Without even getting into the spiritual, ethical, and/or religious issues related to not eating animals (vegetarianism) or animals and animal products (veganism), there is perhaps no more hotly debated area of human nutrition than whether or not we benefit from eating animals and animal products. Let’s be clear: there is no consensus here and the literature is very hard to sort out and make intelligent decisions about. Nevertheless, this much we know:
- The human digestive tract cannot digest many of the plants that other animals, and even other primates, can eat. It is too short to extract nutrients from calorically sparse foods (leaves, stems, shoots, bark, etc.), making us more dependent on calorically dense foods.
- In nature, carnivores have the shortest digestive tracts, omnivores have the next shortest, and herbivores have the longest. The size ratio of the small to large intestines in humans most closely resembles that of carnivores, particularly wolves.
- For most of human evolution, human beings ate freshly caught animals and/or freshly gathered plants. This included wild game, fish, seafood, and eggs as well as edible fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
- Cooking, grinding, milling, and other food processing became prevalent only about 10,000 years ago, with the advent of the Agricultural Revolution, when animals were domesticated and plants were cultivated for food. The human diet changed dramatically with the Agricultural Revolution, even though the human body did not (the human genome has changed less than 0.02 percent in 40,000 years).
Given these facts alone, it would seem the human body is well designed to eat animals — but not necessarily the domesticated versions of animals so common in the world today. Meat that comes from sedentary, grain-fed, antibiotic-laced, steroid-fattened, pesticide-contaminated, and mass-produced animals is not good for us and not what our bodies were designed to consume.
One reason for the debate about eating meat is because we compare vegetarian diets to conventional meat diets. Time and again, the vegetarian diets win. Properly done, with attention to plant sources of essential fatty acids, a vegetarian diet can be healthy and, if your only choice for animal protein is conventional meat, a vegetarian lifestyle may be the way to go.
But that is not our only choice. There are many sources for active, grass-fed, antibiotic-, steroid-, and pesticide-free, locally caught or raised animals. My wife and I, for example, have developed a relationship with an area buffalo rancher, providing us with lean, healthy meat throughout the year.
Consider this comparison: whereas a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) trimmed beef ribeye steak has 274 calories, including 22.1 grams of fat (9 of which are saturated) and 68 mg of cholesterol, the same buffalo steak has 116 calories, including 2.4 grams of fat (0.9 of which are saturated) and 62 mg of cholesterol. The ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids is also much better in the buffalo. No wonder our Paleolithic ancestors did not suffer our modern, chronic diseases!
So eat the meat our bodies were designed to eat: eat wild game, fish, seafood, and an occasional organic egg from cage-free chickens that scratch for their food. Stay away from conventional meat, farm-raised fish, and dairy products. Then be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. A low-calorie diet that is more or less evenly balanced between healthy meat and healthy plants will go far to optimize your weight, wellness, and well being.
Coaching Inquiries: Do you eat conventional meats or dairy products? How could eliminate them? Would you want to become a vegetarian? Or would you want to find sources for wild game, fish, shellfish, and eggs? How far would you be willing to go to optimize your weight, wellness, and well being?
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
2010-2011 President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
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