Category Archives: Whole food plant-based

Carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore?

If you watch any of the many You Tube channels devoted to vegetarianism and veganism, you will note in the comments the numerous people arguing, among other things, that it was the eating of meat that caused the explosion in our brain size, that meat offers us nutrients that aren’t available from the plant kingdom, and that our history and biology show that we are omnivores. I would like to address these points and suggest that we are natural herbivores and opportunistic eaters of meat.

Current anthropologists, including Richard Leakey, the famous explorer in the Rift Valley in Africa and Nathaniel Dominy, PhD, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth, assert that humans evolved as herbivores. Dominy goes so far as to say that it is the ability to consume starch, and the evolution of Amy1 (amylase), an enzyme that allows us to digest starches that other animals do not have, that establish that the incredible brain growth that led to our current form was based on the eating and digesting of cooked starches.  Whether this is yet the mainstream, I am in no position to judge. However, on the scale of experts, I’m not sure there’s anyone higher than a Leakey.

The next argument, that meat offers nutrients that cannot be found in the plant kingdom, is a strange one.  Virtually all of the animals produced for meat consumption are by nature herbivores. They obviously get everything they need (as do elephants, rhinos and giraffes, among others) from plants. Ask one of the meat proponents to explain what animals have that plants don’t have is an exercise in near futility. When pushed, they usually fall back on the B12 fallacy. They claim that meat is the only way for humans to get B12, without recognizing that for hundred of thousands of years, humankind and its ancestors in fact survived very well without whatever B12 is found in meat.

B12 is a vitamin produced by microbes in dirt. It is not produced by animals or the elements of the plant kingdom that we utilize for food. Every source of B12 is from that dirty beginning. B12 deficiency wasn’t a problem in the past because we didn’t wash our vegetables as well as we do now. In fact we didn’t wash anything as well as we do now, meaning that we were getting our B12 from the dirt we were always exposed to. This is why chimps and gorillas don’t have a B12 problem.

The meat industry knows that B12 is no longer found in the beef cattle raised in feedlots and on mashes made of GMO soybeans and corn. As a result, the big feedlots and slaughterhouses have a process whereby they inject B12 into the cows before they are killed. It’s big business. And it’s part of their marketing effort to establish that meat is good for something.

Meat is bad for us. We are not meant to eat meat. Regular meat-eaters have a different microbiome than non-meat-eaters. (For a quick study of the microbiome science, see here.) This is because you need different bacteria to digest the meat. People who never eat meat don’t need these bacteria, and they are shoved out by the bacteria that feed on plant based diets. What’s wrong with the biome for meat eating? It creates substances that are toxic to the human body. One of the most important is TMAO (trimethylene N-oxide), one of the best markers for premature death due to artery or heart disease. TMAO is not created in someone who does not eat meat

As the Cleveland Clinic HeartLab reported last year, “The trouble with TMAO is that data show high levels contribute to a heightened risk for clot-related events such as heart attack and stroke—even after researchers take into account the presence of conventional risk factors and markers of inflammation that might skew the results. In their most recent analysis, scientists showed that high blood levels of TMAO were associated with higher rates of premature death in a group of 2235 patients with stable coronary artery disease. Those found to have higher blood levels of TMAO had a four-fold greater risk of dying from any cause over the subsequent five years.”

I can’t say it enough––TMAO is a byproduct of metabolism of meat, specifically L-carnitine (a product of red meat) and choline (abundant in red meat, dairy, and eggs). If you don’t eat meat, you don’t have TMAOs in your system, unless you drink energy drinks with L-carnitine in them.  Want to change your microbiome so you don’t create TMAO? Look here.

Finally, there’s the question of our morphology. Many argue that the fact that we can eat meat means we are omnivores. They also point to our canine teeth, our appendices and an occasional other trait, none of which stand up to scrutiny. Let’s start with teeth and chewing. Look at any carnivore you can think of, or omnivore. They cannot move their jaw side to side. They chomp up and down, tearing at their food. Only herbivores can move their jaws side to side. Think of the cow, chewing her cud. Or pictures of giraffes with their lower jaw an inch to the right of their upper jaw. Guess what? We inherited from our ape progenitors the side-to-side jaw, Go ahead, move your jaw and you’ll see what I mean. There is no recognized omnivore that can do that.

Look at our back teeth, and compare them to the teeth of a crocodile or lion. Ours are broad and flat, to grind grains and fiber in vegetables and fruits. The teeth of the omnivore or carnivore are uniformly sharp. They don’t grind. (How many of you grind your teeth at night? Herbivore!)

