Food Extremism and How to Find Balance
I used to be a food extremist, and in a few ways, some may still label me this, but I rely heavily on science to back up my choices. One such food item is gluten, I avoid it no matter what. But this isn’t what I’m labeling Food Extremism. My definition of a Food Extremist is: A person who holds extreme views about food and acts on them. The word “extreme” is subject to your personal interpretation, however the dictionary defines it as being furthest from the center point (standard), the outermost (view or behavior). On a continuum where Standard American Diet (SAD) is in the middle, then a food extremist would be at either the far right or far left of this. Some may interpret this labeling as inflammatory, but I want you to get the information you deserve so you can be an informed food consumer so i’m going to risk pissing you off for just a moment. Hang in there, I will explain everything.
I’ve done almost every fad diet, nutritional plan and way of eating over the last 30 years of my life, so I’ve been there, eaten that, experienced East Coast, West Coast, Midwestern eating, European, Central America, South American, and Canadian eating to name a few. I’ve been macrobiotic, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, primal, ketogenic gut repair, metabolic type, blood type and raw foodie to name just a few. I get it, we all will have our opinions, but that’s not enough for me. I knew science had more answers for me and therefor us. Vegans, vegetarians, raw foodies, and paleo are a few labels that people willingly take on, while junk food addicts, sugar-free addicts (the diet soda addict), and the fat-free obsessed are the groups that I’m categorizing from the last 20 years of experience.
There is mostly nothing wrong with a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or raw food, diet that is “therapeutic” in nature. This means it’s not long term and used to help balance the body, heal a specific disorder etc. Keto and Paleo are the closest nutritional plans that match our genetic make-up, digestive system, and teeth. However vegan, vegetarian, and raw can each lead to various deficiencies. Here’s where I may push a button. I’m not promoting a particular agenda (other than gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and junk-food free which have all been scientifically proven to cause more damage than good in the human body), I don’t believe there is only one way to eat. The issue I have is that they all profess it is The Only Way. When we look at our gut bacteria, our incisors (teeth), genetics, our climate, our toxic planet (Thousands of horrifically toxic chemicals used in agriculture, big pharma, energy production, air, food, water, soil), moral implications, energetic impact, and stress levels to name a few, we are left with more questions than answers about how we should eat, but a few things stand out to me. I’d like to share them with you because I find I keep having these conversations with people who are considering going to a plant based diet only.
I think humans should be eating more plants, a wide variety, vine-ripened, and organic, but it’s not always available. I also have seen the impact of too much and too little meat on someone’s body, mind and spirit, depending on their genetics, constitution, their fitness program, their family goals (pregnancy etc), their ability to digest and absorb their nutrients, their spiritual practices, geography and climate to name a few. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, please keep reading, you can argue and disagree, but please keep reading to learn more. I’m actually more on your side than you think right now.
A few definitions before we dive in any further. Technically, humans are omnivores. This means we acquire and process our food from a number of sources, we are not “specialized” eaters, meaning we don’t have to eat a special diet like an elephant, we can eat many things from various sources. Although vegans, raw foodies and the such would try to argue this genetic, scientific fact.
Herbivores, on the other hand, have adapted to eating mainly plants (gorillas, horses, cows, giraffes, rhinos, and elephants). Their mouths have evolved and “rasp” or “grind” tree bark and grasses. Horses have wide, flat teeth perfectly suited for grazing on grasses. There are two different kinds of herbivores; grazers like cows (clip vegetation at or near ground level) and browsers like giraffe (eats leaves and twigs and green stems from plants and trees). Humans lack the teeth and digestive systems for either of these styles of eating. Vegans can argue, but it’s just biology, genetics, and anatomy, ask a dentist and keep reading to learn about how our digestive system is different, it’s fascinating.
How are Humans who eat a plant-based diet and Herbivores in the wild or on farms different? The answer lies in our digestive system and the way we absorb nutrients. It’s actually nothing even close to how a true herbivore digests and absorbs it’s nutrients. This is a popular vegetarian argument but it’s simply not true by any stretch of the scientific imagination.
