VEGAN -vs- PALEO
In my neck of the woods (THE SOUTH MISSOURI OZARKS), there are not a lot of Vegans; or for that matter, Vegetarians. Practically everyone eats meat --- guiltlessly. So before I begin, I feel I need to tell you what the difference is between Vegetarianism and Veganism. There are lots of different sorts of Vegetarians. Some will eat only vegetables and grains, while others will eat milk products, or eggs, or even fish. The typical Vegetarian eats the way they eat based on perceived health benefits. Veganism, however, is a different sort of animal (no pun intended).
Not only do Vegans not eat any animal products whatsoever, they do not use anything that comes from an animal. They do not wear leather or ride in cars with leather seats. They do not use cosmetics or beauty products that either have animal ingredients in them or were tested using animals. They don't wear or use fur, wool, or silk, or eat honey. Vegans want nothing to do with anything that is said to 'exploit' animals or for that matter, insects, birds, or fish. Some are even against having pets. If you enjoy that sort of thing, there are any number of raging online debates concerning just how far one has to go to be considered a true blue Vegan.
VEGANISM & PALEO BOTH HAVE RELIGIOUS UNDERTONES
There are all sorts of things that can have religious overtones yet are not necessarily 'religious'. We find some great examples of this in oriental culture. Three that immediately come to mind are acupuncture, yoga, and karate. Although all of these can be used in a religious or meta-physical sense, they can also be used non-religiously as there is a physical basis for all three. The Vegetarian lifestyle seems to operate much the same way. If you eat only vegetables and grains because you truly believe it's the healthiest way to eat, I can respect that, even though I would disagree with you. However, Veganism (sometimes called "Ethical Veganism") goes beyond this.
Vegainism is not merely eating a vegetarian diet. It is a lifestyle, which, for many could accurately be characterized as a religion (the courts have thus far denied this is the case, but my guess is that this will change in the near future). If you have followed Veganism over the past decade or so, you would realize the religious nature of Veganism, although many would adamantly deny their reasons for not using animal products are religious. Mostly this has to do with the fact that Vegans believe that utilizing animals in virtually any manner is inhumane; slavery; wicked; exploitative; (insert your own adjective here).
I respect the Vegan's view as long as it is logical and congruent. There is a natural loss of credibility when I see folks who support things like Abortion on Demand, turn around and in the same breath, tell me I should not wear leather boots, eat a VENISON STEAK, drink a glass of farm FRESH MILK, fry an EGG in BUTTER, or have a DROP OF HONEY IN MY HOT TEA ---- because it's "unethical". Without delving too deeply into this matter, you could simply Google, 'Veganism Religion' and see what comes up. It is eye-opening to say the least.
In a somewhat different vein, I believe that the Paleo Diet has religious undertones as well. It is based on the premise of 'Evolutionary Eating' --- eating the sort of diet that folks from the Paleolithic Period (2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago) supposedly would have eaten. Being one of those CRAZY CREATIONISTS as opposed to an evolutionist, I feel that despite the fact that they are eating in a manner that I believe is healthier than the typical Vegan's, their "evolutionary" reasoning for doing so is is likewise flawed.
I would contend that the physiological basis for such a huge percentage of people not physically / neurologically tolerating grains has far more to do with the fact that TODAY'S GRAINS are radically different than they were even 50 years ago (GMO, intense hybridization, built in PESTICIDES & HERBICIDES, CHEMICALS OF ALL SORTS, etc). The idea that that our physiology is not compatible with eating grains --- a recent evolutionary development ---- does not resonate well with most non-evolutionists and is not why some of us eschew them. Although grains are clearly a biblical food, today's grains share little in common with those eaten during Bible times (HERE). I also happen to think that anyone trying to make a biblical case for not eating or using animal products (meat, milk, honey, leather, etc) is trying to defend a position that is indefensible.
