Do You Really Need Vegetables? It’s Time to Dispel This Myth
Everybody knows that vegetables are good for you. But as we’ve seen over and over again, just because people believe something doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Despite all of the other ridiculously controversial parts of the carnivore diet, this somehow tops it.
I’m going to make two claims here that may scare you:
- You don’t need vegetables
- Vegetables may actually be harmful for many people
Table of Contents
What is Healthy?
Somewhere along the line, we forgot why we eat.
Sort of like how sometimes you’ll keep opening the pantry forgetting why, but you keep doing it.
What does healthy and unhealthy even mean? Below is my rendition:
- Unhealthy: Doesn’t satisfy the body’s nutrient requirements. Has adverse consequences
- Healthy: Satisfies the body’s nutrient requirements. No adverse consequences.
We eat for two main reasons:
- Essential nutrients
Humans are heterotrophs. Our bodies cannot manufacture everything we require to function. We must get certain nutrients from food.
There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. We need these to function properly.
There are four classes of micronutrients that are essential. [*]
- Vitamins (A, B, C, E, K, Choline, Folate, etc)
- Minerals (Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sodium, Ionide, etc)
- Fatty Acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6, etc)
- Amino Acids (Isoleucine, leucine, etc.)
So when we’re looking for healthy food, what we should be concerned with is nutrient density , energy supply, and any adverse side effects.
But we’ve been so thoroughly brainwashed by Ancel Keys and the USDA that everybody thinks meat is unhealthy, especially compared to something like kale and vegetable juice.
But how do vegetables really stack up? Biochemically, animal products are the only sources where we can get all our macro and micronutrient needs.
Vitamins A, B12, D and K2 — nutrients that we cannot function without — are not prevalent at all in plant foods.
While a separate issue, this is also a huge contributing factor to the mental health crisis today. Many of these vitamins — DHA, B12, Iron & selenium, for instance — are critical for brain health. If you deprive your brain of animal products, it will lash out.
Humans are able to survive off of animal products alone. The same cannot be said about plants or carbohydrates.
A properly constructed carnivore diet, consisting of beef steak, beef liver and eggs is 100% nutrient sufficient.
Animal products have more of every single nutrient other than Vitamin C. But because of glucose ascorbate antagonism, even if you’re consuming less vitamin C on a carnivore diet, you’re likely absorbing more.
As weird as it sounds, steak and beef liver are really the pinnacle of a balanced diet. Balanced in that you’re getting all of the macro and micro nutrients you need in the perfect quantities.
Additionally, many of the nutrients in plant foods are present in their less bioavailable and less functional form. This means that it’s harder for our bodies to absorb the plant version of the nutrient than the animal version. For example:
- Vitamin K2 more important than Vitamin K1
- DHA is more important than ALA
- Heme Iron is more bioavailable than non-heme iron
- Vitamin A retinol is more bioavailable than Vitamin A carotenoids
- Vitamin D3 is more bioavailable than Vitamin D2
All of the more bioavailable nutrients are present in animal foods and not plant foods. Many food companies have tried to fool you into believing that all Vitamin A is equal, for instance. You on the other hand, reading this, will not be fooled.
Most of the population is nutrient deficient. And when you’re nutrient deficient, you’ll stay hungry, reaching back into the pantry over and over again. A big reason why is because everybody is eating vegetables and carbohydrates to satiate their hunger. When they really should be eating animal foods.
Did Our Ancestors Eat Vegetables?
It turns out that red meat, one of the most feared foods, is the most bioavailable source of nutrients.
It contains all of the protein, nutrients and fat we need to function – in just the right proportions. Also, many of the nutrients in meat are easier to absorb than their counterparts in vegetables.
This isn’t a coincidence. It’s because humans are carnivores.
Our diets and anatomies both changed during the past couple million years. After spending millions of years adapting to animal consumption, our bodies now require it.
When I say humans are carnivores, I don’t mean that they just eat meat. I mean that vegetables or carbs are not required or necessarily healthy for humans.
Ethnographic data does show the prevalence of vegetables in early hunter-gatherer diets.
But according to Cordain and Eaton, plant foods were preferred only when it was difficult to access animal-source foods, or when nutrient-rich plant foods, such as the mongongo nut, were available [*]:
“Only when it was ecologically difficult to procure animal food sources, and / or when energy-rich and easily obtainable plant foods such as the mongongo nut were available, did plant foods prevail in hunter-gatherer diets. Accordingly, the tissues of wild animals would have almost always represented the staple food for the worlds contem-porary hunter-gatherers”
Essentially, vegetables were survival food.
These vegetables were either last resorts or treats. Just because many people eat chocolate cake as a treat today doesn’t mean it’s a necessity.
There are at least 9 aboriginal tribes that had little to no vegetable intake at all. Some examples include the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic, the Chukotka of the Russian Arctic, and the Masai of East Africa.
The mongols called vegetables “goat food”.
Viljamurr Stefanson lived with the Inuit Eskimos for 11 years, and pointed out that the “chief occasion for vegetables here, as with most Eskimos, was a famine”. [*]
What would Don Draper think about that pitch for vegetables? Sweetgreen salad: the finest goat food around.
Vegetables were by no means a dietary staple. They were, at best, a delicacy these tribes enjoyed [*]. But for most of the year, vegetable intake was a big fat zero.
Were these people ravaged by scurvy and oozing cholesterol from their pores?
Animal-source foods were always a dietary staple. And we co-evolved with their prevalence, adapting to require their nutrients.
But there’s nothing in vegetables that we cannot get from animal products.
Despite what everyone else will tell you, kale isn’t the epitome of health.
Beef and beef liver have more of almost every single nutrient than kale – one of the most nutritious vegetables.
What About the “Other Benefits” of Vegetables?
Many have touted antioxidant and other longevity benefits from vegetables. There is no evidence supporting these claims. And at best, on a keto diet the antioxidant benefits are redundant.
Let me explain.
Oxidation and Antioxidants
First off, what is oxidation? Oxidation is the process by which a molecule loses an electron. When you metabolize food, ATP generation creates free radicals. Free radicals are oxidized molecules without a paired electron.
Electrons like to be in a pair, and these free radicals go cascading through your body searching for one. Think of them like a drunk person at the end of a night at a singles bar.
In this process, these “reactive oxygen species” can damage DNA, Lipids and proteins.
If you have too much oxidative stress and not enough anti-oxidation, it can lead to health issues.
Free radicals are associated with almost every known disease including cancer, aging and Alzheimer’s.
Your body has natural antioxidant enzymes, such as glutathione. What you eat affects your natural antioxidant status.
Several epidemiological — i.e. astrological — studies have shown that high intakes of fruits and vegetables are associated with lower oxidation and cancer rates. Many people have attributed this to hormesis.
Hormesis is the idea that a small amount of something negative can lead to a positive response. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. For instance, this applies in the case of exercise. Stressing your muscles ends up making them stronger.
During the co-evolution between plants and animals, plants developed chemicals to fight off predators. Things like lectins, saponins, flavonoids, and alkaloids are all defense mechanisms to dissuade animals from eating them.
The hypothesis is that these phytochemicals in plants can actually strengthen your immune system as it is mobilized to fight off the chemicals . This ultimately results in stronger antioxidant defenses.
Some studies in vitro have shown that sulforaphane — one of these plant components — can activate the nrf2 antioxidant pathway. This pathway functions by upregulating antioxidant enzymes like glutathione, mentioned above.
But like other nutritional guidance, the studies do not hold up when scrutinized. Tests in petri dishes don’t always translate to the real world.
Dr. Georgia Ede looked at all 726 studies regarding vegetables on PubMed and none have shown conclusively positive benefits on health [*], independent of other lifestyle and carbohydrate factors.
