TABLE OF CONTENTS:
TOP 10 FOOD CHOICE MYTHS
Through these ten most common myths, clarified below, it’s clear that we can all get all the nutrients we need, and often in a form our bodies can better use, from a plant based diet. At the same time, you can avoid the negative heath impacts of eating meat, fish and diary products. There are no nutritional downsides to stopping the eating of meat, fish and dairy products. Only nutritional benefits.
Myth # 1 “Animals are the only source of B12”
We need vitamin B12 to make nerves and red blood cells. It also helps us obtain energy from our food. It’s often said that animals are the only source of B12 in food but B12 is actually produced by bacteria that live in the soil and animals get their B12 by eating plants that have these bacteria on it, B12 is then taken up into their flesh (or milk).
We don’t have to eat animals to get B12. Some vegans claim they get it from vegetables, which is technically possible, but only if you do not wash them. Also, as our soil has become less and less healthy, the bacteria which make B12 have been disappearing. We can however get it from the same place that animals do. Supplements. Vitamin B12 is made in giant vats full of bacteria and then used to fortify foods such as cereals and soy milk and to produce vitamin supplements.
This type of B12 is easier to absorb in the body than B12 from meat. So much so that the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in the US recommends that all adults over 50, whatever their diet, get their B12 from vitamin supplements or fortified foods.
We can all get all the B12 we need (and a better kind of B12) from a well-balanced plant-based diet. We don’t need animals in the loop.
Myth # 2 “We need cow’s milk for calcium”
It’s accepted wisdom to so many people that we can only get the calcium we need, for healthy bones, from cow’s milk. But that’s simply wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite. The cultures which consume the largest amounts of dairy have the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures. In addition, more dairy consumption is linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Not only is milk not the only source of calcium in food, it is by a long way not the richest source of calcium in food and not the most easily used by humans either. There are over 20 plant based foods that contain more calcium than milk on a pound for pound basis. And the calcium in these plants is actually more easily absorbed by our bodies (more bio available) than that in milk and milk-derived products. More and better calcium actually comes from plants.
Cow’s don’t make calcium. They get it from the grass they eat or as a supplement in the grains they are fed. Better sources of calcium than milk include:
- dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and watercress.
- dried fruits,
- nuts and seeds,
- pulses such as peas, beans and lentils.
These foods offer many other health benefits (see below) as well as providing a natural and safe source of calcium.
So we don’t need cow’s milk for our calcium, but consider this also. Cow’s milk is an unnatural food for humans to consume. Over 70% of the world’s population are lactose intolerant and can’t digest it. That should be no real surprise milk is, after all, baby food for cows. Humans are the only mammals in the world that consume baby milk from another species, and seek to do so in adulthood.
Myth # 3 “Without meat we can’t get enough iron”
Iron-deficiency is actually the most common nutritional problem in the world and most cases are in omnivores. Symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, a weakened immune system and a reduced ability to concentrate. Vulnerable groups include: infants over six months, toddlers, adolescents, pregnant and menstruating women and older people.
But, vegetarians and vegans are no more likely to suffer from iron-deficiency than meat-eaters.
Too much iron, however, can also lead to problems. The type of iron found in meat (heme iron) can build up in the body and cause constipation, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. Excessively high levels can lead to liver damage, heart failure and diabetes. In addition our body can’t self regulate when it comes to iron absorption from animal sources. Levels just keep building up and there is an association between elevated Iron levels and dementia.
Non-heme iron from plant foods does not accumulate in the body in this way. You only absorb as much or as little as you need. Good sources of good iron include:
- pulses (peas, beans and lentils),
- Soy products like milk and tofu,
- green leafy vegetables (broccoli and watercress),
- whole grains like oatmeal, buckwheat, whole or sprouted wheat bread and whole wheat pasta,
- dried fruits,
- dark chocolate.
Some substances in food can interfere with iron absorption like phytates in unrefined grains, tannins in tea, casein and calcium in cow’s milk. While others can increase iron absorption for example the amount of vitamin C in a glass of orange juice can increase iron absorption 3-4x.
The evidence clearly shows that a well-balanced plant-based diet provides as much, or more iron, and a better form of iron, than one containing meat.
