Cutting out sugars and refined flours, as we talked about last time, probably offers the most significant opportunity to improve your diet. Unlike sugar, meat is not all bad. It does in fact have nutrients in it which are readily used by your body.
Unfortunately for steak lovers (my former self included), the negatives associated with eating meat far outweigh the positives (including that buttery rich taste that we all love so much).
There are two major problems with eating meat is well as the issue of animal rights, which I'll get into at the end.
Animal protein is ascribed supernatural powers. It's what makes men manly. It's what builds muscles. Fat and carbs have been targeted as dietary land mines, but no fad diet has targeted protein.
And, indeed, protein is extremely important to our bodies. Protein is used to repair our cells and build new ones. Without protein we would all die.
So the argument for veganism, which is the complete removal of all animal products from the diet, is not an argument for giving up protein.
Animal proteins are often recommended over plant proteins because they're complete proteins, meaning they contain all of the amino acids we need.
In reality, these argument doesn't carry much practical weight. A decent vegan meal will contain all of the amino acids you'll need.
The one thing that plant protein DOESN'T have is the ability to kill you.
Dr. Campbell, who I mentioned in the introduction, discovered a direct correlation between eating animal proteins and things like cancer, heart disease, stroke and most other early life-enders readers of this site are likely to meet with eventually.
Plant proteins had no similar effects. It's important to remember that these conclusions came from lab experiments with rats as well as data obtained from many thousands of people. It represents science's most current understanding.
The explanation for why this is the case and the experiments that lead to the discoveries can be read in his book, "The China Study". It is so compelling that I became a vegan the day after reading it.
Where Meat Comes From
Disgusting. That's really the only word that can be used to describe the current method of producing meat.
Animals are born indoors and very frequently never leave the building they were born in until they are slaughtered. They never go outside. In fact, they barely move at all.
Besides not being a lot of fun for the pig, this poses other problems. The pigs are fed such a strong concoction of antibiotics and drugs that their feces turn bright pink. This pink sludge flows out of the facilities where the pigs are housed, but not before filling the air with noxious fumes that can literally be smelled for miles.
Because of the filthy living conditions and tight quarters, so close that the pigs are usually in contact with each other, they develop festering sores on their skin. That's not the extent of the disease the pigs experience, either. The great majority are diseased when they are killed.
The one major requirement is that the animals must be able to move to the slaughter house by their own power. This is encouraged through beating and electrocution.
By time that piglet becomes bacon it has been abused by any definition of the word, and has lived in a level of squalor and disease that is totally unfit for food to be in. This is true even of milk cows, whose milk can legally be sold with small amounts of blood and pus in it.
Further compounding the problem, these animals are not fed their natural diet. They're fed genetically modified corn and soy, which they would never eat in the wild. Cows, for example, have a specially evolved digestive system for digesting grass. It doesn't work with corn, so they are pumped full of drugs to help digest the food.
This is how the overwhelming majority of livestock in the world, and especially the United States, are raised. This is not the exception. Even "free range" and organic meats are far from the innocence they connotate.
There is fierce competition in the industry, which means that the name of the game is packing as many animals into the smallest area possible without killing too many, pumping them full of any substance that will grow more meat, and doing it as inexpensively as possible.
This does not produce a product that you want to eat. It is sanitized and removed from its original context by the time you get it, but realize that every piece of meat you eat, no matter how nice and juicy it looks, has been through this process.
Dairy is no better. Milk has to be pasteurized to kill all of the gross bacteria that come out of a farm cow. It's illegal to sell it otherwise. Milk was actually used for several of the studies in the China Study.
Fish are supposed to be the healthiest meat. They may have been in the past, may possibly still be now, but they are far from actually being healthy.
Fish have the same proteins we talked about earlier which contribute to all of those diseases that the meat eater will almost inevitably succumb to.
But in recent years, things have gotten even worse. They are farm raised in filthy pools, and fed corn because it is cheap. Think about that. How would a fish ever naturally get corn?
