Different diets are different universes—unless there really
is just one diet that is optimal for most/all humans. Both premises are not
only fascinating—they also carry substance.
If you know me, you may have an idea of how I will answer this question. Still, let’s see the road there, eh?
I’ve been studying this question in-depth for the last three weeks, in addition to being serious about eating healthily for the last four and a half years. In these last three weeks, I dove more deeply into the science of nutrition than I have previously. Though I found this exploration helpful and eye-opening, I more or less made my main conclusion early on, and much of what I saw afterwards largely either confirmed or failed to violate this conclusion.
The Macronutrient-Magic Zones and the Fat-Carb Conflict
Some people say that carbohydrates are bad. Other people say fats are bad. My conclusion has been that both are bad, if high levels of both are eaten. Likewise, neither is bad, if the majority of your diet contains only one, but not the other.
This means that you must be extreme, and pick a side. Most people are floating around in a macronutrient gray-zone, where fats and carbs are ever in conflict with one another. If those people would just choose a path of either low-carb or low-fat, they would see significant improvements in their health.
The idea that fats and carbohydrates conflict with one another is not new. There are plenty of doctors and laypeople alike who recognize this. However, most of those people say that only one side works— in their minds there is no choice between two teams. Some espouse low-carb diets; other, low-fat.
At this point, the only person I’m aware of who has seriously vouched for the idea that you can choose between two teams is Denise Minger, whose claim to fame is that she supposedly debunked the China Study (I haven’t looked into this; my feeling is that she made important points about the China study, but I have a hard time believing that because of her we can now completely disregard both the book and the study). Denise shares this viewpoint on high-fat vs. high-carb in an article titled "In Defense of Low Fat."
In that article, Denise talks about how there seem to be macronutrient magic zones. On one side of the spectrum, the magic zone is when a maximum of 10% of the calories you consume come from fat, and most of the rest come from carbohydrates. On the other side of the spectrum, the magic zone is when a minimum of 65% of the calories you consume come from fat.
In between those macronutrient magic zones, there lies a macronutrient swamp. This is where the conflict between fats and carbohydrates occurs.
The problem with eating in the macronutrient swamp is not only that it’s mad dank, but, more importantly, that fats and carbs are fundamentally in conflict when relatively high levels of each exist in the body. Generally speaking, eating significant levels of both fats and carbs on a regular basis is a recipe for blood sugar spikes, candidiasis, cancer cell growth, buildup of plaque in the arteries (which leads to high blood pressure and heart disease), and insulin resistance, which becomes Type II diabetes.
Dr. Neal Barnard says that when there are relatively high levels of lipids present in the blood, they block insulin from helping cells to absorb sugar, which is a source of fuel for them. Consequently, blood-sugar levels spike. Continue this over time and eventually insulin resistance will develop, blood-sugar levels will generally remain high, and, worst-case scenario, you will end up with Type II diabetes. Note that high blood-sugar levels also feed systemic candida (yeast) and malignant cells like cancer cells and “bad” bacteria (e.g. in the gut).
Dr. Barnard is a proponent of high-carb, low-fat diets. Of course, other people use this same reasoning to espouse high-fat, low carb diets. Whichever side you choose, it’s better than not having a side! Either eliminate the sugar from the equation or eliminate the lipids, and so too shall your risk of developing diabetes be eliminated (unless the vaccines get you first, but that’s another story).
Now, why might the fat-carb conflict exist? I believe it is due to the way things exist in nature. There is no whole food in nature that is high in both fat and carbohydrates. While there are foods like nuts that have significant amounts of both, a single food always has far more of one macronutrient than the other.
(FODMAP stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols”)
Some people have a difficult time digesting certain carbohydrates, such as fructose (i.e. fruit sugar). I came upon one article stating that carbohydrate-intolerance is not uncommon among obese people.
Of course, I just gave the likely answer to this problem. Many people who have difficulty digesting carbohydrates probably live in the macronutrient swamp. Considering that this is where most people (i.e. people on the Standard American Diet) exist, it’s really no mystery why some people have a hard time digesting carbohydrates.
I will concede that other factors are likely as well, though the fat-carb conflict is the most important. If you have suffered any gut damage, for instance, your ability to digest carbohydrates has very likely been damaged. Of course, your ability to digest anything has likely been damaged!
If you have a damaged and/or inflamed gut, you probably find eating carbohydrates more difficult than eating fats and protein. I say this because carbohydrates digest more quickly; therefore, the effects of eating the carbohydrates (i.e. pain) are felt sooner. The simpler the carbohydrate molecule is, the sooner its effects- and therefore the pain- are felt. This is what draws some people with chronic inflammation to high-fat diets. While this is far better than remaining in the macronutrient swamp, it is not necessarily the only solution.
Overall I don’t believe in FODMAP Sensitivity per se. It’s largely a product of the fat-carb conflict and inflammation at the level of the gut, both of which can be corrected. This is achieved by moving to one of the macronutrient magic zones and taking measures to heal the gut, which may involve some form of detoxification.
Remember that the expression of your genes is influenced by your environment (according to epigenetics), and both toxins and the food you put in your body are significant aspects of that environment.
The Worst Offenders: Trans Fats and Refined Sugar
The Fat-Carb conflict is worsened the more concentrated the fats and the more refined the carbohydrates become.
As such, the worst combination of foods that exists is trans fats plus refined sugar. It would be well and good if people simply avoided these things. Unfortunately, both of these foods exist in abundance in the Standard American Diet (SAD), and their combination is a huge contributor to the mass illness we see in America today.
Trans fats are hydrogenated oils. They are strictly human-made, and are generally produced only by industrial means (i.e. no one is making trans fats from scratch in their kitchen).
Trans fats are basically heated polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and they typically exist in the form of vegetable oils. These include soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, some palm oils, and vegetable shortening. As such, trans fats are often found in seed-based cooking oils, margarine, and most peanut butter (“partially hydrogenated” or “fully hydrogenated” will appear on the ingredients list, next to the name of the oil).
Some of the seeds whose oils are exploited to make trans fats are also genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These include soy, corn, canola, and cotton.
Is it a mere coincidence that the most unhealthy foods in existence are also genetically modified? I think not. Someone likes killing us.
Setting that aside for now, let’s go over refined carbohydrates.
Refined carbohydrates are any high-carbohydrate foods which do not exist in their whole form: this means that certain parts of them have been removed. The carbohydrates which get refined are typically cereal grains and cane sugar. Common examples of refined carbohydrates include enriched wheat flour (used in white pasta, white bread, kids’ cereals, and most baked goods and baking mixes), white rice, quick oats, and refined sugar.
In addition to having many of their nutrients removed, the primary problem with refined carbohydrates is that they are lacking in fiber. The absence of fiber makes a case against eating any refined carbohydrates and added sugar in general. Let’s see why.
The Fat-Carb Conflict Illustrated
This section is largely informed by this video and this one, where Dr. Rhonda Patrick talks about how heart disease develops, how gut health is related to heart disease, and why fiber is so important.
There are 100 trillion bacteria living in your colon. These bacteria consume fiber, and then consequently produce short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are then used by your gut epithelial cells to produce mucin, which makes up the barrier between the bacteria and the immune cells in the gut. Note that the largest concentration of immune cells in your body is in your gut.
When the bacteria in your colon don’t get fiber, they starve. A diet that is lacking in fiber is likely to be high in either refined carbohydrates (which lack fiber), fats and proteins, or both. Incidentally, there are other microorganisms inside you that like to eat sugar. For the most part, these are what we refer to as “bad” bacteria. In addition to any pathogenic effect they may have (i.e. being an infection), these bacteria are “bad” because they don’t contribute to the maintenance of the gut barrier, and they leave less room for the “good” bacteria who eat fiber and contribute to the gut barrier. The amount of space inside your colon is limited: as such, the more bad bacteria there are, the less room there is for good bacteria. So, if you are feeding the bad bacteria sugar, and are starving the good bacteria of fiber, you are betraying yourself, and setting yourself up for poor health.
When the good bacteria are starved of fiber, they become vigilant. Some of the hungry bacteria will travel to the small intestine in search of food. Others will cannibalize the gut barrier. Both of these events are bad news, and for the same reason: they unnecessarily trigger the immune system.
