“Vegetables are any plant parts that are not fruits, seeds, or flowers. Vegetable parts include roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, and leaves. Plants want animals to eat their fruits (and interact with their flowers and seeds), but plants need to protect other body parts–their vegetable parts— from predators, so they can survive. I would argue that plants do not want their vegetable parts to be eaten.” -Dr. Georgia Ede
To be fair, nothing really wants to be eaten. Sentient beings make that pretty obvious, as they’re equipped with things like horns, hooves, fists, teeth, venom, quickness, environmental camouflage, dolphins with lasers, etc. Once an animal is dead, their defense mechanisms typically are as well. With things like vegetables and grains that can’t fight or run, their defense mechanisms are hidden within. Plants are just trying to survive, and they’ve been on this planet a lot longer than we have, developing an arsenal of chemical weapons along the way.
We’ve all been told since we were old enough to spit them out that vegetables are super important, containing fancy things like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients that we can’t get from animal products. That’s not completely inaccurate, but it’s a misrepresented statement.
There are ZERO nutrients in plants, required for optimal human health, that cannot be found in the whole animal. The nutrients from an animal are generally far more bioavailable, which is an important point. Several important nutrients exist only in the whole animal, and not in plants (B12, choline, EPA, DHA, D3, creatine, carnosine, taurine, heme iron, K2...which is not the same as K1 from plants).
Now, to take a step back for clarification, there are tons of phytonutrients/phytochemicals in plants that aren’t in the whole animal. Some of them can be quite beneficial. These phytonutrients, however, should be thought of as something to be used acutely, in supplement form, not by eating a bonkers amount of the plant. I’ll give you an example:
I have clients do lab testing about every three months. If I see an Estradiol:Estrone ratio I don’t like in a female, I’ll often suggest things like DIM and/or sulforaphane. These come from plants. And more often than not, they help shift sex hormones to more optimal ratios in follow-up labs. These are used acutely (1-3 months), while lifestyle factors are addressed (like eliminating or reducing exposure to environmental endocrine disruptors), then they are discontinued. In order to get an effective dose from actual vegetables, you would need to consume an uncomfortable amount or eat broccoli sprouts three days after cultivation. You’re not going to find those things in meat, but the point is they aren’t necessary for optimal health, they are used short-term for a specific purpose.
What about fiber you say? For years I’ve been shouting from the rooftops that fiber is terrible for humans, and the idea is finally getting some traction in more mainstream circles. Fiber is to plants what bones and cartilage are to humans, providing structural support. Eating it daily is a great way to increase your risk for several digestive disorders and cancers. There are two types:
Found in high amounts in things like whole grains, beans, peas, potatoes, nuts, spinach, and other veggies. This stuff is just basically like sandpaper, causing irritation to the delicate surfaces of our intestinal walls. It can also impair the absorption of many nutrients.
Found in high amounts in beans, brussels sprouts, oats, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pears, carrots, apples, and other veggies. It dissolves partially in water (think Metamucil), and forms a gel once it gets into our digestive system. Once this sludge full of indigestible fiber carbs hits the large intestine, it basically turns into Mardi Gras for bacteria. The swarm of bacteria ferments the carbohydrates, releasing a bunch of gasses. So you feel full, hooray. Alternatively, you could feel full without having to deal with gas and bloating by eating a low-carb, high-fat diet. If you think having gas/flatulence is just a normal thing that humans do, it’s really not how our bodies are supposed to work. My clients on ketogenic plans consistently comment on this, how having gas goes from multiple times per day to about once every couple of weeks.
Fiber becomes a crutch for the digestive system. When consumed daily, the body starts to rely on it for regular bowel movements. The fermentation of bacteria from soluble fiber creates beneficial short-chain fatty acids, but the same benefits can be had from butyrate production in ketosis, and even from healthy foods like grass-fed butter. This is done without the numerous side effects of fiber. Over the years I’ve found when most clients switch from a high fiber/low-fat diet to a well-designed ketogenic plan, it typically takes no longer than a week for the digestive system to adapt. At this point, bowel movements will be healthier than before (I actually ask my clients regularly about their Bristol rating, we want a 3 or 4, anything else is a problem).
If you are interested in all of the reasons we have been fooled into believing fiber is good for us, and how terrible it really is (I just barely scratched the surface here), I highly recommend the book Fiber Menace by Konstantin Monastrysky.
Many vegetables are good sources of antioxidants. However, concentrations can vary wildly with the quality of the vegetable, harvest time, storage procedures, and depending on the specific antioxidant, many of them will be poorly absorbed due to the accompanying anti-nutrients (discussed below). All that being said, it doesn’t really matter.
When you eat a high percentage of your calories from carbohydrates, and you are what I call “carb-adapted”, your body will produce a large amount of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and free radicals. Glucose is a dirty burning fuel. This drives antioxidant requirements from the diet way up to counteract the potential oxidative damage in the body. When eating a ketogenic diet, the body runs on fatty acids and ketones, which are clean fuels that don’t cause the ROS/free radical issues in the first place, so antioxidant requirements are going to be quite low. When your body is running on fat and ketones, a diet high in antioxidants is actually detrimental due to the excessive antioxidants turning into pro-oxidants.