Myth # 4 “A vegan diet lacks protein”
We need protein for normal growth and repair of tissues and for protection against infection. Protein is made up of small ‘building blocks’ called amino acids. We get these from food and our bodies use them to build enzymes, muscle and connective tissue (amongst other things). Protein does NOT provide any energy. That comes primarily from carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) and we are capable of using fat when carbs are not available.
Everything you eat, from an apple to a piece of chicken, contains protein. In fact, broccoli has more protein per calorie than steak! Plants also contain all the amino acids, including the essential ones which are the ones we can’t make and must consume. The amounts of those amino acids is different however between animal and plant sources. A well-balanced plant-based diet will provide all the amino acids you need. Especially good sources include:
- soy products like soybeans, tofu, tempeh and soy milk
- quinoa which quickly cooks and is often used like rice
- pulses like peas, beans and lentils,
- nuts and seeds
- whole grain foods
Unlike protein from plants, protein from meat and other animal foods has been linked to certain cancers, heart disease and many other diseases. Meat also contains little calcium and no fiber or carbohydrate. It may contain dangerous microbes such as Salmonella and E. coli and is often the cause of food poisoning. The salmonella contamination of vegetables is always from the humans handling them or contamination from animal farms.
Myth # 5 “Soy foods are bad for you”
Soybeans and soy products are healthy and nutritious. They are a great source of protein containing all the essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. They contain ‘good’ polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3s, antioxidants, B vitamins, iron and are cholesterol-free. Soy protein lowers cholesterol and protects heart health. Soy may also reduce menopausal hot flushes, osteoporosis, prostate cancer and breast cancer. Some studies suggest soy may even help boost brain power.
However, there is a vigorous ‘anti-soya crusade’ circulating a range of scare stories about soy phytoestrogens (plant hormones). Firstly, phytoestrogens are much weaker than animal hormones (estrogen) found in meat and milk. They also bind to a different estrogen receptor and actually block the cancer stimulating effects of actual estrogen. Secondly, there is no evidence that soy foods harm human health. There is an abundance of evidence on the other hand that meat and dairy have harmful effects on our health. And it’s not like Soy hasn’t been around for thousands of years and used by millions of people. If it was harmful, evidence would exist by now, but it doesn’t. Soy is protective against getting many hormone-related cancers such as breast, prostate and uterine. It also reduces the rate of recurrence.
Traditional soy foods, such as tofu, miso, tempeh and soy milk, made using fermentation or precipitation methods, contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals than the soy protein isolates used in mock meats like the Impossible Burger. However, soy burgers and bangers still remain a healthier option than their animal meat equivalents, which contain saturated animal fat, animal protein and cholesterol as well as heme iron.
And finally, one of the most ridiculous stories used against soy revolves around the environmental impact soy farming is having on the Amazonian rain forest. Over 80% of the world’s soy production is fed to livestock so that people can eat meat and dairy foods. So if people ate more soy and less meat, the Amazon would be a better, bigger place.
Myth # 6 “Oily fish boosts brain power”
We’ve had it drummed into us for years that fish oils help boost brain power and protect heart health. This is simply not true. Much of the fish oil frenzy that has gripped the nation is due to some very clever marketing and pseudo science. There is actually no evidence that fish oils are essential for cognitive ability in children or adults. If this were true, vegetarians would be failing at school and they are not. In fact, in 2006, a group of vegetarians won the BBC’s Test the nation IQ battle!
The so-called ‘scientific evidence’ for fish oils is constantly being pushed. The reality presents a very different picture with some studies showing that fish oils can actually have a harmful effect, increasing the risk of heart attacks in patients with heart disease. This is because of the pollutants found in fish such as polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, mercury and plastics.
The “healthier” cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring, the so called SMASH fish, actually get their omega-3 from eating plants (algae) in the same way that cows don’t make calcium but get it from the grass they eat. That is why farmed fish have much less omega 3s than wild caught fish. Farmed fish are fed mostly soy and corn, and some, other dead fish, often a result of by-kill from the fishing industry. It is estimated that for every pound of target fish, there are 4 pounds of unintended by-kill, like sharks, turtles, dolphins, aquatic birds and other species of sea life.
Some fish get omega 3s from eating other fish, which got their omega-3 from plants. But it’s still the same source at the end of the day, plants. Fish are middlemen too. And we don’t need them.
