Plants V.S. Animals

How important is meat?

Power Protein?

Meat has had some negative connotations in the news lately. 

Taco Bell is taking an initiative.

They’re calling it… “Power Protein” instead of meat. 

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Soy: It could give you man boobs

Soy

It can be a big part of a vegetarian diet. Most of the nutrients that vegetarians have to be aware of, such as iron, protein, vitamin B12, and omega 3 fatty acids, are contained in soy and soy products (Eating). For many meat dishes, tofu is a great substitute. Soymilk is a delicious alternative to dairy milk. Soy and soy byproduct are also “used as an additive in various processed foods, including baked goods, cheese, and pasta” (Soy). Soy is found in many places, but could this be a problem?

In the blogosphere, there’s some harsh debate.

Zenhabits, named one of the top 25 blogs on the internet in 2010 by Time Magazine and with over 260,000 subscribers, is a blog about minimalism with the occasional post on vegetarianism and veganism. The author, Leo Babauta, describes himself:

I have no formal qualifications. I am not an expert, or a doctor, or a coach. I haven’t made millions of dollars and I’m not the world’s greatest athlete. All I am is a regular guy, a father of six kids, a husband, a writer from Guam (now living in San Francisco). But I have accomplished a lot over the last couple of years (and failed a lot) and along the way, I have learned a lot.

This discredits him as an expert in nutrition, but his blog post on soy represents the one side of the debate on soy’s effects. People who drink and eat soy products will often get this type of response: “I mention (to otherwise smart and informed people) that I drink soymilk sometimes, and a look of pity comes over their faces. ‘This guy doesn’t know the dangers of soy, and might get cancer, or worse … man boobs,’ they’re thinking” (Finally). This type of talk develops from news stories that link soy to breast cancer and from the fact that soy contains phytoestrogens. With the word estrogen, people automatically think female. It is true that men can grow boobs with increased levels of the hormone estrogen, but not soy’s phytoestrogens. Babauta defends soy by stating,

Soy has been eaten in moderation for centuries, and as I said above, has not been shown to be unhealthy. It can be included in a healthy diet — tofu, some soy milk, whole soy beans, tempeh can all be good for you if you mix them in with the other real foods I mentioned above. I would be cautious about overly processed soy foods — processed soy protein — just as I would any other processed foods. Meaning, don’t be afraid of them, but don’t make them a major part of your diet. Eat real foods instead. And organic is healthier.

Basically, eating natural and unprocessed foods is always better, but the occasional processed soy food is nothing to be worried about. He does cite some sources for his reasoning, but for many people, that’s not good enough. He received much backlash, partly because of his lack in expertise.

Melissa McEwen runs a blog called HuntGatherLove. She states that she was “studying agriculture at the time I started this blog and I intensified my study in ecology, nutrition, and anthropology. I finished my Bachelor’s of Science in 2009 and have since done some grad work in evolutionary biology and anthropology.” She seems to have more authority on nutrition and represents another side on the debate about soy. Her blog post directly confronts Babauta’s post, citing many more peer-reviewed scholarly sources and analyzing Babauta’s sources. Her stance on soy:

I eat soy sauce and I confess I sometimes indulge in Korean tofu stew (simmered in stock), I just don’t use soy as a staple food because I’ve seen the science and the science says “caution.” And more caution about getting dietary advice from a blog about “zen habits.” A hint for future writers from that blog: You can’t find studies about why soy might be bad by searching “soy bad.” You have to know something about biology and what to look for.

Minus the remark about Babauta’s blog, her statement seems to be a summary of what the other side thinks about soy; right now research is pointing toward some negatives for soy consumption.

The official fact sheet from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), states that:

  • Soy is considered safe for most people when used as a food or when taken for short periods as a dietary supplement.
  • Minor stomach and bowel problems such as nausea, bloating, and constipation are possible.
  • Allergic reactions such as breathing problems and rash can occur in rare cases.
  • The safety of long-term use of soy isoflavones has not been established. Evidence is mixed on whether using isoflavone supplements over time can increase the risk of endometrial hyperplasia (a thickening of the lining of the uterus that can lead to cancer). Studies show no effect of dietary soy on risk for endometrial hyperplasia.
  • Soy’s possible role in breast cancer risk is uncertain. Until more is known about soy’s effect on estrogen levels, women who have or who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive conditions (such as ovarian or uterine cancer) should be particularly careful about using soy and should discuss it with their health care providers.

From this statement it is clear that women should be careful about their intake of soy, otherwise, nothing is certain about the effects of soy.

From all this I can deduce that too much of one food is never a good thing. Mix meals up and avoid too many processed foods in general. We just need to remember to stop worrying so much and focus on more of the good things in life.

References:

Eating Guidelines for Vegans. Dietitians of Canada. http://www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Vegetarian/Eating-Guidelines-for-Vegans.aspx. Sep 1, 2010. Accessed July 5, 2013.

