The Vegan Diet: Is Veganism Really Healthy?
By Jayton Miller
Veganism has become increasingly popular throughout recent years. From various professional athletes to world renowned actors this trend continues to grow at a rapid pace. Is this trend for the betterment of humanity or could it be causing a massive amount of people to slowly become sick and weak?
Table Of Contents:
- What Is Veganism
- Why People Are Vegan
- When Being Vegan Makes Sense
- Why 99%+ Of People Should Not Be Vegan
What Is Veganism?:
Depending on who you ask, there is going to be a chance that you get a different definition of what veganism is and how it is done. For the context of this article, we are going to classify a vegan diet as a diet that has no animal flesh or animal by-products of any kind. For the extremists, this also includes insects and insect by-products like honey. So when looking at the diet we are going to be breaking down, it is going to be a diet that is made up of only plants and plant by-products (think maple syrup as a plant by-product).
Why People Are Vegan:
Each individual is going to have their own distinct reason for taking on a vegan diet. Based on life experiences this can be very different, but there are two main reasons that are seen for taking on a diet such as veganism, which are the following.
Morality is the most understandable reason in my opinion that an individual would want to take on a vegan diet. People who fall under this category do not want to harm another living animal (notice I specify animal and not “living creature” as plants are living creatures in their own right.)
Another reason that individuals take on this type of diet is because they do not want to support the commercial farming practices that are slowly destroying the world that we live on.
Commercial farming practices are extremely detrimental to both the environment and the animals that are raised with commercial farming practices.
Commercial farmers are worried about 1 thing - Money - and they will do whatever it takes in order to get the highest yield from the animals that they raise while utilizing the cheapest methods possible to raise and grow the animals to the desired range they are seeking. These farmers get paid per pound of the animal, so if they can figure out ways to get the animal to grow as big as possible, as fast as possible, and in the cheapest way possible, then they are going to be able to make more money in a shorter period of time. This is where hormones and antibiotics come into play.
Commercial farmers raising animals at scale will use artificial hormones to speed up the growth process and increase the size of the animals they are raising. They do this with growth hormones as well as estrogenic hormones. Estrogen increases the amount of water that is retained within the cell, this is also why many people can have trouble with edema as excess estrogen in the system can cause water retention in the peripheral tissues. An increase in the amount of water retained in the animal leads to an animal that weighs more, and therefore an animal that is going to equate to a higher monetary yield. The growth hormones that are used in this process allows for higher bone density, increased tissue generation, and a shorter amount of time it takes to get to a desired size. Again, this equates to having to pay to feed the animals for less time while also getting them to weigh as much as possible to get the highest return in terms of money.
Raising animals on such a large scale is difficult. For one, you have to figure out how to feed them in the most efficient way possible, and figure out how to use the land that you have available to store the animals while they are in the growing phase. This leads to the poor feeding tactics and close proximity of living that the animals are forced to be in during their lives. Living in close proximity with a large number of other animals leads to easy and rampant infections that can have an effect on the entire population. To prevent this, commercial farmers will administer antibiotics to the animals, even when they might not need it.
This is no way for an animal to live, and even without the environmental repercussions of this type of farming, this alone is reason enough to not support this type of production of food. The animals are given poor living conditions and are given the least amount of care possible during the time that they are living. This makes the morality side of the coin very appealing, although as we will see in a bit, avoiding the support of these practices is not the only option, and there is another way to obtain animal products without supporting commercial farming practices.
Many people have a misunderstanding as to the health ramifications that come along with a plant only diet. The definition of health that is used to describe the state that we at UMZU call “Thermo” is a state in which an individual is free of any micronutrient deficiencies and is hormonally balanced. If you disagree that an individual needs to have adequate micronutrients within the system to allow for metabolic processes to be properly performed, and that a balanced hormonal status is the best way towards achieving a more optimal state of health, then it would make sense that you would disagree with what is being said in this article. However, if you agree that the alleviation of micronutrient deficiencies and hormonal imbalances is in fact the main way in which one can reach a more ideal state of health, then please read on…
Excessive Crop Production:
Meat production at mass scale is without a doubt bad for the environment when done incorrectly. However, massive crop production is also terrible for the earth, just in a different way. Commercial farming practices degrade the soil and deplete the water availability for farming leading to a myriad of problems.
