Meat: Do We Need It? Can We Live Without It?

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Whether it is healthier to forgo animals and their secretions for optimal health or to include them…

We can debate for days, weeks and months.

Each side can come up with studies, biochemical pathways and emotional rationalizations to support their case. The bottom line is, it's a personal decision whether to include or exclude animal foods from your regime.

The following is quoted from the Whole Foods website, Healthy Eating Principles, “Health Starts Here”, the program that prompted the outrage from the Weston Price Foundation:

HEALTHY EATING PRINCIPLES

From Whole Foods Market

Plant based

  • No matter what type of diet you follow — including those that incorporate dairy, meat and/or seafood — eat more plants, like raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains
  • Eat a colorful variety of plants to ensure you're getting the best nutrients for your body, which leads to feeling satiated

Whole foods

  • Choose foods that are real, fresh, natural, organic, local, seasonal and unprocessed
  • Eliminate the consumption of refined, highly processed foods and foods void of nutrients, such as artificial fla vors, colors, preservatives, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats

Low fat

  • Get your healthy fats from plant sources, such as nuts and avocados
  • Minimize extracted oils and processed fats
  • If eating a diet that includes animal products, choose leaner meats and seafood as well as low-fat dairy products

Nutrient dense

  • Choose foods that are rich in nutrients when compared to their total caloric content; also known as foods with a high nutrient density
  • Build your menus around plant-based foods to ensure highly nutrient-dense meals
  • Choose foods with a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants
  • Look for the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scoring system to guide you on healthier choices

Militant Vegetarian Scheme of Just Plain Common Sense

Representatives of the Weston Price Foundation called this a “militant vegetarian agenda.” I, quite frankly, can't see how they can possibly interpret it this way. To me, everything in the Whole Foods statement is common sense. How can you argue with “eat more plants”? After all, they're loaded with phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. There are potent anti-cancer nutrients found in many plants, not to mention the fiber that keeps the bowels moving.

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Here's what was said in the original Weston Price article:  (My comments are in Green)

WHOLE FOODS PROMOTES MILITANT VEGETARIAN AGENDA  Has the Upscale Market Outlived Its Usefulness?

WASHINGTON, DC. February 3, 2010:  Whole Foods Markets has launched a nationwide “Health Starts Here” marketing scheme that endorses a low-fat, vegetarian diet, with promises that the diet will “improve health easily and naturally.” The plan promotes the books and private business ventures of Joel Fuhrman, MD, and Rip Esselstyn, both of whom worked with Whole Foods to formulate the new guidelines. Customers now receive a pamphlet urging them to adopt a low-fat, plant-based diet and to cut back or completely eliminate animal foods. Many Whole Foods stores no longer sell books advocating consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products.

The plan will feature new Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) labels for foods in the store; the index is designed to make plant foods to appear “nutrient dense” by favoring various phytonutrients in plants and ignoring many vitamins and minerals essential to health. “Whole Foods has stacked the deck against animal foods by choosing ANDI parameters that do not include a host of key nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, K,  DHA , EPA  biotin, pantothenic acid, and vital minerals like sodium, chloride, potassium, sulfur, phosphorus, copper, manganese , molybdenum  and chromium,” says Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Dr. Ritamarie Comments: The nutrients quoted are actually easily  available on a strictly plant based, whole foods diet.  Here's a summary of how to get all the nutrients listed above in plant foods.   Beta Carotene, also known as pro-vitamin A is a water soluble nutrient that's abundant in colorful vegetables.  It  can be converted  in your digestive tract, as needed , to Vitamin A, a fat soluble nutrient that can cause harm when taken in excess.  If you have digestive issues, you may need a source of preformed Vitamin A for a while, as  you work on healing your digestion.

As for Vitamin D, the sun is your  best, most natural and reliable source.  Animal products such as fatty fish and their oils contain Vitamin D3, and some plant foods, like mushrooms, contain Vitamin D2, which can be converted in your body to vitamin D3.   Food sources are not sufficient or reliable sources of vitamin D, regardless of where they are from, and those deficient in sunshine do need to consume a supplemental sources.   Many people ,  vegetarians and omnivores alike, have Vitamin D deficiency as a result of lack of adequate sunshine.  See My Article Is Sunscreen Increasing Your Risk of Cancer for details about Vitamin D.

Vitamin K is abundant in plant foods.  In fact, green leafy vegetables are so high in Vitamin K that those on blood thinners are warned to avoid them to avoid bleeding.

DHA and EPA are found in algae and algae oils, which is how the fish get these important fatty acids.  The only significant animal sources of EPA and DHA are fish.   Your body can convert plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids to EPA and DHA, as long as you have enough of the essential vitamins and minerals required for the enzyme that converts them, you balance your omega 6 to omega 3 consumption and you avoid alcohol, caffeine, trans fats and minimize your stress.  If you're suffering from chronic inflammatory disease, chronic pain or autoimmune disease, you should consider supplemental DHA and EPA while you work on cleaning up your diet and you eat the anti-inflammatory foods and herbs I list in my FREE Anti-inflammatory Recipe Guide and Food List downloadable  at www.EatYourWayOutOfPain.com .

Arachidonic acid is not an essential nutrient. In fact, excess causes chronic inflammation, in part by inhibiting the action of EPA . Your body makes plenty of archodonic acid from Omega 6 fats, when it needs it.  Most people have too much of it.  Processed foods, animal foods and habits like coffee and alcohol can trigger excess production of arachidonic acid, leading to chronic inflammation.  In all teh years I've been testing blood levels of fats, I have yet to find people with arachidonic acid deficiency.

Sodium, chloride, potassium, sulfur, phosphorus, copper, and manganese are abundant in plants, especially greens. Iodine is abundant in sea vegetables. Boron is abundant in fruits and vegetables.  Molybdenum is abundant in buckwheat, legumes, greens and sunflower seeds!  Chromium is found in significant amounts in onions, broccoli, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, potatoes, and green beans. In fact 1 cup of broccoli supplies 2/3 of an adult's daily chromium needs, a cup of romaine lettuce supplies 1/4th.  – RL

Fallon goes on, “Many of the phytochemicals that Fuhrman includes in the index he developed for Whole Foods (Actually Dr. Fuhrman developed this long before Whole Foods adopted it, and he began publishing it several years ago – RL), play no essential role in the body and may even be harmful.”

WOW .  There's a hard to digest statement.  The  list that Dr. Fuhrman includes in the ANDI score includes essential vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants and phytochemicals that have been found to be extremely protective against oxidative stress.   I can't understand how she can refer to these nutrients as non-essential and harmful:   Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E,  or Zinc. – RL

“Animal foods like meat, liver, butter, whole milk and eggs contain ten to one hundred times more vitamins and minerals than plant foods,” says Fallon Morell.  My question for Ms. Fallon: which nutrients are you referring to and compared to which plant foods? What about antioxidants, cancer protective phytochemicals, chlorophyll, and other nutrients found primarily in plants? Greens are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.  What about the saturated fat and cholesterol in animal foods and their role in cancer, heart disease and diabetes?  – RL

“Plant foods add variety and interest to the human diet but in most circumstances do not qualify as ‘nutrient-dense' foods.”   I guess Ms. Fallon hasn't been keeping up with cancer research, and the protective role of the cruciferous vegetables and green vegetable juices.  While I've heard lots of arguments in favor of the consumption of animal foods, this is the first time I've seen plant foods defined as non-nutrient dense. RL

“For years before becoming deathly ill, I followed the dietary suggestions in the Whole Foods plan,” said Kathryne Pirtle, author of Performance without Pain. “I ate large amounts of organic salads, vegetables and fruits, lots of whole grains, only a little meat and no animal fat. I had chronic pain for twenty-five years on this diet, then acid reflux, then a serious inflammation in my spine followed by chronic diarrhea. Without switching to nutrient-dense animal foods, including eggs, butter and whole dairy products, not only would I have lost my national career as a performing artist, I would have died at forty-five years old! I am not alone in this story of ill health from a low-fat, plant-based diet, which does not supply a person with enough nutrients to be healthy and can be very damaging to the intestinal tract.”   One persons story about how she was “saved”  by reintroducing animal foods into her diet can hardly be classified as evidence that everyone needs animal foods or their health will deteriorate.   Without looking at diet records and doing testing, it's hard to determine after the fact why adding animal foods caused such a radical improvement.  It's clear that either her vegetarian diet was deficient in something or included some things that were seriously compromising her digestion.

The following  is a rash statement, and an example of stating opinion as fact: “Without switching to nutrient-dense animal foods, including eggs, butter and whole dairy products, not only would I have lost my national career as a performing artist, I would have died at forty-five years old!” How could she possibly know when she would have died on her previous diet?  Perhaps in her case she did need the animal fats to supply what ever was missing.  Does this mean that EVERYONE needs them?    There are thousands of cases of people who've recovered from similar problems by getting rid of the same animal foods that Ms. Pirtle added. We are all individual. Perhaps it was all the grains she ate that caused the problem? Hard to say without a careful analysis. -RL

“Consumers can send a message about Whole Foods' scheme by voting with their feet,” says Fallon Morell. I'd hardly call Whole Foods' attention to promoting whole, unprocessed plant foods as misinformed or a scheme. They serve to lose a lot of business in their bakery and butcher shop by promoting this plan. Again, the antagonistic language used here makes it hard for me to take the article seriously. -RL

