Backlash has begun against plant-based diet: get the facts

Everyone has to make their own decisions about their diet. But lately, in response to the rise of vegetarians/vegans and information about the climate impacts of animal agriculture, the affected industries are starting to fight back with a media campaign that is promoting misinformation.

Some use protein as a metric. The latest peer-reviewed science tells us that humans need only 6-10% of their daily calories from protein, ideally plant-based.  Even the common potato contains 10% of its calories in the form of protein, not to mention beans, legumes, et al that have much higher percentages.  The vast majority of people on earth consume as much or more than this recommended 6-10%. 

But, in western and developing societies that have adopted meat and dairy as central to their diets, people often ingest a much higher percentage of calories from protein, up to 50% on the latest fad diets, much to their detriment.   And most of us in the developed world need to consume more fiber, which only comes from plant sources.

Some articles reference less credible sources. Some even question whether CO2-e (converting greenhouse gases to carbon dioxide equivalents) is the right metric when the world’s experts use it.

I asked our colleagues at Healthy World Sedona to summarize their point of view. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind as you read articles for and against a whole food plant-based diet.

Animal ag conservatively equals the climate impact of all transportation and would be easy to change (if we weren’t, well, humans)

If animal/fish production ceased today, the emissions of GHG, would go down by a very conservative 15-18% as determined by the United Nations FAO in 2006.  When all externalities of meat/dairy/fish production are taken into account, and the political lenses of the United Nations report are removed, some studies have found that the GHG contribution of animal agriculture is much higher.  The highest (and most controversial) was in a report produced in 2011 by the Worldwatch Institute.  

If you stay with the 18% number for animal/fish production, they still represent more GHG impact than the entire worldwide transportation sector. It’s a huge, and unnecessary, contribution to global climate change.  We eat meat or dairy because we’re used to it. But we will be optimally healthy without these products. As we approach 8 billion people on the planet, changing what we eat would seem to be an easy partial fix as compared to redesigning our entire energy and transportation system.

 

Focus on what we need for human health, not marketing

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder turned actor and governor, featured in the movie, The Game Changers, highlights how we’ve been bamboozled by marketing:

"I ate a lot of meat. They show these commercials - 'steak, that's what a man eats' - selling the idea that a real man eats meat," Schwarzenegger says.

"But you've got to understand - that's marketing. That's not based on reality."

Back in 2017, the star took to social media to discuss the impact of animal agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions, urging his followers to 'cut down on meat'.

"We have to reduce our greenhouse gases because we're killing seven million people a year because of our pollution. We can do better than that," he said. (Source)

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, many world-class athletes like Venus Williams and Derrick Morgan are performing very well on a plant-based diet. So those of us spending too much time behind a computer should do well also.

 

Instead of listening to marketing, listen to medicine.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, one of the speakers at the first 2017 Sedona Health and Nutrition Conference and Sedona VegFest, has a table of foods based on micronutrients per calorie.

As the green color of column 1 indicates, humans derive the most nutritional benefits from plant-based items, with the first five items in that column earning amazing scores of 1,000 each.  

The initial meat item (shrimp) creeps in the bottom of the orange column, scoring only a paltry 36 (which is 27 times less nutrient dense per calorie than the highest plant-based foods).  This makes all meat (including fish) and dairy products seriously nutrient deficient for humans.

Most Americans get plenty of calories, often too many, leading to obesity. But most of us, 95 percent, are not getting enough fiber. Meat and dairy products have no fiber (0%).

But they do contain some or all of the following components that pose serious risks to human health: 

- cholesterol

- saturated fats

- growth hormones

- antibiotics, and 

- environmental contaminants (like mercury).

That’s why Healthy World Sedona encourages people to "adopt a whole food plant-based lifestyle and avoid animal/fish products of any kind." as the optimal choice.  

But you can ease into it. This article by the Cleveland Clinic provides some advice for making the change. Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD, suggests:

Think evolution rather than revolution. Introduce one new, plant-based recipe per month, and in a year you have great ideas for eating for two weeks. Identify one or two types of breakfast you can eat on most days. Replace all of the simple carbohydrates, breads and pastas with 100 percent whole grain product. Add beans to your salads and eat more vegetables.

Any change requires some effort. If you want a different result, i.e. better health, you have to be willing to introduce changes that may be uncomfortable at first. Our taste buds do not like change. So, essentially you have to educate your taste buds and do this with a mindfulness and sense of purpose when you are changing your diet. If you stay whole food plant-based long enough, three weeks or a month off of added sugars, oils, and salt (S.O.S),  you will stop craving them altogether. Just take the first step in your mind that you want to change to a whole food plant-based diet.

 

A healthy body, a happy planet and humane treatment of animals. What’s not to like?