Everyone “knows” that fruits and veggies are an excellent source of micronutrients, which are the vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that our bodies need to thrive.
After all, we’ve been taught to make plants a significant part of each meal and to try and consume a variety of different fruits and veggies, a strategy known as “eating the rainbow.”
Certain plants are even hailed as superfoods because they’re supposed to have incredibly high concentrations of micronutrients and antioxidants. Examples include broccoli, kale and other leafy greens.
But guess what? Like much of what we’ve been taught about nutrition, there are some serious problems with this way of eating.
These problems include the fact that most of the nutrients in plants are poorly absorbed by the body, as well as the fact that many plants have chemical defense mechanisms (called antinutrients) that can prevent the absorption of nutrients and even make you sick.
This article explains the evolutionary and scientific rationale behind removing (most) plants from your diet. I’ll dive into the differences between plant and animal protein, highlight the best sources of nutrients for humans, and briefly cover the moral and environmental aspects of eating animals vs. plants.
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Nutrients in Plants vs. Animals
In general, plants are an inferior source of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) compared to animals.
This is true for several reasons:
- There are some essential vitamins that do not exist in plants at all.
- Some of the vitamins in plants have to be converted before the body can use them, reducing their bioavailability.
- Antinutrients prevent the body from absorbing many of the vitamins and minerals found in plants.
- Plant protein has an incomplete amino acid profile and is poorly absorbed.
- Most plants contain unfavorable ratios of certain fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6.
So let’s talk more about these issues and look at some examples.
Essential Nutrients Missing in Plants
As mentioned above, there are several essential and non-essential nutrients — such as vitamins, minerals and fatty acids — that don’t exist in plants at all. In other words, we have to get them from animal sources.
- There is no reliable source of vitamin B12 in plants, which is why many vegans are deficient in this essential micronutrient. On the other hand, organ meat (and liver in particular) is an excellent source of B12.
- Vitamin D3 doesn’t exist in plants, with the exception of microalgae. As a result, we need to get most of it from the sun and animals (especially fatty fish).
- There are several versions of vitamin K (including K1) and several versions of K2 (MK-4, MK-7, etc.). Plants have vitamin K1, which is poorly absorbed by the body. To get vitamin K2 from plants, you need to ferment them first.
- Arguably the most important form of Vitamin K2 (the version called MK-4) is only in animal products (and especially liver).
- Creatine plays in important role in muscle and brain function and while the liver, pancreas and kidneys can make up to one gram of creatine per day, studies have shown that people who follow a plant-based diet have much lower levels of this molecule. Without supplementation, low creatine levels can lead to decreased physical and mental performance.
- Carnosine is a non-essential amino acid that’s responsible for muscle function. The body can make some carnosine from the amino acids histidine and beta-alanine, but studies have shown that without supplementation, vegetarians have significantly lower levels of carnosine in their muscles (which can lead to decreased endurance and lower muscle mass).
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that’s found in fatty fish, fish oil and microalgae. While some DHA can be made from ALA (another omega-3 fatty acid found in plants), the conversion from AHA to DHA is incredibly inefficient and may not increase DHA blood levels sufficiently. So plant-eaters must supplement with algae oil or synthetic versions of DHA to get enough of this omega-3 fatty acid into their diet.
- Taurine is a sulfur compound that’s only found in animal-based foods, including fish, seafood, meat, poultry and dairy. The exact role that taurine plays in the human body isn’t entirely clear, but it appears to support muscle function, bile salt formation and the immune system.
As a result, strict veganism or vegetarianism will most likely lead to nutrient deficiencies, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis, anemia, lethargy, hair loss, neurological symptoms and more.
I had a strictly vegan co-worker in her mid-30s who tripped on an uneven road and broke her hip — an issue most adults don’t have to worry about until they’re in their late 70s or beyond. Of course, this is anecdotal evidence. But if I had to guess, I’d say she was malnourished due to her dietary patterns, and that’s why her bones broke so easily.
Many of the vitamins and minerals in plants exist in variations that the body can’t readily use without first converting them, thus decreasing their bioavailability and effectiveness.
Here are a couple of examples:
Plant Protein vs. Animal Protein
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. While the body can make certain amino acids, there are others (called essential amino acids) that the body can’t make; we have to get those from food.
The problem is that plant-based protein has an incomplete amino acid profile, making it hard to obtain all the essential amino acids from plant-based sources.
Additionally, plant-based protein has much lower bioavailability than animal protein, which means the body absorbs fewer essential amino acids from plants than from animal sources.
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 Ratio
Both omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids that play crucial roles in the human body, supporting brain function, promoting skin and hair growth, regulating the metabolism, maintaining the reproductive system and more.
The problem is that omega-6 is also pro-inflammatory. That can become an issue if you consume significantly more omega-6 than omega-3.