Vilhjalmur Stefansson was born in Canada in1879 to recent Icelandic immigrants. Having grown up to become a polar explorer (he was a member of several different expeditions), Stefansson lived with various arctic tribes for part of his explorations. He had the dietary aspect of his adventures published in Harper's Monthly --- one of that era's most well read magazines. A 1935 series of articles titled, "Adventures in Diet" helps to begin the process of explaining why Paleo --- and more accurately in his case, the KETOGENIC DIET --- has become such a popular way of eating.
In 1906 Stefansson went on his first polar expedition with the same, "food tastes and beliefs of the average American." Stefansson said this about the typical American dietary beliefs. "It was desirable to eat fruits and vegetables, including nuts and coarse grains. The less meat you ate the better for you. If you ate a good deal of it, you would develop rheumatism, hardening of the arteries, and high blood pressure, with a tendency to breakdown of the kidneys - in short, premature old age. An extreme variant had it that you would live more healthy, happily, and longer if you became a vegetarian. Specifically it was believed, when our field studies began, that without vegetables in your diet you would develop scurvy. It was a "known fact" that sailors, miners, and explorers frequently died of scurvy "because they did not have vegetables and fruits." This was long before Vitamin C was publicized."
Due to 'experiments' and ending up stranded in the arctic regions several times, Stefansson wound up living solely on fish and meat (polar bear, seal, etc) at various points in his lifetime. Interestingly enough, he not only did well on this diet, he literally thrived. He said that it took about three months of living with these "Eskimos" before he completely gained a taste for their diet. What did Stefansson say about his Eskimo-like diet? Only that he spent, "several years during which I lived on an exclusive meat diet. For I count in fish when I speak of living on meat, using "meat" and "meat diet" more as a professor of anthropology than as the editor of a housekeeping magazine. The term in this article and in like scientific discussions refers to a diet from which all things of the vegetable kingdom are absent. To the best of my estimate then, I have lived in the Arctic for more than five years exclusively on meat and water." Wow. That's really quite amazing. But the real issue we are all wondering about is how his so called, "Meat Diet" affected his health.
In the 1920's, Stefannson met with doctors from the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, New York's famed Bellevue Hospital, as well as physicians from the United States FA (later to become the Food and Drug Administration). After being thoroughly examined several times over, one of the doctors involved wrote an article for the, "Journal of the American Medical Association for July 3, 1926, "The Effects of an Exclusive Long-Continued Meat Diet." The committee had failed to discover any trace of even one of the supposed harmful effects.... The aim of the project was not, as the press claimed at the time, to "prove" something or other. We were not trying to prove or disprove anything; we merely wanted to get at the facts."
And who made up the committee? Physicians and researchers from prestigious institutions such as those mentioned above, plus the American Museum of Natural History, Cornell University Medical College, Harvard University, the Russell Sage Institute of Pathology, the University of Chicago, as well as others. After verifying his good health, this committee put Stefannson through a grand experiment to see if this sort of diet would work in America.
In the third part of the article, Stefannson goes on to explain that, "more than twenty-five years have passed since the completion of my first twelve months on meat and more than six years since the completion in New York of my sixth full meat year. All the rest of my life I have been a heavy meat eater, and I am now fifty-six. That should be long enough to bring out the effects. Dr. Clarence W. Lieb will report in the American Journal of Gastroenterology that I still run well above my age average on those points where meat has been supposed to cause deterioration. The same is the verdict of my own feelings. Rheumatism, for instance, has yet to give me its first twinge." Stefannson goes on in his series of articles to talk extensively about the astounding DENTAL HEALTH of the Eskimo people, as well as the fact that he believed that fish as well as meat from seals, penguins, polar bears, was a cure for Scurvy.
This is truly an amazing series of articles. If you are interested in reading the whole thing, HERE it is. Be aware that I do not believe for one moment that Stefannson could get away doing what he was doing with today's meats (processed, growth factors, antibiotics, estrogen-based hormones, additives, preservatives, nitrates, nitrites, etc). It is important to understand that most adherents to the Paleo way of eating are into eating clean meats.
