Here’s my most concise definition of what it means to eat healthfully.
Eat animal foods and properly prepared starchy whole plant foods. Anything else is optional. Given sufficient animal foods, even the starchy plant foods are optional.
Ok, I know – you don’t believe me. You think that this is laughably simplistic. But I have been thinking long and hard about this, weighing the evidence from countless books, studies, talks and presentations. Have a look at the following sections, where I flesh out the concept a little bit more. I’ll be getting into the weeds a little bit here and there, but it’s largely all common sense stuff. That’s also why I didn’t bother to provide references for anything. As Carl Sagan said: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Well, my claims may run counter to the currently established dogma in the field of nutrition, but at the core they are hardly extraordinary. Did the child need to provide references when pointing out that the emperor was naked?
What about leafy greens, vegetables and fruit?
To make a (very) long story short, during the last 150 years nutrition has slowly but steadily been put “on its head” by a powerful, religiously motivated movement which we today call Veganism. Although only a very tiny part of the population, globally or in any particular country, identify as vegans, their influence has been very strong, particularly in the US.
In essence they swapped plant foods and animal foods. Prior to this coup it was well known that animal foods are the most nutritious, while plant foods are inherently inferior. This didn’t sit well with the 7th Day Adventist Church, which preached that eating meat was sinful. So they chose to promote plants, especially cereals, whole grains, vegetables and fruit as the actual health foods and demonised meat and, by extension, all animal food. Today their influence reaches far and wide, influencing national guidelines as well as best-selling books on nutrition. Since this has been going on for several generations, the misinformation is now fully integrated in common knowledge – everybody “knows” that broccoli is more healthy than steak. But is it really?
Animal foods are nutritionally complete (plants are not)
Animal foods contain all the nutrients we need. This includes all essential nutrients as well as those which are sometimes called “conditionally essential”, meaning that although the body can manufacture them from other (essential) nutrients, we are much better off eating them instead of manufacturing them. Some animal foods are more nutrient-rich than others, for example liver is more nutritious than steak, eggs are more nutritious than chicken breast. But in general, someone eating only a variety of animal foods and no plants, they would get all the nutrients they need, whereas someone eating only a variety of plant foods and no animals would develop nutritional deficiencies. Vegans will object, but while it is true that if you combine the foods really well you can get most of what you need, some supplementation will still be necessary (B12, EPA, DHA), and achieving this perfect mix of nutrients is quite laborious and expensive.
Plants contain a lot of nutrients we do not need
The most useful nutrients which plants contain and animal foods do not (with the exception of dairy and honey) are starch and sugar, which we can use for energy. This is why properly prepared starchy plant foods like grains, legumes and tubers as well as fruit are staples in (pre-)historic hunter-gatherer diets.
But what about the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and polyphenols which plants contain and animal foods do not? This is the main nutritional argument in favour of plants over animal foods. As it turns out, there are no good reasons to assume that humans benefit from these compounds. Vitamins and minerals are great, but animal foods contain those as well. Fresh meat even contains vitamin C, a vitamin previously thought only to occur in plants. The benefits of phytonutrients and polyphenols have not been demonstrated conclusively.
Plants contain potent anti-nutrients
Oxalate, gluten, lectins, phytic acid … plants, with the exception of fruit, contain many nutrients which are harmful to humans. Some of them can be neutralised or reduced by proper preparation, like soaking grains in water or often simply by cooking. But considering that those techniques are relatively recent acquisitions in our evolutionary history, it makes no sense to assume that our health is based on consuming foods like kale and broccoli. Those foods would have been hard to find in our environment in meaningful quantities, hard to chew, difficult or even impossible to digest, and overall not a positive contribution to our health.
So plants are off the table?
No, the key takeaway is that plants are optional and meat is the base of healthy nutrition:
- Perverted common wisdom: Plant foods are the foundation of a healthy diet
- Actual reality: Animal foods are the foundation of a healthy diet
Vegan influence is trying to convince you that since meat is evil, you have to eat a lot of different plants to somehow replace all the nutrition you lost by cutting out or reducing animal foods. When you decide to ignore this plant-based influence and base your diet on meat, you can still eat some vegetables and fruit along with the meat. But keep in mind that those foods are very recent additions to our diet and may have a negative impact. Some people have no problems with a diet that contains some animal foods and starch and a lot of vegetables and fruit. Others do best with mostly animal foods and a little bit of vegetables or fruit. Yet others do best with no plant foods at all. Remember that this is all consistent with the fact that animal foods are the most nutritious food there is.
If you have never tried a largely meat-based diet and you’re struggling with obesity, diabetes or metabolic syndrome, or you have allergies or digestive problems, consider giving it a try for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. It might change your life! Even if you don’t stay 100% carnivorous (few people do), maybe you’ll improve simply by realising that your previous notion of plants being healthy and meat being dangerous was completely wrong. And that means that you’ll not only be able to consume foods like steak, eggs, butter and cheese with more confidence and no feeling of guilt, but you also won’t feel too bad for not “eating your greens”.
So what is off the table?
You shouldn’t eat processed food on a daily basis, especially food combining flour, sugar and seed oils. This simply follows from the one rule laid out above, since this combination is almost opposite to the template of animal foods and whole starchy plant foods. Some people avoid these foods completely and almost religiously. I don’t, in fact I eat them regularly. It’s a matter of quantity and frequency. As long as my diet is 80-90% “clean”, I can get away with the occasional transgression, and this makes the diet much more doable.
Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid, on a meal by meal basis, combining fat and carbs in almost equal ratio. So any given meal should be either fat based (typically carnivorous, fatty meat with some optional vegetables) or starch based (some lean meat with potatoes, rice, bread, vegetables).
But What About The EnviRonment?
If you care about the environment, your number one priority should be to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Global warming, plastics, pesticides … those are all downstream of fossil fuel. You may have heard stories about meat, especially beef, being the biggest offender in all of agriculture when it comes to greenhouse gases. Not true. In fact, a local grass-fed cow is not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative, meaning that it helps to fight global warming! This is because every carbon atom that the cow emits in the form of carbon dioxide or methane was previously absorbed from the atmosphere by the grass. So the cycle is neutral, and can even be negative depending on what else is fed to the cows. Water consumption is another big argument by Vegans, but that’s a non-issue as well since most of that water is rain water falling on the grass. It’s not drinking water. Lastly, in comparison to plant-crop production, pastures with grazing cows prevent top soil erosion and require no fertilizer or pesticides.
But What aBout Animal Welfare?
As much as Vegans hate to hear it, animals die for our food production regardless of what we eat. Take wheat as an example – not only are many animals displaced and killed when a patch of grassland is converted to wheat crops, but countless insects and rodents die from the pesticides, plus all the small animals which die during harvesting.
Of course we should all strive to minimize needless animal suffering in animal food production … but the right way to do it is not to eliminate animal agriculture, but to optimize it. Eliminating it would have all sorts of negative consequences, both for the planet because of topsoil erosion and for us, because of malnutrition.
How can we optimize it? We should eat big ruminant animals which are raised in their natural environment, which is grazing on grassland or in forests. We can supplement that with pigs and chicken/eggs, but the bigger the animal, the less have to die to produce the same amount of food. Interestingly red meat from ruminants has been shown to be the most nutritious for humans, which, as a bonus argument, is confirmed by most cave paintings which don’t depict humans hunting broccoli or tofudebeasts, but antilopes, buffaloes and elephants/mammoth.