A Third Way: A Healthy Truce Between Omnivores And Vegetarians

To eat meat or not eat meat, that is the question. One might expect a simple path to answer this question would be to look at ancient history and determine what we are “supposed” to eat. Cows eat grass and lions eat meat; so where do we fit in? The quick and dirty answer is we are omnivores or creatures who can eat animals and plants in varying proportions. The omnivore category of animals is so flexible that humans could, in theory, push the envelope and be creatively vegan in the future. Hence the current debate and the question posed here in the beginning. There are many reasons to consider vegetarianism; health, ethics, environment, and religion to name a few. This article mainly addresses the health concern. The nutritional gurus on each side fight vehemently for their cause but the reality is they agree on plenty. This article does not propose to answer this conundrum for you, but rather provides the solid middle ground between the polarized opposites so you can adjust your diet accordingly. If you follow the advice at the end of the article, you will be following the nutritional guidelines of BOTH sides of the argument, and you can at least rest assured that much of what you do is healthy, even if you are still not sure if that steak is good for you or not.

Unfortunately our ancient past does not privy us to a simple answer. Of course it is difficult to determine what an average human ate 10,000 years ago. Our best chance is to approach indigenous societies who have completely or mostly resisted the flood of modernization and see what their diets constitute. The picture painted from the collation of data of these societies is rather like a Jackson Pollak painting, however this is not necessarily a bad thing. It means that the data suggests the human alimentary system is malleable to wide fluctuations in meat and vegetable consumption depending on a variety of factors. The following are four popular traditional cultures that vary from heavily meat eating to barely touching meat.


G. Edward Griffin was one person who drew attention to the Hunza people for their practice of eating most fruit seeds. The seed of importance was apricot seeds, which in his book A World Without Cancer he shows that many seeds (including apricot) have a bitter plant constituent known as amygdalin that could have anti-cancer properties 1). Indeed, these seed eating people had no incidences of cancer until very recent times as their diet has changed. They ate a diet rich in unprocessed whole grains, plenty of fresh vegetables, beans, grapes, mulberries, apricots and other fresh fruits. Some meat would be eaten only for special circumstances and not as a daily dietary component. 2)


The people of traditional Okinawa, Japan ate a diet highly focused on plants with marginal to little animal product consumption mainly during holidays. This created a diet composition of very low fat, moderate protein, and very high carbs. Their diet was simple. A whopping 69% of their diet came from sweet potatoes. 30% came from vegetables. The rest were very small amounts of fish, berries, soy, pork and barley.3) As modernity presses it ugly head into the fray, however, the sweet potato consumption has waned and rice has significantly increased.


The Maasai people of East Kenya have a dramatically high animal content in their diets. Dr. Weston Price observed that they consumed almost all of their animal products raw; meat, milk and even the blood. Blood was prized and either milk or blood is drank every day 4). They also eat a small amount of fruits and vegetables. Incredibly, Dr. Price (and others) found hardly any evidence of health concerns considered endemic to modern populations, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Despite the very high fat, high protein, and low carb diet, tests show that their cholesterol levels were significantly lower on average to a typical American. As time has passed, the Maasai have slowly added grains to their diet.

Native American

Animal products were at the core of Native American diets, comprising more than 50% of their consumption. This created a composition of very high fat, moderate protein, and moderate carbs. Based on writings from settlers interacting with Native Americans, we can see that Native Americans ate a mostly wild diet with a few staple crops such as corn and beans being intentionally cultivated 5). They ate every and all animals within their grasp. Rabbits, squirrels, buffalo, moose, elk, caribou, deer, a plethora of birds and fish. Particularly sought after was the fat from each animal. Not only did it provide adequate taste to a meat meal, they would store extra fat and use it for cooking later on. They would eat fruits ( largely wild berries) and vegetables (artichokes, cactus, potatoes, medicinal herbs) but not nearly in the proportion of eating animals. Today this diet is not seen hardly at all. Many Native Americans struggle with the food provided on reservations which is following USDA guidelines, namely the opposite composition typical for Native Americans; low fat, moderate protein, high carb.

