Diets that limit or exclude meat, dairy products, and eggs used to be considered a “hippie thing” and were seen as fads. Identifying as vegetarian, vegan diets, or plant-based was often viewed as “weird” or “extreme” by a vast majority of Americans who preferred the SAD (Standard American Diet)—meat and potatoes, burgers and fries and eggs and bacon…but all that has changed as a new generation’s dollars drives food trends.
Over the past 3 years alone, there’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S. According to a report by the research firm, GlobalData, only 1% of Americans claimed to be vegan in 2014, by 2017, that number rose to 6% (1).
Moreover, mainstream health companies are recommending a plant-based diet more and more, including: Kaiser, Dean Ornish, the USDA, and the American Institute for Cancer Research. Several celebrities and athletes are also onboard, including Natalie Portman, Venus Williams, Bill Clinton, weightlifter Kendrick Farris and Beyonce.
(Obviously if Beyonce is doing it, something must be right, right?)
Although vegetables are REALLY good for us, the truth is, there are several ill side effects most documentaries of chicken factories and Instagram photos of Acai smoothie bowls will not tell you about. No, vegan diets are not a “bad thing,” but if you’ve missed out on some crucial details or fail to meet your complete nutritional needs, then a vegan diet may not be all its cracked up to be.’
Here are 8 common myths about vegan diets, how vegan diets affect your health and 3 essentials to “doing” vegan the right way.
8 Myths About Vegan Diets & How They Really Affect Your Health
Myth #1: Vegan Diets Help You Save Tons of Money
The average “cost savings” of the vegan diet is $645 annually—averaging about $53 per month (2). For context, the average American spends $1,100 on coffee every year (3), approximately $232 every month and over $3000 every year (for a household) eating meals prepared outside the home (4, 5).
In short: you spend way more money in other areas, regardless of whether or not you eat meat.
Myth #2: Vegan Diets Save Animals
Most vegan adherents are no stranger to Netflix documentaries, YouTube videos and articles showcasing slaughterhouses, sickly chickens and holocaust-camp like farming practices—animal cruelty at its worst.
The thing no documentary shows you though?
All the life that is lost from spraying of chemicals on crops, all the insects and bees that die, all the animals that eat the insects and the crops sprayed with chemicals, and the loss of the natural landscape from a field or a forest to cropland for growing beans, grains, soy, cotton and sugarcane… there’s still a lot of devastation that happens from a plant-based diet.
Many documentaries also don’t often interview a real farmer—the ones in your own backyard—nor show how grass-fed, grass-finished, pastured and wild-caught animals are actually raised and “farmed.” Producers and directors head straight to the factories.
Go to any farmer’s market and talk to the farmer about how he or she raised their beef, chicken or lamb, and chances are you’ll learn that sustainable farming practices raise their livestock to have full, healthy and happy lives “home on the range”—versus an animal housed in a chicken coop, administered drugs and injected with hormones, or slaughtered within their first 1 to 2 years of life. Most people’s negative concepts of meat is in the form of a plastic container, wrapped at the grocery store and the horrible images that we see in vegan propaganda movies.
Life—and the loss of life—is a difficult concept for any human to grasp. However, all life is mortal (not immortal), and it is actually the celebration and sacredness of life (both of plants and animals) that separates “ethical” farming and pasture-raised animals from the run-of-the-mill slaughtering and farming of cows, chickens, fish and the like.
Myth #3: Vegan Diets Are Better for the Environment
You’ve probably heard that “eating beef is bad for the environment.”
“Sustainable agriculture” is a highly touted value of plant-based diets. “Sustainable agriculture” essentially means: the practice of growing of food that is both good for the earth (“green”) and produces optimal food sources in order to feed greater amounts of people over greater lengths of time.
One study(6) reports that vegetarian and/or vegan diets:
• Produce 49.6% fewer greenhouse gas emissions;
• Need 26.9% less energy for food production
• Have a 41.5% smaller environmental footprint compared to diets that included meat.
The data reflects a life-cycle assessment from agricultural practices and input through animal feed production to harvest.
According to the Nature Conservancy, 30 percent of the earth’s land mass is used for livestock pasture and production of livestock feed, causing mass deforestation, compaction and erosion from overgrazing; and water pollution (from animal waste, antibiotics and hormones, fertilizers and pesticides) is an increasing world-wide concern (7).