Wild caught fish aren't much better. Pollution levels are so extreme that it's a fair assumption that any fish you may eat is contaminated. Some fish, like tuna, have heavy metals in them which, once in your body, will never leave.
In the middle of the pacific is a huge sludge of trash that humans have produced. It's larger than Texas, which is pretty darn big. The sludge is made of everything from plastic bottles to couches and TVs which float on the surface. No nation will take responsibility for the sludge, since it is in international waters, so it continues to grow every year.
The poisons from the trash leach out into the water, accumulate and concentrate in the fish, and are then delivered to you on your plate.
I'm torn on the issue of animal rights, although as I have stopped seeing animals as food and have started seeing them as amazing creations of nature, I have found myself emotionally more attached and more disgusted by the way they are treated.
If animals were supremely healthy for me, I would eat them. I would find farms that breed them in sanitary conditions with no weird drugs, and I would buy from them.
That's not to say that I would be happy that the animals are being killed, but I realize that this is part of the food chain, and I will always put my well being over that of animals if push comes to shove.
The current system, however, is nothing short of repulsive. Many of the employees of these factories are sadistic and enjoy beating the animals. On peta.com (who I disagree with on a great number of things and would not use as a guide for diet), you can see videos of people bashing animals' heads in with cinder blocks, cutting them and violating them in every way possible. It will make your stomach churn.
The Bottom Line
I've only barely scratched the surface of the meat issue. When you delve into it you also realize that the amount of pollution, energy, water, and food used for raising animals dwarfs the amount created and used for an equivalent amount of plant crops.
Whether you decide to stop eating animals because it's nearly impossible to get animals not tainted by our meat producing factories, because eating it WILL eventually kill you, or because you love animals and don't want to contribute to the atrocious conditions they live their lives in, you're making a good choice.
After removing animal products from my diet, one question always nagged me. What about high quality farm raised cows who have never been treated with hormones or drugs, and who have always been fed their natural diet? I wrote to Dr. Campbell to ask if those might be healthy, and he replied,
Certain meats may be slightly better under certain conditions for certain people at certain times but we just don't have any evidence that such differences are anything more than trivial. They certainly are not predictable.
Are these foods delicious? Yes, although they've now lost most of their appeal to me. My friend Jeffy once said, "Once you have self respect, it's inevitable that you'll become healthy".
I believe that completely.
Removing meat from your diet is an act of self respect, essentially saying, "I care enough to give up superficial pleasures like a steak for a healthier and longer life."
Continued in Part IV, "What to Eat?"
seems that everyone thinks what works for them works for everyone else! myself included. i was vegetarian (no animal flesh of any kind) for 10 years, and i'm quite happy to be back to eating meat. i hear ya completely on the humane front, but from my POV, we're indeed omnivores. and soy products can have some seriously scary feminizing effects on men (google it!).
the china study has been widely criticized for its very selective interpretation of the evidence, and for the unfortunate mistake of confusing correlation with cause and effect.
i give you props for your interest in health and nutrition, and your emphasis on whole foods (down with processed food!). i would strongly encourage you (and everyone on the planet!) to read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes (2007). It is an incredible book, and provides an extremely thorough review of the scientific literature on health and nutrition dating back to the 1800's. He cites over 1100 (mostly peer reviewed) references, and what is a pretty heavy and sciencey book reads like a suspense novel. its incredible. i think you'd enjoy it.
(and ps - awesome site and lifestyle... i'll be making the transition soon myself - yes!!!)
and not eating meat shrinks your brain. Cant win can we?
I was a vegetarian for 2 years - but being Asian it is hard enough to keep weight on even eating beef. Once I cut beef out I looked like a heroin addict - lol
Hi Tynan, emailed you once before about the RV etc. I read Campbell years ago, and used to be a mostly vegetarian but after getting into CrossFit and doing my own research went back to meat. The thing is you CAN find humanely treated animals, it's just more expensive and takes some effort. Those same animals also are being shown NOT to cause all the modern diseases that have been attibuted to meats. Because animals that eat what they're supposed to instead of being force fed corn have vastly different meat. I now have a meat source from local farms along the Polyface Farms model, which is far more sustainable than industrial farming.