When the hungry, good bacteria eat the gut barrier, they set themselves up for death. As stated, the purpose of the gut barrier is to separate the bacteria in the colon from the immune cells. When the bacteria eat the gut barrier, they enable the immune cells to come into contact with them. The natural response of immune cells to bacteria is to attack—and so, they do. The attack of the gut bacteria by the immune cells is felt by you in the forms of bloating and inflammation. Of course, when the immune cells kill the good bacteria, they are killing the very organisms which help maintain the safe barrier between the bacteria and the immune cells in the first place. As such, a vicious cycle ensues here: the more the good bacteria are killed, the fewer there are remaining to help repair the gut barrier.
How about the hungry, good bacteria who travel to the small intestine?
When the bacteria are in the small intestine, they secrete a substance called zonulin. Zonulin opens the junctions of the gut barrier, exposing the bacteria to the immune cells on the other side of the barrier. We know from the last paragraph what happens when the bacteria and the immune cells meet.
That’s not the end of it. When the good bacteria die, they secrete an endotoxin. An endotoxin is a substance which is harmful to the body. The body has measures to protect itself (i.e. tissues) from this particular endotoxin. It achieves this by producing a substance called low-density lipoprotein, which is commonly (and mistakenly) referred to as LDL cholesterol, AKA the “bad” cholesterol.
As I just said, LDL is not cholesterol itself, but rather a molecule that transports cholesterol. Specifically, LDL transports cholesterol to body cells, such as those in the liver, kidney, and muscles. This cholesterol is used by the cells to repair themselves and to produce new cells. After the LDL passes off the cholesterol to the cells, it returns to the liver to be recycled.
When a LDL molecule has a cholesterol molecule attached to it, it is called a large-buoyant LDL particle. After the LDL passes off the cholesterol to a body cell, it shrinks in size, and is then called a small-dense LDL particle.
LDL is essential to bodily functioning, and when the body is free of gut inflammation it poses little risk of harm to us. However, when there is chronic gut inflammation, LDL becomes a potential danger—particularly in its small-dense form.
The danger of LDL lies in its response to the endotoxin produced by good gut bacteria that have died. As I mentioned, LDL is employed by the body to defend against this endotoxin. The endotoxin binds to the LDL, and this keeps the endotoxin from reaching the body’s tissues.
Unfortunately, this solution creates another problem. The endotoxin binds to the very site the small-dense LDL molecule normally uses to return to the liver. This means that the LDL’s ability to return to the liver is blocked. As such, it gets stuck in the bloodstream—with the endotoxin-molecule still in tow.
When there is a harmful substance such as an endotoxin in your blood, what happens? The immune system is triggered to fight against it. However, because the endotoxin is bound to the LDL molecule, and the LDL molecule is just a molecule (and not a microorganism), it cannot be killed. What happens is the immune cells, endotoxin, and small-dense LDL molecules all become bound together (the immune cells presumably continue trying to fight until they die) in the bloodstream in a substance known as… wait for it… plaque! Yup, that’s what plaque is made of: not fat, but rather immune cells, small-dense LDL molecules, and bits of endotoxin.
We all know the story about plaque. Plaque forms around the walls of the arteries. This reduces the amount of space blood and other molecules have to move through the arteries. Consequently, blood pressure increases; in turn, the heart must work harder (i.e. pump faster) for the body to remain functional. There is a higher energy tax on the body overall as a result, and this makes it generally more difficult to exist (and especially to engage in intense physical activity).
The presence of plaque in the arteries is what induces heart attacks. Because blood is always moving through the arteries, the plaque on the arteries stands a chance of rupturing. If the ruptured plaque is large enough, and the artery small enough (due to the other plaque remaining on its walls), the ruptured plaque effectively acts as a blood clot. This means that blood can no longer flow through the arteries. When this happens you will either have a heart attack or a stroke, depending on precisely which artery the blood clot occurs in. I’m taking a leap with this, but I’d bet that if the blood clot occurs in the pulmonary artery, you may experience respiratory arrest.
So, again, high levels of small-dense LDL molecules are bad only if the gut is under chronic inflammation. This is where the fat-carb conflict really comes in. Get ready for it!
It’s simple, really. Refined carbohydrates ultimately kill your gut bacteria, which results in inflammation at the level of the gut. This inflammation comes with an endotoxin produced by the dead bacteria. Saturated fat, on the other hand, increases your levels of small-dense LDL molecules.
The sugar damages the gut. The fat increases the levels of LDL. Can you see where this is going? The LDL provoked by the fat combines with the endotoxin provoked by the sugar (due to bacteria-death): this triggers an immune response and ultimately results in the formation of plaque. In other words, when you eat lots of saturated fat and refined carbohydrates together, you’re just asking for clogged arteries.
Being the product of reptilians in underground laboratories, trans fats are even WORSE than saturated fats when it comes to feeding the fat-carb conflict. Trans fats not only increase your levels of LDL (like saturated fats do)—trans fats also decrease your levels of High-density lipoprotein, more often known as HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
Like LDL, HDL is not cholesterol itself: rather, it is a lipoprotein that moves cholesterol. Whereas LDL moves cholesterol from the liver to the body’s cells, HDL takes cholesterol from the cells and returns it to the liver, presumably to be recycled (i.e. some of it can be re-used by the body, some of it can’t and is instead eliminated).
Why is HDL important? HDL is needed so that cholesterol can be used again by the body, once a body cell no longer needs it. In regards to the fat-carb conflict specifically, if there is no HDL to return cholesterol to the liver, then there will be no cholesterol in the liver for the LDL molecules to take and bring to cells. As such, if we have trans fats reducing our levels of HDL and increasing our levels of LDL, we’re left with lots of LDL molecules that can’t get any cholesterol, and therefore can’t do their job. Instead they remain aimless in our bloodstream, in the small-dense form. And when we have lots of small-dense LDL, and lots of endotoxin resulting from the death of gut bacteria, what happens? That’s right—the endotoxin binds to all that small-dense LDL, and that eventually turns into plaque. Then we get clogged arteries. In time, we die.
So, if you have a death wish, but would rather die slowly, eat all the trans fats and refined sugar you can, and leave the fiber at the grocery store.
Now, let me clarify the cholesterol-confusion one more time:
It is not cholesterol itself that is bad, but high levels of small-dense LDL that are bad. Likewise, it is the body’s levels of LDL that are increased by saturated fat intake—not cholesterol itself. This is why dietary cholesterol is often said to be linked to serum cholesterol: foods high in dietary cholesterol also tend to be high in saturated fat. Again, saturated fat increases not cholesterol itself, but rather LDL. This is really all just a great misunderstanding of words. It is unfortunate that the medical community has coerced everyone into referring to LDL as “cholesterol”—this is sadly confusing and misleading.
That being said, I’m not giving dietary cholesterol and saturated fat the same pass here that many in the paleo community often do (this, too, is the likely result of all the word-confusion). More will be said on this later.
Some final notes on this topic before moving on.
First of all, I mentioned that the good bacteria in your colon like to eat fiber. Specifically, they like fermentable fiber. Examples of fermentable fiber include various fruits, vegetables (including fermented vegetables like sauerkraut), barley, whole oats, and mushrooms.
There is a variety of good bacteria living inside you: as such, it is wise to get a variety of fiber, since each strain and species of bacteria likely has a preference as to which source of fiber it likes. Some of the most common species of bacteria in your colon include lactobacillus and acidophilus. If you haven’t given to anyone recently, you can at least give the gift of fiber to your gut bacteria. Consider sending a microscopic greeting card to them along with it, too (as long as it’s high in fiber!).
I also mentioned that when these bacteria are fed, they produce short-chain fatty acids, which are then utilized by the gut epithelial cells to secrete mucin, which fortifies the gut barrier. These fatty acids include lactate, butyrate, and acetate.
Another issue I’d like to raise again is FODMAP sensitivity (i.e. carbohydrate intolerance). You know how I said FODMAP sensitivity is likely the result of reversible gut damage? Well, now you know one of the great contributors to that gut damage—sugar! Seeing that FODMAPs are sugars, this means that It’s sugar that makes sugar indigestible! HA!
