So What Are We Supposed To Eat?
(Disclaimer - What you are about to read may annoy you or make you angry. These are my opinions and by no means a scientific doctrine.)
It seems now everyone uses evolution to preach their eating preferences. There are many arguments on both sides; whether we are an omnivore or an herbivore (vegan or vegetarian or raw).
Both sides will agree we are not meant to eat purely meat. The argument then stems from whether we should eat some meat, or no meat at all.
I think you should eat any way you please. If your reason for eating a certain way is evolutionary or based on what you think science claims and this is what you preach to others, and not because of any moral, religious, cultural, or preferential reason, then I have to clear the air.
On that side people will argue that we were never designed to eat meat. The comparisons are drawn with carnivores to prove this point. This is already a weak comparison, comparing us to a group that only eats meat when even the most meat loving human will only meat less than a third of the time. So a group that only eats meat compared to a group that sometimes eats meat is like comparing apples to oranges.
Why don't we have fangs and claws? Why don't we have the stomach acid of carnivores? Because man evolved without needing those things. Man had the superior intellect, ability to use tools, and fire. All of which were needed for survival. Man originally only needed to eat, sleep, and procreate. We didn't initially need tools to build cars and write books. Tools had to somehow help us live, help us get food, help us hunt, keep us warm. Now tools are about convenience and entertainment but it wasn't always the case.
We may not have the stomachs of carnivores, but we also don't have the stomachs of herbivores either. If we did we would have multichambered stomachs or highly developed digestive sacs.
What about our jaws? We can move it side to side like other herbivores. Yes we were designed to eat lots of vegetable matter. But we also weren't designed to chew cud for hours, vomit it up and chew it again or be able to poop out highly nutritious pellets that we would eat again to absorb more nutrients.
We also didn't need to have jaws of lions because we became the apex predator due to our intellect.
Our small intestines are much longer than carnivores, and more like the herbivore. But if you measure us from mouth to anus, the length of it would put us somewhere between a lion and a cow. Right near the middle as far as length, like an omnivore should be.
What's also interesting is though we don't have the ability to break down meat like a lion, we can't break down cellulose either like a horse or a cow. If we could break it down like that, there would be no need for a juicing craze. We would be able to break down all that cellulose and extract the nutrients on our own.
But the whole point of why its so popular, and extremely popular in the vegan and vegetarian communities is because of that very fact, that the human body can't break down the nutrients so we need to juice it out instead. Juicing is natural they say, its what we were meant to do. Except we never evolved with juicers and we were evolved to eat the plant in whatever form and combination it came in. We evolved right along with the plants we ate. We go and study native diets to see how they fight off diseases, and the foods they eat in what combination. Then we use reductionist science to get the good stuff and put it into a drink. How is that anything like eating a native diet? We need a blender and a juicer and chemists to get back closer to how the natives ate? Its like reducing an orange to a vitamin C pill and telling you it's just as good as an orange. Certified nutritionists will actually use that logic with clients and sell them on cleanses and pills.
Its totally contrary. To say we can't break down cellulose so we need to juice, and then say we need to juice and eat vegan because we were only meant to eat plants and not meat. If we were designed to only eat plants, why do we need to juice to break down the cellulose? Why can't our stomachs break it down like every other herbivore can? Why do we need the juicer to extract all the nutrients when we were meant to only eat plants? Its completely contradictory. Their argument for why we should juice is the same argument why we aren't good herbivores. The evolutionary justification of this diet does a terrible job explaining why you should do it. They should just stick with it being good for your health. Or the best reason, it truly is the best way to lower toxicology. Not the best in macro-nutrients but good in cleaning your system. Use a holistic reasoning. Not a genetic one, because that reasoning that will prove you wrong. I don't understand why people who eat a certain way feel the need to explain it with evolution. Don't. It's totally the wrong talking point. There are much better ways to build your case. (I think personal training so many lawyers has been affecting my writing style.)
