Thoughts on The Plant Based diet

Recently there has been many media outlets that promote the idea of a plant based diet, often with the unspoken assumption that such a diet is healthier for humans than a diet based on animals. To me, using the phrase ‘Plant-based diet’ indicates that the user does not truly understand human nutrition. Let me explain. Let’s leave aside all ethical and potential environmental differences of eating meat. They are debatable, and a completely separate issue from what I am most concerned about, the effect on human health.  A plant based diet is not automatically a healthy diet. There are healthy plant based diets and there are horribly unhealthy plant based diets. So, the adjective ‘plant based’ to describe a diet is completely meaningless. It would be just as informative to base a diet on foods that have less than 4 syllables.

For example, a completely vegan diet may be composed mainly of white bread, jam, sugar, candy, donuts and potato chips. But it’s not healthy in any way, and I don’t think anybody will disagree with me about that. So the words ‘plant based’ has no relevance whatsoever with regards to whether a diet is healthy or not. It’s like saying that I hired a computer programmer because he’s really tall. Who cares? If I was putting together a basketball team, that would be relevant, but not for computer programming. So, if I tell somebody to eat a plant based diet, does it mean that it is a healthy diet? No. Does it mean that it’s unhealthy? No. It’s simply irrelevant. And that’s how you know that the person who is uttering these nonsensical statements simply does not understand nutrition.

Sometimes, the term ‘Whole Foods Plant Based’ diet are considered together. A whole foods diet, which is comprised of eating foods to as close to their natural form as possible is quite healthy. Whether they are based on plants or animals is just irrelevant. So a ‘Whole Foods’ diet is healthy, but the addition of ‘plant based’ does not add to its healthiness.

Let’s look at the top 10 sources of calories in the American diet. Most of the top 10 foods are recognizably poor choices. grain based desserts, soda, and alcohol are simply not that slimming or healthy. Yet, they are certifiably 100% plant based. Fully 6 of the top 7 choices of foods in America are plant based. Dairy products fall somewhere in the grey zone. They are not plant based, and neither are they meat based. Most pizzas are made with flour, tomato sauce and cheese. Yes, there is often some meat but pizza is still mostly plant, so can be considered plant based, although not vegetarian.

So here’s the thing that is really hard to understand. The Standard American Diet over the last 40 years, has obviously been a very bad one. It had lead to an epidemic of obesity, an epidemic of the closely associated type 2 diabetes, and even to rising rates of colorectal cancer. Yet it is almost purely plant based. So, if this horrible diet is a plant based diet, then why would health authorities be exhorting us to follow a ‘plant based’ diet? Does our boss yell “Why did you hire that really short computer guy?” My mind boggles at the utter insanity of the situation.

The situation is now pushed on mainstream media by many of the big food companies because of the incredible success of the fake meat companies. In hot pursuit of making a plant based diet easier to follow, we can now buy foods that are plant based but taste very similar to real meat. How did they perform this bit of chemical wizardry? Let’s look at the ingredients. Pea protein isolate? expeller-pressed canola oil? Yeast Extract? Modified Food starch?

Are these ingredients your grandmother would have recognized? Are they whole foods? What in the h*** are they extracting from the yeast, and do I really want to know? Peas are whole foods. Pea protein isolates are not. So let’s be clear that this is NOT part of a ‘Whole Food Plant Based’ diet.

I have nothing against veganism or vegetarianism. It is certainly possible to be healthy on such diets. It’s also possible to get really sick from such diets, even when followed to a T. Several high profile vegans on YouTube have recently been caught eating meat. The furor from their community was vicious. But the reasons are always the same. She did it to save her own health.

The reasons are fairly simple to understand. We are animals. Eating plants provides some of the essential nutrients, but not all. Therefore it is necessary to eat a variety of plant types to get all the essential nutrients. Some vitamins, like B12, are kind of tough to get in plants. Eating the flesh of animals provides almost everything our bodies require, because we are animals. That a simple scientific truth. The ethics and environmental cost of eating animals is not one that I want to debate, since there are no simple answers and tons of rancorous debates.

From a health perspective, we measure proteins in terms of biological value. This is the percentage of proteins that we eat which are incorporated into our bodies. A whole egg, for example has a stellar value of 100, where wheat gluten is down at 64. By combining various plants, like beans and corn, you can get a value close to that. This is why rice and beans is also such a classic combination.