It’s not that cut-and-dry, though. Especially if you’re on a high-carb, low-fat diet, sugar that is packed into a whole, high-fiber food shouldn’t damage your gut (indeed, the fiber ought to feed your gut bacteria). What happens, then, is that refined sugar ruins the party for everyone—even the “good” sugar that comes in whole foods. What I’m saying is, don’t be so quick to blame fruit itself, for example, if it doesn’t go down well: it’s likely a past of eating refined sugar that has made it difficult for you to digest fruit properly.
It is also worth mentioning that there are non-dietary causes of gut damage. Your gut can also be hurt by substances such as heavy metals, plastics, synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and irradiation. “Gut damage” means that both your good bacteria are hurt and killed, and your gut barrier and gut lining are degraded. So, the epithelial cells, the gut barrier, and the gut bacteria all take a toll.
Remember that there are lots of harmful substances like this in our world today. If your gut damage is the result of non-dietary factors, then you won’t feel good on any diet, and you’ll likely have a hard time digesting all foods: it’s just that some foods may be harder to digest than others. While food quality and choice of food are important, too, don’t be so quick to blame the food if you are in pain. It might be that your body is hurting independently of that food, and that hurt needs to be addressed.
Similarly, substances called endocrine disruptors may be affecting your weight nearly-regardless of what you eat. Some of the most notable hormones affected by endocrine disruptors are the sex hormones (e.g. testosterone and estrogen) and the hormones related to thyroid functioning. Heavy metals and BPA in the lining of cans both are endocrine disruptors. So, if you have achieved dietary perfection yet are still overweight, endocrine disruptors may be pulling the strings.
Is Meat Unhealthy?
Saturated Fat and LDL
I mentioned that saturated fat consumption increases levels of LDL. Heightened LDL is only bad if there is inflammation at the level of the gut. If you are on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, and you avoid refined sugar, then you can largely avoid inflammation.
However, I also just mentioned that there are non-dietary sources of gut damage, and therefore inflammation. Consequently, if you consume saturated fat, and your gut is not in tip-top shape (free of heavy metals and all), you may be asking for it.
Most doctors who address nutrition tend not to address detoxification: the opposite is also true. As such, I haven’t seen any professional opinions on the relationship of saturated fat to toxins, and whether consuming saturated fat in the presence of non-dietary gut damage is dangerous. If it is true that saturated fat consumption increases levels of small-dense LDL, and the combination of small-dense LDL and endotoxin from dead gut bacteria ultimately leads to plaque build-up and heart disease, I don’t see why saturated fat wouldn’t be dangerous in the presence of significant gut damage.
When there is no gut damage present, on the other hand, any excess LDL spurred by saturated fat consumption probably just returns to the liver and is recycled. LDL isn’t dangerous until there is an endotoxin to bind to it.
But there’s the rub. In a world where our guts are under fire by a wide variety of factors, how can we be so smug as to think we’re impervious to bacteria-death-induced endotoxin? Is saturated fat really worth the risk?
This is an issue that calls for a greater understanding of health (which I’ll bring up again). So, moving on for now.
The short story here is that, if a cell is either cancerous or pre-cancerous, IGF-1 will make it even worse (i.e. help it to grow bigger).
Though IGF-1 also has some benefits, that risk on its own is enough for me to want to eschew IGF-1, and therefore animal products. How can I be sure that I don’t have any pre-cancerous cells in my body? Again, wouldn’t it be rather smug of me to assume my body is totally free of malignant cells?
Here is what some others have said about IGF-1.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick says that high-circulating IGF-1 (i.e. in the blood) is what is correlated with the risk of cancer. IGF-1 in the blood is called “serum-IGF-1.” Exercising lowers the body’s levels of serum-IGF-1. As such, Dr. Patrick suggests eating meat strategically, such as by doing so close to exercising (presumably several hours before), and also limiting your intake of meat. She also suggests fasting periodically, such as by fasting intermittently each day (i.e. eating only within an 8-10 hour span, out of a 24-hour day).
Denise Minger says the following regarding IGF-1:
The reality? “It’s complicated.” For one, the link between IGF-1 and cancer isn’t fully conclusive. Two, IGF-1 is influenced by a huge number of factors: along with protein (both animal and plant!), it’s been connected to dietary fat, high-glycemic carbohydrates, caloric excess, obesity, and other decidedly non-proteinful variables (117, 118, 119). Three, regardless of the effect of any specific foods on IGF-1 levels, other diet and lifestyle habits—such as intermittent fasting and maintaining a healthy body weight—can help suppress IGF-1 and keep levels in a healthy range, without requiring a commitment to low-protein veganism.
I’ll concede that the fat-carb conflict probably does exacerbate the negative effects of IGF-1, considering all the other negative health consequences of the fat-carb conflict.
Still, why would you purposely eat something you have to periodically cleanse yourself of? If it’s bad enough that you have to do that, why put it in your body in the first place? That’s like drinking alcohol and saying that the health benefits it comes with are worth the risk. Hm, alright buddy…
Though I hate to get confrontational, in the podcast in question (titled, “Does Meat Consumption Cause Cancer?”), Dr. Patrick mentions that, in studies where eating meat is shown to be unhealthy (especially relative to plant-based diets), it’s often the case that these meat-eaters have other unhealthy habits, such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and being sedentary. Therefore, the meat can’t take all the blame that it is so often given.
I’ll agree, this makes sense. But she then says (I’m paraphrasing), A plant-based diet- possibly one with no meat- might make sense for someone who doesn’t intend on making any other lifestyle changes.
I get that Dr. Patrick is trying to defend meat. But that statement achieves the opposite. She is suggesting that if you are sedentary, smoke cigarettes, and drink alcohol, you are better off on a plant-based diet than one based on animal-products.
Again, she does say that the IGF-1 issue isn’t as bad if you engage in weight-training often. But how much do the IGF-1 risks get reduced? And, of course, we’ve established that if you sit around, then IGF-1 is indeed an issue. So if you have to take a week off from exercise, for example, you enter that risk-zone.
I will concede that soy also contains relatively high-levels of IGF-1. I don’t eat soy, and you shouldn’t either. It’s genetically modified, son.
Methionine and Glycine
The short story on this one is if you eat muscle meat, eggs, dairy, and fish, you will take in methionine. Restricting methionine consumption has been shown to reduce cancer risk. The dangers of methionine consumption can also be countered by glycine consumption. Bones, which can be utilized in the form of bone broth, contain substantial levels of glycine.
Of course, how many people are consuming bone broth—and as regularly as they do muscle meat? We have a muscle meat obsession in America, and this is a problem, because animals are most effectively eaten whole. If you are going to eat an animal, you ought to use every part, eating all that you can. This is not just out of respect for the animal, but this is also the healthiest way to go about things. If you only eat one part of the animal over and over and over, the dangers inherent to eating that one part will not be balanced (like it can be) by eating the other parts.
I consider this nature’s sanctions for our mass commercialization of animals and turning them into mere parts. Have respect for the animal, and eat the whole thing, or suffer the consequences.
I’ll let Denise Minger do the talking on acidosis:
…the net acid load of the diet—that is, the balance between acid-forming components (like sulfuric acid) and base-forming components (like bicarbonate)—may indeed have relevance to human health.
Prior to the book’s cancer section, Davis explains that “When our body becomes too acidic, a state known as metabolic acidosis, our tissues become inflamed” (page 150). As a potential cancer mechanism, he proposes that chronic acidosis wreaks havoc at a cellular level in ways that promote malignant formations, though he doesn’t get any more specific than that (page 198).
Basically, meat-consumption contributes to this acidosis because it is high in sulfur-containing amino acids. Denise then goes on to say that cereal grains contribute to acidosis as well, for the same reason. Thankfully I don’t eat those.
To be fair, Denise then says that gelatin is low in sulfur-containing amino acids. But I don’t see how eating a food that is low in these amino acids would counter the effects of eating foods that are high in these amino acids (unless some sort of acid-base reaction happens… But I don’t think proteins work that way).
Again, I will employ Denise here:
A compelling number of studies show that heme iron contributes to the formation of N-nitroso compounds and toxic aldehydes, both of which can play roles in initiating colorectal cancer (115).