Additionally, sulforaphane in high doses is goitrogenic and can damage your thyroid.
Additionally, scientists have tried to replicate the epidemiological results with controlled, intervention trials — real studies — and have not been able to.
These two studies below confirm that vegetables have no antioxidant benefit.
In the first study 43 subjects were randomized into three groups over 24 days. One group received 600g of fruits and vegetables, another received supplements with equivalent vitamins and minerals and the third received a placebo.
The expression of DNA repair genes and DNA strand breaks were measured. There was no difference in the group that ate fruits and vegetables [*].
The second study randomized 38 subjects at risk of CVD into two groups. For four weeks, one consumed 800g of vegetables a week and the other consumed 4200g of vegetables a week. Antioxidant and immunological measurements were taken before and after the study. The study showed no antioxidant benefit from higher vegetable intake [*].
The antioxidant benefit of plant products is a myth.
How Many Veggies Are Required For Antioxidant Benefit?
Even if plants did indeed benefit us from an antioxidant perspective, how would we know how much to eat?
This study suggested that you’d need to get at least 5 cups of fresh broccoli sprouts to get any benefit at all [*].
Regarding Resveratrol, you’d need to drink 500L of wine to get any of the benefits. After 500L of wine, you’ll probably drunkenly eat a pizza that counteracts all the effects.
Amber O’Hearn has a great presentation on this here.
Ketones Upregulate Antioxidants
Ketones are signaling molecules, and can change your genetic makeup (this is epigenetics). Many of these changes are hypothesized to increase lifespan.
One such mechanism is through FOXO3a. This study showed that ketone bodies — mainly Beta-Hydroxy-Butyrate — upregualted the expression of FOXO3a which decreases oxidative stress [*]. FOXO3a expression has been shown to increase longevity in animal models.
Additionally, this study showed that BHB in rats increased glutathione content in mitochondria by 3x [*].
If you want to increase your endogenous antioxidants, the keto diet is the best approach. Even if sulforaphane does increase antioxidant status, the ketogenic diet provides the same benefits without all the side effects.
In Summary: Vegetables Are Unnecessary
- Throughout human history, our bodies could not process the fiber from vegetables, and thus could not get sufficient energy from them.
- When we did eat vegetables, they provided minimal energy relative to the work required to gather them.
- Our bodies adapted to require the nutrients from animal foods. There are no nutrients we need from vegetables that we can’t get from animal products.
- Civilizations that ate vegetables only did so during times of famine, or out of enjoyment.
- There are numerous populations that have survived on no vegetables for most of the year.
As a result, there’s never been a civilization that’s eaten a vegan diet from childhood through death.
Vegetables HARM People Too
The icing on the cake – or the butter on the steak – for the carnivore diet is that vegetables are actually harmful to many people.
Amber O’hearn was looking for evidence to support the necessity of vegetables in our diet, and stumbled upon evidence that proved the opposite.
A randomized controlled study looked to determine the effects of green tea extract on smokers. To remove other confounders, they decided to remove vegetables from the diets.
They actually found that removing vegetables from the subjects’ diets reduced oxidative damage. Vegetables were harming the participants [*].
When I cut carbohydrates out of my diet, most of my health problems went away. But it wasn’t until I cut out veggies that the remaining problems disappeared. How does this make any sense?
An exploration into the biochemical properties of vegetables provides some answers.
One possible explanation is that vegetables, unlike animals, cannot flee from predators. Instead, they have toxins to poison attackers.
A 1990 study identified 27 rodent carcinogens in plants that are produced for self defense. [*]
About half of the tested chemicals were rodent carcinogens, and are found in many common foods.
Our beloved vegetables — the foods that we hated so much as a child, but our parents forced us to eat because they were “healthy” — are actually TOXIC.
