I have many wonderful colleagues who, due to their faith, are strict vegetarians. I also have other friends who are vegetarians for what they believe are ethical, moral, environmental and/or health reasons. While primal principles suggest that meat and poultry should be consumed as part of a healthy lifestyle, I have no intention of trying to convert any vegetarian into becoming a meat eater. While I do have many overweight and obese vegetarian friends, I also have several that are extremely fit. So, if you are vegetarian the two pieces of advice I would give are to try to pay even stricter adherence to all other Health Result principles, (as you are certainly missing out on some good healthy proteins, fats and micronutrients) and to take appropriate supplements.
If you are avoiding eating quality organic meat and animal produce for health reasons, then you have simply been misled. We are designed to eat meat. It has numerous health benefits and has been the staple diet of humankind since day one.
If you are avoiding eating meat on ethical or moral grounds, then I admire your restraint and motives, but before committing yourself to a life of abstaining, I would recommend you read a book by Lierre Keith called The Vegetarian Myth, where she explains why being vegetarian may not be as kind to animals and our planet as you might think. After spending 20 years as a vegan, she explains how she concluded that cultivating land is the biggest and worst effect man has made to the planet, and how the ploughing of fields destroys complete ecosystems, dislodging and killing many kinds of animals and birds. It appears that planting vegetables and other items of a conscientious vegetarian menu are mass killers in their own right.
Dr Robert Lustig
I am not against veganism, if vegans want to be vegan that’s fine, if people want to go keto, that’s fine too. The funny thing is both the vegans and the ketos are in agreement; they think they are in a war; the matter of the fact is that they are actually on the same side. They are on the side against the processed food industry. If they stopped battling against each other and worked together, we might solve this problem.
Dr Aseem Malhotra
I wrote an article in the ‘i’, which got a lot of coverage. Basically, how the current movement at the moment towards people thinking that vegans or vegetarians are somehow healthier, there is no evidence really for that. I think you can have a healthy vegetarian diet. You can, in theory, have a healthy vegan diet, but the one thing I don’t subscribe to, and for that reason I don’t think you should do it, is because you are forced to take additional supplements just to survive as a vegetarian or vegan. Plus I see a lot of patients that have been vegan for a few years, and while it initially helped them, after a while they are getting sick and going back to eating meat, eggs and dairy again, and they feel better.
Now I am a very strong advocate to really fight that misinformation coming because there are lots of vested interests in the whole vegan movement. The vegan movement was initially supported by the likes of Coca-Cola and the sugar industry, and there are people in this space saying that people who advocate for low carbs are spreading dangerous advice. (Aseem lets out a big sigh.) I have no issue with people being vegetarian for their own personal ethical reasons. They don’t want to eat animal flesh or animal products, and I understand that. My mum was like that, and I respected her and understood where it came from in a religious belief.
Professor Tim Noakes
If you look at humans, it’s very clear that we are carnivorous. And anyone who tells you we aren’t is not looking at the biology. The biology is so clear. We have a very acidic stomach; we have a very long small bowel and a very short large bowel, and we just don’t have the bacteria to digest starchy foods. And by that, I mean the resistant starches, the cellulose, which is all done by anaerobic (without oxygen) bacteria. And the big guts of the chimpanzee and the gorilla is because they are full of these digestive bacteria that are changing the cellulose into saturated fatty acids. And that’s the irony of it all. The cows and the sheep and other ruminants are converting grass, which is a carbohydrate into saturated fats. Why would they do that if it’s going to kill us? And that’s the issue. We are absolutely adapted for meat consumption and not for vegetables and grains. And it frightens me this push towards eating more vegetables. You simply can’t get the nutrition. Humans would have to be eating like 12 to 14 hours a day. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian if you are not eating 14 hours a day, what nutrition are you getting?
If you are vegetarian because you believe that animals are a huge contributor to global warming, then let me hand you over to Patrick Holden (who ran the Soil association for over 20 years) and Dr Robert Lustig, to explain a totally different viewpoint...
