As we have studied in the last two articles, God originally created humans to be vegans. Over time, and after sin entered into the world, humans began to eat dairy and meat products. However, when we reviewed the anatomy of the human digestive system, it resembles the digestive system of an herbivore—an animal that only eats plants—and is able to derive all the nutrients necessary from a plant based diet. Although many humans choose to eat a wide variety of plant and animal foods, and have the capability of deriving nutrients from both plant and animal foods, earning us the dubious title of “omnivore,” we are still anatomically herbivorous. As we learned, despite the ability to obtain nutrients from animal foods, the consumption of meat and dairy comes with a cost; that is, these foods are not consumed without impacting the digestive system and overall health in a negative way.
Many people also claim that humans need to consume meat and dairy; that the nutrients humans need cannot solely come from a plant-based diet. As we looked into the Paleo diet, its premise is that man’s survival was based on many millennia of eating a diet based in meat, thus this is the diet he should be eating even now for the survival of the species. Those who believe in creation know that man was created by God to be vegan. Would God change the needs of the human who was the crowning glory of His creation because he fell into sin? One would think that it would be even more important to adhere to man’s original diet, as sin causes the human body to deteriorate; therefore, adhering to God’s diet plan would preserve the human body against the ravages of a sin-sickened creation.
The premise that man needs to eat animal products is easily proven incorrect, based on anecdotal and scientific evidence. Lifelong vegans exist, and are typically healthier than their non-vegan counterparts. Science and nutrition experts have also confirmed the fact that a vegan diet is healthy and able to provide all the nutrients that a human body needs.
When we consider the nutritional needs of humans, what exactly does a human body need, in order to function, to stay healthy, and to survive? To sum up the nutritional needs of mankind, his diet must provide the following: Calories—enough to meet one’s daily energy needs; amino acids—nine essential amino acids that are needed to manufacture protein; fatty acids—two essential fatty acids; minerals—inorganic ions; Vitamins.
Carbohydrates, which are made up of starches and sugars, provide most of the calories required to supply our energy needs. Age, sex, size, health, and the intensity of physical activity determine the exact calorie needs of each individual. All carbohydrates are derived from plant foods and should provide the bulk of our diet. 55–70% of our calories should be derived from carbohydrates. The carbohydrate calories from complex sugars (starches) are healthiest as the sugar is released slowly by the liver, thus avoiding the sugar spikes in our bloodstream that can turn the unneeded calories into fat cells. Processed foods contain large amounts of simple sugars, which break down quickly in the body and are stored in the fat cells. The types of carbohydrates eaten are vital to the overall health of the human body.
Amino acids are derived from protein-based foods. Although most plant-based proteins do not contain all nine essential amino acids, most vegan diets that contain a variety of plant proteins will ensure that all nine essential amino acids are eaten. The theory that protein-combining was necessary at each meal to supply all the amino acids has been invalidated by more current research. Some vegan protein foods are considered more “complete” than others, including quinoa and tofu. Ideally we should get 10-15% of our calories from protein, or 0.8g/kg of body weight. People who eat animal-based proteins consume up to five times more protein than the body requires. This, plus the saturated fats contained in animal proteins leads to an increased risk of health issues such as heart disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and various cancers. Thus, not only can humans derive all the needed protein from plants, it is a much healthier source of protein.
Fats provide the most concentrated form of energy. Humans can synthesize most fats from carbohydrates—yet more proof that man does not need animal food. However, two essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized from carbohydrates and must be incorporated into the diet. These fats are linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These two fatty acids create specialized fats known as the Omega-6 (from LA), and Omega-6 fatty acids (from ALA). Not only must these be part of the diet, but the ratios of Omega 6:Omega 3 must be between 4:1 and 1:1 in order to reap the health benefits. Most American diets contain too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3, the ratio often being between 10:1 and 25:1. Omega 6’s compete with Omega 3’s in the body. Ingesting too much Omega-6 will prevent the production of Omega-3’s. This unbalanced ratio is due to a reliance on processed foods and oils, which are now common in the Western diet.
Consuming too little of these fatty acids lead to abnormalities in the liver and kidneys, reduced growth rates, decreased immune function, depression, and dryness of the skin. Whereas, adequate intake of the essential fatty acids result in numerous health benefits, including improved brain function, prevention of plaque in blood vessels, reduced incidence of heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer, and relief from the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain. The two essential fatty acids can both be derived from plant foods.
Dietary fibre is not considered a nutrient as we do not digest it; however, its presence contributes to a vital part of our health. Fibre, also known as roughage or bulk, includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb. Instead, fibre passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body. Soluble fibre can help lower cholesterol and sugar levels in the blood, lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and helping to maintain a healthy weight. Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, preventing constipation or irregular stools. Lack of fibre in a diet can have a negative impact on the body, and has been implicated in colon cancers. Most plant-based foods contain both soluble and insoluble fibre.
Minerals are inorganic substances found in food and are essential to the proper functioning of the body. Certain minerals are needed in larger amounts. These include calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur, and chloride. Other minerals are needed in smaller amounts and are known as trace minerals. These include iron, zinc, iodine, manganese, chromium, fluoride, copper, selenium, and mylobdenum. Other trace nutrients known to be essential in tiny amounts include nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt. Each of these minerals play a different role in maintaining health. All minerals can be supplied in adequate amounts by a well-balanced vegan diet.
Vitamins are defined as a group of organic compounds that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet, either from food or supplements, because they cannot be synthesized by the body. We require 13 different vitamins, four of which are fat-soluble (A, D, E, K) and nine are water-soluble (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, C). Of all the Vitamins, B12 is the most challenging for vegans to obtain adequate amounts of in their diet. This has been used by people to argue that a vegan diet is unsuitable for humans. B12 is found in soil, and man used to obtain adequate amounts of B12 by eating the plants that were grown in soil. Two factors account for the lack of B12 in a vegan diet—most of our vegetables which we purchase are cleaned from any soil that may be left on them, and after thousands of years of growing crops, much of the soil has been depleted of its resource of B12, which is why supplementation is now necessary.
And finally, a vegan diet is high in phytochemicals, naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants, which provide plants with their various colours and scents. Included in the list of phytochemicals are antioxidants, which protect from free radical damage. They are not considered “essential” to man’s diet, but they provide a vast array of health benefits that contribute to the superiority of a plant-based diet.
As we have learned, a vegan diet can supply humans with all the essential nutrients that allow all the functions of the body to work at their peak performance. There is no need for animal-food products; a vegan diet not only supplies us with complete nutrition but is also healthier. People on diets which include animal-based food have been shown to be more likely to have degenerative diseases, including heart disease. A vegan diet is also associated with lower levels of obesity, which is implicated in many of the modern diseases. The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada regard a well-planned vegan diet as appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle. If poorly planned, a vegan diet may be deficient in some vitamins and minerals. However, well-planned vegan diets have been found to offer protection against many degenerative conditions, and contribute to a longer and healthier life.