Soy. Nation Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/soy/ataglance.htm. April 2012. Accessed July 5, 2013.

Babauta L. Finally, the Truth About Soy. Zenhabits. http://zenhabits.net/soy/. May 30, 2011. Accessed July 5, 2013.

McEwen M. Zen Habits: stupid about soy. Huntgatherlove. http://huntgatherlove.com/content/zen-habits-stupid-about-soy. May 30, 2011. Accessed July 5, 2013.


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Big Buff Vegetarians

One of the stigmas behind vegetarianism is that people who follow the diet are all skinny and weak. Other than Popeye, we don’t usually associate hardcore athletes with plant based diets.

Rocky Balboa  eats raw eggs for protein, not a three bean salad. To become strong and gain muscle, the traditional advice is to consume animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and cheese to get all of the complete proteins to form the muscle. The myth is that plant proteins must be combined at every meal to match up to the complete proteins found in animal products. What many people do not know is that plant foods also contain protein, and all the proteins our body needs can be found in plant foods. Plants can be consumed throughout the day to form complete proteins; soy and quinoa actually have many of the essential complete proteins (Position 2). What many people are discovering is that it is possible to be a strong athlete and even excel as an athlete on a plant based diet.

In his blog post, “the Skinny Vegan’s Guide to Gaining Muscle,” Matt Frazier documents his experience of bulking up with muscle on a vegan diet. A vegan diet includes absolutely no animal products; not even eggs, milk, or cheese are allowed. To many this may seem a futile feat, but Frazier set his goal. He wanted to gain 20 pounds (of muscle) in 30 days. He explains that he has done this type of rapid bulking twice in the past, but with chicken breast and milk as a huge staple in his diet. Alas, he only gained 17 pounds in 6 weeks. That is a 13% weight increase for his body going from 132 to 149. For me personally, I see this as a success already, but he gives reasons for not reaching his goal. Frazier says he would have reached his goal, but he had two interruptions to his training regimen. He had to travel a lot, interrupting many weight lifting sessions and “vegan fat shake” meal opportunities. He also injured himself at the end of the six weeks with a careless mistake while lifting weights.

The “vegan fat shake” he relied on the most for weight gain consisted of:

12 ounces raw, homemade almond milk

2-3 tablespoons raw, homemade almond butter

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 tablespoon flax seed oil

2 tablespoons chia seeds

2 scoops soy-free veggie protein powder (about 22 grams of protein)

1 teaspoon maca powder

1 banana

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon wheat grass powder

This shake is packed with protein and fat and other various vitamins and minerals contained in plant foods. I would say this is probably more appetizing than a glass of raw eggs, with many more nutrients that eggs don’t contain.

Matt Frazier founded his website, No Meat Athlete, in 2009 when he first became vegetarian. He qualified for the Boston Marathon that same year, and in 2010 ran his first 50 mile ultra marathon. He still avidly participates in ultras and marathons every year while sticking to a vegetarian diet. His website has appeared as a resource for vegetarians and runners in many books and websites like WebMD and the New York Times. Being an avid runner and healthy vegetarian, he has a lot of personal experience with diet and fitness. Running his blog also requires him to constantly be on top of the newest information on running and vegetarianism. His readers constantly ask questions on diet and fitness, requiring him to give educated and safe advice, or else the readers will discredit him and lash back at any false or easily refuted information.

Frazier is not the only athlete on a vegetarian diet. In his blog post on “The Vegetarian Athlete Diet” he refers to the vegetarian running icon Bart Yasso, the vegan ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, the vegan pro Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier, and the vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke.

Many other people in the comments of his blogs also claim to have experienced greater energy and success in their workouts while following vegetarian diets. This is particularly seen in the comments on the “Could Going Vegan Help with Exercise-Induced Asthma?” post. It is claimed that dairy products produce an allergic reaction in the lungs, causing something similar to exercise-induced asthma in many people. The comments are mostly from people telling stories about how cutting dairy from their diets helped improve their breathing during workouts.

From personal experience I have realized that plant foods provide me with much greater and cleaner energy than dairy products. I do have exercise induced asthma and dairy products only promote phlegm production, which adds unneeded blockages to my already constricted airways. I have been a vegetarian for longer than I have been running, so I cannot compare my workouts pre and post transition to vegetarianism, but seeing the difference the diet makes for other athletes only makes sense.

In our day and age, vegetarian diets are gaining popularity and the people following them are breaking many stereotypes. Athletes are experiencing much success on plant based diets, sometimes even more than athletes on diets that include animal products. Vegetarian diets are not only helping prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, but they are also providing athletes with more effective fuel.

Works Cited:

Frazier M. “The Skinny Vegan’s Guide to Gaining Muscle.” No Meat Athlete. http://www.nomeatathlete.com/gain-weight-vegan/. 5 Oct. 2011. Accessed 28 June 2013.

