Friday, September 23, 2011

Dietary Medicine And Other Nonsense

I strongly dislike vegans. True vegans. I dislike them because of the inherent morality to their lifestyle and the irrevocable flipside of that coin: doing otherwise is bad. This of course means that what I, you, truly everyone else is doing, is wrong. They try to couch their arguments in terms that are scientific, or dietary, or physiological, but the initial motivation is always morality. Obviously, not all vegans are true vegans, some of them simply follow a vegan diet for other reasons, of which there are a few.

The second reason for disliking the moral motivation is that it is absolute. Regardless of evidence to the contrary, a vegan diet is always "best." This means that most advocates of these diets will use terms like toxins and wellness in attempts at supporting their diet as something other than morally feeling right. These are non-technical terms and prevent advocates from being sued. If they said that these diets will improve blood chemistry or otherwise quantifiably increase health, they would be lying and could be sued. The diet does do things, but not the same thing for all people.

Underlying much of this health/wellness marketing angle is the idea that food can be medicine. You can see these perspectives in "detox" diets, cleanses, purges, and foods that "do" this or that. Foods increase your sex drive, let you run longer distances, increase your strength, clean up your skin, grow hair, foster world peace, and any number of other quack claims. Again, the flipside of this coin is that we need medicine to cure something, and that something is inevitably the result of whatever the vegan hates. What they hate is more often than not corporations and anything that they produce. This brings me to my first bulleted point:

1: Food does things.

Absolutely untrue and a bad way of looking at food. Food is not medicine, food is fuel. Your body is an amazing, wonderful, efficient machine. It has been honed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution and does what it does with any food that you give it. Medicine works through the usage of chemicals that were not widely available to the evolving physiology of our bodies and as such have the ability to hijack certain physiological mechanisms. Some drugs hijack the pain pathway, such as Advil, preventing the sensation of pain. Other drugs hijack pleasure pathways and can become addictive, like Heroin. If Advil had been a common occurrence in our ancient diet, pain, which is evolutionarily good, would have grown to be produced by a different internal pathway. The goal of pharmaceutical research is to find chemicals that dance around our bodies' natural mechanisms and produce effects which it has not evolved to handle.

One of the most infuriating examples of an absolute moron believing this was Bob Marley. He had cancer of the toe and was advised to amputate the toe. He refused, citing some wacky religious beliefs. Then, as he was dying he finally sought treatment, before abandoning it in favor of holistic treatments that involved, you guessed it, dietary changes. We continue to see this absurd belief in people like Jenny McCarthy, who claims that food fixed her son's autism. This shows a shocking ignorance of both how food works and what autism is. I'll give you two guesses as to whether McCarthy is a vegan, too, but you'll only need one.

There is nothing magical in vegetables or fruits. Our bodies evolved to eat these things. Our body expects protein, and it gets protein. It then does what it does with protein. No hijacking takes place. Our body does many great things when we eat steak, cake, and Reese's Pieces. Just the same as our body does great things when it eats tofu, whole foods, and multivitamins.

There are many foods that can cause bad things when eaten over time: increased weight, triglycerides, bad breath; but what fixes that is not the addition of "curative" food, but by simply stopping consumption of the problem foods. Eating a hamburger every now and then is perfectly healthy, but eating two per day for a decade can kill you.

But even then, that doesn't always hold true. All dietary things exist on bell curves because everyone has different physiology. Some people can, in fact, eat two burgers per day for a decade and be fine. They don't gain weight and their blood chemistry remains within acceptable boundaries. This is because some bodies can do different things with the same food. To liken it to the way that different engines perform differently with the same gasoline isn't totally inaccurate.

There are a few chemicals that are found in food that may have medicine-like effects. They might lower cholesterol or decrease irritable bowel syndrome symptoms in non-dietary ways, but these connections are always slight. Drinking red wine might help with blood chemistry, but Advil will practically always cure headaches.

The perspective that food can act as medicine is the most culturally problematic nugget of pseudo-knowledge generated by the vegan/vegetarian movement. They give people the impression that eating a "detox" diet for a period of time will help flush out the residue of their ordinary life. There are no toxins. There is no residue. There is nothing wrong with you that food will cure.

2: A Vegan/Vegetarian Diet Is The Healthiest Diet.

Unfortunately for those who follow specific diets, all diets, if otherwise balanced and with good exercise levels, are more or less equal. The only diet that showed scientifically significant differences was a diet where a large chunk of animal protein came in the form of red meat. Namely, following said diet increased the likelihood of heart disease.

There is small evidence to support that the healthiest diet is one of an ovo-vegetarian, or someone who's animal protein comes in the form of eggs and no other meat. But this is thin evidence. The dietary benefits of fish are enormous, chicken is a lean, mean, protein-packing machine, and even the much-maligned red meat, when eaten in moderation, will cause little-to-no increase in health concerns. Again, the body is a wonderful thing and it will do wonderful things: building muscle, removing toxins, pooping; all of which will happen regardless of your diet.

Again, vegan/vegetarian supporters will jump on this and declare that meat is optional. That is true. But there are lots of things in our diets that are optional. The only reason for picking out meat is for, you guessed it, moral reasons.

That's not to say there are not specific physiological benefits to vegan diets. Truly, there are many people who find that for sporting events, vegan and vegetarian diets help them a great deal. Many distance and endurance runners are vegans and vegetarians. But as with everything I've mentioned, not all of them are. Many of them find an endless stream of hamburgers to be the best fuel for them.

That is the reason why when talking about this proponents have to use nebulous, non-technical terms like "wellness" and "toxins." They can't legally make any claims that this food or lifestyle will result in X. Are there many people out there for whom a vegan or vegetarian diet would be the healthiest choice? Yes, certainly. But there are just as many people who would do best eating grilled chicken all day.

