from plant sources however.
Studies have shown that, as compared with low fat meals (4 grams of total fat), high fat meals (containing 44 grams) lead to 33% increased insulin needs in type 1 diabetics. Another study showed that adding animal protein to a meal resulted in a 65% increase in insulin requirements. The increase was seen in both low fat meals but was seen to the greatest degree in the higher fat group. Both groups were matched with respect to their carbohydrate (sugar) intake.
One last comparison between plant and animal-based protein: it takes 14 times more resources to make 1 lb. of animal protein compared with 1 lb. of plant protein. It takes 9x more calories and 18x more land to feed a meat-eating human than a plant-eating one.
As you will see below, some of the largest, strongest animals on the planet are vegan. This includes gorillas, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and ox.
DAIRY and CALCIUM. Don’t you need dairy for calcium to keep bones healthy?
Yes, you need calcium but you get plenty of it from plants. The amounts of calcium recommended by the dietary guidelines, influenced by the Dairy Council, is about 1000 mg a day. Most countries in the world consume a fraction of that and have better bones than Americans do. We consume way too much calcium. In fact, the two countries who consume the most dairy, The US and Sweden, have the highest rates of osteoporosis as well as hip fractures, an indicator of bone health.
Cows don’t make calcium; they get it from the grass which absorb it from the Earth. Calcium is the 5th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Calcium from plant sources is better absorbed than from dairy (more than 50% from plants vs less than 30% from dairy). Lots of plants contain even higher density of calcium than cow’s milk. Some of these calcium dense plant foods include:
- Herbs like basil, parsley and thyme
- Sesame seeds and Tahini (made from sesame seeds and an ingredient in hummus)
- Flax and Chia seeds
- Almonds and Brazil nuts
Calcium bio-availability, how much actually gets absorbed and is usable by the body, is affected by many factors such as the source (type of plant vs dairy), fat content as well as things like contents of oxalate and phytate, two naturally occurring compounds in plants which interfere with the absorption of calcium. Only about 30% of the calcium from dairy products are absorbed. That’s a higher rate than from beans, spinach, and sweet potatoes, but lower than from broccoli, kale, and bok choy. In general, the higher the oxalic acid content of a food, the lower the rate of calcium absorption. So calcium bio-availability is low from both American and Chinese varieties of spinach and rhubarb, intermediate from sweet potatoes, and high from low-oxalate vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and bok choy. Dried beans, on the other hand, have a substantially lower calcium bio-availability because they’re rich in phytate. An exception to this generalization is soybeans, which are rich in both oxalate and phytate, yet have a relatively high calcium bio-availability.
But what also matters is the calcium content of the food. Most dairy products have approximately 300 mg of calcium per cup. Spinach has the most calcium per cup (about 240 mg/cup) but other vegetables are also great sources. For example, broccoli contains 180 mg/cup and arugula contains 125 mg/cup but keep in mind, that most people eat much more than a cup of greens or veggies, if they are inclined to eat those things anyway.
Excess animal protein consumption, including dairy, is actually linked to greater calcium depletion and osteoporosis because of its acidifying effect in the blood. Animal proteins contain higher concentrations of sulfur containing amino acids. These cause the pH of the blood to rise. The body buffers this excess acid by pulling calcium from the bones and muscles to neutralize it. Plant proteins do not have this acidifying effect.
The calcium from dairy also impacts on proper vitamin D concentration and function. In addition to many other important functions, vitamin D plays a major role in osteoporosis prevention. Low vitamin D levels are strongly linked to various cancers. It’s a downward spiral. More dairy leads to poor vitamin D function and less vitamin D impairs calcium metabolism.
Humans are the only species which drink the breast milk of another species. We are also the only species which consume milk after the weaning stage. Children raised without dairy from birth have the same bone strength and growth as those raised consuming dairy. Studies show that women who consume dairy actually have higher rates of osteoporosis and fractures than those who don’t. Dairy raises breast and prostate cancer risk and is linked to male infertility. A woman with breast cancer has a 49% greater chance of dying from her breast cancer by consuming 1 or more servings of dairy a day. Men with prostate cancer have a 78% greater risk of recurrence if they consume only 4 or more servings of dairy per week. Childhood dairy consumption is linked to type 1 diabetes and iron deficiency anemia. We just don’t need it.
Many fruits and vegetables contain calcium. The best sources are greens like kale, Bok Choi and other Oriental greens. These have low levels of oxalic acid which binds calcium making it harder to extract. Although greens like spinach, chard and beet greens also have a lot of calcium, because of their high oxalic acid content, the calcium is harder to extract. They are still a better source than dairy though. Soy products like tofu and soy milk have lots of calcium. In fact a glass of soy milk has as much calcium as cow’s milk and as I mentioned above, it’s much better absorbed. Good fruit sources include citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit as well as figs.
If you are taking calcium because you think it’s helping your bones, it’s not. Osteoporosis is not a calcium deficiency. It’s a result of disuse atrophy, meaning that you don’t exercise enough! Calcium supplements are actually linked to more osteoporosis. Countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. They include Finland, Sweden, Britain and the US. The lowest osteoporosis rates are in the lowest dairy-consuming populations like in China.
As far as calcium metabolism is concerned, other compounds such as Vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus are also quite important. For more information about calcium metabolism as well as the best places to get it from, click here: CALCIUM METABOLISM
Some argue that dairy is a good source of iodine. It is if you are OK with the iodine being a contaminant from the iodoform cleaning agents used to clean the cow’s udders! Iodine is also put in the cow’s feed. There is no iodine which naturally occurs in dairy.
For more information about dairy and cheese, read this summary: Cheese and Dairy
More on Dairy, Calcium and Bone Health
We’ve been told and conditioned to believe that we need to consume dairy products to have strong bones. Unfortunately, not only is this not true, but the opposite is the case. Dairy consumption actually leads to bone breakdown, in addition to contributing to various hormonal cancers, weight gain and various inflammatory conditions. Here are a few bullet points about actual facts about dairy.
- Inflammation from any cause, including the inflammation caused by dairy proteins are a trigger for bone breakdown.
- Studies of women who consumed dairy showed a direct correlation between the amount of dairy consumption and increased osteoporosis rates, higher hip fracture rates, higher fracture and overall death rates. Although the same fracture rate was not seen in men, they did have a higher overall premature death rate and prostate cancer rate.
- The greater the calcium consumption from dairy foods, the higher fracture risk. That increased risk was not seen with calcium from non dairy sources.
- No decrease in hip fractures with calcium supplementation.
- In countries such as India, Japan, and Peru, calcium intake is less than one-third of the US daily recommended allowance (300 milligrams per day), and the risk of fractures in those countries is extremely low. The countries with the highest fracture risks are actually those where people drank an abundance of milk, namely Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, and the US.
- People with high-sodium and high-protein diets absorb less calcium and excrete more calcium in their urine.
- Protein from meat and eggs contains high concentrations of sulfate amino acids, which can cause calcium losses in the urine. Vegetarian diets, even ones which include some dairy, are typically lower in protein than nonvegetarian diets.
The bottom line: calcium is important but where you get it from is more important. Plants rule!
LACTOSE-FREE or LOW-FAT Dairy. Are they better?
NO they’re not. Lactose, the main sugar in dairy, is difficult to digest because it’s a complex sugar (disaccharide) and most humans stop producing the enzyme lactase after infancy, which is why 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. The way milk is rendered “lactose-free” is by breaking down the lactose into its simpler (monosaccharide) constituents glucose and galactose. To break down lactose, enzymes, like artificially produced lactase, or bacteria, like in yogurt, are added to dairy products which then break down the lactose. The problem is that galactose has been shown to impact on ovarian function and has been linked to infertility issues as well as ovarian cancer. In addition, lactose-free products are more enticing since they are sweeter than regular dairy. Lactose tastes less sweet because its complexity doesn’t let it bind to the taste buds on the tongue which identify sweetness as easily as glucose and galactose. The ability to continue to consume dairy (i.e. break down lactose) is actually a genetic mutation, introduced either through Europe or the Middle East. There is no galactose or lactose in dairy-free milks like almond, soy or oat. There is a lot more on the health benefits of plant milks below. Galactose does occur naturally in some plants including: dates, papayas, bell peppers, tomatoes and watermelon. The amounts are much smaller than in dairy though and fruits contain fiber as well as many other nutrients. These foods have not been linked with ovarian issues.
To reduce the fat content in dairy, it is either simply left to settle or spun down with the top, fattier layer removed. The amount removed depends on what percentage of fat you are shooting for. All the sugars, hormones and other unhealthy components of dairy are still left behind however. It may have less fat, which is better, but it’s still unhealthy to consume. Although reduced fat dairy may have less fat, it’s not as little as you might think.
- Whole milk is 3.5% fat. Per 8 oz. glass, that’s 8 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of which is saturated.
- Reduced fat has:
- 2% = 5 grams of fat per 8 oz. (2 grams saturated)
- 1% = 2.5 grams
- “Fat-Free” still has fat but it must be 0.15% or less. There is nothing “free” in this life!
All forms of milk have about 8 grams of protein as well as all the other hormones and chemicals.
Estrogen, found naturally in cows milk since it is the breast milk of a cow which she produces for her infant cow, is fat soluble. As a result, skim milk has about 50% of the estrogen as whole fat milk. Despite that, it is still a significant amount. Humans are able to regulate their own estrogen to some degree and get rid of all the excess (except if you are overweight or obese since fat actually makes estrogen which is why increased weight increases breast cancer risks. Estrogens from outside sources like dairy and meat (yes, chicken meat has estrogen which is almost identical to human estrogen, are not subject to this regulation and just add to the estrogen stimulation load on the body.
YOGURT. Isn’t yogurt healthy for the gut?
NO it’s not. Even the “Greek” yogurt which is all marketing hype. First of all, yogurt is a dairy product, made from milk which is full of hormones and chemicals. One serving of dairy a day, which includes 1 yogurt, contributes to infertility and increases breast cancer and prostate cancer risks by 30%. As an animal product, it has all the associated disadvantages like increasing TMAO, which is associated with inflammation and heart disease. It is usually full of saturated fat with all its associated downsides. Secondly, as mentioned above, the bacteria added to yogurt, promoted as being healthy for your gut, break down lactose into galactose contributing to ovarian issues. Although there may be some benefit to that bacteria, most yogurts are not made that way anyway. Rather than using traditional fermenting techniques which take time, yogurts are made and “probiotic” bacteria are simply added at the very end. Lastly, many yogurts have all kinds of added sugars, coloring agents and artificial flavors which are unhealthy. There are plenty of healthier nut based yogurt alternatives which taste great.
CHEESE. I can’t give up cheese!
There are reasons that cheese is addictive. 1) It tastes good because it is loaded with fat and salt, things we crave. Cheese is the #1 highest source of saturated fat and salt in the American diet. 2) It’s a concentrated source of the protein casein which is broken down in the body into a compound called casomorphin. This is an opioid and has about 10% of the activity of heroin and morphine on the brain. When people try to give up cheese, it can take 2-3 weeks to get past the cravings. If you are having trouble, there are plenty of great cheese alternatives using nuts and legumes. Most of them are not particularly healthy either because they often have vegetable oils and themselves are fatty, but they are better options than dairy cheese. Human breast milk also contains casein but cow’s milk has 10x the concentration.
If dairy is unhealthy, does that include yogurt, eggs and almond milk?
Although these sound like stupid questions, since all dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, whey and casein) come from lactating cows, eggs come from chickens and almonds grow on trees, you’d be surprised how often I get asked these types of questions. I’ve had Ivy League educated people ask me these questions. They are not uneducated, they just exemplify how little most people think about the foods they put into their mouths or where their foods come from. If you start to pay attention to what you eat and how food impact on how you feel, you would be much better off.
SOY. Don’t Soy products cause breast cancer or infertility?
Quite simply, it does not. Soy is actually protective against breast cancer and is linked with less occurrence and re-occurrence. It decreases estrogen levels in the body and estrogen is fuel for breast cancer cells. Consuming soy products regularly also protects against estrogen receptor negative forms of breast cancer. It’s what is called a selective estrogen receptor modulator. It binds preferentially to the E2 (beta) receptor rather than the E1 (alpha) receptor by 1600% greater affinity. The E1 receptor is the one which stimulates breast cancer cells to grow. The E2 receptor downregulates breast cancer cell growth. The studies which showed a link between soy and breast cancer were all done on mice, using massive doses of soy. Such large doses overwhelmed all the receptors so their results were not surprising. No human studies have shown any link and as mentioned above, studies show only a protective effect. One need only look at what happened in Japan and China. In those countries, where soy has been consumed for thousands of years, there was virtually no breast or prostate cancer. As soon as the American diet, consisting of more processed foods as well as dairy and meat, was introduced, those cancer rates started to climb and now are similar to what we see in the West. The prostate epithelial cells actually have estrogen receptors, mostly E2, which down-regulate prostate cell growth.
The preferential binding of estrogen receptors actually helps with many peri-menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. Soy also increases bone density and lowers cancer risks.
It also helps to prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, and improves cognitive function. ALL plants contain various isoflavones known as phytoestrogens, plant compounds similar to the human hormone estrogen, found in all animals and dairy, which is what causes all the confusion. Soy, happens to contain a higher concentration of them, one in particular is Ginestein. The animal version of estrogen binds to receptors (alpha receptors) which do support bone health but they also stimulate breast tissue and lead to breast cancer. Phytoestrogens (the plant version) bind to these receptors as well but are 1000x less potent than human estrogens. Mostly, phytoestrogens bind to a different receptor (beta receptors or B2) which are beneficial to bone health as well but are protective when it comes to breast cancer. Their affinity for the beta receptors is 1600% greater than for the E1 receptors. As compared with women who did not consume any soy products, regular soy consumers had 30-40% less breast cancer. Only 1 cup of soy milk or 1/2 cup of tofu led to a 30% decreased risk of breast cancer. By blocking the animal estrogen receptor, soy acts like a “natural Tamoxifen”, the most commonly prescribed chemotherapy agent used as a maintenance drug in breast cancer patients. Tamoxifen’s principal mechanism of action is by its binding to the estrogen receptor and the blocking of the proliferative actions of estrogen on mammary epithelium. Studies have shown that regular consumption of soy products results in a 60% drop in occurrence and recurrence of breast cancer and a 29% drop in death from breast cancer which is the SAME as the results from taking tamoxifen, without all the side effects.. This also includes estrogen negative breast cancers. Soy, bound to the E2 receptor also inhibits the enzyme aromatase. This enzyme, which is found in fat cells, converts various other hormones like testosterone and estradiol, made in the adrenal glands, into estrogen. So, not only do soy isoflavones block the harmful estrogen receptor site but the actually help to decrease the amount of estrogen your body produces. Mammalian estrogen has a slew of side effects but soy does not! For more about soy and breast cancer, and breast health in general, look up breast surgeon Dr. Kristi Funk’s book “Breasts: The Owner’s Manual“. Consuming soy products is particularly important for adolescents, especially girls, with respect to minimizing the risks for developing breast cancer as adults. Studies clearly show that there is a decreased risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer in adults who consumed soy products when they were much younger.
Phytoestrogens are also found in clover, sweet potato and soy. Sheep feeding on clover became infertile because of it’s high concentration of the phytoestrogen formonenin. The phytoestrogen disogenin in the Mexican yam was used to synthesize the first contraceptive pill in 1951.
By the way hops, a plant used to brew beer, has a much higher concentration of phytoestrogens than soy products which partly explains the “man-boobs” heavy beer drinkers get. The studies which showed a hormonal effect from soy were done on animals which had metabolisms that could not process the soy phytoestrogens. This processing occurs in the liver and Humans all have this enzyme so it’s not a relevant issue.
Soy products also lower LDL cholesterol and improve blood pressure. The highest soy consumers had the lower all-cause mortality risk by 21% as compared with non say consumers in one study.
Soy also contains a naturally anti-angiogenic compound called genisteine. This helps reduce the formation of new blood vessels by cancerous tumors, leading to shrinkage and even disappearance of tumors.
As far as soy and fertility are concerned, all you have to do is look at a country like China. Their population has gradually risen for thousands of years and their diet is based on soy. There is no evidence that soy causes fertility problems.
Some people are allergic to soy, although this is pretty uncommon only affecting 1 in 2000 people. This is 40x less frequent than dairy allergy which affects 1 in 50 (lactose intolerance affects 1 in 3 people in the US and 70% of the population worldwide). Soy allergy is also 10x less common than the other common food allergies like fish, soy, eggs, shellfish, nuts, wheat and peanuts. NOTE: You should always buy organic, non-GMO soy. 80% of the soy grown in the US is genetically modified (GMO), not organic and is heavily sprayed with chemicals. It is primarily used for animal feed. In addition, processed foods that contain soy usually contain non-organic and genetically modified soy so READ LABELS! If it doesn’t day it’s organic, assume it is laden with chemicals. Non-GMO alone is not enough.
NOT ALL ALLERGY IS TRUELY ALLERGY. Another reason to avoid non-organic products, especially soy, is that the chemicals used to grow them, can cause allergy-like reactions. It’s the chemicals.
Soy contains lectins known as soybean agglutinins (SBAs) which have been shown to cause inflammation and increase gut permeability (much more on lectins in a section below). Furthermore, the phytic acid and other protein inhibitors in soy inhibit nutrient absorption. But just like other beans, proper cooking, fermentation and sprouting eliminates up to 95% of the lectins and acids, leaving just enough to actually be beneficial. Again that which does not kill you, makes you stronger.
Soy comes in many forms. The healthiest are edamame (the actual soy bean pods) and fermented forms such as miso, tempeh and natto. Tofu and soy milk are also good but a little more processed. Regardless of the form you consume, again, make sure it is organic and non-GMO. It is better to stay away from hyper-processed forms of soy such as soy isolates, often found in processed foods and plant protein powders.
Soy is also a complete protein meaning that it contains all essential and non-essential amino acids. Other plant sources of complete protein include quinoa, hemp, buckwheat, mycoprotein (quorn, a type of mushroom grain), rice and beans, humus and pita bread and even a peanut butter sandwich with whole grain bread.
Just as an aside, many other foods contain phytoestrogens. Particularly high levels are found in:
- Hops, used to brew beer, which, in addition to all the calories, contributes to “man boobs” in heavy male beer drinkers.
- Flax seeds and sesame seeds
- Dried fruit, especially Dates, prunes, and dried apricots are a few of
- the dried food sources highest in phytoestrogens
- Sesame seeds
- Wheat bran
- Cruciferous vegetables
In a nutshell, the phytoestrogens preferentially (1600% more) bind to the beta estrogen receptors. This accomplishes 3 things when it comes to decreasing breast cancer risk:
- When beta receptors are bound, the more carcinogenic alpha receptors are down-regulated and their number is reduced.
- When pohyto-estrogens are bound to the alpha receptors, their activity is 10-100x lower than when actual estrogen binds which in effect, blocks the alpha receptor.
- The enzyme aromatase is downregulated. This enzyme converts adrenal hormones into estrogen by fat cells. Less estrogen = less cancer cell stimulation.
SOY and thyroid function.
This topic is debated in the nutrition world and is worth exploring if you have an thyroid disease. Although soy has many very healthful effects, in some people, it may affect thyroid function, especially in people with an under-active thyroid or those with autoimmune thyroid diseases like Hashimoto’s Disease, the most common cause of hypothyroidism or Grave’s Disease, which initially causes hyperthyroidism but eventually, as the gland burns out, also leading to hypothyroidism. Upwards of 25% of patients with a variety of autoimmune conditions, including as many as 60% of autoimmune thyroiditis, have been noted to have flare ups when consuming high amounts of soy products. It’s not clear however if these soy products were organic or not. The vast majority of soy grown in the US is grown conventionally, meaning it is full of pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals alone can cause autoimmune flare-ups. On the other hand, some studies show a definite link between consuming dairy products and elevated rates of all thyroid disease.
Consuming soybeans might inhibit thyroid function in some people by blocking iodide uptake and preventing zinc from functioning. Both zinc and iodide are important nutrients necessary for T3 and T4 production. Soy can also block the activity of the Thyroperoxidase (TPO) enzyme which helps with iodine metabolism and thyroid hormone production and has also been linked to the development of autoimmune thyroiditis. Additionally, studies have shown that soy can affect the function of thyroid medications, but so can any food, whether it is a plant or an animal source. All thyroid medication should be taken on an empty stomach.
Isoflavones are the main active component of soybeans that produces both hormonal and non-hormonal effects. As mentioned in the section above, the chemical structure of isoflavones is similar to the hormone estrogen. Thus, they’re able to partially replace some of estrogen’s functions in various organs including the skin, spleen, pancreas, kidney, thymus, adrenal gland, brain, pituitary, ovaries, and testes. The bind mostly to a different receptor than estrogens from animal sources though and are actually protective against certain hormonal cancers like breast and prostate.
SOY and the Environment.
I mentioned above that soy is one of the most pesticide-laden food crops (cotton is actually the most contaminated crop in general) and you should look for organic soy to consume. Some people accuse soy of being very environmentally unfriendly because of the the land use required to grow it. It is true that soy crops destroy a huge amount of land however, 77% of that soy goes to feed animals. Most of the soy which humans consume is in the form of unhealthy soy oil and only 4% goes towards foods like tofu, seitan, soy milk and other soy products. Soy is very healthy and switching from animal protein sources to plant protein sources, including soy, is healthier for you, as well as very positively impactful on the planet. Not to mention, animals don’t die in the production of soy!
CHICKEN and FISH. Aren’t they healthy alternatives to red meat?
NO. Chicken is NOT as healthy as we have been led to believe. It is actually the highest meat source of cholesterol, fat and salt in the American diet (second overall after cheese). Chicken actually has the same amount of cholesterol as red meat and more than pork chops. Although it has less fat than red meat, it’s not by much. The leanest red meat is 29% fat and the leanest chicken is 23% fat. Chicken is the second highest source of saturated fat, after cheese, in the American diet. Not red meat. The way chickens are processed, virtually all are contaminated with Salmonella, E. Coli and many viruses (even bleach-resistant viruses), some of which are known carcinogens. Half of conventionally raised and 1/3rd of “organic” chicken breasts are contaminated with an antibiotic resistant bacterium known as enterococcus. A sampling of hundreds of packaged chicken breasts from almost 100 different stores showed equal amounts of drug resistant e. coli contamination from organic and conventionally raised chickens. Kosher chicken is not better, actually having twice the bacterial contamination. There is an organic “loophole” when it comes to chickens. The USDA considers chicken to be organic as long as producers do not use any drugs after the second day of life. That means that they can still inject eggs and one-day old chicks with antibiotics, which they do, and still label the meat as “USDA Organic”. In addition, what “organic, free-range” actually means is that they are not fed GMO soy or corn (although those unnatural grain products are still allowed) and that the chicken has access to the outdoors, not that it is encouraged to go out at all. The door just has to be open.
Chicken also has the exact same, very poor omega 3/6 profile and ratio as red meat. Both chicken and red meat have a 10:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. It should be closer to 1:1 or 2:1. Because of processed foods, the average American consumes omega 6 and omega 3’s in a ratio closer to 20:1 overall!