Almost every vegetable has a toxin in it that can be irritating. The table below summarizes some of the toxins that you can find in plants.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussell sprouts and cauliflower produce sulforaphane when cut or chewed [*]. As mentioned above, Sulforaphane is touted for its antioxidant benefits.
And there is some evidence that it can kill cancer cells. But the problem is that it doesn’t discriminate between healthy and cancerous cells, just like chemotherapy. At a high enough concentration, Sulforaphane can be damaging to health and even cause cancer [*]. Sulforaphane also competes for Iodine and can cause hypothyroidism [*].
Nightshades have alkaloids which damage fat and carbohydrate metabolism and DNA function. Limes, carrots and celery have photosensitizers which can irritate animals when they go in the sun. Resveratrol has been shown to inhibit androgen precursors [*]. And polyphenols can cause DNA damage [*]
I can go on all day….
There are also a number of what are referred to as anti-nutrients in vegetables.
Phytates, in both beans and tortillas, inhibit zinc absorption [*] and decrease nutrients’ bioavailability. If you consumed zinc with black beans, you will absorb only about half the zinc. This is part of the reason why the RDAs are wrong. Spinach has oxalates, which bind to calcium and magnesium and reduce absorption.
Now, I want to clarify. There’s been extremely positive anecdotal evidence to people with autoimmune disorders cutting out plant products.
These are potential explanations, but none of these is conclusive. We don’t have great randomized controlled trials regarding vegetables.
But cutting out vegetables was a game-changer for me and for many others.
For most people, you’ll probably be okay because you’re adapted to eliminate the compounds from vegetables.
But if you already have a damaged gut and autoimmune system, the vegetables can exacerbate this immune response and make problems worse.
Jordan Peterson and his daughter, for example, have both benefited tremendously by cutting them out. [*]. If you are experiencing autoimmune issues, you likely will too.
Fiber: Unlearn Every Piece of Nutritional Advice You’ve Ever Heard
One of the most common concerns with the carnivore diet is the lack of fiber. If you think you need it, THINK AGAIN.
Fiber is the carbohydrate portion of plant foods that we can’t digest. It comes only from plant foods.
It’s claimed that fiber treats constipation, and it’s widely believed that it’s a necessary component of our diets.
There is not a single trial that backs it up.
Check the graph below: it shows that reducing fiber actually reduces issues. This isn’t an error – on the right side of the graph, you can see that there is zero occurence of digestive issues when fiber is removed [*].
Why does this happen? Fiber makes feces bigger. People think that since constipation is caused from not passing stool, making more and larger feces will improve it.
But that’s like arguing that to speed up traffic we need to make the cars bigger.
Because you can’t digest fiber, it increases the size and volume of your feces. But this ends up just making the constipation worse.
Cutting out fiber entirely in the study above ameliorated all issues:
- Anal Bleeding
- Strain Opening
For IBS sufferers, Fiber is poison.
IBS is often caused by bacterial overgrowth and fiber sets the bacteria off on a feeding frenzy [*]. The bacteria causes fermentation, making you feel even more bloated and gassy.
It’s like playing basketball with a broken ankle. The more you intake, the harder it is for your gut to recover.
If you’re suffering from stomach issues, cutting fiber out may help you immensely. For me, the carnivore diet improved my health 10x over the keto diet. Largely because of the reduction of fiber.
There is absolutely no reason to eat vegetables.
Animal products provide all of the nutrients you need in their most bioavailable form. The ketogenic diet will increase your antioxidant enzyme production and help to promote longevity. Cutting out vegetables will heal your gut and allow your immune system to rest.
The best way to do so? With the carnivore diet.
We’ve talked about a lot here, and I really hope that you get a lot out of this article. It wasn’t easy for me to learn all this information – it took me years to learn about these things and improve my own health.
It doesn’t have to take that long for you. If you want to continue this journey and start improving your health, check out the getting started with the carnivore diet guide I prepared for you by clicking the button below.
It’s time to take back control.