Are ‘vegetarians’ or ‘carnivores’ healthier?

Nutrition studies has been plagued with problems. Most of the research in the past was extremely low quality. Few other fields would allow such weak research to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Yet for generations, epidemiological (observational and correlational) studies were the norm for nutrition studies. This kind of research is fine for preliminary exploration in formulating new hypotheses to test, but it is entirely useless for proving or disproving any given hypothesis. Shockingly, almost all of medical advice and government recommendations on diet and nutrition are based on this superficial and misleading level of results.

The main problem is there has been little, if any, control of confounding factors. Also, the comparisons used were pathetically weak. It turns out that, in studies, almost any dietary protocol or change improves health compared to a standard American diet (SAD) or other varieties of standard industrialized diets based on processed foods of refined carbs (particularly wheat), added sugar (particularly high fructose corn syrup), omega-6 seed oils (inflammatory, oxidative, and mutagenic), food additives (from glutamate to propionate), and nutrient-deficient, chemical-drenched agricultural crops (glyphosate among the worst). Assuming the dog got decent food, even eating dog shit would be better for your health than SAD.

Stating that veganism or the Mediterranean diet is healthier than what most people eat really tells us nothing at all. That is even more true when the healthy user effect is not controlled for, as typically is the case with most studies. When comparing people on these diets to typical meat eaters, the ‘carnivores’ also are eating tons of carbs, sugar, and seed oils with their meat (buns, french fries, pop, etc; and, for cooking and in sauces, seed oils; not to mention snacking all day on chips, crackers, cookies, and candy). The average meat-eater consumes far more non-animal foods than animal foods, and most processed junk food is made mostly or entirely with vegan ingredients. So why do the animal foods get all the blame? And why does saturated fat get blamed when, starting back in the 1930s, seed oils replaced lard as the main source of cooking fat/oil?

If scientists in this field were genuinely curious, intellectually humble, not ideologically blinded, and unbiased by big food and big farm funding, they would make honest and fair comparisons to a wide variety of optimally-designed diets. Nutritionists have known about low-carb, keto, and carnivore diets for about a century. The desire to research these diets, however, has been slim to none. The first ever study of the carnivore diet, including fully meat-based, is happening right now. To give some credit, research has slowly been improving. I came across a 2013 study that compared four diets: “vegetarian, carnivorous diet rich in fruits and vegetables, carnivorous diet less rich in meat, and carnivorous diet rich in meat” (Nathalie T. Burkert et al, Nutrition and Health – The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters: A Matched Sample Study).

It’s still kind of amusing that the researchers called carnivorous a “diet rich in fruits and vegetables” and a “diet less rich in meat.” If people are mostly eating plant foods or otherwise not eating much meat, how exactly is that carnivorous in any meaningful and practical sense? Only one in four of the diets were carnivorous in the sense the average person would understand it, as a diet largely based on animal foods. Even then, it doesn’t include a carnivorous diet entirely based on animal foods. Those carnivores eating a “diet rich in meat” might still be eating plenty of processed junk food, their meat might still be cooked or slathered in harmful seed oils and come with a bun, and they might still be washing it down with sugary drinks. A McDonald’s Big Mac meal could be considered as part of a diet rich in meat, just because meat represents the greatest portion of weight and calories. Even if their diet was only 5-10% unhealthy plant foods, it could still be doing severe damage to their health. One can fit in a fairly large amount of carbs, seed oils, etc in a relatively small portion of the diet.

I’m reminded of research that defines a “low-carb diet” as any carb intake that is 40% or below, but other studies show that 40% is the absolute highest point of carb intake for most hunter-gatherers. As high and low are relative concepts in defining carb intake, what is considered a meat-rich diet would be relative as well. I doubt these studied carnivorous “diets rich in meat” are including as high amount of animal foods as found in the diets of Inuit, Masai, early Americans, and Paleolithic humans. So what is actually being compared and tested? It’s not clear. This was further confounded in how vegans, vegetarians, and pescetarians (fish-eaters) were combined into a single group mislabeled as ‘vegetarian’, considering that vegetarians and pescetarians technically could eat a diet primarily animal-based if they so chose (dairy, eggs, and/or fish) and I know plenty of vegetarians who eat more cheese than they do fruits and vegetables. Nonetheless, at least these researchers were making a better comparison than most studies. They did try to control for other confounders such as pairing each person on a plant-based diet with “a subject of the same sex, age, and SES [socioeconomic status]” from each of the other three diets.

What were the results? Vegetarians, compared to the most meat-based of the diets, had worse outcomes for numerous health conditions: asthma, allergies, diabetes, cataracts, tinnitus, cardiac infarction, bronchitis, sacrospinal complaints, osteoporosis, gastric or intestinal ulcer, cancer, migraine, mental illness (anxiety disorder or depression), and “other chronic conditions.” There were only a few health conditions where the plant-based dieters fared better. For example, the so-called ‘vegetarians’ had lower rates of hypertension compared to carnivores rich in meat and less rich in meat, although higher rates than those carnivores rich in fruits and vegetables (i.e., more typical omnivores).

This is interesting evidence about the diets, though. If the carnivorous diets were low enough in starchy and sugary plant foods and low enough in dairy, they would be ketogenic which in studies is known to lower blood pressure and so would show a lesser rate of hypertension. This indicates that none of these diets are low-carb, much less very low-carb (ketogenic). The plant-based dieters in this study also had lower rates of stroke and arthritis, these being other health benefits seen on a ketogenic diet, and so this further demonstrates that this study wasn’t comparing high-carb vs low-carb as one might expect from how the diets were described in the paper. That is to say the researchers didn’t include a category for a ketogenic carnivore diet or even a ketogenic omnivore diet, much less a ketogenic ‘vegetarian’ diet as a control. Keep in mind that keto-carnivore is one of the most common forms of those intentionally following a carnivore diet. And keep in mind that plant-based keto is probably more popular right now than keto-carnivore. So, the point is that these unexpected results are examples of the complications with confounding factors.

The only other result that showed an advantage to the ‘vegetarians’ was less urinary incontinence, which simply means they didn’t have to pee as often. I haven’t a clue what that might mean. If we were talking about low-carb and keto, I’d suspect that the increased urination for the ‘carnivorous’ diets was related to decreased water retention (i.e., bloating) and hence the water loss that happens as metabolism shifts toward fat-burning. But since we are confident that such a diet wasn’t included in the study, these results remain anomalous. Of all the things that meat gets blamed for, I’ve never heard of anyone suggesting that it causes most people to urinate incessantly. That is odd. Anyway, it’s not exactly a life-threatening condition, even if it were caused by carnivory. It might have something to do with higher-fat combined with higher-carb, in the way that this combination also contributes to obesity, whereas high-fat/low-carb and low-fat/high-carb does not predispose one to fat gain. The ‘vegetarianism’ in this study was being conflated with a low-fat diet, but all of the four categories apparently were varying degrees of higher carb.

The basic conclusion is that ‘vegetarians’, including vegans and pescetarians, have on average poorer health across the board, with a few possible exceptions. In particular, they suffer more from chronic diseases and report higher impairment from health disorders. Also, not only these ‘vegetarians’ but also meat-eaters who ate a largely plant-based diet (“rich in fruits and vegetables”) consult doctors more often, even as ‘vegetarians’ are inconsistent about preventative healthcare such as check-ups and vaccinations. Furthermore, “subjects with a lower animal fat intake demonstrate worse health care practices,” whatever that exactly means. Generally, ‘vegetarians’ “have a lower quality of life.”