Highly recommend reading "the Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan, and looking into the Weston Price Foundation as well. There's substantial evidence that there's significant health benefits to eating meat, if it's as wild and close to natural as possible, and mounting evidence that soy as a main protien source is actually very bad for you.
Anyway I know for myself that my health and fitness improved dramatically when I went back to meat. I also know I've never met a vegan who looked particularly haelthy, not that that alone is everything. Read for yourself and Black Box it, as they say.
Also if it was me in your shoes, I know I'd enjoy learning about local cultural foods, including meats. Some places have adopted western diets of course, but I imagine there's some gems to be found as well.
One question: when you said you didn't notice an improvement when you changed to eating meat, but you did notice an improvement when giving up sugar, what kind of "sugar" did you give up? You mean honey too? Are you including carbs also (bread, and so on)?
Can you not be an ethical meat eater?
This was written a long time ago... I now eat grass fed meat.
Wow, interesting. It seemed to me you were utterly convinced about Dr Cambpells' research. I am curious. What made you change your mind? Were you not feeling totally great?
No, I felt great both ways. The only dietary change that I've ever really felt the impact of was giving up sugar. I was convinced primarily by Denise Minger's work at
Just wondering if you've read this article by Tim Ferris
about the China Study book, and if so, what you think of it.
While we're on the topic, have you read the 4 hour body?
Don't eat sugar. Don't eat processed foods. Eat real food. A quality vegan meal can be a satisfying privilege. I also know of vegans who preach a holier than thou message yet eat lazy pasta meals. And tofu? Like you, I need more info. I also don't buy the notion that all animals are treated cruelly and that all meat and dairy is pure poison.
But I do believe that a 51% focus on diet and 49% focus on yoga is optimal, so my attention now turns toward increasing my intake of vegan meals. I just won't wear the label. Hope you understand.
although I agree that meat isn't healthy the way you put it, I for sure know that you are exaggerating about the pigs and other animals when it comes to their health. I know it happens, and maybe even more in the US, but we've had plenty of meat from our own animals, even a young cow (1 year old) which we always had outside during the day and during night it was in a stable that was big enough to contain 10 cows if they didn't need any room. We also had pigs, and those were more 'professionally' raised, but those still had enough space and I know that out of 200 no more than 10 would have died over the course of 3 months. This may seem like a big number, but how many animals can you name that are born in the wild where such a high level of survival (95%) can be reached? And when those pigs went to the slaughterhouse, those were able to move by themselves. I don't know because I never seen it, but if ever beatings (maybe) or electrocuting (I really doubt it) was used it was to get them running in the right direction instead of RUNNING the wrong way. There's various other examples I could give and I do know the quality of the life of those animals wasn't as good as in the wild, but you are making it sound a lot worse.
With that said I wanted to say that I still eat meat today, but that I'm going to check out and read about this MaxDiet some more and see if it is something for me.
I've mentioned before that I have become a vegan. It's now had such an impact on my life that I'm going to write a whole post explaining why on earth I'd become a vegan, and why I'll be a vegan for life.
First, I should say that the term "vegan" isn't great. It's usually associated with freakshows who are so against killing animals that they won't wear leather. While I'm not going to frequent cockfights or go hunting, I have no problem with animals being killed. I like leather stuff, and animals dying is part of life with or without humans.
Another problem with the term "vegan" is that many vegans eat an unhealthy diet. They cut out meat, but don't add vegetables in their place, so they tend to eat a lot of refined grains. Doing that is more unhealthy than just eating meat.