However, the myth that non-livestock based farming is “more sustainable” than animal farming is greatly skewed.
What many may not know is that (1) The majority of our current (non-sustainable) farming industry is actually composed of “vegan-friendly” foods, and that, (2) When managed properly on the right grasslands, beef production can be regenerative, rather than degenerative – reducing, if not negating environmental impacts. Unfortunately, the current widespread practice of modern farming is NOT sustainable—both for plants and conventionally raised animals alike.
The Majority of Agriculture IS Vegan
One look at the current, ongoing controversy over Monsanto, glyphosate and GMO’s is enough to demonstrate that plant-based farming is far from sustainable—both for our planet and for our own health. More than 80% of our nation’s agriculture, farming and resources is devoted to growing “plant-based” foods—namely the crops that keep the processed food industry in business, contribute to 80% of the fake foods found in the grocery store, and feed conventionally raised livestock, including: grains, corn, soybean, cotton and sugar (8).
How is this “more sustainable” considering these crops not only occupy the majority of our land space, but also, the farming of them creates a chemical wasteland with pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals?
Agricultural chemicals render land lifeless and toxic to beneficial creatures, also killing the food chain above — fish, amphibians, birds, and humans (from cancer, to autoimmune disease, Autism, heart disease, diabetes and inflammation).
In a study (9) on the sustainability of 10 different diet types (including vegetarian, vegan and meat-eating diets), researchers found that while a vegan diet may be considered the most ethical when it comes to animal welfare on average, it’s not the most sustainable. Diets with small amounts of meat, as well as lacto-vegetarianism and ovo-lacto-vegetarianism, can feed more people, therefore making them more environmentally sustainable. The reason for this is simple: the vegan diet leaves too many resources unused. Different crops require different types of land for an adequate yield. Very often nothing can be cultivated on standard pastureland due to the fact that the soil doesn’t provide the necessary nutrients.
Regenerative Beef Production IS Sustainable
Regenerative agriculture—namely beef production—is a night-and-day difference from the conventionally raised farming in “What the Health.”
Regenerative agriculture basically means “producing food in this way is mutually beneficial for the environment”—both by raising cows how they should be raised, and creating a healthier environment because of it.
Regenerative beef production helps to reverse the climate change impacts of mainstream agricultural practices. An increasing number of studies (10, 11) show that regeneratively grazed cattle can even create a net emissions sink, by drawing more carbon into the soil than the methane produced by the cows.
Regenerative beef production is also highly managed—meaning there is less room for “error” or oversight as in factory farming. You are getting a more personalized, holistically grown animal or crop. Livestock must be moved through different pastures often, rather than leaving them to graze an entire property at once, which often leads to overgrazing. Every rotation requires follow-up monitoring of pasture health and animal impact, and adjusting grazing plans accordingly.
This is why “pasture raised” cows and poultry are the gold standard when it comes to eating meat, followed by grass-fed & grass-finished and organic meats.
What’s the difference in “pasture raised” vs. “grass-fed” vs. “grass-finished” vs. “organic” “natural” vs. “Grain-fed”? Good question!
Decoding Animal Product Labels
Pasture Raised = Raised to roam their ideal environment in green fields, where they’ll enjoy chowing down on lush plants, shrubs, and the occasional bug for the remainder of their lives.
Grass-Fed = Cows consume their natural diet of grass, bugs and other vegetation. If weather inhibits grazing, they may eat hay or silage. However, grass-fed (but not grass-finished) beef may “finish” their life on grains. (A commonly overlooked fact on labels). In other words, as long as the cow was fed greenery at one point in its life, it can be labelled as grass-fed beef.
Grass-Fed AND Grass-Finished = The cow was fed grass — and nothing but grass and plants — for the duration of its life (not processed food grains).
Natural = This term means nothing. You may as well consider it the same as “grain fed” with a healthier sounding title.
Grain-Fed = Also known as “conventionally-raised” animals; they are moved to a feedlot once they’re weaned from their mother’s milk at approximately 8 months. It’s in these lots that they’re fed grains, corn, and soy to fatten them up and produce a higher yield of beef. The cattle are also confined in very small spaces— not even enough space to move, which puts the animal under distress.
