Battle Of The Blinks: Should We Eat Meat?
Passionate arguments fill the back-and-forth on whether to include meat in our diets. Advocates of eating like our ancient ancestors exchange hard words with groups concerned with animal welfare and the environment. At the same time, scientists gather data to provide answers about meat’s long-term effects on our health and well-being.
So, which side do you fall on? Do you prefer a diet rich in animal proteins or something leaner and more plant-based? Both have pro- and counter-arguments. Whatever you put on your grocery list, you cannot deny how lively and fascinating this field of study has become. So, let’s dive a little deeper.
The Paleo Manifesto
by John Durant
Durant’s The Paleo Manifesto compares the lives of modern humans to those of earlier hominids. Durant argues we should match our diets more closely to those of Paleolithic times, in order to improve our long-term physical and mental health.
What did such prehistoric humans and their ancestors eat for 2.5 million years? Primarily tubers, roots, and meat. These high-energy sources of food kept hominids’ body fat low, teeth straight, and cavities at bay. This new infusion of calories also fueled the evolution of the human brain.
As humans farmed more and filled more of their diets with “copious quantities of starches,” they became shorter and less robust. Their new foods also led to flattened teeth and an increasing number of cavities.
Durant’s suggested corrective to our ancestor’s reliance on grains is to eat more meat and fish like our forebears. Such protein-rich sources should make up the bulk of our daily calories with vegetables and salad forming the remainder.
Now, Durant is not so extreme as to say all processed foods should be eliminated from your diet. Instead, he suggests you only eat the ones you can recreate at home or that early humans had evolved to digest, so out goes rice, grains, corn, and pasteurized dairy from the pantry.
The China Study
by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell
On the other end of the dietary spectrum, you’ll find The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell. The authors promote a diet derived entirely from plant-based products, arguing that people can rely on vegetables and soy for all their protein without posing a risk to their health. Campbell and Campbell have also researched whether animal proteins cause health problems. Looking at one study, they noted that diets rich in animal proteins can increase a person’s cancer risk when exposed to the same carcinogens as someone with a plant-based diet.
This study, performed in China during the 1980s, provides both the book’s title and much of the science Campbell and Campbell cite to support their hypothesis. As part of the study, researchers travelled across China to test different populations. That the country is fairly homogenous allowed the scientists to zero in on the differences in diets and provide insights into any links between those diets and the illnesses they contracted.
A surprising correlation they uncovered was that cells exposed to carcinogens had a higher likelihood to become cancerous if the person ate a diet high in animal proteins. People who ate mostly plant-based foods had a lower chance of contracting cancer from their carcinogen exposure. Besides the reduced cancer-risk, eating more plants and plant-proteins heightened fiber consumption, which led to lowered levels of cholesterol in the blood, as well as fewer instances of colon and rectal cancers.
Breaking it down
Each side presents compelling arguments in their books, filled with dense amounts of research. Though Durant and Campbell and Campbell argue for a kind of simplification in our diets, the focus is where they differ. Would it be best to follow Durant’s path, reclaiming the eating habits of early hominids, subsisting on meat, root vegetables, and greens? Or do Campbell and Campbell shine a light that leads somewhere better with their regimen of plant-based foods?
Whatever you decide to throw on the grill, this debate won’t be leaving us anytime soon. Let us know where you stand after reading these blinks. Have you decided to go vegan or vegetarian or will you remain loyal to meat till the end? Let’s add to this conversation.