What would happen if we started eating a diet that our body was designed for? This simple question has been the root of a lot of thought for me over the past few weeks. Kip Andersen explored this idea in the popular documentary “What The Health,” which if you haven’t watched yet I strongly urge you do so. He provided evidence on a number of levels that clearly shows the human anatomy is not meant to survive on a carnivorous (meat based) diet, but instead on one of an herbivore (plant and fruit based). Digestive disorders and issues - Celiac disease, IBS, Crohn’s disease, heartburn, constipation - have been on the rise, and this has a lot to do with what we are putting into our bodies and how our bodies are reacting to those choices. We aren’t just what we eat, but what we digest.
Let’s get down to the basics for a moment. While many of us enjoy a carnivorous or omnivorous (plant and meat based) diet, and have since our early childhood, the fact of the matter is that humans anatomically fit what a true herbivore is. William C. Roberts, MD in the Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, describes the clear differences and what categorizes us as such: appendages that are hands or hooves (not claws), teeth that are mainly flat for grinding (not sharp for ripping), an intestinal tract that is long - in fact 9x our body length (not short or 3x the body length), a body cooling system that is done by sweating (not panting), and by drinking fluids via sipping (not lapping). The most important and descriptive aspect of a carnivorous anatomy that an herbivore is lacking is the short intestine, as meat will putrify in the gut unless it is moved through the system quickly. Thus, simply put, as herbivores we as humans are not scientifically meant to consume a meat based diet.
We learn early on that our closest living relatives are chimpanzees, but what I personally didn’t take into account was what a chimp’s diet looks like. It is made up primarily of plants (97%)! I also found it interesting to learn that the largest, strongest terrestrial animals are all herbivores, including: elephants, rhinos and gorillas. Our society has ingrained this protein-by-meat obsession into our minds, and that the more protein you intake the stronger you will be. The majority of Americans today get double the amount of protein that is actually needed, and only half of the recommended amount of fiber. So fiber in fact is what we should really be making our number one priority, not to mention that grains, beans and plants are all loaded with protein. There is nothing you can get from meat that cannot be obtained from something else plant based.
While switching to more of a plant based diet is something to consider (if you haven’t already), there are also a number of other things to keep in mind to aid the digestive process. Even if we’re eating the healthiest and most organic options out there, we have to be sure we are digesting it properly. Kimberly Snyder, a nutritionist and best selling author, points out a few way in which we can do this. First, chew more! Most of us rush through a meal while driving to work or watching the TV, but chewing more mixes your food with saliva to aid the digestive process. You not only will get full faster (on way less food), but swallowing large chunks is harmful for the body which has to waste copious amounts of energy and enzymes to then break it down. Second, prepare yourself for eating by relaxing your brain and body. Proper digestion is dependent on our total state of being; not only the physical aspect but our mind, emotions and environment as well. Finally, be conscious of your food before eating and ask yourself: Where did this come from? How was it nourished and grown? What was used in the process?
Each year, there are more than 104 million visits to the doctor regarding digestive issues. That’s a cost of about $10,816,000,000.00 per year (kimberlysnyder.com) - that’s a lot of zeros. If we all continue to stay curious and educate ourselves, caring about our health will develop into action and we can start to change these numbers. Our diet is something we can control, and with so much riding on what we put into our body, and how effective that is on our health, I can only hope more people start to take note. Will I personally give up eating meat forever? Honestly, I’m not certain. You know how much I love a good burger. However, I am without a doubt going to put more effort into eating cleaner to get in touch with my herbivore roots, and paying attention to where my food is coming from.
Overall, eating (and drinking) a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies feeds our gut good bacteria and helps us thrive. It also helps soothe our gut and contains a ton of nutrients with other digestive benefits (like bromelain found in pineapple). As Michael Reilly, frequent TJL blogger and Foodwaze co-founder, states: “There really is only one diet that works: the human diet. Eat real foods that exist in nature.” So forget the studies, let’s focus more on what we as humans were built to consume anatomically and what is organically available all around us each and every day.