Humans need food to survive, as such it has always been an important part of our existence. Since the 1900s, advances in farming and food technology led to the mass production of processed food and commercial farming. By the 1970s we were drinking instant coffee and eating rehydrated powdered potato and pot noodles. Food had become 'space-age'. With the invention of the microwave oven, the market for convenience food was born. The Food industry worldwide is now worth trillions of dollars. Food producers spend billions annually on advertising. Driven by profit, farms resemble factories and efficiency gains are made at the expense of ethics, common sense and safety. Researchers make more and more discoveries about nutrition. Initially their findings were published in scientific journals, later in the mainstream media and now anyone with something to say about food can post their opinions on the internet. We have more nutrition information at our fingertips than ever before. Our culture's continuing obsession with thin and healthy, the obesity epidemic and companies competing to sell you food products means there is no shortage of advice on what to eat to be 'healthy' and how to lose weight. The common thread in much of it is there are 'good' foods and 'bad' foods and a food that makes it into the good list, can later be demoted to the bad. For example, tuna is low in fat and high in protein until they found it contained poisonous mercury. Apples were the original 'superfood' but now with high levels of fructose and pesticides have fallen out of favour. Whether eating for health or to lose weight, we no longer know how to eat 'normally'.
The amount of information available is vast and often contradictory, and if like me you love to read and love food, then there is plenty to hold your interest. Over the past 20 years, I must have spent thousands of hours reading and re-educating myself on food. Growing up in the 80s I remember eating Findus Crispy Pancakes for dinner with chips followed by Angel Delight for pudding without a thought as to how it was produced, or what was in it - like many teenage girls at the time, I was more interested in the number of calories on the packet. When i left home, I wanted to learn how to cook properly and so started my collection of cookbooks. Later, I wanted our children to eat 'proper' food at the dinner table, so we ate home-made chicken and leek pie or lasagne with garlic bread. The focus was on 'natural' ingredients without preservatives and additives and of course, taste. Animal welfare didn't cross my mind.
It was Jamie Oliver's 2008 campaign to turn the spotlight on battery-farmed eggs that finally opened my eyes to the welfare of the animals I was eating. I was horrified to learn the grim truth about intensively-reared pigs squashed into tiny pens, living stressed, miserable lives before slaughter. I discovered the cruel treatment of dairy cows that have to calve every year to keep producing milk, the sores they develop on their udders, the culling of male calves at birth. Some of the websites are truly shocking with disturbing video footage enough to bring you to tears. Overfishing hit the headlines warning of popular species of fish being fished to extinction, the seas emptying of cod and tuna. As someone who loved to eat cheese, steak, tuna and had enjoyed many a full English breakfast at the weekend, I couldn't imagine life without eating dairy, meat and fish, but I knew I could no longer in all conscience keep buying factory-farmed meat or endangered fish. Free-range, sustainable and organic was the way to go. We went so far as to grow our own vegetables (with limited success) and we kept three chickens in the back garden who each laid an egg most days. Reading about food and what to eat almost became a daily obsession.
There are thousands upon thousands of articles about what to eat and what to avoid: pesticides in fruit and vegetables, bad fats, plastic leaching into food, mercury in fish, genetically modified food, processed food, the effects of gluten, red meat and dairy, salt, sugar, bleached flour, most of which either increase your chances of getting cancer or heart-attack or both. In 2005, the top 10 superfoods promising health benefits were still recognisable as food and relatively inexpensive: apples, baked beans, wholemeal bread, bananas, brazil nuts, olive oil, broccoli, salmon, green tea and yoghurt. Then more exotic, unfamiliar and expensive superfoods came along: spirulina, acai and goji berries, chia seeds, kombucha, even bee pollen and some of the original superfoods had fallen from favour.
Armed with all this information, you risk becoming a food snob or a food bore, and deciding what to eat becomes confusing at best. Summing up all I've learned I can safely say there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer that works for everyone, you have to make the best decisions you can about what you feed yourself based on your own beliefs and the information and resources you have.