Chicken meat (breasts, drumsticks, wings…) come from both male and female chickens. The “breast” simply refers to the meat which comes from the chest (like the pectoral muscles in humans). Since half the meat comes from females, half the meat contains naturally occurring hormones like estrogen. Every little bit of extra estrogen from external sources increases the risks for various hormone-driven cancers like breast, ovarian and prostate. Dairy, chicken, plastics… It all adds up.
Americans eat 1 million chickens an hour. In addition, chickens raised in the United States have 10x more chemical contaminants than in Europe. After rice, chicken is the second highest source of arsenic poisoning. That’s because chicken are fed arsenic-contaminated rice and the animal food additive Roxarsone (an arsenic compound) was commonly used in their feed as a growth stimulant. This chemical was also used in pig feed for many years. A Johns Hopkins study identified residues of a number of drugs in chicken flesh including Antibiotics, Benadryl, Aspirin and Prozac.
Chickens of today are significantly different than chickens from even 100 years ago. They grow twice as fast, are twice as heavy at slaughter (which is usually only at 42 days old) and are fed an unnatural diet of GMO soy and corn, laced with antibiotics. Chicken is also the second highest source of arsenic poisoning in the American diet.
Fish is also not as healthy as you think either. Although some fish like salmon have higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids which are healthy, 70% of the calories from salmon is fat, 40% of which is saturated fat (the bad kind). In addition, it has a lot of cholesterol. Essentially ALL fish are contaminated with heavy metals like mercury and cadmium and other environmental pollutants like PCBs and dioxin. Even though the water may have acceptably “safe” levels of contaminants, the fat in the fish concentrate the contaminants as much as 1 million times! Farmed fish (which account for 90% of the fish sold and consumed) are worse, treated with antibiotics and raised in unsanitary and stressful conditions. Antibiotics have been identified in farm raised salmon, tilapia and trout. Even in salmon labeled as “organic”, the antibiotic virginiamicin, also used as an additive in fuel to minimize microbial growth, was identified. Antibiotics are used to decrease the risk of fish getting sick but also as a growth enhancer. Eating fish is linked to many chronic diseases. Just like with cows who don’t make calcium but get it from the grass they eat, fish do not make omega 3 fatty acids. They get it from the algae and other sea vegetables they consume. There are much healthier sources of omega 3s.
Fish are also “bio-accumulators” which means they concentrate chemicals, pollutants, heavy metals and other toxins in their flesh. The bigger the fish and the higher on the feeding chain, the more toxic their tissues are. Smaller fish like sardines, anchovies and herring are the least toxic. Salmon are fairly high on the food chain and can be quite contaminated, in fact, on e of the most contaminated of all fish that people eat! The Environmental Working Group (EWG) sampled salmon from grocery stores. 70% had PCB levels so high that they exceeded the EPA levels thought to cause cancer. In 2009, a review of 500 freshwater lakes in the US revealed 100% contamination of the fish which live in those bodies of water. A 2016 global analysis of seafood showed that 100% of samples were contaminated with POPs, persistent organic pollutants. In addition, raw fish are often contaminated with tapeworms and parasites.
Farm raised salmon is fed fish meal (basically dead, ground up fish flesh) so they concentrate PCBs 5-10x even more than in the wild. A recent study looking at fish in the Great Lakes revealed that 100% of the fish tested were contaminated with micro-plastics, the tiny particles of plastic pollution in the environment. More recent studies basically have identified microplastics in 100% of ALL seafood tested. Seafood also concentrates radioactive waste. A study looking at levels of the isotope polonium showed a 300% increase in concentrations of it in human body fluids after consumption of only one serving of mussels. Also, when buying or ordering fish in restaurants, be aware of the fact that upwards of 80% of fish are either mislabeled or fraudulently substituted for cheaper species.
The Eskimo diet is centered around eating fish (since there is not much else in the environments they live in). There is a popular notion that they are healthy. This is a myth. They have one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease and their life expectancy is quite low actually. There is a reason pregnant women are told to limit fish consumption. The mercury is damaging to the fetus. Well, if small amounts are damaging to human fetal tissue, regardless of its development stage, continuous exposure in kids and adults can’t be good either.
The estimates are that, at the rate of aquatic life we are harvesting out of the oceans (as many as 3 trillion a year), that there will be no more sea life in the oceans by 2048. 40% of all the fish caught are by-kill, caught by accident in the huge nets and long lines we use to scour the oceans. Some of the by-kill includes dolphins, porpoises, sharks, sea turtles, sponges, starfish, whales and even millions of sea birds. Some areas have already completely whipped out populations. We fished the walleye population into extinction from the Great Lakes. All gone. Forever. Declines in fish populations have ripple effects affecting non aquatic animals. For example, the decline in pollack in Alaskan waters led to a 90% decline in sea lions who eat those fish and they are now endangered. As a result of the sea lion decline, sea otters have decreased significantly in numbers because orcas primarily hunt sea lions and have started to target the otters. One last side effect of swindling sea life is conflict between humans including increased piracy and even territorial gun battles between fishing trawlers. The good news is that left alone, fish populations replenish quickly. A perfect example is how the anchovy population was almost completely decimated in South America. A moratorium was put on fishing them and their numbers rebounded very quickly. In fact, in 40 protected ocean areas, all kinds of species bounced back in only 5-10 years.
Please refer to the Important things to remember about FOOD, EATING and HEALTH page for more information.
EGGS. Aren’t they the “perfect protein”?
Touted as “protein packed”, eggs are actually not that great a source of protein. One egg has 6 grams, 3 in the yolk and 3 in the white, whereas a cup of lentils has 17 grams, along with healthy fiber and other nutrients, lacking in eggs. Although eggs do contain all the essential amino acids (AA) along with many vitamins and minerals, the AA proportions are much less nutritious than the proportions you get from plants, which contain every AA you need, both essential and non-essential. Egg proteins, as do all other animal proteins, have higher concentrations of acidifying AAs leading to more bone loss than plant proteins from which this effect is not seen. In addition, eggs come loaded with a huge amount of cholesterol. Two large whole eggs (100 grams) contain about 422 mg of cholesterol. By contrast, 100 grams of 30% fat ground beef (a little less than a Burger King Quarter Pounder patty) has only about 88 mg of cholesterol. One egg has as much cholesterol as an average sized piece of steak. It’s a myth that dietary cholesterol has no impact on blood cholesterol levels. It simply does. The studies which led to these assertions looked at people who ate a few eggs a day and then added more eggs to their diet. The problem with this strategy is that once the cholesterol is maxed out, any elevation is not necessarily seen on blood measurements. Now if you looked at someone who ate no eggs and then fed them eggs, there would most certainly be a difference.
One of the arguments egg-promoters use regarding their nutrition is their higher concentration of lutein, a compound which is important for good vision. In the same wat that cow’s don’t make calcium and salmon don’t make omega-3s, chickens do not make more lutein. They get it from the foods they eat which, in the case of chickens, is grass and grains. It’s healthier to get your lutein like green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables.
The same goes for eggs sold with labels claiming higher levels or enriched with Omega-3s. The chickens don’t make it. They get it from the flax meal they are fed. Rather than get your omega-2s from eggs, along with the saturated fat an excessive amounts of animal protein, get it from the flax seeds directly.
Eggs also contain a lot of fat. A serving of eggs contains 10-15 mg of fat. In addition, egg consumption has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Some of the cancers linked to egg consumption include prostate, ovarian, breast and colon cancers. Only 25 grams (½ of an egg) a day increases the risk of fatal prostate cancer by 14%. The cancer risk is dose dependent as well. For example, 5 eggs a week increase the fatal prostate cancer risk by 40%.
It is important to say that the cholesterol from eggs doesn’t get completely absorbed and some of it does pass right through us without causing harm. About 50% of the cholesterol from an egg does not make it to our arteries. With respect to serum cholesterol, an egg, all by itself, here and there is not a big deal but a couple of eggs 2-3 times a week, along with the butter it’s fried in, the cheese on top and the strips of bacon with all the saturated fat IS a problem. Saturated fat in general, again coming primarily from animal products, is the biggest problem. It triggers the liver to retain and to make more cholesterol. On the other hand, eggs have other unhealthy compounds like creatine which gets converted into TMAO, a know atherosclerosis stimulating compound. The animal protein is also acidifying, contributing to osteoporosis.
Although there is a small amount of the healthy fat omega 3 in eggs, most of it is added via supplements the chickens are fed. Just like the salmon which also don’t make omega 3, chicken get it from their diet. In the case of fish, from the algae they eat and in the case of chicken, the grass they naturally feed on. This is why farm raised fish and chicken contain lower levels of omega 3 and need to be given it as a supplement.
Eggs are almost 100% contaminated with bacteria like salmonella and because their shells have become more porous due to factory farming, these dangerous bacteria do get into the eggs themselves and get passed along to us. In addition to salmonella poisoning, there is a strong link between E. Coli in eggs and urinary tract infections in women. In fact, a study linked childhood urinary tract infections with a higher risk of adult breast cancer. Chickens have a common opening (a cloaca) for eggs as well as all excretory products so it’s impossible for them not to be contaminated with feces.
Eliminating eggs over concern about the way they’re produced is reason enough for many to never eat an egg. It’s a cruel and dirty industry. Check out the documentary Vegucated for more info about the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which house 280 million hens in filthy conditions. The environmental impact of raising so many hens on air, water and soil quality is also alarming.
If you choose to eat eggs, buy them from local farmers who raise their chickens humanely. Hens who are truly free-range produce much healthier eggs than do the hens raised on factory farms. However, there is no such thing as a “happy chicken”. Naturally, chickens lay about 12-15 eggs (a clutch) at which point they stop laying eggs and sit on the ones they just laid to hatch them into baby chicks. Some people debate this “maternal instinct” however wherever you are in this debate, chickens in industrial farms lay 250-300 eggs a year, as opposed to the 12-15 chickens in the wild lay. Producing eggs is very energy and resource intensive. It takes about 24 hours to produce an eggs, fertilized or not. The most time, about 20 hours, is spent making the shell. The materials used to make the shell consist of a variety of minerals but calcium is the most abundant and each egg uses up about 10% of the chickens calcium reserves. This calcium is obtained from their muscles but mostly their bones. This is why osteoporosis and bone fractures are so common in factory chickens. These problems are also worsened by their lack of physical activity. Most factory chickens are kept in small, “battery” cages in which numerous chickens are kept in tight quarters.
WHAT WILL I EAT if can’t have meat, fish or dairy?
There is PLENTY to eat. You will find considerable variety in the produce sections of the grocery store. It just takes some effort to explore. Once you start, you will realize how many different plant-based foods there are. Varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains… Taking a cooking class also helps with learning how to eat plant-based. Forks Over Knives is a great resource for this. They have a great recipe and phone app. A great online cooking school is Rouxbe. Another excellent way to start is to follow a program like the 21 Day Kickstart Program by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, www.21daykickstart.org. Another great resource is the Plant Power Way Meal Planner program: www.meals.richroll.com
With any diet out there, most people have a few standard things they cook and eat on a regular basis. They might look up a recipe once in a while however most people eat the same standard 10 or so meals. A survey revealed that 30% of Americans eat exactly the same thing for lunch everyday at work. The same goes for plant-based diets except that eating the same 10 or so plant based meals are healthier.
Variety however IS important. Start with just adding a salad to every meal. Eat more fruit. Add in some legumes, tofu or other vegetables. Try some different grains like quinoa which is super easy to cook. Try exploring with some new spices. Try out some rice or bean-based pastas. Keep trying out new things while continuing with some staples. Eventually, it won’t seem so daunting or foreign. Chinese philosopher Laozi (not Confucius) said ~ 500 BC that “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”.
“The Vegan Starter Kit” Dr. Neal Barnard’s concise starter book about going plant-based.
Veganbootcamp.org – Don’t know how to start? Check out this site for information about how to start applying vegan principles to diet and lifestyle.
“There is no food better tasting than my health”
Quote from a patient whose chronic health problems reversed when he switched to a plant-based diet
Vegetables are so boring and bland!
There are two problems with the Standard American Diet (SAD) when it comes to taste and cravings. Whether it is animal products like meat and dairy, full of salt and fat, both of which we crave, or processed foods, which also have added sugars, we have become accustomed to those foods and are addicted to them. Once the addiction cycle is broken and your taste buds and brain re-adjust and whole foods become tastier. Your taste buds regrow every 7-10 days. In addition, your brain is used to specific tastes, which is called neuroadaptation. As an example, when you stop consuming sugar, after about 2 weeks, an apple tastes much sweeter because now, rather than being used to a sugary beverage or donut, you now are much more able to taste the natural sweetness of the apple. This re-adjustment also occurs with salt and fat.
In addition, most people just don’t know how to cook and only use salt and pepper as seasonings. There is a whole world of healthy herbs and spices which add flavor to your foods. Explore and enjoy.
Trying something new is scary and stressful for everyone when it comes to anything, especially something as habitual as eating. The fact is that regardless of how one eats, there is usually a list of 10-15 meals that are on rotation. Change one at a time and see how it goes. Just adding some fresh fruit and vegetables makes a big difference. As an example, a study was done looking at oxidized (inflamed) LDL cholesterol levels in people eating the SAD diet. In just one day of eating eggs and bacon for breakfast, chicken for lunch and beef for dinner, LDL levels continued to rise throughout the day, never actually having an opportunity to drop. Just adding 1 cup of strawberries to that same breakfast led to an eventual lowering of the inflamed LDL as the next mealtime approached. That does not condone eating the SAD diet but it highlights how powerful antioxidant plant foods can be.
But I feel better when I eat meat, fish or dairy! My body needs these products!
You might feel better if you re-introduce those products within a few days or even weeks of eliminating them, but NO YOU DON’T NEED THEM, you just didn’t give these compounds enough time to clear your system and you need to allow the healthy bacteria which break down fruits and vegetables to build up.
The microbes in your gut flourish based on what you eat. If you eat a lot of dairy, sugar or meat, you will have a preponderance of bacteria that thrive on those substances. When you switch to a healthier, plant-based diet, it takes time for the bacteria which thrive on those foods to build up. For some people, that change is pretty quick. For some it can take a few weeks. While that change is occurring, you may actually feel withdrawal symptoms, which are not pleasant. If you reward those microbes with the foods you (and your gut microbes) crave, their reward to you is more serotonin and dopamine production. Remember that the gut microbes actually make 90% of the serotonin and 70% of the dopamine in your body. Dairy in particular takes time because you are literally addicted to it. As mentioned above, casein, the main protein in dairy products, breaks down in the body into Casomorphin, an opioid compound similar to heroine and morphine, which binds to the same pleasure receptors in the brain, making you feel good. It’s the main reason vegetarians who want to go vegan complain that the hardest thing to do is give up cheese. Be patient. You don’t need the meat and dairy; you are just craving it and withdrawing from it. You’ll be better off in the end without them.
Also keep in mind that some toxins are fat soluble, bind to proteins in various organs and take a long time to clear the body. Heavy metals such as mercury, often stored in the thyroid and brain tissue or lead in bone, take months to clear. This is actually a protective mechanism to get them out of the circulation where they can do more damage. As these toxins are clearing your body, you may temporarily feel badly but you will slowly start to feel better as time passes.
Some people who have been vegetarian or vegan for a long time make similar claims about feeling better when meat, fish or dairy are re-introduced into their diets. The explanation for this has to do with probable deficiencies in vitamins or minerals because they lack enough quality or variety of fruits and vegetables in their diet. In some cases, you just have to supplement. 3 good examples are B12, Vitamin D and omega 3s. All are crucial for optimal health.
B12 is made by a microbe in the soil. These microbes have become depleted after decades of chemical destruction and improper growing practices leading to poor soil health. Animals who still graze on grass do take in these microbes and eating their meat can provide B12. You can get B12 from fruits and vegetables but only if grown in healthy soil and you don’t wash them too much. The majority of people who are B12 deficient, by the way, are meat eaters!
Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common in both plant based and omnivorous eaters and foods are a poor source of Vitamin D. The sun is our main source and we are chronically cooped up inside and not getting enough sun. Dairy is often supplemented with Vitamin D so that explains that.
Although you can get plenty of omega 3 fatty acids from plant-based foods like walnuts and flax seeds, often the amounts are not enough unless you consume them daily. Fish, specifically cold-water fish like salmon and herring, are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids but they don’t make it but get it from the algae they eat. Skip the middle man and get your omega 3 fatty acids from seaweed, nuts and seeds and algae or algae-based supplements directly. That way, you also avoid the toxins. Fish, whether farm raised or wild caught, are extremely contaminated with plastics and heavy metals like mercury 100% of the time.
See the next section about how people feel and why when they eat meat.
Why Ex-Vegans Appear to Get Healthier Once They Eat Meat Again.
A well-balanced, plant-based diet is extremely healthy. Then why do so many ex-vegans on YouTube quickly feel better as soon as they start eating meat again?
If you watch the YouTube channels of various vegan “influencers”, you might have noticed that quite a few of them are quitting their plant-based diet in favor of eating meat again. Some appear to have learned plant-based dietary lessons and are still eating many vegetables and fruits. Others went all out and opted for a pure carnivore (meat only)diet. What’s stranger is that they all claim to feel much better. It’s not just a feeling either, some of them even look visually better on camera too.
If you pay close attention to those influencers who have left veganism, you’ll notice some similarities. The overwhelming majority fit into one or more of the following patterns:
- They did an orthorexic plant-based diet. That is to say, they took the huge variety of foods available to plant-based dieters and restricted them to an arbitrary subset. In fact, many of these ex-vegans were eating a fruitarian diet (only foods which, when harvested, do not kill the plant, a raw vegan diet, or other variations in which only a small group of foods are deemed “healthy”.
- Their diets were nutritionally incomplete. They were simply not getting enough necessary macronutrients and micronutrients.
- They didn’t eat enough calories. If you take a look at their “what I eat in a day” videos, you’ll often see them totaling in the range of 1,000-1,500 calories. Most of them were essentially starving themselves, and doing so with the same small groups of foods with little variety.
- They have a history of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
- They had existing, never resolved gut issues such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
- They did other random, extreme experiments like going on extended fasts for 30 days. That’s quite beyond doing some intermittent fasting and it’s downright dangerous for your health.
You’ll rarely see a vegan influencer who adopted a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based diet or any half-decent vegan diet before going back to eating meat.
Why do ex-vegans feel better as soon as they reintroduce meat?
- The number one reason is that they finally started eating enough calories! Meat and other animal products in general, have a relatively high caloric density. So, many of these ex-vegans added a thousand or more calories just by reintroducing meat in their diet. No wonder they are feeling better and more energetic!
- Another factor is dietary fat. Fat is not optional. We don;t need a lot, but we need some. We need enough fat to function at our best. Many of these ex-vegan influencers went from diets with virtually no fat to diets that have enough fat.
- They started getting enough protein. You absolutely can get enough protein on a plant-based diet. It’s not even hard to do so. But if you start excluding grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds from your diet, you’re unlikely to hit your daily requirements. Eating 20 bananas a day (an example of a fruitarian diet) will load you up in Potassium and Vitamin B6 but you will not hit your protein needs. There is some, but not enough.
- They stopped consuming so much fiber in their diet. If they are affected by existing gastrointestinal conditions, such as SIBO, drastically reducing the fiber intake will indeed provide some relief. What it doesn’t do is fix the underlying issue. It just masks the problem for a while. Again, fiber is crucial to good health but with GI issues to begin with, you need to proceed with a strictly plant based diet intelligently.
So what’s the problem? Why do we care about these influencers? Because they are influencers. People would rather listen to a cute, buff, charismatic, completely unqualified 20-something with 100,000 followers, than a drab, educated doctor or nutritionist. These are genuine influencers, meaning they have hundreds of thousands of followers who listen to what they say. Their choices will end up affecting the lives of thousands of young people who may emulate them.
News organizations will run with it, claiming that eating plant-based/vegan is unhealthy. It’s not! What these people opted to do was unhealthy. Eating a well-balanced, varied, plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for your health, the animals, and the planet.
Their feeling better is often short-lived. Every dietary change will often result in temporary symptom improvement. These are the same people who claimed they felt amazing when they switched to a vegan diet. In the long term, a diet rich in animal products will increase their risk profile for both cancer and heart disease, not to mention arthritis, kidney disease and dementia.
Reducing fiber can temporarily help with the symptoms of certain bowel diseases, but it will not cure their underlying condition (and the combination of high-saturated fat and low fiber will most likely negatively affect their LDL cholesterol).
How to avoid becoming an ex-vegan:
- Eat enough calories. Even if you are trying to lose weight, you shouldn’t cut your calories by more than 20-25% of your daily expenditure. Focus on healthier calories as well.
- Do not cut out plant-based foods arbitrarily or do extreme diets such as fruitarianism or raw veganism. The only exception to this rule is for foods to which you have a sensitivity or allergy. Studies also show that your tastes change with repeated exposure, especially with kids. So if you don’t like a food, despite how healthy it may be for you, keep trying it out. Try different cooking methods. For example, many bitter greens are much more palatable when steamed or added to sauces and soups, but keep trying. You’ll come around.
- Avoid extreme experiments, like extended fasting or, it goes without saying, drinking your own urine. Yes, that is a thing!
- If you have an existing medical condition like SIBO, IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Leaky Gut Syndrome, or are experiencing undiagnosed digestive issues, consider seeking help from a GI doctor or dietician who specializes in such issues. There are tests that can be done to determine what’s wrong with your digestive system, and steps that can be taken to improve it (including nutritional steps, of course). Meat is not magically going to cure your issues.
The take-home lesson is to eat a nutrient-rich, well-balanced, plant-based diet. One that meets all your daily nutrient and micronutrient requirements. One that isn’t afraid of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, or cooked foods. A diet that will bring you health, not illness, in the long term.
But I can’t lose weight, even on a plant-based diet!
First of all, you have to keep in mind that there are 52 weeks a year. Even a 1 pound loss a week leads to a 53 pound loss over the course of a year. Despite the massive weight problem we have in the US, the average overweight American gains only 1-2 pounds a year from early adulthood into middle age. In addition only 1 pound of weight loss translates into a significant drop in stress on your joints, about 20 tons over the course of the day. A 10 pound weigh drop leads to a 30% decreased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Every little bit counts.
That having been said, there are some common problems, even on plant-based diets. Most of them involve calorie density. Food which are fatty have many more calories per gram than non fatty ones. Even some healthy foods can contribute to a lot of calories. Below are some examples of healthy but highly caloric foods.
- Oreos and Coke are vegan but they are not healthy or conducive to weight loss. Be mindful of the quality of the food you eat.
- Nuts, seeds and avocado are very healthy but they are also fatty. The fat is healthier in proportion, but 1 oz of nuts still has 15-19 grams of fat. It adds up fast.
- Vegetable oils ALL have 9 grams of fat per tablespoon, even olive oil. Be particularly mindful of tropical oils as palm, or vegetable oils like soy, sunflower and cotton seed.
- Snacking. Don’t do it. Your body needs to rest, especially when you sleep. You should not have any food at least 2 hours before bed.
- Differentiate between hunger and habit. Missing meals on occasion is fine. you won’t starve.