Patrick Holden CBE
The question of which sort of food should we eat to be sustainable, this whole plant-based thing over the past 5 to 10 years, where there is now a whole generation of young people who think it’s the right thing to do to become vegan or vegetarian. When in fact you cannot produce healthy vegetables, without first building soil fertility with a crop rotation, which involves clover and grass. And the only way to turn that clover and grass into something we can eat is to graze it with cattle or sheep, ruminants; that means they have a stomach that can digest the cellulose material in the clover and grass. If we don’t support those farmers by buying the livestock products from that system, they can’t make this natural rotation work.
There are thousands of livestock farmers in the west of Britain right now thinking, what do we do? The price of beef and lamb is crashing, beef consumption has halved since the 1980s in the UK, and it appears no young people are eating lamb, they are all giving it up thinking it’s the right thing to do. When in fact of all the meats we could eat, lamb is probably the healthiest and the most sustainable. Virtually all the lamb we produce in the UK is grass-fed, and even most of the beef is grass-fed. Now feed-lock beef, which is what characterises the American system, that is part of the problem, because all of those grains the animals are eating are grown in genetically modified soil, in an unsustainable way. So we need to become very educated and sophisticated and be able to differentiate between the livestock products that are part of the problem, which is intensively produced chicken, intensively produced pork and, yes, dairy products from these mega dairy herds; from those that are part of the solution, which means grass-fed lamb, grass-fed beef and dairy products only from grass-fed cattle.
It is true that cows emit methane, they always have and probably whatever we do, feeding them garlic or whatever, they still will. But that methane cycle is an ancient cycle that’s been going on as long as there have been ruminants on the planet. But the methane which is critically responsible for climate change is that from burning fossil fuel. And if we use ruminants (cows and sheep) to build soil by grazing grassland or as part of a rotation, digesting the cellulose into food that we can eat, the soil carbon gain offsets the methane emissions. If cows and sheep are used to maintain the soil carbon bank, which is the second-largest carbon bank on the planet only after the oceans, then they are part of the solution, not the problem. If you look what’s happened to the world now, we use to think that the rainforests and the primal wilderness was where we could hopefully keep the planet healthy, but now the planet is covered with farms, so the farms are the metabolism of the planet. And if the farming is wrong, then the planet is in an unhealthy condition, that is sadly where we are today. So if we want to address climate change and take CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it back in the soil, we need to change the way we farm and that will only happen when we change our buying habits.
When it comes to the EAT-Lancet report, not one of the 37 authors were a farmer! All these people are telling us what to eat without knowing about agriculture. How strange is that? Bless his heart, even David Attenborough, who is a national treasure, said on some program recently, “I am trying to cut down on red meat”, I wanted to shout at the television and say no, please differentiate between the red meat which is part of the problem and that which is part of the solution. We should be eating real meats to support hard-pressed livestock farmers and the arable farmers who want to farm in a more sustainable way.
Dr Robert Lustig
People talk about greenhouse gasses as if they are all the same; they are not. It turns out there are three greenhouse gasses:
- Carbon Dioxide. It has a heat-retaining capacity of 1. We need carbon dioxide, we would die without it, but there is too much.
- Methane. It has a heat-retaining capacity of 25. And it is true that ruminants produce methane. But the point is that the amount of methane the ruminants make is only about 5% of the methane and most is coming from industry and cars etc.
- Nitrous Oxide. It has a heat-retaining capacity of 210. Nine times greater than methane. This is the one that nobody gets. Where do you get nitrous oxide from?
Well, it’s in every field, and the reason is because that is what happens to the nitrogen runoff, from the nitrogen fertiliser, that was needed to grow the crops. Because the animals who use to fertilise the crops, because of their manure, because that’s nitrogen-fixing, now aren’t there because the cattle are in Kansas and the corn is in Iowa. So you have to spray the corn with the nitrogen, which becomes nitrate oxide, which causes way more greenhouse gas emissions than the methane ever did and guess what, you have to do that for vegans too.
- To fix the problem, we have to stop Washington and London from giving subsidies. So, this problem is real, but it is man-made. It’s because we have made bad food cheap. Those bad foods not only cause metabolic syndrome but are bad for the planet too.