We live in an age where every food is being called into question as a potential carcinogen and a general inflammation bomb. Except vegetables, the Fred Rogers of the nutrition world. They occupy a lofty perch as the healthiest foods imaginable.
- They are fully natural, with singular ingredients
- They have all sorts of minerals, and vitamins
- An array of phytochemicals with intriguing benefits
- They are low in the usual obesogenic culprits of sugar, fat, and calories
- While being stacked in gut-loving fiber
- Finally, they can be very colorful
For many, they are the tip of the spear of a diet that’s built to help humans thrive. But as it happens, I have a bone to pick with each of the points of vegetable virtue.
1. Vegetables Are Natural
Technically, this is true. Vegetables grow out of the ground and don’t need to be processed and mashed together with a dozen additives before making their way onto your dinner plate.
But we can’t commit the fallacy of assuming a ‘natural’ food is healthy, because otherwise we wouldn’t be dropping dead from crushing cyanide pills. The logic I use on ‘Fit Awakening’, is that if a food is ancestrally consistent, as in we made regular use of it over the multi million year stretch of the paleolithic, then it’s likely going to be human friendly.
That paleolithic represents the vast chunk of human evolution, and as such, it makes sense that our biochemistry would be specifically adapted to make the most of the foods we prioritised across that time frame. As it happens, the evidence is stacked firmly in favour of red meat. Whereas there is scant proof of our ancestors eating plants. And that’s putting it mildly.
If you stumble across a prehistoric cave painting of our ancestors harvesting kale, then I’ll be happy to renounce my meathead lifestyle and drink guacamole soup for the rest of my life. But that likely won’t happen, because kale, along with many classic supermarket planet-aisle stapes, aren’t the kind you’d have found in the paleolithic wilderness. Neither were broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and kohlrabi, because they’ve all been selectively bred from the same wild progenitor.
Good luck getting a good dinner out of a wild mustard plant. Given that our ancestors were primarily driven by the need to acquire calories, being anti-starvation and all, I don’t think they’d have wasted much time prepping this one.
But the natural fallacy isn’t just down to the fact that modern vegetables are no reflection of the ones of the stone age, which would have been extremely sparse in calories, it’s also the matter of plant toxins.
You might not be aware that 99.99% of pesticides are natural. That’s because plants are organic chemists with the ability to wreck your day. They can do it through deceptively slow poison, or they can end things in an instant. And it’s fair game. Plants want to survive, just like we do, just like animals do.
Unlike animals, plants can’t run away when predators come knocking. So they have an endless number of ways to deter creatures from eating them.
To test this out for yourself, walk into a local forest and start eating whatever mushrooms, berries, and leaves you come across.
So the word ‘natural’ means nothing here. ‘Ancestral’ is another matter, and unfortunately vegetables didn’t get a prime slot on the paleolithic menu. There were too many plump ruminants shaking their rear ends in the vicinity.
2. Vegetables Are Brimming With Nutrients
We’ve been through an era where broccoli has been matched against the protein power of steak. Except when you look past technicalities, you realise that they’ve been matched for calories, and no-one should be attempting to eat 500 calories of broccoli in a sitting.
500 calories of broccoli – 35.7 grams of protein – 1500 grams of cooked broccoli
500 calories of beef – 53 grams of protein – 270 grams of beef
What goes for protein, follows for the rest of the pack. To get the much-touted nutrients in vegetables, you have to grudgingly eat all the indigestible sawdust that comes along for the ride. That’s a ton of bloating and constipation to get your iron requirements, when you could just get there with a sliver of steak.
And we haven’t even got to antinutrients yet. These are the plant toxins that exist to mess up your digestion and impair the absorption of key nutrients.
Phytates – Iron, magnesium, zinc – Grains, seeds, nuts potatoes
Tannins – Iron and zinc – Chocolates, wine, coffee
Oxalates – Calcium and magnesium – Grains, nuts, soy, spinach
Protease inhibitors – Protein – Legumes, grains, nightshades
So when you hear about spinach being touted as a rich source of calcium, feel free to cast a shade of suspicion over the claim. Because it’s also a potent carrier of oxalates, which act to bind up the calcium and prevent it from being absorbed in the body.
Then there’s the terrible bioavailability that comes hand in hand with the fact that humans and plants are eons apart in the family tree. Take B12 as an example, which exists in the human body as cobalamin. B12 in plants are actually B12 analogues, meaning they are similar, but structurally not active. Hence why you can’t get your B12 by munching algae.
Similar examples are strewn across the micronutrient spectrum, with the plant variations converting poorly to their human counterparts.