What about chimpanzees? They mostly eat plants. Mostly. Even they will go out of their way to get meat. That's not the counter argument though. The counter argument is, as close as chimps are to us, we are much closer genetically to the neanderthal. The neanderthal was the predecessor of man who mostly ate meat. Which also isn't efficient, because any food source can become scarce. There is about 6 million years of evolutionary difference between us and the chimpanzee as well. Things change.
Why do native tribes do so poorly now in the hunt when their tools are more advanced than the stone tools used in the past? Well why are there so many extinct animals? Modern versions of early tribes like Pygmies don't have the same abundance of animals to hunt because wild animals are now scarce to begin with.
Scarcity and Thrifty Genes
Actually we were designed specifically for scarcity. We were never meant to be able to eat a whole lot like some animals. We could eat a small amount and be able to do a great deal of activity off of that little amount of energy. It's why we gain weight so easily now, because humans were never designed for a world where food is unlimited. Those thrifty genes that kept us alive during famine, is what's killing us now with obesity. Your body needs less food than you think.
What about "The China Study?" A lot of criticism has been written about this book already so I won't recap it all. And yes more vegetables is good for you. My dad currently has cancer and one of the first things we did was get him off all the sugar and processed carbs and get him eating more fresh vegetables. Denise Minger at Raw Food: SOS does a much better job than I can breaking it down. She is by no means a hardcore meat lover. Quite the contrary, she is a raw foodist. One of the problems with "The China Study" is hand picking statistics and data.
Another good read on another site that is aligned with vegetarians is the International Vegetarian Union. They have a great article on What Did Our Ancestors Eat. The site promotes vegetarianism and veganism throughout the world. Here is the first line of the article:
"You sometimes hear the argument that humans are "naturally vegetarian" or that they evolved as vegetarians. This is somewhat dangerous to pursue as the scientific evidence all indicates that we are omnivores, i.e., we can survive on a wide variety of plant and animal foods"
It is completely fine to be a vegetarian or vegan like I said. The problem I have with it is the use of evolution to justify it. In the above article, though they outline how our ancestors ate meat and evolved to eat meat, we would all still probably be better off if we ate more plant matter or a completely plant matter diet.
To say we should eat this way, I can respect. So eat that way. Just don't justify it with science. Justify it with preference. Actually you shouldn't have to justify it at all. Your choice is your choice. But to say we always ate this way (just because that's how you choose to eat now), is just plain ill-informed and ill-conceived.
There is none. We can't just live off of meat alone. That would be worse than only living off of non-meat food and how would an infant eat this way?
Then you have the ice age. Prior to cotton, to weaving, to sheep wool, we used the skin of animals to stay warm. We humans are pretty efficient. It's not survival of the strongest, it's survival of the most efficient, the most adapted. We used every part of the animal. We used it to make tools, we used it's skin to stay warm, we used its fat, we ate it's meat. The hallmark of early man is the spear, it's what really put us on the map. It's why anthropologists always show us with a spear. It was the first sign of the intellect that would develop every other tool.
We also domesticated dogs to help us hunt. We developed tools to become better hunters. The use of tools, the strategy for the hunt, these are the reasons why our brains developed and evolved as they did. We are close to the chimp in genetics but they are no way near us in intellect. Also nowhere near us in eating habits.
What about the brain? If we were purely meant to graze, our brain wouldn't have needed to develop as much, instead evolution would need to do more in advancing our stomachs, give us better hands like maybe hooves for grazing long periods. Predators just tend to have larger brains.
"You can't have a large brain and big guts at the same time," explains Leslie Aiello, an anthropologist and director of the Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York City, which funds research on evolution. Digestion, she says, was the energy-hog of our primate ancestor's body. The brain was the poor stepsister who got the leftovers.
There was a great article on NPR just about this topic a few years ago on how the introduction of meat made us smarter. Not only was it the hunting, but also the cooking that expanded our early minds.