These are interesting results since the researchers were controlling for such things as wealth and poverty, and so it wasn’t an issue of access to healthcare or the quality of one’s environment or level of education. The weakness is that no data was gathered on macronutrient ratios of the subjects’ diets, and no testing was done on micronutrient content in the food and potential deficiencies in the individuals. Based on these results, no conclusions can be made about causal direction and mechanisms, but it does agree with some other research that finds similar results, including with other health conditions such as vegans and vegetarians having greater infertility. Any single one of these results, especially something like infertility, points toward serious health concerns involving deeper systemic disease and disorder within the body.

But what really stands out is the high rate of mental illness among ‘vegetarians’ (about 10%), twice as high as the average meat-eater (about 5%) which is to say the average Westerner, and that is with the background of the Western world having experienced a drastic rise in mental illness over the past couple of centuries. And the only mental illnesses considered in this study were depression and anxiety. The percentage would be so much higher if including all other psychiatric conditions and neurocognitive disorders (personality disorders, psychosis, psychopathy, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, etc). Think about that, the large number of people on a plant-based diet who are struggling on the most basic level of functioning, something I personally understand from decades of chronic depression on the SAD diet. Would you willingly choose to go on a diet that guaranteed a high probability of causing mental health struggles and suffering, neurocognitive issues and decline?

To put this study in context, listen to what Dr. Paul Saladino, trained in psychiatry and internal medicine, has to say in the following video. Jump to around the 19 minute mark where he goes into the nutritional angle of a carnivore diet. And by carnivore he is talking about fully carnivore and so, if dairy is restricted as he does in his own eating, it would also mean ketogenic as well. A keto-carnivore diet has never been studied. Hopefully, that will change soon. Until then, we have brilliant minds like that of Dr. Saladino to dig into the best evidence that is presently available.

 

Here are a couple of articles that come from the BBC. As a mainstream news source, this demonstrates how this knowledge is finally getting acknowledged in conventional healthcare and public debate. That is heartening.

[Text below is from linked articles.]

Why vegan junk food may be even worse for your health
by William Clark, BBC

There’s also the concern that the health risks associated with these kinds of nutrient deficiencies might not show up immediately. It could take years to associate foggy thoughts and tiredness with low B12 levels, infertility with low iron, and osteoporosis brought on by calcium deficiency does not show up until late 40s and 50s in most people, says Rossi.

“People will think about their health now and not their future health,” she says.

How a vegan diet could affect your intelligence
by Zaria Gorvett, BBC

In fact, there are several important brain nutrients that simply do not exist in plants or fungi. Creatine, carnosine, taurine, EPA and DHA omega-3 (the third kind can be found in plants), haem iron and vitamins B12 and D3 generally only occur naturally in foods derived from animal products, though they can be synthesised in the lab or extracted from non-animal sources such as algae, bacteria or lichen, and added to supplements.

Others are found in vegan foods, but only in meagre amounts; to get the minimum amount of vitamin B6 required each day (1.3 mg) from one of the richest plant sources, potatoes, you’d have to eat about five cups’ worth (equivalent to roughly 750g or 1.6lb). Delicious, but not particularly practical. […]

There are small amounts of choline in lots of vegan staples, but among the richest sources are eggs, beef and seafood. In fact, even with a normal diet, 90% of Americans don’t consume enough. According to unpublished research by Wallace, vegetarians have the lowest intakes of any demographic. “They have extremely low levels of choline, to the point where it might be concerning,” he says.

For vegans, the picture is likely to be bleaker still, since people who eat eggs tend to have almost double the choline levels of those who don’t. And though the US authorities have set suggested intakes, they might be way off.

Meat and mental health: a systematic review of meat abstention and depression, anxiety, and related phenomena
by Urska Dobersek et al

Conclusion: Studies examining the relation between the consumption or avoidance of meat and psychological health varied substantially in methodologic rigor, validity of interpretation, and confidence in results. The majority of studies, and especially the higher quality studies, showed that those who avoided meat consumption had significantly higher rates or risk of depression, anxiety, and/or self-harm behaviors. There was mixed evidence for temporal relations, but study designs and a lack of rigor precluded inferences of causal relations. Our study does not support meat avoidance as a strategy to benefit psychological health.