- Be careful of sugar, including “zero calorie” beverages. Artificial sweeteners are just as bad and have been shown to damage the intestinal wall allowing substances, not meant to be absorbed, to cause inflammatory reactions in the body, contributing to weight gain.
- Be mindful of stress. Chronic cortisol (our stress hormone) production leads to weight gain.
- Watch out for plastics. they leach hormone-mimicking chemicals which impact on hormone metabolism.
Also, keep in mind that if you are also starting an exercise regimen as part of you healthy lifestyle improvements, especially weight lifting, keep in mind that muscle is heavier than fat. Any little bit of muscle gain will offset loss of fat. Your weight may not be changing but your fat percentage is continuing to improve!
There are two classic body types, based on both visceral fat (pro-inflammatory fat that surrounds and infiltrates into our organs) and subcutaneous fat (which sits right under the skin). One body type is the pear shape, characterized by subcutaneous fat accumulation around the hips and buttocks. This fat is less of a concern to one’s health. Distribution of fat around the waist (leading to an apple shape) is more concerning because it is composed of both visceral and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat can produce inflammatory compounds that alert our bodies to the presence of something foreign. Other proteins secreted by these fat cells directly result in insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, altered clotting, and alterations in fatty acid metabolism. Visceral fat also affects our hormonal balance. For example, adrenal hormones, such as testosterone, can be converted to estrogen in our fat cells. Higher levels of estrogen have been linked to increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. There is also an increased conversion from inactive cortisone to active cortisol in our visceral fat. Active cortisol promotes more fat accumulation, which leads to increasing weight gain that can also propagate further hormone imbalance. The good news is visceral fat is more affected by lifestyle changes than subcutaneous fat. By lifestyle changes, we mean that moderately intense activity along with dietary adjustments more effectively reduces visceral fat than subcutaneous fat. Increasing nutrient-rich foods and cutting back on calorie-dense foods can be a great place to start. In fact, when vigorous exercise is a regular regimen, it’s possible to lose adipose (fatty) tissue without losing weight because you’re building lean muscle mass.
Moderate exercise can transform white adipose tissue into brown adipose tissue and can increase metabolic rate and heat production. This suggests that our white adipose tissue can become metabolically trained and more metabolically active.
Also make sure to get adequate sleep. After only 2 nights of sleep deprivation (only 4 hours), ghrelin, the “hunger” hormone, production increased by 28% and leptin, the hunger inhibiting hormone, production decreased by 18%. In other words, only 2 days of sleeping 4 hours makes you hungrier and reduces your body’s ability to know you are full.
Focus on health, rather than weight.
There is a lot more about weight loss on my “Other Topics” page.
Carbs make me fat!
Although technically the liver can convert carbohydrates into fatty acids, it only does so when you massively overeat them, especially in the form of simple, refined carbohydrates. Studies show that this conversion only starts when you consume more than 4,500 calories daily for a minimum of 7 days in a row. In addition, the type of carbohydrates matter. there is a huge difference between whole fruits and vegetables and refined grains and processed foods. The former do NOT lead to weight gain but the latter do. In addition, what you eat carbs with makes a huge difference. Fat in you diet, in addition to inside your cells, impacts on how insulin functions and when it does not work well, sugar levels from carbohydrates rise. Longer periods of time with elevated blood sugar can, among other things, lead to weight gain.
IRON. I was told to eat meat to get more iron.
Iron is vital for proper DNA function and is key for oxygen transport (hemoglobin) and storage in muscle (myoglobin), but you do not need it from meat. This is flat out wrong. In the same way that dairy cows don’t make calcium, they get it from the grass they eat, the same applies to iron. It comes from the grass they eat (assuming they are feed on grass. The ones fed soy and corn, which is more than 98% of them, get iron supplements). The majority of people with iron deficiency anemia, the most common form of anemia, are meat eaters. In addition, the type of iron you get from meat is called heme iron, which is very inflammatory. The iron you get from vegetables like spinach is non-heme iron, it is better absorbed and much healthier for you. In addition, if you consume dairy, it impairs iron absorption form meat. Our bodies are able to regulate how much non-heme iron we absorb but not heme-iron. The extra iron from animal protein is converted into ferritin, it’s storage form. When their “storage tank” is full, the iron and ferritin essentially rust, forming hemosiderin, which penetrates and builds up in all of our organs. The excess iron causes oxidative stress leading to tissue damage leading to things like arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and metabolic syndrome. In addition to having non-heme iron, the compounds known as phytates in plants help to suppress the free radicals that heme iron creates, mitigating the damage.
Plants which contain a lot of iron include:
- collard greens
- beans, especially lentils and chickpeas
Adding some vitamin C, by adding some citrus like lemon juice For example, will increase the absorption of non-heme iron.
I know a vegan who is overweight and does not look healthy.
Coke, Oreos, Doritos, many “nutritional” bars and Potato Chips are technically vegan. You can eat a lot of processed “vegan” junk foods and be very unhealthy and overweight. Being plant-based or vegan is not by definition healthy. You still have to be mindful of the sugars, fats, salt and processed foods that are out there. Even veggie burgers can be quite unhealthy since they contain a lot of plant oils. Stick to whole, unprocessed food especially lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains and I guarantee you will lose weight, feel better and be healthier. You do have to be mindful of calorie density. Although avocados, nuts and seeds are healthy, they still contain ~ 19 grams of fat per ounce (for most nuts) so the calories do add up. The same goes for all oils, including olive, avocado and coconut oil. All oils contain 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. A great rule of thumb is “don’t eat anything your grandmother would not recognize as real food”.
My aunt lived to 95 smoking, drinking and eating eggs and bacon every day!
There are statistics averaging what happens to most large groups of people and there are individuals who are outliers. Everyone is different and some people just have a body that repairs itself and can withstand a lot. Not every smoker gets lung cancer and not every alcoholic gets liver cirrhosis but the odds are that these behaviors are not healthy for most people. It’s important to follow the healthful things which have been shown to impact positively on the greatest number of people. A whole foods plant-based diet low in sugar, salt and fat is the healthiest diet for the vast majority or people. It’s that simple.
In addition, 70% of the foods sold in grocery stores today did not exist even 25 years ago, let alone during the formative years of our grandparents’ lives. Our grandparents didn’t eat hyper-processed, packaged “franken-foods” or and meat and dairy full of more chemicals than you can count. For the majority of their lives, they ate whole, much healthier foods and I can guarantee you they ate more fruits and vegetables than the majority of Americans do today.
But my grandfather ate eggs and bacon daily and lived to 90!
All vegetarians and vegans have heard this argument. If one was to be fully honest, one would not just compare diets but the full lifestyle. As far as diet goes, what our grandparents and even parents ate was a lot different from what we eat today. 70% of what is sold in grocery stores today didn’t even exist 25 years ago. Certainly, pesticide and herbicide exposure was significantly less. Heirloom foods, rather than genetically modified foods were the norm. Food was fresh, clean and local. They also ate a LOT more fruits and vegetables than most people eat today and a lot less processed foods and sugar. So the food argument doesn’t hold any validity. My 90-year-old grandfather always had a full bushel of fresh apples to munch on and he NEVER had a driver’s license. He walked everywhere. He did not have a cell phone and rarely watched TV. He moved and socialized. He was an active working tailor until he was 90. Literally. He drank alcohol but did so in the company of others while socializing and playing cards. The bottom line is, don’t compare segments of our daily lives without comparing the whole picture. We do not live like our grandparents did.
I’m too old or too sick to get better!
Absolutely not true. You can always get better. All you have to do is decide how much you are willing to change and how important is it to you. Lifestyle changes have reversed decades of heart disease and diabetes, even in 90 year old’s. Patients on heart transplant lists who adopted healthy lifestyle changes, the most important of which was switching to a whole foods, plant-based, low fat, salt and sugar diet , improved so much that by the time their donor hearts became available, they no longer needed it. Studies on the brains of elderly people, even in their 90’s, revealed brand new stem cells.
The body WANTS to heal. It’s resilient. You just need to give it the right, nurturing environment.
Remember that if you want moderate improvement and moderate disease control, follow the “everything in moderation” approach!
The degree you improve is directly proportional to the degree you change and how much effort you put in.
As Lifestyle Medicine pioneer Dr. Dean Ornish puts it: “Eat Better, Move More, Love More and Stress Less“.
Do I have to eliminate ALL animal products from my diet?
The simple answer to that is it depends on how healthy you want to be and how fast you want to get there. There is no question that the less dairy and animal products you eat, and the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the healthier you will be and the faster you will become healthier. Longevity and chronic disease studies show that 100% plant-based diets are the best, by far, especially when compared with the standard American diet. The populations who live the longest and are the healthiest, their diets consist 90-95% of plants like grains, legumes , fruits and vegetables. Meat is considered a flavoring and condiment, not a main course.
That having been said, from a health perspective, a small amount of meat is probably not going to be harmful but you must keep it to less than 10% of calories consumed. The longest-lived societies around the world eat this way, consuming meat sparingly. Strict vegans (no animal products at all) still live the longest on average with the least occurrence of chronic diseases.
I would still consider eliminating dairy though. There are just too many downsides to dairy and the purported benefits are simply lies. There are so many great substitutes so why not cut it out?
Didn’t Humans evolve eating meat?
How we evolved is a complex question with different theories, all of which have some merit. There is no question that we have always eaten meat, but how much and how often did we consumed it is up for debate. The answer likely has to do with the environment we lived in and what was available for survival. In most environments, plants were easier to gather so it makes sense that we ate mostly plants. Hunting was much harder and required significantly more resources. We ate much smaller amounts of meat since less was available. We were gatherer-hunters, not hunter-gatherers.
Also, our anatomy and physiology (dental shape, jaw movement, intestinal tract length, gut bacterial composition…) is similar to that of other plant-eaters in the animal kingdom, including all primates. We have color vision, thought to have evolved to see colorful vegetables and fruits better. Most carnivores see only black and white.
With respect to what kind of meat our ancestors ate, the evidence suggests that they ate primarily the organ meats and fed the muscle, what today we think of as “meat”, to the animals. Organ meats like liver, heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas and even the intestines and the brain have a significantly better nutrient profile than muscle does. Today, organ meats are thought of more as delicacy but in the past they were the staple animal foods.
As far as quality is concerned, what our ancestors ate was significantly healthier. The meat that our ancestors ate was not fattened, factory-farmed or filled with hormones, drugs and environmental pollutants. They were wild, lean and clean. Beef from modern industrially raised, grain-fed steer may contain as much as 35% of its calories in fat, most of which is saturated. In contrast, the wild meat our ancestors ate, most animals like antelope, contained only 7% of their calories in fat, most of which was unsaturated. In addition, because those ancient animals grazed on wild grasses, they actually consumed more healthful omega 3 amino acids which today’s beef is completely devoid of.
Some other differences between carnivores (meat-eaters) and herbivores (plant-eaters) include:
- Much shorter fingernails. Carnivores have claws to rip apart animal flesh.
- Carnivores have long canines, also to help rip apart flesh.
- Carnivores jaws move only up and down, requiring them to tear their food and essentially eat it without chewing. Herbivores have jaws which move from side to side, allowing them to grind up plants which can be fibrous. This is also improved because of the larger, flatter molars herbivores have.
- Carnivores’ stomach acid is much more acidic than humans and other plant eaters. This helps to break down the raw tissue they swallow and kill any live bacteria or other microbes they consume. This is also why humans can’t eat large amounts of raw meat. We can’t break it down and the bugs make us sick!
- Herbivores, have much longer intestinal tracts to assist breaking down the plants and absorb nutrients. Carnivores have much shorter intestinal tracts. In fact in humans and other herbivores, meat actually starts to rot in the large intestine producing harmful compounds.
Lastly, if you compare the longevity of carnivores in nature as compared with plant-eaters, there is no comparison. Plant-eaters live for much longer. Carnivores barely make it through their reproductive years whereas plant eaters live long into adulthood and old age, all without chronic disease unlike their domesticated relatives like all of our pets and factory raised livestock.
Some other examples of powerful vegan animals include:
- Bison, oxen and wild yak, which can reach 2,200 pounds eating only plants.
- Manatees, the sea cow.
- Amphicoelias fragillimus, the largest ever dinosaur, was estimated to weigh up to 122 tons.
Grains and legumes were not part of our diet until 10,000 years ago. We didn’t evolve eating them!
Many people in the meat-eating community claim that humans did not start consuming grains and legumes before 10,000 years ago, approximately when we started farming. As such, we could not have evolved eating these foods and they should not be part of our diet. This is simply not true. First of all, there is evidence going back 30,000 years that we farmed. This date however is really meaningless. The start of farming which is basically the start of the era of food stability, which is what farming basically provided, does not equate to the start of poor health. It just made surviving without foraging a little easier.
In addition, fossil records of Neanderthal Man, who pre-existed modern Homo Sapiens and existed between 30,000 and 100,000 year ago, revealed starch grains between their teeth confirming that they ate grains regularly. We have been eating wild-growing versions of grains and seeds for thousands of years before we started farming. In addition, fossilized stool of paleolithic humans showed that they ate massive amounts of fiber, which is only obtained from fruits and vegetables, especially grains and legumes. They consumed about 150 grams a day. To put that into perspective, the average American today consumes 3-15 grams a day and 97% of Americans don’t get the recommended daily amount of 20 grams which is still pretty low compared with our ancestors.
Even if you accept that our diet changed to one based on farmed grains 10,000 years ago, our ability to digest and process to eating certain foods could easily adapt in that time-frame to such a diet. We always ate grains. We just started eating more of them. Our microbiome simply had to adapt to one that is better at digesting a lot of them. We know that modern man’s microbiome can shift within weeks to months from a mostly meat-eating unhealthy microbial population to a healthy fiber (plant) digesting one when you improve your diet and include more whole fruits and vegetables.
Grains have been consumed by many cultures on all continents for centuries. Here are some examples:
- Rice in Asia An the Indian Subcontinent.
- Corn in Latin America and US Southwest.
- Wheat, Oats and Millet in Europe.
- Teff in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
- Quinoa in Peru.
Lastly, if you examine the longest-lived and healthiest populations worldwide, they ALL have a predominantly (80-90% of calories) plant-based diet. In addition, they consume large amounts of grains and legumes. If it works for them, it will work for everyone else. The ones who do eat some meat, it’s in very small amounts. It’s treated more as a flavoring or condiment, not the main course.
RED vs WHITE MEAT. But I only eat white meat! Isn’t it better than red?
First, let’s define what “meat” is. When you eat meat, you are eating, quite simply, the muscle of animals. Whether it’s from mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, crustaceans, dog, horse… it’s all muscle. What we think of traditionally as “muscle”, the tissue which contracts, lifts, moves, propels… animals, is called skeletal muscle. Smooth muscles are the muscles in tissues like the intestines and blood vessels. Their composition and contraction mechanisms are different and smooth muscle contracts through mostly unconscious mechanisms. Skeletal muscle can be further divided into fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. The fast twitch can be thought of as the muscle fibers which are used in quick movements like jumping and sprinting and the slow twitch are engaged during slower, steady state movements like walking, running or cycling. All skeletal muscles have varying combinations of fast and slow twitch fibers. The more a muscle is involved in long-term, steady state contraction, the more slow twitch fibers they contain and the darker they are, an indication of more oxygen carrying capacity in the cells.
What makes meat darker (essentially redder when raw) is a protein called myoglobin. Myoglobin is a monomeric protein which carries oxygen and is found in muscle tissues only. Hemoglobin is a tetrameric protein found all over the body, including red blood cells. The capability of the binding oxygen is what makes a difference in both the molecules with hemoglobin being able to carry 4x more oxygen.
In culinary and food advertising terms, white meat is meat which is pale in color before and after cooking. That’s it, just appearance. The most common kind of white meat is the lighter-colored meat of poultry (light meat), coming from the breast, as contrasted with dark meat from the legs. Poultry white (“light”) meat is made up of fast-twitch muscle fires, while red (“dark”) meat is made up of muscles with fibers that are slow-twitch. In traditional gastronomy, white meat also includes rabbit, the flesh of milk-fed young mammals (in particular veal and lamb), and pork. Pork however is rally more in line with dark meat but because white meat is considered “leaner and healthier”, the pork industry has promoted it as such just to boost sales. It is neither leaner nor is it healthier.
In nutritional studies however, white meat includes poultry and fish, but excludes all mammal flesh, which is considered red meat. The United States Department of Agriculture classifies meats as red if the myoglobin level is higher than 65%. This categorization is controversial as some types of fish, such as tuna, are red when raw but turn white when cooked. Similarly, certain types of poultry that are sometimes grouped as white meat are actually red when raw, such as duck and goose.
Although on average dark meat contains 2.5 x more saturated fat per gram of protein than white meat, the two meats are rally nearly identical in nutritional value, especially when compared with typical red meat.
The differences between red and white meat, steak and chicken… have been over exaggerated and used as a means to promote the “healthier” meats. A classic example is chicken. A steamed, skinless chicken breast has the same amount of cholesterol and only a slightly lesser amount of fat by percentage of calories as a lean piece of steak. In addition, the ratio of less healthy omega 6 fats to the healthier omega 3 fats is exactly the same. Fish, often touted as the centerpiece of the Mediterranean diet, is not much different. Salmon, arguably one of the healthier fish, is 70% fat by calorie percentage and 40% of that is saturated fat. In addition, you can’t pull a fish out of the ocean that is not contaminated by mercury, PCBs and plastics. As far as the Mediterranean diet is concerned, what makes it one of the healthiest dietary approaches is all the fresh fruit and vegetables anyway. A traditional Mediterranean diet actually contains very little meat and only a small amount oil and dairy, most of which is sheep or goat anyway.
Meat is meat. It’s all unhealthy. Just eliminate or at least minimize it.
Isn’t grass-fed, organic meat better?
In some ways it is but in most ways, NO it’s not. Although eating animal products from animals raised and fed organically, allowed to graze and feed naturally on grasses and allowed to be “free range” is healthier than commercially raised animals, the differences are small. Their meat does have less fat, as much as 30x less than feedlot cattle with significantly more trans fat, and more omega 3 fatty acids. They contain no added hormones, antibiotics or other chemicals put into traditional animal feed which is grain-based, mostly GMO and not organic. Less hormones however does not mean NO hormones or other cell stimulating growth promoting compounds. Less chemicals does not mean NO chemicals. Meat still generates as much TMAO, a toxic compound found only in meat and energy drinks. Meat is still the main source of saturated fat and cholesterol in our diet.
All the cancer-causing and inflammatory byproducts of cooking and the problems from the saturated fats and the lack of fiber still have the same significant negative impact on health.
From an environmental perspective, organic and grass-fed practices in raising animals are actually worse than factory farm systems because they require significantly more resources (land, water, caring costs…) than more economically efficient commercial operations do. Factory raised animals also only have a fraction of the lifespan of grass-fed, pasture-raised animals so we are taking care of them for much longer.
Lastly, animals raised and slaughtered on an organic farm want live and not be killed just as much as a factory farm raised ones do. Their lives may be more pleasant and they may be treated more humanely however, their ultimate end is the same. We kill almost 100 billion animals a year to feed our apatite for meat.
Aren’t vegan and vegetarian diets deficient in vitamins and minerals?
You are no more likely to be deficient in anything on a restricted vegan diet than you would be on a Standard American Diet. In fact, there are a greater percentage of deficiencies in people eating standard, omnivorous diets than vegetarian or vegan diets. Restrictive, limited diets of any kind can lead to various deficiencies. Common deficiencies include Vitamin B12 (which is actually more common in those who eat meat), Vitamin D, Omega 3 fatty acids, Zinc, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin A and Vitamin E. Any nutritional approach must include variety to get all the nutrients one needs and yes, this can be achieved on a vegan or plant-based diet. You are always much better off getting your nutrition from a variety of whole, unprocessed foods but on occasion, supplements are necessary.
All that having been said, 2000 calories (approximate daily requirements for the average man) of broccoli or asparagus provides ALL the macro-nutrients (protein, both essential and non-essential, fat, and the healthier ones at that and carbohydrates, unrefined and therefore healthier) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) our bodies need in a day. 2000 calories of chicken however provide much more protein and fat (at least 4x more) than is necessary, not enough carbohydrate, NO fiber and is deficient in many micro-nutrients.
ATHLETICS. Don’t I need meat and dairy to build muscle and perform better?
No you don’t. Just watch this trailer of upcoming James Cameron movie “Gamechangers” coming out in the fall of 2019. There has never been a study showing that meat-eating athletes outperform their vegetarian or vegan competition. The opposite is actually true. In addition, plant-based athletes, including an ever-growing number of NFL players whose bodies take a real beating, consistently report much faster recovery from workouts and competitions. Some of the top athletes in the world are doing just fine and even excelling on plant-based, vegan diets. These include the strongest man in the world Patrik Baboumian, the best female tennis player of all time, Serena Williams, the most acclaimed ultra-distance runner Scott Jurek, champion bodybuilder Nimai Delgado and ultra-endurance tri-athlete Rich Roll. Here is a list of some other world-class vegan athletes. Maintenance of muscle mass and bone health is important but adding more bulk is purely cosmetic. If you REALLY want to put on more muscle, just eat more calories, not necessarily focusing on more protein. Calories from fruits and vegetables are much healthier than those from animal sources. However, you don’t much more. The body is very efficient of using what it is given. Consistent exercise is the most important thing when trying to gain muscle.
All-Star pro basketball player Chris Paul attributes his improved performance and recovery to going plant-based. In fact, when asked about it, he said that he did not like to promote his diet not because he would get harassed for it by but because he considered it a competitive advantage. A short list of other pro ballers who are now vegan includes Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Wilson Chandler, Al Jefferson, Garrett Temple, Enes Kanter, JaVale McGee, and Jahlil Okafor. Many professional teams in a variety of sports, especially football where recovery is key, now offer and even promote plant based diets for their athletes. Unfortunately, because of stadium and arena concession contracts as well as advertising deals (like Gatorade), the teams do not like to speak about plant-based diets in public.
The Spartans and Gladiators of Ancient Rome were also known as the “Barley Men” because their diet was known to consist almost exclusively of grains, like barley, and vegetables. They didn’t seem to need meat to be strong and fierce warriors. Modern day Indians known as the Tarahumara in the Copper Canyons of Mexico are plant-based and are known for their extreme endurance running abilities, often running for even hundreds of miles in a day. They seem to do just fine without much meat.
PROTEIN AND EXERCISE – BROtein vs PROtein. Myths and Truths
- “When I work out, I use muscle for energy”. FALSE. Your muscles do propel you and you do use up the energy stored in the muscle cells but muscle is not “used up”. Typically, low-intensity exercises start to burn fat and glucose is burned up early in high intensity exercises however, a mixture of both is used up during any exercise. With higher intensity exercise, if done long enough, the glucose does get used up and the body starts to burn more fat, but not a huge amount and you have to do a LOT of exercise.
- “If I don’t eat right after working out, I will lose my muscle”. FALSE. As long as you eat at some point in the day, getting enough calories, you will NOT lose muscle. You do not need a protein shake or some other concoction right away. You DO need enough calories for muscle gain however.
- “I must get a complete protein at every meal to gain muscle”. FALSE. Our bodies use the amino acids we consume and then pool the the extra, unused amino acids, but only to a point. It’s important to get some of the essential amino acids at some point throughout the day but not at every meal. By the way, animal protein is not the only source of complete and essential amino acids. ALL proteins are found in all foods, just in varying amounts.
- “If I overeat protein, I will just store it as muscle”. FALSE. Our bodies can metabolize and store limited amounts of protein and their breakdown products, amino acids. About 25 grams at a time is about as much as you can metabolize efficiently. You just pee out the rest. Animal protein put a lot of stress on the kidneys. Plant protein is much gentler on the kidneys.
- “I must eat over 100 grams of protein a day to gain muscle”. FALSE. 100 gm is the average amount an American eats. It’s much more than they need. Below is a breakdown of what is actually needed.
- “Necessary” or minimum protein intake is 0.4-0.6. grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day (gm/kg/day). This is typically what people with kidney disease are advised to consume since excessive amounts stress the kidneys, whose job it is to filter out the protein. For the average American male (190 lbs. or 86 kg) and the average American woman (160 lbs. or 72 kg) is 51 and 43 grams respectively.
- “Normal” protein intake is 0.8 gm/kg/day. 70gm for men and 57 gm for women.
- “High” protein intake is 1.2 gm/kg/day. 103 gm for men and 86 gm for women.
- “Max” protein intake is 1.7 gm/kg/day. 146 gm for men and 122 gm for women. If you are working out 3 hours a day, maybe you need as much as that but this is extremely rare.
KETOGENIC, PALEO and CARNIVORE diets (low carb, high protein and fat). Are they OK?
In the short-term, they are certainly better than the standard Western diet, but in the long-term, they are unhealthy, especially if followed continuously. Unlike plant-based populations who have the least chronic disease and live as much as 10 years longer on average than most other populations, there is no society or group of people following such carbohydrate-restricted diets long-term that have been shown be any healthier or live longer. A meta-analysis of 9 studies with over a million patients cumulatively, consistently show that low carbohydrate and higher fat diets, typical of ketogenic, Atkins and Paleo-like diets, significantly increases premature all-cause mortality, by 23%.
The Ketogenic (Keto) diet was developed in 1920’s as a treatment for epilepsy and other brain disorders. Ketone bodies are water-soluble molecules like acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and their spontaneous breakdown product, acetone which is the main component in nail polish remover! They are produced by the liver from fatty acids during periods of low food intake (fasting), carbohydrate restricted diets, starvation or intense endurance exercise. Ketones are an emergency form of energy and are much easier for the body to metabolize than glucose. This is what accounts for the common observation of increased energy when starting such a diet. This diet was, and remains, an effective, short-term ONLY treatment for various neurologic and brain conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, MS and certain brain tumors, however it is not meant as a long-term solution for most healthy people. All long-term studies (and there are very few) of such diets show various problems especially when it comes to cardiovascular disease. It is estimated that up to 98% of people who are trying to follow a true ketogenic diet are actually not doing it correctly. So, they are basically depriving themselves of various healthful carbohydrates, adding fat and not getting any real physiologic benefit. This is dangerous. In the short-term, the body uses ketones and preferentially burns fats. Long term however, ketones cause inflammation and cellular degradation. The real weight loss benefit of these diets has to do with elimination of sugars, processed foods and dairy. Also, most people starting such a diet consume fewer calories overall which will always result in weight loss. In addition, when sugar and glycogen stores are depleted, there is a rapid water loss so a lot of the early weight loss is simply water. Ketones themselves help usher water out of cells leading to water loss. The resulting dehydrated state also contributes to the early “keto flu” people experience.
One of the ketones formed is acetone, the same compound found in nail polish remover. Acetone is responsible for the foul, “rotten apple breath” seen in those following ketogenic diets. It also can cause false positive alcohol breathalyzer tests. It also oxidizes in the blood into acetol, a precursor to the formation of methylglioxin (MG), a toxin responsible for nerve and blood vessel damage and is seen in diabetics whose blood sugars are out of control. It is the most potent creator of AGEs (Advabced Glycation Endproducts) which are liked also with Alzheimer’s Disease, cataract formation, kidney stones and many other medical issues. AGEs are usually associated with cooking proteins and fats, moist often from animal products, at high heat.
There are some plant-based ketogenic diets which may have some benefits when followed intermittently. This is a site which describes such a protocol: DrAxe.com.
The Paleolithic (Paleo) diet is based on the concept of the “ancestral diet” which focuses on eating how our ancestors ate for tens of thousands of years before we started cultivating grains (~10,000 years ago) and before the industrialization of farming practices (~200 years ago). It was popularized by Dr. Boyd Eaton, a Harvard-trained radiologist who published a paper in 1985 titled “Paleolithic Nutrition” in the New England Journal of Medicine. It evolved from the false notion that our ancestors ate primarily meat however we were more “gatherer, hunters” than “hunter, gatherers”. We always ate some meat, but the bulk of our diet came from fruits and vegetables. Our meat was also significantly healthier and much lower in fat (5% back then vs 20-35% today), not factory farmed. Our ancestors also consumed significantly more fiber, estimated at more than 100 gm a day! Even raw vegans usually only get 50-60 grams, which s still a far cry from the typical American’s 10-20 grams a day. In addition, our Paleolithic ancestors lived only 20-30 years. In fact, half of them never made it past 15! This diet was not meant for a population that now lives 70-80 years. If everyone followed a modern Paleolithic diet, we would only be able to feed 10% of the population. Interestingly, Dr. Eaton publicly stated in 2015 that he thought anyone eating a paleo diet should stop because how bad such a dietary approach is on the environment and the planet.
Both of these diets focus on limiting carbohydrates and primarily consuming animal protein and fats. There are some things that are good about these diets initially like weight loss, although this is felt to be at least partly a result of fewer calories consumed overall. You can also see improved blood sugars and some cholesterol parameters (although LDL, the bad one, often goes up significantly). However, long-term studies reveal gradually worsening health measures including significant heart disease and insulin resistance leading to diabetes in most people following such diets. Long-term studies show that people on these types of diets have a 53% increase in all-cause mortality and 20% increase in cardiac-specific mortality over diets that promote fruits, vegetables and limited animal protein and fat consumption. At least 7 studies from such institutions as Harvard and Oxford, following over 100,000 people following a ketogenic diet identified significant increases in overall death rate (23%) over even standard diets. Ketogenic diets have been shown to impair both endothelial function (how your arteries respond) as well as cardiac blood flow.
Some people report much improved “brain fog” on these diets. If your diet is poor (too much processed food, animal products, fat… and not enough fruits and vegetables), your body becomes very inefficient at using glucose because insulin function is impaired. This is known as insulin resistance. In that state, using ketones/fat as a fuel source is an alternative so of course you will feel better. All of a sudden, you go from inefficient fuel usage and consumption, to a new system which is more efficient. But not because it’s better, but because your body is not working properly to begin with. Fix the body, ie reverse insulin resistance (see my “Diseases” section) and you’ll also feel better and eliminate brain fog in a long-term healthy manner.
Diets, especially “crash” diets, put our bodies into a state of starvation and the body responds by going into a protective, preservative mode. Metabolism slows. Sugar and fat utilization decreases. We burn fewer calories. When this sort of unsustainable diet ends, the body has to re adapt but in the meantime, you gain back the weight. Often overshooting where you were before.
Although both KETO and PALEO diets are low carbohydrate diets, Keto is much more restrictive. On a true ketogenic diet, only 5% of calories come from carbs. This equals ~ 20 gm. To put this in perspective, one apple has 30 grams of carbs so basically, fruits and many vegetables are off the menu. 75-80% of calories come from fat and 15-20% from protein. The original ketogenic diet, formulated to treat unresponsive epilepsy in kids in the 1930’s was 90% fat, 2-5% carbs and 6-8% protein. This diet worked in those patients because their brains were unable for a genetic or physical reason to use glucose and using fat was less likely to trigger seizures.
Plant food contains 60-92% of its calories as carbohydrate (CHO) except for nuts and seeds which have around 12% and leafy greens which are only about 1 gm of CHO per cup. The greens are often the only CHO permitted on ketogenic diets.
PALEO is less extreme with respect to carbohydrate restriction and limits consumption to 20% of calories consumed (~100 grams). The TRUE Paleolithic diet our ancestors followed was different however from what is preached today. The true original Paleolithic diet consisted of 35-65% carbs, 20-30% fat and 30% protein. In addition, the true Paleolithic diet had 75-150 grams of fiber. Today, 97% of Americans get less than 20 grams of fiber a day, on average only 14 grams.
All the added fats in these low carb diets are dangerous because of the inevitable effects the fats have on vascular disease, fatty liver as well as exposure to all the fat-soluble chemicals and pollutants. Processed meat is a class 1 carcinogen (same risk category as smoking, plutonium and by the way alcohol as well). Red med is a class 2a food meaning it “probably causes cancer”.
Low carb, keto and paleo diets put you at significantly greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer as well as a slew of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Studies have shown that low carb diets decrease peripheral blood vessel reactivity as well as lead to increased levels of the inflammatory and harmful molecule TMAO. This results in hypertension, heart disease and even stroke and dementia. Whole Food Plant-Based diets (high but healthy carbohydrate on other words) do the opposite and actually reverse or at least stabilize arterial plaques. A whole food, plant based diet decreases the risks of many diseases by significant percentages:
- Heart disease – 32% lower risk
- Diabetes – 62%
- Cancer – 16-19%
- Diverticulitis – 72%
- Hypertension – 75%
- Cataracts – 40%
Ketogenic diets on the other hand increase the risks of:
- Cardiomyopathy (enlargement and weakening of heart muscle)
- Cancer, specifically breast cancer which has been shown to feed on ketones. Prostate cancer has also been linked to ketones.
- Kidney stones
- Bone fracture
- Cholesterol elevation and heart disease
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
A recent study looking at the impact of low carb diets, specifically an animal-based ketogenic diet, on the gut microbiome, showed significant changes after only 5 days. The following was found:
- anti-inflammatory bacteria decreased
- pro-inflammatory bacteria increased
- beneficial short chain fatty acids (SCFA) were reduced
- bacteria associated with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) were increased
- there was an increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria
- there was an increase in bacteria involved in secondary bile salt production associated with colon cancer
Some other unpleasant side effects of low carb, high protein and fat diets include:
- Bad breath, usually caused by ketones (a compound produced while in the state of ketosis). This is often referred to as “rotten apple breath” and is caused by acetone, the same chemical found in nail polish.
- Foul smelling urine, again because of excessive ketones and ammonia which are byproducts of this type of diet.
- Vaginosis (alterations in vaginal pH) leading to malodorous discharge, itch and increased risks of infection. This condition has a nickname: “Keto Crotch”.
- Menstrual irregularities including infertility and changes in amenorrhea (not having periods at all).
- Congenital abnormalities if mother follows such a diet while pregnant.
- Steatorrhea (fatty, foul smelling stools).
- Loose stools and constipation, depending on how your gut responds. Diarrhea is more common early on because the increased fluids retained or drawn into the bowels because of the excessive amounts of fat in the diet. Constipation occurs overall more often because of the lack of fiber.
- “Keto Flu” as mentioned above. This results in:
- Insomnia. Increased cortisol production because if the ketones leads to increased blood sugar. Both impact on sleep quality.
- GI issues as mentioned above.
- Muscle and joint aches.
- Muscle cramps.
- Dehydration because of diuretic effect of all the fat.
With most diets, you get hungry because of overproduction of the appetite hormone ghrelin. In ketogenic diets, this hormone does not get produced to the same degree which explains why keto diets suppress appetite, leading to the obvious decreased caloric intake because you simply don’t eat as much. The first few weeks of a ketogenic diets, people often don’t feel well, known as the “keto flu” which also contributed to poor appetite and fewer consumed calories. Ketones also pull water out of tissues which you pee out, further leading to weight loss.
Excess fat intake, which both of these diets promote, leads to lipotoxicity. Fat starts to get stored in organs it was not meant for like the liver, pancreas, heart and muscle. It causes those organs to malfunction. Even a 0.5% increase in fat in the pancreas causes beta cells to die. The liver becomes less sensitive to insulin and fat stores further increase. In muscle, it impacts on cell walls and how the receptor for insulin functions leading to insulin resistance and increased sugar levels in the blood which is toxic.
On the carnivore diet, also called “zero carb”, you can eat animal products only. Vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, or starches are discouraged. Dairy products are allowed, but some carnivore dieters avoid them because lactose is a sugar. This philosophy uses the Masai tribe in Africa as an example of a society that eats that way. The only point that needs to be made is that the life expectancy of the Masai is on 67 years. The 7th Day Adventist, who are vegan or strict vegetarian have a life expectancy of 89 for men and 92 for women! Even people following the horrible Standard American Diet have better life expectancy.
The Good: These diets get people at least thinking about what they eat. Controlling food quality and portion sizes go a long way. They promote limiting sugar, processed foods and unhealthy carbs; known sources of inflammation. They encourage consuming some but extremely limited amounts of whole fruits and vegetables which is the source of most of our antioxidants. The amounts of fruits and vegetables they recommend, although limited, is still more than what most Americans consume.
The Bad: They encourage too much fat and protein consumption from animal sources. We simply don’t need so much protein or fat. Our bodies can only process 25 mg of protein at a time as it is. The excess gets excreted by the kidney, taxing them significantly, or turned into fat. Animal protein is also loaded with fat, salt, medications and environmental pollutants. They are also associated with an increased death rate as mentioned above. In addition, low carb diets can contribute to birth defects (30% increased risk) so these are not for pregnant women or anyone trying to get pregnant. Although animal products provide some antioxidants, the pale in comparison to plants. Overall, plant-based diets have 64x the amount of antioxidants than omnivorous diets. Berries alone contain 90x more antioxidants than fish for example.
These diets also limit consumption of lots of other healthy grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. They give the false impression of better insulin sensitivity and diabetes control because the blood work values look better but this is not reality. If you don’t eat any carbs, of course blood sugar numbers will improve and fasting insulin will be low but that is not natural or sustainable long-term and is absolutely not an indicator of better insulin sensitivity. Your brain runs on sugar from carbs, not on fat.
Click HERE to learn even more about ketogenic diets.
In this video, Dr. Lim, Director at the McDougall Health & Medical Center, discusses his personal experience with a Paleo diet he was on and why he stopped.
BONE BROTH. Does it repair joints?
NO. The notion that eating something like bone broth or collagen from an animal to repair bones or collagen in our own bodies is absolutely wrong. All tissues in our bodies are made from the building blocks Amino Acids, with the help of vitamins and minerals. Amino acids come from proteins which can be obtained from both animal sources and plant sources. When consumed, proteins are broken down in the gastrointestinal tract, absorbed into our bodies and then used to construct all of our cells, tissues and everything else which runs us. I’ve explained how proteins from animals sources are much less healthy than proteins from plant sources so I won’t repeat that here.
Collagen is the protein that forms connective fibers in tissues such as skin, ligaments, cartilage, bones and teeth. Collagen also acts as an intracellular “glue” that gives support, shape and bulk to blood vessels, bones, and organs such as the heart, kidneys and liver. Collagen fibers keep bones and blood vessels strong, and help to anchor our teeth to our gums. Collagen is also required for the repair of blood vessels, bruises, and broken bones. As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen accounts for more mass than all the other proteins put together.
Vitamin C, along with the amino acids proline and lysine, are essential for the formation of healthy collagen. Many vitamins and minerals act as catalysts to support the manufacture of proteins. In the case of collagen, however, vitamin C is actually used up as it combines with lysine and proline to form pro-collagen. Pro-collagen is then used to manufacture one of several types of collagen found in different tissues throughout the body.
Not only do plants contain all the amino acids we need, they also contain all the vitamins and minerals we need. Animal proteins do not. Simple.
CHOCOLATE – Good or Bad for you?
That depends quite simply on how processed it is. In a nutshell, the darker and closer to pure cacao, the better it is for you. Pure cacao is very good for you.
Chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which grow on trees in Central and South America. The trees bear large orange fruit, about the size of small pumpkins inside which are about 40 small beans. The raw beans are really good for you, full of such phytonutrients like flavanols, vitamin C and magnesium, but they’re bitter. The beans also contain caffeine. An ounce of dark chocolate has about 10 mg of caffeine. Cacao powder has a surprising amount of fiber as well. The beans are then dried and fermented in fermentation boxes or “sweat boxes” forming cacao which can be broken up into pieces (nibs) or ground into a powder. Cacao powder can be further processed to remove the oil portion resulting in cocoa butter. White chocolate is essentially pure cocoa butter with added sugar and various other chemicals. When a product says that it is 70% cocoa, this means that 70% of its weight comes from ground up cocoa beans. The lower the percentage, the lower the amount of the healthy pure cacao and by definition, the greater the amount of cocoa butter added back along with other additives like dairy, as in milk chocolate, sugar and various preservatives, emulsifiers and flavoring agents.
Just as a clarification cacao is the raw bean. Cocoa is the slow roasted version, with the cacao butter (fat) removed. Because it’s been processed at such low temperatures, cacao powder retains all of its enzymes, vitamins, and nutrients and is considered “raw.”
Pure cacao powder has 1.5 gm of fat per oz., along with a whopping 10 gm of fiber (almost half of the RDA).
A chocolate bar that is 70% cacao has about 12 gm of fat per oz. Half of that fat is saturated. Fiber content drops to 3 gm or less. It’s downhill from there.
Milk chocolate contains so much milk and sugar that its percentage of true cacao may be as low as 10%, the minimum required by the FDA for calling it “chocolate” on the label. Hershey’s milk chocolate contains about 11% cacao.
As far as antioxidants are concerned, you would have to consume about 5 oz. of dark chocolate (about 750 calories) to get a heart-healthy amount. To get an equivalent amount of antioxidants from milk chocolate, you would need to consume 40 oz., about 10 bars, which equates to 5800 calories! That amount would also give you more than 400-500 grams of fat!
Americans consume 2.8 billion lbs. of chocolate a year which is almost half of the chocolate produced worldwide annually. The U.S. produces more chocolate than any other country in the world but the Swiss consume the most on average (almost double what Americans consume), followed closely by the United Kingdom. Americans consume 22 lbs. of candy a year, half of which, 11 lbs., is made up of chocolate.
CAFFEINE IN CHOCOLATE. High-quality dark chocolate, like dark chocolate, has been shown to have a number of health benefits. Not only is it high in antioxidants and low in excess sugars (compared to other types of chocolate), but it has even been linked to improved heart health.
Chocolate does contain trace amounts of caffeine, but it varies depending on the type of chocolate. In the production process of turning cocoa beans into chocolate, two substances are formed, cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
Because caffeine is found in the cocoa solids, the more cocoa the chocolate contains, the more caffeine will be present. In other words, the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine.
White chocolate, however, is only comprised of cocoa butter. Since it does not contain cocoa solids, it does not contain any caffeine.
Below are the approximate caffeine amounts, based on 1 ounce of chocolate:
- Raw Cacao (100% raw cacao solids): 24 mgs (12 mg/tbsp.)
- Dark chocolate (70 to 85% cacao solids): 22.7 mgs
- Dark chocolate (45 to 59% cacao solids): 12.2 mgs
- Semisweet chocolate, candies: 17.6 mgs
- Milk chocolate bar: 5.6 mgs
- White chocolate: 0 mgs
- Standard cup of coffee: 96 mg
Regular coffee drinkers likely won’t notice a boost in energy or alertness from chocolate, but if you are sensitive to caffeine, you may.
What’s the Difference Between Cacao vs Cocoa?
Technically, chocolate is derived from the cacao plant, which grows in pods. When those pods are cracked open, inside there’s a seed that looks a bit like a coffee bean. That’s the cacao bean. Raw, it tastes like a very bitter version of chocolate, and the flavor profile can be different based on the variety of plant, the soil it was grown in, exposure to sunlight, and other factors.
To make cacao powder, which is how cacao is most often used, the beans are processed in low heat to separate the cacao butter (a white, fatty substance that tastes like white chocolate) from the beans. Once the fats have been mostly removed, the beans are ready to be milled into a fine, dark, semi-sweet powder.
Because it’s been processed at such low temperatures, cacao powder retains all of its enzymes, vitamins, and nutrients and is considered “raw.” The temperature at which it’s heated is the primary difference between cacao and cocoa powder. Commercial powders are altered further by increasing the heat and adding fillers like milk fats and sugar, reducing their nutritional content.
Cacao powder’s proven benefits
Although there are plenty of health benefits to cacao, any amount of dairy mixed in essentially nullifies cacao’s benefits, blocking nutrients from absorption. And even the highest grade of dark chocolate usually has some dairy in it.
However, cacao powder does have plenty of beneficial nutrients and compounds. Protein, calcium, carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, sulfur, flavonoids, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids are all found in trace amounts, along with more antioxidants than most fruits and veggies. And even though cacao isn’t necessarily as irresistible as candy, it still tastes pretty dang good to most chocolate lovers. Here are some of the known benefits of this sweet superfood.
- Lowers insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that helps our bodies control and break down glucose. Individuals with insulin resistance typically don’t have any symptoms—although weight gain can often be a side effect—but their cells essentially stop responding normally to insulin. That means glucose (sugar) can’t get used by the body for fuel, and builds up in blood. This can, eventually, lead to type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, diet and exercise can reverse insulin resistance—and cacao plays a powerful role in lowering cells’ resistance. Research shows that 100 grams of cacao daily can improve cell response, as well as lower blood lipid levels.
- Improves heart health. Flavanols are naturally occurring substances found in foods like apples, pears, tea, grapes, and blueberries, that promote healthy blood vessel function. Hands down, the most famous flavanol is EGCG (or epigallocatechin gallate), the active compound in green tea. But cacao has some pretty powerful ones too, and they’re specifically useful for increasing heart health and efficiency. A review by the University of Illinois found that these compounds in particular have a positive effect on cardiovascular health and preventing heart disease. In particular, cacao flavanols are excellent at reducing systolic blood pressure. Another study on cacao flavanols found that they work to enhance nitric oxide production, which results in reduced hypertension. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, meaning it makes blood vessel walls more pliable, so they expand and contract with more ease and flexibility. That takes unnecessary pressure off the vessel walls, which decreases overall blood pressure. Cacao flavanols assist the body’s absorption of nitric oxide, making them even more effective at preventing cardiovascular disease.
- Protects against free radical damage. Cacao powder contains nearly 4x the antioxidant power of cocoa powder, and more than 20x the amount found in blueberries. Antioxidants protect cells from free radical damage that occurs as the result of daily exposure to toxins, stress, sun damage, and inflammation. When it goes unchecked, free radical damage can result in chronic disease like cancer.
- Improves mood If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ve probably experienced the mood-boosting benefits of cacao firsthand. And yes, it is because it tastes delightful, but cacao also contains a few compounds that could actually boost our mood. They include:
- Phenylethylamine, which makes us feel more alert and gives us a sense of overall well-being. How? It causes the brain to release endorphins, the same chemicals responsible for a “runner’s high,” which leaves us feeling happier (but without having to break a sweat!)
- Serotonin, which activates the pleasure center in our brain. Not that cacao is nature’s answer to Prozac—it doesn’t have enough serotonin to totally reverse a bad mood, but it can contribute to overall happiness and appetite regulation.
- Andandomide, a “messenger molecule” that plays a role pain tolerance, depression, appetite, memory, and fertility. It could be responsible for those blissed out feelings you get when you bite into a piece of chocolate after a long day.
- Theobromine, a chemical found in raw cacao, acts as both a stimulant and a sedative. It works in the same way caffeine does to give a short boost of energy, yet it calms the mind, too. In larger doses, it can leave you feeling jittery the same way that caffeine does, and too much of it can be toxic, but not deadly. In fact, theobromine is toxic for dogs.
GAS. I make a lot when I eat too many vegetables, especially beans!
Let’s be clear about gas; we ALL make it. Although it’s a normal, natural by-product of the digestion process, 80% of gas, both from above and below, actually comes from the air we swallow. This can easily be reduced by eating more slowly and chewing food much better which eliminates the tiny air molecules in our food. Aside from that, what differentiates the amount and the kind of gas one produces is a function of the health of their gut microbiome which is directly impacted by their diet and the medications they take. In a nut shell, eat as many different kinds of fruits and vegetables as you can and avoid animal products AND avoid medications, especially antibiotics and antacids (both of which really impact on gut health the most given how much of both of these we are prescribed, consume or take on our own). Although gas and flatulence may seem like just a socially embarrassing habit, it can sometimes be a sign of gut abnormalities.
Fruits and vegetables are made up mostly of carbohydrates (CHOs). It is the preferred fuel source for most of the cells in the human body. There are some CHOs which we can digest in the small intestine. There are some CHOs however that humans can’t digest in the small intestine and these make their way into the large intestine (colon) where there are gut bacteria which can break them down. Whereas the human genome codes for 17 different CHO-digesting enzymes, there are over 7000 CHO-digesting enzymes that our gut microbiota code for. The gut bacteria breakdown fiber resistant starch, pectin and a variety of non-starch polysaccharides and one of the byproducts of this bacterial digestion (essentially fermentation) is gas, primarily hydrogen gas, which is bulky and is primarily responsible for the bloating sensation we feel. An ancient microbe known as archaea traps the hydrogen and combines it with carbon, producing methane gas. Archaea are thought to have been around for over 3.8 billion years, making them one of the oldest species on the planet. They are very hearty and have been found surviving in volcanoes, deep sea sulfur gas and lava vents and deep in the ice. The healthy gut microbes in the colon also form very important and healthy short chain fatty acids, the main ones being butyrate, acetate and propionate.
Both Methane and Hydrogen gas are actually odorless. What produces the powerful “rotten egg” or “dead fish” odor with offensive flatulence (farts) is Hydrogen Sulfide (HS) which is produced by bacteria which trap hydrogen. Small amounts of HS production is normal. It’s actually a signaling molecule in the gut but too much is problematic. It damages the colon and is linked to inflammatory bowel disorders like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis and also colon cancer. HS also stimulates gut hypersensitivity, seen in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The main source of HS gas are bile-eating bacteria whose overgrowth is favored when you eat a high fat diet which stimulates the gallbladder to form excessive amounts of bile. Most of the fat leading to this overgrowth comes from animal sources.
With the re-introduction of fruits and vegetables, initially people feel much more bloated because of the gut microbial imbalance. The healthy bacteria are outnumbered by the unhealthy ones. Symptoms will improve over time as the balance of the healthy gut bacteria improve but most people are not patient and assume that they feel better because of whatever low carb diet they were on. It’s like saying that a heroin addict feels better when they use heroin. When they stop, they have withdrawal symptoms which are unpleasant so they continue to use drugs to continue to feel better. A classic example of this is a ketogenic diet. These are low carbohydrate, and by definition high fat diets, which favor the overgrowth of these bile-eating bacteria which generate HS gas. With most ketogenic diet followers, when they start to eat fruits and vegetables again, they temporarily feel worse. In addition to being unable to digest CHOs, their ability to process sugar in their blood is also impaired (called Insulin Resistance) but in most non-diabetic people, this resistance is reversed once they start to eat CHOs more regularly, usually within 3 days or so.
Cooked foods are easier to digest than ones which are raw. Cooking breaks down some of the complex fiber. So when you start ramping up the plants in your diet, focus on cooked rather than raw vegetables.
BEANS AND LEGUMES. The Blue Zones are areas in the world where populations live the longest, disease-free lives. Although some do consume some animal products, they compose a tiny fraction of their diet which consists mostly of whole, plant foods. One common food they ALL consume are some kind of beans, daily. At least a cup a day. If you don’t eat beans, you have to start. You WILL initially get gassy but that’s because your gut bacteria is not cultivated to break down the complex, extremely beneficial carbohydrates. Start slowly, essentially starting with smaller beans and legumes like lentils and gradually increase. The gas will settle down. Fava beans tend to generate the most gas of all beans but that’s OK!
One of the common carbohydrates in legumes, raffinose, is particularly problematic for some people. It can be reduced by soaking beans over night or simply rinsing dry beans a few times before cooking. With canned beans, they should also be rinsed. Another trick is to add seaweed while cooking beans. It inactivates the raffinose.
CONSTIPATION and GAS. When you are constipated, the gut mobility sows down. This allows bacteria to increase fermentation of foods, leading to more methane and other gas formation. Methane itself slows gut mobility which results in constipation so this creates a vicious cycle. Even if you have a bowel movement every day, you may still be constipated. meaning, there may still be a considerable amount of left over stool in your colon. There may some stool passing around but there may still be a lot let. One of the keys is consuming enough water.
MOVE AFTER MEALS. The simple trick of goig for a short walk immediately after you meals can do wonders for the digestion. It essentially moves things around. In addition movement after meals helps with blood sugar regulation. Don’t do all-out heavy exercise, just focus on gentle movement.
AEOROPHAGIA is the term which describes swallowing excess amounts of air. Increased swallowing of air is caused by:
- chewing gum
- using straws
- eating too quickly and gulping
- carbonated beverages
FAT. Isn’t fat necessary to be healthy? Where do you get your fat from?
Again, the answer is: THE PLANTS. Even a leaf of spinach has fat in it! (spinach, by the way, is 60% protein). However, just like with protein, we eat more fat than we need and we can get enough good fats from plants like nuts, seeds, grains and avocados. Some specific examples of fat (the healthier polyunsaturated kind) content in plant foods include:
- Green leafy vegetables – 10% fat
- Oatmeal – 16% fat
- Strawberries – 7% fat
- Tofu – 40% fat
- Nuts and seeds – 80% fat
- Herbs. Even herbs have healthy fats.
We need to cut down on oils. Even the “healthy” oils like olive, coconut and avocado oil have little nutritional value and they contain 14 grams of fat (125 calories) per tbsp! It’s a myth that we need these oils for healthy brain function. They contribute to dementia, not prevent it. Eating the whole food version like olives and avocado is healthful and good for the brain, just not their processed oil equivalents. Also, as mentioned in other places, a lot of vegetable and seed oils like canola, sesame, grape seed, sunflower and safflower are extremely pro inflammatory containing trans fats, omega 6 fatty acids and aldehyde compounds, all things you do not want to consume. Avoid these fats as much as possible.
From a caloric perspective, the math is simple and clear. Fat has 9 calories per gram (125 cal/tbsp) while protein (found in ALL foods) and carbohydrates (only found in fruits, vegetables, legumes…) have only 4 calories per gram.
Fat is necessary for proper absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins and minerals but we don’t need much. Only 5 walnut halves provide enough fat to accomplish this job adequately. Also keep in mind that if a meal does not contain enough fat for nutrient transport, those nutrients are stored in the gut lining cells and then are absorbed when a subsequent meal with fat arrives.
Fat is ultimately the most significant contributor to diabetes by affecting how insulin works. This is described in detail on other parts of my site. Studies have shown that, as compared with low fat meals (4 grams of total fat), high fat meals (containing 44 grams) lead to 33% increased insulin needs in type 1 diabetics. Another study showed that adding animal protein to a meal resulted in a 65% increase in insulin requirements. The increase was seen in both low fat meals but was seen to the greatest degree in the higher fat group. Both groups were matched with respect to their carbohydrate (sugar) intake.
As far as the essential omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are concerned, they are called essential because our bodies don’t make them and we need to get them from the foods we eat. Omega 3 can be thought of as the anti-inflammatory fat and omega 6 as the pro-inflammatory fat. We do need both but what is more important than absolute numbers is the ratio of 3 to 6. If there is too much omega 6 in the body, it blocks the beneficial actions of omega 3. Beneficial omega 3 actions include:
- Lower all-cause mortality.
- Prevent telomere shortening (a biological measure of aging). Telomeres protect DNA from damage.
- Improve learning and memory.
- Delay brain aging by repairing damage and preventing atrophy (shrinkage).
- Reduce inflammation.
- Improve cholesterol by increasing HDL (the good kind) and lowering Triglycerides (one of the bad kinds).
- Increase cell membrane fluidity including in neurons which helps with focus and attention.
Traditionally, before processed foods and excess meat consumption were the norm, our omega 3:6 ratio was closer to 1:1. Now, it’s more like 1:20, very heavily weighted on the side of pro vs anti-inflammatory. Consuming more omega 3s will improve the ratio but what is healthier and faster is to cut out the omega 6s you get from meat, dairy and processed food. Although you can get Omega 3s from cold water fish like salmon and herring, they don’t make it but get it from algae which is a safer and a more animal-friendly source. Other foods that have omega 3s include walnuts, flax seeds and avocados.
FAT. Don’t we need fat for brain health?
NO YOU DON’T. Although the brain is compost mostly of fat and water, the brain also makes and uses all the fat it needs. The only exception are the healthy omega 3 fats derived from algae. In fact, saturated fat is harmful to the brain. It damages arteries which supply vital nutrients and oxygen to the brain. It causes insulin resistance which the impacts on how the brain uses glucose, it’s primary fuel. Insulin dysfunction then impairs the enzymes which clear away the proteins amyloid and tau (those which cause Alzheimer’s Disease) which naturally occur in response to stress but cause permanent damage if allowed to build up. So NO you don;t need to consume fat for brain health.
CHOLESTEROL. I read that dietary cholesterol does not impact blood levels!
This is absolutely not true. Consuming foods with cholesterol will definitely impact negatively on your health. The problem with the studies which show no impact is the design of the studies and who funded them. We have receptors on our cells which bind and eliminate cholesterol. The number of receptors varies but even a modest amount of cholesterol consumption, almost exclusively found in animal products, will saturate these receptors so adding or removing a little bit in your diet won’t actually show up in blood work making it seem like there is no effect. But there is! If you feed animal products to someone who consumes very little cholesterol regularly you will definitely see a significant bump. If you go from 2 eggs to 3 or 4 eggs a day, you won’t. In addition, almost every cholesterol study published in the last 25 years has been sponsored by the Egg Board. They obviously have a bias and won’t publish anything which makes their claims look bad.
Although it is true that the majority of the cholesterol measured in blood is endogenous, meaning, it is made by our won bodies, primarily by the liver, the saturated fat we eat stimulates the liver to make more cholesterol than we need. In addition saturated fat causes the liver not to process the cholesterol floating around in our blood, adding even more to cholesterol load.
Vegan/Vegetarians have on average 35% lower cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians.
CHOLESTEROL. Can cholesterol levels be too low?
Simply put, NO. Our cells make all the cholesterol we need; about 1 gram a day. All cells make cholesterol however the liver makes the most. Although exceptionally rare, cholesterol levels can be too low but this only happens when one takes medications (statins) which artificially lower cholesterol. Cholesterol is a crucial component of many compounds in the body including all of our hormones. Our bodies make cholesterol, mostly in the liver, but it only does so when it senses that we need more. If you follow a plant-based diet, even one that is extremely low in dietary fat and cholesterol, it is virtually impossible for you to be cholesterol deficient since your liver senses low levels and produces just the right amount for proper function. On the other hand, when you a follow standard Western diet with lots of meat, dairy and eggs, it is very easy for cholesterol levels to be too high. Again, chicken has as much cholesterol as red meat and more than pork chops and salmon has a lot of cholesterol as well.
There was a notion that low cholesterol levels can cause cancer. Not only is this not true, the opposite is actually reality. Cancer causes low cholesterol levels. Cancer cells use 18x more glucose than normal cells do but only once they have built up their micro-vascular network (blood supply). In the early stages of the disease, cancer cells use cholesterol as their primary fuel to build this network which is why cancer patients often have a low cholesterol level.
In the 35 years of the famous Framingham Heart Study, which has been following over 14,000 people from three generations, who has a cholesterol under 150 ever had a heart attack. How is that for evidence?
My TRIGLYCERIDES went up and HDL went down on a plant-based diet?
Cholesterol numbers improve significantly when you remove the animal products, the main source of dietary cholesterol and fat, from your diet and start consuming more plants. However, in some people who are vegan, Triglycerides (one of the bad cholesterols) can go up and HDL (the good cholesterol) can decrease. In addition to getting TG from meat and animal products, our livers make fat and cholesterol in a process known as de novo lipogenesis. This is a normal process. Our livers make all the cholesterol we need to be healthy. The liver creates cholesterol from the carbohydrates (sugars) in our diet, primarily from highly refined carbohydrates. This is why diets high in refined carbohydrates (sugars, pastries, white bread…) contribute to weight gain as well. If you are on a vegan diet but consume a lot of processed carbohydrates, that may explain the elevation in triglycerides. This effect goes away as soon as you remove the processed foods from your diet.
HDL is also produced by the liver and its main function is to clean up the bad cholesterol particles floating around in your blood. If your diet is low in cholesterol and added fats (primarily from animal products), your body responds by producing less HDL since you don’t need as much of it since there is less bad cholesterol around. In this situation, a low HDL is not a concern.
THYROID FUNCTION. Don’t GREENS and SOY affect the thyroid?
Not only is this not true, the exact opposite is the case. Greens and cruciferous vegetables improve thyroid function and are protective against thyroid cancer. Some leafy greens like kale do contain thyroid stimulating compounds, but you have to eat a wheelbarrow-full of it for there to be any measurable effect. In addition, those compounds are destroyed by cooking anyway so if you’re worried, don’t overdo it and lightly cook or boil them. Overall, greens are extremely healthy. Other foods that help with thyroid function include sea vegetables like nori, dulse and seaweed, strawberries, navy beans, potatoes, cranberries and Brazil nuts.
Now you do need to be concerned about low iodine levels which negatively affect thyroid function. All the foods mentioned above, along with using iodized salt (common table salt) or seas salt, will help boost iodine levels. But if you are still low, you may need to supplement.
Soy products can impact on thyroid function through a variety of mechanisms by affecting how iodine is absorbed and metabolized and how the thyroid hormones actually are formed and function. The impact of soy on the thyroid is independent of whether it is Non-GMO or organic as well.Although for the vast majority of people soy is health promoting, if you struggle with thyroid function or autoimmune thyroid disease, you may want to consider limiting or eliminating soy products and seeing how you do.
Lastly, ALL food impacts on how you absorb medications, particularly thyroid hormone replacements medications. These should always be taken on an empty stomach. Whether you eat spinach, potato chips or a steak. All food will impact on drug absorption.
GREENS AND KIDNEY STONES
Some people are prone to forming kidney stones, The majority of which are calcium-oxalate stones. Oxalates are minerals which our bodies actually produce but they are also found in many foods. They are particularly high in some greens, including spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard. Just like with greens and thyroid function, you have to eat a lot of raw greens to significantly increase your kidney stone risk and often, there are other confounding factors like gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn’s Disease or gastric bypass surgery or excessive vitamin c consumption. Some people are also genetically high absorbers. If you are eating normal amounts of greens and are otherwise healthy, you don’t need to worry. If you are already prone to kidney stone formation, you may want to learn more and stick to greens like kale and dandelion which have significantly lower oxalate levels. It is also important to maintian a healthy gut microbiome. Normally, in a healthy gut, one of the thousand of varieties of microbes is on called oxalobacter formigenes. It’s an oxalate-degrading anaerobic bacterium that lives the large intestines. Antibiotics kill off this microbe, increasing your risks for stones. For more on oxalates, check out this document: Greens, Oxalates and Stones.
Don’t some vegetables contain toxins?
Yes they do but most are harmless given the quantity you would need to eat or by making sure they are properly cooking. Below are some example:
Cherries, Apricots, Plums, Peaches: CYANIDE. Don’t freak out if you accidentally swallow a cherry pit since they’re rarely poisonous when eaten whole but don’t chew or eat a broken pit. Aside from tasting really bitter and generally being impossible to chew, the stones of certain stone fruits contain cyanogenic compounds which can turn into cyanide. Just a few crushed cherry pits can be enough to cause significant illness or even death. So don’t chew them or toss them into a blender to make a smoothie.
Rice and Chicken: ARSENIC. Rice (especially rice grown in Texas and southern agricultural states) contains arsenic, a toxin that can cause bad things like vomiting, abdominal pain, and vertigo when consumed in large quantities. The highest levels are found in brown rice, the lowest in instant rice. Despite the toxin’s presence, it would be incredibly difficult to poison yourself by eating too much rice in one day. That’s not to say nothing bad will happen; consistent exposure to even low doses of arsenic over time can lead to heart disease and bladder cancer. Although it would take about 1,800 cups of rice to kill you, chronic exposure to this compound is not good. In fact, an average serving of rice, even organic rice from these areas has more arsenic than what the USDA recommends in a year of exposure. Get you rice from California or northern states. Chickens are fed arsenic (some claim that this practice has been abandoned but chickens are fed grains like rice which are contaminated still). As a result, chicken is the second highest source of arsenic in our diet.
Rhubarb: OXALIC ACID. Brightly colored rhubarb stalks are great in cocktails and for making tangy-sweet pie fillings, but the plant’s leaves contain oxalic acid, a chemical that’s also used in household bleach and anti-rust products (yikes!). Other plants which contain higher levels of oxalates include spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard. As with many foods however, you have to eat a lot to get sick, about 10 pounds in the case of rhubarb leaves.
Potatoes (white, not sweet): SOLANINE. Depending on how they’re handled, potatoes can produce solanine, a natural pesticide that’s toxic to humans. The compound is particularly concentrated in potatoes that have started to turn green, and especially when they’ve begun to sprout. Potential symptoms of solanine poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes cardiac arrest. The good thing is that aside from looking kind of unappetizing and tasting slightly bitter, you’d have to eat an excessive amount of green potatoes to actually get solanine poisoning. A study by the University of New Mexico shows that a 100-pound adult would have to eat a full pound of completely green potatoes before showing symptoms, which seems pretty difficult to do by accident? Also, consider that solanine is fat soluble. So the more weight you carry, the more you store. Also, when you consume potatoes loaded with butter and cheese, it facilitates absorption of the toxin.
Apples and Pears: CYANIDE. Apples and pears both have seeds that contain compounds capable of turning into lethal cyanide when ingested. Luckily for apple core eaters, you’d have to really mash those seeds before the cyanide-making compounds can take effect. A typical apple has 8 pits and you’d need about 200 to see any potential risk. That’s 25 apples in one sitting. Pears pits contain even less arsenic.
Mushrooms: HYDRAZINE and FORMALDEHYDE. Even common button mushrooms contain traces of carcinogenic compounds in raw form. The same toxin, hydrazine, is also found in Portobello mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms which also contain a naturally occurring formaldehyde. Both chemicals are heat-sensitive and abolished upon exposure to heat. You might think nothing of eating a few slices of button mushrooms raw, but to get the anti-cancer effects of mushrooms, eat them cooked.
Beans and legumes: LECTINS. These “anti-nutrients’ are actually plant compounds which protect these plants but are inactivated by proper cooking. When eaten raw, even a handful of kidney beans can cause significant gastrointestinal problems. Beans and legumes are one of the most important foods to eat, just make sure you prepare them well.
Other examples of potentially problematic plant compounds include amylase inhibitors in wheat, beans and potatoes which interfere with protein absorption and protease inhibitors, found in some grains and chickpeas, which interfere with protein absorption. When cooked however, these enzymes are deactivated so they are not active in humans. Solanine is a natural toxin found in potatoes. Concentrations are high in those which have green parts.
Celery contains PSORALEN, a toxin which causes DNA damage as well as sun sensitivity. It only becomes active when exposed to sunlight and it’s concentration goes up by 100x when stalks are bruised or damaged. Tiny amounts are insignificant but there have been cases of celery pickers developing illnesses like skin rashes. However, psoralen helps people with psoriasis
Other examples of potentially problematic plant compounds include amylase inhibitors in wheat, beans and potatoes which interfere with protein absorption and protease inhibitors, found in some grains and chickpeas, which interfere with protein absorption. When cooked however, these enzymes are deactivated so they are not active in humans.
The average human is exposed to between 5000-10,000 natural toxins from plants a year. In fact, 20% of cancers are thought to be caused by natural ingredients in our diet. But keep in mind that alcohol and tobacco are natural so don’t be concerned that eating plants causes cancer.
NUTS and NUT BUTTERS. Are they healthy?
The simple answer is that they are but, it also depends. There is no question that there are well established health benefits to nuts and seeds. Here are some known benefits:
- Great source of many nutrients
- Loaded with antioxidants
- Aid in weight loss
- Lower cholesterol, especially LDL and triglycerides
- Beneficial for Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
- Reduce inflammation
- High in beneficial fiber
- Reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
However, the more you process them, add to them and if you consume too much, it can become problematic.
Nuts and seeds, all different types, are chalk full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. For example, Brazil nuts are very high in selenium, pistachios have a lot of zinc and hemp seeds and walnuts are high in healthy omega 3 fats. Nuts are a great source of fiber as well. They contain no cholesterol. All of them have a lot of protein but they also all contain significant amounts of fat. The proportion of healthy to unhealthy fats is much more favorable, but they all contain about 15 grams of fat per ounce. It does add up.
What makes nuts unhealthy is:
- Roasting. Any kind of cooking generates inflammatory and cancer-causing compounds in all foods, including nuts and seeds. In order to roast, other unhealthy seed oils are often added, like safflower, sunflower or cotton oil.
- Salting. Added salt adds up.
- Flavorings like sugar. Spices like Cayenne are fine.
- Allergies. Some people are allergic.
- Nut butters. Once ground up and processed, a lot more of the calories and fat can be absorbed from butters. In addition, some have food additives to prevent them from separating.
- Chemicals. Because of their popularity, they are a commercial crop and many are sprayed heavily with chemicals, especially almonds.
- Environmental issues. It takes one gallon of water to grow one solitary almond. The majority of US almonds are grown in the California Central Valley where there is no water so it all gets shipped in. In addition commercial bees are often used to pollinate almond trees. Most of the other nuts and seeds are less stressful on the environment. Especially macadamia nuts which come from a tree which is self-sustaining.
- If you have significant heart disease, you should really limit any additional fats in your diet.
- Phytic acids. Nuts, seeds, grains and legumes contain phytic acid which binds to minerals making them unabsorbable. See the next section for more information about phytates. They can be eliminated however by soaking the nuts and seeds for 6 hours. If you crave the “crunch”, they can be dehydrated. A small amount of unsoaked nuts is fine but too much could lead to specific deficiencies.