Our ancestors maintained a relatively balanced ratio of dietary omega-3 to omega-6. That balance started getting out of whack with the introduction of industrial seed oils and the overconsumption of plant foods that are naturally high in omega-6, including nuts and seeds.
Note that meat from grain-fed animals has a less-favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 than meat from grass-fed animals. That’s why I consume pasture-raised meats whenever possible.
Nutrients in Animals
Meat from properly-raised animals has none of the issues associated with the poor absorbability and bioavailability of plant nutrients. In fact, if you maintain a nose-to-tail animal-based diet, you’ll get all the nutrients your body needs in the most bioavailable form possible. More importantly, you won’t have to worry about any of the toxins commonly found in plants.
Most Plants Don’t Want to Be Eaten
Neither animals nor plants want to be eaten — unless it’s to their advantage (we’ll get to that in a moment).
Animals fight or run when you try to kill them. But plants can’t run, and their ability to fight is limited to the use of chemical weapons in the form of toxins, inflammatory proteins or enzyme inhibitors (also known as antinutrients).
Unsurprisingly, plants concentrate these toxins in vital parts of their structure, including the seeds, leaves and skin.
Let me give you three real-life examples of how powerful the defense mechanisms of certain plants are:
- Some plants can respond to leaf vibrations by releasing chemicals when they sense they’re being chewed on by insects.
- Some plants even release chemicals that turn caterpillars into cannibals (the caterpillars become disinterested in eating leaves…).
- Some caterpillar-damaged plants protect themselves by releasing chemicals that attract parasitic wasps (which eat the insects).
That’s crazy but impressive, and an illustration of the strength of plants’ defenses.
Note that some plants want you to consume their fruit, so that you can spread their seeds and help the plant proliferate. That’s why certain plants, including many sweet fruits, are healthier for humans than others.
In other words, plant toxicity should be viewed on a spectrum ranging from the least-toxic to the most-toxic plants.
Does all this mean you should never eat any plants ever again? No, not necessarily. But I highly encourage you to carefully pick the plants you make part of your regular diet.
To give you an idea of why certain plants are better for human consumption than others, let’s take a look at the most common plant toxins and how they interfere with our metabolism
The Most Common Plant Toxins
The list of toxins found in plants (called phytotoxins) is long, so here’s an overview of some of the most prevalent ones:
- Antinutrients (or enzyme inhibitors)
- Heavy metals
- Neurotoxins and carcinogens
Unlike nutrients that provide nourishment, antinutrients block the absorption of individual proteins, vitamins and minerals. They can also create holes in your intestinal walls, leading to increased intestinal permeability (which is a fancy term for a leaky gut).
The consumption of antinutrients can also lead to mineral deficiencies (particularly if you have a diet low in organ meats).
Some of the most common antinutrients include:
- Phytates or phytic acid
- Trypsin inhibitors
Let’s take a look at why you want to avoid each of these.
Glucosinolates are compounds found in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Glucosinolates prevent the body from absorbing iodine, flavonoids, and minerals such as iron and zinc.
Most health foodies are aware of the adverse effects of this antinutrient. Gluten is found primarily in wheat, barley and rye. Based on statistics, some scientists estimate that up to 13% of the domestic population is sensitive to gluten (non-celiac gluten sensitivity).
According to Dr. Fasano, a pediatric gastroenterologist and researcher, gluten sensitivity potentially affects far more people than celiac disease. He estimates about 6% to 7% of the U.S. population may be gluten-sensitive, meaning some 20 million people in the United States alone could have the condition.
That’s much more than the 1% of people who are thought to suffer from celiac disease.
You’ve probably heard about lectins. Eating lectin-free foods is becoming a “thing,” just like eating gluten-free.
Lectins are naturally-occurring proteins found in a variety of foods. They occur in higher concentrations in legumes and grains, and are most commonly found in the section of a seed that becomes a leaf after sprouting occurs.
One of the problems with lectins is that they can cause a leaky gut (also known as intestinal permeability).
When you eat foods containing too many of these proteins, they bind to cells in your gut wall. This punctures your gut wall and creates holes, through which your gut’s contents can leak — unfiltered — into your bloodstream (enabling inflammatory pathways).
We already know that increased intestinal permeability plays a role in certain gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. The biggest question is whether or not a leaky gut may cause problems elsewhere in the body. Some studies show that leaky gut may be associated with other autoimmune diseases (lupus, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, allergies, asthma, acne, obesity, and even mental illness. However, we do not yet have clinical studies in humans showing such a cause and effect.
While the studies referenced by Dr. Campos correlated those findings to Type 1 diabetes, other diseases (such as Crohn’s disease and coeliac disease) followed a similar pattern.
Another study, conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta, concluded that, “in several autoimmune conditions it appears that increased permeability is a constant and early feature of the disease process. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly apparent that in some conditions increased permeability is critical to the development of disease as if it is abrogated the disease does not develop.”
