A few months ago, I took on a personal experiment in the form of a plant-based diet, based on the compelling film, Gamechangers. I followed the diet for about 3 weeks, and during that time had good results: perceived increases in strength and endurance, and a slightly slimmer waistline. But I’ve since abandoned the experiment and come to believe that the optimal human diet includes animal protein – but with some major caveats.
As I wrote in my original post, there is a tremendous amount of conflicting information out there, when it comes to diet and nutrition. Determining the credibility of information on any topic in this day and age is extremely difficult. This holds especially true with diet and nutrition, perhaps because food is one of the largest economic markets in the world, estimated at nearly $4 Trillion in 2020. But I’ve come to appreciate the approach of thoughtful scientists like Chris Kresser, who explains his methodology in an entertaining and informative debate with Dr. Joel Kahn on an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. I maintain a bit of skepticism with regards to Chris, especially since a couple of his recent podcast episodes have a bit of a product shill to them (still, pretty convincing; I bought some). But I generally agree with his scientific approach to seeking truth.
So, about those caveats:
- Not all animal protein is created equally. Even when excluding meats fried in oil (see below) and restricting the comparison to just grilled or roasted cuts of meat, free from marinades and other toppings, the difference between grain fed and grass fed meats is pretty significant – and entirely non-obvious! My current understanding is that the feed of traditional meat animals includes a lot of industrial seed oils, taking the omega-6 content of their meat up to unhealthy levels. Grass fed meats, on the other hand, are higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Conventional meat animals are typically given significant amounts of hormones and antibiotics, to boost “yield” (the amount of sellable meat per animal) and offset the risks of farming practices that would otherwise make the animals very sick. These hormones make their way into the meat that humans consume, and are not optimal for human health (to say the least).
- Almost all prepared foods – whether meat or vegetarian, whether sold in a restaurant or in a grocery store – contain industrial seed oils, which I’ve come to believe are at least as bad for human health as my previous enemy #1, sugar. Check out Chris Kresser’s article on these ubiquitous food additives and see what you think. Industrial seed oils are commonly listed on labels as soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower, peanut, vegetable, etc – basically any oil that’s not olive, avocado, coconut or tree nut (cashew, macadamia, etc). If seed oils really are as bad for us as Kresser believes, it’s no wonder we’re seeing record levels of obesity and chronic disease.
So what’s my diet now? It’s pretty simple. As much as possible, I eat whole foods that I prepare myself, in reasonable macronutrient proportions (protein/fat/carb), during a 6-8 hour “feeding window” each day to keep with my intermittent fasting regimen. I don’t pay any attention to the quantity of food I eat during that window, and I certainly don’t count calories. I could probably optimize my diet another 10% by really dialing in the macro proportions. But that’s a lot of work for a relatively small incremental benefit. Basically, I’ve arrived at Michael Pollan’s common sense prescription from The Omnivore’s Dilemma: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants [by volume, not calories].”
Many thanks to JB for turning me on to the Kresser/Kahn debate and other good info from Dr. Peter Attia.