(Hint: Go with pasture raised as often as you can).
While the plant based farming industry is not going anywhere soon, one way that could actually make both vegan and omnivore diets more “sustainable” is to NOT support the conventionally raised livestock or processed foods industries alike.
Considering that 80 to 90% of all the crops grown in the U.S. actually go towards feeding grain-fed cows, chickens, fish and other meats, not human consumption, then by investing more of our dollars in sustainably-raised livestock (grass-fed, grass-finished, pastured, wild-caught) and organically grown crops (primarily vegetables and fruits) would actually be a step in the right direction for sustainability’s sake.
In short: The less conventionally raised livestock and the less processed foods, the better for us all.
Myth #4: Vegan Diets Improve Digestion & Health
Many people go vegan to “feel better.”
They’d like to lose a few pounds, be less bloated, get more vitamins in food and feel cleansed. And many people actually do feel better—at least initially.
This makes perfect sense! Often times, compared to how they were eating before going vegan—be it Taco Bell and Chic-Fil-A on the reg, or another diet fad that failed (like 99% of all diet fads), “going vegan” seems like a panacea.
Green juices, smoothies, kitchari, Buddha bowls; less processed meats and heavy-sitting sides that may go along with them (i.e. French fries, mashed potatoes, spaghetti noodles, etc.).
However, as time goes on, a common roadblock many vegan diet adherents run into is…not feeling so great: Bloating, constipation, IBS, brittle hair and nails, anxiety, depression, skin breakouts, osteoporosis, missing periods or horrible PMS, infertility, fatigue, dark circles under their eyes—all of these are common symptoms I see in my clinical practice on a daily basis in individuals who have been following a vegan diet for several months or years.
Clearly, their body is speaking.
Unfortunately, the ability to see how diet is affecting their health is harder to see. How could something so healthy for you be bad for you? Clearly it’s got to be something else!
This fact-of-the-matter does not just apply to vegan diets—it could apply to Keto, paleo, long-term AIP, low FODMAP, carnivore or the Standard American Diet. Any time your body is not feeling good, the easiest thing to do to “fix it” is to first assess the main lifestyle habits you do every day—the foods you eat, the hours you wake and sleep, the water you drink, your movement and the air you breathe—the basics.
I often times use the example of my Crystal Light A-holic days—the days when I drank 64 ounces of Crystal Light every day—it was low calorie, tasted great and was “healthy” on my clean eating diet. Unfortunately, my body thought differently. IBS, constipation and abdominal cramps were my “norm” and I never could figure out why until the day I did not drink my Crystal Light. Miraculously…no gas, bloating, stomach pain, IBS.
Lightbulb: What we eat contributes to how we feel! If we cut our body short of essential nutrients…we will feel it, or our body will speak.
Pop question #1: What do factory farmed and cruelly raised animals eat?
Answer: Grains, soy and corn—often times feed laced with pesticides and chemicals.
Translation: Factory farmed animals do NOT eat an ideal “healthy” diet.
Animals in conventional farming conditions are fed a diet equivalent of the SAD (standard American diet)—Cheetoh’s, McDonald’s and Big Gulps—processed foods made with soy, grains, corn, cottonseed (canola oil), dyes and sugar. Treatment you certainly would not want any animal to undergo! Instead, you’d want those animals to eat what they were naturally designed to eat, right? Grass, vegetables, healthy insects, and the like.
Likewise, when we as humans neglect our optimal food sources (vegetables, fruits, pastured and wild meats, plant fats and traditional fats) in favor of a diet built upon a bulk of grains, beans, soy, corn and sugar, we treat our bodies just like the animals we are fighting to protect in the first place. We neglect ourselves of the full spectrum of nutrients that humans were meant to consume in a balanced diet.
Scientifically speaking, vegan diets—like any other restrictive diet that excludes an entire food group—can be wonderful short term, but in the long term, the body misses out on some key essentials.
Common nutrient deficiencies in vegan diets include:
• B Vitamins
• Omega 3 Fatty Acids
• Fat Soluble Vitamins (Vitamins A, K, D, E)
• Digestive Enzymes
• Amino Acids
“Amino Acids” is the code word for “protein”—the building block or “skeleton” of all our cells.