Our Diets are flexible

The results suggest that humans adapt to their environment and eat what is available. From the high protein, high fat diet of the Inuit, to the high carb, low fat diets of the Hunza and others, each display healthy physical forms. Even in the famous China Study, one of the outliers in the data, a group of people in Tuoli, consisted of people who ate predominately dairy, wheat, and meat…and they faired quite well on a total health score 6). So the sampling above suggests humans can be healthy incorporating some meat into their diet or not, depending on vegetable protein availability, cultural traditions, genetic dispositions, and much more.

Indeed, there is a spectrum of published nutritional gurus in the public view that also display the full range of dietary suggestion; from animal based high fat, high protein, low carb to vegetable based low fat, low protein, high carb and some options inbetween. Six of the top leading gurus (and this term is not meant in a derogatory manner) are profiled below in order of animal based nutrition to plant based nutrition. Note that all of these people advocate the eating of vegetables. What is meant by “animal based nutrition” is that they consider consuming animal products (organs most definitely included) as fundamental to their health but not the sole aspect of their diet. People falling on the spectrum of “vegetable based nutrition” are those who say animal products are NOT fundamental to their diet and subsequently their health. The further down the spectrum, the most acute this philosophy is applied in their published dietary plans.

Animal based nutrition advocates, AKA The Meaty Three (strongest to weakest)

The Weston Price Foundation is furthest on the spectrum towards advancing animal based nutrition and minimizing most carbohydrates (except ancient techniques for preparing bread and grains). They find no value in the vegetarian diet and consistently write journal articles attempting to debunk vegetarian mainstays such as soy, heavy fruit intake and the carb heavy diet.

Next would be Chris Kresser, L. Ac who advocates a Paleo template. This means he is high animal fat, high animal protein, but he is variable on the level of starchy vegetables depending on how your body reacts, and therefore is carb low/moderate.

Last is Dr. Mercola, DO, who quit his practice to provide his professional opinion freely on the internet to interested laypersons. A former vegetarian, Dr. Mercola highlights the research of William Wolcott who shows that humanity likely has 3 metabolic types; protein type, carb type, and a mix. It is advantegous for people to find their type and adjust their macronutrient ratios accordingly. Thus, Dr. Mercola is advocating a nutrition model that is dependent on how each person responds to foods and completely accepts the possibility that someone's body does not do well with meat. Although merely skimming his work will reveal he is blatantly in favor of animal based nutrition. He sits closer to the middle because of his flexibility to acknowledge the vegetarian possibility.

Plant based nutrition advocates (weakest to strongest)

Jon Barron has written a book titled Lessons From the Miracle Doctors and provides this book free of charge on his website. In that book he has a chapter on human physiology wherein he lays out the case that our gastrointestinal system is not like that of an herbivore, nor is it like that of a carnivore. It mostly resembles that of an omnivore, particularly monkeys who eat about 5% of their diet from animals. Based on the GI tract information and the shape of our skull and teeth, he advocates a mostly vegetable diet but allows very small amounts of fish and healthy game meats in the diet.

David Wolfe is wildly popular throughout vegetarian and vegan crowds. He advocates a vegan diet but acknowledges that things like raw sushi, raw butter, and raw milk could be good options for people (but he has slight problems with each). As you can see from the following, he prefers food raw over cooked. His most novel information comes from exotic foods from around the world that have yet to be plundered by the food industry. He also is a medicinal mushroom expert.

Dr. McDougal is the furthest down the line, who advocates not only a vegan diet (and no room for any animal nutrition whatsoever), he also advances the concept of “whole foods” to the extreme. Things like olive oil and coconut oil are avoided because it is not the whole food. Since you almost always need oil for cooking, he has people use the oven instead of the stove. Dr. McDougall is known for writing about fanciful ideas of how human taste works. He is known for saying that the reason humans like a juicy hamburger isn't the taste of the meat but the bun, tomato, pickles, and other vegetable toppings associated with it.

