Monday, April 25, 2011

On Obtaining Nutrients from Plants


—Christy Korrow

“There are no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better obtained by plant-based foods.” —Dr. Colin T. Campbell

This is a surprising statement to many, but a basic study of nutrition shows that this is actually true. Both animal and plant foods contain essential nutrients required for human health, for instance, both contain fats, protein and calcium. But, once one analyzes the metabolism and subsequent function of nutrients from both sources, a marked difference can be observed between plant and animal-based foods as sources of nutrition. The scientific studies of Dr. Campbell have shown that, once metabolized, plant-based foods are the optimum source of nutrients for human beings for creating health, including an optimum source of protein. Though nutrients work in concert with each other, and not in isolation, we can learn a lot by examining the function of individual nutrients.

Nutrient quality

Protein: The research of Dr. Campbell and his associates showed time and time again how, even though animal protein is thought of as high quality protein, once metabolized, the function of animal proteins have the ability to foster the growth of cancer and the catalyze the formation of cholesterol. Whereas plant proteins showed the opposite—tumor growth was arrested in laboratory tests where animals with cancer were fed plant proteins, and those people who ate plant-based diets had low cholesterol rates—the data from The China Study confirmed these findings.

Fiber: One reason that plant-based foods are an optimum source for nutrition is the high fiber content. High fiber diets are correlated with lower rates of colorectal cancer. Meats and other animal products do not contain fiber. Though we do not produce the bacteria and enzymes to break down the molecules in fiber (as do ruminants), this unbroken down fiber remains in the intestinal lumen and performs important health-related functions in the body. Different fibers have different activities, for example, fiber will bind up unwanted substances such as chemical carcinogens, other toxins and bile acids, and remove them.

Fiber also we helps us manage the rates at which we absorb sugars and other nutrients into the bloodstream. As the body attempts to digest the fiber, more enzymes come in and this slows down the digestive process, thus metabolism is regulated, and nutrients enter the blood stream at a more controlled pace, will not spike blood sugar, etc.

Antioxidants: Evident in the beautiful colors in plants, antioxidants are manufactured by plants as a mechanism of self-protection to counter the formation of free radicals, rouge molecules which cause cell damage and are harmful byproducts of photosynthesis. Humans also generate free radicals as a result of aging, and exposure to agricultural chemicals and environmental toxins—to name just a few of the ways. Free radical damage can lead to many many diseases, ranging from cancer to cognitive disorders. But, unlike plants, we do not generate our own antioxidants. Meats, on the other hand, do sometimes contain small amounts of antioxidants if the animals has eaten plants and stored them. More significant though, is that meat and animal products actually “tend to activate free radical production and cell damage.” (The China Study, p. 219) Therefore, not only do animal products not aid us in the defense against free radical damage, they add to our free radical load. Clearly, plants can’t be beat for their generous doses of health-bringing antioxidants.


Based on people I have known, many who have adopted a vegan diet have done so for moral reasons, and may or may not have a strong interest in or understanding of health and nutrition. There is the likelihood of a vegan diet to be high in soy products and gluten based meat substitutes which have been shown to cause adverse health and digestive conditions in some people. There are no parameters indicating that a vegan diet should be primarily based in vegetables and fruits, therefore a vegan diet can include refined cards, sugars and processed foods, or it can mean a strictly plant based whole foods diet as described in The China Study.

On the other hand, those who adopt a plant-based diet, and who try to include a high percentage of raw fruits and vegetables in the diet, typically have a strong interest in nutrition. Many people have come to a plant-based diet because they had chronic health problems, did not get results with pharmaceuticals. In this case the plant-based diet is actually a therapeutic measure. And while the science in this course shows that an optimum diet would contain no animal products, there are no hard and fast rules. A person would ideally have the understanding of the nutritional values of the food they eat, and are therefore able to at least make an informed decision if they did decide to continue to eat meat in some capacity.

I can’t speak from experience, but I doubt there are many vegans who stay on an unhealthy vegan diet for the longterm, I would imagine that the results of the diets would manifest in low energy and possibly other health problems, which might prompt further exploration into nutrition.

So....what's next? Get eating and better yet, get growing! Chris has a nifty little booklet that only costs $5 called The 30 Square Foot Garden, it teaches you how to turn a patch of lawn into a patch of green edibles.

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