Oxalates are found in plant-based foods like spinach, rhubarb, rice and almonds. They bind to calcium, preventing the body from absorbing this vital nutrient.
If your muscles are not absorbing calcium, you will experience muscle pain. Also, unused calcium can accumulate in the kidney and cause kidney stones.
If you suffer from kidney stones, your doctor likely told you to reduce your salt and animal protein intake. Considering that early humans predominantly consumed animal protein, along with the lack of evidence that early humans suffered from chronic kidney issues, I think that advice is misguided. Instead, I strongly believe that reducing your intake of oxalate-containing vegetables is the much better approach.
Other potential consequences of calcium malabsorption include osteoporosis, fatigue and inflammatory conditions such as eczema.
Note that some of the least-toxic foods I recommend below also contain oxalates, but in lower amounts. However, if you’re metabolically unhealthy, even small amounts of oxalates might cause issues for you.
Phytates or Phytic Acid
Phytates are found in the hulls of whole grains, seeds and legumes (such as soybeans and peanuts). Phytates also bind to essential dietary minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. This makes them unavailable for the body to use.
Saponins are mainly found in legume plants. The name “saponin” comes from this antinutrient’s ability to foam up like soap when exposed to liquids (like gastric fluids). Like lectins, saponins can bind to the gut and can increase intestinal permeability.
You may have heard of tannins as the element that gives wine its dry taste.
Tannins are naturally-occurring polyphenols. You can find them in various plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves and fruit skins.
They’re antinutrients because they inhibit the absorption of iron.
Trypsin inhibitors are proteins that block trypsin activity. Trypsin is one of the digestive enzymes involved in the digestion and absorption of protein.
These inhibitors are classified as an antinutrient because they prevent our bodies from digesting and beneficially using protein.
Beyond the most important enzyme inhibitors mentioned above, here are a few more antinutrients (and foods containing them):
- Allicin and mustard oil: Onions, shallots, leeks, chives, scallions and garlic.
- Alpha-amylase inhibitors: Grains, legumes, nut skins and stevia leaves.
- Avidin: Egg white (one of the reasons why I often eat the yolk only).
- Calcitriol, solanine and nicotine: Green potatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and goji berries.
- Cyanide: Beans and fruit pits.
- Salicylates: Berries, dried fruits, herbs and spices.
- Oligosaccharides: Legumes.
Keep in mind that the foods mentioned above contain various amounts of these antinutrients and you might react stronger to some than to others.
In other words, I’m not suggesting you completely remove all of these foods from your diet, but rather that you pay attention to how you feel after consuming them.
For example, I don’t appear to have any adverse reaction to egg whites, even though I often stick with the yolk.
Goitrogens are a group of chemicals that suppress the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake, an important mineral needed to make thyroid hormone.
The foods with the highest levels of goitrogens include bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish and kale.
In other words, many of the so-called “superfoods.”
The contamination of soil with heavy metals is a problem that most countries have to deal with. The issue is that heavy metals — including arsenic, cadmium, chromium and lead (to name a few) — don’t stay in the soil; they get absorbed by plants and then end up in our food chain, regardless of whether the plant was grown organically or using synthetic herbicides or pesticides.
Proposition 65 requires California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. That’s the primary reason why most green powders that are sold in California have a Proposition 65 warning for heavy metals on their label — because virtually all produce has trace amounts of heavy metals from contaminated soil.
While it’s certainly true that heavy metals can also accumulate in the tissue of animals (much as they accumulate in human tissue), studies (see here and here) have shown that people who follow a predominantly plant-based diet have higher blood concentrations of heavy metals.
Neurotoxins and Carcinogens
Did you know that castor beans are a natural source of ricin, a well-known neurotoxin that inhibits protein synthesis and can lead to death within hours?
I admit, that’s a rather extreme example. After all, not many people use castor beans to make chili con carne.
But even regular beans and potatoes are highly toxic when consumed raw, and can cause severe illness or death. Additionally, many plants (such as grains and legumes) are covered in a type of mold (aflatoxins) that is known to cause cancer by damaging human cells and DNA.
That’s why I strongly recommend avoiding grains and legumes, including peanuts: mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin, grow in damp and dark places — like the massive grain and peanut storage containers used on monoculture farms.
Phytoestrogens are plant-based chemicals that mimic the sex hormone estrogen. I wrote at length about the issues associated with xenoestrogens and their negative impact on our reproductive health and metabolism, so check it out if you’d like to learn more.
The Most Toxic Plants
So now that we’ve covered many of the issues associated with plants, here’s a list of the most toxic plants you should avoid:
- Vegetables (and fruits)
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
Besides traditional vegetables (some of which are technically fruits) grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are also rich sources of antinutrients and other toxins. That’s why I’ll decided to include them here as well.
