As I announced last week I have made a change in my life that I expect will vastly improve my health, which in turn should reduce my health care costs. It’s a change in diet that will also reduce my carbon foot print since all meals will be plant-based. The amount of carbon-based fuel to process meat and dairy is quite excessive and the manure from large animal factories adds significantly to CO2 levels in the atmosphere. To me it’s a win-win-win situation but when presented to friends and relatives, I become something of a pariah to them. Or so it seems.
Eyes roll at the mention of a meatless, dairy-less diet and I am considered a prime target for an intervention, much like someone who has been swept up by a godless cult and who people fear will proselytize their children. I can deal with that for the most part because I am older and care less now about what most people think. One of the few gifts with aging is that you no longer feel motivated to “fit in” with things that are often based on traditions and custom which most people know little about.
I thought I would have a difficult time removing steaks and fried chicken from my menu. I was used to making either a ham, turkey or pastrami sandwich with cheese and chips each day for lunch. Every Sunday I would make a special breakfast of two eggs, sausage or bacon, hash browns and an english muffin. I love chocolate chip cookies and any kind of cake, both accompanied with a cold glass of 2% milk. But this transition has been made easier by a strong personal will to make it happen and the fact that plant-based substitutes exists to fill the void (for the most part anyway) where meat and dairy once reigned.
There are of course those who will insist that such a diet goes against mankind’s “natural” instincts. I am always willing to listen to such arguments but thus far I have found none that provide enough substance to override my decision. One such argument is the paleo diet. A diet that includes meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit but no grain.
This diet is supposed to represent the eating habits that our earliest ancestors lived off of during a period that preceded recorded history.
The paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years which ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and grain-based diets. In common usage, such terms as the “Paleolithic diet” also refer to the actual ancestral human diet. SOURCE
Recent supplemental information also suggests that modern diets which include a lot of carbs are the cause for a spike in dental problems following the advent of farming. Researchers, through the examination of 34 prehistoric human skeletons from northern Europe, have determined that the “DNA trapped in the tartar [of these pre-historic skeletons] reveals that the meat-dominated, grain-free diet of the hunter gatherers gave our ancestors much healthier mouths”.
Published in Nature Genetics, the research shows declining oral health can be pegged to major changes in the way humans lived and ate, with the start of farming in the Neolithic age and the industrial revolution being key turning points.
The arrival of farming in Europe about 8000 years ago and the industrial revolution in the 1800s each increased the amount of refined carbohydrates and sugars humans consumed, which led to our mouths being dominated by cavity-causing bacteria. SOURCE
These arguments present a dilemma for someone who has concluded that meat and dairy contribute significantly to heart disease and many cancers. But when you look beyond the claims of such pronouncements there is room to be skeptical. In fact, it is presumptuous to suggest that reverting to eating habits that have disappeared over time will serve as example of how we need to eat today.
No doubt that the modern diet with its processed foods loaded with various kinds of sugars, especially the proliferate use of corn-based, hi-fructose syrups, have a debilitating effect on our physical and oral health. Few would argue with this but few would also make the necessary changes to eliminate these items from their diet. Eating habits that existed from birth are not easily overturned.
But the notion that meat and dairy are still essential to a healthy diet will be even more difficult to overturn. And any arguments that suggest early man benefitted from such meat-rich diets will ensure even deeper entrenchment for those whose consumption of oil and fatty meat diets is self evident in the layers of skin hanging from their frames. Yet, if we compare the caveman diet with modern man we will find that trying to replicate this in our time will actually do more harm than good.
The fact that a diet with casein, the protein found in most dairy products, is related to heart disease and animal proteins that are high in saturated fat cause cancer is pretty much indisputable. The exhaustive research by the pioneers of a plant-based diet, Drs. T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. have demonstrated this.
A study that gives greater credence to these findings showed that when Nazi Germany occupied Norway their troops depleted Norwegian livestock, leaving the native population to survive on a plant-based diet. During this roughly 5-year period of time heart disease among the Norwegians dropped dramatically then rose again to pre-war levels after the occupation of their country ended in 1945, where meat once again dominated their diets, as the graph below shows
Add to all of this the findings that lower heart disease rates in Kenya and Papua New Guinea exists where meat is not part of their diets and you have even greater credibility to the premise that fewer diseases will be found in cultures who eschew meat, unlike most people in western cultures.
So what makes the claims of the paleo diet supporters weak along with the notion that current diets heavy laden with carbs are detrimental to good oral hygiene? Seems like a no-brainer to me. We’re not prehistoric humans any longer.
In most contemporary western cultures people live longer as a result of better health care services. But even these lives are cut shorter due to diets that bring on heart disease, cancer and diabetes from obesity. Unlike our early farming ancestors we have ample water supplies with fluoride in them and are better educated about oral hygiene, thus diminishing the threat of dental problems resulting from a high carb diet.
Eating large amounts of meat in a single sitting isn’t unhealthy either when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from. Cavemen pretty much had to walk, or in some cases, run, in order to find sources of animal food. It may have been days before ample supplies were located, killed, dragged back to camp, skinned and prepared to eat. This expended a lot of energy and prevented fat from meat and dairy getting stored up in our guts and butts. Unlike today’s human, there was no supermarket or convenience food outlet to run down to when an empty stomach sent signals to your brain that is was time to feed it.
Our lifestyles are different today and there are countermeasures to offset the ill-effects that come from more sedentary behaviors. But even though we may live longer, those who eat meat and dairy along with processed foods, do so less vigorously and by spending a larger portion of their income on health care to offset the damage done to their bodies that comes from eating food sources conducive to damaging vital body organs.
I don’t mean to come across as some idealist nor as someone whose own life reflects the advantages of a plant-based diet. I haven’t been at it long enough. I still add a slice of cheese to some of my lunch meals and have yet to eliminate the high-cholesterol Sunday breakfast, although I have replaced the meat sausage with plant-based patties.
I suspect I will have bouts of craving animal food for some time to come. It was the same when I quit smoking in 1980. For at least a decade after I would have the occasional urges to light up. I don’t know how many times I would sit up in the middle of the night after having a nightmare where I visualized myself sucking down that soothing smoke from choice tobacco products.
Our bodies don’t forget easily the life it has become accustomed to. Like the amputee who still dreams that he has all of his appendages and for the longest time keeps reaching across to scratch an itch on his opposite forearm that’s no longer there, the mind acts as if nothing has changed until enough time has elapsed and it conditions itself to the current reality. It is also this way I figure with people who cast a doubtful eye towards me when I inform them I have sworn off meats and dairy. It just doesn’t register as a something that “normal” people do.
Maybe not. But a year or two from now if I’m down some 40 pounds to my ideal weight, sleep all night without pharmaceutical aids, haven’t seen a doctor for any reason, and experience more energy than I have in the last twenty years, then in all likelihood, everything else being equal, it’s probably safe to attribute the change to a different approach in how I feed nutrients to my body.
Maybe then those who would have plotted to pack me off to a rehab center will be less resistant to ignore the benefits of making such a simple but life-altering change. Then again maybe not and the bane of living a longer, healthier life will be standing by the grave sight of those friends and relatives, watching their casket being lowered six feet into the earth.