Raw Food, Vegans, Paleo, and Your Identity
Did you ever meet a vegan who, in the first 20 minutes of conversation, doesn’t let you know they are a vegan? How about someone who only eats raw food? Or someone who eats “paleo?” People self-identify with the food they eat – believing that somehow, by only eating in one manner they are (a) eating healthier (b) protecting the world from itself and (c) superior to others because of their chosen diet.
People who change their diet are often changing from a typical American diet to something better. Like the person who finds religion, or the smoker who quits, they become a food evangelist. For the first time in their life they are paying attention to what they are eating – or as they like to say what they are “putting into their body.” Their bias is that ” they feel better ” and they don’t hesitate to tell the world how their diet is working for them. Then they start reading more and more about how their diet is better – and there will be thousands of articles one can find about it. They will spend countless hours researching and confirming their bias about a particular diet. Then they will flood social media with citations. Never did they convert from a “balanced” diet to “veganism” or “paleo” – they always went from typical American junk to a diet where they paid attention to what they ate. Never considering that simply eating better and avoiding junk was the reason for their improved “health.”
Then there are those who seek to put everything into a shake, or a bar, or a pill. Mix this protein powder with this supplement powder, and while you are at it toss in a supplement or two. Ok, it may not taste great but don’t you feel better (healthier) and superior to those who are eating that burger? The extreme of this is what we physicians can do intravenously – feeding a person by IV. Physicians do that, we can put every micro and macronutrient into an iv bag and feed a person. It saves lives when we do this to patients in the intensive care unit, or people who have lost their guts and people can live on this, but they cannot thrive on that. So before you buy into that latest shake or bar, or pill, think that real food, not highly processed is far better and healthier for you.
Five myths about eating and diets that might surprise you:
(1) Raw vegetables are better for you and contain more nutrients than cooked
False: People cannot break down the methylcellulose that is the cell wall of plants. Hence, when you study people who eat raw food, versus the same vegetables cooked- and then test their blood to see who has more micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and other good stuff) – the cooked vegetables and fruits provide more nutrition than the raw.
The reason raw food people lose weight is because they don’t get as much nutrition from raw foods as cooked. The ability to cook allowed more nutrients to be available, and some evolutionary biologist state this is why early man was able to leave sub-Saharan Africa and go throughout the world. Today people will starve themselves eating raw food, but feel they are eating better, lose weight – without any concern with a balanced diet.
(2) Vegans live longer
This is false. When you look at broad categories, the longest living group in study after study are those who primarily eat fish for their protein, not vegans. Next come vegetarians, then vegans – who have about the same lifespan as meat eaters. Some will tell you about The China Study but that had a number of flaws.
(3) Red meat is bad for you
Too much of anything is bad – be it red meat, carrots, or celery. But red meat is easily broken down by the body, provides enough nutrients and in the latest study out of Europe, with over half a million people (the largest study ever) there was no association with red meat and cancer.
(4) Cavemen ate without certain foods like wheat and they lived well so we should because we have not had enough time to evolve to eat things like gluten.
False again. First a genetic mutation happens in one generation, not thousands of years. Second, in spite of the paleo-folk thinking that it takes 10,000 years to make a genetic change (see above) we have been grinding plants into a flour since at least 30,000 years ago. There are clearly people who should not eat gluten, just as some people should not eat peanuts, but that is not the majority of people.
Speaking of cavemen – noodles have been found in ancient China, and it was noodles that allowed trade between China and Rome (the Silk Road). A pot of noodles from 4000 BCE has been found (I wonder if it should be cooked with pork or chicken?).
(5) The human is meant to eat (or not eat) ( fill in this blank).
There are a lot of people out there who will try to convince you that the body is only meant to eat meat, or vegetables, or not eat something else. They have diagrams of teeth, comparing to other teeth of other animals but here are a few clues (a) we evolved from them (b) the primates that ate primarily vegetables have not survived well and (c) we have societies from pure meat eaters to almost pure vegetarians who have all lived well and prospered. The human body is quite flexible.
In the last year we have had one person eat sausage and beer for a month – lost over 15 pounds, and liver enzymes were fine, but the cholesterol lowered as did lipids. Then eat nothing but eggs and beer for a month with similar results. We also had someone do nothing but shakes and smoothies for a month with similar results. What did they prove? That if we limit our intake of food, which all of those did, and keep things in a bit of a balance, you can do just fine.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.