Vegetables (and Fruits)
Most vegetables contain a variety of toxins that can be detrimental to your health. For example, raw cruciferous vegetables such as kale, radishes, cauliflower and broccoli, as well as leafy greens such as spinach and parsley, contain the antinutrient oxalic acid.
Oxalates can lead to the formation of kidney stones and hinder the absorption of nutrients.
Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants (all part of the nightshade family), as well as cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage) and alliums (including onions, garlic, shallots, leeks and scallions) contain considerable amounts of antinutrients and should thus be avoided.
Most nightshades are technically fruits, not vegetables!
The good news is that you can reduce the soluble oxalate content of some of these vegetables by cooking them. For example, studies have shown that boiling reduced the soluble oxalate content of spinach, carrots, beetroot, white beans, red beans and soybeans by 15-66%.
Steaming was less effective, reducing the amount of oxalates by 5-53%. That’s because steaming preserves not only nutrients but also antinutrients and other toxins. On the flip side, baking a potato didn’t reduce its oxalate content at all.
The key here is to use water and heat to allow soluble oxalates to leach out of the plant before draining it. That’s why boiling is more effective than steaming or sauteing.
To reduce the toxic load of some of the veggies that are often consumed raw, including cucumbers, tomatoes or peppers, I recommend removing the skin and seeds as these parts of the plants contain the highest concentrations of toxins.
No matter what, I definitely recommend avoiding the consumption of raw and cooked spinach, rhubarb, kale, broccoli and other leafy greens. While some of these plants are popular ingredients in supposedly “healthy” smoothies, they’re loaded with oxalates that wreak havoc in your body and can even lead to the formation of kidney stones.
For example, if you follow a standard American diet, you likely ingest between 200 and 300 milligrams of oxalates per day. In comparison, one serving of cooked spinach has a whopping 755 mg of oxalates, closely followed by raw spinach, rhubarb and rice bran.
Legumes — including chickpeas, black-eyed peas, peas, kidney bean seeds and peanuts — contain antinutrients such as tannins, phytic acid and trypsin inhibitors.
They may also contain lectins. For example, raw red kidney beans contain up to 70,000 lectin units (versus up to 400 lectin units in fully-cooked beans).
For a long time, I thought that our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t consume legumes because they didn’t know how to process them. I was wrong. Scientists have found neanderthals with starches between their teeth that resembled carbohydrates from cooked legumes.
If you think about it, that makes sense: how could they have started cultivating legumes and grains without having discovered them beforehand?
However, while early humans might have been exposed to grains and legumes, those items weren’t a staple of their diets (like they are for us today). Plus, our genetically-modified and lab-altered versions of these foods have (genetically) little in common with the ones humans might have eaten over 10,000 years ago.
More importantly, legumes have low nutritional value compared to healthier alternatives. And since I have no desire to spend a lot of time correctly processing them (see below), I see no reason to make them part of my diet. In business terms, I’d say that grains and legumes have a weak value proposition.
The hulls of whole grains contain the antinutrients phytate and saponins. Also, certain grains — including wheat, barley and rye — contain the antinutrient gluten.
From a nutritional perspective, grains are even worse than legumes. In other words, grains are on the bottom of the list when it comes to nutrient density. You don’t need them, and no processing method in the world removes all the antinutrients (such as gluten) they contain.
Because of their low nutritional value and high antinutrient content, I generally recommend cutting grains out of your diet entirely.
To learn more about why you should ban most grains from your diet, check out this blog post.
Nuts and Seeds
Most nuts (in particular, the hulls of their seeds) contain phytate. That kind of throws a wrench into the hypothesis that nuts are healthy, and seeds (such as chia seeds) are superfoods, doesn’t it?
To learn more, check out my article about the best nuts and seeds for a low-carb lifestyle.
The Least Toxic Plants
If you’ve come this far, you’re probably wondering what plants there are left to eat, considering all of the toxins listed above.
It’s true that the list of plants that are safe to eat due to their relatively low toxicity and potential to cause inflammation is short.
Here are some of the least-toxic plants I consume on a regular basis:
- Avocados: These are actually fruits, but they’re very low in carbs and high in healthy fats.
- Berries: These are my favorite fruits. We grow several types of them in our garden, including raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries. Note that out of all the berries, raspberries have the highest amount of oxalates of about 48 mg per serving. While that sounds like a lot, it’s nothing compared to what you find in spinach and other leafy greens.
- Cucumbers (peeled and deseeded): I’m not crazy for cucumbers but if you remove the most toxic parts (the skin and seeds) and season them with salt, they actually make for a pretty refreshing snack on hot summer days due to their high water content.
- Dates: While dates contain a boatload of sugar, they’re relatively low in defense chemicals. We occasionally use them as a natural sweetener but you can certainly consume them whole.