FORKS OVER KNIVES -VS- FAT HEAD
The Vegan crowd has gained a lot of cred over the past year and a half via the movie Forks Over Knives. The premise is typically Vegan ---- that we are eating far too much animal-based protein, it's not good for us in any amount, it's not ecologically sound ('sustainable'), and it's based on hard evidence (namely the China Study). I watched the movie after it first came out, and then did a refresher about a week ago.
Interestingly enough, I know people who have, at least initially, done quite well eating in this manner. Much of this has to do with the fact that the Paleo crowd and the Vegans both share a universal goal ---- getting adherents healthier by getting them off of processed foods. The truth is, both the Vegans and the Paleo folks want to see people off of the SAD (Standard American Diet). If you stop cramming your pie hole full of the junk that most of your neighbors are cramming in theirs, there will be an increase in health --- at least initially. However, for many different reasons, I will show you why Vegans are going about things, at least to some degree, the wrong way.
I seriously debated doing a full-blown critique of Forks Over Knives. The movie is full of partial truths, misrepresentations, and even has its share of out-and-out lies. Why? What do the Vegans have to gain from proselytizing their ideas and trying to make converts to their way of living? Although there are a few who make money promoting Veganism, as far as I can tell, it is not really about money. The truth is, most Vegans are 'true believers' (remember the religious aspect of Veganism?). I will never change these people's minds, and that's OK.
Below are two critical reviews of the movie Forks Over Knives. There are dozens of others. All of them basically bring up the same points.
Instead of blindly following the premises set forth in Forks Over Knives, you might want to check out the movie Fat Head. Fat Head is a 2009 documentary made by Tom Naughton. In the movie, Naughton challenges the premise set forth by Morgan Spurlock in his 2004's Supersize Me (a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed and believe had great benefit). Naughton felt that while Supersize Me had merit, it did not go far enough. He thought (and rightly so) that it's premise (America's obesity epidemic is being caused by the consumption of fast food) was flawed. Naughton wanted to prove that it is not fast food per se that is causing Americans to be fat, but the everyday foods that people are putting in their shopping carts and bringing into their homes. His goal was to show that we as a nation do not have fundamental understanding of nutrition.
Just understand that Naughton is not promoting fast foods in this movie. His point is simply that DIETARY FAT is not the "Great Satan" that it has been made out to be for decades on end. His movie is based on research and premises promoted by some of the most brilliant minds in the field of nutrition. In case you do not want to watch it, I included a short review of the movie by KELLY THE KITCHEN KOP.
Although anti-inflammatory drugs are one of the most-prescribed classes of drugs in this country, few doctors really grasp the relationship between the foods one eats, the multitudes of potential inflammatory processes, and various diseases that occur in the body (see above link). Although systemic (whole body) inflammation can be caused by many different things (parasites, heavy metals, chemical sensitivities, chronic subclinical infections, etc, etc), the most common things people react to are foods. Without delving into the chemicals that are in foods (pesticides, herbicides, artificial colors, artificial flavors, MSG, etc), what are the most common of these reactive foods? They are the very things that most Paleo adherents cross off their meal list. It goes without saying that adherents to Paelo are going to dramatically limit their sugar intake --- particularly High Fructose Corn Syrup.
- GRAINS: As I said earlier, today's grains are not the same grains that people were eating back in Bible times. In fact, they are not the same grains that your grandparents were raised on just 2 or 3 short generations ago (HERE and HERE). Today's grains have been genetically modified (almost 100% of soy and corn are now GMO), and hybridized in ways that defy common sense. And because the food industry values GLUTEN (wheat protein) and the gluten-analogous proteins found in all grains, they have bred our modern varieties of grain towards this end ----- increasingly high levels of these proteins (most particularly, Gluten). People's immune systems start recognizing these proteins as foreign and react accordingly --- particularly with LEAKY GUT SYNDROME. And if you think that just because your grain is "organic" or "unprocessed" that you are not subject to reactivity, think again (HERE).