There is a current movement right now that's growing bigger and bigger. People who are trying to eat like our ancestors. Whether the diet is called paleo, paleolithic, evolution diet, new evolution, primal solution, low glycemic, anti-sugar, or Crossfit diet. Dr. Robert Lustig who is a world renowned doctor and scientist, even speaks about this way of eating in his now world famous Sugar: The Bitter Truth which is required viewing for all my clients. (Note just because you are a doctor does not make one automatically a scientist.) Tim Ferris in his book "The 4 Hour Body" covered a lot of this as well.
The conclusion this new form of eating and living and lifestyle is coming up with that is also different from other known diets? Calorie counting doesn't work. Yet calories are what vegetarians, vegans, raw food, to just normal to healthy eaters all have in common. This new movement is about ingredients and where it came from and if our body can process it, how it affects our hormones, how it affects our blood.
This movement has really been pushed forward by the Crossfit group who are all about training and working out like like a "caveman." But it's not only them, its by a lot of people who no longer believe we should eat so much processed food, even if its some soy veggie patty. People who don't think we were meant to just run or just body build. From people who train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, to MMA also known as Mixed Martial Arts, to people who do obstacle course races like the Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash or Spartan Race.
People who don't feel you need a shake to get strong, or an energy bar to keep you full or a sports drink like Gatorade to hydrate you. In this way, vegans and vegetarians diets are more similar to the common person's diet, then it is to a paleo diet. I know personally, even though I consume meat, I eat more vegetables, especially raw vegetables than any vegetarian or vegan I know or even 90% of them out there. I don't understand how it's not okay to cook something but it's okay to process something.
Believe it or not there are actually raw omnivore's as well, not just raw vegans.
It's not a coincidence this is happening the same time along with the Crossfit boom, the explosion of The Tough Mudder, barefoot running and Vibram shoes. Because these same people who work out like a caveman also run like one. Even in these obstacle course races, they have a special divisions now for the barefoot runner. Actually a majority of the participants wear barefoot shoes or no shoes at all. Even in marathons.
Times are changing and the clock is turning back. Maybe this is the point where humans have to evolve or perish under current conditions. Scientist have been warning us at our current rate of consumption, and now that we are on the other side of peak oil, we have a timeline until we perish unless we make a huge shift. Because there are more humans and each new human being is more voracious in their consumption of food and energy. Well maybe this is that evolutionary shift that we needed. Maybe wars and total obliteration isn't what makes us start over as cavemen. It will be done voluntarily...
Even in every reality show about survival like Man vs. Wild or Alaska Experiment, Dual Survival, or The Colony, they all eventually run out of food and must go hunt. Survivor Man is the only one who won't hunt for personal reasons and he even admits its why he suffers so much in the wild and cannot sustain himself indefinitely so the goal of the show is to always escape and find civilization because under his rules of eating, he can only live in civilization indefinitely.
Sure non-meat eaters can still thrive living off the land, but that's still with agriculture.
If your reason for not eating meat is moral, ethical, religious, cultural, or just preferential that is perfectly fine and should be respected. If your reasoning is because you think its based on science or that it's more aligned to human nature, there is not enough evidence to prove that.
In fact there are several cases of parents going to jail for manslaughter for raising their baby vegan. I know plenty of vegans, and none of them are raising their newborn vegan. They may convert them later on but not currently. Its almost like giving your child a pure protein diet. It's also dangerous to introduce sugar very early on to babies when their brains are so susceptible to it.
So how can humans be meant to be vegan if our babies would die as a vegan? Seems a very inefficient way to promulgate the species. Especially when our hall mark was the spear. Efficiency means we use all of our advantages and exploit the disadvantages of every other species. Survival of the most efficient, that is what being human means. We have warm blood to keep warm, stand up tall and can see further down the savanna, have hands free to use tools, etc. Why would choose to be so inefficient with our eating? Some tribes did. They were the ones who died off.
You will often find people who turn vegan or vegetarian get sick more often, they may lose weight but their skin looks saggy, they start to look older, it's hard to keep muscle on without taking a million shakes. I remember seeing two different documentaries on weight loss. One guy lost it lifting heavy weights and eating lots of protein to look like the guy in the magazine (not the healthiest diet that I would recommend).