However, the effects of heme iron are supremely context-dependent! Consuming chlorophyll-rich foods (like leafy greens and other plant matter) along with iron-rich animal foods effectively nullifies the effects of heme iron (116). The reason? Chlorophyll is so structurally similar to heme that it actually blocks its metabolism in the intestinal tract, stymieing the formation of toxic metabolites.
The issue then becomes here, How much plant matter is enough to combat the heme iron?
Are you confident that you eat enough vegetables to keep heme iron at bay? Might you be better off eschewing it altogether?
There are so many problems with factory farming that degrade the animal products that come out of it. It’s just a big clusterfuck. See the last paragraph of this section for a description.
Toxins are one of the most straightforward reasons to eschew meat consumption.
Humanity is bathing in a toxin-soup right now, and the animals on this planet are breathing the same polluted air, drinking the same poisoned water, and eating the same contaminated, low-quality food we are. This is especially true of the animals that we raise for food, and keep near to us.
When you eat an animal, you not only eat everything that was in that animal’s body when it died, but you also eat the effects of those substances on the animal’s body. The toxins in the animal’s body get passed onto you, and you know that the pigs aren’t out there taking glutathione to heal their guts. These animals’ eggs and milk get contaminated by the stuff that’s in their bodies, too (just like human breastmilk does).
To worsen the situation, the higher up you eat on the food chain, the more adversely affected you are by the combined phenomena of bioaccumulation and biomagnification. This means that, the higher up on the food chain you eat, the higher the concentrations of toxins become. Consequently, the safest way to eat is to eat as low on the food-chain as possible. Until you figure out photosynthesis, this means eating plants.
Meat is more harmful to us today than it ever has been previously, due to toxins—not just in the animals, but in ourselves, too. Perhaps meat was a relatively viable food source in the past, but our diets must adapt to the toxic realities of the time.
To throw salt on the wound, the way it is done today, raising farm animals does substantial damage to the natural environment. To state it simply, farming animals increases the toxicity of the environment (e.g. via manure lagoons and lakes of urine); in turn, the animals themselves become more toxic, and a vicious cycle ensues.
It certainly doesn’t help that factory-farmed animals live in overcrowded conditions and are unable to avoid their own bodily wastes. Enjoy your poop-stew.
(On the factory farming note, I’ll concede this much: If we had a world where some people raised their own livestock, some people hunted, and the rest were vegan, that world would be far, far better than the one we have now.)
In the moment when an animal is slaughtered, it is no doubt in fear. If you alarm an ant in the moments before you eat it, the ant’s fear is made clear by the more acidic taste than it would otherwise have if it was not afraid.
Of course, I’m not sure how you kill an animal without there being some fear in the situation. I would imagine the lifetime of torture most livestock endure compounds this issue.
This isn’t just “woo-woo” stuff—we all know very well that fear affects biochemistry, via activating the “fight or flight” response which affects cortisol and epinephrine levels. How might the biochemistry of fear affect what you’re eating?
What About High-Protein Diets?
High-protein diets (i.e. over 20% of calories from protein) are effective at producing weight-loss in the short-term. This is because protein suppresses appetite.
The suppression of appetite does not mean the same as the nourishing the body. Try to get most of your calories from protein, and maybe unless you are sedentary, you will not last.
Here is a comment from Denise’s blog (LCHF stands for “Low-carb High-fat”):
If your doing LCHF and have constipation, then your not doing the diet correctly (hint, your eating too much protein, and not enough low starch vegetables & fiber). The most common mistake people make on this diet is thinking that it is high fat AND high protein diet (it’s not). It is a high fat, very low carbohydrate, & MODERATE protein diet. Too much protein and two things happen. First you stop loosing weight, because your body tries to turn the excess protein into sugar. The other thing that happens, and yet another reason you stop losing weight, is that ya can’t poop anymore 8^].
And a comment from a forum:
As a "large person" I can tell you it is about associating the feeling of being sated with idea that you have consumed what you need. Fat people are really stuck on the idea that if they crave a chicken wing it is because their body "needs" the protein. I have had many friends tell me that their bodies "like" to be 50 or 100lbs over weight. It just delusion....a strong delusion that leaves many people sick and miserable.
This is why the two extremes are high-fat and high-carb. The body cannot take in adequate energy and nutrition when the majority of calories come from protein.
What About Grass-Fed, Humanely-Raised or Hunted, High-Quality Animal Products?
You still have to deal with toxins, the animal’s fear, and all of the strictly-nutritional issues listed above, such as small-dense LDL, IGF-1, methionine, acidosis, heme iron, and hormones, cooking effects, as well as the risk of parasitic and/or bacterial infection (particularly in the case of undercooking).
When people talk about vegetarian and vegan diets, they always say, “It’s only healthy if you do it right.” People who say this miss out on the larger reality, which is that we all are on diets, and ANY diet has to be “done right” in order to be healthy. Most people are doing diet wrong, and it shows in their health!
In order to do animal consumption right, you must engage in the following: eat the whole animal (not just muscle-meat), fast periodically or intermittently (which may involve periodically abstaining from animal products while continuing to eat other food), eat plenty of green vegetables, exercise regularly (in regards to IGF-1, weight training seems best), keep meat consumption close to exercise as much as you can, and cook meat properly and avoid burning and smoking it (high-temperature cooking of meat creates carcinogens. Care to join the raw foodists?). This is in addition to getting the highest-quality animal products you can (which means, for starters, that it’s not factory farmed).
I will concede that animal products are nutrient-dense foods, but eating these foods comes with risks. While there are ways to mitigate the negative health-consequences of meat, I believe these negative health-consequences remain great enough to make eating meat not worthwhile. As such, I do believe meat consumption is nutritionally inferior to consuming plants, especially on a regular basis and in the long-run.
Overall, I don’t believe the risks of meat consumption are worth facing. I will extend the same to other animal products; of course, dairy has its own issues (e.g. pasteurization, rBGH).
If you insist on eating animal products, you might as well go in your backyard and catch some ants on a stick (seriously, why doesn’t anyone talk about eating bugs? I used to do it sometimes—the world doesn’t end). That’s probably the lowest-risk way to go about it. The next-least-risky thing after that is probably raising your own chickens and eating their eggs; after that, hunting animals for meat in forests (as far away from civilization as possible).
Consuming factory farmed meat and dairy is the highest-risk thing you can do, in regards to eating animal products. Considering that those animals are not only administered antibiotics and hormones but are also fed genetically-modified PUFAs and grains and constantly spread illness among one another and their meat is soaked in preservatives and sprayed with bacteriophages before it’s packaged, you’re really just asking for it if you eat anything out of a factory farm. By the way, if you aren’t sure where a particular piece of meat came from, it probably came from a factory farm.
Does Veganism Work?
Yes, and there are ways of doing it that are better than others. Here are my assurances and suggestions.
You can eat a LOT of fat as a vegan. I once ate 150 grams of fat in a single sitting—all from avocadoes, cashews (which I don’t eat anymore), and olives. Note these were all raw, too (as raw as cashews can be, anyway).
The main and best sources of plant-based fat are coconuts, avocadoes, olives, and nuts (particularly raw brazil nuts). I don’t recommend seeds, and you’ll see why.
Fats are best consumed raw. The above sources of fat are naturally raw anyway, and are easily consumed raw—there’s really no reason to subject them to heat.
If you insist upon eating saturated fat, coconut oil is loaded to the brim with it.
Eat yer veggies and shut up.
If you eat plenty of leafy greens, particularly lettuce (romaine or iceberg especially), omega-3 fats will be no issue for you.
If you’re really concerned you can still eat the fats mentioned above, and you can supplement with a source of fat from the sea such as marine phytoplankton or algae oil. If you’re really concerned, these sea sources are comprised of long-chain fatty acids—not just medium-chain triglycerides like coconut oil is. So, have at it.
Where do you think all we animals get our omega-3 fats from in the first place anyway? Plants.
PUFAs, Omega-6, and Seeds
If you don’t consume seeds or seed-based oils, you probably won’t have to worry about things like the Omega 6:3 ratio and the inflammatory effects of Omega-6. I can’t guarantee this, but as far as I’m aware I’ve never had inflammation-related issues eating high-fat, non-seed plant foods.
Additionally, remember what I said earlier about trans fats, and how they so often are seed-based oils? While you can get cold-pressed seed-based oils that are free of trans fats, I just don’t see why you would want to.