Humans are omnivores with only one stomach (monogastric) and our digestive process is based on enzymes breaking down our food to be either further absorbed as nutrients or released as waste. Conversely, Herbivores can have one stomach or complex, four chamber stomachs (ruminants), but they rely on microbial fermentation to break down their food, completely different from humans. Herbivores digest cellulose from plant walls, via fermentation in either the foregut or the hindgut. When you, as a human, eat cellulose in plants, your enzymes can’t break it down, and only a small amount can be broken down by your gut microbes in the large intestine. Cellulose contains insoluble fiber, which helps move things along in your digestive system, but it doesn’t negate the fact that we still have an enzyme-based digestive system.
Argument #1: Many vegetarians postulate that cows eat grass and get all the calcium and nutrients they need, so eating a plant based diet is what we should do because it works for 800 pound cattle. The truth is, we don’t digest like a cow, nor do we have four legs with four stomach chambers. In no way is eating a plant-based diet the same as grazing. Cows chew their food, regurgitate it, and chew it again. They also have a very complex, 4 chamber digestive system (they are ruminants) that is no where close to our human digestion. A little trivia for your next party: Monogastric (have only one stomach) herbivores can extract more nutrients from smaller amounts of food than ruminants can and therefore could survive in more diverse conditions. Therefore using this argument as evidence that humans should eat mostly plants makes no scientific sense, it’s like comparing apples to strawberries. Yes, we should eat more plants, but not because this argument is valid
Argument #2: We can get everything we need from eating plants. Actually, we just aren’t designed to have enough time and energy to eat plants alone. Another notable fact is that herbivores spend most of their time and energy eating many pounds of grasses, leaves and twigs daily just to survive. Elephants spend 16-18 hours eating daily. If humans were true herbivores then we’d only have time to eat and sleep. We aren’t designed to just chop, chew, digest, poop, and sleep all day. We have evolved to do so much more and therefore our eating must evolve with us. Fortunately, we can digest starches and fats through that enzymatic process of human digestion, and store them as fuel for later, which helps remove us from the endless cycle of eating that limits a true herbivore.
Argument #3: I’ve heard vegetarians and raw foodies attempt to use gorillas as yet another comparable example. They are big and strong and they eat mostly plants (they also eat grubs and bugs when they can). The gorilla argument is also a weak point. Some vegetarians believe that a gorilla is big and strong so what they eat is somehow an argument for humans to eat that way too. Well, it’s just not true. Not everything someone ‘believes’ is the scientific fact. Here’s the true information: A gorilla needs a large belly because their intestines are longer and larger than ours, more space is required to ferment it’s food while accommodating all the bacteria needed for that fermentation process. The
bacteria in their gut is also specialized, we don’t possess the same kind of bacteria that they require for their fermentation digestive process, so solely eating the same kinds of foods and arguing they can make us as strong as a gorilla just doesn’t make sense. Conversely, a large belly in humans is a sign of obesity, with a little insulin resistance to boot. Once again, it’s just not appropriate to compare the two.
Argument #4: Vegans and raw foodists claim they can get all the amino acids they need from plants, but it’s not exactly accurate. First, let me explain what they are. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which is required for all tissue repair, anti-aging and regeneration. Muscle alone accounts for about half of the protein in the body and must be replenished to repair itself. Protein is also necessary for collagen growth (healthy skin, hair and nails ladies), hormones, appetite, enzymes that break down food to name a few. Have you ever seen a very thin, even emaciated raw foodist or vegan. They tend to have measurably lower muscle mass and this is why, of course there are some genetic exceptions. I’ve also seen a chunky vegetarian because they are carb loading to help curb their hunber because they are nutrient and protein deficient. There are 20 amino acids that we know of, and they can combine themselves in various sequences to give us what we need. However there are 8 amino acids that the body can Not make, which must be consumed. These are referred to as the 8 essential amino acids, they are: Isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine (histidine is also regarded as essential for infants) It’s impossible to get your daily requirements of the essential amino acids from plant foods alone, unless you incorporate very unhealthy, and processed foods such as soy products (causes significant imbalances in hormones because it’s estrogenic and stops thyroid function -goitrogenic), seitan (glutinous and highly inflammatory to the gut and brain), corn (mostly GMO in our country), and processed pea and potato protein. Our bodies were not designed to breakdown, digest, and absorb these highly processed foods. Consider a soybean and then look at a chunk of tofu. The process through which it must go is complex and simply not good for us, and it causes significant hormonal imbalances. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can take special amino acid formulas to help you supplement the deficiencies in your diet, but I’d like to move away from so many pills and use food as our medicine.