Almost all human cultures have recognized that meat is more nutritious than vegetables, although usually harder and more expensive to obtain. This is why traditionally, special occasions call for a roasted animal such as a Hawaiin luau or killing the fatted calf, rather than a kale salad. We eat a Christmas ham or a Thanksgiving turkey rather than a Christmas bean salad.

So, it’s time to retire the meaningless phrase ‘plant based diet’. It’s neither meaningful nor useful. It merely marks the person uttering this horrific phrase as somebody who has not thought deeply about nutrition.

2019-09-03T15:02:30-04:0050 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Fung is a Toronto based kidney specialist, having graduated from the University of Toronto and finishing his medical specialty at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2001. He is the author of the bestsellers ‘The Obesity Code’ and ‘The Complete Guide to Fasting’. He has pioneered the use of therapeutic fasting for weight loss and type 2 diabetes reversal in his IDM clinic.

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matthk
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I too have no problem with folks choosing vegetarian or vegan diets if they work for them, but I do have a problem with busted science and myths many of the more extreme vegans – who I call ‘Veganistas’ – use to insist we should ALL be vegan. And I have a massive problem with the current use of the term ‘plant based diet’. This was coined to mask veganism and to make it sound more acceptable. The problem is, linguistically, grammatically, ‘plant based diet’ doesn’t MEAN what they want it to mean. Most folks following a quality Slow-Carb, Paleo,… Read more »

Ol' Will
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Ol' Will

What does a cow eat? What does a deer eat? What is the base diet of every animal eaten for food? Ultimately it’s plants. So I tell vegans that ALL diets are plant-based. If they want to talk to me, then call it what it is – a plants-only diet. Thanks for the new acronym, matthk: WFPO. Now, how do we get the Veganistas to be honest and start using it?

tuffy
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tuffy

yep!

Carolina
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Carolina

Dr Fung what is the best diet fora stable kidney failure patient stage 3 who isn’t diabetic and has just really low kidney function due to solitary displastic kidney? We tried vegan and his hemoglobin wa horrible, then introduced meat and other proteins as well as fat but the creatinine went slightly up, would keto help? Thank you!

Mo Martin
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Mo Martin

this is clearly a medical question which Dr Fung and associates have said they are unable to do here

Jake
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Jake

This was the stupidest report I’ve ever seen . No actual facts just redundant opinions .

Jennifer Diamond
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Jennifer Diamond

Beyond meat is pretty good. Should give a try.

Alice
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Alice

The list of ingredients on that product is worse than the one cited in this article.

Jennifer Davis
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Jennifer Davis

While this article is an interesting read I think a person whose main objective is to live a healthy lifestyle will educate themselves and make the most intelligent choice for them. There are great arguments and scientific facts for both side. It’s about educating yourself about food and nutrition and knowing how it effects the body. They are a lot of habits and emotions connected to eating and this could be why people make extreme choice in dietary changes. One of the more appealing aspects of the IDM is that you can eat in moderation whatever is healthy because your… Read more »

BernardP
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BernardP

The main element behind the propaganda in favor of non-animal diet… is the propaganda linking eating meat -» higher environmental impact of raising animals -» more greenhouse gases -» and yes, finally the ultimate bugaboo -». Man-made global warming and all the media hype it generates. Satellite data show average global temperatures have risen by 0,4°C over the last 40 years, but it’s impossible to say how much of this, if any, can be attributed to human activity. There have always been natural cycles in Earth’s temperature, as evidenced by the latest ice age which ended only 11,000 years ago,… Read more »

Jiva Jane Masheder
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Jiva Jane Masheder

The science is clear on climate change, no reputable scientists are now disputing this and sowing seeds of climate denial is a dangerous business. You’re there with Exxon and the Koch brothers protecting their own profits at the cost of mass extinction of species and extreme weather making this planet a much more difficult place to live. Some life will continue, for sure, but there will be a lot of loss and suffering along the way. Have a look at the Bahamas right now – a storm made worse by increased temperatures. And this is not the first time this… Read more »

tuffy
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tuffy

in fact, regenerative livestock grazing (which is the opposite of industrial animal systems), is a carbon and methane SINK, not a raiser of Carbon and methane. regenerative animal raising is very similar to wild animals, in that its methods mimics Nature. grazing fertilizes soils, stores carbon and methane in the SOIL where it should be, and helps grow more plants. regenerative farming, whether plants or animals is the way forward for long term sustainability for both the planet, the plants and animals, and for humans.
google Permaculture and Holistic Managed Grazing, two very effective regenerative methods. health for all!

Robin
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Robin

Do read “The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science” by Dr Tim Ball. Also the website – https://wattsupwiththat.com/. The science is definitely NOT clear nor settled. It’s been hijacked and corrupted. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. Science is all about enquiry; it is NEVER settled. Silencing other scientists who take a different view is censorship and a means to keeping the narrative alive for the IPCC, UN and the others in efforts for control of the world’s population. Read about Agenda 21. Their lot even admits it’s not about the climate. It’s the vehicle they’re using to force policy to… Read more »

Lucy
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Lucy

If people really cared about the environment and global warming, the first thing to do is go to nuclear power and stop driving. aka put in public transportation. Eating meat wouldn’t be the first thing. Plus why not kill all the cats and dogs to save the planet because the cats and dogs eat meat.

Jason
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Jason

I have always really valued Dr. Fung’s views and insight, but it blew my mind when I finished reading this article to find it was written by Dr. Fung. It seems very one-sided and frankly, shows ignorance in my opinion. It seems like you’re speaking to a very specific type of person, it would be much better if you’d clearly identify them instead of grouping all together. I’d also like to point out, that some of what you’ve listed as factual, is absolutely not. I really respect you Dr. Fung, but this makes the credibility meter go down a couple… Read more »

bob nail
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bob nail

Join check out “how not to Die on you tube – Dr. Gregor gives all the science behind what he preaches – the only diet to be proven to reverse heart disease is whole food plant based…

Lee
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Lee

Completely agree with you, I thought the same – was so disappointed by this article!
Bob Nail – love Dr Gregor, my go to for all things nutrition, great to see he now has some thorough info on fasting and Keto

Andrew Unander
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Andrew Unander

Dear Dr.

Have you heard of these herbs before? Bladderwrack, seamoss, burdock root?

Combined they make up all 102 minerals our bodies need.

On average vegans/vegetarians live longer..that must be some sort of mistake I guess

Donald King
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Donald King

Read the article again .You missed something. Did you not?

Tim
Guest
Tim

Yes, vegans tend to live about 6 to 8 years longer than general population, but not because they don’t eat meat. It is because most of the general population eat the top 10 sources of calories in the American diet, which are junk.
To really compare apples to apples we should compare vegetarians to low carb or keto people.

tuffy
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tuffy

however none of the longest lived people in the world are vegans or even vegetarians.

Nic L
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Nic L

Can you show me the studies which back up this comment that vegans/vegetarians live longer. TYIA

bob
Guest
bob

I cannot believe I was reading a medical professional’s comments. Please look again at your teeth and length of the intestine and let me know if they belong to a carnivore, omnivore, herbivore or fructivore? What then is a suitable diet for humans. I fully agree that commerce is aimed at the lazy who is looking for quick fixes and therefore manufacture and sell foods stripped of value. Pure whole grains fruits, nuts;, unprocessed foods are designed for humans.These lead to a healthy individual.

tuffy
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tuffy

i’m a veterinarian. i have dissected all animals–carnivorous, omnivorous, and herbivorous. i can tell you emphatically and very factually that humans most resemble an omnivorous GI system, from teeth to tail. if the choice must be made between herbivorous and carnivorous, we most resemble carnivores, specifically dogs, which are slightly omnivorous. (cats are more purely carnivorous.) these statements are based both on anatomy AND physiology–on both teeth type and function, and on the length AND function of the different parts of GI tract. we do not in ANY WAY resemble herbivores based on these characteristics. bob what you are saying… Read more »

Mo Martin
Member
Mo Martin

omnivore

Drifter
Guest
Drifter

Why would we need the teeth of a true carnivore when we have been using tools and fire to prepare animal foods for hundreds of thousands of years or more? Wolves and tigers need teeth to rip flesh with, we sharpen stones and make cutting tools.

Hally Tomasheski
Member
Hally Tomasheski

This is a great article Dr. Fung. I completely agree that eating foods in there most natural state is the best way to go, no matter what your plan.