In total there are 22 amino acids—11 which as “essential”, meaning we cannot make them on our own and we can only get them from food—ideally complete protein sources (meat, eggs, fish, poultry). Without enough amino acids in our diet, our cells and our cellular processes grow “supple”—think about Gumby or playdough. Without a strong “skeletal structure” in our cells, our cells simply do not fire as fast, regenerate as quickly or support all bodily processes required for life.
Amino acids are also essential for a healthy gut—they compose the tissues in our gut lining, as well as help cultivate a happy and healthy gut microbiome (responsible for building up our immunity and producing neurotransmitters, where 90% of our serotonin is produced). Amino acids are uber important and once more, although we can pair rice with beans or peanut butter with bread, the bioavailability and digestibility of these foods is a different story.
Yup, even if your protein powder, Tofurkey, chickpeas, breakfast cereal or spinach bag says it contains “extra protein,” zinc or iron, plant sources are not the most bio-available sources of these nutrients because plants contain “anti-nutrients”—like lectins and phytates, chemical compounds that prevent the destruction of these foods in the wild. Anti-nutrients bind to the proteins and vitamins and minerals in plants, inhibiting complete uptake and absorption of these nutrients by the human body.
Many plant based diet foods—like beans, nuts, soy, corn and grains—are more difficult to digest for this reason (at least in larger quantities), particularly when not “properly prepared.” Have you ever wondered why many anti-inflammatory or “gut healing” diets eliminate beans, nuts, soy, corn and grains for a time?
It’s not because these foods are “bad”, but rather because they are simply more difficult for the body to digest and break down. Additionally, plant based diets neglecting protein suppress stomach acid and enzyme production—namely because proteins are the primary nutrient that help keep these two digestive weapons on their “A-game.”
What happens when our digestive fire can’t digest optimally? Inflammation and leaky gut (intestinal permeability).
Unfortunately, many who follow a vegan diet are not taught how to “properly prepare” these foods to optimize digestion (i.e. soaking and sprouting), nor are they educated on how to supplement appropriately, how to boost enzymes and stomach acid or how to optimize amino acid intake.
Lastly, what about the fact that animal protein is difficult to digest too?! Many people also report remembering they “felt worse” when they ate protein because it “sat in their stomach” or “felt like rocks.” This my friend is not a meat problem per say, instead it may have been a quality meat problem, and a poor digestion problem from the start (i.e. you didn’t have enough stomach acid or enzymes in your body from other stressors—like antibiotics, processed foods, medications, etc.). Consequently, you blamed poor digestion on protein rather than looking into your gut bacteria.
Simply put: Restrictive diets—of any sort—do not provide you with the most bioavailable forms of nutrients and can spark digestive difficulties if not implemented properly.
Want even more information on this topic? Check out this great article by Chris Kresser: “Why You Should Eat Meat”.
Myth #5: Vegan Diets Prevent Cancer
“Meat causes cancer.”
The great meat debate has been an ongoing source of conflict between varying groups for the past 20 years—especially since the release of the famous “China Study” book, published in 2005, often cited as the leading authority on the reasons to not eat meat.
In it, the authors explain the 1980’s “China Project” research study in layman’s terms, concluding that that people should eat a predominantly plant-based diet—excluding animal products (including beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk), processed foods and refined carbs— to avoid, reduce, and reverse the development of numerous diseases.
Since then, there have been many more studies out there linking meat consumption (especially red meat) to cancer. However, does this link actually mean that meat causes cancer, or is there something else that sets the stage for meat to cause cancer? Here are 3 facts to consider (that most news headlines won’t tell you):
Fact 1: Cancer is an Autoimmune Disease (Not a “Meat Eating” Disease).
Call it “cancer,” “Lupus,” “Hashimoto’s,” “Celiac,” or any one of the other 100+ autoimmune diseases now classified by the CDC, all autoimmune diseases share a common link—your body is attacking itself (autoimmune response).
What causes this autoimmune response in the first place?
