A Few Thoughts on Food
Although humans can survive a very long time without much food, we all need to eat at some point. And unless you’re Angus Barbieri, a man who lived for over a year on nothing more than tea, coffee, soda water, and multivitamins, you must make thousands of dietary decisions every month. I’ve spent a lot of time considering these decisions, as I deeply believe that what we eat plays a very large role in our quality of life. This essay is a summary of my current thinking on the matter.
The Biggest Dietary Question of Them All
–The dietary choice that seems to spark more debate than any other is that of whether or not to eat meat. It’s pretty sad to watch the amount of strife that this simultaneously simple and complex issue sparks among strangers, friends, and family. In my opinion, getting angry at anyone over the age of 18 for not eating what you want them to eat is very childish. That’s not to say I don’t understand said behavior. If I saw anyone I care about consuming any significant quantity of trans-fats, I would be very concerned for their health and would immediately ask them to stop. If said person protested, I would probably point out the fact that trans-fats are not being banned in the U.S for no reason. But in the end, I like to think that I would let the person choose for themselves.
What a person consumes is ultimately their decision, and theirs alone. This applies to meat. With that out of the way, I’d like to go into the some of what I see as the strongest arguments for and against eating meat, the information that has driven me to eat the way I do, and how I might change my way of eating in the future.
A few quick notes
–In this essay, I’m going to focus primarily on the question of whether or not we should eat meat. To me, doing so seemed like a simple, powerful way of illuminating a system of thinking that can be applied to pretty much any dietary decision. There are obviously a tremendous number of smaller, but nearly as ferocious, dietary debates currently taking place. Debates on questions such as whether or not we should eat tomatoes, bread, peppers, and many other seemingly (And probably) innocuous foods. I’ll leave the research on such questions up to you.
I’m going to largely skip over environmental arguments for eating and or not eating meat. This essay is going to be all about health because, quite frankly, if something makes me feel good, I’m going to eat it. If a diet that made me feel even slightly subpar was supposedly going to combat global warming, I would not follow that diet. The way I feel and perform is, and always will be, something I prioritize over pretty much anything else.
The Anti-Meat argument–
The person who, as far as I can tell, makes that best argument against eating meat is Dr. Michael Gregor. Dr. Gregor is a founder of the site nutritionfacts.org, and author of the best selling book, How Not To Die. At the time of this writing, How Not To Die has 3,080 reviews on Amazon, 88% of which are five star. Nutritionfacts.org is a website that features thousands of videos that can help answer a massive array of dietary questions, both very general and very specific. Essentially every claim in the videos featured on the site is backed up by several scientific studies, all of which are nicely summarized. This one does a good job illustrating the clarity with which the site presents its information, and the massive statistical power of its arguments. Although Dr. Gregor’s narration style is, in my mind, a bit strange, also I think his heart is in the the right place. I do not think that he is trying to be deceptive in any way. All in all, he seems to be a good man who is trying to get his message out due to a genuine concern for the health of humanity.
Based on the vast amounts of research he has conducted, Gregor has come to the conclusion that eating meat is a bad choice. He also recommends against eating other animal products, and personally refrains from doing so whenever he can help it. If you want to see the sheer amount of evidence to support his thinking on the matter, visit the site. You’ll be amazed.
All that said, I do not that think that anyone is right about everything. Some of Gregor’s opinions are probably off the mark, or at least somewhat extreme. He is human, and we humans have a tendency to preach the doctrines that have worked well for us, without considering the fact that they might not work quite as well for other people. Of course, Gregor clearly takes into consideration more than just his personal dietary experience, by backing his conclusions with thousands of studies. Still, pretty much everyone will usually start noticing the evidence that backs up their beliefs. I would imagine that Doctor Gregor is no less subject to this tendency than the rest of us.–
Another very similar idea I would like you to further consider is this: What works for most might not work for all. This is, at first glance, a fairly simple concept to wrap your head around. I’d like to give a little example though, to demonstrate how important it is to bear in mind when considering a topic such as scientific studies on the efficacy of various diets.
Say you want to determine whether or not eating red meat reduces lifespan. It just so happens that you have an ample amount of high quality data to help answer this question. In one particularly illuminating study, a group of 10,000 people were followed from birth to death. 5,000 ate red meat at least once per week, and 5,000 never at red meat once in their entire lives. Those who didn’t eat red meat lived, on average, 10 years longer than those who did. It would probably be safe to form a hypothesis that eating red meat is likely (not guaranteed) to reduce one’s lifespan. But, what is true for most is not necessarily true for all. In the hypothetical study I outlined above, it could very well be that a few outliers in the red meat eating population actually benefitted in some way from their dietary preference, and would have had their lifespans shortened had they eaten a diet of only white meat and vegetables. But, in this study, there were too few of them to significantly affect the average results in any significant way. This could easily lead someone reading the study to believe that the best option for everyone would be to cut red meat from their diet. In reality, cutting red meat might be the best choice for most, but not for all.