My personal feeling is that seeds aren’t meant to be eaten: when they are eaten whole, they pass through the digestive system unscathed. Yes, you can cook them and ground them up to make them digestible, but I’ve just never felt great eating them.
Remember seeds go rancid, too—most easily when ground up.
If you care about the health of the Earth, this should be reason enough to not eat the below foods—especially corn, wheat, and soy, which are genetically modified as planted as monocrops. Still, the nutritional reasons are given, too.
Corn is the devil of all food crops these days. ‘Tis a sad story, since corn did not mean to become this way. But Monsanto and sugar-pushers came and took corn and co-opted him, and now he is evil.
Virtually all corn is genetically modified now (i.e. as of March 2017). That alone is reason enough to not bother with it.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) apparently contains mercury. I don’t know how that happened, but I’m not touching it no matter what.
Wheat is tricky. It is quite possible that the gluten in wheat does not damage the gut, but rather it creates inflammation if and only if the gut is damaged in the first place. For me this is reason enough to avoid wheat, because who am I to say for sure that my gut is healthy enough to handle gluten? It’s a similar case to IGF-1: I’d rather not take the chance. Certainly not if I don’t have to, and the benefits of eating the food it’s associated with aren’t that great anyway.
It works like this: in the presence of gluten the body secretes zonulin, just like your gut bacteria do when they are hungry and they move to the small intestine. Remember that zonulin temporarily opens the gut barrier that protects the bacteria from the immune cells. In a healthy gut, a gut barrier that is prompted to open by gluten is quickly shut. In an unhealthy gut, however, the barrier stays open longer—long enough to let out the immune cells to attack the bacteria and create an inflammatory response.
All things considered, I haven’t eaten wheat in two years, and I don’t miss it.
Genetically modified. That should be enough of a case on its own.
Supposedly the proper way to consume soy is to eat it fermented, like in the forms of miso and natto. As long as the soy is genetically modified, though, this is not good enough for me; on the other hand, if the soy was not a GMO, I would try it this way.
Remember that soy lechitin is soy, too. So are soymilk, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and vegetable oil.
I’ve made a case against wheat, refined carbohydrates, and sugar without fiber. But what about whole cereal grains?
Rice is sadly great at absorbing arsenic. Our diets must adapt to the toxic realities of our time. For this reason I don’t believe rice is worth eating.
I haven’t attempted to re-introduce cereal grains into my diet since first going raw 10 months ago. I’ve eaten rice several times and was left in great pain each time (unlike some other cooked foods, like sweet potatoes).
Remember from earlier that cereal grains contribute to acidosis, too. Overall, I am not a fan. There are better sources of nutrition out there.
If you insist on eating brown rice, be careful how you cook it. You will have to use much more water than rice, in order to boil off as much of the arsenic as you can. Don’t let the rice simmer in just-enough water: having far more water than rice in the pot is key.
Supposedly peanuts are sufficiently cleaned of all traces of aflatoxin, but I don’t know that I trust ‘em.
Also, like cashews, I’ve found peanuts to be relatively addictive and ultimately unsatisfying.
Cashews cannot truly be raw: heat and caustic substances have to be applied to them in order to remove the nut from the shell. Sure, it takes effort to open a coconut, too, but that only requires some physical force—not melting down.
I’ve also found cashews to be fairly addictive, especially in comparison to other nuts. Life is better on the other side of cashews. My preferred nut these days is brazil nuts.
(By the way, cashews, like peanuts, are legumes—not nuts.)
Vegan or not, you should not be eating anything that is not food. Why would you do that? Not-food doesn’t belong in your mouth, silly.
Preservatives (e.g. sodium benzoate), artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose), food dyes/artificial colors, added flavors (even “natural flavors”), MSG (monosodium glutamate)—keep it out of your mouth, mate.
I hope I don’t need to explain to you why by now. This includes high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, date sugar, beet sugar, agave nectar—any of that fancy stuff. You don’t need it.
Go stuff your face with whole fruit if you want sugar.
Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants are the most common. At least experiment with not eating them. I feel better staying away.
By the way, sweet potatoes are far superior to other kinds of potatoes.
A list of the current GMOs I am aware of include: corn, soybeans, cottonseed, canola, zucchini, yellow squash, and papaya. I’m not certain on wheat, peanuts, and potatoes.
Note that virtually all animal products, especially those from factory farms, have been genetically tampered with in some fashion. So don’t think being omnivorous gets you off the hook.
GMO bananas are on the way. Bananas have been tasting so bad to me lately, I wonder if the GMO strain is already here.
Sadly, once a GMO food gets out there, its takeover of other strains of the same crop is pretty much inevitable.
The basic story here is that the majority of the people with deficiencies in the following micronutrients are omnivores. The same is true of micronutrient deficiencies in general.
Vegans can and do get these micronutrient deficiencies, too, but such deficiencies are clearly not unique to nor inherent in veganism.
B12 is not inherent in animal products. B12 is produced by bacteria.
To get B12, consume unwashed produce. This is best done by having your own garden, going outside to it, picking a food from the ground, and eating on the spot.
Additionally, foods high in B12 include algaes like chlorella and spirulina.
Iron deficiency is largely the result of a damaged gut and a consequent inability to absorb iron from food sources.
The same is true of many micronutrients: gut damage makes it difficult for us to get all we can from our food. This is why oral supplements (i.e. pills, powders, tablets) tend to likewise be ineffective.
Heal your gut, and all shall be well with iron.
You should actually be concerned about too much calcium in your diet (hello, calcifications).
If you get ample silica and Vitamin D, calcium will be no concern for you.
Magnesium and Iodine
Magnesium and iodine are sadly lost by all of us as a result of exposure to heavy metals (which is inevitable in the world we live in presently). Removing these heavy metals, along with other toxins, from your body will help your body to hold on to the nutrients it needs. In the process you ought to supplement with magnesium and iodine, to keep your levels of them sufficient. You can apply magnesium oil to your skin and take liquid Nascent iodine to do so.
Sea vegetables have high quantities of iodine as well (by the way, sea vegetables are nutritionally superior to other vegetables. I love kelp! Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut are second in line. After that it’s lettuce).
Go outside. Or take a supplement. Be careful about what kind of supplement you take.
Whole, unrefined salt like Celtic Sea Salt and Himalayan Pink Salt contain at least 70 different elements (i.e. trace minerals) from the periodic table, such as phosphorous, sulfur, and potassium. Have some of that (NOT table salt please) and you’ll be good to go.
What Foods are Good?
Nearly two years into having a vegan diet, I believe the top three food groups for any vegan- whether raw, high-carb, or high-fat- are: 1. Fruit, 2. Vegetables, and 3. Herbs and spices. Remember that fruit includes coconuts, avocadoes, and olives too, all of which are high in fat.
Herbs and spices are useful for their medicinal properties; for instance, some spices like garlic and onion (you can call them vegetables if you prefer) are anti-parasitic and, to some extent, can help boost glutathione levels. Other healthy herbs and spices include turmeric, oregano, and ginger.
After those three groups, putting the best foods in quality-order is difficult. This is my current take, being on a high-carb diet, though it’s subject to change:
4. Sweet potatoes. As long as I keep the skins on, these digest fine. I like to put them in a slow-cooker for two hours.
5. Legumes. Lentils have always been my favorite. I haven’t experimented enough with these since re-introducing cooked foods to my diet to have a conclusion about them. Black beans go well for me, too.
6. Nuts. As I said, raw brazil nuts are my favorite. I wouldn’t do it anymore, but I’ve previously eaten a whole pound of nuts in one sitting!
7. Mushrooms. I haven’t re-introduced these yet either, but I have trust in them.
8. Grain-like seeds. Grain-like seeds include quinoa, buckwheat, black wild rice, millet, and amaranth. These are far superior to cereal grains. Since trying cooked foods again I’ve only had quinoa, and that was only once. I didn’t particularly enjoy eating it, but it seemed to digest just fine (aside from what re-appeared in the toilet the next day). Before I went raw I particularly enjoyed eating millet. This being said, my seed-skepticism gets activated by grain-like seeds, so I don’t intend on going out of my way to eat them.