Inflammation, or “stress.” Inflammation and stress are interchangeable terms in the autoimmune disease presentation. Anything that causes inflammation is a “stress” to your body—setting you up for the perfect storm of autoimmune disease (i.e. body attacking itself). Stress goes far beyond mental stress. It includes things like:
• Pesticides on fruits & veggies
• Gut irritating foods (high intake of grains, sugar, processed, hydrogenated oils or refined foods)
• Conventional meats (containing hormones & antibiotics)
• Lack of a balanced diet (i.e. high meat consumption without enough greens, prebiotics, healthy fats or fermented foods)
• Low water intake (for flushing the body)
• Gut dysfunction (low stomach acid, low digestive enzymes, bacterial overgrowth)
• Toxins in our environment (products, home, mold, metals exposure, air quality)
Given these facts, high meat consumption can certainly be a source of inflammation for some people—particularly depending on the type of meat consumed (organic vs. conventional); a lack of veggies in the diet; or underlying gut conditions (that helps digest the meat in the first place).
However, as noted above, meat is NOT the only source of inflammation in the body connected to stress and disease. Essentially, any time we lack balance in our diets and lives (such as lacking nutrient-dense foods) stress and inflammation happens.Other specific examples of dietary stressors that trigger inflammation for some people may include:
• High amounts of raw and cruciferous vegetables
FODMAPS are difficult for some people to digest and break down—especially those with SIBO, IBS or gut issues.
• Whole Grains, Nuts & Beans
Unfortunately, most of the grains sold in the U.S. today are highly processed, pseudo-versions of grains, filled with enriched flours, fillers, sugar and oils; or not properly soaked or sprouted, containing heavy amounts of phytates and lectins that our digestive tract cannot break down. Nuts and beans also contain these compounds and can cause gut irritation.
• Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners
Sugar feeds cancer cells. Artificial sugar is not much better, correlated with tumors and various forms of cancer in multiple studies cited by the National Cancer Institute.
• High Fat or Protein Diets Without Enough Greens
For those with a sluggish, under-functioning, liver-gallbladder, fats and proteins can be more difficult to digest—particularly in the face of low green and veggie intake. (No, fat is not bad for you, but if you, once again, lack balance then inflammation risk is higher)
Cancer is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that is triggered when your body encounters various inflammation and stressors. Certain dietary triggers (like poor quality meat consumption, or lack of veggies with your proteins) may be more “inflammatory” to some people, whereas other stressors, (such as lack of sleep and smoking) are more present and inflammatory for others.
Fact 2: “Leaky Gut”& Dysbiosis are the Roots of Cancer…Not Meat
Hippocrates said it best: “All disease begins in the gut.” “Leaky Gut” and an unhealthy gut microbiome are another common link that all autoimmune diseases share—including cancer.
Unfortunately, for a long time, debates over “what causes cancer” have been heavily weighted at particular foods and lifestyle stressors, such as meat, smoking and lack of fruits and veggies. However, valid or not, the root cause is often missed in all these studies, claims and debates—leaky gut.
Your gut is the gateway to your health. If your digestive tract and gut microbiome are unhealthy, then you are less likely to digest and absorb your nutrients properly to feed the rest of your organs and cells.
Additionally, in the case of “leaky gut,” food particles and foreign proteins from the foods you eat seep into your bloodstream, undigested, where your body’s immune defense system then attacks itself to get those proteins out of there (i.e. “autoimmune response” or “autoimmune disease”). If this happens continually, over time, this autoimmune attack wreaks havoc on your health, resulting in various autoimmune disease presentations or symptoms. In functional medicine we say, “Genetics load the gun, but environmental factors (diet, gut health and lifestyle) pull the trigger.”
Similarly on this topic, for a long time, it has been presumed that red meat causes heart disease due to its high cholesterol and saturated fat content. However, research now shows this is not the case, as unhealthy gut bacteria have been implicated as a more likely culprit in the red meat-CVD correlation: intestinal microbes have been shown to metabolize carnitine, a trimethylamine abundant in red meat, into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), a well-characterized pro-atherogenic species that is associated with heart disease.
You may have the genetics for cancer or other health conditions, but only when other environmental factors are “stressed” (like your gut health) is when that cancer presents itself. We still have a lot to learn about the influence of the microbiome on health and disease, but we know enough already to conclude that the gut-disease link is significant.