Soil degradation from the overproduction and poor farming practices of crops leads to nutrient void soil. Plants will not grow in soil that is void of nutrients, leading to massive amounts of land being stripped of their ability to produce anything. This is also after the land has been cleared for the farming itself, stripping away trees, and other forms of vegetation to grow the desired crop. This leads to farmers having to use higher amounts of fertilizer and other chemicals to “fill the gap” after the soil has been degraded to a certain degree.
According to Regeneration International regenerative agriculture practices are “farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.”
The methods by which regenerative farming is done is beyond the scope of this article. I simply want to bring attention to the fact that our current system is flawed. In order to override that system, we must educate ourselves and support more progressive and adaptive systems that promote a healthy and happy world in the future.
When Being Vegan May Make Sense:
In very rare cases, there is what is known as Alpha-Gal Syndrome. This is a condition that is produced most commonly from a tick bite. The bite transmits a molecule that triggers an immune reaction in the body when the infiltrated individual eats mammalian meat and by-products. However, for most of the population there is no physical reason why one would have any problem eating meat under normal circumstances.
Why 99.9999%+ Of The Population Should Not Be Vegan:
When it comes to avoiding meat due to not wanting to harm any kind of animal, then more power to you. If you are willing to sacrifice your health for the health of an animal, I respect your choice and wish you the best of luck on this journey we call life.
However, if you are avoiding meat because you believe that a plant only diet is healthier or better for the environment, then you are poorly mistaken my friend.
Breaking Down The Physiology:
One of the misconceptions that is often seen with eating meat that the plant based community likes to point out is the studies claiming meat to be cancerous. This is true to an extent and not true to a much greater extent.
First, it is not the meat that is inherently bad in itself. Remember those nasty hormones and chemicals we mentioned earlier that conventional farmers use on their animals? The growth hormones and estrogen / estrogen-like compounds that they give to the animals are stored in the fat of the animal over time. As the meat is consumed in tandem with the fat, the hormones stay along for the ride. (** I want to note here that conventionally raised meat from commercial farming also tends to have less nutrients and is therefore an inferior food to begin with when compared to humanely raised grass fed and antibiotic / hormone free meat.)
Second, many of the studies that break down the health ramifications of meat are based on conventional meat, as we just mentioned, and processed meat. Processed meat has a myriad of different by-products that are also present. From preservatives to packaging to different flavorings, there is no telling what is really even in processed meat. This needs to be differentiated from high quality meat and animal products that have not been processed. Even in minimally processed conventional meat, many commercial producers will inject large amounts of liquid into their meat in order to sell less meat for more money. When you buy from a local farmer or from a company that takes into consideration the health of the animals and the consumers, this problem becomes non-existent.
There is also the fact that in the current society that most people reading this post live in, our diets (when meat is part of it) is largely centered around muscle meats as a protein source and tosses away some of the most nutrient rich parts of the animal.
Some of the problems with a diet that is mostly centered around muscle meat are:
- High amounts of inflammatory amino acids - Muscle meats are high in relatively inflammatory amino acids such as methionine, cysteine, and tryptophan.
- Lack of sufficient amounts of anti-inflammatory amino acids such as glycine, glutamine, and proline.
Eating nose to tail is becoming increasingly popular in health communities, and for good reason. The parts of the animal that are usually thrown away in our modern society such as the organs, bones, and skin are filled with bioavailable vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that might be lacking in a muscle meat only diet.
