Is a purely plant-based diet healthier?
Since the documentary "The Game Changers", more and more meat eaters are thinking about their diet. Can a purely vegan diet make us more efficient and healthier?
In the mid-1960s, there was an alarming increase in heart attacks, which then led to one of the biggest debates in the history of nutritional science in the years that followed. Two main parties argued about the causes: Scientists Ancel Keys and John Yudkin.
The American Ancel Keys relied on his "Seven Countries" study, in which he concluded that fat was the cause of excessive cholesterol and thus heart disease.
Britain's John Yudkin, on the other hand, tried to show that sugar, not fat, needed to be reduced to prevent disease with his 1972 book "Pure, White and Deadly."
What happened next is one of the greatest errors in human history: the proponents of the fat-is-bad theory, mainly U.S. scientists from the world's nutritional elite, prevailed. As a result, U.S. and European governments called for the avoidance of foods high in fat and cholesterol.
John Yudkin's research was labeled a lie and passed into oblivion.
Anyone old enough knows how this recommendation affected our everyday lives back then: Suddenly you could find low-fat foods in the supermarket, margarine instead of butter, and instead of eggs, there was high-sugar muesli for breakfast.
But instead of getting healthier, the Western population got fatter. In the years that followed, the number of obese people increased dramatically, especially in America and Great Britain, but also in other countries.
For the first time, there were more overweight people in the world than underweight people (Lancet: NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, 2016), and obesity-related diseases also increased rapidly.
Nowadays, in the age of social media, it is much easier to learn about alternative theories before believing a recommendation or theory. Total connectivity allows us accessibility to more knowledge from all corners of the world.
However, we face the problem of information overload: we hear and read about more theories and experiences than ever before.
How do we know who to believe? In the film "The Game Changers," among other things, American firefighters are shown how a purely plant-based diet significantly reduced their elevated cholesterol, in just one week. What is not shown, however, is how the firefighters ate beforehand. Did their diet consist mainly of donuts, pizza and frappuccinos? We don't know.
But if this was the case, we can assume that another strict diet, with or without meat, mainly more balanced and natural than before, would also have led to a significant improvement in cholesterol levels.
What benefits can a plant-based diet bring? According to naturopaths, consuming too much acid-forming foods such as meat, milk, sugar or alcohol can lead to an imbalance in our acid-base household. The consequences are, for example, fatigue, muscle pain or a weakened immune system.
Fruits and vegetables, but also potatoes or almonds, on the other hand, are alkaline. A purely plant-based diet could therefore lead to us becoming more efficient because, among other things, we eat much more alkaline-forming foods.
Many nutritionists, on the other hand, say that the body is capable of regulating the acid-base balance so that we do not over-acidify. In the end, it still depends on the individual situation, because it would be wrong to assume that everyone has the same initial situation.
Instead of arguing about which theory is true and which is not, there is only one thing that can really get us ahead, and that is to experiment for ourselves.
What we can learn from the story of Ancel Keys and John Yudkin is that we can take control of our lives by learning to listen to our bodies. In doing so, meat-eaters don't necessarily have to choose to completely give up meat. Just 1-2 meat-free days per week could be a great start, and then observe whether you feel a positive change, instead of having to decide for either-or-nothing.
And when you feel positive changes, you're usually more open to trying more to discover what works better for you.
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Kevin Clement, Founder Eat better, not perfect.
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