So, get in your fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, sweet potatoes, legumes, nuts, mushrooms, and grain-like seeds. You can mess around with cold-pressed oils if you want to, though I myself am not a fan.
Look at that, baby—you’ve got all the choices in the world! And you don’t have to eat processed junk or GMOs to pull it off. Who said a whole-foods plant-based diet is restrictive? :)
What About Vegetarianism?
Vegetarianism exists in a gray zone, just like the macronutrient swamp. Vegetarianism executed with a commitment to continually optimize your diet is far, far better than the Standard American Diet. But you are still consuming animal products, with all their issues.
If you insist on being vegetarian, you might as well go the high-fat route, unless you are prepared to have only egg whites and de-fatted dairy like skim milk as your animal products. Otherwise, all the animal products available to you as a vegetarian (i.e. eggs and dairy) are high in fat. And we have established what happens if you eat all that fat alongside plenty of carbohydrates.
If you want to be vegetarian but not vegan, the best animal products available to you are eggs, colostrum, and ghee (raw butter). Avoid cheese unless you essentially want to be an opioid addict (pizza is a high-fat, refined-carb, oily mess anyway—it’s no loss).
An example of a strong, largely-vegetarian diet (it’s easy enough to tweak) on the high-fat path is the Superman Diet.
Issues with Fruits and Vegetables
This is a post from the high-carb vegan forum “30 Bananas a Day”:
…Don Weaver gave a talk on remineralizing the earth with rock dust. Our soils are getting depleted as we all probably know. Growing our own food if we can, and spreading rock dust in our compost and around the plants will make a huge difference on the amount of minerals we get from our food, and will greatly improve the taste as well. Putting the rock dust around our fruit trees will do the same. People I've met who do this say the taste is so superior to regular organic food.
The soil our food is grown in is sadly becoming more depleted over time—even organic food. The water it is grown with contains fluoride and other toxins (as does all tap water), and pesticides containing heavy metals are applied to the food. This is an issue all farmed food faces, though—not just fruit and veggies.
Many foods, particularly produce, are supposedly irradiated before they are packaged (i.e. before they’re put on those Styrofoam plates and covered in plastic wrap). That’s unsettling.
Some produce is covered in various preservatives before it is packaged. Apples and pears get shellac, grapes and dried fruit get sulfur dioxide, and oranges get fungicides and lac resins. This isn’t true for all of these fruits all the time, but it is for many of them. Check the package for these additives before you buy them.
Yes, this stuff is bad. I can’t stand any of it except for lac resins on oranges—and even that is only because oranges have a hard skin that doesn’t get eaten. Blech!
Lastly, some produce travels such a long way that what nutrients it does have is largely lost by the time you eat it.
There is no doubt that there is value in getting the best quality foods we can, and wild, gardened, and locally-grown foods, along with heirloom varieties, are better than those we often find at the supermarket.
I feel that as long as we commit to optimizing our diets and continually taking steps to do the best we can, eating fruits and vegetables is still worthwhile.
Issues with Nuts
Typically, nuts are not 100% raw: they are often pasteurized (virtually all almonds grown in the US are). This raises the issue of whether heating polyunsaturated fats/PUFAs- even in their whole form- is dangerous.
Cashews and peanuts aside (see above), that’s about it. It’s still worth mentioning.
Proper Food Preparation
Basically, if you’re going to eat grains, legumes, or nuts, soak them in water for a few hours first and let them sprout.
Don’t overcook things. Steaming and slow-cooking are better than boiling and frying. High-temperature cooking hurts plant-foods just like it hurts animal-foods.
I’m convinced that one of the most common reasons people fail on vegan diets is undereating.
You have to eat larger portions of plants than you do of animal products in order to nourish yourself. The similar is true of macronutrients: you have to consume more calories on a high-carb diet than you do on a high-fat one in order to succeed.
When you are hungry, thoughts of any and all foods may pass through your mind. This doesn’t mean that you “need” these foods—your body is just telling you that it wants to eat. Heed this biological signal to eat, but choose what you eat consciously. Especially in your early days of veganism, be sure to have plenty of plant foods around so you don’t resort to animal products when you’re hungry.
(Though I “hate” to be confrontational, this is why Denise Minger failed as a vegan. She now exudes a clear bias against veganism, though she otherwise gives a great deal of careful thought and study to what she says about nutrition; and, she has a relatively unique perspective, which I respect.)
What About Protein??!!
I have been vegan for almost two years. I have never thought or worried about protein. Hell, I’ve endured differing degrees and periods of food deprivation multiple times (for financial reasons), and I’ve yet to become protein deficient.
And I continue to run faster and farther…
If you eat enough calories, you will get enough protein. You do have to try harder if you’re into bodybuilding, but that isn’t something I can personally comment on. I just know that other people have pulled it off.
Only about 5% of your total calories, on average, need to come from protein. If you’re a body-builder you probably ought to shoot for more like 10%.
This paragraph from Steve Pavlina sums up the protein issue nicely:
The truth is that most plant foods do contain all the essential amino acids, but furthermore, your body will store amino acids in a pool between meals — it doesn’t even need to get all the essentials in a single meal. So the theory of combining plant foods to form complete proteins isn’t even remotely correct. Of course, lifelong vegans already knew Lappé’s theory was wrong, as they weren’t suffering from protein deficiencies regardless of how they combined their meals.
Adhere to the above and detoxify your body like all people should, and you’ll be fine as a vegan.
When you’re just getting started you don’t have to be a stick about things like peanuts and cashews, but you don’t want to have too much of that kind of food for too long. You’ll feel better once it’s out of your life. I would know! :)
By the way, I know there are some ethical issues with being vegan, like animals that get killed as a result of agriculture. My focus in this article is more nutritional than ethical, but the short answer is that we have to be honest about this and continually keep improving.
One more thing: when you eat fruit, make sure to do it on an empty stomach (unless there’s nothing but other fruits in there)! Eat fruit at the start of a meal, rather than the end—otherwise it will ferment inside you, and you’ll gain little from it.
I’ve yet to address the issue of high-carb vs. high-fat diets specifically, and that’s next on the menu.
Remember that the macronutrient magic zone for a high-carb diet is to get no more than 10% of your calories, on average, from fat. The typical protocol is 80/10/10—80% of calories from carbs, 10% from protein, and another 10% from fat.
Denise Minger wrote the definitive article on studies of high-carb diets that have worked. Some of these diets included animal products, while others did not.
In the diets which did include animal products, overall positive results were still attained in people who managed to keep their fat intake low enough.
Of course, positive is far from perfect; at the same time, perfect is not necessary to achieve better. These diets were improved enough, compared to the subjects’ previous diets, that many people saw a reversal in the symptoms of their diseases. Indeed, I did tell you that getting your butt into the macronutrient magic zones will heal you, even if you have other improvements to make once you’re there.
It’s worth noting that these studies were performed long before factory farming came into existence; consequently, the animal products people were eating were far higher in quality than those most people eat most of the time today.
That being said, I’ve already presented my case against animal products, so make of it what you will.
On a similar note, one of the studies used a diet that was high in white rice and refined sugar, but it still worked at reversing diabetes in the majority of patients because it was also extremely low in fat. Obviously a diet like this is not the best a person could do (vegan though it was), but it was still better than the diets that gave those people diabetes.
One more thing: Denise makes an important point, which is that what many people think is low-fat is actually not. In research studies, food items, and in our daily lives, we have been thinking that 20-30% of calories from fat is low-fat. Of course, we have been mistaken. That is way too high. The fat needs to be kept down to 10% of calories.
If you’re seeking a resource, the definitive website for high-carb vegans is 30 Bananas a Day.
Raw Till 4
The basic idea is to eat nothing but fruit during the day, and then have a meal that includes cooked food in the evening. The general recommendations are to get a minimum of 2500 calories per day if you’re a woman, and 3000 per day if you’re a man.
Note these are higher than the USDA’s caloric recommendations: remember, you have to get more calories from plant foods than from animal products, and more calories from carbs than from fats, in order to nourish yourself equally.
Low-Fat Raw Vegan
This is the same as Raw Till 4, except without cooked food. You’d think that one cooked meal at the end of the day wouldn’t make a huge difference, but it does.
