Are plants really that special?

Plus: Recipes full of protein and other nutrients!

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“Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s a personalized journey toward understanding what best fuels our individual bodies.”


Wednesday. The week between Christmas and the New Year is always such a blur. It’s also not exactly the most productive week of the year, leaving plenty of time to catch up on past Daily Tonics. If you didn’t know, you can always access (and share) past articles here. But for now, let’s talk about plant foods and if they are as special as some people claim. Let’s dive in.

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Are Plants Special? 

The narrative around plant foods as health fix-alls has been growing stronger over the years. You've likely heard it all: eat more kale for better cholesterol, drink green juice to detox, or adopt a plant-based diet to lose weight and boost overall health. I don’t know when it happened, but we went from “eat your veggies” to “veggies solve everything, and avoid everything else” over the past few years. 

And this is something you will probably hear even more of as we enter the New Year. 

It's a message we all see resonate across social media and health magazines, portraying plant foods as the ultimate solution to all health woes. There is even a new Netflix documentary set to come out pushing the same pro-plant message. But how accurate is this portrayal? Let's explore the reality behind these claims and the actual role of plant foods in a balanced diet.

Firstly, it's essential to understand that plant foods are not the nutrient-dense powerhouses they're often made out to be. While they contain fiber, water, and some vitamins and minerals, most of these nutrients aren't as bioavailable to humans as those found in animal-based foods. This means that our bodies may not absorb or utilize them as effectively.

What’s the point of food having all these nutrients if our bodies can’t readily absorb them? 

The popularity of plant foods often stems from their role as substitutes for processed foods. If your diet mainly consists of processed items like soda and junk food, switching to plant-based options like fruits and vegetables is obviously an improvement. Actually, it’s a huge improvement. However, this improvement is not so much due to the extraordinary qualities of plant foods but because you're cutting out harmful processed foods.

Broccoli over Cheez-its, obviously. 

It's also crucial to consider the healthy user bias in scientific studies that praise the benefits of plant-based diets. These studies often overlook that people who eat more fruits and vegetables generally lead healthier lifestyles overall, including exercising more and avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking. This skews the narrative, giving undue credit to plant foods for health benefits that result from a combination of healthy behaviors.

On the other hand, animal foods are where you find true nutritional value. They are rich in bioavailable protein, essential fats, and micronutrients like vitamin B12, zinc, and iron. This aligns with our evolutionary biology, suggesting that animal foods should be the focal point of our diets for optimal health. Yet despite all this, the mainstream health narratives continue to promote plant foods, which is misleading and potentially harmful to public health.

Plants have historically served as fallback foods for humans. In times of scarcity, they provided the necessary calories for survival. Plants were there to save our butts when our ancestors didn’t have a successful hunt, but our ancestors never willingly said no to meat. In fact, they didn’t let a single piece of the animal go to waste. 

While we have evolved to extract some nutrients from plants, they are not the optimal source of nutrition but rather a secondary option. They add variety, flavor, some beneficial nutrients, and, most importantly, fiber to our diet, but they should not be the main focus.

The key takeaway? While plant foods can be beneficial as part of a balanced diet, especially when compared to processed foods, they are not the nutritional superheroes they're often portrayed as. And as obvious as this might be, ultra-processed fake meats made by Big Food corporations like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods are definitely not the solution—they are actually a big part of the problem. 

Animal foods provide a more suitable nutrient profile for our biological needs. It's essential to maintain a balanced perspective and understand that while plants can be a part of a healthy diet, they are not the sole key to achieving optimal health. Remember, a varied diet that includes both plant and animal sources is typically the best approach for most people.

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Tonic Shots

1. Veggies and Meat! Together!

This healthy taco salad is a great way to get the fiber from veggies and the protein and nutrients from meat! Enjoy!

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