- Aflatoxin. If stored improperly, mold can grow on them, especially peanuts so make sure you check your source. Aflatoxin is a highly toxic carcinogen produced by a fungus that grows on peanuts under certain conditions. It is one of the most potent liver carcinogens known, even more than alcohol or hepatitis C. However, it only seems to be carcinogenic in those who also consume meat and dairy. This has been seen in human populations as well as in the lab where 100% of the mice fed aflatoxin along with animal protein got liver cancer and 100% of the mice fed aflatoxin with plant foods did not. The exact reason for this is not clear but probably has to do with the added inflammation from animal sourced foods.
In a “nut-shell”;
- Eat them because they are good for you. If you have heart disease, limit them.
- 1 or 2 handfuls a day is the maximum you should consume regularly. Crush them up and put them in salad. Use them to make dressings. Add them to oatmeal. Just be careful not to overeat.
- Keep them organic.
- Keep them raw and not roasted. Roasting also adds other seed oils.
- Watch the salt and sugar additives.
- Soak them if you eat a lot. Alternatively, you can also sprout them, which also increases their nutrient content (double benefit).
- Pick nuts rather than nut butters
- If you pick a nut butter, make sure it is organic and only contains nuts and maybe a little salt. If they say “spread” on the label, it contains emulsifiers (to keep it from separating). Watch for added ingredients like oils, sugars and other chemicals and additives.
- Peanuts are not nuts, they are a legume but they are still healthy.
PHYTIC ACID. Don’t many nuts and beans contain this “anti-nutrient”?
Phytic acid is a natural substance found in many plant seeds. It has received considerable attention due to its effects on mineral absorption and has been dubbed one of the “anti-nutrients” like lectins. Although important to be aware of, just like with lectins,there are health benefits of phytates and there is a safe limit and safe way to prepare foods which eliminate any risks. Too many healthy foods would be eliminated if you tried to completely avoid lectins.
Phytic acid impairs the absorption of certain minerals like iron, zinc and calcium. It does so by binding to those minerals forming phytates. Humans do not make the enzymes to break down phytates so we are unable to absorb those minerals and if too many phytates are consumed too often, certain deficiencies can result.
Phytic acid is also known as inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) and is used commercially as a preservative due to its antioxidant properties, like citric acid which originally came from citrus fruits but is now manufactured.
All edible seeds, grains, legumes and nuts contain it in varying quantities, and small amounts are also found in roots and tubers. Phytic acid content is highly variable. For example, the amount contained in almonds can vary up to 20x. The following table shows the amount contained in a few high-phytate foods, as a percentage of dry weight:
- Almonds 0.4–9.4%
- Beans 0.6–2.4%
- Brazil nuts 0.3–6.3%
- Hazelnuts 0.2–0.9%
- Lentils 0.3–1.5%
- Maize, corn 0.7–2.2%
- Peanuts 0.2–4.5%
- Peas 0.2–1.2%
- Rice 0.1–1.1%
- Rice bran 2.6–8.7%
- Sesame seeds 1.4–5.4%
- Soybeans 1.0–2.2%
- Tofu 0.1–2.9%
- Walnuts 0.2–6.7%
- Wheat 0.4–1.4%
- Wheat bran 2.1–7.3%
- Wheat germ 1.1–3.9%
Phytic acid reduces mineral absorption during the meal but doesn’t have any effect on subsequent meals. For example, snacking on nuts between meals could reduce the amount of iron, zinc and calcium you absorb from these nuts but not from the meal you eat a few hours later. However, when you eat high-phytate foods with most of your meals, mineral deficiencies may develop over time.
Avoiding all foods that contain phytic acid is a bad idea because many of them are healthy and nutritious. Fortunately, several preparation methods can significantly reduce the phytic acid content of foods and these include:
- Soaking: Cereals and legumes are often soaked in water overnight to reduce their phytate content.
- Sprouting: The sprouting of seeds, grains and legumes, also known as germination, causes phytate degradation, releasing the phosphorus to be used by the young plant.
- Fermentation: Organic acids, formed during fermentation, promote phytate breakdown. Lactic acid fermentation is the preferred method, a good example of which is the making of sourdough.
Combining these methods can reduce phytate content substantially. For example, soaking, sprouting and lactic acid fermentation can reduce the phytic acid content of quinoa seeds by 98%.
Phytic acid is a good example of a nutrient that is both good and bad, depending on the circumstances. For most people, it’s a healthy plant compound. Not only is phytic acid an antioxidant, it may also be protective against kidney stones and cancer. Phytic acid may be part of the reason why whole grains have been linked with a reduced risk of colon cancer.
Phytic acid is not a health concern for those who follow a balanced diet. However, those at risk of an iron or zinc deficiency should diversify their diets and not include high-phytate foods in all meals.
CARBOHYDRATES. Aren’t they bad for diabetics and don’t they make you fat?
YES and NO. Processed “simple” carbohydrates (sugars and refined carbohydrates like processed and packaged foods, pastries, chips, snacks, white bread, refined flower and pasta…) are not healthy, will contribute to weight gain and should be avoided. Good carbohydrates (also known as “complex carbohydrates”) like whole fruit, whole grains, sprouted breads, beans, legumes and all other vegetables are healthy. For those with diabetes and obesity, healthy carbohydrates are not the enemy, fat and animal protein are since they contribute to insulin resistance. In fact, the more of the healthy carbohydrates you eat, the lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For example, simply by adding berries to a meal, blood sugar and insulin levels actually decrease. In other words, it’s not the potato that makes you fat, it’s the added butter, cheese and accompanying meat that does. Refined sugars also cause your blood sugar level to rise rapidly. This leads to a rapid rise in a lot of insulin to deal with that sugar leading to a rapid drop and resultant hypoglycemia. The bodies protective response is to have the liver release glucose and if this occurs often enough, produce new triglycerides. More triglycerides cause more atherosclerotic disease, hypertension and also weight gain.
Despite 80% of their calories coming from sweet potatoes, the Okinowans (at least those still eating a traditional diet) have one of the longest lived and healthiest populations with the lowest Diabetes rates. Despite living on an island, their fat and animal product consumption is extremely small accounting for less than 10% of their calories. This is typical of the “Blue Zones” populations. Another example of this was the Irish population before the potato famine. In 1900, a typical Irishman consumed almost 4000 calories a day from white potatoes! Despite that, the death rate from diabetes or its complications was less than 2 per million people. Again, meat consumption was a rarity and delicacy. Lastly, diabetes did not exist in most Asian and East Indian countries, which ate huge amounts of carbohydrates like rice and very little meat. As they started to adopt a more traditional Western diet with more fat and animal products, their diabetes rates started to rise steeply. Carbs are clearly not the problem.
Do not be fooled by “low-carb” diets. Although you should eliminate unhealthy carbs like pastries, processed foods, white bread and sugars, do not shy away from fruits and vegetables. Plant based low carbohydrates diets are healthy but the animal and fat based low carbohydrate diets have a much higher rate of all-cause mortality and a 22% increase of cardiovascular events like heart attacks. If you have had a heart attack already, following an animal based low carbohydrate diet increases your risks of dying prematurely by 53%.
So, in a nutshell:
- Small amounts of consumed carbohydrates are burned off (used as energy).
- Moderate amounts of consumed carbohydrates start by getting burned off, and the extra carbs are stored as glycogen in the liver.
- Large amounts of carbs are burned off as energy, some is stored as glycogen and all the extra is converted into lipid (fat), also in the liver.
What about the “MEDITERRANEAN DIET” and the “FRENCH PARADOX”?
These two diets promote the false notion that people in France and Mediterranean countries, where they consume meat, fish, butter, red wine and olive oil, somehow are healthier and have less heart disease than Americans eating a Standard American Diet. Although these populations may be healthier overall, it is not for the reasons we would like to believe.
First of all, the data used by the studies that first came to these conclusions was gathered many years ago during wartime (when there were many scarcities) and in areas where lifestyle was much different from what Americans are used to. The Mediterranean diet specifically was based on ONE paper written in 1954 by Dr. Ancel Keys, PhD, who later published the “7 Countries Study” where it was first proposed that heart disease was linked to diet, especially a fatty one, and a sedentary lifestyle. He described the diet of the inhabitants of a small, remote municipality of Nicotera, Italy. Although their diet did contain some fish and olive oil, what they ate was principally composed of fresh fruits and vegetables with an overall fat content of 23% or less. He described the diet as “largely vegetarian, low in animal saturated fats with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes and unsaturated fats (presumable this is where the olive oil came into play)”. Secondly, factors like activity, social interactions, volume of food consumed and routines like getting fresh fruits and vegetables daily at local markets were not taken into account. Lastly, when time and adoption of the Western, or Standard American Diet is considered, any benefit from their previous, healthier diets disappears and their rate of heart disease, and every other chronic disease, approaches that of Americans’.
The amount of meat and fish in their diets was originally extremely small and the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables was significantly higher than what Americans eat. Portion sizes were significantly smaller. There was limited sugar and there were no processed foods (other than olive oil) in their diets. The bottom line is that it was the significant amount of whole fresh food and limited processed food they ate in conjunction with other positive lifestyle activities that make their “diets” healthier.
Later studies looking at the Mediterranean diet with higher levels of olive oil and fish saw some benefit with respect to lowering strokes and heart attacks, the benefits again were felt to be mostly from the fruits and vegetables. Those eating high amounts of fish had a lower stroke rate, felt to be associated with a thinning effect on the blood but the overall benefits were still felt to be from the fresh fruits and vegetables.
With respect to cancer, those following a Mediterranean diet, as compared with a standard Western diet, had lower rates for all cancers except for breast cancer. This one particular cancer is particularly sensitive to alcohol consumption and wine is part of this dietary tradition. If you choose to drink, stick to no more than 1-2 glasses of wine a day although none is always better.
The Mediterranean Diet that Americans follow, focusing on meats like lamb, feta cheese and fish, is NOT the true Mediterranean Diet, focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables with only a small amount of animal products.
LOW HISTAMINE DIET 101: What to Eat, What to Avoid, and Why.
Histamine is a compound that is produced by immune cells known as basophils and mast cells but is also naturally occurring, found in some foods. Although it is most well known as the main culprit causing allergic and non-allergic reactions to environmental antigens as well as classic food allergies, it also plays a role in several of the body’s major systems, including the immune, digestive, and neurological systems. The body makes all the histamine it needs from its own cells but we can consume excess amounts from foods and this can cause all kinds of problems, including worsening allergy symptoms.
Histamine In Food. Histamine forms when certain bacteria or yeasts transform the amino acid histidine into histamine. Since ALL foods, whether from an animal or a plant, contain protein and ALL the amino acids in varying proportions, ANY food can form histamine under the right conditions. Generally speaking, aged and fermented foods or beverages contain the highest levels of histamine, while fresh foods contain almost none.
High-Histamine Foods. The longer a food has been aged, the more amino acids have been converted to histamine. Fermented foods have the highest levels. Keep in mind that histamine levels in a food can vary significantly depending on aging, storage time, and how it is processed. In general, aged and fermented items are much higher in histamine than fresh foods. Some common foods that are generally high in histamine include:
- Aged cheeses
- Alcohol of any kind
- Dried fruits
- Aged meats including salami, sausage, pepperoni, lunch meat and hot dogs
- Canned meats/fish such as tuna or sardines.
- Fermented foods or beverages of any kind including kombucha and pickles
- Seafood, especially if leftover, smoked, salted or canned
- Soy sauce, tamari, coconut aminos, liquid aminos
- Spoiled food
- Leftovers, unless very recent and cooled and rewarmed quickly.
- Refrigerate or freeze foods quickly, without letting them cool so that histamine producing bacteria don’t reproduce.
- Defrost and cook quickly, which will also not allow these bacteria to reproduce.
- Fermented grains, such as sourdough bread
For a full list and for more information about a low histamine diet, check out this PDF. Low Histamine Diet 101
RAW FOOD DIET. Is it healthy?
Raw food enthusiasts argue that because we evolved without fire for millions of years and that no other animal cooks their food, a raw diet is the most natural. Anything which is heated above 118° is considered “cooked”. A raw food diet is one which consists of 75% or more raw food. A highly-raw diet contains 50-75% uncooked. Although there are many aspects of a raw diet which are healthful and certainly better than the standard American diet, there are some pitfalls which need to be considered. Some common raw diet beliefs:
- Plant enzymes are essential to human health.
- Cooked foods are toxic.
- We get plenty of Vitamin B12 from plant foods and internal production.
- Legumes contain anti-nutrients and are best avoided.
- Raw food diets reverse chronic disease.
“PLANTS CONTAIN ENZYMES CRUCIAL TO HUMAN HEALTH”. While food enzymes may not play a huge role in digestion we’re just starting to learn about other roles they may have like converting phytochemicals from their inactive into their active forms, which can benefit human health. Plant enzymes help harvest energy from the sun. They break down the storage forms of protein, fat and carbohydrates so they can be used as energy by the plant. They catalyze reactions for protection and survival. Most plant enzymes however are destroyed by stomach acids.
There are 2 ways plant enzymes can be helpful to humans:
- They convert phytochemicals into their bioactive metabolites. Some examples are myrosinase and alinase.
- Myrosinase is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale. It converts the phytochemical glucosinolate into isothiocyanate. The best known one is sulforaphane. One of their potent functions is to induce phase 2 enzymes which help to attach a water soluble compound to the toxins, helping the body get rid of them. They also kill cancer cells and reduce cell proliferation. Phytochemicals are higher in concentration in young plants. Broccoli sprouts have 100x more sulfurifane than mature broccoli. 1 oz of sprouts = 2 lbs of broccoli. If you cook the broccoli, the myrosinase is gradually destroyed. If you chop it and wait, the myrosinase will start being activated. Adding mustard powder to cooked broccoli can activate the myrosinase as well.
- Alinase in allium vegetables like garlic and onions, converts alliin to allicin. Alinase is destroyed if cooked too quickly. If you let garlic sit for 10 minutes before cooking, the alinase starts the conversion. Allicin has some of the following effects: it is antimicrobial, antifungal, antithrombotic, (prevents clots), antiarthritic, cholesterol lowering and helps prevent and combat cancer
- They can aid in the digestive process a little bit. Plant enzymes break down the storage form of nutrients so plants can use them. Our food actually sits in the upper part of the stomach for 20-60 minutes where the pH is 4.5-5.5. This is the pH at which enzymes are activated. After 20’, the food drops into the lower part of the stomach where the pH is 1.3-2.5 and the enzymes are destroyed and converted into amino acids. Some enzymes do get through into the small intestines, usually when they are attached to a viable organism such as in fermented foods. How much does this contribute to digestion? Not much. Unstimulated saliva, for example, has 100,00x more amylase, which breaks down the starch amylose, than carrot juice.
“COOKED FOODS ARE TOXIC”. Although cooking does not turn food into poison, some methods of cooking, especially dry, high heat, do produce by-products recognized as inflammatory and even carcinogenic. Raw food preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and fermenting can improve the nutritional value of foods without such concerning end-products. If you cook with moisture (boil, steam…) you minimize nutrient loss and production of toxic compounds. Cooking, in some cases enhances bio-availability of nutrients by breaking down the cell walls, releasing phytonutrient compounds or converting nutrients into more active forms. Cooking also inactivates anti-nutrients. Problems with cooking include:
- Reduction of phytonutrients by damaging and diluting them.
- Production of toxic end byproducts, occurring as a function of high temperature and cooking time.
MINERALS. Do not get destroyed (completely burned foods left to ashes are essentially pure minerals) but they can be reduced by 30-40%, mostly ending up in the water. So with soups or stews, you don’t lose anything since you don’t remove the water.
VITAMINS are more prone to loss and damage than minerals. Canning and boiling can reduce amounts by 50-60%. Steaming can lose 20-30% but much of this ends up in the water as well.
PHYTOCHEMICALS. Some losses do occur, again, mostly into the cooking water. These losses are increased by higher temperatures. Carotenoids are the main exception to that rule. Cooking breaks down the cell walls releasing the carotenoids. Juicing leads to the highest amounts of carotenoids by breaking down the cell wall. Another one is lycopene, a type of carotenoid, mostly found in tomatoes. The longer the tomatoes are cooked or stewed, the higher the amounts. By simmering them for only 2 minutes, you release 50% more lycopene. After 30’, the amount increases by 250x.
HARMFUL BY PRODUCTS. The main ones are.
- HETEROCYCLIC AMINES (HCAs). These are chemicals formed when meat, poultry, fish or eggs are subjected to high temperatures. Creatine and creatinine, only found in meat and not plants, react with free amino acids and sugars during cooking to form a variety of HCAs. In 2005, the NIH added these compounds to the list of carcinogens, linking them to various cancers, including colorectal, stomach, pancreatic and breast.
- POLYCYCLIC AROMATIC HYDROCARBONS (PAHs). These are formed by the incomplete burning of carbon-containing substances in food or in fat heated above 392° F. They are present in any grilled or charred meats, anything fried in oil and even toasted grains, like bread. These are known mutagens, causing DNA damage and are linked to cancers of the lung, skin and genitourinary system.
- ADVANCED GLYCATION ENDPRODUCTS (AGE’s). These are the irreversible final products of the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring the addition of heat. Like carmelization, it is a form of non-enzymatic browning. The most concentrated sources are grilled and fried meats although browning of ANY food can result in AGE formation. AGEs have been linked to just about every disease process. They impair immune function, accelerate aging and contribute to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye and nerve diseases and Alzheimer’s Dementia. Some examples of amounts of AGEs include:
- Hot Dogs, grilled 10,000 ku
- Hot Dogs, boiled 7000
- poultry, meat or fish, grilled 5000
- Butter 4000
- Tofu, grilled or fried 3000
- poultry, meat or fish, steamed 1000-3000
- Snack foods (chips…) 200-1000
- Fruits and Veggies 10-30
- ACRYLAMIDE. This compound forms when high carbohydrate foods are heated above 248° but even at temperatures as low as 149° (typical for dehydrating), they can form. Acrylamides develop when the amino acid asparagine reacts with naturally occurring sugars such as glucose. This reaction occurs at the latter stages of baking, roasting or drying. The most concentrated sources are potato products because they are particularly high in asparagine. Potato chips, baked or fried snacks and French fries are significant sources. It is classified as a “probable carcinogen”. This is a list of acrylamide amounts (in parts per billion) in 100 grams of common foods:
- Grain coffee substitutes 3700-5400
- Sweet potato chips 800-2300
- Potato chips 200-1300
- French fries 200-500
- Coffee (roasted) 200-350
- Cereals 50-300
- Nuts and nut butters 30-300
- Crackers 20-300
- Bread 30-60
“WE GET PLENTY OF B12 FROM PLANT FOODS AND INTERNAL PRODUCTION”. Although it’s possible to get enough B12 from a raw plant diet, it’s highly unlikely. In studies looking at B12 in raw food eaters, the vast majority were deficient. In addition, their homocysteine levels were extremely high. Homocysteine is a common amino acid in your blood which mostly comes from eating meat. High levels of it are linked to early development of heart disease. The average levels of B12 were ¼ of the minimal recommended amount.
Plants are rarely a good source of B12. The 3 main ones that claimed to be good sources are:
- Seaweed. It can be a good source however, it contains a lot of inactive B12 analogs. These compounds look like B12 and attach to the same receptors as B12 but are not active. They actually contribute to a functional deficiency of B12. When you dry seaweed, you produce more of these analogs. The exceptions are chlorella, spirulina and AFA (Aphanizomenon Flos Aquae), all types of cyanobacteria, which may have some usable B12.
- Fermented foods. They can have B12 however it depends how sanitary the conditions were during production. The less sterile the more B12. However, the less sterile, the more potential for contamination also.
- Organic vegetables. Yes, but only if they are dirty and grown in manure.
Internal production. B12 can be produced by bacteria in the large intestine but we absorb it in the small intestine so that is practically useless. There is no back-flow. You can produce it in the mouth but only if you have really bad oral hygiene with lots of plaque. That inflammation is not healthy. There is a European toothpaste which contains B12. Absorption through this route is great.
B12 stores in the body can last 2-3 years since it is very efficiently recycled but some people have some notable decreases within 6 months. Babies are particularly vulnerable if mom is deficient. They can show signs of B12 deficiency within in a few weeks and can have irreversible neurological damage within a few months.
B12 deficiency leads to:
- Megaloblastic anemia leading to weakness, fatigue and depression.
- Nerve damage starting with numbness and tingling, balance and memory disturbances.
- GI disturbances like indigestion, diarrhea, reduced appetite and burning tongue.
- Elevated homocysteine levels leading to Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, birth defects and premature death.
Reliable non-animal sources include:
- Fortified foods such as:
- Non dairy beverages.
- Veggie burgers.
- B12 fortified toothpaste.
We need about 4 micrograms of B12 a day from fortified foods from 2 meals a day. In supplement form, we need 25-100 mcg a day or 1000 mcg if only taken once a week since absorption decreases above 500 mcg.
“LEGUMES CONTAIN ANTI-NUTRIENTS AND ARE BEST AVOIDED”. All plants contain anti-nutrients. They are substances there to protect the plants. They make sure that the nutrients that are in the seed are protected for plant growth. When a seed is germinated, these anti nutrients are broken down by enzymes so that the plant can use the stored forms of energy. The anti-nutrients can also be broken down when we soak, ferment or cook foods. The problem with anti nutrients is that they can interfere with absorption of things that are very valuable like iron and zinc. Examples of anti-nutrients are Phytates, found in grains, nuts and legumes, and oxalates, found in spinach, beets, potato chips, French fries, nuts and nut butters. Most people can handle a small amount of anti-nutrients. Some anti-nutrients have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Some have been shown to protect against inflammation, cardiovascular disease and even cancer.
Legumes contain larger amounts of 2 specific anti-nutrients: hemagglutinins and trypsin inhibitors.
- Hemagglutinins are proteins that bind to sugar molecules. When consumed, they cause red blood cells to clump together, increasing cell division and they interfere with nutrient transport. The most concentrated sources are uncooked or under-cooked kidney or small red beans. Eating them can cause severe GI issues. Adequate cooking will destroy them. Just cooking for half an hour is enough. Germination will decrease hemagglutinins by 75-100%. Lentils and peas have significantly less hemagglutinins and are OK to sprout, but don’t sprout kidney or red beans. Bigger beans need to be cooked. When you sprout legumes, the oligosaccharides (complex sugar molecules) which cause bloating or cramping are eliminated.
- Trypsin is an enzyme which helps break down proteins into individual AAs. Trypsin inhibitors (TIs) block this breakdown process. Soybeans contain a lot of TIs. Other legumes contain 15-40% of the amount of TIs if soy. Peas have 2-13% that of soy. Chickpeas have 66% and Lima beans 77% of the TIs of soy. When Trypsin is blocked, the pancreas is stimulated to produce more trypsin. This can drain the body of sulfur containing AAs which are used in making trypsin. Sulfur containing AAs are higher in grains than in legumes, which are relatively low in these AAs. Cooking eliminates most trypsin inhibitors. Germination can reduce them but it takes 13 days in soy. Fermenting also reduces them a lot.
- Boiling reduces TIs 100%
- Soaking (at least 16 hours) 10-20%
- Germinating 15-65%
- Fermenting 38-100%
“RAW FOOD DIETS REVERSE CHRONIC DISEASE”. This is true of plant-based diets in general, raw or cooked. We know that the 2 most damaging food categories are processed foods and animal products.