When I was 100% raw for 5 months I did alright on a few clementines, a pound of dates, and an avocado with a salad each day (“alright” meaning that felt like just enough food for me, but I usually wanted a little more). When I could I liked to add half a pound of brazil nuts, a second avocado, or 6 ounces of olives (I felt more satisfied eating this way). I decided to stop that because I felt my combined consumption of fruit and fat was too high, and I’d be better off choosing one or the other. So far I’m feeling good about this decision, even though it means I’m eating some cooked food for now.
You really need to have a lot of food to succeed on a low-fat, raw vegan diet. Bananas and dates are recommended as staples for beginners. I probably wouldn’t need cooked food if I could eat plenty of bananas, but lately I just keep gagging on them. That's what she said.
Anyway, the most prominent person I’m aware of on this diet is Michael Arnstein. Mike has been on this diet for at least the last 8 years (I’m sure it’s longer, but I can’t confirm exactly), and he has been running ultramarathons for all that time. He’s 40 years old now, and just several months ago he won the HURT 100, a grueling 100-mile race through the jungle in Hawaii. You can look at his other race results on this page.
On 30 Bananas a Day a few years ago, Mike wrote about an experiment he did in which he ate nothing but oranges and cucumbers for 10 days. On the last day he went for a 30 mile run (not a race—an important detail), and he did it in just under 3 hours and 50 minutes. So much for needing protein… :)
Overall, as long as you can manage to eat enough, low-fat raw vegan is generally considered superior to Raw Till 4.
The Reality/General Comments
I’ll keep this brief for now. Basically, at first I was worried that I’d constantly be hungry and have to eat all day on a high-carb diet, but this hasn’t been the case. Hell, I haven’t eaten in 20 hours! But that’s ‘cause I’ve been sitting here writing this damn article all day. J
I eat more often than when I had more fat in my diet, but I still sometimes wait until my afternoon run before I eat anything at all in a given day. So there is really not the extreme need for food that I feared.
At this time I’m on the Raw Till 4 diet, but I aspire to be 100% raw once again in due time (and get the macronutrient ratios right this time!).
So far I haven’t been hitting the recommended number of calories on most days (I told you undereating was the biggest problem with vegans!), but here’s what an approximate day of eating has looked like for me so far: 6-10 clementines, 1 pound of dates (i.e. ~25 dates), 4 small sweet potatoes, and a salad consisting of garlic, onion, sauerkraut, lettuce, and carrots (all raw).
Eating a lot of fruit takes time and diligence to get used to. It’s hard at first! But once you get used to getting many, if not most of your calories from fruit, you will love it. I sure do.
I think the reason eating a high volume of raw food is so difficult is that we’re so used to eating bland, nutrient-deprived food. When I first went 100% raw, I couldn’t believe how rich all the food was. Simple nuts and fruit—I had trouble eating a lot of them because they were so dense and alive. It’s a bit saddening to realize how much we deprive ourselves, but it’s also beautiful to wake up and move beyond that deprivation.
The Fruit Question
I believe sweet fruit is the best high-carbohydrate fruit out there. If you want to be a high-carb vegan who eats little or no fruit, you’re basically asking for a nutritionally inferior diet. That doesn’t mean that you can’t thrive on such a diet, nor that such a diet wouldn’t be worthwhile (especially if it’s an improvement from where you are now). But as long as you unnecessarily keep yourself from fruit, I think you’ll be selling yourself short. Try it out for yourself—one high-carb diet lacking in fruit, and another high in fruit. See the difference.
Though I am steadily making a case for high-carb veganism, if you cannot tell, I still want to cover how high-fat diets work. I will talk about meat here where applicable, while assuming you are aware of my anti-meat arguments made earlier.
Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM)
This is the story of the highest example of a high-fat dieter I am aware of. His name is Zach Bitter.
Zach is an ultramarathon runner, just like the aforementioned Michael Arnstein. He is likewise a high-level runner. In fact, Zach holds the world record for the longest distance run in 12 hours on a track (101.6 miles).
What is interesting about Zach and Michael is that they have two completely different approaches to their diets. Whereas Michael gets nearly all his calories from sweet fruit, Zach is on a high-fat diet that that includes plenty of meat.
Zach calls his approach to diet Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM). He states that, though OFM is similar to the Paleo diet and to ketogenic diets, it is distinct. Zach said that the Paleo diet is “too high in protein,” and that, though ketosis is an important part of OFM, it is not the point. It is key for him to be able to switch into and out of ketosis with relative ease, but it is not his goal to be in ketosis as often as possible.
Zach has said that you have to commit to the OFM approach for at least two years in order to get all the gains that you can from this approach—at least, as an athlete. So it is no small matter.
The first month is the hardest. He said he had to accept slowing down for a while, in addition to warming up for runs quite slowly. There were times, in the first month, when he felt like lifting his arms above his head was a significant physical task. This is similar to one account I saw while reading around Paleo forums, where a boxer new to the diet said his arms were becoming tired and heavy after only 20 minutes of training (implying this was not an issue previously).
Zach also says that the point of his diet is not to forego carbs completely, but rather to re-sensitize his body to carbs so that they can be used as the “high-octane fuel” that they are. He basically regards carbs as a powerful stimulant—a fuel-source to use to help him run fast (since fuel from fat is more suitable to running somewhat more slowly, and for a long time).
Zach varies his carbohydrate intake from anywhere between 5% of his caloric intake and 50%. 5% is the baseline and is ideal; however, as a high-level athlete, this is not always practical (whereas it would be for someone sedentary). When his workouts become more intense, he may increase his carbohydrate intake to 20-30% of his calories; and when it comes time to race, carbs make up 50% of his calories for several days.
One thing I’m glad to see from Zach is that you can take the high-fat approach and exceed as an endurance athlete. In the Paleo community it’s common to hear people say that humans are not meant for long, steady-state aerobic exercise (“cardio”). I could write a few hundred words combing over that, but for now I’ll just say, “Not sure where they got that from…”
Another thing is that, a few months ago, it appears that Zach gave up dairy. This was a part of his diet that originally defied the Paleo guidelines, but it looks like that’s gone. (By the way, in that same article Zach said he had to go on antibiotics for a little while, and he gained 10 pounds! That stuff is serious! It kills your gut!)
While I’ll stand by what I’ve said about meat, the results of a world-record breaker are undeniable, and I’m so happy to see someone breaking new ground in the world of ultrarunning. I wouldn’t use Zach’s approach myself, but I see the intelligence of it, and I must commend him for putting it together.
The 9 blog posts of Zach’s I used to write this section are the following:
How About High-Fat Vegan?
I don’t see why it couldn’t be pulled off. You’ll largely be eating the same few foods over and over again, but that’s the approach I’ve pretty much always taken to eating anyway.
To deal with the high levels of omega-6 you’ll likely be consuming, you may very well have to supplement with marine phytoplankton or algae oil, in addition to eating plenty of lettuce. That’s probably the most high-maintenance issue on the list.
If you’re going to be on a diet that restricts sweet-fruit intake, you’ll want to consume fruits where you get the most bang for your buck in regards to both fiber and micronutrients, rather than calories. For this reason I’d suggest staying away from sweet fruits like dates and bananas and go for acid and sub-acid fruits instead, like oranges and berries of all kinds (and whatever high-quality fruit may be available to you locally; for me that’s apples). Berries are a good choice for people on fruit-restricted diets since calories are low (it’s hard to eat too many) and micronutrient levels are high, including antioxidants. So, whatever diet you’re on, don’t be scared to bring out the berries.
If you’re scared to get the bulk of your carbohydrates from fruit (when you must have them) because of the sugar, then have sweet potatoes, legumes, or grain-like seeds instead. Note that in addition to carbs, legumes are also high in protein, and grain-like seeds have substantial levels of all three macronutrients (though carbs are the highest by far, so grain-like seeds aren’t dangerous as far as macronutrient ratios go).
Finally, I’d suggest eating plenty of vegetables, in addition to your nuts and high-fat fruits, and maybe even cook up some things like mushrooms, just to ensure that your diet is well-rounded out.
Stimulants and Supplements
One thing I’ve noticed multiple times among people on high-fat diets is that they use stimulants like caffeine, maca root, and cacao (this includes Zach Bitter).