Plant-based omega-3 fats from flax seed, hemp seed and walnuts are safer, healthier and better for the environment.
Myth # 7 “Westerners are the healthiest people in the world”
We are not the healthy people we might think we are… We may be living longer but not to a healthy old age! There is a difference between “lifespan” and “heath-span”. Although less people die of heart disease now, more people than ever are living with it; breast cancer cases have increased 80% since 1970; diabetes has reached epidemic proportions and one in four children are overweight or obese…
The Western diet, full of saturated fat, cholesterol, animal protein, hormones and growth factors, is killing us. It is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer (called ‘rich woman’s disease in China) and prostate cancer.
A vegetarian or vegan diet rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains and polyunsaturated fats offers significant health benefits. This healthy diet can help you avoid these ‘Western diseases’.
The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that up to 80% of cases of heart disease, 90% of type 2 diabetes cases and one-third of cancers can be avoided by changing to a healthier diet, increasing physical activity and stopping smoking.
Myth # 8 “Red-blooded men need meat”
A backhanded way of suggesting that men need meat in order to perform sexually. Actually the reverse is true. The main cause of impotence in men is blocked arteries, caused by fatty foods (meat and dairy products). The foods that clog up the arteries leading to and from the heart also block the blood flow to other vital organs! These foods increase the risk of diabetes and obesity; also linked to impotence.
On the other hand, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds protects against blocked arteries, heart disease, stroke and many other conditions.
Impotence affects 10% of British men. In the US, the overall prevalence of erectile dysfunction, ED, in men aged ≥20 years was 18.4%, suggesting that erectile dysfunction affects 18 million men in the US. The prevalence of erectile dysfunction is highly positively related to age but was also particularly high among men with one or more cardiovascular risk factors, men with hypertension, and men with a history of cardiovascular disease, even after age adjustment. Among men with diabetes, the prevalence of ED was 51.3%. While surgery is an option, changing the menu is a much easier way of ensuring you can rise to the occasion.
Myth # 9 “Chicken is the low-fat option”
In the 1970’s chicken was heralded as the ‘healthy’ option, lower in fat than red meat. It was a successful campaign. People now eat 3x more chicken. Americans eat 100 chickens an hour!
But selective breeding and intensive farming methods mean that farmers can get the poor birds to our tables in a fraction of the time it used to take. This focus on rapid growth has changed the nature of chicken meat. It now contains as much fat as a Big Mac! More than twice as much than it did in 1940. A steamed, skinless chicken breast has as much cholesterol and only 1/3rd less fat by calories as the most lean equal serving of steak!
Organic chickens are not much better. They may have more space than factory-farmed chickens, which is nice, but they’re still fed the same high-energy feed and are bred for rapid weight gain. White meat is not a healthy option.
Think Big Mac next time you think Chicken.
Myth # 10 “We are designed to eat meat”
Standard Western dogma describes humans as omnivores, consuming both animal products and plants. It’s true, many people choose to eat meat, but the way our bodies are made suggests that we have evolved eating mostly fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables.
Carnivorous animals, like lions, dogs, wolves and cats, are built for short bursts of extreme energy, with strong jaws, sharp teeth and claws. Their jaws can only move open and shut and are designed for tearing and crushing. They don’t hang around chewing food. They tear off chunks of meat and and ‘wolf’ it down whole! Their stomachs are more acidic for bone and flesh digestion and their short intestines allow them to quickly expel the putrefying bacteria from rotting flesh.
Herbivores, like rabbits, elephants, horses and sheep, eat grass and other plants. The breakdown of these foods starts in the mouth with digestive enzymes which carnivores don’t do. Herbivores can chew/grind from side-to-side and have much longer digestive systems to allow sufficient time and space for absorption of nutrients.
Carnivores have much poorer color vision than herbivores. They have better peripheral and night vision, in order to track down prey. Whereas plant-eaters have good color vision in order to identify colorful, vitamin-rich fruit and vegetables.
We are able to eat meat for sure, but carnivores are clearly designed for the job. We are not.
And just because we can do something doesn’t make it a good or right thing to do. People that want to eat meat should just say so, that they want to, and stop using ‘pseudo evolutionary’ excuses about being designed to do so. Or ‘pseudo nutritional’ excuses about needing to.