Argument #5: What about legumes, aren’t they protein? Well, yes they are protein with a balance of carbohydrates. They are also known as glycoproteins, and they have an enzymatic coating of phytic acid which inhibits digestion as well as being high in inflammatory lectins. The most problematic lectin-containing foods are dairy, wheat, beans, soy, seeds of the grass family, other legumes, and nightshade vegetables (eggplant, potato, peppers, and tomato). Lectins bind to carbohydrates and then attach to cells that can do harm to humans. Not only are lectins proinflammatory (cause inflammation), but they are often also neurotoxic (toxic to the nerves and nervous tissue including the brain), and immunotoxic (toxic to your immune system, causing dysfunction). You may wonder why plants have these if they are supposed to be good for us. It’s simply Mother Nature’s defense mechanism, these lectins cause problems for predators who eat them, including humans. Certain lectins have been found to interfere with gene expression, disrupt your hormone system, and increase your blood viscosity. Not all lectins are bad for you, there are some that aren’t specific for carbohydrates and can be healthy. You can read more here: Dr. Steven Gundry’s book, “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain”. My concern is that vegans, raw foodists, and vegetarians are eating unhealthy, inflammatory foods, while trying to avoid meat that their bodies were meant to digest and utilize. I’m not speaking of feedlot meat. I mean pastured, organic, free-range, wild when possible, happy meat
Argument #6:Many people who avoid animal products believe It’s immoral to eat meat. It’s true that the meat industry is disgusting in many ways and those Facebook videos of the tortured animals are enough to make almost anyone stop eating meat. The processed foods in non-meat products also
undergo environmentally insensitive processes that most vegetarians donȍt research or acknowledge. Corn and soy are subsidized and mostly GMO in our country, and they are in almost every vegan/vegetarian premade food on the planet. This is just as irresponsible in many ways. I was vegan for 8 years and avoided red meat for about 10 years because of the moral implications. I also struggled with many health issues during this time that were due to specific deficiencies from avoiding meat. I tried all the food combining and alternative meat products and supplements but I just kept getting sicker and sicker. I was in Asian medical school at the time and I was gently encouraged to try some meat. It made me so ill to see or smell it that I asked my mom the buy and cook it for me until I was able to do so myself. I meditated and prayed and what I was shown changed my perspective on food forever. I was shown that I have a mission on the planet and I wasn’t going to be able to fulfill it if I was this sick. I was shown that eating “responsible meat” would help my body and the planet. I was further shown that those animals had an energetic and spiritual contractual agreement to fulfill, so to speak. They were here to sustain human life and they were happy to do so. I saw how it was a true gift and by my denying them this, it was actually denying them their destiny to help humans like myself in order to help others. I believe that humans have the opportunity to change the world, and if we honor and use food as medicine we will better nourish our bodies, minds, and spirit and be able to fulfill ourpassions and missions on the planet. And so I began to eat meat, the deficiencies disappeared and I regained vitality. I continue to honor the animals I eat and teach others to do so. I eat as responsibly as I can and am always learning how to bring more awareness and healing to purchasing, preparing, and consuming food as medicine. I’m NOT advocating for 16-32 ounce steaks every day or every week or ever. I’m speaking about 2-4 ounces per serving, depending on your stature and exercise routine etc. And honoring the life given for you to thrive is powerful. Even the Dali Lama eats meat. He teaches that eating larger animals, that render more flesh food, is more responsible than eating smaller animals that only provide a little food for a few people. He offers the opinion that you can get more meat for that one life if you eat a larger animal, than killing a smaller one that renders less food for fewer people. This is an argument for eating buffalo, elk, and cows.