Frazier M. “The Vegetarian Athlete Diet.” No Meat Athlete. http://www.nomeatathlete.com/vegetarian-diet-athletes/. 31 May 2010. Accessed 28 June 2013.

Lacke S. “Could Going Vegan Help With Exercise-Induced Asthma?” No Meat Athlete. http://www.nomeatathlete.com/exercise-induced-asthma/. 24 July 2012. Accessed 28 June 2013.

“Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109.7 (2009): 1266-1282. ScienceDirect. Web. Accessed 20 June 2013.


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What is natural anyway?

Link to Essay: http://www.allrandall.com/Collura_Chapter.pdf

            This essay questions the fundamental basis of our health crazes. Collura discusses our obsession with the return to the garden of Eden for humans. We are trying to find a simple solution for the complex issue of how to nourish ourselves. New diets all claim to have the perfect balance of foods for our bodies, but this article discusses how there can never be one solution. Right now we assume that there is diet that can lead us to a long healthy life, but it all depends. No diet will grant us the longest healthiest life. Our diets were not perfect in the past, and though we are engineering better food, our diets are far from perfect now.

            Randall Collura got his PhD from Harvard University in Biological Anthropology. More information on his endeavors can be found on his website: http://www.allrandall.com/Welcome.html. His specialty is not nutrition, but he does provide great points about our species today trying to find miracle diets.

Collura’s essay, “What Is Our Natural Diet And Should We Really Care?” provides a zoomed out view of the issues with our diets. Vegetarianism comes with a broader look at our world, empathizing with the suffering of animals, promoting mindful eating. Being a vegetarian often means promoting natural foods and alternatives as being the best for our bodies. This is a broader look at the scope of eating than simply just moving through life unaware, just eating what is supplied to you. But this article provides an even wider look at what we eat by questioning a very huge underlying issue. We are essentially blind to what is supplied to us anyway. What we eat today is not natural in the sense that everything has an added human touch.

Indeed, one could argue that no diet consisting of today’s foods is really natural–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Over the last 10,000 years we have not only changed what foods we eat but have changed the foods themselves. Someone from the Paleolithic wouldn’t recognize most of the fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets. Artificial selection (people choosing only certain seeds, usually from the best plants, to be sown the following year) has produced foods lower in fiber, sweeter and larger than their natural relatives. They have also been selected to contain lower amounts of compounds that plants produce to thwart herbivores such as tannins, alkaloids and oxalates.

Our tomatoes have anti-freeze genes from fish and our carrots are now orange instead of purple. To advocate for a natural diet is extremely difficult because we have altered the nature of almost every food to increase its value to us. This is definitely not a bad thing for us though. Our modifications to foods have allowed our lifespans and our healthy years to increase dramatically, but this is also much of the reason behind overpopulation (though world hunger is still unbelievably rampant). The fact that these foods are not the natural ones that were produced by nature has a whole slew of environment effects that I cannot cover without going into apocalyptic alarm mode.

       Another great point that Collura brings up about our diets today is that we are engineering many foods and fortifying foods under the assumption that people will not be able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need without the extra supplements put into foods. This is part of the reason for our longer and healthier lives and bigger bodies than ever before.

It’s curious how the traditional dietetic community will harp on the lack of vitamin B12 in a vegan diet–implying that without supplements it is inherently deficient and restrictive–while ignoring the many vitamin and mineral supplements added to common foods (iodine in salt, B vitamins in grain products, vitamin D in milk, calcium in many foods, etc.). Do these important additions make “standard” mixed diets inherently deficient and restrictive? Deficiencies of certain nutrients may have been a common feature of existence throughout human evolution or they might be the result of very recent changes in food processing technologies and lifestyle or both.

Overall, we can see that we are chasing a difficult dream. Our natural diets were lost to agriculture long ago and no one person has the perfect diet to fit every human. The debate over what is healthiest for humans may be an impossible feat. Debating over whether meat is good for us or not is also under the category of health crazes that we cannot settle.

 References:

Collura R. What Is Our Natural Diet And Should We Really Care?. In: Sapontzis S, ed. Food for Thought: The Debate over Eating Meat. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books; 2004


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Meat for Brains

Wikimedia commons image

Drew Ramsey argues in his blog post that our brains need meat for optimal development and functioning.

Does the author know what he’s talking about?

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. His clinical work focuses on the treatment of depression and anxiety with a combination of psychotherapy, lifestyle modification, and psychopharmacology.

Ramsey may not seem like an expert in nutrition from this statement, but part of lifestyle modification to treat depression and anxiety involves eating a careful healthy diet, especially to avoid any psychoactive ingredients like caffeine and those found in alcohol.

