Not a Magic Bullet
We’ve been told that going plant-based is a cure all – the magic bullet when it comes to diet and even climate change. Plant foods, in particular, have been propped up as superfoods for decades. But guess what?
A good marketing scheme isn’t necessarily a good indicator of health. If that was the case, then people would still think that cereal was a health food. Almost everyone knows that’s not the case.
Now, the primary goal of our diet should not be to completely avoid eating plants. Despite vegan propaganda, the goal of any diet should NOT be to completely avoid animal products either.
Above all, our diet should aim to support our health. Different people can tolerate different amounts of plant and animal foods. And the amount of these foods in our diet can vary from season to season or year to year like it did with our ancestors.
Ultimately, everyone should eat in a way that supports their health as an individual.
In the same way that we avoid other harmful behaviors, we should avoid eating foods that cause us harm. You don’t need to keep eating salads or whole grains for some purported health benefit, if they’re causing you digestive issues or joint pain.
Drinking green smoothies isn’t going to make you live longer, especially if they’re forcing you to run to the bathroom. We’ll be the first to tell you that it’s okay to swap your green smoothie or side of spinach for a bigger portion of meat.
When’s the last time you got a stomach ache? We’ll bet it wasn’t from eating a steak.
Optimizing Your Diet
Once we’ve stripped our diet of most processed foods, we can look to optimize it by including more animal products and less of the plant foods that are high in anti-nutrients.
Anti-nutrients are molecules in plants that block the absorption of other micronutrients. In high quantities, antinutrients can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
Some of the more common antinutrients are phytic acid, lectins and oxalic acid. Along with these antinutrients, come the high fiber and antioxidant content of plant foods.
We’ll explore the downsides of fiber and antioxidants as well. More and more people are becoming skeptical of fiber and antioxidants. This skepticism is justified since we can likely get most of their benefits without actually consuming them.
The mainstream has definitely overstated their benefits, but if you can tolerate them, they may provide some marginal benefits.
What’s the Story with Fiber?
One of the primary reasons that fiber is considered healthy is because it can be a precursor for butyrate in the gut. Butyrate has been associated with a healthy gut microbiome and it is traditionally thought of as a byproduct of fiber fermentation in the colon.
When we don’t consume fiber, ketones and amino acids can act as an alternative source of butyrate. Since we can produce butyrate in the gut without any dietary fiber, we can actually reap the gut health benefits of butyrate on a near zero-fiber diet.
In a recent piece, we wrote about how fiber’s health benefits have been embellished by the healthy-user bias and other misconceptions. But besides butyrate, there seems to be benefits to consuming at least some fiber.
Fiber doesn’t provide as much satiety as a source of animal protein but it does provide some short term satiety. Fiber rich whole foods provide volume for our stomach at a low amount of calories and with that comes a feeling of fullness.
For anyone struggling on a carnivore diet with digestive issues like diarrhea, small amounts of fiber can make the difference. Too much fiber tends to cause digestive issues like constipation, bloating and gas.
But small amounts of fiber, like a side of mushrooms or a raw carrot, can actually improve your digestion by absorbing water, creating bulk, and helping your gut microbiome. We wrote about some of the best plant foods here.
Are antioxidants the bees knees?
Like fiber, we can get most of the benefits of antioxidants without even consuming them. Our body makes its own antioxidants in response to environmental stressors like exercise or heat from a sauna.
One of these antioxidants is glutathione; it’s the bodies’ premier detoxifying agent. Endogenous antioxidants like glutathione play a balancing role in our body. They work to counteract the oxidation and production of free radicals from environmental stressors.
We should note that glutathione cannot effectively combat the free radicals from the excessive oxidation that occurs in the case of smoking, drinking alcohol, overtraining, or overconsuming refined carbs.
Plants make antioxidants for their own use, not for us to consume. As a result, they lack bioavailability and cannot be used to detoxify free radicals as effectively as glutathione.