Argument #7: Many vegans and vegetarians believe that animals are equal to humans. However, there is an undeniable hierarchy in the plant and animal world. For example, lions eat gazelles and gazelles eat grass. They are not the same. They are both precious and valuable in their own ways, as are the plants that feed the gazelle, but they are not equal. I’m not saying the lion is “better” but it is stronger and has nutritional needs that require them to kill and consume other animals. Hierarchy can also be explained through an exploration of our human development, per Ken Wilber’s Integral mapping. We have very specific stages of development; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Some of these stages have certain requirements and in order to fully embody this stage of development, we must experience, see, and come to understand certain things. This can also translate into eating. An infant has different nutritional needs than a teenager, a 30 year young woman wanting to conceive, a 52 year young woman who is menopausal, and a 70 year young man. And humans, in general, have various nutritional needs based on the function of our physiology and genetic expression. Some vegans claim to be more spiritually evolved because they don’t eat meat, and promote that the only way to evolvespiritually is to avoid eating other living things. I agree that heightened awareness, integrity, compassion, mindfulness, gratitude, and discernment are necessary for a strong spiritual practice but this may or may not exclude consuming meat. I believe we can bridge the physical and the spiritual realms and not cause a deficiency in one in order to appease the other. And perhaps given the right conditions, such as living in an Ashram, or in a cave doing only meditation for 18 hours a day, you could transcend the needs of your human body and be just fine. But most of us live in a very busy world, often in front of a screen, driving in a city being bombarded by electromagnetic fields, toxins, stress, etc. I meditate daily, I have physical movement practices, I eat almost all organic when I can, and I still encounter stress in my life and our society. Should I deny the results of metabolic testing,
functional blood chemistry analysis, and DNA testing that prove I do very well with some meat and horrible without? How can I be present, empower you, and help you heal if I’m not thriving?
Argument #8: I can’t digest meat, therefore I’m not meant to eat it. Well, this doesn’t make any sense to my science mind. What is true is that HCL production decreases with age, so you must chew more, eat smaller meals, eat mindfully, and take things like HCL and enzymes with meals. My rebuttal is, let’s fix what’s broken so you get all the nutrients out of what you eat, you need them. Rather than avoid eating meat because you have sluggish digestion, that just hardly addresses a symptom and not the root of the problem. It’s likely not genetic so let’s repair your digestive system so you can digest all of your foods that your body needs to repair and maintain optimal health. If you can’t digest meat, it’s also likely you’re not digesting other things as well as you should be, but they just cause less bloating if they sit in your gut putrefying. You just happen to notice the meat issue because it’s a louder alarm bell. Avoiding it won’t fix the gut issue.
Here’s a personal story:
I remember an interaction with someone in my gym. I actually noticed him walk in. He was older, looked about 70 to me (turned out he was late 50s, yikes looked much older than he actually was). I couldn’t help but notice him because he had a very sickly grey complexion. I wondered if he had cancer or other serious health issues. This man was in the gym, but he looked like he was on his death bed and had very low muscle mass, this made me curious. He took a liking to me and struck up a conversation. It turns out he’s one of those staunch vegans. Ahh, now I understood. In Asian medicine he would be considered extremely blood deficient, and in Western medicine at least considered having iron anemia and likely B12 deficiency aka megaloblastic anemia. No wonder he had that ashen grey sickly look. And he raved about his health! Had no one every told him he looked like hell? I had no agenda with him, but I did push back a little when he began to shove his agenda down my throat. I learned he even has a company promoting vegan products. I understood how invested his mind was in this kind of eating, so I treaded gently. This is one example where I’d say that his 30 years of being vegan left him with several deficiencies. I can’t report which ones until I see his comprehensive lab findings, but his appearance was obvious. And for every story like this you can find someone who is thriving as a vegan. My point is that it’s not for everyone, and for only various lengths of time.
I caution you to do your research, check sources and be leery of people with strong agendas. I could find plenty of arguments claiming veganism is the Best choice for your body and health, however I could also find science-based research to prove it also leads to deficiencies in the human body. Who do you believe? I take the best of both views and evidence and individualize it for someone. Wouldn’t it be great to eat what feels good to your body, digest and absorb it, and actually thrive rather than look gaunt, deficient, or obese and craving too many carbs? Therapeutic nutritional plans can be incredible for shifting your health picture. Please work with someone who knows how to individualize it so you get the best results from the effort you invest in your health.
Blessings of Vibrant Health,
Kristin Grayce McGary
Health and Lifestyle Alchemist
Share this Post
Kristin Grayce McGary weaves 20 years of experience, education, and wisdom with profound compassion to provide you with individualized, empowered, and holistic opportunities to heal on all levels. She is a passionate and dynamic teacher who truly embodies her work. She artfully blends healing modalities to guide you on a transformative path to optimal health