Prashant Gokhale
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Prashant Gokhale

#Plantbased has become a trending hashtag. Like you said, it is irrelevant. It is a marketing gimmick – I had a plant based protein bar in the US recently at whole foods, that promised 10g of wholesome plant based protein, but delivered 12g of sugar in the process. It was not a protein bar as advertised but a sugar bar..Still #plantbased.

Rossita
Guest
Rossita

Dr Fung, please note: I have been vegetarian since birth, ie, there was never meat in my diet. I am 69 and still in excellent health. Furthermore, I have always been in super physical and mental condition, which I can only ascribe to the lack of meat. I value very much your work, but was a bit surprised that you have not yet arrived to the conclusion that eating meat is nothing but a nuisance. Probably, your traditional upbringing at play. Hoping, you will soon revise your opinion on this matter, because I am sure you will, given that you… Read more »

CAROL THWAITES
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CAROL THWAITES

Dear Rossita Not everyone must mirror your life journey to be healthy. I have been omniverous since birth, ie. there was always lots of meat in my diet as well as plants. I’m 60 and in excellent health. My physical condition is outstanding. I am pretty much mostly carnivorous (by choice) now and have never felt better. Eating meat is definitely not a nuisance for many of us. In fact, the veggies and salad things used to start wilting in my fridge because of my choices. I think, you may soon revise your opinion on this matter, given you are… Read more »

Rossita
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Rossita

Dear Carol, Thanks for sharing your views, but there might be a misunderstanding. I am not trying to persuade anyone. I was just trying to attract Dr Fung’s attention to something that might be of interest to his practice. I was just taking myself as an example of long life without meat. Many people think that they will just die or become severely incapacitated if they don’t consume their daily meat. This is obviously not the case. If Dr Fung shows interest to the subject, we may end up with some hard core scientific facts, and this may help many… Read more »

Adejumoke Makanju
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Adejumoke Makanju

Yeah!! Thanks again for the education.

Dawn
Guest

My thoughts exactly! And at age 61 I’ve explored just about every way there is to eat or fast. But eating has become politicized and almost cult-like these days. Questioning the “plant-based” diets tends to bring a lot of backlash. Even with perfectly rational fact-based discussions people just glaze over when I tell them those meat analogues are NOT healthy or even real “food” any more than the old Velveeta cheese was. I’ve just given up bringing the subject up. But then again, intermittent fasting and eating real food and bone broths is turning my health around…weight coming off so… Read more »

Robbie
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Robbie

Elephants are animals………and they do very well on a ‘whole food plant based diet!’

Hans Markowski
Guest
Hans Markowski

If you look at our teeth and intestines men is not supposed to eat meat. We are plant and fruit eaters. As simple as that.

Mo Martin
Member
Mo Martin

I am assuming you have canine teeth as well as incisors?

Lucy
Guest
Lucy

humans are omnivores..fruit is considered a plant food.

Tom M
Guest
Tom M

The food list dates back to 2010. I wonder if anything has changed in almost 9 years?

Donna
Guest
Donna

I agree plant based diets are not necessarily healthy. This is the same as the truth that not all meat eating diets are necessarily healthy. That aside, I’ve been a vegetarian for 37 years. I never liked meat. Never enjoyed it and stopped eating it as soon as I could. I would LOVE more information about peoples’ challenges and successes eating IF with vegetarian diet. I purchased a recipe book on vegan Keto diet, but there were tons of flaxseeds (which taste fishy to Me) and other odd ingredients I just didn’t feel I would adopt. Some people naturally don’t… Read more »

Morgaine Swann
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Morgaine Swann

Thank you, Dr. Fung. I’m sick of hearing the term “plant-based” and I’m tired of vegans and vegetarians using science from the 1970s to criticize meat-eaters. Regenerative farming practices actually reduce carbon and there are few foods more nutrient-dense than beef. I’ve lost 100 pounds this year eating a meat-heavy ketogenic diet and I don’t plan to quit. I do use grass-fed and finished, ethically raised beef when I can because I think all factory farming, whether for animals or crops like wheat, soy and corn, which are probably not natural in the human diet, is harmful to the environment.… Read more »

Fern
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Fern

I think you touch on an important point that is not brought up enough. The environmental impact is not as simple as some people try to make it. If I eat locally raised organic grass fed beef, I would say that is more environmentally friendly than peaches flown in from Chile that were raised using copious pesticides. Just as both diets have the potential for healthy and unhealthy components, they have the potential for environmentally friendly and unfriendly components.