- Olives: Much like avocados, olives are fruits and I regularly enjoy them with dinner.
- Squash (peeled and deseeded): Similar to cucumbers, squash (including pumpkins and zucchinis) has most of its defense chemicals concentrated in the skin and seeds.
- Sweet fruits (apples, pears, bananas, oranges, etc.): These fruits want to be eaten so you can spread their seeds.
What’s important to understand is that although the plants in the list above are among the least-toxic available, that fact doesn’t mean that you should consume them at the exclusion of meat.
In other words, don’t eat a big fruit salad instead of a steak or liver.
Plants used to be a survival food that early humans and our ancestors ate when they didn’t have access to more nutritious sources of food (animals). Considering that most of us have constant access to food from animal sources, I treat veggies and fruits as a side dish or a snack but not as a replacement for meat or organ meat.
Why Vegan Diets Aren’t Healthy (Despite What You Might Have Heard)
Plant-based eating is trendy right now because it’s associated with better health and well-being. Plus, there’s plenty of scientific research that suggests vegan or vegetarian diets are better for your health.
The problem is that the world of scientific research is complex and often misleading. Additionally, most larger studies are funded by either a government or private industry (i.e., the agricultural industry) who have an agenda, thus influencing the final outcome.
That doesn’t mean you should never trust studies that are backed by these entities — it means you need to approach this research with a healthy dose of skepticism and interpret its findings based on a solid understanding of how each study was conducted.
There are three major types of scientific research, and the quality of their results differs vastly. These types include:
- Epidemiological or observational studies.
- Intervention studies or clinical trials.
- Systematic reviews or meta-analyses (of available studies).
An epidemiological study is, as the name implies, a study that involves observing a group of people and then correlating their behavior to certain health outcomes.
For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association said that African Americans who watched more than four hours of television every day faced a 50% greater risk of heart disease and premature death compared to those who watched less than two hours of TV per day.
But the headlines you saw in the press read: “Binge Watching TV May Raise Your Risk of Heart Disease.”
Obviously, neither the television itself nor watching it causes cardiovascular disease. But there’s a good chance that people who watch TV for more than four hours a day don’t follow a proper diet, exercise regularly or sleep well.
In other words, there are “confounding factors” that many studies don’t account for (and which don’t get reported in most news stories). Most importantly you need to understand that correlation isn’t the same as causation, and only the latter should be seen as scientific proof.
Additionally, many nutritional studies that suggest a plant-based diet is healthier than a “regular” diet don’t take healthy user bias into account.
What that means is that most people who follow a vegan (or plant-based) diet are more conscious about their health and do other things to support it, including exercising regularly, avoiding junk food, practicing yoga and meditation, and so on.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone who does all of these things is generally healthier than the average Joe who eats a standard American diet high in processed foods and added sugars, and who doesn’t exercise regularly or exhibit any other healthy lifestyle choices.
The issue is that most nutritional studies fall into the above category and are thus only good to establish a hypothesis that has to be proven or disproven by an interventional study or clinical trial.
Speaking of interventional studies, there are none that I’ve found that suggest that eating plants is healthier than eating animals nose-to-tail. Quite frankly, I don’t even think it’s possible to design a study that would strictly control the food the participants would eat over the course of several years.
The good news is that we probably don’t have to design such a study, because there is one that involved a lot of people over a very long period of time. That study, of course, is evolution. And based on everything we know about how humans evolved, we were apex predators who consumed predominantly animals and we are who we are today because of that fact.
So no, plant-based diets aren’t healthier and don’t reduce risk factors for chronic diseases when compared to a nose-to-tail animal-based diet. However, when compared to a standard American diet, plant-based diets might be less bad. But that doesn’t make them good for you.
The Blue Zone Myth
You’ve probably heard about the so-called “Blue Zones,” which are geographic regions where a higher than usual number of people live much longer than average while consuming a predominantly plant-based diet.
The regions of the world that are considered Blue Zones include Loma Linda (California), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), Sardinia (Italy), Icaria (Greece) and Okinawa (Japan).
The assumption is that certain lifestyle factors allow people in these regions to live much longer than their peers.
Dan Buettner and the researchers who developed the concept of Blue Zones observed that the following behaviors are correlated with the above-average longevity in these regions:
- Cultivate a sense of belonging: Create a healthy social network, connect/reconnect with religion, prioritize family.
- Eat wisely: Eat until 80% full; eat more veggies, less meat and processed food; drink a glass of wine every day.
- Have the right outlook: Know your purpose and downshift (work less, slow down, take vacations).
- Move naturally: Make daily physical activity an unavoidable part of your environment.
While I don’t argue that we can benefit from borrowing some of the habits from the people in these regions, I seriously doubt that eating more veggies and less meat has anything to do with living longer and healthier lives.