Like fiber, a lot of the data surrounding antioxidants has been clouded by the healthy user effect. Rather than attributing the health benefits of whole foods to their antioxidant content, we should attribute their health benefits to the fact that they are not processed foods.
Whole foods that are rich in antioxidants also happen to be relatively low in calories and not filled with refined sugars and oils. So maybe this is why people who push out junk foods in their diet with these foods see benefits.
It turns out, dietary antioxidants are not essential, and in some cases, they can be harmful. Recent studies have largely flopped at finding benefits for antioxidants in treating various diseases. Detrimental effects have also been reported.
One study looked at oxidative stress in athletes who supplemented with antioxidants versus a group that didn’t supplement.
The study found that the benefits of exercise were essentially eliminated in the athletes who supplemented. The antioxidant group did not experience the improvements in insulin sensitivity that the no-antioxidant group experienced. In fact, there was a highly significant blockage of glucose metabolism in the group who took the antioxidants.
Antioxidant supplementation also significantly reduced the amount of reactive oxygen species formed from exercise. The formation of this oxidative stress is an important signal to our body that we need to recover and repair from these external stressors.
The fact that dietary antioxidants interfere with our bodies’ signal to rebuild and repair damage is a definite concern for any exercise enthusiast. We should be wary of interfering with our bodies’ endogenous antioxidant production.
The bottom line is that consuming inordinate amounts of antioxidants and fiber for some obscure health benefits may only cause harm. Small amounts of fiber might help troubleshoot some digestive problems, but it is by no means necessary for everyone.
Antioxidant and fiber rich whole foods can be a clean source of short-term satiety but their true benefit lies in the fact that they are not processed foods.
What’s So Bad About Plant Foods?
We’ve been told to eat our greens for our entire lives. We wonder if most of this narrative came from the Popeye cartoon rather than science.
If you told someone to eat their greens back in the 1800s, they would’ve looked at you like you had seven heads. That’s because we got most of our nutrition from animal products like we have for almost all of history.
Recently, the plant-based narrative has turned its focus to plant foods like kale and spinach. These are the epitome of harmful plant foods, yet they’re being held up on a pedestal.
We’ve been programmed to think that foul tasting leaves have miraculous health benefits. But any sort of intuitive or critical thinking will expose these leaves as useless and potentially harmful sources of calories.
Leafy greens contain hosts of chemical agents that are designed to harm whatever creature decides to bite into them. Herbivores like ruminants, have biological mechanisms that turn them away from particular plant foods when they ingest them in large quantities.
Animals' palates will literally change if they consume too much of a certain plant chemical. The fact that plants and animals evolved alongside one another, in a highly competitive environment, has selectively bred plants to be resistant to predation. And to counter these toxins, many animals have developed adaptations in their palates and digestive systems.
Humans don’t have these protective mechanisms likely because we evolved to hunt, not graze.
The best examples of plant toxins are lectins and oxalates. Oxalates are crystal-like molecules that can build up in our tissues and cause inflammation or even kidney stones.
Most people don’t realize that polyphenols are designed to harm us too. Animal foods don’t contain polyphenols because they only serve one purpose: to defend plants from being eaten.
Megadosing these compounds in green smoothies can lead to oxalic acid poisoning.
Fortunately, cooking and fermentation can help detoxify plant foods that are too dangerous to be consumed raw. With the proper preparation techniques, we can actually get some valuable minerals like magnesium and calcium from these dark leafy greens.
This doesn’t totally dismiss the concern over these plant toxins, though. For example, raw beans can contain deadly amounts of lectins. Cooking them doesn’t remove the lectins entirely, but our body can digest them in smaller amounts.
Many people can benefit from eliminating whole grains which contain high amounts of lectins. With the rise of the carnivore diet, we’re seeing people eliminate plant foods entirely. This seems to be a powerful intervention for autoimmune conditions where lectins like gluten can trigger autoimmune attacks.
Indigenous populations may have eaten plants, but they tend to be very wary of plant toxins. Their knowledge of plant toxins seems to have been lost in the way we prepare foods, like grains, in the western world.