Lee Tom
Member
Lee Tom

The statements made about what someone following a Whole Foods Plant Based diet eat are simply wrong, as a WFPB follower I do not include refined sugar or processed food, this includes the fake meats referred to in this article. I appreciate that some may think they are being WFPB and eating these things, but they are not, and should not be used undermine a sound eating plan. Yes, B12 is an issue for WFPB’rs but you can supplement, and the negative connotations of doing so are far outweighed by the impact of eating animal products for health, environment and… Read more »

Orion11
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Orion11

Indian Vegetarian diet includes milk along with plant based food. Here mostly we use wheat flour milled in front of us. Though the diet does have some negatives but am sure that can be rectified. Many combinations are complete proteins like rice-dal, Idli-sambhar. I would say the diet is whole food diet as it is directly cooked from raw grain, moreover now less polished versions of rice and legumes are also available.
I think before negating the plant based diet, indian diet needs to be understood fully.

bob nail
Guest
bob nail

My A1c last January was 7.8 land my doctor sent wanted to put me on drugs – I did some research and found Dr. Fung and went on a healthy Keto diet, My blood sugars came down but not my cholesterol levels. I switched to a whole food plant based diet – three months later my A1C was 6.0 and my cholesterol level also dropped – now off statins, two BP medications gone and a bmi 0f 22. For my body whole food plant based works. I resect Dr. Fung and what he is doing but I like the science… Read more »

JK Mann
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JK Mann

I’m currently eating a whole foods vegan breakfast and lunch, with meat at dinner. I’m losing weight and have greatly reduced snack and sugar cravings. I’m not advocating for this approach, but it’s working really well for me.

Lee Tom
Member
Lee Tom

I wouldn’t normally comment on articles but I am so appalled by this misleading article that I felt compelled to. Whole Food Plant Based and Vegan diets are very different, yes one does allow you eat refined sugar and processed foods, such as those fake meat mentioned above, but this is not a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet. Someone following a WFPB diet would not be eating the items listed above, and for Dr Fung to imply that as a group they do is undermining the lifestyle choice of WFPB’rs. All this article does is perpetuate myths created by people… Read more »

Jackie Zimmerman
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Jackie Zimmerman

I enjoy these blog posts and find them informative, however, I also respectfully disagree with this post. I believe you can interpret “plant-based diet” in a number of different ways. Quoting Michael Pollan’s statement, “eat food, mostly plants,” which was in reference to eating whole fruits and veg and not white bread, highly processed veggie burgers, or sodas. Yes, soda can be technically called plant-based, but who are we kidding, it is not real food and is far removed from an actual plant. A plant-based diet is a much friendlier label to those wishing to eat less meat, but who… Read more »

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

I’ve been a vegetarian since 1990 and became vegan about 8 years ago. I mainly switched because of all the hormones, pesticides and antibiotics given to the animals we get our dairy from. I can see Dr Fungs point on the Plant Based Diet. I myself have wondered about the purity/safety of these vegan meats. If health whole food diet means to stay away from processed foods then this would mean those vegan meats (Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger). Truth is a pure Whole Foods diet takes time to prepare and in today’s society who has the time? But if… Read more »

patrick daugharty
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patrick daugharty

“The ethics and environmental cost of eating animals is not one that I want to debate, since there are no simple answers and tons of rancorous debates.” I think that is an issue we all have to face sooner or later. Everyone on the planet can’t all eat the standard American diet (SAD). The planet can’t support the environmental damage we are doing and still have a livable planet. As far as ethics, everyone really needs to do some soul searching. Meat consumption is a learned behavior or we would eat dogs and cats like some societies. Animals feel pain… Read more »

Elbow
Guest
Elbow

If the default diet is plant-based whole food, where following this diet reverses heart disease, then this diet is superior because it includes all the positive socio-environmental benefits. How many other renowned doctors in our modern era who’ve also read the studies, and have applied these teachings to their own thousands of patients have not only reversed heart disease, but have done the same work as Dr. Fung WITHOUT fasting, and WITHOUT the use of animal meat? The results speak for themselves. I wish Dr. Fung would endorse what others like Esselstyn, Greger, McDougall, et. al. have proven, and just… Read more »