Calcium To Phosphate Ratio
The calcium to phosphate ratio in the body is a crucial factor of metabolism. Being deficient in either calcium or magnesium is known to stimulate the parathyroid glands. This stimulation increases the amount of parathyroid hormone in the system, leading to an increase in the displacement of calcium from the bones. Dietary calcium is the main factor that contributes to this. A lack of sufficient dietary calcium tells the body it needs to get more calcium from the stored calcium in our bones. This can also happen when the phosphate in the diet becomes too high, throwing the ratio out of balance. Over time, the leaching of calcium from the stores of calcium in the bones will lead to increased bone fragility, while also increasing the amount of calcium in serum (in the blood) which is known to lead to increased calcification of soft tissues.
Plants are not a reliable source of bioavailable calcium. Due to the defense mechanisms of the plants (which we will talk about shortly), the calcium (along with many other minerals) is not able to be taken up by the body, leading to a diet that is based on only plants being deficient in calcium and an imbalance in the calcium to phosphate ratio in the body.
Goitrogens, PUFAs, And Phytic Acid
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland in the neck that is known as the “master of the metabolism.” Without the thyroid producing sufficient thyroid hormone, we see lower energy production within the cells and overall a less optimally functioning body.
Goitrogens are compounds found within certain plants that interfere with the proper production of thyroid hormones by inhibiting the uptake of iodine. Cruciferous vegetables (think leaves and stems) in general are known to be the most dense in goitrogenic compounds, however, many legumes have also been shown to be goitrogenic in many cases. This does not even include the estrogenicity of legumes either.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are the type of fatty acid that most plants contain. These types of fatty acids are liquid at room temperature and have a high affinity for oxidation (breaking down) when exposed to light or relatively high heat (such as the relatively high heat of a human being versus a cold water fish or a plant.) To put the many effects of these toxic fats in a succinct way, polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to have direct interference with proper metabolic function and amplify the effects of stress on the body. Avoiding these types of fats and increasing the amount of protective saturated fats in the diet is crucial for proper metabolic health.
Phytic acid is one of the main chelating components found within seeds and nuts. Phytic acid holds onto and attracts more minerals that have the opposite charge. Phytic acid has been shown to not only hold onto minerals, but can actually take up more minerals as it is passing through the digestive system. Over time, continuous exposure to these compounds can lead to mineral deficiencies, which has the potential to cause a cascade of negative effects. It has even been shown that phytic acid has the ability to inhibit the action of trypsin, which is an enzyme that is responsible for helping us properly break down protein.
Cellulose and Cellulase
The main structural component of the plant cell wall is known as cellulose. Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate that is broken down through enzymatic processes in ruminants, but humans lack those very enzymes to break it down. The human body, and many other omnivorous or carnivorous animals, lack the ability to produce the enzyme cellulase, which is the enzyme in the ruminants digestive tracts that allows for the proper digestion of cellulose. Because humans lack the ability to break down cellulose in the digestive tract, the uncooked plants that we eat (and even some of the cooked plants we eat) sit in the digestive tract and begin fermenting. This is one reason why many plant based people tend to have “veggie breath.” The high amount of fermentation that is happening in their digestive tract leads to the buildup of gas. This gas is then released through one end or the other and either causes some nasty farts or some rather unpleasant “veggie breath.” With increased fermentation comes an increase in the amount of bacteria that is present within the large intestine, and although this might sound good, it is most definitely not. Have you ever heard of SIBO? SIBO is known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and as prolonged fermentation in the gut takes place, the bacteria begin to make their way into places that they do not need to be in, causing all sorts of issues to occur.
Pesticides And Other Chemicals
Consumers need to be wary of potential pesticides, herbicides, and any other endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly found in food. These are all toxic to the human body. Some skeptics make the argument that there is insufficient proof that organic foods have any health benefits over traditionally-grown foods. These people are not looking at the important metrics.