In order to avoid getting literally and figuratively lost in the weeds, I’m going to use some quick summaries of the main anti-nutrients and resist my nerd urges to do a deep dive.
Common foods (but not limited to): cauliflower, brussels sprouts, broccoli, mustard greens, brown mustard, radishes, cabbage, horseradish.
During cooking, chewing, and gut/colon breakdown, these can turn into a bunch of bioactive compounds. Some have been shown to compete with the thyroid for iodine uptake (bad), some have been shown to be anti-carcinogenic (good). Most of the negative research is either in non-human subjects or is looking at high doses, so these may not actually be a big deal for most people. However, those with diagnosed thyroid problems may want to avoid glucosinolate heavy foods.
Common foods (but not limited to): beans, peanuts, almonds, cashews, soybeans, whole grains, nightshades.
In the wild, lectins act as a defense mechanism against microorganisms, insects, predators, etc., and are brutal on the human system when ingested intact. They interfere with the absorption of several minerals (calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc), can trigger an auto-immune response, suppress the normal repair of gut lining which contributes to leaky gut, and encourage whole-body inflammation. However, cooking most lectin-containing foods can greatly reduce or nullify the negative effects. The lectins in peanuts, almonds, cashews, and nightshades seem to be heat resistant, and actually, be a real problem for sensitive people, so consider avoiding them in all forms if you’re looking to remove anti-nutrients from your diet.
Common foods (but not limited to): Most green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, tea.
Oxalates can impair calcium absorption which can contribute to kidney stones and/or a bunch of other problems. In sensitive individuals, oxalates can accumulate in tissues and cause inflammation (things like joint pain, nasal congestion, etc). Those with gut/digestive issues will likely be the most sensitive, but these can be a real problem for a lot of people. A cup of raw spinach has about 650mg of oxalate, and a “high intake” is around 250mg.
Phytates (phytic acid)
Common foods (but not limited to): Whole grains, seeds, legumes, some nuts, cocoa powder.
Phytates can decrease the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. They can also inhibit several digestive enzymes, reducing the entire nutrient value of an accompanying meal. Nuts that are soaked, then roasted will have a decreased content.
Common foods (but not limited to): Legumes, whole grains, nightshades.
Saponins interfere with nutrient absorption, wreak havoc on microvilli of the intestinal walls contributing to leaky gut, and may trigger an immune response.
Common foods (but not limited to): Tea, coffee, wine, legumes, walnuts, almonds.
Reduce absorption of iron, zinc, and may reduce digestive enzymes similar to phytic acid.
Next, let’s take a look at the list of anti-nutrients in animals:
(Don't refresh your browser, the above image is a joke to make a point)
So what do you do with this information? Am I saying nobody should ever eat plants? No. Some people can eat veggies, fruits, grains, nuts, and beans all day long and be fine. The point I would like to drive home is that you shouldn’t be led to believe that you need these things to be healthy, and they might actually be harming you. How do you know? Make a list of everything that isn’t optimal about your body, and be specific. Examples to get you thinking on the right track:
Left shoulder and right knee frequently hurt
Bristol stool chart rating of 6, bowel movements sometimes painful
Gas multiple times per day
Frequent nasal congestion and/or allergies
Trouble staying asleep at night
Need lotion daily for dry skin
Get sleepy after meals
Hungry every 2-3 hours
Inconsistent energy throughout the day
Next, try removing veggies, fruits, grains, and nuts (and vegetable/seed oils, which are one of the worst inventions in human history) for two weeks. Replace the lost calories from the whole animal. This includes things like:
Fatty meats (rib eyes, 80/20 grass-fed ground beef, chicken thighs, bacon, pork belly, carnitas, grass-fed hot dogs, etc)
Liverwurst or Braunschweiger (nutrient-dense combo of organ meats)
Vegetable-free Bone Broth (most bone broth is made with vegetables with bones, the anti-nutrients will stay in the broth and can defeat the purpose if you are sensitive).
Grass-fed butter like Kerrygold, or Ghee
After two weeks, run down your checklist again. Did you notice improvements? If so, why go back? If not, maybe you’re fine eating plants if you want them.
The specifics of eating like this can be a little tricky, and often individual adjustments need to be made with calories, macronutrient ratios, pre-existing deficiencies or imbalances elucidated by lab testing, optimizing GKI (glucose-ketone index), etc. If you want some help getting started, shoot me a message on the contact page and we can set up a free 15-minute call to see if it would be a good fit. Or if you're ready to go, go to the "Coaching" page and sign up. You’ll get me on the phone once a week to go through everything and make individualized adjustments to make sure you’re on the right track.
Feel free to leave your questions or thoughts in the comment section.
Or, you can join the discussion of this article on my Instagram here.
And on a related note, here are some great reads about the nonsense plant-based Netflix documentary "The Game Changers"
"Debunking the Game Changers" from carnivoremd.com
"Is Ditching Meat a Game Changer for Your Health?" from peterattiamd.com
"Fact or Fiction: Debunking The Game Changers Movie" from ketogenic.com
"The Game Changers Exposed: Bad Science, Great Propaganda" from tnation.com by Christian Thibaudeau