- DAIRY: Milk is one of about 45 known GLUTEN CROSS-REACTORS. While it is true that store-bought milk (pasteurized, homogenized, hormones, antibiotics, etc) is an extremely reactive food, far fewer people will react to fresh cow's milk. And even fewer still to fresh goat's milk. Just like grains, dairy is not inherently bad. The thing that makes most of it bad is the fact that it is processed to the point that it is barely recognizable as milk. Just be aware that Gluten Sensitivities and Dairy Sensitivities frequently go hand in hand. If you are sensitive to one, you are likely sensitive to the other as well.
- NIGHTSHADES: NIGHTSHADES are a group of vegetables that many people have trouble with as far as reactivity is concerned. These include tomatoes, potatoes (sweet potatoes are OK), eggplant, peppers (chili peppers, habeneros, cayenne, paprika, etc, but not black pepper), Goji berries, ashwagandha, Cape gooseberries, ground cherries, garden huckleberries, and yes, tobacco. Although people could potentially have all sorts of health issues associated with the Nightshade family, the most common symptom of sensitivity to this particular class of plant is arthritis-like pain. You can easily incorporate them into an ELIMINATION DIET, go off them for awhile, then add them back and see how you feel. HERE is an interesting article debunking the notion that nightshades cause pain. Forget the article --- read the comments.
- LEGUMES: One of my biggest problems with a Vegan diet is the amount of SOY that is typically consumed. Although certain kinds of soy are not as reactive as others, it is problematic for many different reasons. One of the biggest is the fact that it is a phyto-estrogen. In an age when ESTROGEN DOMINANCE runs rampant in both sexes, it only makes sense to cut this out of the diet. And as for BEANS; like grains and soy they contain a compound called Lectins. Lectins are sugar binding proteins that are thought to be natural pesticides. Because Lectins are 'sticky', they bind to the wall of the small intestine, and have been associated with LEAKY GUT SYNDROME in the scientific medical literature. Having Leaky Gut (usually called "Increased Intestinal Permeability" in the medical field) means that fragments of these foods will be absorbed into the blood stream and potentially end up in tissues they should not. The body does what it is supposed to do; mount an immune system response against them. The body will often begin attacking the tissue(s) they are attached to. Can anyone say Autoimmunity?
I might suggest that you follow Paleo expert, Robb Wolf's plan ---- similar the the Elimination Diet I have suggested. "The 30 day strict paleo approach followed by individual tinkering of adding back in certain foods allows us to find the best possible approach to nutrition for each individual person. Illnesses are predictable: chronic fatigue, lack of energy, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic diseases including weight gain, obesity, pre-diabetes, diabetes, and many more."
I have cut the Gluten-containing grains out of my diet and cannot begin to tell you how much better I feel physically. Have I cut beans and nightshades out of my diet? No. But I am beginning to think I probably need to do an elimination diet with these foods as well. I absolutely love both of them and truthfully, the thought of doing so makes me cringe a bit.
As a side note, the popularity of Dr. Fuhrman's "Nutritarian" program leads me to make a couple of comments. I really like some of what I see in his Food Pyramid. The fact that the pyramid's foundation is vegetables instead of grain like we see in the USDA's version is truly a breath of fresh air. He at least includes fish, lean beef, chicken, and eggs on the pyramid as well. However, his pyramid is very heavy on both legumes (40% of calories) and whole grains & potatoes (20% of calories), which could prove problematic for those with Autoimmunity and Food Sensitivities (not to mention those with BLOOD SUGAR ISSUES). Also, equating clean quality beef to sweets and processed foods is ridiculous and not based on good science (HERE). I would also take him to task for his recommending heavily processed milk (fat free) for people who consume dairy products. I am not sure that "fat free" anything is an optimal way to eat, in light of the research concerning the importance of consuming quality dietary fats. For those who eat dairy, raw milk is a much better choice for those who have access (it's easy here in the Ozarks).