The Pro-Meat Argument
Humans have eaten meat for a very long time. Most indigenous societies of the past and present consume(d) meat, although not as much of it as is commonly believed, as Christina Warinner argues in this excellent TED talk. Meat is packed with many vital nutrients and proteins; pound for pound, meat often has a higher concentration of certain micronutrients than any type of plant based food. Additionally, a good number of very smart people who spend a lot of time researching nutrition/diet believe that a bit of meat is good for us. A few such people are Rhonda Patrick, Ben Greenfield, and Tim Ferriss. They all make some great points on meat eating and diet in general. Ferriss wisely points out that you are what you eat eats; There is a big difference between eating a cow that was raised in a feedlot and pumped full of antibiotics its entire life, and eating a cow that was raised on a diet of fresh grass, pure water, and sunshine. Patrick has a very detailed and well justified diet plan, which you can learn more about by clicking here. Greenfield is a bit of a nut, as you’ll quickly notice if you visit his website, but I also think he’s aware of many truths about the human body that have eluded most mainstream physicians. And he’s clearly winning at life.
The fact of the matter is that plenty of healthy people regularly eat meat and other animal products. Also, meat, milk, eggs, and dairy products are delicious, at least in my opinion. Weirdly enough, there are even a few examples of people becoming more healthy after factoring plant based foods out of their diets. While these cases are, as far as I can tell, few and far between, they do exist.
On of the most interesting is that of Mikhaila Peterson, daughter of the well known Canadian clinical psychologist and psychology professor Jordan Peterson. After two decades of suffering from a host of chronic illnesses, Mikhaila began experimenting with elimination diets. In other words, she would cut out certain foods, and see what happened. As she increasingly factored out non-meat foods, her symptoms decreased, and many eventually disappeared entirely. As of this writing, she lives off of nothing but beef, salt, and water. If you want to learn more about her story, you can visit her blog by clicking here, or watch her interview on the Joe Rogan Experience by clicking here.
Another odd case…
One incredibly famous meat eater is the legendary investor Warren Buffet. Not only does Buffet eat meat, he eats just about the lowest quality meat you can get. Despite this fact, he appears pretty darn healthy, and also quite happy. In this bizarre video, a journalist describes what happened after he followed the Buffet diet for five days. To put it simply, the results were not positive. But Buffet keeps chugging along, powered by McDonalds, steak, and several bottles of coca cola per day.
I currently eat a mostly vegan diet. This wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, I raised and killed the turkeys my family ate for Thanksgiving, hunted rabbits and deer, and ate pretty much any animal product out there, provided that it came from a reliable source. Although I initially decided to eliminate meat from my diet for ethical reasons, I ended up maintaining a plant based diet because it seemed to make me feel better.
I stopped eating meat in the summer of 2017, and noticed an immediate boost in energy. In the summer of 2018, I decided to see what happened if I cut out milk and dairy products. The effects again seemed to be positive. After eliminating eggs, my general feeling of well being improved even further. At the moment, I eat an almost entirely plant based diet, although I’ll still eat eggs and dairy from time to time. There are plenty of instances in which I don’t really have much of an option; At many restaurants, nearly every substantial dish has at least one animal product in it.
Will I continue along with my current diet for the rest of my life? I don’t really know. I’ve always been an experimenter, and will probably toy around with different variations for the next couple years, and might continue to do so decades down the road. I love tweaking variables and seeing what happens.
When to eat
An important aspect of my diet that I would be remiss not to mention is the time period during which I eat. I generally try to wait at least an hour after getting up before I start eating, and to stop eating about two hours before going to sleep.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support these practices. If you want to learn more about the science behind time restricted eating, click on the links below this paragraph. One of the most basic reasons to do it, which I feel comfortable articulating despite my relatively limited knowledge, is that effect that a full stomach has on sleep quality.
In order to achieve deep, restorative sleep, your body’s core temperature needs to drop below a certain level. If a significant amount of digestion is still actively taking place when you go to bed, the associated metabolic activity will make it difficult for that to happen.
–I implemented time restricted eating about half a year ago (At the time of this writing) and have found it much easier to wake up ever since.
–For more info click on the links below:
Final Note – Delivery mechanisms
Nutrition science is often conducted in a very reductionist fashion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has allowed food researchers to derive a better understanding of exactly what nutrients, vitamins, proteins, etc, seem to be leading to positive, and or negative health outcomes. That said, I think that the reductionist methodology has led to a good number of poor dietary decisions being made. This is largely due to the fact that many foods that contain some beneficial compounds are, overall, relatively unhealthy. As I mentioned previously, red meat consumption is linked to increased rates of morbidity and mortality. This is presumably because red meat contains compounds who’s negative effects more than cancel out the positive effects of the many healthy micronutrients it contains in abundance. Therefore, I feel it’s best to research the effects that whole foods (i.e broccoli, apples, steak, etc) have on health, in addition to researching the effects of food constituents (i.e vitamin A, zinc, selenium, etc).
This essay wasn’t really meant to answer dietary questions. Instead, it was meant to create them. I have long held the belief that most people would be more energetic and less prone to disease if they spent a little bit more time questioning and thinking about what they ate. After all, the average person is probably eating at least three or four things that they probably shouldn’t be, and could be eating more of at least three or four things that might provide them with adequate levels of a vitamin or mineral that they are slightly deficient in. Then again, I’m not sure that Warren Buffet even knows what a vitamin is, yet he seems to be doing just fine. All in all, I hope that this essay has given you a few novel ideas about food, and perhaps a slightly improved method for thinking about how to choose what you eat.