Fact 3: Meat Studies Don’t Necessarily Use “Healthy” Controls
Given the fact that more than 1 in 2 Americans already have a chronic disease in our country, are studies with “average” controls of the population really all that healthy? While syndromes and diseases like IBS, acne, allergies, anxiety, constipation, pre-diabetes and more may be considered “healthy,” “normal,” or “average” in our society, these issues typically signify something else (health related) is going on under the hood—especially gut health and hormone related. Additionally, most studies rarely ever mention what else the control subjects ate in their diet. Diets rich in gut-irritating foods can equally wreak havoc on one’s health, including foods like:
1. Whole grains (i.e. cereals, quinoa bowls, oats)
2. Difficult-to-digest nuts or beans
3. Nutrient-deficient veggie intake (fact: only 1 in 10 Americans eats the recommended number of veggies)
4. “Healthy” fat free ice cream, processed bars, or shakes (laced with synthetic ingredients like: guar gum, erythritol, vegetable glycerin, pea protein and other inflammatory fillers)
When interpreting a study that claims “meat causes cancer,” or “carbs cause weight gain,” or even “broccoli causes cancer,” ALWAYS question: Who were the test subjects? What was their current lifestyle, diet and gut health like? There’s often more to the story than meets the eye.
Myth #6: Humans Were Not Meant to Eat Meat
Humans are omnivores—meaning we eat plants and meat. Ideally, a balance of both—and as Michael Pollan writes in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
For thousands of years (before Whole Foods and Instacart) the “optimal” human diet included whatever food was most readily available depending on a person’s homeland and the time of year—mostly veggies, nuts and seeds, berries and animal protein (maybe even bugs on occasion).
We call this “ancestral eating.”
Ancestral foods are any foods that can be fished, hunted, foraged or harvested from the earth or water. They are foods that indigenous people enjoyed for tens of thousands of years before agriculture, before contact with European colonists. They are also foods and drinks need little or no labeling, minimal packaging, very few ingredients, and have undergone minimal travel.
Ancestral foods include:
• Leafy greens
• Low glycemic vegetables
• Some starchy tubers and fresh fruits
• Nuts and seeds
• Natural plant oils (avocado, olive)
• Traditional fats (duck fat, coconut oil, ghee, tallow, etc.)
• Fermented foods
• Some properly prepared grains and legumes
• Wild caught fish
• Pastured, grass-fed beef and poultry
One word: Balance—meat included.
Humans evolved eating meat. Just like plants evolved needing water, soil and sunshine, humans need four main macronutrients to function: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water. And optimally, we consume these foods from their purest sources—
• Water from water (not coffee or soda)
• Carbohydrates from fruits, green things, tubers, roots and non-starchy veggies (not refined grains and sugar)
• Fats from avocados, nuts and seeds, olives/olive oil, coconut and traditional fats (tallow, ghee, grass-fed butter)
• Proteins from poultry, beef, wild game and seafood
This simple science fact of being human does not care about your politics or Instagram brand.
Sure your body can “make” carbohydrate energy from chicken breast, but is it ideal?
Certainly your body can extract fat from an apple—like 0.5 grams.
And yes, your body can find some amino acids in beans or quinoa.
But are these the purest form of complete nutrition? Nope.
There is veganism (i.e. eating mostly plants, especially veggies) and then there is Veganism—the one with an upper case, that one that goes beyond diet and lifestyle consciousness to a skewed crusade—not only believe that meat-eating is morally and physically bad for humans, but that meat-eating has always been bad for humans; believing that humans were never meant to eat animal products in the first place.
But this isn’t so.
Research shows (6) that not only did processing and eating meat come naturally to humans for thousands of years, but that, without our ancestors’ early diets (that included generous amounts of animal protein), we would not even have become human—at least not the modern, verbal, intelligent humans we are due to the fact that humans simply could not have met their body’s caloric, development and energy demands on roots and tubers alone to thrive.
Notice: The research showing the health benefits for meat did not back “factory farmed” meat, antibiotic-induced meat or animal cruelty.
Humans evolved eating food from the land—especially local, seasonal foods, customized to their unique culture, customs and food availability.