WEIGHT LOSS AND VEGANISM
WITH SO MANY 'BEAUTIFUL' PEOPLE STUMPING FOR THE VEGAN LIFESTYLE; HOW COULD IT NOT BE OPTIMAL FOR CHRONICALLY ILL PEOPLE?
If you Google phrases like "Vegan Weight Loss", you'll see hundreds of articles promoting Veganism for losing weight. When I look at many of these articles (i.e. Sassy's Top 10 Tips for Vegan Weight Loss), I realize that I fully agree with the vast majority of what they are touting. Many of these Vegan articles are even saying to cut back on the grains, particularly the processed grains (cereal, bread, etc). The bottom line is that you can certainly lose weight eating a Vegan or Vegetarian diet. And truthfully, following a whole food Vegan diet is probably going to be much healthier than the way most Americans are eating right now --- at least initially.
However, Veganism has problems that can manifest over time. In light of the scientific evidence, I think that animal / fish proteins and fats are too beneficial to leave out of one's diet (particularly if you are replacing them with really crappy products like MARGARINE --- see the pyramid at the top of the page). A simple rule of thumb concerning the best way to eat comes from Dr. David Seamans, a Chiropractic Neurologist from Florida. Seamans says, eat vegetation or animals that ate vegetation (remember that grains are not vegetation). Dr. Seamans actually had an incredible article on anti-inflammatory eating that was touted on the cover of last month's issue of PRACTICAL PAIN MANAGEMENT --- a medical journal produced for pain management physicians.
Although a WHOLE FOOD-based Vegan diet can certainly help people lose weight (depending on the amount of grains one eats), it can also leave one vulnerable to a wide array of nutritional deficiencies. The most common of these are found below. Many of these deficiencies can be avoided by proper supplementation. However, quality Whole Food Supplements (i.e. those made by Standard Process) frequently contain animal products in their formulas. It's either that, or you consume something made in a lab ---- nutrition that is COMPLETELY SYNTHETIC.
SOME OF THE MORE COMMON DEFICIENCIES SEEN IN VEGANS
- VITAMIN B-12: Cobalamin's key roles include brain and nervous system function, blood formation, general metabolism, energy production, fatty acid synthesis, and DNA synthesis. Important stuff! Vitamin B-12 is found naturally in fish, meat (especially liver), poultry, eggs, and dairy. Some of the signs and symptoms of B-12 deficiency include lethargy, weakness, IBS-like issues, mood changes and depression, memory loss, and numbness and tingling in one's extremities. BTW, check out this amazing article about the difference between natural B and synthetic B vitamins (HERE).
- OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS & FAT IN GENERAL: While it is simple to get plenty of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in a Vegan diet, it is extremely difficult to get enough Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) --- the two active ingredients in fish oil --- without supplementing animal products (namely fish). When I look at the Vegan's Food Pyramid (near the top of the page) and see margarine (Trans Fat) listed as the fat of choice, I simply cannot believe it. Margarine usually contains Trans Fats. On top of that, the Vegan Food Pyramid tells us to keep our fat intake to a teaspoon a day. Are you joking me? Not only is this unrealistic, but it is heading back to the dark ages of dieting as promoted by Pritikin, Ornish, McDougal, and others --- eating that was disproved by science years ago. Your body needs fats to both survive and thrive. Veganism makes getting these crucial fats difficult to say the least. For more on Omega-3's, you can look HERE.
- IRON: Although you can get iron from plant sources (beans, Swiss chard, black-strap molasses, dark chocolate, and sun-dried tomatoes are a few), the best source is red meat. Unfortunately, too many Vegans believe they are getting enough high quality iron from their (fortified) Raisin Bran --- a belief that needs reconsideration.
- ZINC: Zinc is a mineral that is a component of numerous enzymes that have to do with cell reproduction, tissue growth, cellular repair, and healing. It is also important for the immune system. Plant sources of zinc are wheat germ, beans, and some nuts. Unfortunately, two of those sources are in potentially reactive foods.