LECTINS and other “ANTI-NUTRIENTS”. Should we avoid these foods?
Absolutely not. The recent publicity surrounding the damaging effects of lectins are way overblown and misleading. Lectins are a very large family of molecules which bind carbohydrates. Their main function in humans and animals is to facilitate cell to cell contact; lectins on one cell recognize and bind to surface carbohydrates on another cell. Lectins are ubiquitous in nature. They are present in plants, animals, and microorganisms. The main lectin containing foods that are discussed include legumes like beans and lentils, certain grains like quinoa and vegetables like tomatoes and mushrooms. When not properly prepared, the lectins in beans and grains can cause gastrointestinal issues but when properly cooked, the lectins are inactivated. In addition, lectins are labeled as “anti-nutrients” because they can impact on nutrient absorption. Small amounts of lectins play an important role in immune function and cell growth but large amounts can damage cell walls, especially if not properly cooked. No food is good when consumed in excess or when not properly prepared. Heck, even apples have arsenic in the seeds. So, does that mean you should never eat apples? No because you could never eat enough apples to get sick since you’d fill up and vomit long before you get arsenic poisoning! Just like the greens and thyroid function example in the paragraph above. Even the most healthful food on the planet, broccoli, contains a toxic compound glucosinolate which is a potent pesticide that the plant uses to defend itself. Too much of that will kill a human but you’ll never eat enough broccoli for that to happen. In fact, small amounts of any toxin actually stimulates our bodies to protect itself. This phenomenon is known as hormeses. There is truth in the saying “That which does not kill you makes you stronger”.
Lectins are toxic if foods containing high concentrations of them are improperly prepared. Oxygen is also toxic when you breathe in concentrations higher than ambient air for too long. Both are necessary for life however. In fact, lectins have been shown to have a protective effect against cancer cell formation. All the hubub about lectins started after an incident in 1988 in Japan. The government organized a “Healthy Eating Day” and were promoting eating more vegetables, including legumes and beans. At one site where food was made for the public, a batch of red beans was under cooked and a number of people developed some gastric issues including bloating, cramping and diarrhea. Red beans contain a particularly irritating lectin knwn as phytohaemagglutinin. White kidney beans contain a third as much of the toxin while broad bean varieties contain only 10% as much hemagglutinin as red kidney beans. Despite reports of hospitalizations and serious illness, there were no actual documented cases of such events and everyone recovered without complications. The answer is not to eat beans but to cook them properly!
Soy contains lectins known as soybean agglutinins (SBAs) which have been shown to cause inflammation and increase gut permeability. Furthermore, the phytic acid and other protein inhibitors in soy inhibit nutrient absorption. But just like other beans, proper cooking, fermentation and sprouting eliminates up to 95% of the lectins and acids, leaving just enough to actually be beneficial. Again that which does not kill you, makes you stronger.
The bottom line is that these foods are extremely healthy and should not be avoided. Just cook or prepare them appropriately and eat reasonable amounts.
The most widely studied anti-nutrients include:
- Phytates. Mainly found in seeds, grains and legumes, phytates are formed when phytic acid binds with minerals, including iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium, in the intestines, reducing their absorption.
- Tannins. Associated mostly with wine, tannins (or tannoids) are a class of astringent, polyphenolic biomolecules that bind to and precipitate proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids. These compounds are widely distributed in many species of plants, where they play a role in protection from predation (also ating as pesticides) and might help in regulating plant growth.
- Protease inhibitors. Widely distributed among plants, especially in seeds, grains and legumes, they interfere with protein digestion by inhibiting digestive enzymes.
- Calcium oxalate. The primary form of calcium in many vegetables, such as spinach. The calcium bound to oxalate is poorly absorbed.
Some simple measures can be taken to minimize exposure to these compounds, rendering them only beneficial. These include:
- COOKING. Boiling or pressure cooking are the best.
For more information about Anti-Nutrients and how to make them safe, click here: How to Reduce Anti-Nutrients in Foods
NIGHTSHADES. Are they bad for you?
Just like all foods, the vast majority of whole fruits, vegetables are perfectly healthy for the vast majority of people. The best predictor for a healthy gut is the variety of fruits and vegetables you consume since this leads to a healthy, varied gut microflora. With any food however, some people have allergies and sensitivities. This includes foods known as nightshades. They are a family of over 2000 plants including some vegetables referred to as Solanaceae. They include common vegetables (which are the edible part of the flowering plant) like peppers, white potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, tomatillos, goji berries and okra. They also include belladonna, a poison, and tobacco, another poison. Several common herbs and spices, such as chili pepper, paprika, cayenne, and red pepper flakes, also fall into the nightshade family. Black and white pepper are from peppercorns (technically a fruit), which are not nightshades.
Nightshades contain numerous beneficial nutrients, like vitamin C, antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals and for most people, they are very healthful to eat. They also contain other nutrients however known as Alkaloids, which contain nitrogen. In nature, these compounds serve as a natural insect repellent to prevent the plant from being destroyed. ALL plants have some sort of defense mechanism so the presence of this compound is not unusual. For example, garlic and onions produce Anacin which also has an insect repellent activity but in humans they are protective and quite beneficial. Greens are bitter because they contain compounds which also act as a defense mechanism against predators.
For some people, the alkaloids in nightshades are thought to also cause generalized inflammation and problems with the digestive system, leading to inflammatory problems, intestinal disorders, and digestive upset. Leaky gut, a problem in which the barrier function of the small intestine stops working effectively, is also thought to be worsened by the presence of nightshades, thus worsening chronic conditions. HOWEVER, to be clear, NO study has ever been done to definitive show that nightshades cause inflammation or worsen leaky gut itself. People can be sensitive to individual fruits or vegetables but to be sensitive to ALL nightshades is very uncommon.
Gluten is a well know compound which can also break down the gut barrier. In some cases, eating nightshades can also worsen existing symptoms of conditions like arthritis, thanks to alterations in the body’s gut bacteria. They can also play a role in the intestinal problems that are associated with Celiac Disease.
Beyond digestive and inflammatory problems, people can develop allergies to certain nightshades that can involve itching, swelling, hives, and even difficulty breathing. As mentioned above, these are usually reactions to individual plants and not the whole class of nightshades.
While not every symptom of problems with nightshades will be obvious, some are more common than others.
- Irritable bowels and diarrhea
- Nerve problems
- Joint pain and swelling
- Heartburn and acid reflux
- Leaky gut
- Autoimmunity or chronic health conditions
- Trouble breathing (rare, but serious)
- Mouth swelling (rare, but serious)
Allergy and food testing will not help to determine your degree of sensitivity. Eliminating these foods, sometimes for as long as 30 days, may be the only way to tell. Adding them back in, one at a time, can help to identify if one nightshade is a problem, or if the whole category causes symptoms to return.
ORGANIC FOOD. I can’t afford to buy organic.
These days, the vast majority of our food, even organic food, has some degree of contamination from our overuse of chemicals. Even if food is grown organically, because of such significant chemical overuse, there is contamination in the rainwater and ground water so organics are even affected. It is still better to buy organic if you can. At least stick to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists (there are links at the bottom of the page). These lists identify the most chemically contaminated foods you should buy organically (for example apples, tomatoes and strawberries) and the foods which are much less contaminated and do not need to be organic (like broccoli, bananas and oranges). Most towns have farmers markets where there is locally grown, often clean and organic produce. It may not be USDA Organic because it is quite expensive to be granted that label, but they often do not use any chemicals. Prices are dropping so it is becoming more affordable. Wal-Mart sells 25% of all the produce sold in the US. It’s also now the largest seller of organic produce. Cosco is a close second. There are also inexpensive online sources. A great one is Thrive Market. Other stores like Marshall’s, Home Goods and T.J.Maxx actually sell a significant amount of organic oils, herbs, pastas, snacks and other organic products at discount prices. You can also get great fresh, local, organic produce from farmer’s markets. To find a market near you, you can use the website www.LocalHarvest.org. You can also join a local CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture). These are local farms which sell “shares” to the farm and provide weekly basket of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
There are many links online for how to buy healthy plant foods inexpensively. Here is a link to a YouTube video Here is a link to a YouTube video.
NITRATES. Is there a difference between nitrates from meat and vegetables?
Both meat and vegetables contain nitrates. The difference lies in what they are packaged in. In meat, they are not packaged in anything and when meat is cooked, the nitrates are converted into nitrosamines, compounds which are known to cause cancer and inflammation. In vegetables, nitrates are packaged with polyphenols and antioxidants. These protect the nitrates and allow them to be converted into nitric oxide (NO)which is extremely beneficial for arterial relaxation and function. This process starts in the mouth with the beneficial oral bacteria starting the process.
Spinach contains 12x more nitrates than a hot dog but the nitrates from the spinach is healthy and gets converted into Nitric Oxide, a beneficial gas relaxing arteries, whereas the nitrates in a hot dog is converted into dangerous compounds which cause cancer!
Unhealthy nitrates come from processed meats, especially ham, hot dogs, deli meats and bacon. Nitrates are actually added to them as preservatives and coloring agents. When they are cooked, they convert into even more dangerous compounds. Healthy nitrates are naturally found in plants, particularly beets, greens such as spinach, bok choy, kale and even lettuce as well as carrots.
A word of warning about mouthwashes and fluoride-containing toothpaste which have been shown to kill off the beneficial bacteria in your mouth, not allowing the healthy nitrates to be converted into nitrite which is eventually converted into nitric oxide in the stomach. An additional word of warning about acid reducing medications. In lowering acid production in the stomach, the conversion of nitrite into nitric acid doesn’t take place because the enzyme which makes the conversion is activated by acid. The bottom line: floss and brush but don’t use damaging mouthwashes and don’t take unnecessary medications!
For a lot more about nitrates and NO, look at this article: NITRATES and NITRIC ACID.
SEA VEGETABLES. Are they good for you?
They are GREAT for you. Edible seaweed, or sea vegetables, are seaweeds that can be eaten and used in the preparation of food. They typically contain high amounts of fiber. They may belong to one of several groups of multi-cellular algae: the red, green, and brown algae. These hearty plants have been around for millions of years and have been consumed by many cultures for thousands. For over 2,000 years, seaweed or sea vegetables have been used in the Japanese diet. As far back as 300 BC in China, writer Chi Han documented the benefits and wrote a book about the importance of sea vegetables. In Europe, Mediterranean seaweeds were used as medicine during the times of the Greek and Roman empires. In places like Hawaii and the islands of the South Pacific like Tonga, 60-70 species of seaweeds have been used for food, medicines, and even in ceremonies and celebrations.
ALL life evolved from the sea. Although we think of trees and plants as the main producers of oxygen in our atmosphere, 70-80% of it actually comes from the oceans, specifically the sea vegetable that grow in them, especially the phytoplankton.
Algae could be both unicellular and multi-cellular, whereas seaweeds are always multi-cellular. All the seaweed species are autotrophic, capable of synthesizing their own food from inorganic substances using light or chemical energy, whereas some algal species rely on other external food materials. Algae inhabit both freshwater and marine waters, while seaweeds inhabit only sea waters. Both are even more concentrated in antioxidants and micro-nutrients than land plants.
The seaweed compound fucoxanthin, has been shown to significantly reduce hemoglobin A1C, the most general marker for monitoring diabetes.
Here are a few common varieties of sea vegetables available in the west:
KELP is a large brown seaweed that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich saltwater, near coastal fronts around the world. It can be consumed as dried whole leaves or flakes. Granulated and powdered kelp can be sprinkled on your food. It’s one of the best sources of natural iodine, the building block of thyroid hormone, T3 and T4. 40% of the world’s population is chronically deficient in iodine. Kelp has more calcium than just about all other vegetables. Gram for gram, kelp can contain over 5x more calcium than milk. It’s also more bio-available calcium than the calcium in dairy. It contains notable amounts of iron, B vitamins, vitamin A. The phytonutrient fucoidan, has been shown to have anti-cancer effects against breast and colon cancer. An extremely interesting fact is that cows fed kelp had increased milk production but more importantly, had decrease methane production by up to 90%. When you consider that 14% of methane emissions worldwide are from cows, this is a significant fact.
DULSE is a red algae (one of the oldest forms of algae). It grows on the northern coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It’s one of the highest potassium rich foods, more than even banana and avocado. It’s a good source of vitamin A, which is well-known to have powerful antioxidant properties which help to protect your eyes from cellular damage and reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
PHYTOPLANKTON are microscopic marine algae. Phytoplankton are the base of several aquatic food chains. In a balanced ecosystem, they provide food for a wide range of sea creatures including whales, shrimp, snails, and jellyfish. 80% of the oxygen in our environment comes from these tiny plants in the ocean, not the trees. Marine phytoplankton were found to enhance the function of the immune system improving markers of T cells, which are responsible for eliminating viruses, bacteria and various other pathogens in our tissues. People taking marine phytoplankton reported more energy and experienced a greater sense of calm. It’s a rich source of essential fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA. They also contain minerals like selenium, zinc, magnesium, chromium, and iodine. Vitamin A, several forms of B vitamins, chlorophyll, carotenoids, and other elements that are important for human health are found in phytoplankton.
WAKAME. Compounds found in wakame were effective at selectively killing lung cancer cells. Fucoidan, mentioned earlier, and a similar compound fucoxanthin, help optimize hemoglobin A1C levels. It’s also a valuable dense source of minerals and trace minerals, vitamins, and iodine should go without saying, selenium, magnesium.
NORI is what you find in sushi. It’s a great source of iodine and antioxidants.
SEA LETTUCE. It’s a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, which is pretty remarkable when we’re talking about plant sources of amino acids. And being a complete protein, it’s upwards of 26% protein by weight. It’s also a rich source of magnesium, sodium, potassium, B vitamins, copper, zinc, calcium, and has as much as 15x higher amount of iron than any other plant. It’s also a great source of antioxidants, like beta carotene.
KOMBU. It’s another of the favorites in Okinawa, and it’s hailing in popularity from Japan where it’s most historically used as one of the three main ingredients in a very popular noodle dish.
CHLORELLA. It’s named for the fact that it’s the number one source of chlorophyll that is found in a food. Chlorophyll is a potential blood builder and contains a lot of antioxidant. It’s 50% to 60% protein by weight, one of the top three protein dense foods that we know about in the world. It’s a complete protein. It contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids extremely protective of your vision and significantly lowering the risk of macular degeneration. It’s a good source of Omega-3s. It is a natural chelator. Chelation is a chemical process in which a substance is used to bind molecules such as heavy metals or minerals and hold them tightly, and enabling your body to eliminate them safely. Chelation is used in conventional medicine for treating things like lead poisoning or iron overload. It also helps with blood sugar control, weight loss, anti-cancer benefits, heart and cardiovascular benefits.
SPIRULINA. Also and algae, it grows in both freshwater and saltwater, and this is the world’s highest protein food gram for gram. It’s about 70% protein by weight. It’s a complete protein as well, and it contains all nine essential amino acids. Phycocyanin is an ancient compound found in spirulina which gives it its blue/green color. An NIH (National Institutes of Health) study revealed that this compound promoted stem cell genesis. It’s also a rich source of B vitamins, copper, iron. Chlorophyll can help to reduce that urge to eat hyper palatable foods. HOWEVER, because of how its grown, it is often contaminated, can contain a neurotoxin and is prone to DNA breaks making it less effective and potentially dangerous so I would limit this product or really make sure you know where it comes from and that it is clean. Another reason to avoid it is that it can actually blocks B12 from functioning properly.
BLENDING vs JUICING. Which is better?
Both blending and juicing can be part of a healthy, plant-based diet however there are some pitfalls as well. As a beverage or meal replacement, compared with sugar sweetened beverages like sodas and energy drinks or eating processed food, both are clearly healthier. As far as packing as much additional fruit nutrition from fruits and vegetables into your body as you can, both are also good. In both cases however, you are packing more calories and sugar into a smaller, faster to consume package than when you chew and eat the food whole. Blending in particular can possibly even derail your weight loss attempts because of how many calories you can consume in a short period of time. In addition, the fiber from whole fruit is either broken down into much smaller pieces, as is the case with blending, or removed all together with juicing. Bacteria in the colon like unbroken down fiber. The more broken down, the faster it moves through the gut.
Both blending and juicing are forms of processing, meaning that both alter the natural, whole state of food. With blending, you still maintain all the fiber and the nutrients in the skins and flesh whereas with juicing, you remove this and are left with the sugar, water and phytonutrients in the juice alone. Both result in faster absorption of nutrients along with a more rapid rise in blood sugar but juicing does the latter to a greater degree so diabetics need to be mindful of that. The faster you absorb sugar, the faster the rise in blood sugar and the greater the degree of production of insulin to deal with the sugar. Higher production of insulin often “overshoots” the mark leading to a hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) afterwards. Certain foods do this to a greater degree however. For example, the blood sugar rise from juiced apples is much higher than what you see when juicing mangoes because mangoes contain a plant nutrient which has a blunting effect on the sugar rise in the blood. Most fruits however, get absorbed much faster when juiced than when blended or eaten whole and have a higher insulin response. Drinking the juice more slowly does not change the rapid spike in blood sugar, subsequent rise in insulin and inevitable crash either.
Fiber doesn’t just provide nourishment for our healthy bacteria and bulk to our stool. It also binds many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (plant nutrients). Up to 80% of them. The healthy bacteria breakdown the fiber and release those healthful compounds. When you juice fruits and vegetables, you remove the fiber and in doing so, remove almost 80% of the phytonutrients. Blending is better than juicing since the fiber is not removed but you can consume a lot of calories quickly in a liquid form. EAT YOUR PLANTS WHOLE.
Nothing beats eating whole food. First of all, chewing slows things down. It takes significantly longer to chew and swallow all the food you can pack into a food processor. The stomach has stretch and calorie receptors which send signals to the brain resulting in hormone production telling us we are full. If you consume foods too quickly, you can easily overfill both on volume and calories before the brain has a chance to respond. By putting things like avocados, nuts and seeds, cacao and various unhealthy oils like coconut and MCT, you can also really add on a lot of fat. Secondly, chewing actually starts the digestive process. Bacteria in your mouth break down many foods releasing compounds and enzymes which are then further processed in the stomach and intestines. In addition saliva contains the digestive enzyme amylase, again supporting the digestive aspect of chewing. Also, although not a substitute for exercise, chewing does burn some calories since it takes energy to chew rather than just swallow a liquid.
As far as oxidation (introducing oxygen into foods which occurs with blending and also to a lesser degree with juicing) is concerned, the longer it sits, the more oxidation occurs so the faster you can consume it, the better. That having been said, think about the fact the juices and smoothies you buy at the store has been sitting for weeks if not months so don’t get too bent out of shape about oxidation. I have a juicer (Omega 8600) and a blender (Vitamix) at home and will use both periodically. One of my favorite new kitchen gadgets is something that makes creating your own plant-based milks very easy. It’s called the Almond Cow and it’s easy, fast and most importantly, quick and simple to clean up (a key characteristic of a useful gadget).
Just to be clear, it’s always better to eat and chew the whole food rather than blending or juicing it.
MILKS – Which is the best?
Although soy milk seems to have the best nutritional profile with the added protective anti-estrogen effects, the simple answer to which one is best is, whichever one you like. All are better than dairy. The dairy industry is panicking. 2018 sales of cows milk dropped by 6% while plant-based milk sales increased by 9%. That’s a 15% gain for plant milks. Projected plant-based milk sales are estimated to reach $38 billion by 2024. Cheese stockpiles are rising and cow’s milk is a shrinking part of the “milk” isle. More and more people are turning their backs on dairy and cow’s milk, and for good reason:
- It isn’t a sustainable product for the environment.
- It takes a whopping 1950 gallons of water to create one gallon of milk.
- The excrement produced by all the dairy cows is staggering.
- What it takes to feed the cows is more than what the entire planet’s population could live on.
- It has been linked to many health problems including skin diseases like eczema and acne, vascular disease and cancer, especially hormonal cancers like breast, uterine, prostate and testicular.
- The treatment of animals in the dairy industry is horrible.
- Dairy, in particular cheese is the highest source of saturated fat and salt in the American diet.
- Animal fats are bio-accumulators so dairy products are full of environmental chemicals not to mention naturally occurring estrogens and growth hormones.
There is an ever-growing range of plant-based milk alternatives to cow’s milk, including: almond, cashew, macadamia, coconut, hemp, oat, rice or soy milk. Most of them are fortified with various vitamins and minerals and many contain even more calcium than cow’s milk. Unfortunately, many have added sugars, especially the flavored ones. Limit the sugars. Which one is nutritionally superior? The following nutritional data is for 1 cup of the beverage. Keep in mind that there are varieties of all types, some with less fat or more sugar, depending on additives. First, let’s look at cow’s milk.
|MILK DRINK NUTRITIONAL COMPARISON|
|Fat (Saturated)||8 (4)||4 (0.5)||3 (0.3)||1 (1)||5 (4)||7 (1)||7 (1)|
COW’S MILK. One cup of cow’s milk contains approximately:
- 150 calories.
- 2 grams of carbohydrates, the bulk of which are from lactose, or milk sugar, which is hard to digest for anyone lacking sufficient milk-digesting enzymes or lactase (about 70% of people worldwide).
- 8 grams of fat. Half of that is saturated fat.
- 8 grams of protein. These consists primarily of whey and casein. Whey protein is an additive in many foods especially in the bodybuilding industry. Casein is a common allergen for many babies, children and some adults. Research shows that children who are allergic to milk also have a higher predisposition to asthma and diabetes. Casein breaks down into casomorphin, an opioid compound about 10% as potent as heroin or morphine in the brain. That’s why it’s addictive.
- While it is a source of calcium, it is not easily digestible for many people, which means it may not be absorbed. After all, you can only absorb what you have first digested. The cultures that consume the most dairy actually have the most osteoporosis.
It is naturally lactose-free and a good source of vitamins A and B12, calcium, potassium and isoflavones. Soy is also a source of the nutrient co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Low levels of this critical nutrient have been linked with lung conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It contains around the same amount of protein as cow’s milk. Soy products including soy milk, has been linked to lower cancer rates, especially hormonal cancers like breast and prostate. It even lowers risks for estrogen-negative breast cancers. It also lowers the risk of recurrence, even if you have already had cancer. In Japanese women who regularly consumed soy products, the dampening effect on blood estrogen levels persisted, even a few months after stopping all soy products so you don’t need to consume them every day to benefit from their consumption.
Soy is frequently genetically-modified so it is best to choose soy milk that is certified GMO-free if you’re drinking it. It can contribute to worsening allergy symptoms. It is also one of the most chemically sprayed crops, even if Non-GMO so stick to USDA Organic brands.
You also should choose unsweetened soy. The added sugar isn’t good for you.