For instance, a Mediterranean diet worked well for those living in Greece and Italy, whereas the Inuit in North America or the Maasai pastoralists in Kenya, were more biologically adapted to eat more meat—like buffalo—and dairy. Amish peoples in America’s farmlands ate grass-fed dairy, locally raised meats, potatoes and fermented sourdough bread, and Native Americans subsisted on deer, antelope, fish, rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons, along with veggies like pumpkin and squash, wild berries and beans.
Likewise, winters for humans are traditionally a time of “heartier” foods—heartier meats (like beef, whole roasted chickens, stews and chilis), broths, tubers, roots and some dark greens; whereas summers are a time of an abundance of plants in season—especially berries, leaves, peaches, cucumbers, summer squash, peppers, and beyond—just to name a few.
Want to know what the ideal human diet is for your region? Go to any local farmer’s market and you will find a blend of both plant and animal foods locally raised.
Myth #7: If the Label Says “Vegan”, It’s Good for Me
Vegan Mac and cheese, vegan Oreos, vegan bacon—a vegan version exists for every type of food you can imagine.
However, just because the label says “vegan” does not automatically make it a nutrient-dense nourishing food—just like a “gluten-free” pancake or “keto” bar is not necessarily nutrient-dense either (at least if these processed foods comprise the majority of your diet).
Certainly 80/20 balance exists and should exist in life (i.e. no perfection with food), but a missing link in any one-way diet people often miss is that eating real food is where the majority of nutrients are won. Not the label.
Myth #8: You ARE Vegan
You are _____ (your name).
You are not Vegan. You are not Paleo. You are not Keto. You are not Carnivore.
Your identity is not what you eat. You may eat vegan, paleo, keto or carnivore, but you are not vegan, paleo, Keto or carnivore.
Sometimes we allow our morals, identities and worth to get wrapped up in a food identity—and the rules that go with it.
When we are able to separate ourselves and value from what we eat, and instead view food as a mechanism that nourishes us to our utmost potential, it is then that we can truly find a customized approach to our own individual needs, our “diet” (fun fact: the latin version of the word “diet” means “a way of life”—not an ultimatum).
What to Do About It?!
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a diet, and no one or no article should tell you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat.
Instead if there is one “take home” from this article, it is that balance never steered anyone in a bad direction. A balanced diet will get you far.
The bigger question and factor for determining whether vegan diets, vegetarian, keto, carnviore, paleo, AIP, clean eating or any other “diet philosophy” is “working” for you is to simply ask yourself:
“How do I feel?”
Genuinely, how do you feel?—Your digestion, your energy, your hormones your mental health, your skin, your immune function. All of it. No Instagram shame or brownie points lost.
The best diet of all?
The way of life and the foods that work for you…and your body.
Chances are, those foods and that way of eating does not have a label or rule book. Instead, it’s a variety and balance of foods dependent on your season of life, your ancestral diet, and how you feel.
1. Global Data. 2017. https://www.reportbuyer.com/product/4959853/top-trends-in-prepared-foods-2017-exploring-trends-in-meat-fish-and-seafood-pasta-noodles-and-rice-prepared-meals-savory-deli-food-soup-and-meat-substitutes.html
2. The Vegan Society. https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics
3. Acorns Money Matters Report. 2017. https://app.box.com/s/sikpbs94y84tdugqy3rvqu0s1mv74sr8
4. The Simple Dollar. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/dont-eat-out-as-often-188365/
5. Bureau Labor Statistics. 2019. https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/consumer-expenditures/2015/pdf/home.pdf
6. Frontiers in Nutrition, “Environmental Impacts of Plant-Based Diets: How Does Organic Food Consumption Contribute to Environmental Sustainability?” by Camille Lacour et al, Feb. 9, 2018: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2018.00008/full
7. United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, “LIVESTOCK’S LONG SHADOW: environmental issues and options, Rome 2006: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM
8. USDA. 2019. Crop Production 2018 Summary. https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Todays_Reports/reports/cropan19.pdf
9. J. Peters, Christian & Picardy, Jamie & F. Darrouzet-Nardi, Amelia & Wilkins, Jennifer & S. Griffin, Timothy & Fick, Gary. (2016). Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. 4. 000116. 10.12952/journal.elementa.000116.
12. Zink & Liebermann. 2016. Impact of meat and Lower Palaeolithic food processing techniques on chewing in humans. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature16990