Perhaps the most compelling part of our anatomy in the length of our intestines. In a carnivore or omnivore, intestines are short, no more than 3 times the length of their torso. Why? Because meat has to travel quickly through the gut to be released before putrefaction. It’s never good to have food rotting in your gut. Herbivores, on the other hand, have guts 10 times or more longer than their torso. Why? Because plants are full of nutrients that need different processes to get all the goodness out. Fiber takes a long time to digest, and our hungriest bacteria for fiber may be in the last stages of our colon. Our intestines are 10 times longer than our torsos. Think of the koala who only wants to eat eucalyptus. To make sure it gets all it can out of this one type of leaf, it has one of the longest intestines to body size of any animal on earth. Luckily, we have a much broader availability of food, and don’t have to rely on one plant for all our nutrients.

So this is a long piece, and I’m happy if any of you made it this far. But I want to ask you one thing. Are you surprised you haven’t heard about any of this before? You must understand the power of certain groups, like the Cattleman’s Association, Big Dairy and the Egg Board. in the establishment of our eating habits and pubic policy. The USDA is the federal agency charged with two competing missions. One is to promote American agriculture both within the country and over the world, and the other is to provide safety and dietary guidance to the people of this country. Given that the bulk of their work is in promoting agriculture (including the three players mentioned above), is it surprising that it helps these industries put out ads suggesting that beef, pork, chickens, eggs, and milk are all good for us?

Is it surprising that they support school lunch programs by pushing the very things Big Ag produces? Is it surprising that schools teach us from our earliest school age that we need certain products to grow big and strong? Compare that to the science that shows that meat and dairy are prime causes in heart disease and stroke, cancer and diabetes, and realize that the USDA is selling us death, not healthful food.

Ask yourselves why the various disease societies cancer, diabetes, Susan G. Komen, don’t tell you that these diseases can be treated by a whole food plant based diet. Then Google who their supporters are. They are the same groups, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Dairy, that have a vested interest in our continuing to eat the way we have learned to eat under their watch. Our top killers are all lifestyle diseases, and they have been foisted on us by the very groups that should be protecting us. In spite of this, meat consumption in this country is going down. Milk consumption is going down. And they should because they are poisons to our very bodies.


Diabetes and a cure?

I have been a fan of Dr. Neal Barnard for many years. He’s the founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates for better practices in medical schools, better work by the federal government on nutritional issues, and the helpfulness of a whole food plant based diet (WFPB) for health and the environment. One of his books details the benefits of a low fat WFPB diet in the treatment of diabetes.

I was diagnosed with diabetes after several years on a vegetarian, and then vegan, diet. I was not by any stretch of the imagination on a WFPB diet. I was the kind of vegan who ate canned and frozen food after returning from a stressful day at work, and would be no more likely to buy fresh veggies or fruit than the next person. When I returned to Vermont from a stint in the nation’s capital, I reverted to vegetarian with all that lovely Vermont cheese to bolster me. My diabetes worsened and I was placed on insulin at 30 cc a day of a long-acting version. My diabetes worsened more and then improved, then worsened again.

In February, I converted to a WFPB low fat diet as much for the environment as for my health. Animal agriculture (including dairy and eggs) contributes more to climate change than the entire transportation sector. Many conservative estimates suggest that it is responsible for 14-18% of the problem. A more inclusive calculation that adds in the loss of Amazon rainforest to animal feed and ranching, places the number at closer to 51%. I was no longer going to be a part of that in any way.

I read as much as I could about the effects of my new diet on my diabetes, and was somewhat concerned after three months that my weight loss (30 pounds to date) had not led to a lower need for insulin. I got a rude surprise. One afternoon last week, I suffered a bout of hypoglycemia for the first time in years. I treated it as I had been taught and sent a message to my doctor. This was on a Thursday, and I had not heard from her before the weekend. She had advised me that I might need to reduce my insulin if I continued to lose weight and exercise. I followed her instructions. I had another hypoglycemic attack Monday morning, and called the office for immediate assistance.

The assistant I talked with was the medication manager. We discussed how to treat my current low blood sugar, and she instructed me to lower my insulin further. I was to call again on Wednesday, and I did before I took my insulin. She told me to drop to 5 cc, one sixth of what I had taken the prior Thursday. When I woke up Thursday morning, my fasting blood sugar was still very low in spite of the lower insulin the day before. I resolved to stop taking the insulin.

This morning that step was confirmed by the medication manager, and she advised me to call in a few weeks so we could discuss lowering my other medications with a goal of removing all meds.

