By Kevin Stock
To claim there are health dangers with a plant-based diet flies in the face of conventional wisdom. It’s surely heresy among nutrition experts. These experts tell us we need to eat fruits and vegetables for their essential vitamins and minerals. Their potent antioxidants ward off aging and cancer. And their fiber cleans our tubing, keeping our intestines and arteries clean.
Could there really be health dangers to a plant-based diet?
Contrary to popular belief, plants don’t have human health as their top priority.
Like all organisms, they are more concerned about their survival than ours. In fact, protecting themselves from predators like humans is high on their priority list. And since plants can’t fight us off with fangs or flee with their feet they’ve evolved other mechanisms to deter predators.
Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet: Plant Poison Directory
In this series we are going to look at various parts of plants that humans eat – everything from their seeds to roots to stems to leaves to their fruits. And with each “Plant Part” we are going to highlight a particular “Plant Poison” that the plant uses to deter predators.
Here’s where we’re going:
Plant Part / Plant Poison
- Seeds (Naked vs Protected) / Antinutrients – “Health Dangers of Eating Seeds”
- Grains / Lectins – “Wheat Leaks” (coming soon)
- Nuts / Phytic Acid – “Walnuts Phyte Back” (coming soon)
- Beans / Enzyme Inhibitors – “Soybean Sabotage” (coming soon)
- Roots / Glycoalkaloids – “Potato Paralysis” (coming soon)
- Stems / Glucosinolates – “Broccoli Bombs” (coming soon)
- Leaves / Oxalates – “Spinach Leaf Prick” (coming soon)
- Fruit / Cyanogenic Glycosides – “Peach Pit Poison” (coming soon)
- Plus: Phenolics, Flavenoids, Tannins
- Conclusion: Plant Poison – Dose and Danger (coming soon)
Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet: Start Here
3 Plant Secrets
When we think of plants, we think of “good guys.” They are good for decoration, good for the environment, and good for our health.
Floyd, my money tree, is sitting right next to my desk as I write this. While keeping me company, he sucks up my carbon dioxide emissions and pumps oxygen into the air for me to breathe.
Floyd and I are pals but I don’t let him fool me. He, like 99% of all plants, is completely inedible. If I tried, I would surely get sick. While nearly 100% of animals are edible, the opposite is true for plants.
It’s strange to assume then that the plants we do consider edible are completely safe.
I think the reason is that plants fool us.
They are masters of disguise.
Plant Secret #1
Plants are so good at disguise that we don’t even realize they hide in most of our foods.
When I think of Floyd I knew he started as a seed. And from his seed beginnings he then puts down roots that buried deep into the soil. These roots anchor him down and he absorbs nutrients from the soil.
I know that Floyd’s roots connect to a stem. His stem is not unlike a rose stem, or the stem of a tree covered in bark. They provide structure to their stature.
I can see leaves that branch from Floyd’s stem. And I know that many of Floyd’s plant friends bloom flowers and ripen fruits.
Floyd, however, is a money tree, so I he is supposed to bloom cash, but I’m still waiting on this.
But these flowers and fruits disseminate seeds which contain the offspring for the next generation.
I get it. No big secrets here.
But it’s a strange paradigm shift to realize these plant structures give us so many of our foods.
When we eat potatoes and carrots, we are eating roots of plants that grow underground. Crunching on celery and broccoli, we are eating stems of plants. A salad with spinach and kale is plant leaves. When we eat apples and berries we are eating the fruits of these plants. And when we eat grains, nuts, or beans we are eating seeds. We are eating plant parts.
Now the seeds are the really tricky ones.
Grains are the seeds of grasses like wheat, corn, oats, and rice. Nuts are the seeds of trees like walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans. And beans are the seeds of legumes like peas, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas.
But they are all just seeds.
Classifications can get confusing like trying to figure out where peanuts and cashews and almonds fit in – is it a nut or a legume – but it doesn’t matter, they are all seeds.
So when you are eating a bowl of oats topped with nuts, you are eating seeds.
All from plants.
For me it was a shocking discovery how well plant parts hide in our food.
Take sugar for example.
The sugar that has invaded so much of our food comes from plants.
Sucrose is table sugar. And most sugar comes from sugar cane, which is a tall grass with a big stem. What happens is the cane is shredded, mixed with water, then crushed to extract the juice. The juice is then dried into a granulated form.
And viola. Sugar.
Sugar is simply a processed and refined plant part.
The sugar beet, which is a root, can also be refined to give us sucrose. And there are other forms of sugar like fructose found heavily in fruits and glucose that can be found in fruits and some roots like carrots.
But almost all sugar in our diet comes from plants. Lactose, milk sugar, is an exception. However, until recent history lactose was indigestible beyond childhood and is still not tolerated by a majority of the world.
It’s a strange thought:
- My grandma’s homemade cookies are a plant-based food – the sugar, the flour, the vegetable oil – all from plants.
I remember when I started looking closer and was hit with a startling realization…
We are all on a plant-based diet and we don’t even know it.