Organic foods are healthier because they do not contain traces of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. These toxic chemicals have been proven time and again in research to disrupt the body’s endocrine system. Sure, a traditionally grown apple may be identical to an organic apple from a nutritional standpoint. However, the presence of all the aforementioned toxins is the main differing factor. Those toxins will slowly leach into your body and destroy your endocrine function.
One study, for example, revealed that 37 forms of pesticides had an anti-androgenic effect in vitro. In another study, researchers found that 30 different pesticides commonly used in U.S. farms are known to act against reproductive hormones and are also anti-androgenic. 14 of these pesticides are also known to have other hormone-disrupting effects.
That is not all. A study found that 91% of U.S. citizens have significant traces of insecticide chlorpyrifos in their bodies. This is the same toxin sprayed on traditionally grown produce and fruits. This shows that Americans are ingesting insecticides on a regular basis.
It does not even end there. Another study revealed that the popular pesticide brand Round-Up has a lactic cell suppression effect – even at very low doses.
The conclusion is obvious: you need to consume foods that are free of these harmful and synthetic chemicals. Eliminating the toxic load from your system will bring your body back to its natural thermo state. Make a commitment to eat organic foods that do not follow traditional farming practices. The best way to do this is by shopping at your local farmer’s market. Talk directly to the farmers and find out how they grow their foods. Shopping at a farmer’s market once a week doesn’t require a major overhaul in your routine. Just go there in lieu of a typical grocery store.
The Need For Protein
Protein plays a crucial role in the human body. Without sufficient protein coming from the diet, we begin to degrade the building and maintenance of cells in the body. From producing muscle tissue to ensuring adequate enzyme production, the body uses protein for nearly everything. The DNA inside of the nucleus of the cell actually has code for the production of proteins, but without sufficient amino acids coming from the diet, the body’s ability to build these proteins slowly diminishes as the amino acid deficiency becomes more and more significant.
Although it is possible to get enough protein in the diet without meat, it is difficult. The protein quality and bioavailability of the protein you are eating is also going to make a significant difference. Animal proteins are extremely more bioavailable and can make it through the digestive system without becoming degraded or unusable. Plant proteins, on the other hand, are not as bioavailable and in many cases the digestion process will breakdown the amino acids of these plants to such a degree that they are not able to be utilized by the body.
Meat is dense in many different nutrients that plants cannot adequately supply, such as creatine, carnosine, bioavailable vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3, Heme Iron, and taurine. Along with being more dense in these nutrients, animal sources tend to be much more friendly to the human body when it comes to their form and the body’s ability to use the nutrients. Without sufficient amounts of these nutrients in bioavailable forms from meat, we see a rapid deterioration in multiple areas of health. For example, without the right amount of B12 in our system, the brain and nervous system stop functioning properly (and helps with the development of the brain in people younger than about 25).
Humans evolved to the point we are at today by hunting and gathering, there was no either or as both were needed for survival. Our ancestors ate an omnivorous diet. There are multiple theories on how homosapiens learned how to cook their meat, which lead to less resources being needed for digesting food, leading to more resources being freed up for the increased emphasis on the size of the brain.
There are other theories that believe that the rapid development of the human brain was due to the discovery of fruit, leading to more glucose availability for the brain and body to take advantage of, and because of this greater energy availability the brain was able to develop at a much faster rate.
We may never know which of these theories are true, but one thing can be for certain, in either case the homosapiens were eating BOTH plants (easily accessible plants) and meat.
Rounding It Out
There are many points that were not covered in this article that could be raised on both sides of the plant vs meat spectrum. I am not a die-hard advocate for either end. I simply want to stimulate your thinking and encourage a more robust thought process in the people who decide to take an extremist approach. I believe in a balanced approach to nutrition. Too little and too much of anything can be bad for anyone, and therefore, we need to learn how to get just the right dose of everything.
For more information on a nutritional approach that works with the body and promotes a state of hormonal balance while eliminating micronutrient deficiencies, make sure to check out The Thermo Diet.