He also serves as a thesis mentor for graduate students at the Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition.  Regularly providing expert comment on psychiatry-related topics to the news media, he hopes to help bridge the gap between academic medicine and the public. In 2008, he turned his attention to changes in the American food supply and how diet influences brain health and mental wellness. His first book, The Happiness Diet, written with Tyler Graham, was published by Rodale in 2011.

Ramsey has experience in the field of nutrition from his authority to mentor on theses on human nutrition and his research he did for his book. His topic of the relation between diet and brain health is important when researching the value of meat in our diets. Our brains play probably the largest role in making us who we are as humans, and what we eat changes our brain chemistry. If our brains need meat to thrive, that becomes one strong argument for meat eaters.

What is the Author Talking About?

In his blog post “Do Happy, Healthy Brains Need Meat?” on “The Farmacy,” Drew Ramsey makes an appealing argument for both vegetarians and meat eaters. His basic argument is that we definitely need meat, but we only need a small amount of high quality meat. He leaves the reader with this logical conclusion:

Mankind is often cruel to animals, but Mother Nature is much crueler. In the wild, defenseless creatures like cows and chickens would be subject to hunger, disease and predation. By contrast, when animal husbandry is practiced at the highest standards, the grass-fed cows raised in pastures and the cage-free chickens raised in open pens arguably have the most pain-free, hunger-free, stress-free lives of all animals on earth. In exchange for their meat, they enjoy the most mutually beneficial relationship with humans outside that of our beloved house pets. What is unethical about that?

He settles some of the animal welfare arguments by agreeing that the current meat industry is working unethically, and then is able to focus on more of the biological aspect of meat in our diets.

One of the greatest reasons for vegetarianism/veganism is the issue of animal wellbeing. A vegan would surely never want to deprive an animal of the nutrients it needs. The lion’s natural diet consists solely of meat and it knows how and what to feed itself. Feeding a meat free diet to a lion would be unnatural and the lion would suffer greatly. But why doesn’t that logic apply to us human animals in the vegetarian mind? We are classified as an omnivorous species and can eat almost anything on the planet. If we have included meat in our diets for over 2 million years, wouldn’t it be unsafe to exclude it now, just as it is unsafe to alter any animal’s natural diet? Ramsey puts it this way: “If the human brain requires animal nutrients for healthy functioning, how can it be ethical to deprive the brain of what nature says it needs?”

The biggest part of his argument is our requirement of vitamin B12. MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, states that,

Vitamin B12, like the other B vitamins, is important for metabolism. It helps in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the central nervous system. The body absorbs animal sources of vitamin B12 much better than plant sources. Non-animal sources of vitamin B12 vary in their amount of B12. They are not thought to be reliable sources of the vitamin.

Ramsey confirms the fact that non-animal sources of vitamin B12 are unreliable with a study done on serum concentrations of vitamin B12 in British male omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. The conclusion from the study, done in 2010, was that vegans have lower vitamin B12 concentrations than vegetarians and omnivores. Half of the vegans were deemed vitamin B12 deficient and are at higher risk of developing symptoms related to vitamin B12 deficiency. The same MedlinePlus fact sheet on vitamin B12 states that deficiencies of it can cause anemia, loss of balance, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs, and weakness.

I admit that Ramsey’s blog post was very convincing, especially because he admitted to understanding the evils of the meat industry: “Granted, how we raise and eat animals today leaves much to be desired. Crowded feedlots, antibiotic overuse, cramped cages and other inhumane features of our food production system are indefensible.” But this does not mean his other arguments and evidence are completely correct. The study he cited concluded that the vegans were deficient in vitamin B12, but did not state if any of them were actually experiencing any side effects of deficiency. There are also many vegans/vegetarians that do not know how to nourish themselves. Many people have quit following these diets because they do not eat enough variety of foods to cover all nutrients. Naturally when something is missing, the body cannot function normally, so for many, the obvious conclusion is that vegetarian diets do not allow optimal health. Studies of vegetarians and vegans need to be reevaluated for how well the subjects nourish themselves in the first place.

I believe that unless more studies are done on effective vegetarians/vegans, many arguments made in Ramsey’s blog post cannot be confirmed or denied at this time. Our omnivorous status may actually be a factor of the human’s quick ability to adapt to any changes in our environments. We could be omnivores so that we are able to survive in all kinds of environments, where we can or cannot find meat and other animal products. If the people surviving without animal products were truly suffering under their selective diets, there would be much more shunning of the diet and less praise for it in the media. The media may also play a factor in glorifying the diet without giving people the resources to effectively nourish themselves on the diet. Though this blog post is logical, I’m not quite convinced that animal products are needed in our diets.

References:

Drew Ramsey’s Blog Post: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-farmacy/201205/do-happy-healthy-brains-need-meat

MedlinePlus Fact Sheet: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002403.htm

Vitamin B12 Study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20648045