Am I missing out on a party, or do people feel so sluggish on high-fat diets that they need stimulants to keep them going? I’d love to think that’s not the case, but I can’t help but note that I see it over and over again (like with bulletproof coffee).
I would write this off as just the effects of a society where stimulant-use is normal, but people on high-fat diets are usually fairly health conscious, so this is concerning. Additionally, the recommendations for the high-carb vegan diet (i.e. on 30 Bananas a Day) are to never use stimulants. I don’t think anyone feels a need to!
By the way, in case you’ve become numb to the effects of frequent stimulant use, the one time I had a full cup of coffee I was anxious and jittery for several hours. As far as I’m concerned, people taking that stuff all the time is a big deal—no matter how normal it is.
Similarly, people on high-fat diets seem more supplement-oriented, whereas high-carb vegans prefer to eschew them as much as possible. I take a few supplements as part of a detoxification program (magnesium oil, glutathione, and molybdenum at present), but I wouldn’t do it for anything else like bodybuilding or getting ahead in running.
Just as our diets must adapt to the toxic realities of our world, so too must our supplement intake. Nevertheless, I don’t like to take more than I need to, and I’m always reluctant to increase dosages (beyond a point), and likewise to start new supplements.
Conclusion: Is It Complicated?
I feel that high-fat diets- especially ones that include animal products- are a bit overcomplicated, and a little too much nit-picking is necessary in order to make them work.
Different Diets Are Different Universes
In a high-fat diet, the glycemic index and intake and ratios of omega fatty acids carry weight, and stimulants, supplements, and complex food-items are regarded with importance. In a high-carb diet, the glycemic index and omega fatty acids don’t matter that much, and anything that isn’t obviously food is typically eschewed.
Different diets are different universes. In the high-fat universe, omega fatty acids are a big deal. In the high-carb universe, they’re just a thing that exists in lettuce, and as long as you eat enough of it you’ll be fine.
From my outsider’s perspective, it looks like there is a lot of micro-managing necessary to high-fat diets: correct your intake of this fatty acid by getting this amount of this fatty acid, for instance. Part of what turned me off from the high-fat path is that it looked too reductionist and high-maintenance. I feel the high-carb path is simple in comparison.
It’s plausible that my outsider’s view is mistaken, and I’d have to give the diet a real, fighting chance and experience it for myself. I know that to a person on the Standard American Diet, for instance, any healthier diet looks high-maintenance. But once you get used to that healthier way of eating, it’s just normal. It’s not a big deal. So maybe it’s the same with high-fat.
The Necessity of Carbs?
Another interesting thing to note is that people on high-fat diets need more carbs, compared to a high-carb dieter’s need for fat. As long as you have enough sweet fruit and starch (and perhaps some legumes), you could get by fine on no more than the rare avocado or handful of nuts. As for people on high-fat diets, unless you’re sedentary and trying to be in ketosis as often as possible, you have to eat some kind of overt carbohydrate, like sweet potatoes, at least once a week.
I’m not stating that this is necessarily a weakness of high-fat diets. But it seems that humans have a greater capability for eschewing overt fats than they do for eschewing overt carbohydrates.
Whatever the Case, the Extremes Beat the Mean
Just as a reminder, here’s a comment on Denise Minger’s blog that gives a fine illustration of the fat-carb conflict:
…Take a bowl of heavy cream, a spoon, and start eating. You’ll soon quit, as it won’t take much to have your fill. Now (sometime later), do the same thing, but this time with a bowl of sugar. Again, it won’t take long for you to stop eating spoonfuls of sugar. NOW (again, sometime later), pour the bowl of sugar into the bowl of heavy cream, mix them, and get out your spoon again. This time you’ll most likely consume the entire bowl… Why? Because when you add sugar and fat together at a certain ratio (something not found often in nature), it kind of turns off your brain’s satiety switch, and hence causes you to over eat. BTW, sugar+cream+cold=ice cream…. At a certain ratio of sweetness to fat, we can’t help but want to have more.
When considering whether a food is worth eating, consider these questions and rules of thumb.
Would you feed it to a baby?
Would you feed it to a pregnant woman? (some doctor recommendations I’ve heard for pregnant women include cutting out deli meats and pain relievers, in addition to not dying their hair)
Would you make a meal out of it?
If you had to eat nothing but that particular food for a week, how would that go? Would you enjoy it? Would you get sick?
Does this food produce mucus in your nose and throat when you eat it? How about body odor? How does it make your bodily waste smell? Do you feel you have to shower or wash your face after eating this food? (The secret: the cleaner you eat, the less it smells—and the less YOU smell)
A “real” food is something which fungus would grow on and which would spoil within 1-2 weeks, even in a refrigerator.
A food is “processed” if something bad has been added (e.g. preservatives), something good has been taken away (e.g. fiber), or both.
The effect of each food you eat is relative to all of the other foods you eat.
Our diets must adapt to the toxic realities of our time.
Room to Grow/Further Questions
Though I’m fairly content with the case I’ve made here, I still have questions I’d like to see better addressed, research I’d like to see done, and room to understand nutrition and health more thoroughly.
For example, I acknowledge that some of the terms I’ve used, like “gut barrier,” are a bit vague, but that’s the only term I’m aware of at this point.
Knowledge of biochemistry, endocrinology, and human biology would come in handy here. Even botany could help out. I can’t imagine the vast array of specialized-fields that are relevant to nutrition as well.
I’d be curious to see the effects of different foods on telomere length. Author Rich Roll said that once we’ve got a good grasp on gut health/the microbiome, telomeres will probably be the next big point of interest in nutrition science. I agree, as I believe this would be a great way of determining the health of what we eat.
Here’s my list of questions:
How/why does saturated fat increase LDL?
How/why do trans fats increase LDL and decrease HDL?
Is gout related to consumption of animal products? That’s something I didn’t explore here.
How do the foods we eat influence hormone production and secretion? What are the different effects of carbohydrates and fats, animal products and plant-based foods, on hormones? This is another interesting topic I haven’t explored.
What, from a strictly scientific perspective, makes fruit so awesome? I’d love to know.
How does the body use energy? This is a general question that you could probably take an entire class to address.
Finally, here is the research that would close the book:
Basically, let’s have Zach Bitter and Michael Arnstein trade diets and see what happens to the health of each. Of course, we’d have to give them each ample time to adapt—probably at least 6 months, because the change would be so severe. 2 years would probably be better.
Stated another way, we would have to take people on both ends of the spectrum who are all incredibly healthy, have them switch sides, and see what happens. Have the low-fat, high-fruit and preferably 100% raw vegans trade with the low-carb, high-fat, animal-products-included OFMers and track them for two years. I’d love to see that, but it’s unlikely because the people who do best on any given diet are usually unwaveringly committed to it. So you’d be hard-pressed to get people of this caliber to consent to such an experiment.
If this experiment did happen between Zach and Mike specifically, it’d be fascinating to see what happens to each one—especially in regards to their running performance. I’m wondering if IGF-1 is a factor here, but since they aren’t bodybuilders it may not be. (Remember that most of athletic ability depends on training. Food alone won’t make you fit! But it can make getting fit either easier or harder, depending on the quality of that food).
By the way, here’s a reply Zach made to someone on his blog:
I know Mike pretty well. Great dude :) two guys with two completely different approaches. We're friends, which makes me think the Dems and Reps should learn from us :)
Pick Your Path
High-fat, or high-carb. Meat, or no-meat. Raw, mostly raw, or not concerned about raw.
Remember that in today’s world, due to both civilization and the high levels of toxicity we face, strategy is key to having an optimal diet. We’re beyond leaving our dietary choices up to local geography. So we have to roll up our sleeves and choose what we eat consciously now.
You have lots of information, but it’s still up to you to be a big boy or girl (whatever you are) and make a decision for yourself. Whatever you decide, remember that it’s okay to take one step at a time, and it doesn’t have to be a perfect diet or nothing. If you’re not prepared to commit to a macronutrient magic zone yet, for instance, you can start by removing processed foods and food additives from your diet. That alone goes a long way, but it’s far from being the end-all be-all.
Should you ever end up as a high-carb, high-fruit vegan, you’ll be joining me. Whether that should play into decision—well, I’ll leave that up to you. :)
Great goodness, don’t you just love food?