First of all, we’re (again) dealing with epidemiology or observational science that can prove correlation but not causation.
But the second, and potentially bigger, problem is that Buettner cherry picked a few regions while ignoring others, such as Hong Kong, Japan and Iceland, where people do consume a significant amount of animal products (such as meat and eggs) and also enjoy above-average lifespans.
People in Hong Kong have an average life expectancy of 85 years and they consume an average of 1.5 pounds of beef per day, compared to 0.16 pounds in the United States.
That’s the same disastrous error that Ancel Key made with his seven country study that led to the removal of saturated fats and cholesterol from our diet.
There are also several inconsistencies within these Blue Zones that don’t make sense if food were to be the reason for living longer.
For example, in the Nicoya region of Costa Rica, men live 25 years longer than their peers in other regions. However, women only live nine years longer on average. If food was the primary factor, I would expect similar results among both sexes.
Plus, according to Dr. Paul Saladino (the leading authority on the science and application of the carnivore diet), Costa Ricans from the Nicoya region cook more of their food using animal fats than their peers, who use more vegetable or seed oils.
I should also mention that my wife is Costa Rican, spent most of her early life there, and all of her family still lives there. What I can tell you from everything I’ve seen and experienced first-hand is that obesity and chronic disease are rampant in this country (much like in the U.S.), so it doesn’t surprise me that certain regions enjoy a higher life expectancy than others — especially those regions that haven’t adopted a Western way of living that includes highly-processed foods, industrial seed oils and sedentary behavior.
Plus, if you compare the life expectancy in over 105 countries to the percentage of calories obtained from animal foods, you’ll see a very different picture than what Buettner painted (as shown in the spray chart above).
Now let’s move away from Costa Rica and take a look at Sardinia.
Guess what one of the traditional dishes of Sardinian cuisine is? Porceddu or Sarda Pig!
The rugged Mediterranean island has a cuisine all its own, with cheesy pastries, fresh lobster, and spit-roasted meats.
But we don’t have to look to other countries to see such inconsistencies. What about Loma Linda in California? It turns out that Loma Linda is the home of the Seventh-Day Adventists, a Christian religious group whose members don’t eat meat and live, on average, seven years longer than other people in California.
But guess what?
Californian Mormons, who do eat meat, also live an average of seven years longer.
What these two groups have in common is that most of their members don’t drink or smoke, and are part of a tight-knit community.
So, evidently, it’s not the meat but something else.
Last but not least, studies have proven that many of the old people living in these Blue Zones aren’t as old as we thought, thanks to a combination of errors in record keeping and fraud.
The bottom line is that Blue Zones aren’t what you might have been led to think, and I encourage you to check out Dr. Saladino’s book The Carnivore Code and this podcast for more information on the topic.
How I Transitioned From a Standard American Diet to an Animal-Based Diet
I grew up on a Mediterranean diet before transitioning to a standard American diet when I moved to the U.S. in 2007. So in a way, I went from “not great” to “really bad.”
It wasn’t until after our daughter was born in 2013 that my wife and I started making changes to our dietary lifestyle, beginning with the removal of all products that contained added sugar. In 2015, the entire Kummer family shifted to a modern paleo diet before I started on a ketogenic paleo diet in 2018.
After I read the books Carnivore Code and The Plant Paradox in 2020, I finally realized that many of the low-carb plants I was consuming weren’t good for me and I adapted my lifestyle again to remove the most toxic items.
On the flip side, I started eating more carbs (from honey and sweet fruits), which made me feel even better than I did already.
As you can see, it took me a couple of years to make this transition and I’ll continue fine-tuning my diet based on the latest scientific evidence. And, most importantly, based on how I feel.
If you’re still at the starting point of your dietary journey, there’s no need to spend several years transitioning to a species-appropriate diet. Instead, use my knowledge and the mistakes I’ve made as a shortcut and jump right to the front of the line.
If nothing else, try it out for 30 days, see how amazing you feel, and never worry again about eating that broccoli (nobody truly likes how it tastes anyway).
If you’re a parent, following an animal-based diet together with your children gives you special super powers because you’ll be among the few that won’t have to force their kids to eat their veggies!
Learn more: Watch my YouTube video about how I stay healthy, fit and strong.
Frequently Asked Questions
Isn’t it morally wrong to kill animals for food?
No, it’s not. It’s how life works, and how it has always worked. Besides, growing plants kills animals on a large scale, too. Just try growing tomatoes in your backyard and you’ll realize how many caterpillars and other insects you’ll have to kill to protect your plants and crops.
I remove caterpillars from our tomato plants on a regular basis and feed them to our chickens, thus being instrumental to their demise. That’s how it works.
Now extrapolate this example to large-scale farming and the growing of monocrops, such as soy, corn and wheat. Not only do pesticides (organic or otherwise) kill millions of animals, they also deplete the soil, requiring more fertilizer that further messes with the natural ecosystem.