The other guy lost it on a vegan juice cleanse. Another diet you cannot sustain indefinitely nor should you. Nor do you ever master eating on it. You actually avoid it.
Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead - Official Trailer from Team Reboot on Vimeo.
Joe Cross is impressive in his weight loss, and his message is great but that body he has could only be created in modern times with modern foods. From extreme weight loss that happens too quickly, with not enough musculature to replace the weight he lost. The look of the saggy skinny human is a modern phenomenon. Sometimes people look like they are wearing a loose blanket around their body after weight loss.
I know we are supposed to say they look great just because they lost weight but we focus too much on weight loss numbers. A high weight loss number does not always equate to good aesthetics. Its the same dangerous way of thinking that leads to eating disorders. Even on those weight loss shows, honestly how many of those big losers looked terrible after they lose the weight? And now that they earned the money, without a reason for staying skinny, a lot of them get big again.
Even the look of skinny human beings as we know them now can only exist under modern conditions. They also look nothing like our ancestors.
Some people think their culture or people or race were always vegetarians or vegans. If that were the case, what did they eat prior to agriculture? What did they wear for that matter? Agriculture has been around for about 10,000 years. Scientists say it takes over 20,000 to make any evolutionary leap. And we've been around longer than 10,000 years. So what did these natural vegetarians and vegans eat? All these cultures have one thing in common. They eat lots of grains. Either through rice or bread.
Grains is something man domesticated and created. Like the cow. We took something wild and started the domestication process around 10,000 years ago. Even grains as we know them now cannot be eaten raw. We needed the ability to mill it, cook it, process it, make it into breads, etc.
So while we were waiting for that to happen, what were these natural vegetarian cultures eating? Where did they get their grains and breads? The staple of their diet?
The beginning of that culture or that religion is quite different from the origins of man. Man has been around much prior to any said religion. So what did you eat before "God" came around to your people's consciousness and told you not to eat this or that?
So if grains is one of our staple foods but has only been around for 10-12 thousand years, are we even well adapted to eating it? I mean even if we aren't adapted to eating meat, we've had animal meat longer than we've had grains.
Were we always designed to eat meat? Honestly? Probably not. We are humans as even Darwin said, we thrived not by being the strongest but by being the most adaptable. So we evolved over a very long time to eat meat along with plants.
It's about eating nutrient dense foods and most of us don't do enough of that. We eat things that are fast to eat and are too rich in flavor. Most people don't like things that are bland, no matter what diet they are on.
Actually I don't like the term "diet" either. One thing I like about all these ways of eating is, it's not really a diet. You are supposed to live your whole life like this. It's a life change, not just some calorie restrictive thing that you only do temporarily to get to a goal. That's why I guess there is argument, because they are all trying to be the best lifestyle change.
A lot of people assume once they decide to change their eating habit to some new extreme, that somehow they have been magically blessed with everything they need to know about diet. From juicers, to cleansers, to fasters, to raw vegans, to vegans, to vegetarians, to pescetarians, to paleo eaters. We as a whole group are pretty misinformed about eating. And just because you decide to jump on another bandwagon will not automatically mean you know more than your friend who still eats the way you used to. Why does changing your diet all of a sudden mean you are now more educated? A vegan can be just as misinformed on what they should eat as everyone else.
Here is what I will say though. With both sides of the argument and looking at all the evidence, we can conclude that we were never designed to eat so much processed foods. Processed grains, processed carbs, pastas, breads, vegetable loaves, meat composites, etc. All modern eaters probably eat too much pastas and breads actually. When did natural herbivores eat so much bread and pasta and rice? Actually grains are inedible raw to begin with. So how could that be native to our diet?
Just because you avoid meat doesn't make you a vegetarian. To be a vegetarian you have to actually eat a lot of vegetables. A lot of them should either be steamed or raw. But right now under today's definition, if you drink alcohol and beer and wine, eat lots of breads, muffins, waffles with syrup, shakes, juices, fast foods, chips, junk foods, candy, and other non-plant material, then you are still a vegetarian. Well guess what, that's the same crap nonvegetarians eat.