With all that said, veg/veg diets can do some wonderful things. As I mentioned, there are some good reasons for going vegetarian and vegan. If you are having a hard time losing weight, a vegan or vegetarian diet can help you lose it. The "if" in this situation is a big one, though. You will lose weight if you maintain that diet. This is, again, true for all diets. There are many diets that will help you lose weight, but only if you maintain them for the rest of your life. Veganism and vegetarianism are no different.

In essence, that is the reason why I hate the staunchly pro-veg/veg movement: they claim amazing properties to the diet. This has effects on people who have no interest in the actual diet, but take bits and pieces of the claims and can thus be taken in by snake-oil cleanses and detox diets. The supposedly rational consumer is shockingly stupid sometimes. For example, the exploding market for gluten-free foods. Why? Because people think these foods are healthier than ordinary foods. Why? Because special gluten free foods are, in the grocery store, usually placed next to health bars and whatnot. This one isn't even up for debate. Gluten free is not in the slightest bit healthier than other types of foods, but people are vacuuming it up.

What's important is having a good, well-rounded diet that tastes good. If that happens to be vegetarianism, more power to you! But it can just as easily be a diet that involves all forms of meat. To espouse a veg/veg diet for purely moral reasons is ridiculous. For one thing, most people won't listen, and for another, advocating an ethical theory that includes all living things is impossible to support philosophically. Leave the morals at home and eat what you want.

P.S.

There are some tenable reasons for being a vegetarian based on environmental concerns. I find these arguments valid, if not entirely persuasive. I guess the ultimate point is that, if you decide to go veg/veg for environmental reasons, there is little with which I can argue.

Also, I did not discuss the Atkins diet, which while not endorsing anything moral, is just as silly as a vegan or vegetarian diet. What it does do wonderfully, though, is illustrate how diets on either end of the spectrum can show positive results in studies. All food is optional, because our bodies are wonderful things.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The whole toxin thing probably came from some person finding out from Dr. Google [Side Note: get references from a reliable source. IE: an educational institution. Rant ended.] that everyone's intestines do produce toxins due to the (much needed) bacterial population. REGARDLESS of diet, they do! Thanks to The Amazing Liver (which consist of the sexiest cells in the body) filtering out all of those toxins before reaching the rest of the body, you only have to worry about this if you do not have a liver. Which you would probably not worry about anyway because you may be already be dead.

I actually have no clue what a detox diet would mean. Does that mean getting rid of all the bacteria in your body? That is probably not good due to the fact that would probably kill you... or give you massive diarrhea. Both which are not fun.

I thought more gluten free foods were comming out to cater to a market of people that can not eat them due to a medical condition. Sad.

I thought one professor said that the Atkins diet has the possibility of giving someone Ketosis. Which means, without enought carbohydrates to turn into glucose (for cells to use as energy) the body makes ketones which kinda-of act the same way except the brain can not use this. Darn that brain! That is not a bad thing, right?

I totally agree with your article! I mainly replied to say this comment, "Go meat!" And, "I love meat/diary farmers!"

OH! You could also due an article on that new diet where people do not cook food (to add more nutrients or some crap like that). Stupid FDA with all there researched proper cooking temperatures for food! Who cares if I get E.coli, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, bla bla bla! Massive diarrhea is great, right?

[Note: Some of this response was said in an extremely sarcastic tone. Use accordingly.]

~Adina

Aaron MC said...

Anonymous/Adina,

Yep. Gluten-free's massive sales are entirely the result of a public that seems to consider them healthier... for no reason. Even G-F companies didn't know why their sales were going up!

I'm not entirely sure how the Atkins Diet is supposed to work. I think causing ketosis is actually the point. I don't get it. Just eat healthy food. Seriously, WTF?

Oh, and don't get me started on the raw-food movement. They take the whole corporate-hating concept to stunning new heights. They use the same terms as vegans whenever they try to sell things, since they can't legally claim anything quantifiable.

Anonymous said...

It makes me sad that religious/cultural-based veggie diets and laziness-based veggie diets aren't legit enough in your opinion, Aaron MC. No offense.

Like, I was raised Chinese Buddhist, and to this day dealing with all the bacteria and parasites, sharp and hard bones and shells, rancid or fishy smells, rubberiness due to overcooking, non-organic additives etc, still seems like way too much of a pain in the ass to deal with in the kitchen. Plus some of my wussier girlfriends went veg not for health or karma, but because of menstruation squicks, lol. Oh well

Aaron MC said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment.

I hadn't even thought of or addressed the possible other motivations to vegetarianism or veganism. I did make a sort of catch-all statement at the beginning, saying that there are many possible reasons for following the diet. Perhaps I should have expanded upon this. I did not mean to disregard other motivations.

My primary beef (pun not intended) is with those who argue diets for moral reasons. While this is semi-applicable for religious reasons, there are many people who follow religiously prescribed diets not for expressly moral reasons, but simply because that's what they do.

If those people try to call me a bad person for eating my food, then all of my criticisms apply. But, to date, I have never been attacked for my diet by a religious person.

Moreover, if one is espousing religious reasons, it's not simply the diet, it's the entire way of life. The diet is only a small part of the practices. My focus was on those where diet becomes the focus.

The reason why I specifically addressed environmental issues in the postscript is that those are reasons which are semi well-founded and could theoretically apply to everyone.

Anonymous said...

you're an idiot, good thing no one reads this shit. But hey, that's the internet; you always got to filter out the crap!

Aaron Martin-Colby said...

Actually, this is one of my most popular posts with nearly 5,000 views.

Anonymous said...

Can you speak while you are sitting? You appear to be talking out your ass.

Aaron Martin-Colby said...

Ha! I like that. I'm writing that one down.

What part sounds like it's coming from my ass?