Growing plants at scale is not good for anyone, including humans, animals and our planet.
Isn’t eating meat bad for the planet?
Despite what Big Food lobbyists will tell you, raising and eating animals does not have to harm the planet nor is it bad for your health. In fact, farms that raise cattle in a species-appropriate manner sequester more carbon dioxide than they produce. White Oak Pastures is an excellent example of a carbon-negative operation that produces some of the finest meats in this country.
Does eating more meat raise your risk for heart disease?
No, it doesn’t! How can a food that humans have consumed for millions of years suddenly be bad for us by increasing the risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or cancer? That doesn’t make any sense.
The reason why you might have seen some “evidence” suggesting that meat-eaters have a higher risk of developing heart disease or cancer is due to poorly designed or misinterpreted studies (as I explained above).
The same principle applies to the correlation of eating red meat and developing high blood pressure. While there might be a correlation based on confounding factors, eating meat doesn’t cause high blood pressure.
And if your doctor tells you that consuming saturated fats and cholesterol from animal sources negatively impacts your blood lipid levels, I recommend looking for another doctor because a recent landmark systematic review and meta-analysis showed that the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.
In other words, saturated fats aren’t detrimental to your health (or cholesterol levels). You can learn more about saturated fats and their importance to your health in this article.
Does eating vegetables help keep your weight in check?
You can certainly maintain the skinny and sickly-looking appearance that many vegans do, but I’m not convinced that being skinny and unhealthy is a goal you should have.
In fact, I strongly believe that achieving and maintaining an appropriate weight is the by-product of a healthy lifestyle that’s based on an animal-based diet, regular exercise and quality sleep.
95% of what I eat comes from animal-based sources and 70% of the calories I consume are from fat (mostly saturated fat). I eat as much as I want and have no issues whatsoever maintaining my weight. Evidently, I don’t need to eat plants to maintain my weight — and neither do you.
In fact, several studies have shown that following ketogenic diets that are high in fat and low in carbs (animal-based diets are by definition low in carbs and high in fat) helps with weight loss.
If a plant-based diet is so bad, why are there so many professional athletes and celebrities who don’t eat meat?
I firmly believe that you can follow any diet for a while and perform well, and even look healthy, on the outside — as long as you compensate with other lifestyle choices, such as exercise.
When I was a professional athlete in my early 20s, I had an awful diet consisting predominantly of processed carbs. For example, there were a couple of times that I ate 10 cheeseburgers, paired with half a gallon of sugar-laden iced tea and a bucket of popcorn while watching a movie in the theater.
Despite that, I was one of the top five 100-meter sprinters in Europe in my age group.
The problem is that such a lifestyle has an expiration date. Plus, it likely prevented me from reaching my full potential.
Fast-forward almost 20 years and I’m fitter, stronger and have more endurance than I had when I was young.
Of course, that shouldn’t be possible. Yet it is, because these days I’m feeding my body the fuel it needs to reach its potential.
So if you see Venus Williams, Kyrie Irving or Alex Morgan smiling into the camera while holding a carrot stick, know they’re performing well despite their dietary habits, not because of them.
Are paleo-friendly vegetables healthy?
Not necessarily. The modern paleo diet allows for the consumption of many plants that we now know are toxic, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and peppers.
While it won’t kill you to consume these vegetables from time to time, I would not make them part of your regular diet.
Also, keep in mind that everyone reacts to foods slightly differently. So you’ll have to test out what plants you can get away with.
How do you get vitamins if you don’t want to eat organ meat?
If you can’t stomach the thought of consuming the odd bits of an animal, I don’t blame you. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to create a freeze-dried beef liver supplement. It’s absolutely tasteless but each serving contains the same micronutrients of one ounce of fresh liver.
I’d also encourage you to check out my article about the health benefits of consuming organ meats. Some organs, including heart and lungs, taste really good and similar to regular muscle meat!
What level of plant toxins can you eat without getting sick?
That depends very much on your state of health. If your metabolism is functioning optimally — perhaps because you’ve been following a carnivore or animal-based diet for a while — you can likely handle higher loads of certain toxins (such as oxalates) than someone who isn’t metabolically healthy, has a leaky gut, or who has other issues.
All you can do is listen to your body and try to figure out what you can get away with.
Are kids raised on a vegan diet healthier than their meat-eating counterparts?
According to a new study, vegan kids are on average 1.5” shorter than their omnivorous peers, and have a lower bone density.
Additionally, the vegan kids that participated in the study had lower HDL, higher triglycerides, vitamin B-12 deficiencies, low ferritin (iron) and iron-deficiency anemia.
So vegan kids are clearly unhealthier, even when compared to kids who follow a traditional Western diet.