“Most major grocery store chains now carry basic organic staples and a larger array of organic fruits and vegetables than Whole Foods markets. And citizens should purchase seasonal produce and their meat, eggs and dairy products directly from farmers engaged in non-toxic and grass-based farming. It's not appropriate for Whole Foods to promote a scheme that has no scientific basis and that bulldozes their customers towards the higher profit items in their stores.” The local chapters of the Weston A. Price Foundation help consumers connect with farmers raising animal foods in humane, healthy and ecologically friendly fashion.   There's the word scheme again. No scientific basis? There are tens of thousands of studies that support the adoption of a plant based diet for protection against cancer, heart disease and other degenerative diseases. Seems a bit rash to propose boycotting Whole Foods for suggesting that people eat more plant foods.  -RL

“The growing emphasis on plant-based diets deficient in animal protein also serves to promote soy foods as both meat and dairy substitutes,” says Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN, author of  The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food. “Soy is not only one of the top eight allergens but has been linked in more than sixty years of studies to malnutrition, digestive distress, thyroid dysfunction, reproductive disorders including infertility, and even cancer, especially breast cancer.”   Plant based diets are not necessarily high in soy. In fact, Fuhrman's diet plan is high in vegetables and low in soy, and the raw foods diet doesn't include soy at all. Besides, you can find just as many studies that find soy to be a beneficial food, protective of breast cancer.  There is no absolute “truth”  when it comes to the soy issue.  Over-consumption is clearly a problem, for many reasons, including the Omega6:Omega 3 balance and possible thyroid disruption, and moderate amounts have been shown to have several protective benefits.

“Low-fat patients are my most unhealthy patients,” says John P. Salerno, MD, a board certified family physician from New York City. “The reason we are spiraling into diabetes and obesity is because of the low-fat concept developed by the U.S government decades ago. Low-fat diets have a low nutrient base, and phytonutrients in vegetables cannot be properly absorbed without fat.”

Fallon Morell cites recent studies from Europe showing that low-fat diets promote weight gain in both children and adults, and also contribute to infertility. A meta-analysis published January, 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no significant evidence that saturated fat consumption is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.  Most low fat diets in mainstream are “plastic food” diets…fat substitutes, butter substitutes, “plastic foods.”  No wonder those on these low- fat diets, like my in-laws, are so unhealthy.  They don't eat real food.   Mainstream low-fat diets are also high in refined carbohydrates, like bread and pasta.  These foods are much more likely than the lack of animal fats to be the culprits in the diabetes and obesity epidemic.   It's hardly fair to compare the mainstream low-fat diet of processed food analogues to a low-to-moderate  fat, high green diet loaded with fresh whole fruits and vegetables. -RL

“Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, has stated that eating animal fats amounts to an addiction. But in fact, animal fats are essential for good health,” says Fallon Morell. “The nutrients in animal fats, such as vitamins A, D, and K, arachidonic acid, DHA, choline, cholesterol, and saturated fat, are critical for brain function. In the misguided war against cholesterol and saturated fat, we have created an epidemic of learning disorders in the young and mental decline in the elderly.”   Most of the kids with ADHD and adults with dementia are actually eating the Standard American Diet, high in meat, dairy and processed foods and deficient in fresh whole fruits and vegetables.

“Perhaps the vegetarian diet has affected the thinking powers of Whole Foods management,” says Fallon Morell. “It's time for the stockholders to insist on leadership devoted to increasing customer base, not promoting a personal vegetarian agenda.”  This is, again, a statement of opinion stated as fact, and an intolerance of other's right to draw their own conclusions from the available evidence.  Ms. Fallon resorts to vegetarian bashing, rather than presenting facts. – RL

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Rather than support her stand with science, Ms Fallon feels the need to resort to insults. The entire article is written from a highly emotional stand, with statements that are opinion stated as fact.

Ms. Fallon and Hartke seem to lump plant based diets into the same category as “junk food vegetarian” diets, filled with meat and dairy analogues, processed soy products and refined grains, just as many vegetarians lump all meat eaters into the same category as those whose diets are made up primarily of burgers and pepperoni pizza.

To me, this Price Foundation article comes across as promoting a militant carnivorous agenda. As I did a bit of internet research, I found that there is a long history of disagreement between the Weston Price Foundation and Dr. Fuhrman, whose guidelines are part of the Whole Foods project.  That may explain in part why they are so outraged that Fuhrman is working with Whole Foods.

Why not come together on what we all agree on  —  that whole, unprocessed foods should make up the majority of the diet, that fruits and vegetables are important sources of nutrients – phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals, that organic, pesticide free, hormone free, and food that's as close to nature as possible is key for good health.  And let each of us decide for ourselves whether animal products work for us and how much we should  eat. We can argue all day about the dangers and benefits of animal foods and never come to an agreement.

