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Veganism

– Manogna Rachapudi – @miss.monbon

Once in a blue moon, when 13 werewolves howl at the sky, and the hair on Ryan Gosling’s neck stands up at a 17 degree angle, I walk into a gym and even before I make it to the elliptical I am bombarded with posters and people trying to sell me protein in various iterations; from powders, drinks, to even enhanced cheeses. On this particular occasion, my curious self decided to engage in small talk with one of these vendors, a woman who we’ll call Karen, and not even thirty seconds into our conversation, she was astonished. 

I had told her that I grew up a vegetarian and recently switched to a vegan diet. I explained that the reason for my switch wasn’t for weight loss or anything like that, rather a healthier lifestyle change. She replied to this by saying something that I have heard countless times in my life, “HoW dO yOu GeT yOuR pRoTeIn?” I would love to inform you, that all my life I have been in excellent health, and in no deficit of any vital nutrients like iron or protein, but when I got home, I figured that enough was enough and that the next time I went to the gym, I was going to have a comeback.

So, here goes: Burning the empty calories of popular beliefs about diets and  understanding where these myths actually come from.

When it comes to our diet, it seems as though everyone has something to add, but sometimes the fiction persists and the facts are dismissed. When early human remains were discovered a couple decades ago, the stone tools and bones that littered the area made scientists believe that they relied mostly on meat for energy. 

According to Dr. Christina Warinner, an Archaeological Geneticist of Max Planck Institute, because plants decompose rapidly compared to animal bones or rocks, scientists based their conclusions only on what remained. Recent discoveries of plant macrofossils, however, paint a very different picture. These macrofossils were found near these human remains and even more abundantly inside of them, indicating a primarily vegetarian diet. 

Dr.Christina also adds that “Humans do not have any specialized genetic, anatomical, or physiological adaptations to meat consumption. By contrast, humans have longer digestive tracts than typical carnivores indicating maximum vitamin absorption ideal for digesting plants; and trichromatic vision as opposed to the dichromatic vision of carnivores to identify ripe fruit ready to eat.” When compared with the carnivores of the biosphere, we simply don’t share enough adaptations. When looking at the bare facts of evolutionary science, meat is simply not the food of humans. 

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Another major myth, especially in American culture is the importance of protein and the dread of carbs. From vendors at local gyms to fitness advertisements on TV, people are constantly trying to sell us protein, which makes sense. Alas, if we’ve learned anything in ninth grade biology, its that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, and that muscles are made of protein, so to build muscle we need to eat protein right? Wrong. 

According to Gail Butterfield PhD, if over 30% of the calories one consumes are from protein, ketones–a toxic breakdown product of fat–could build up. To flush these ketones out of the body, the kidneys must filter faster and dehydration could occur causing loss of muscle mass and bone calcium while also putting stress on the kidneys and heart. 

Dr. James Loomis, the former team physician of the St. Louis Rams, expands on this by restating that Carbohydrates, specifically in the form of Glycogen stored in muscles are the primary energy compounds. He also stated that when Carbohydrate calories are replaced with protein calories, it could cause chronic glycogen depletion which would then lead to chronic fatigue and loss of stamina the opposite of what was thought to occur. 

Susan I Barr andCandice A. Rideout both PhD’s supported his statement and state that the source of the protein itself is irrelevant as long as intake of amino acids is sufficient, and amino acid makeup hardly differs between plant and animal protein. 

A more recent belief that has hit the streets is hormonal imbalances caused by soy, which might I add is not an ingredient found exclusively in the Vegan and Vegetarian diet, rather something we see in almost every store bought food we consume from tofu and tempeh to margarine and cereal. 

According to Debra Rose Wilson PhD and Lana Burgess, plant-based protein sources such as soy contain phytoestrogens which have a similar chemical build up to estrogen causing the bodies receptors to attach to phytoestrogen and dismiss the estrogen. Although phytoestrogen does act similar to the actual hormone, the effects are far weaker and do not last as long. 

Soy, contrary to belief, actually benefits the body in many ways and numerous accredited dieticians recommend it as an alternative protein for people who cannot consume animal products for medical reasons such as hypo-glycemia. 

It remains true that everyone from your next door neighbor to random strangers on the street have a very divisive opinion on what you should or shouldn't be eating. To truly understand the truth, we need to ditch mommyblog340 and refer to actual scientific studies. When talking about whether or not one can get all the necessary nutrients from a plant-based diet, it is clearly proven true, but that begs the question: where did these myths come from anyway?

The root of the belief that animal protein is superior to plant protein can be traced back to German chemist Justus Von Liebig. He hypothesized in the 1800s that muscular energy can only come from animal protein, and effectively stated that a plant based diet would render a person incapable of prolonged exercise. His ideas were so widely accepted that the USDA based its first protein recommendation on them. Despite his theories being disproved by science a few years later, many companies had already quite literally cashed in on the statement that meat meant energy. 

When tobacco was first discovered to be carcinogenic, consumption and demand slowly declined while meat consumption slowly increased. When The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was passed in 1969, and advertising tobacco products on American television was officially banned, there was a void left in advertising for another industry to takeover, and the meat and dairy industry stepped in. Consumption rates that were slowly rising, peaked and grew exponentially at that point according to the USDA. From then on, what was essentially propaganda for eating meat began gracing the silver screen. Advertisements by notable franchises such as Burger King, McDonalds, Hillshire Farms, Wendy’s etc. began feeding on toxic masculinity by spreading messages such as, “Meat is what a man eats” and “Are we not men?” next to heavily altered pictures of double and triple hamburgers. 

This propaganda fueled the belief that meat makes a man, and women also began to eat meat almost as rebellion in the notion that “even a woman can eat meat and gain strength.” This vicious message soon engrained itself into American culture, and the meat that was consumed three to four times a week three decades ago, was being consumed multiple times a day for every meal, according to the Sundale Research group. 

Corporate greed and popular misconception led to long term integration of animal products into our culture, when it remains proven that a plant-based diet is no less than the other, and is in fact proven by evolutionary science to be ideal for Homo Sapiens. 

To expand even further, a plant-based diet is much more sustainable for the environment and considered superior for ethical purposes, but that’s a conversation I must have with Amber who was trying to sell me pancetta at Whole Foods.

But to the Karen’s out there trying to sell me protein and telling me that the reason I am always tired is not because I am inexplicably lazy, but because I don’t eat chicken; thank you very much but I believe Mother Nature has got me covered. 


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