Despite these findings, the study concluded that vegan diets were associated with a healthier cardiovascular risk profile because of lower LDL and total cholesterol markers, neither of which says anything about cardiovascular health (as I explained in this article).
Are meat substitutes healthy?
No, products that try to mimic animal foods are usually loaded with highly processed and inflammatory ingredients such as industrial seed oils that are detrimental to your health. So I’d stay away from products like Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger or anything made with soy.
Is a vegetarian diet better than a vegan diet?
I’d argue that anything that gets you close to consuming animal products is better than a strict plant-based diet.
As you might know, there are several shades of plant-based eating, including vegan, vegetarian, ovo vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian and possibly others.
Just keep in mind that while vegetarianism might be better than veganism, neither one is great for your health.
Should you consume dairy products?
There are pros and cons to consuming dairy, which I covered in my article “Is Dairy Bad For You.” In a nutshell, some dairy products contain milk sugar (lactose) that most adults are sensitive to because they lack the required enzyme (lactase) to digest lactose. That’s why I recommend sticking with fermented (kefir) or aged dairy products (cheeses) that contain only residual amounts of lactose.
At the same time, most dairy products made from cows’ milk contain an inflammatory type of protein (casein beta A1) that many people are sensitive to. That’s why I recommend consuming only dairy products from animals that produce A2 milk, including Jersey cows, goats, sheep or camels.
Do you need supplements on an animal-based diet?
Unlike if you follow a vegan diet, you shouldn’t need any supplements if you follow a nose-to-tail animal-based diet. That’s because you’ll get all of the macro- and micronutrients from muscle and organ meats.
That means that even if you’re a competitive athlete or a serious fitness enthusiast, you probably get enough protein from the meat you eat.
Case in point: I don’t use protein powders because I get more than enough protein from red meat.
However, if you absolutely don’t like the taste of organ meats or don’t have easy access to them, there is nothing wrong with using freeze-dried organ meats, such as the Grass-Fed Beef Liver capsules we sell at MK Supplements.
What will you do if global meat production declines and meat becomes harder to get and/or more expensive?
One of the goals of plant-based diet advocates is to reduce overall global meat consumption — either by steering people towards plant-based options (thus reducing the demand for meat) and/or by taxing and regulating meat production to the point that it’s no longer economically viable.
My wife and I started a homestead last year with the goal to learn as much as we can about raising livestock, and to produce some of the food we consume ourselves. We currently have honeybees, chickens and a garden to grow a few of the plants we eat. We’ll be adding goats or pigs next, but I do see cattle in the future (which we’d then butcher for meat).
Where to Find More Information
If this article piqued your interest in changing your lifestyle and you’d like to learn more, here are a handful of articles and YouTube videos that you can check out:
If you have any questions about this article that the resources above can’t answer, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or shoot me an email!
Why You Should Remove (Most) Plants from Your Diet
I know the title of this post sounds more radical than it actually is. But we live in a time where the food industry and certain government agencies have gone haywire by promoting meatless products that look like real food but aren’t.
There has even been discussions of taxing meat for the sake of reducing carbon emissions. And Bill Gates wants to grow meat in labs. And I sit here thinking, WTF is wrong with you people?
How did we get so disconnected from reality and the knowledge of what is a species-appropriate diet based on millions of years of evolution?
Why are our elected officials and the general population not connecting the dots between the ever-increasing rates of obesity and chronic disease and the foods we have been eating for the past few decades?
It’s mind-boggling. And that’s why I decided to make a clear statement with this blog post: plants are not healthy and they’re not where humans should get the majority of their nutrients and calories. Humans should predominantly consume animals.
That doesn’t mean you should never have plants again. I consume plenty of seasonal fruits, avocados, olives and a few cucumbers here and there. Heck, I even eat some of the toxic plants from time to time. For example, we grow tomatoes to make our own ketchup. However, we remove the skin and seeds of the tomatoes to reduce their toxic load!
The good news is the human body is incredibly resilient. If it wasn’t we would all be dead already. While that doesn’t mean you should continue loading up on plant-based toxins every day (if you do, you’ll pay the price at some point), it’s never too late to change your diet.
I’ve been following a traditional Western diet for over 30 years of my life before I adopted a paleo diet a few years ago. Now I’m the healthiest, fittest and strongest I’ve ever been.
So regardless of how old you are, it’s not too late to ditch the plants and start eating the foods the human body has evolved to thrive on: pasture-raised and wild-caught animals and eggs supplemented with raw honey, seasonal fruits and the least-toxic veggies.
So give it a try and let me know how it goes!
I’m a healthy living and technology enthusiast.
On this blog, I share in-depth product reviews, actionable information and solutions to complex problems in plain and easy-to-understand language.
Why I Stopped Eating Veggies (And Why You Should Too) is written by Michael Kummer for michaelkummer.com