The truth is, there are lots of thriving vegans and lots of thriving meat eaters. The common ground is that those that thrive exclude sugar, processed fats, refined grains, and “fake foods” like soy meat and dairy analogues, and include only whole foods – fresh whole plant foods, high in fresh fruits and vegetables with lots of greens, omega 3 fats, and if animal foods are included, they are organic, free range or wild and free of added hormones. Those that thrive also balance their food with exercise, sunshine, fresh air, and healthy and non-judgmental relationships.

I've worked with thousands of people all over the globe, and have come to the conclusion that there is no one perfect diet that works for everyone. One man's poison is another man's medicine.

I've seen many people thrive on a plant based diet. I've seen others who don't.

I've seen miraculous recoveries when people drop the dairy products.

I've worked with people who get sick from avocados.

There is so much that goes into our biochemical uniqueness.

Live and let live.

We need to accept the basic tenant that whole, fresh, organic and unprocessed food is best,  and allow for each of us to choose the ratios that work best for our own unique chemistry.

I, for one, respect the fact that Whole Foods is taking a stand for fresh, whole unprocessed foods in spite of the fact that they make a considerable amount of money from packaged food. It's a move in the right direction.

I firmly agree with the Whole Foods guidelines as stated on their new program page:

No matter what type of diet you follow — including those that incorporate dairy, meat and/or seafood — eat more plants, like raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Eat a colorful variety of plants to ensure you're getting the best nutrients for your body, which leads to feeling satiated. Choose foods that are real, fresh, natural, organic, local, seasonal and unprocessed. Eliminate refined, highly processed foods and foods void of nutrients, such as artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats.

Come on. How can you argue with this?

Beyond food, love, acceptance, appreciation and lack of judgment are all important ingredients for good health. Let's applaud Whole Foods for getting this message out. Perhaps some of the fast-food, sugar eating crowd will take heed, and a few lives will be saved in the process.

Love, Health and Joy to You,

Dr. Ritamarie

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5 Comments

  1. Nicholas

    That’s exactly the way I feel about it! I was Standard American growing up, but my mother instilled a strong interest in healthy eating. I became vegan for a while and noticed a drastic improvement in physical stamina and much less propensity to muscle injury. I got sick less, too. But about a year later I noticed any cuts I had healed more slowly and left a scar where they wouldn’t have before. I needed meat. So now I believe people should pay attention to the research but experiment and do what works for them. I steer clear of militants, but I do like the promotion of whole and natural animal foods that Weston Price promotes. She has some good points elsewhere (albeit not in this article you review here). I just eat a lot less meat than Sally recommends! And my diet works wonderfully for me.

    Reply
  2. Wendy

    The extreme views of the Weston Price Organization are almost laughable. On their website, they talk about “Vegetarian Eco-Terrorism” and state that if vegetarians have their way: “…the living soils would degrade into inorganic dustbowls”. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that if everyone ate the way they proposed, there wouldn’t be enough land mass on this earth to provide the grazing area required. We have to ask ourselves: Why do they feel so threatened by people eating plants? Are they being secretly funded by the meat and dairy industries? I just can’t understand their intolerance and insecurity.

    Reply
  3. Cherie

    Thanks for the great information. I heard Sally Fallon in an interview once and I was not impressed. It does look like she does have militant views and no scientific evidence. I believe if she is worried about no matter what your diet just add more plants she is not looking at the health of people but is only worried about her bottom line. I wish I had a Whole Foods here to support. I will look for them when I go on vacation.

    Reply
  4. HealItAll

    Hurray for Whole Foods and shame on the Weston Price Foundation! I have been studying nutrition for over 40 years and I totally agree with Dr. Rita Marie and the Whole Food guidelines. Every study I have seen, that is not funded by the meat and dairy industry, has shown that a high-plant, whole foods diet is much healthier than a high-meat and processed foods diet.

    Some people may need small amounts of animal products, but the China Study showed that the more animal products people eat (if more than 10% of their diet), the higher the incidence of degenerative diseases.

    I am not a total vegetarian, since I occasionally eat eggs or fish when dining out, but I’ve lived on a near vegan diet for 40 years and I am much healthier than most people my age. Aside from childbirth (at home), breaking my arm, and a tetnus shot when I got bit breaking up a dog fight, I have had no reason to visit a conventional M.D. in all those years. How many meat eaters can say that?

    Reply
  5. Lori zito

    Thank you Dr. Rita Marie! I have heard Sally Fallon speak, and after only 6 months into my nutritional training program, I felt I could intelligently dispute many of her claims. I have tried to listen to her with an open mind, but she comes off as so close-minded that it is almost impossible! When talking about eating a plant based diet, I have heard her ridicule vegans as trying to take the ‘moral high ground’. If she is truly promoting a healthy diet, free of processed foods, she should be in support of a vegan diet. Instead, I have literally heard her state that “a stick of butter is not too much to put on your morning oatmeal”!!! Unreal!

    Reply

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