There are probably hundreds of gurus on the blogosphere advocating some variation of these well known dietary philosphies. The essence of this article is to point out that while there is a firm line between most of them in terms of the question of animals, they actually agree on quite a bit. Identifying what ALL of these gurus agree upon creates the foundation of a healthy, third way in the process of determining whether or not to eat meat. Whatever your choice, if you follow these universally agreed upon rules you can give yourself the best chance for future health.

Eat Whole Foods

Price, Kresser, Mercola, Barron, Wolfe and McDougal all advocate a whole foods diet to some degree. In other words, when it is possible you should eat the entire food. Does the vegetable or meat have edible skin on it? Then eat it. This goes for potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. The Meaty Three also highly stress the consumption of organ meats to balance the eating of muscle meat. They even use the bones in soup broths (i.e. using the whole animal). This point is not understated. Eating only muscle meat is an unbalanced dietary plan and vegetarians are right to suggest that it probably causes some problems in human health. McDougal is the most extreme in that he identifies vegetable oils, like traditionally loved-by-doctors-everywhere olive oil, as a processed food with the oil removed from the olive fruit, and as such not a whole food.

Avoid Processed Foods

All six gurus profiled strongly harp the negative effects of eating processed foods. A processed food is one that has been changed or somehow manipulated to suit the needs of shelf life or the industrial process of selling food. For instance, the Meaty Three all advocate milk if and ony if it is unpasteurized and unhomogenized. A process that helps dry goods “maintain freshness” (a true misnomer) are preservatives like potassium sorbate. A good rule of thumb is that if it comes in a cardboard or plastic package and from the center of the grocery store, it probably is processed. There are a plethora of blogs out there that provide homemade ways to replicate all that is sinful in the junk food world. If you wish you follow a healthy diet consider googling some of these options and make tasty treats from fresh ingredients to be on the side of all health enthusiasts.

Quality over Quantity

All six gurus stress the importance of the quality of your food. You are what you eat! They all advocate gaining as much information as possible before purchasing your food. It might feel good for your pocket book to buy 18 eggs for $1.29 at Target, but it will feel even better to get eggs actually from a farm. The levels of beta carotene and omega 3 fatty acids are drastically different in conventional hen raising versus pastured hens. The Meaty Three all recognize health reasons to be concernee about the state of the meat industry, even if you ignore the cruel and inhumane treatment of the animals before their slaughter. Raising chicken and cows in such horrid conditions leads to unhealthy cows. Do you think its a good idea to eat lots of an unhealthy organism? Even if you have to purchase less because of the cost, you will do yourself and the animals a favor by choosing quality over quantity.

The difference between fresh, organic asparagus and canned asparagus is immense. Just ask your taste buds! Generally, fresh should always come first. If not fresh, frozen. The same rule of information applies to fruits and vegetables as well. If a food producer will tell you only that it is asparagus from New York and nothing else, they probably aren't proud of their growing methods. Find a company (or a farmer) who will gladly tell or show you how they grow their food and why. Transparency in food allows you to make informed choices for the best options.

Fresh Vegetables and Fruits

All six gurus support eating fresh vegetables and fruits. I say vegetables first because they all agree more vegetable matter should be eaten in comparison to fruit matter. The Meaty Three prefer to limit the fruits to low sugar varieties and they hate fruit juice, but none of them suggest we are carnivorous in our disposition. Again, they all emphasize eating fresh as opposed to canned goods. While it is true most of the main micronutrients stay within canned food, research has shown the sooner you eat your food since it has been picked, the higher the quantity of phytonutrients will be in your vegetable. There are hundreds of phytonutrients (e.g. lycopene) and we are only at the tip of the iceberg with understanding and categorizing them all, but their benefit to you is only if you get them from the earth fresh.

If you were feeling uncomfortable about your indecision on whether or not to eat meat, follow the following rules COMPLETELY and you will be on solid ground either way.

1. Eat whole foods 2. Avoid processed foods 3. Quality over quantity 4. Eat fresh vegetables and fruit

It may be challenging at first, so consider setting up a two week challenge and STICK TO IT. The blogosphere is great for new recipes and ideas so use resources wisely.

Diet | Food

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