- CALCIUM: Although the dairy industry claims that not eating dairy will lead to a deficiency in calcium, this is simply not true. Calcium is actually fairly easy to get from plant sources. It is pure myth that milk is a great source of calcium. As crazy as it seems, American women get more calcium than any other people on the planet. Yet we also have the top rates of OSTEOPOROSIS. Something is not adding up here. Some non-animal sources of calcium are black-strap molasses, collard greens, turnips, kale, bok choy, almonds, etc.
- VITAMIN-D: Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin (HERE). If you are a Vegan who is not getting regular sunshine, you will be Vitamin D Deficient. There are no good (unfortified) plant-based sources of Vitamin D that I am aware of. I read something about UV-irradiated yeast being an exception. I would not recommend that, particularly if you are consuming lots of carbs (HERE).
- PROTEIN: If you are an athlete or train regularly in some sport, you will be hard-pressed to get enough protein on a Vegan diet. I am not saying that it cannot be done. I am saying that it will be difficult and require some real forethought. Tony Gonzales, arguably the greatest tight end ever to play in the NFL (and an ex- KC Chief to boot), espouses the Vegan lifestyle (he has made commercials with his wife for PETA). But the truth is, his diet is far from Vegan. He eats chicken, fish, eggs, and even on occasion, beef. He realized not long after starting his "Vegan" lifestyle in 2007 that he was losing too much lean body mass without animal proteins in his diet.
On one hand, the internet is full of stories of Vegan successes. However, it is equally loaded with Vegan horror stories. There are lots of people who initially believe that Veganism is the way to go, and then back off because they realize their body is not doing well on the diet. Some, though, do not back off.
Many of you reading this can get by eating a Vegan diet --- and may actually do better eating in that fashion. In the same vein, many of you cannot. Anyone with Autoimmunity needs to be extremely cautious about eating Vegan --- particularly when it comes to grains. Think about it like this. We now know that over 80% of the American population carries the genetic makeup for GLUTEN SENSITIVITY. What is a grain-based diet going to do to these people (look at the Vegan's Food Pyramid)? Are there problems with the animal products that most non-Vegans are regularly consuming? You better believe it! We swim in a sea of hormones, xeno-hormones, ANTIBIOTICS, chemicals, MSG, growth factors, and heaven only knows what else. I think that Steffenson and his experiments involving living like an Eskimo proved how beneficial eating "clean" animal products can be.
The bottom line is that however you chose to eat, you must CONTROL YOUR BLOOD SUGAR. Uncontrolled blood sugar (even if it is within the 'normal' range) is being tied to almost every disease process you can imagine --- including obesity. Paleo is one of many ways to manage blood sugar and the problems associated with letting it get out of hand. But Paleo is much more than that. It has a great deal to do with GUT HEALTH.
Reactive foods are heavily linked to Inflammation, Leaky Gut Syndrome (Increased Intestinal Permeability), and pain. This is the natural cycle of virtually all disease processes (HERE). What have natural doctors told us for generations? Heal the gut; heal the body. Do I eat a strict Paleo Diet? No I do not. But I have learned that the more I lean toward Paleo, the less pain I have, the leaner / stronger I get, and the more energy I have.
For people heading into the world of Autoimmunity (or already there), this way of eating makes a lot of sense. And by the way, what are the proponents of Paleo really promoting? Are they really telling us we should be eating mass quantities of meat? Although a few are, most aren't. Follow Dr. David Seamans advice; eat vegetation or animals that ate vegetation. A diet heavy on non-reactive plants and vegetables with ample (clean) protein for your body's daily needs is critical for good health. For those of you looking for a protocol to follow, take a look AT THIS POST.
Dr. Schierling completed four years of Kansas State University's five-year Nutrition / Exercise Physiology Program before deciding on a career in Chiropractic. He graduated from Logan Chiropractic College in 1991, and has run a busy clinic in Mountain View, Missouri ever since. He and his wife Amy have four children (three daughters and a son).
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