One cup of soy milk contains approximately (again, there may be variations between brands):
- 90 calories
- 4 grams of carbohydrates (sweetened options have higher amounts)
- 4 grams fat
- 7 grams protein
ALMOND MILK. Almond milk is technically vegan, so naturally it is lactose-free for those who are lactose intolerant. Because most of the almonds produced in the US come from the central part of California, water needs to be tanked in and to pollinate the almond trees, bees are imported through commercial companies. So, strict ethical vegans might not consume almonds or almond milk and environmentally, it’s not the best. People with full-blown allergies to cow’s milk can also drink almond milk, It is a source of calcium, magnesium, vitamins A and E, and many other nutrients. Of course, you should avoid drinking almond milk if you have a nut allergy. Additionally, avoid brands that include the food additive carrageenan as it is highly inflammatory and can cause pain, inflammation or digestive problems in some people. One concern however is the issue of the environment. It is a crop that is heavily sprayed with chemicals, uses a lot of water (it takes 1 gallon of water to grow 1 almond) and for ethical vegans, growing almonds requires bees for pollination and they are not treated very well. One cup of almond milk contains approximately:
- 45 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have higher amounts)
- 3 grams fat
- 1 gram protein
MACADAMIA MILK. A relatively new player on the market, it is a great option. What is great about macadamia is that the trees they grow on require very little water and are essentially self-regenerating.
- 50 calories.
- 5 grams of fat, 1 gram of which is saturated.
- 1 gram of carbohydrate
- 1 gram of protein
COCONUT MILK. Coconut milk doesn’t typically have a lot of nutrients naturally present, but some may be added to beverages during their manufacture. It contains medium-chain triglycerides which have been linked to weight loss. Few people have allergies to coconut milk, making it a good option for those with allergies. Some manufacturers add carrageenan and these products are best avoided.
The “milk” is not the same as the coconut cream and coconut water found in cans. Coconut milk is usually more diluted than the canned coconut cream often referred to as coconut milk.
- 50 calories
- 2 grams carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have more)
- 5 grams fat (95% of coconut oil is saturated fat).
- 0 grams protein
HEMP MILK. As the name suggests, hemp milk is made from hemp and is therefore vegan and lactose-free. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t make people “high.” Hemp in general is a great source of a complete protein. It is a good source of iron and often contains added calcium. It is naturally high in protein, making it a good choice for those who want muscle-building and blood-sugar-balancing protein in their milk substitute. Few people have allergies to hemp milk.
- 110 calories
- 6 grams carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have more).
- 7 grams fat (only 1 gram of saturated fat).
- 5 grams protein.
OAT MILK. It is frequently fortified with vitamins A, B2, B12, D, calcium, potassium. Oats naturally contain beta glucans which have been found to boost heart health. While oats don’t contain gluten, they are frequently contaminated with wheat, so if you’re allergic or sensitive to gluten, you’ll want to ensure the oat milk you select is certified gluten-free. Naturally vegan and lactose-free, one cup of oat milk contains:
- 120 calories
- 16 grams carbohydrates
- 5 grams fat
- 3 grams protein
SO, WHICH ONE IS HEALTHIEST?
It differs from person to person. If you have many allergies or sensitivities? Almond or soy milk may be best avoided. Are you worried about GMOs? Then, you’ll want to skip the soy unless specifically labelled as Non-GMO or USDA Organic. Are you dealing with blood sugar-related health issues? You’ll want to avoid the sweetened varieties of any milk alternative, and may find oat milk too high in carbs for you. If you’re celiac or gluten-intolerant then you’ll probably want to stay clear of oat milk unless it is certified gluten-free. Hemp is probably the one that is best tolerated by the most people, but you’ll want to try it for yourself. Ultimately, you may want to pick the one that tastes best since that is the one you’ll drink the most.
It is so easy to make your own plant-based milk either using a high-speed blender and a cheesecloth to filter out the pulp but a fantastic and easy device is the Almond Cow. It’s a high-speed blender, specifically for milk. It’s quick and simple to clean up. Best of all, YOU control all the ingredients. Another more expensive but robust and multi-functional milk maker is from Nutramilk.
Eating Out. What do I do?
Eating out can but doesn’t have to be challenging. Assume that whatever you are getting is full of salt, sugar and fat. Also, you can assume that unless specifically marked, all meat and dairy in restaurants and fast food establishments is not organic and conventionally grown with herbicides, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics… There are more and more restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan options. Most restaurants will gladly alter meals to make them meat or dairy free. Don’t be afraid to ask. An app called “Happy Cow” is great at finding vegan and vegetarian restaurants in your area.
The bottom line is that the less you eat out and cook your food at home, the healthier you will be. You have full control over what kind of food you buy and what goes into the food you prepare and cook. A standard American restaurant meal contains over 400 chemicals you can avoid by cooking at home.
I can’t afford to eat healthy! Healthy food is too expensive.
This is like saying “I can’t afford to drive because I can’t afford to buy a Porsche”! Although it is true that at some supermarkets, produce can appear to be expensive, especially USDA Organic food, the vast majority of healthy foods are very affordable and even cheaper than following the standard American diet. Looking at the places in the world where people live the longest, they basically eat “peasant food”. Rice, beans, fruits and vegetables. They cook in bulk. They keep things simple. You do not have to buy the most expensive and exotic foods. A simple rice and bean bowl with some carrots and greens is amazing tasting and very inexpensive.
You do not need the latest “superfood” or supplement to eat well. As far as organic is concerned, it is best to follow the Environmental Working Groups lists of “The Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” foods, those which are the most, and least contaminated with chemicals, however even these foods on occasion are better than meat, dairy cheese and fish.
HEALTHY FOOD IS MORE EXPENSIVE. Really? NO
It is true that a healthy traditional diet is more expensive than an unhealthy one. Over the course of a year, only $550 more. However, a healthy vegetarian diet is on average $750 less expensive than a healthy meat-based one. Put another way, a healthy vegetarian diet is ~$200 less expensive than an unhealthy traditional diet. The numbers are even more significant if you follow a healthy vegan diet.
Claiming that eating healthy is inexpensive is simply not true and a way to avoid doing the right thing!
How do I get my children to eat more fruits and vegetables?
The only food babies are born instinctively liking is breast milk. Human breast milk, not cow’s. All other foods are an acquired taste. It’s a cop-out to use excuses like: “My child is a picky eater” or “I can only get them to eat Chick-fil-A” or “If I don’t make them chicken nuggets, they won’t eat anything”. Kids model their behavior after their parents, especially their dietary and nutritional habits. Teach them by example and they will adapt. Kids don’t do what you tell them to do. They do what YOU do. There is a saying “If it’s important enough to you, you will find a way. If it’s not, you will find an excuse”. Ultimately, if all else fails, children are mammals and all mammals eventually eat what they can find in order to survive. If they are not offered anything to eat other than vegetables and fruit, eventually, when hungry enough, they’ll eat it! If you stop giving them soda and chips, they’ll stop eating soda and chips. Kids have 15% more taste buds than adults so it can take them a little longer for them to get used to new tastes so be patient and keep encouraging them. On average, you must introduce and reintroduce foods 10 times before they start to acquire a taste for them. The same by the way occurs in adults.
This is a great tip sheet about how to get your kids to eat healthier Tips to get Your Kids to Eat Vegetables. I have more information about raising healthy children on my Kids Health page. Another great resource is 57 Tips To Get Kids to Eat Vegetables.
WINE and BEER. Why are they not “Vegan”?
Although this may sound like a silly question, many wines and even beers are technically not vegan because of how they are processed.
A brief history of wine. The earliest archaeological evidence of wine comes from Jiahu village in central China, almost 10,000 years ago. According to Scientific American, traces of a honey and rice-based wine were found on pottery shards. It’s speculated that it was likely made from a blend of the hawthorn fruit and wild grapes. People in the areas now representing Armenia and Georgia experimented with fermentation of grapes as early as 7,400 years ago. Several cultures throughout history, from the old Egyptian god and lord of wine Shesmu to the Greek god Dionysus (or Bacchus, if you’re Roman) have associated wine with divinity. It’s still used in Catholic mass to this day.
In a 1779 letter to French economist André Morellet, founding father of the U.S. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
The modern wine market is going strong. The total U.S. sales topped $62.7 billion in 2017. At 2.94 gallons per person each year, the U.S. is the largest wine consuming nation by volume. Like any other industry, wine is shaped by consumer trends. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top 2 favorites, but rosé is fast-growing, with a 59% increase in value in 2017, according to Nielsen data.
What Makes Wine Not Vegan? At its core, wine seems vegan. It’s just fermented grape juice. But a filtering process known as “fining,” which removes particles that settle to the bottom of the bottle and make wine hazy often uses animal products in the process. Traditional fining agents include gelatin (which comes from animal cartilage), egg whites, milk proteins (casein), isinglass (a kind of gelatin obtained from fish) and the dried swim bladder of fish. There are vegan alternatives, such as kaolin clay , bentonite clay and activated charcoal, but animal-based fining agents are cheaper since they are throw-away byproducts of animal agriculture.
Fining wine is more a matter of customer preference than necessity. In fact, sediment in wine add to the taste but customers erroneously think it’s a sign of a bad wine. In the industry, these sediments are known as “dregs,” and despite the name, they’re not a bad thing. Dregs are essentially comprised of dead yeast cells, grape solids, tartrates, tannins, and phenolics. Tartrates give wine a tart flavor and you may have even seen them in the form of red or white crystals on the side of the bottle. There are also sediments known as “gross lees” and “fine lees”. These are produced during the wine making process and they settle to the bottom of the wine barrel or vat. These are completely fine and do not impact on taste or quality at all. Some winemakers leave these in on purpose. There may be other reasons why a vineyard may choose to filter its wine, such as covering a bad harvest.
If you’re avoiding animal products, how can you ensure wine is vegan? It’s not as simple as reading the label.
There are databases like Barnivore, a database of nearly 45,000 alcoholic beverages, that lists vegan-friendly drinks. Or, you can buy from a source that only offers vegan wine. There’s also BevVeg, a law firm that provides vegan certification for food and beverage companies in more than 70 countries. BevVeg also has a free mobile app for both Android and iPhones with a database of over 50,000 wines.
There are at least 64 ingredients that can be added to wine without needing
disclosure on the label, ranging from animal-based fining agents to color additives (such as MegaPurple, a grape concentrate added to “color correct” wine), oak chips (to replicate the flavor of aging in an oak wine barrel) and stabilizers.
If you see the BevVeg logo, your wine is vegan.
Another great source of healthier wines is Dry Farm Wines. Although not necessarily vegan, they do search out wines which are low in sugar and alcohol and are clean with respect to chemicals and additives.
I would rather live a shorter life but enjoy what i want to eat!
This is just plain selfish. It is delusional to think that your choices in life do not impact on everyone and everything around you. We all pay the price for the choices we make at some level. We don’t live in a bubble. How we choose to eat and live impact on the people and animals around us as well as on the health of the planet and our subsequent generations. Even small choices and changes can have big downstream effects so make the right ones. You don’t have to go vegan. Just add some fruits and vegetables and you will be healthier. Even one plant-based meal a week will have positive effects. The more you lean towards plants, the better and the more compassionate our world will be.
Eliminating animal farms will affect farmers!
Not really. It already happened!
Despite the US population being 11x greater than at the time of the Civil War, there are fewer farmers today than there were back then. The growth of industrial agriculture and livestock raising has eliminated massive numbers of jobs. And farmers who have switched from traditional, chemical agricultural practices to organic farming have had significant increases in their incomes, even within the first year or two of switching over. Crop yields actually go up. And today’s demand for organic has kept prices a little higher than chemically grown plants.
- In 1820, 72% of the American workforce was involved in agriculture. Today, it is only 1.5%
- Between 1950 and 1970, only 20 years, the number of American farms declined by 100% (half) but the average farm doubled in size. During that same timeframe, the average chicken doubled in size.
VEGANISM vs ANIMAL NEEDS:
Some of the the following questions and comments were paraphrased from Colleen Patric-Goudreau’s great site “joyfulvegan.com”. I editorialized and expanded on some of these topics.
Weren’t animals put on this planet for us to eat?
By what criteria? Cultural? There are many species of animals we’re uncomfortable eating that other cultures regularly dine on. So, that’s arbitrary. Religious? Which religion? This phenomenon is called “carnism”, coined by Melanie Joy or “speciesism”. Which animals we consider pets and which we consider food is based on what we were taught growing up. Some cultures prohibit animal consumption; some don’t. So, that’s arbitrary. Biological? Human physiology resembles herbivorous animals more than carnivorous ones, and we’re not doing a very good job with rampant heart disease and diabetes linked to meat, dairy, and eggs killing millions of people in so-called “developed” countries. Plus, just because we’re biologically inclined to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. So, that’s arbitrary. Aside from the fact that humans were the prey of large predators before we developed weapons and methods for overpowering them, most of the animals we eat weren’t “put here.” We created them through genetic selection, domestication, and artificial breeding. We’re the ones who play God, but then we defer responsibility by saying that some other creator made them and put them here just for us.
Isn’t veganism is a bit extreme?
Extreme is bringing billions of animals into this world only to kill them. We breed to kill. Humans, a species of 7 billion, kill 120 billion land and aquatic animals every year for a food source that is completely unnecessary and proven to be detrimental, for our survival or health. That’s extreme. Extreme is having our chest cavities cut open to bypass arteries that are clogged as a result of consuming animal fat and dietary cholesterol. Extreme is taking half a dozen medications with a slew of side effects to manage (not treat or reverse) chronic diseases while also taking all kinds of vitamins to try to make up for it. Living according to the values we already say we have: compassion, kindness, health, and nonviolence, is as natural and consistent as it gets. There’s nothing extreme about that.
Wouldn’t we be overrun with animals if we stopped eating them, and wouldn’t many of them go extinct?
We have a population crisis! The crisis isn’t in the future. It’s here now. We’ve created an artificial system by which we breed billions of animals each year who use tons of resources and who produce millions of pounds of liquid and solid waste now. It isn’t some hypothetical scenario. They’re destructive to the environment now! Once we stop artificially inseminating these animals, there will be fewer of them. The animals we have bred for the meat, dairy, and egg industries are little Frankenstein monsters, and as such are not part of any natural ecological system. Their wild ancestors were part of the natural world, the wild cattle, chickens, goats, sheep, and turkeys. We took away their habitats and family structures. We took their genes and twisted them up, making these animals grow larger and faster than their skeletons and organs can support. Even as an animal advocate, I would have no problem with many of these breeds going extinct. If we really cared about animals, we’d stop supporting the industries that hurt them the most.
We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction. More than 50% of the planets animals in the last 50 years alone. In addition 70 billion factory raised animals die yearly to satisfy humanity’s lust for meat and animal products. In only 1 week, more animals die than all the humans have dies in all the wars in all of history combined.
In nature, animals eat other animals, so it’s natural for us to do so, as well.
Which animals? If the assertion is “in nature, carnivorous animals kill other animals and eat them, so it’s natural for us to do so,” then, the first part is true. Carnivorous animals do kill other animals to survive. That’s natural. But that’s not usually what the assertion is. It’s often phrased as “Animals eat animals, and so it’s natural for us to do the same.” And to that I would ask why are we eliminating all of the plant-eating animals for whom it is natural not to eat other animals? Why don’t we use the plant-eating animals as our model, as the barometer for our behavior? Why do we align ourselves with the carnivorous lion rather than the vegetarian elephant? We never say “Animals don’t eat other animals, so it’s natural for us to do so as well.” or “Animals eat only plants so it’s natural for us to do so.” When people make the generalization “animals eat animals, so it’s natural for us to do so,” they are leaving out hundreds of species of animals who don’t eat other animals. And in fact, there are more herbivorous animals in the world than there are carnivorous ones, but the herbivores are never used as the example of what is “natural.” And they’re certainly never used as the models for us to follow. When we want to keep doing something that is construed as ethically problematic, we seek to find a way to justify our behavior. In this case, behavior we aren’t compelled to by nature but behavior we enjoy or find convenient or feel entitled to.
What about plants? They have feelings too!
I don’t believe people are lying awake at night concerned about the pain and suffering of cauliflower. I think this distracts us from the issue at hand: that all animals DO suffer and feel pain. Most of us have no problem pulling lettuce from the ground or cutting the limb off of a tree, but most people are unable or unwilling to cut the limb off an animal or stab him in the heart. There’s a difference.
It all boils down to sentience. A sentient being is one who perceives and responds to sensations of whatever kind: sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell. Sentience ultimately comes from the Latin verb sentire, which means “to feel” and is related to the noun sensus, meaning “feeling” or “sense.” A few related English words are sentiment and sentimental, which have to do with emotions, and sensual, which relates to more physical sensations.
In order to be sentient, an organism must not only have a nervous system but also a both a brain. Sentient beings have minds; they have preferences, desires, or wants. This is not to say that animal minds are like human minds. For example, the minds of humans, who use symbolic language to navigate their world, may be very different from the minds of bats, who use echolocation to navigate theirs. It is difficult to know. But it is irrelevant; the human and the bat are both sentient. They are both aware of their surroundings and can feel pain, emotion and suffering. They are both have interests; they both have preferences, desires, or wants. The human and the bat may think differently about those interests, but there can be no doubt that both have interests, including an interest in avoiding pain and suffering and an interest in continued existence.
There are different levels of sentience depending on the complexity of the nervous system. Sentience is not the same as intelligence.
Plants have intelligence but are qualitatively different from humans and sentient non-humans in that plants are certainly alive but they are not sentient. Plants do not have interests. There is nothing that a plant desires, or wants, or prefers because there is no mind there to engage in these cognitive activities. When we say that a plant “needs” or “wants” water, we are no more making a statement about the mental status of the plant than we are when we say that a car engine “needs” or “wants” oil. It may be in my interest to put oil in my car. But it is not in my car’s interest; my car has no interests.
A plant may react to sunlight and other stimuli but that does not mean the plant is sentient. If I run an electrical current through a wire attached to a bell, the bell rings. But that does not mean that the bell is sentient. An I Phone reacts by turning on the screen when you pick it up but that does not make the phone sentient. Plants do not have nervous systems, pain receptors, or any of the characteristics that we identify with sentience. And this all makes scientific sense. Why would plants evolve the ability to be sentient when they cannot do anything in reaction to an act that damages them? If you touch a flame to a plant, the plant cannot run away; it stays right where it is and burns. If you touch a flame to a dog, the dog does exactly what you would do: it cries in pain and tries to get away from the flame. Sentience is a characteristic that has evolved in certain beings to enable them to survive by escaping from a noxious stimulus. Sentience would serve no purpose for a plant; plants cannot “escape.”
Aren’t animals killed when harvesting plants?.
Yes they do. In fact, everything any human does on the planet probably involves injuring or killing something, somewhere at some time. There is a distinct difference between an animal dying unintentionally and killing them intentionally.
The recent argument on the internet about how vegan diets also kill animals was a misconstruing of data from one study done by a research group from Oxford University. In that study, mice, labeled with trackers, were released into crop fields just before harvesting. After the harvest, it was determined that only 3% of the mice went missing and were thought to be killed as a result of the harvesting machines. Afterwards, another 53% of the mice went missing but this was attributed to migration out of the area or natural predatory deaths (animal like foxes and birds hunting them for food). The meat-eating community lumped all of this together making it seem like many more mice died than really did as a result of harvesting the plants. This type of over exaggeration is a common example of what happens when people’s beliefs and habits, like eating meat, are threatened. There is no question that animals die while growing and harvesting plants. Most of the plants grown in modern agriculture is actually fed to animals destined for human consumption anyway so indirectly, eating meat kills those animals as well.
The US Department of Agriculture WIldlife Services killed 3.2 million wild animals in 2015. The vast majority of these animals which includes wolves, mountain lions, eagles, foxes, beavers, bears and coyotes were killed to protect the livestock industry. That’s a huge amount of intentional killing.
I could never give up cheese!
First of all, yes you could. If we think we “can’t give up cheese,” it may be because we’re unwilling to. I promise there will come a time when you will not obsess over dairy-based cheese, but first you have to give your body and your palate time to adjust without it. You have to give yourself a chance not to eat it. Second of all, if you say “I could give up meat and eggs, but I could never give up cheese,” then start where you can. Give up everything except cheese. To do nothing at all because you think you have to do everything doesn’t make any sense, and it’s completely self-defeating. Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything. And finally, I would say, cheese is all about fat and salt. It’s all about texture and a certain mouthfeel. That’s not unique to dairy. You can satisfy your desire for texture, fat, salt, and familiarity with other whole foods such as guacamole and nut cheeses; creamy, rich salty fermented plant foods; and the many delicious commercial vegan cheeses on the market today.
Don’t cows need to be milked?
We’re not helping cows by taking their milk. We caused the pregnancies in the first place to make cows lactate so we could take their milk. It is not magnanimity that compels us to milk cows. It is money. Cows are not cases of charity. They are owned commodities, useful only while they produce. And yet the entire process is couched in such a way that has us believing that it is out of benevolence for the cow that we take her milk, as well as her babies and her life.
Cows don’t just “make milk”. In the same way women produce breast milk only during pregnancy and after delivery to feed their baby, cows only start producing milk when they are pregnant continuing to produce it only to feed their young. We have artificially manipulated the cows and their lives to be either in a constant state of pregnancy or lactation so they continue to make milk for humans to consume. We give them drugs and chemicals to increase their milk production and keep them lactating.
To make them pregnant, they are almost exclusively artificially inseminated.
First, semen is obtained from the male by anally electrocuting them which triggers them to ejaculate. Next, the female cows are lined up in what the dairy industry actually calls the “Rape Rack”. There, the technician uses their arm with a long glove, reaching up to the elbow, to place semen into the cows uterus to inseminate it.
Cows typically produce milk continuously for up to 5 years and then, as their production drops off as their bodies give out, they are labelled as “downers” and they are usually slaughtered for their meat. In fact, 50% of the beef and beef products sold in supermarkets actually comes from these abused and spent cows from the dairy industry.
What’s wrong with eggs since the chickens aren’t harmed when we take their eggs.
Eggs are exactly the same as unfertilized human ovarian eggs women produce as part of the menstrual cycle. Similar to human females, chickens naturally produce 1-2 eggs a month during the often painful process of menstruation. Modern chickens, whether in massive egg production facilities, from ethically maintained small farms or even from personal 4-5 chicken coops, are essentially forced to ovulate, producing 1-2 eggs, every day rather than every month as they would naturally. The stress of losing an egg, which they consider their offspring, stresses even ethically raised chickens which causes them to continue to lay more eggs. In addition, producing eggs takes a lot of energy and is very taxing on their bodies causing them to lose many nutrients, especially calcium.
In large facilities, they are kept in “battery” cages, crammed in 7 to a cage with little to no room for movement. The name arises from the arrangement of rows and columns of identical cages connected together, in a unit, as in an artillery battery. “Free-range” chickens are actually worse off as they are crammed 15,000 to a shed. What defines “free-range” is that they have the option of leaving the coop if they want, but none of them do.
Whether eggs are sold by a small backyard operation or large, it starts with males being killed at hatcheries upon birth because they don’t have eggs. Tens of thousands die every day, almost exclusively by being send down a chute into a macerator, grinding the chicks alive. And in the end, all the hens, all of them genetically altered to lay several eggs a day (not even possible or seen in nature), are killed when their egg output is too small to justify their lives.
The bottom line is there is no such thing as a slaughter-free animal agricultural system.
Links to more information about nutrition and health:
Additional helpful links and documents:
Wellness and Lifestyle Basics Handout – Wellness and Lifestyle Basics Handout