Pretty much anything we eat comes from a plant or an animal. There are “gray area foods” like mushrooms and algae that are neither plant nor animal, but for the most part, all our food is derived from plants or animals.
And what shocked me more is that most of our “unhealthy” foods are simply derived from our “healthy” plant-based foods.
A whole grain is healthy, but when it’s crushed into a flour it’s then unhealthy?
Is it possible that these “healthy” plant-based foods are actually “unhealthy?”
Plants are not only hiding in all our food – but they are hiding their poisons.
Plant Secret #2
Floyd’s motivation is his survival not my health.
For 500 million years, plants, like all living organisms, have fought for survival. And plants have millions of years of evolutionary advantage on us humans. Since they can’t fight or flee predators they evolved other clever mechanisms to survive.
And like I mentioned, plants tend to be masters of disguise.
Many plants are like chameleons. They can change the color of their leaves to blend into their surroundings. And they can grow in places difficult for these herbivore predators and insect pests to reach.
Some plants will even mimic the presence of insect eggs on their leaves, which dissuades insects from laying real eggs there.
But plants use far more than clever camouflage to deter predators.
They can illicit the protection of natural enemies of herbivores by releasing chemicals to attract these protectors. They can react to touch. And they can release irritants and poisons.
They also use less subtle defenses.
Leaves can produce resins, saps, and waxes that trap insects. Leaves and stems can be covered with sharp prickles, spines, and thorns.
Plants didn’t evolve to be a food source for predators.
Plant Secret #3
Plants’ best kept secret is hidden even better than how they hide in our food or from herbivore predators.
They look innocent enough. But these masters of disguise have an arsenal of chemical weapons ready to go to battle with anything that dares eat it.
They hide their phytochemical warfare agents from view. Not until a predator bites into them do they realize the mistake.
When Plants Attack
Plants produce these chemicals to defend themselves. And it’s not just one or two plants that have this super power. It’s all of them.
In fact, 99.99% of all pesticides in our diet are natural chemicals plants produce to deter predators.
They produce toxins to protect themselves from fungi, insects, and animal predators. There are tens of thousands of these natural pesticides. And every species of every plant contains its own set of toxins. Different parts of each plant contain different toxins in different amounts.
Like humans, plants get stressed. When feeling the pressure and damage from a pest attack, they can increase their natural pesticide levels. Levels that can be poisonous, even deadly, to humans.
These chemicals attack predators in various ways. Some of these plant toxins break into cells and kill mitochondria, some use enzymes to interfere with metabolism, and some attack our DNA directly.
It helps to look at survival from the plant’s point of view.
Some parts of the plant are more vital for the success of the species than others.
Seeds are critical. Because they are so important plants take extra care to protect them and lace them with potent toxins to deter predators.
Grains, nuts, and beans are all seeds. These are the plant’s babies. And messing with a mother’s offspring often has dire consequences. The parent plant wants to protect them and ensure their offspring’s survival. The plant isn’t concerned about the health, nutrition, or survival of humans. Quite the contrary.
So even though I’m hungry and Floyd is sitting right next to me, I know what he’s hiding. One bite into his leaves and I’d regret it. Mess with his seeds and Floyd and I wouldn’t be pals anymore. He’s not edible in the least.
So this begs the question…
“What are these plant chemicals, which plants have them, and which can I eat?”
And that’s where we’re going.
This is how we’re going to attack back at the plants:
- We are going to look at a plant part. For example, the seed.
- We are going to use a common food to evaluate that plant part. Like wheat.
- We are going to evaluate a big chemical warfare agents that food uses. Like lectins.
- We are going to see if there is a way to mitigate it’s attack. Like cooking.
I will be releasing these articles covering the health dangers of a plant-based diet over then next few weeks (“coming soon” links at the top) and in my Saturday 7 weekly newsletter.
The Carnivore Diet
The Carnivore Diet is born out of 2 driving forces:
- What humans are designed to eat (meat-based diet)
- What humans are ill-equipped to eat (plant-based diet)
In this series we’ll be covering #2 and talking about why eating plant-based foods may not be in your best interests. To compliment this, I recommend checking out “The Ultimate 30-Day Guide to Going Full Carnivore” to better understand what’s at the heart of a meat-based diet, what one can expect when eating in congruence with human design, what foods to avoid, and how it can change your life.
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Nice thoroughly researched article on the preparation of seeds, Kevin! I respect your dedication.
I love fermented veggies! I’m pretty sure fermenting them lessens the anti-nutrients.
Plants contains poisons to protect against predators. Well, animals carry viruses for the same reason. Most pandemics are caused by a spillover event. I’ve never heard of an epidemic/pandemic due to someone consuming the wrong plant for food. Some cultures have benefited from a mostly plant-based/vegan diets especially in tropical climates. Berries and other fruits have anthocyanins which can help prevent cancer. Is there one diet for all? No. Humans are diverse and so we can have different diets.