Across the board all the sides bicker over minor differences, when meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans 90% of the time all eat the same crap. Stuff out of packages, out of boxes and cans, out of restaurants, take outs, fast food places, snacks, bars, drinks, sweets, sugar, fructose, potatoes, anything with soy in it.
So we can all argue all day, but nearly every American no matter what their eating preference is, is mostly eating the stuff we we never designed to eat or have been evolved to eat.
And we will never be evolved to eat the stuff we do now. Food evolves much faster than we can adapt to it. Taco Bell in the 90s is probably healthier than Taco Bell today. Actually all food gets worse each year.
We discussed the intestines and stomach and what we were designed to eat, well let's talk about our blood, our vascular system. We were never designed nor evolved to take on so much sugar and energy into our bloodstream and so quickly as well. It enters our blood so quickly not because its cooked or its meat, it enters our blood because its already been predigested through processing. Instead of mama bird chewing it up for us, some machine did it. Its why fiber is so important. Makes energy enter our body slowly, but leave our system quickly. It's why I am opposed to drinking your meals.
It's All Modern Diet
I group all of the vegans, vegetarians, calorie counters, and average Americans in the Modern Diet. That's why to me it's all the same. All derived directly from the birth of agriculture. They may be different in details but both would perish without agriculture and farms and corn, soy, potatoes, or grains. On the other side is the ancestral diet. Pre-agricultural diet.
It's even scarier to think about sustainability and the cost of fuel to get some of these precious vegetables and fruits to us. I hate the attitude that if somehow I eat a berry straight from the Amazon, I am more green and hip. You know how much carbon footprint you left on this planet for just one berry? And on the other side the greenhouse effect of all the animals we domesticate for food.
Everyone needs to eat more locally grown vegetables. Not some vegetable juice or composite. Real vegetables. Right now you can hate vegetables and still be a vegetarian. A huge percentage of Americans don't even get 1 serving of vegetable a day, and the standard of what a serving of vegetable (it doesn't even really have to be a vegetable, it just had to be at one point) is pretty lax to say the least. And you should be eating a lot of it raw. This is especially prevalent in the lower income classes. That's more due to education and conditioning which I will discuss in another article.
I will leave you with something one of my clients told me. She was a vegetarian for 15 years. She took some business people out to dinner. They had steak and a side of steamed vegetables or salad. She had some really heavy pasta dish with no meat of course, and bread. She looked at her plate and their plate, and realized though she was the vegetarian, they were the ones eating more vegetables than she was. She has since added meat back into her diet (not a lot but a moderate amount) and a lot more real vegetables and a lot less grains and she has lost over 40lbs and has been in the best shape of her life. Her diet previously consisted of instant preheat vegetarian meals and loaves, rice, pastas, breads, pastries, and sodas.
Food is not politics or religion or the foundation of your race believe it or not (no matter what Food Network and foodies tell you). Food is just fuel for the body and mind. Without ego, just eat the best fuel. That's it. Get rid of the politics. You need healthy fats, protein, and complex natural carbohydrates and fiber (the stuff you throw out when you juice).
Counter Points To This Article
- Presentism - To look at history through the lens of the present. If I eat this way now, we must have always eaten this way.
- Cognitive Dissonance - Discomfort in holding two conflicting cognition. So we hand pick what we want to believe so it's aligned with our current belief systems.
- Correlation - A possible link between two things. Doesn't mean it's true or scientific and not the same as cause and effect.
- Cause and Effect - Direct link between two things.
About the Author:
Sam Y. is a Master Personal Trainer, Coach, Certified Nutritionist, Performance Enhancement Specialist, Corrective Enhancement Specialist, Pilates and Yoga instructor, and holds multiple certifications. He is also an avid Martial Artist, training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing, Boxing, and MMA. He is also the author of the popular fitness blog All Out Effort as well as the popular martial arts blog Inner BJJ. You can find him in the Los Angeles area personal training his clients, or at home annoying his wife, or on Facebook at his personal fitness page.
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