This post is a continuation of the post before this. It is critical to understand that…Plants Don’t Like to Be Eaten! One of the arguments for a vegan diet is that it’s cruel to eat animals. After all, every living creature strives for self-preservation. They argue the world would be a much better if we would just leave the animals alone. The truth is that nothing likes to be eaten… including plants!
Animals have the ability to defend themselves from predation or make a speedy escape. Plants do not have the same abilities, but they do have protection mechanisms. At the slightest nip of a leaf, plants release chemicals that can irritate or poison predators – the plant’s version of an immune response. In fact, researchers at the University of Missouri recently showed that plants don’t even have to be damaged to mount a defense. The mere sound of caterpillar “munching vibrations” caused plants under study to ramp up production of mildly-toxic mustard oils.
The problem is that plant defenses take affect after you have consumed them. And for many people the results of a plant-rich diet can be pain, inflammation and debilitating autoimmune diseases. The examples of plant toxins and anti-nutrients are voluminous. But let’s review some of the common edible species and the compounds within them known to have health-harming effects:
Nightshades: The solanaceae family of flowering plants includes a number of species that are outright poisonous. But the nightshade family also includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant and goji berries, which are well known to promote inflammation and joint pain in some people.
Phytic Acid: A natural substance found in plant seeds (including grains and legumes). This compound is known as an “anti-nutrient” for its ability to bind to minerals. Phytic acid impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and other minerals and can promote mineral deficiencies.
Oxalates: Compounds found in dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale and other “superfoods.” Most people can break down oxalates in the gut. For others, however, these compounds turn into sharp crystals and can lead to chronic pain, inflammation, oxidative stress, kidney stones and autoimmune disease.
Lectins: These plant compounds can promote leaky gut, alter the microbiome, stimulate the immune system and trigger inflammation. The highest levels are found in whole grains, legumes and dairy.
Salicylates: These are naturally-occurring pesticides that plants use to protect against insects, fungus and bacterial infection. In humans, they can cause a wide range of symptoms from tinnitus to ulcers. High concentrations are found in avocados, berries, grapes, almonds, honey, dried fruits and many spices
FODMAPs: Though not technically a defense mechanism of plants, these compounds are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates that are not properly absorbed in the gut. FODMAPs can cause severe digestive distress for some people. High-FODMAP foods include a wide range of fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, condiments, drinks and dairy foods.
Saponins: Anti-feedant compounds that protect many plants from predation by insects, microbes and fungi. Saponins have soapy, foaming characteristics. They promote leaky gut and can cause bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhea.
Legumes (soy, beans, peas and lentils) as well as quinoa are rich in saponins.
Goitrogens: These compounds can reduce iodine uptake in the thyroid gland and slow the production of thyroid hormones. The result can be an enlarged thyroid (goiter) and a host of metabolic disturbances. The most common plant goitrogens are compounds known as glucosinolates, found in broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, arugula, radishes, turnips, collard greens, bok choy and other similar vegetables.
Phytoestrogens: These naturally-occurring plant chemicals have a molecular structure quite similar to estrogen. Used as a natural defense against herbivores, they can disrupt animal fertility. In humans, phytoestrogens can cause hormonal dysfunction and may promote cancer. These compounds are most common in soybeans, flax and sesame seeds.
Prolamins & Glutelins – Consisting of a wide range of proteins, used by plants to store energy in seeds. This group of compounds are the primary environmental factors in causing Celiac disease. Found primarily in grains and rice.
I would be the last person to say that there are no benefits to eating plant foods. But it is important to understand that there can be a dark side. Not all plant foods are right for all people all of the time. If you’d like to learn more about the “dark side” of plants, I encourage you to check out the video presentation by Dr. Georgia Ede, MD from the 2nd Annual Ancestral Health Symposium, titled Little Shop of Horrors? The Risks and Benefits of Eating Plants. (Ref) Dr. Ede cites the meat-only / carnivore / zero-carb diet as very useful for managing the many “mystery syndrome” symptoms that do not respond to traditional Paleo or “elimination” diets.
The Problem with “Elimination” Diets And How “Meat Only” Could be the Solution
If you or someone you love has allergies, food intolerances, autoimmune disease or other health problems, there is a good chance you’ve heard of the “elimination diet.”
This is a diet that eliminates many of the most common dietary triggers. The user consumes only the foods on the “allowed” list for a period of time – usually a month – and then reintroduces potential trigger foods one at a time adding a new food every few days. This last part is important, because many food reactions take three to or four days to manifest (this is known as delayed hypersensitivity). As each new food is reintroduced, the user records how they feel and any reactions they experience. This can be quite effective at determining which foods are best for YOUR body.
But there are some significant challenges and drawbacks to the typical elimination diet…
While the most common trigger foods are usually eliminated, most “elimination” diets still include many foods which can cause problems for some people. This makes it difficult to truly isolate the foods that may cause you discomfort and contribute to poor health. With so many foods removed from the diet – and a random basket of foods remaining – many people are left wondering, “How do I turn these foods into meals and what the heck do I eat?”
The second challenge is why most people find elimination diets so difficult. They can’t make any of their usual recipes and don’t know what to make from the random assortment of “allowed” foods. But imagine how much simpler an “elimination diet (eating only meat)” would be especially IF YOU ELIMINATED EVERYTHING EXCEPT FRESH MEAT.
With the exception of eggs, dairy, shellfish and sometimes fish… it is plants that cause problems for the vast majority of those with diet-related health issues. So, if you’re going to follow an elimination diet, it is easier (and more effective) to simply eliminate ALL plants, instead of picking and choosing.
On a side note, you can turn even the healthiest ‘meats’ into something decidedly unhealthy, depending on how it is prepared. For example, grilling and charring meat can cause cancer-causing compounds to form. So, while it can taste delicious we don’t generally recommend cooking meat this way. One of our favorite ways to cook meat is low and slow in the slowcooker or faster in an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker.