Updated: Sep 27, 2019
If you have read my book, The Health Evolution: Why Understanding Evolution is the Key to Vibrant Health, you know that I make the argument that creating a personal environment where your body can thrive is actually a strategy for doing your part to have the least environmental impact and ensure a positive future for humans, as well as the other creatures of Earth. If you follow my work you also know that I am a strong advocate for an animal-based, ketogenic diet for heart health, and for health in general. You also may be aware that there is a lot of information out there saying that animal agriculture is bad for the environment. So, can these two passions of mine exist together? Can I have a healthy heart by eating an animal-based diet and not have a heavy heart from the potential negative impacts it will have on the environment and the well-being of the animals we raise for our consumption?
Let’s go through each of the imbalances that cause a heart attack and discuss how correcting that imbalance in our body is also more sustainable for the environment. The first two imbalances we will discuss together. They are being fat adapted because our heart prefers to burn fat and ketones (1,2,3), as well as reducing oxidative stress so that we don’t get atherosclerosis or deplete the Nitric Oxide in our body. Both of these can be accomplished by restricting carbohydrates. Restricting carbohydrates will make us very efficient at fat burning by getting us into ketosis and, since burning fat results in less production of free radicals (4), we will also see less oxidative stress.
So, how is burning fats rather than carbohydrates kinder to the environment? Most of the carbohydrates humans consume come from processed forms of the crops corn, wheat, and sugar. These crops are produced via industrialized plant agriculture, which is a very unsustainable practice.
In her book, Primal Fat Burner, Nora Gedgaudas tell us that 70% of the world’s grasslands have been degraded and soil is being degraded 13% faster than it can be rebuilt. The act of farming plants goes against a natural ecological system. Ecosystems thrive on diversity and farming clears all diversity and produces one species on a piece of land. Doing this destroys the land until it is unfertile. If we take a look at the land where there used to be ancient farming societies, like Mesopotamia and Egypt, that land is now desert. On the other hand, eating an animal-based diet will significantly reduce the amount of processed carbohydrates consumed and therefore will not support the unsustainable practices of industrial plant farming.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misguided information out there in the media when it comes to plant-based vs. animal-based diet and their effects on the environment. It all started with some religious ideologies that eventually became heavy influencers in our government policies and media outlets. The details of how that came to be will not be discussed here, but for all that information and the details of how religious ideologies have influenced our dietary guidelines people like Dr. Gary Fettke and his wife Belinda have done great work exposing this. A search for them on youtube will get you plenty of information.
So, we have seen how plant farming is unnatural and not sustainable, but what about the idea that animal agriculture is bad for the environment. First, let’s discuss ruminants, the main type of animal that we eat. Ruminants are the grazing grass eaters, and the main grazer in the animal agricultural system we have in the United States is cattle. Cows are amazing animals in that they can take something like grass, a plant we can’t eat, and turn it into meat, something we can eat. Cows do this by having a very specialized digestive system that can take that grass, break it down, and ferment it into short chain fatty acids. Yes, the end product of a cow eating grass is fat, so in a way a cow eats a high fat diet.
Humans do not have a digestive system that can turn plants into fat and therefore we must eat fat directly. This is the ecosystem that evolved during the millions of years of human evolution when our pre human and human ancestors were eating large ruminant animals. Ruminants turned grass into meat and fat and then we ate the ruminants. Not only that, but the large ruminants that roamed the Earth played a large part in creating the healthy topsoil that we have used to farm crops on. Unfortunately, our farming practices have destroyed this topsoil. (5) Ruminant agriculture is so important for the health of our ecosystem, so why does it get such a bad rap?
One argument is that animal agriculture produces a large amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the total amount of US greenhouse gases produced from agriculture is around 9%. (6) Of that 9% only 4% is attributed to animal agriculture, which means plant agriculture produces 5%. Specifically, the beef industry contributes only 2% to greenhouse gas emissions. (7) Given that transportation, industry, and energy production account for 76% of the greenhouse gas emission in the United States I think it would better suit us to focus on reducing emissions from those sources rather than not eating beef to reduce our emission by only 2%.
One research article concluded that “if animal agriculture were eliminated in the US, we’d reduce greenhouse gas emission in the US by 2.6%, and 0.36% globally but at the cost of unbalancing our food ecosystem and the creation of essential dietary nutrient deficiencies”. (8)
But why are greenhouse gases a problem in the first place? They are an issue because carbon in them is being released into the atmosphere. While it is a good idea to be thinking about how to reduce the carbon released into the atmosphere, it is a better idea to be thinking about how to reverse the process. Instead of thinking sustainability, we should be thinking regeneration. Luckily, research has shown us an approach to regenerating our soils.
Studies have shown that properly raised cattle, where they are properly rotated on land, has a carbon sequestration effect placing the carbon back in the soil. (9) There are many farms practicing this form of animal agriculture and proving this concept, none better than Polyface Farms in Swoope, VA. Organizations like the Savory Institute are also showing how ruminant agriculture is the last chance we have to restore health to the land that has been lost due to plant farming. This makes sense because it was millions of ruminants on the land in the form of bison and buffalo that built-up the strong top soil that was there in the first place.
Even if animal agriculture wasn’t sustainable, which we just discussed that it is, and the answer was to get all of our food from plants, there is not enough land available to produce the amount of crops needed to feed all of humanity. Currently, 11% of the land in the world is being used for farming plants and 26% is being used for rangeland for animals. 63% of land on Earth is land that cannot be used for agriculture of any kind. (10) Some people argue that if we use the land no being used for rangeland for animals and farm plants on it instead that we could produce enough plant food, but not all that rangeland is suitable for farming, some range land is way to rocky to produce crops on. Add to this the fact that if we removed animals from the equation, trying to get enough protein from plants (58% crude protein) vs animals (92% crude protein) we would have to produce way more plant protein to make up for it. (11) Not to mention that the practice of farming is decreasing the topsoil needed to do it by 24 billion metric tons per year. (5) Trying to produce enough plants to feed humans without eating animals is not sustainable and impossible.
So based on this information, avoiding carbohydrates to become fat adapted and reduce the amount of oxidative stress we produce in our bodies is also a better choice when it comes to sustainability and can be regenerative to our land if done properly. Eating a ketogenic diet that does not support the processed plant food industry will accomplish this to an extent, but eating an animal-based diet that does not support plant farming at all as well as only eating animals that are raised in a regenerative sort of way is the best way to accomplish health and sustainability.
But there is another side to eating animals that must be addressed and it will lead us right into the third imbalance that drives heart attacks. The third imbalance is a dysfunctional stress response in our Autonomic Nervous System. This can result from the mismatch in our evolved stress response and us living in a way that creates constant unnatural stresses that our bodies are not evolved to handle.
For some people, the killing and eating of animals weighs heavy on their hearts and contributes to this imbalanced stress response. The fact is that humans have to kill something in order for us to live, be it plant or animal. Given that animals provide the most nutrient dense and bioavailable form of food for us and raising those animals in the right way has the ability to reverse some of our environmental crisis, for me it is a no brainer. But it turns out that a large number of animals are in fact killed in the process of plant agriculture as well. In fact, if we converted to an all plant diet, more animals would be killed than if we were to sustain ourselves on large ruminant animals.
In his article discussing this matter, Steven Davis states, “there are 120 million hectares of cropland harvested in the USA (USDA, 1997) each year. If all of that land was used to produce crops to support a vegan diet, and if 15 animals of the field are killed per ha per year, then 15 × 120 million = 1800 million or 1.8 billion animals would be killed annually to produce a vegan diet for the USA”.
He goes on to say, “according to USDA numbers quoted by Francione (2000), of the 8.4 billion farm animals killed each year for food in the US, approximately 8 billion of those are poultry and only 37 million are ruminants (cows, calves) the remainder includes pigs and other species. Even if the numbers of cows and calves killed for food each year was doubled to 74 million to replace the 8 billion poultry, the total number of animals that would need to be killed under this alternative method would still be only 1.424 billion, still clearly less than in the vegan model”. (12)
Living things have been killing other living things in order to survive since life has existed on this Earth. To think that we can someone avoid killing and still sustain ourselves is, I fear, thinking that will take us down a path of self-destruction and environmental destruction. Instead of being so uncomfortable with death that we go to extremes to avoid it and sacrifice our health and the health of the planet along the way, we should embrace and accept the natural way of the world. This is not to say that we should be irresponsible in the way we take life to nourish ourselves, like industrial agriculture is, but we should find ways to ethically and sustainably feed ourselves that will also create health for the planet. To me, this is grass feeding and rotating ruminant animals. Also, by reconnecting with and confronting the death that is necessary to provide us the most appropriate diet for human health, it will also remind us that as the most dominant species on Earth we have a responsibility to the life on the planet and that we must protect the ecosystems that sustain that life.
I also like pointing out the environmental effects that eating an animal-based diet has had from an individual perspective for me personally. For one, I get the majority of my food from Polyface Farm or from a local farm where I have bought a half a cow at a time. Both of these places are less than an hour from my house, so my food traveled a very small distance and used few fossil fuels to get to me. If I wanted to get all the nutrients I need from a plant based diet I would have to have foods shipped in from much further away to get those nutrients. I do order some products from US Wellness Meats, but even they are at least all produced in the United States and not shipped from too far away from me (Missouri). I also waste absolutely no food, as long as I have a functioning freezer. I also produce less waste; I have noticed that the barometer for taking out my trash is that it starts to smell rather than the trash is full because I produce as many things that I need to throw away. My next step is to try and reduce the plastic I use, as lots of the animal products I use do come wrapped in plastic and that is not good for me, because of the estrogen mimicking effects, (13) or the animals on the planet. (14)
Lastly, to rebalance our stress response it can be very useful to remove yourself from the unnatural environment of a city. Studies have shown that contact with nature has a profound effect on maintaining balance in our stress response. The fast-paced nature of a city, the unnatural noises, (15) and the increased toxin exposure (16) all to contribute to an imbalanced stress response.
The truth is that living in major cities is a drain on our environmental resources as well. Cities concentrate a lot of resources in one place. To do this we have to harvest various resources from outside the city and then transport them into the city. Unfortunately, this depletes the area where the resource was taken and it is never put back because it is transported somewhere else, the city. I don’t know that I have a solution to this, and it will be hard to stop as it is estimated that 68% of the world population will live in cities by 2050. (17) What I can say is that the best thing you can do if you do live in a city is find out how you can get everything you buy as local as possible to decrease the use of resources needed to get it to you.
To summarize, living in a way that rebalances the three imbalances that cause a heart attack will also create a healthier planet. Not buying food that is a product of the toxic and unsustainable practice of industrial plant farming and instead buying animal foods produced in a regenerative agriculture system will help us become fat burning, reduce our oxidative stress, and create a healthier planet. Also, moving to rural areas will help balance our stress response and contribute less to resource depleting cities. If you can’t leave the city then be sure to get everything you buy as local as possible.
Living this way gives me confidence that I am going to have the most positive impact on my health while also creating the least harm to the environment. Therefore, I can eat and live this way, and recommend it to others, with confidence that it is the best nutrition for the heart and do so without a heavy heart.
Stay healthy out there!
Please support Diana Rodgers and her Sacred Cow film as she is doing great work to educate people on the importance of ruminant agriculture to our health and the health of the planet.
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