Am I cured? Not yet! But I will be within a few months. And I am not alone. If I could shout it from the rooftops, I would. This disease is a scourge on the American economy for everybody except Big Pharma and the doctors who care for us. It costs an average of $13,000 more a year to treat a diabetic than someone without the disease. Current estimates say that fully one third of the population will have the disease in the next 20-30 years.

And why? For the same reason that heart disease is the biggest killer in this country. They are lifestyle diseases. We are fed them by the Standard American Diet (SAD). You can graph the correlation between eating animal products and these diseases and see an upward trend.

In Norway, heart disease was increasing at the same rate as here from the beginning of the twentieth century until the Nazis invaded in 1940. Then all of the agricultural animals were seized by the Germans to feed their army, and the people of Norway were perforce eating a plant based diet. The drop off  in coronary artery disease was greater than any produced by any drug Big Pharma has foisted on us. After the war, Norway’s rate of heart disease returned on the upward track we see in all western societies.

The science is clear and undeniable. But the animal agriculture industry is as strong or stronger than the tobacco industry when it was faced with similar damning evidence. Our USDA is crippled by its dual mission to support American farming interests while producing nutritional guidelines for the people. The business people are more important to USDA’s ongoing work than the people. While the evidence shows that meat and dairy are the primary causes of most lifestyle diseases in this country, are promoters of cancer and possibly Altzheimers, the USDA fails to give us that message. While we are actively encouraged to eat fruit and vegetables, we are advised to eat “protein.” A little bubble adds “Dairy” to the mix. We are told to avoid saturated fats and trans fats, but not told that virtually the only sources of saturated fats are in the animal market. (The one notable exception is coconut oil, solid at room temperature, a sure sign of saturation.)

What is to be done? Pangloss would tell us that in the best of all possible worlds, we would continue to eat as we have been eating for a century or more, and the health defects would be cured another way. I ask you how many diseases the medical profession has managed to cure. We have defeated some diseases with vaccines, some with antibiotics (although that is another troublesome issue given the excessive use of antibiotics by the animal industry), and there have been some successes in treating various cancers. The only successes in curing heart disease and diabetes have come from complete dietary changes. Cardiologists regularly tell their patients to eat a healthier diet, without telling them what that is. Instead, statin drugs are used to lower cholesterol, when the cholesterol problem could be cured by not eating animal products.

The animal agriculture industry funds studies, some of which do not confirm what I am saying here. For example, one study compared a meat-based diet to a so-called low fat diet, and the meat diet was no worse than the low fat diet. Except for one thing. The “low fat” diet used by the researchers was one under the federal guidelines that suggest that we should eat no more that 30% of our calories from fat. If that’s a low fat diet, I have a bridge I could sell you.

I am on the way to curing my diabetes by not adding fat to the food I cook. I saute in vegetable broth and get more flavorful food. I use bananas in baking to substitute for fats. I make crackers with nothing more than chia seeds to bind the ingredients together. My diet is probably less than 10% fat. Now that’s a low fat diet. Because even veggies and legumes have fat in them, it isn’t possible to go fat-free. But I’m low enough fat to cure diabetes and that’s a start.


Vegans and Almond Milk

I notice that many vegan cookbooks and websites are promoting almond milk as a preferred “milk” product for recipes and drinking, and I wonder if all these writers are aware of the danger that California’s almond growers are causing for honeybees.

Honeybees and their hives are trucked in to almond groves in order to pollinate the trees to allow the production of the nuts. These honeybees are exposed to herbicides and pesticides that are used in many of the groves that are not organic. There is no dedicated source of honeybee pollinators for organic groves, although some have their own colonies or hives. The almond milk you are using may well come at dreadful cost to the pollinators that make it possible.

Honeybees have immune systems facilitated by fungi in their hives. When they’re pollinating the almond orchards, they’re being exposed to ongoing spraying of chemicals that attach to their hairs and wings and are carried back to the hive. There is obviously damage done to their health and well-being by this abusive use of them.

Honeybees currently are essential to most vegan lifestyles as they pollinate on organic farms as well as corporate farms. Most of what vegans eat we eat as a result of the honeybees’ hard work. Honeybees are threatened as I think most people know. The only way they are surviving now is in these corporate abusive settings or in regenerative, sustainable beekeeping by small, local producers.

We need honeybees, as the world would be devastated without them. Much of the plant kingdom is reliant on them for fertilization and propagation. Without small beekeeping practices around this country, the variety and wealth of our biosphere would suffer and deteriorate. Do we not owe it to these fabulous insects to support those who are willing to do the hard work of nurturing and saving them? I, for one, am willing to use honey from such a source, and if that makes me less of a vegan, so be it. At the Bee Boys in Hawai’i say it, I guess I’m a beegan.