Think of animal products as our default food. When we try to replace them with processed foods or inordinate amounts of plant bulk, we’re not necessarily doing ourselves a favor.
Besides their antinutrient content, plants in general are a less bioavailable source of nutrients. We see this in studies that look at the most bioavailable sources of protein. Eggs, beef, and whey protein routinely come out on top in terms of digestibility and utilization when compared with soy and other plant proteins.
One study even took the highest-quality plant protein blends and compared them to whey protein. Even when these blends were equated for their amino acid and leucine content, whey protein still led to about 30% greater blood levels of amino acids.
Blood levels of amino acids are important because when we consume protein, it is broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are used by our body to repair and build new muscle fibers.
This study even equated for their protein digestibility score. Still, whey protein emerged as a far superior source of protein.
Plants do not exist to fulfill our nutritional requirements. Instead they’re focused on their own protection and reproduction. They can’t run away from predators, so they’ve evolved to defend themselves with toxic molecules, resulting in low bioavailability.
Plants & PUFAs
Vegetable oil is the most toxic plant food that has emerged in the last century or so. Canola oil and soybean oil are the main types of vegetable oils that have been packed into most processed foods.
For decades, health conscious Americans have been cooking their foods in margarine rather than butter. They’ve also been dumping vegetable oils on their salads. These oils are made by crushing rapeseed or soybean seeds and extracting oil from them at very high temperatures.
Industrial cleaners like hexane solvent are used in this process, hence they’ve become known as industrial seed oils. These industrial seed oils contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, (PUFAs) typically omega-6s, that are highly unstable and prone to oxidation.
This oxidation, known as lipid peroxidation can happen at high temperatures like our cooking pans or our 98.6 ℉ body temperature. It can also happen when these unstable fats are exposed to air or light.
There’s nobody out there arguing that lipid peroxidation is a healthy process. It causes a cascade of reactive oxygen species (ROS) which puts a large amount of stress on our cells. The byproducts of this chain reaction, like acrolein, have been tied to a host of chronic diseases.
One could argue that these byproducts are the root cause of many of the chronic diseases that we’re seeing. It’s not a coincidence that these diseases took off right around the time that we started consuming vegetable oils.
The ancestral health movement has gained momentum because the mainstream health narrative is completely backwards. So-called health experts are telling us to replace saturated fats, the fats that we have been consuming for the past million years or so, with unsaturated oils.
These oils belong in machines, not humans.
Soybean oil and canola oil are simply not something that humans adapted to consume in large quantities in such a short period of time. One study found that from 1909 to 1999, soybean oil consumption rose by 116,300%. Canola oil consumption increased by 16,700% during this same period.
Beef consumption only rose by 0.4%.
The easy answer here would be to blame meat and saturated fat for the rise in cancer and heart disease. After all, there is significantly more profit to be made from selling oils extracted from cheap, monocropped plants.
Selling these oils has been so lucrative that the very corporations that manufacture them, now fund much of the scientific community. Their products get heart-healthy labels as a token of their support.
According to one Bloomberg Analyst, the seed oil industry is projected to reach a value of $335 billion by 2025, with soybean oil accounting for the largest share of the market. This shouldn’t be surprising since the average person consumes about 17 pounds of palm oil each year.
Let’s Return to the Sapien Diet
We’ve strayed from a diet that was once rich in animal products and replaced it with plant-based foods. Our sapien movement has returned to this animal-centric diet but the plant-based movement will continue to infest schools and institutions across the globe.
It’s time to change the way we think about plant foods. They should not be our primary source of energy or nutrients. There’s a vegan mantra: if it has eyes, don’t eat it.
We propose the opposite: if it never had eyes, think twice before you eat it. The plant didn’t see you coming. It couldn’t run away. Instead, it may be defending itself with toxic molecules designed to condition predators to stay away.
EAT WELL. LIVE WELL.
Dan Patterson, Head Writer at Sapien.org
Brian Sanders, founder of NoseToTail.org and Sapien.org