The Polar Extremes Of The Nutritional World
This series is aimed at showing the key advantages that a meat-based approach has over an all-plant strategy. It’s interesting, and more than a little tricky to navigate, because both sides have cult followings at this point. So any article on this topic has to be labeled as controversial. And I’m absolutely fine with that.
Part one weighed up the possible risks in restricting yourself to a vegan diet. The short version? Plants don’t like to be eaten, and all contain some level of toxicity. Compounds like lectins and phytic acid can cause inflammatory cascades in the body, while serving up a double whammy by impairing the absorption of nutrients from foods.
Does that mean you’re better off taking plant products off the menu? One could easily argue that it’s the dose that makes the poison, and that some unfortunate people are just more susceptible to inflammation than the majority. While that’s a fair point, a healthy vegan diet is naturally going to include high doses of plant foods. If plants are toxic, then there’s going to be no hiding from the downsides.
Meat As A Superfood
But rather than focusing on the omissions, we’ll look at what’s included in a carnivore diet. I’ve created a food pyramid here that lays out the options in a meat-based approach. There’s a caveat here, because this pyramid isn’t canon. It’s very much something I’ve dreamed up.
Food Choices On Carnivore
True carnivore would exclude all products that aren’t made from animals, and this chart does include a few foods that often get omitted. Olive oil, MCT, dextrose, low toxicity vegetables, would all get the boot.
Personally, I don’t see any harm in keeping a few odd extras, especially when dealing with ingredients that can lead to great energy and performance. MCT and dextrose have proven track records in the workout scene.
But putting the suspicious additions to the side, let’s focus on what’s really the bedrock of the carnivore diet. Take this programme on, and your main resource becomes meat and eggs. So you’re now heavily leaning on those two foods to net you the vast majority of your nutritional needs.
Meat Is A Complete Nutritional Source
Thankfully, they’re both powerhouses. You can even take this to the point where meat and eggs are the only foods allowed on your plate. A pinch of salt, a glass of water, and you’ll be set, with all your nutritional requirements ticked off in one swoop.
Obviously, this is controversial to some, but meat and eggs really can complete the RDA chart. You may still need to rotate between muscle meat and organs, while seeking out pastured eggs, especially if you’re looking to build the optimal diet.
And it’s optimal that we should really be in search of here, so we need to be looking for more than ticking off the RDA boxes. It’s great if a meat-based approach can help you ward off diseases and deficiencies, but that’s doesn’t necessarily make you a better athlete, or just a generally competent human being. And that’s where meat can bring some extra firepower to the table.
Meat Is More Bioavailable
As mentioned in the opener of the carnivore vs herbivore series, plants in a separate biological category to animals. Ignoring the fuss about toxins and antioxidants, this structural difference is going to play a huge role in deciding the digestive efficiency of incoming nutrients. The vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients simply aren’t going to be picked up as well as their animal counterparts.
As a protein source, the quality and availability in animal foods are dramatically better to plant products, even when you’re picking up vegan protein powders. Practically, you’re having to eat a lot more in order to get near the same levels. Which can be either an inconvenience or downright impossible.
Vitamins and minerals also display significant differences in absorption. Vitamin K for example, has a separate structural profile across animals and plants, K1 and K2. K2 is found commonly in eggs, and has an absorption rate ten times that of the K1 you’re getting from spinach.
Minerals like iron and zinc can easily become deficient in a vegan diet, due to impaired absorption caused by fiber and phytic acid. If you’re taking the middle road in the plant vs meat debate, this is something worth watching out for. Throwing meat together with a mountain of fiber can result in a big drop in mineral absorption, meaning you’ll still be at the risk of a deficiency or two.
Creatine is one of those extremely rare fitness supplements that have been lab-tested and approved. While it can be found in the wild, people tend to resort to taking it as a supplement, as getting from meat would require as much two pounds of beef in a day. Suddenly, that doesn’t look like such a tall order.
Regardless of how you’re getting the dose, creatine has been proven to improve reaction time, working memory, intelligence, and strength. There are cases of non-responders, but generally, it’s one for the cabinet.
Creatine In Beef – 0.9g/100g serving
Creatine In Vegans – No direct source, therefore lower.
Carnitine plays a crucial role in shuttling fatty acids across the cell membrane, enabling the process of fat oxidation to take place. In a ketogenic, low-carb diet, that’s going to be pivotal in getting the body the energy it needs to run optimally.
Carnitine in Beef – 85mg/100g serving
Carnitine in Asparagus- 0.1mg/100g serving
This essential nutrient acts as a methyl donor in the methylation cycle, enabling many bodily processes. Choline also is a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that improves learning and memory.
Choline in Beef Liver – 300mg/100g serving
Choline in Eggs – 147mg/Large Egg
Choline in Brussel Sprouts – 32mg/100g serving
Getting Enough Protein
As mentioned in the issue of bioavailability, the task of hitting your protein requirements for the day can be made much easier by adopting a carnivore-esque approach. You don’t even need to go the whole distance and commit to meat and water. By making sure that most foods are animal products, you’re reliably getting a great chunk of quality protein with each meal.
With plants, you’ll likely be relying on protein powder to get to the general requirement of 1g/lb of your desired body weight. That’s not a bad thing, but protein powder won’t add any more nutrition besides the protein itself, so it’s possible to end up with a few deficiencies. Getting protein from whole foods will be a task that will test your digestion to its limit.
The Protein Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score is a great way to check how much of a protein is actually going to be put to use by the body.
DIAAS in Beef – 1.13
DIAAS in Egg – 1.13
DIAAS in Kidney Beans – 0.588
Soy protein is actually pretty decent, but it comes with a question mark, due to its propensity for inflammation and a well-known ability to disrupt hormones. It doesn’t necessarily cause you to switch genders, but it can cause issues with infertility, strength, and such.
Since protein is the undisputed king amongst diet metrics, a plant-only diet will definitely be a struggle, and there’ll always be a question mark over the optimality of it.
Do vegan foods provide enough protein?
Can you get the best possible results from plant protein?
These are two very different questions, and it’s the latter that I’m looking to address with this series. If you just want to be healthier, then you’re going to find answers under every rock you turn over. Cut your Twix intake in half, you lose a few pounds. Eat exclusively plants and ditch the pizza, the scale drops even further. But if you’re seeking out the diet that can give you a new lease of life and seemingly unlock your potential, then things are about to get complicated.
This is a personal choice, and it’s an important one to make before making changes to the diet. Sometimes you only need to add a few tweaks. In more serious cases, you may need to be radical.
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