A Reader Responds to My Berkshire’s Best Column

I recently received a letter from a reader of my Berkshire’s Best Column.  I thought, if one person feels this way, perhaps there are other readers who feel similarly and so I’m replying publicly, just in case!  His letter appears in italics and I responded in between paragraphs so that I might address each issue as it appears.  What do you think?!

Ms Huebner,

I’ve long noted that advocates make terrible scientists, they see what their ideology (or religion) makes them see.

I must comment on your recent Healthy Living column in Berkshire Best. Simply this: humans are omnivores, our teeth proves it. It is not possible to be a vegan and healthy. You cannot get enough protein without processed soy protein, which has other nasty side effects, including being estrogenic.

Ok, let’s pause right here.  First, soy contains phytoestrogens, aka plant estrogens, which are not the same as the estrogens present in human bodies.  Flax seed and other oilseeds; pistachios, almonds, sunflower seeds contain the most phytoestrogens, followed by beans which include soybeans as well as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, etc, as well as most vegetables, some fruits and grains.  Phytoestrogens are in so many healthy whole foods you’d be hard pressed (and very hungry!) if you wanted to avoid consuming them.  Tempeh is a fermented whole food and is an awesome source of plant protein as is quinoa and all legumes.

I agree that processed soy protein, like all processed foods, can have bad side effects and is not something I would recommend anyone eat.  A diet of whole foods: vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains and proteins with as few processed and fractured foods as possible is the best place to start.  I coach my clients to figure out what foods to eat and in what amounts based on their unique needs at this time in their life.  A 19 year old college student that spends most of their time studying is going have very different dietary needs from a 30 year old farmer or a post menopausal woman in her 50’s.  Our diet needs to be flexible and changeable based on what our body is asking for not on one specific dietary theory.  I have eaten a vegan diet, a vegetarian diet, a junk food vegetarian diet and now a plant based diet which includes small amounts of local, healthy, animal protein as well as nuts, seeds, healthy plant fats and no refined anything.  That’s what works for me, right now.  And I expect that to change!

It is possible to be vegan and healthy if that’s what works for your body.  If eating animal foods works for you, sir, then good for you.  Making value judgments based on someone’s diet without any other information is not scientific.

I’m a scientist, longtime reader of Science News and research. Anthropologists now know all early humans were omnivores, and that humans could never have become intelligent if they were vegetarian. Moreover, all lifestyle diseases are due to modern agriculture. At least you appreciate that, advising readers to eat no grain. Grain-fed people become stupid and obese, just like grain-fed cows.

Yes, these abused sick cows that are being fed a diet that’s not natural (along with growth hormones and chemicals and drugs) is not something I have ever recommend anyone eat.  However I don’t actually advise people not to eat grain, I advise those with Candida or sugar addition to eat a low carbohydrate diet until their condition has stabilized.  Whole grains (except wheat, read this post for my thoughts on wheat) are an excellent source of fiber, fuel and even protein, go quinoa!  How much grain you include in your diet should be based on how you feel not on a conceptual philosophy.

Agriculture is only 10,000 years, but humans were intelligent long before that. Fantastic cave painting in France are 32,000 years old. But before modern agriculture it would be impossible to live on vegetables, you could never gather enough. The human brain takes 20% of our calories at rest. It was not possible before grain harvesting for humans to get enough vegetables to feed their large brains.

We became human only because we ate meat, or possibly fish and shellfish. One or the other, all anthropologists agree. Vegans can never be top athletes. I’m 61, 5’9″ 160 lbs. I daily walk 12 miles, or rollerblade 20 at 15 mph. That is impossible for vegans, insufficient muscle mass. And our nearest-relatives the chimps are omnivores and even cannibals. Humans are not naturally vegetarian, that issue is resolved for scientists.

My husband ate a vegan diet for years while training as a professional bike racer.  He rode a bike over 20,000 miles a year for 4 years in a row, competed in numerous grueling endurance races, and placed 18th in the 24 Hour Solo World Championship (riding over 250 miles and climbing over 26,000 vertical feet in 24 hours).  Saying ‘Vegans can never be top athletes.’ or ‘Vegans are unhealthy.’ is just as dangerous as any other stereotype.  Perhaps white people don’t always make the best dancers, but there are exceptions to every commonly held misconception about a group of people we view only from the outside.  I personally ate a vegetarian diet for 13 years (some fish, some soy, lots of beans and grains) and was able to reverse my Hashimotos Thyroiditis in part due to eliminating meat and dairy.  Each of us has a diet that’s right for us, right now. This is a concept known as bio-individuality and you can read more about it on my health coaching website. It’s important not to let ideas about what we should eat get in the way of what our bodies need to be healthy.  A vegan diet might be the answer for some while a diet of meat, bone broth and green veggies might be right for others.

Bill Walton now realizes that being a vegetarian led to his injuries and ruined his career.  Either you are an animal-rights advocate, or you advise people on their health. Please label your column accordingly. White protein is necessary, people who eat fish have less cancer than vegans. Care about people or animals, your choice.

I am an animal rights activist in that I support the consumption of animal foods ONLY if they come from humanely raised animals from environmentally conscious farms.  Conventionally raised meat and dairy, as I have said many times in my blog posts and publications, are ruining our environment, are incredible unhealthy as far as a working environment, and are totally inhumane.  Conventional animal ‘foods’ and, well, most conventional foods, especially processed convenience ‘food products’ are  making many of us Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (a great movie!).  Get your animal foods from a local farm you trust and eat only as much as you need.  Experiment with plant based protein sources and remember, excess meat and dairy consumption, beyond our bodies nutritional needs can lead to illness just as easily as not getting enough of the proper kind of protein for your body.  I advise everyone to figure out the diet that best suits them and to be open to making healthy changes!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bob Loblaw
    May 09, 2012 @ 14:49:46

    Excellent reply! I suspect that rigid dogma causes more health problems than it solves.


  2. Michelle
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 18:30:56

    I really appreciate this blog post, Amy! I think you made some excellent responses to many unfounded claims. Thank you.


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