- Non-heme iron to heme iron
- ALA to DHA (Omega 3)
- Beta carotene to Retinol (Vitamin A)
Then there are the nutrients that just forget to make an appearance in the plant kingdom
On paper, vegetables appear to have plenty of nutrients, and it gets even better when you start mixing and matching. Just as long as you venture beyond the brassica family. Unfortunately, they require unreasonable servings that will cause digestive problems, and likely will still result in a meager level of nutrition due to issues with absorption and conversion.
Nutrition per calorie isn’t relevant if the food is mostly made of indigestible filler. ‘Filling up the stomach’ is not a valid diet tactic.
3. The Phytochemical Bonus
Phytochemicals are biologically active compounds that serve to protect the plant from infections and predators.
Yes, they’re toxins. But this time, with mystical benefits. Phytochemicals are the reasons why drinking wine is portrayed as a healthy activity in some circles. Despite the sugar, the alcohol, and everything else. Because they are ‘antioxidants’.
Resveratrol, which is the key antioxidative ingredient in wine, isn’t efficacious at the doses you’d find in wine. But you can always get it in a highly concentrated pill, and reap the rewards.
Hopefully you’ve read my article on the lack of antioxidants on carnivore, and you’re well aware of where I’m going with this.
Antioxidants are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
- They don’t act specifically on the mitochondrial level, which are the ones we want to protect.
- They exert an oxidative stress in the first place that spikes an antioxidative response, which can deplete your glutathione stores.
- They can blunt the necessary adaptive response to training, which involves inflammation.
- They pale in comparison to the antioxidative potential of having healthy glutathione stores, which can be achieved by eating red meat.
I’m not against the idea of using plant compounds for medicinal purposes. But the benefits are pretty suspect, and practically impossible to reach without using supplements, which is the case with sulforaphane in broccoli.
But if you like the idea of phytonutrients, then that’s still no reason to keep kale on the menu, because grass-fed meat and milk have plenty of these purportedly healthy chemicals. Just our marvelous nutrient converters doing the business for us.
4. Low In Sugar, Fat, And Calories
Slimming down for a Spanish beach typically involves drastic cutbacks on calories, and painful farewells to your favourite takeaways and the box of granola you inhale every breakfast. But the addition of vegetables can appear to be a game changer. By swapping starches for vegetables, you can keep the same portion sizes while still slicing your calories in half.
Your can still spend plenty of time munching away, the stomach still gets distended, and scale goes into a spiral. What’s not to like about the vegetable fix?
For one, all those aforementioned plant toxins are going to put your digestion to the bitter test, so if you’re already plagued with leaky gut, strap in.
As a second, filling up the stomach does not equal satiety. You don’t reach satiety by eating to the point where you physically can’t stuff anything more down the gullet. That’s a temporary fix for hunger that continues to leave you low on energy. The body is a finely tuned machine shaped by millions of years of evolution. It’s not going to be fooled by a delivery of expensive sawdust.
You might be full when the plate gets emptied, but it won’t last, and you’re costing yourself the energy that you need to get through the day.
Satiety is the happy consequence of meeting your need for nutrients. The fat, the protein, the micros, and the electrolytes. You get there by giving it the foods that provide the full spectrum of human nutrition. Vegetables aren’t the solution here.
5. Our Gut Needs Fiber
The bacteria in our gut can survive by breaking down fiber in order to make short-chain fatty acids in the form of butyrate. Since those bacteria are critical for a myriad of functions from cognition to immune health, it has led people to view fiber as an essential nutrient. Which in turn has worked out wonderfully for the whole-grain product line, as well as vegetables.
However, if the gut couldn’t survive without fiber, then that would be a mighty big problem for the Inuits, who live in areas where plants are an impossibility. So there must be more to the picture.
The gut needs butyrate. But we don’t need to glean that butyrate from fiber. Butter has butyrate, hence the name. Beta-hydroxy-butyrate (BHB), a key fuel source in the state of ketosis, has butyrate. Collagen increases the production of short-chain fatty acids, while also decreasing gut inflammation.
The argument isn’t just that we don’t need fiber, it’s that we’re likely going to be better off without fiber.
- Impairs nutrient absorption
- Worsens gut dysbiosis by fertilising everything
- Weakens intestinal lining
- Increases constipation and bloating
The fact is, we can only extra a maximum of 4% of our daily calories from fiber. We can’t digest cellulose, which is the most abundant compound in the plant kingdom. We evolved to have a much smaller large intestine than our primate cousins, which is where we break down fiber. The cecum is practically nonexistent. We left our need for fiber, and vegetables, in the very distant past, long before we began to resemble humans.
I’m not against having a salad alongside a chunk of beef, I just don’t think it’s necessary, and there will be people with weakened guts that will see significant benefits from dropping vegetables entirely. Give the body the respite it needs to heal.
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