While the biscuits do not contain ingredients derived from animals, there is a potential for cross contamination (of milk) because of the manufacturing methods used.
So Not Vegan, But Healthy?
I think we can all agree that there is no nutrition in these biscuits.
The above is taken from the Oreos website. The biscuits are high in calories, high in fat (half in the form of saturated fats) and low in protein. They also contain large amounts of sugar. For example, a single Oreo biscuit contains 4.1 grams of sugar. Meaning there is a teaspoon of sugar in every 4 Oreos biscuits.
The biscuits also contain very low levels of fibre (great for protecting against certain digestive and bowel cancers) and no vitamins or minerals which are essential for optimal health.
Oreos and Palm Oil
Are Oreos vegan? That is a slightly contentious question. Some vegans would argue yes, as the biscuits don’t directly contain animal products. Others would argue no because of the of cross contamination.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
For me, the ingredient that absolutely makes Oreos non-vegan is palm oil.
But what is palm oil and why is it not vegan?
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil comes from palm fruit, which are grown on palm trees. So essentially, palm oil is a type of vegetable oil.
It is grown in South America, North America, Asia, and Africa.
Although grown throughout the world, palm oil is predominantly made in Malaysia and Indonesia (where 85% of all palm oil is made).
The problem with palm oil harvesting today, is that most of the time it is produced in non-sustainable ways.
It is generally acknowledged by environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, that the unsustainable palm oil industry is the main reason why 1/3rd of all mammal species in Indonesia are critically endangered.
The species impacted most by the palm oil production is the Orangutan. In the last quarter of a century, over 90% of their habitat has been destroyed. As a result, the species is now endangered.
But the Orangutan is only one of thousands of species that have been severely impacted through the production of palm oil.
Palm oil production in Indonesia is the main reason that the continent is now in the top 3 greenhouse emitters in the world.
Palm Oil & The Animals
As stated above, it’s not only the Orangutan that has been severely impacted by palm oil production. There are well over a quarter of a million species found in Indonesian rainforests that have been maimed, killed or lost their homes due to palm oil production.
This displacement of species has directly pushed the animals into the hands of smugglers and poachers. The smuggling industry is now booming.
The mass deforestation in Indonesia is now not only an environmental catastrophe, but also a wildlife catastrophe.
It is estimated that over 50,000 Orangutans have died in Indonesia because of palm oil harvesting and production.
Tigers, rhinos, elephants, monkeys and many large cat species are also facing extinction.
Palm Oil & The Locals
Many business leaders and government officials (in Indonesia) view palm oil production as a positive. Some of the poorest regions have seen greater development than at any time in history.
But while some areas have been developed and some people have been employed, many groups of people have been used and abused by the palm oil industry.
The region has some of the worst human rights and child labour records in the world.
Children have been forced into working long hours for little or no pay.
Because plantations are now the only form of work in many regions, many locals are finding they have no choice but to work in the palm oil industries. This has enabled businesses to lower wages which has forced many families into severe poverty.
RSPO was formed in 2004 to promote the use of sustainable palm oil through credible global standards.
The goal was to produce palm oil that was sustainable, had a minimal environmental footprint, that protected workers’ rights and had animal rights at its heart.
So what’s the problem?
RSPO certification allows companies to clear any forest space that isn’t deemed to have a “high conservation value (HCV)”. Therefore, large scale deforestation continues in certain areas.
The RSPO bans companies from creating fires to clear land. This enforcement hasn’t worked. The Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have released numerous maps and satellite images detailing how hundreds of thousands of acres of forest are still being burned down every year.
The RSPO seems powerless (or not willing) to act on such blatant breaches.
“Dirty Palm Oil” is still being traded by RSPO members because of traceability issues.
Therefore, consumers are still buying products (such as oreos) because they believe that the palm oil is sustainable, when in reality, the RSPO’s main supply chain systems do not lead to “clean palm oil”.
For further information on the subject of “sustainable” palm oil, read this report, by Greenpeace.
Conclusion – Are Oreos Vegan?
For me its a no.
Even if I could look past the cross-contamination potential, I certainly can’t turn a blind eye to the palm oil element.
The simple answer is yes. Most breads are vegan friendly. Always check those labels though.
Well-made bread (not the processed kinds found in supermarkets), is traditionally made with a few simple ingredients. Yeast, water, a very small amount of sugar, a healthy fat and flour.
Vegan Yes – But Healthy?
Is bread vegan? Mainly, yes. Is it healthy? Not so much.
It has been known for a long time that refined grains (particularly in the form of white bread) aren’t particularly healthy, beneficial or nutritious for humans.
For the last 20 years doctors, dieticians and nutritionists have advised us to consume whole grains instead.
But are whole grains really any better for us and should bread ever be categorised as healthy?
The Gluten Controversy
Bread is largely made of wheat, and wheat is predominantly made of gluten, which is a type of protein that gives bread it’s stretchy/springy quality.
Over the last 15 years there has been mounting evidence that a growing proportion of the population is particularly sensitive to gluten.
It was generally thought that it was only those with Celiac Disease that experience an immune response to gluten (wheat, barley, rye, spelt). But there is now growing speculation that even those with gluten sensitivity experience a certain amount of immunological damage after consuming wheat products.
There have been a number of controlled trials (study, study) in the last decade that have demonstrated that gluten has the propensity to damage the digestive tract, even in those without Celiac disease. The immunological response can cause symptoms such as tiredness, pain, bloating and irregular bowel movements.
There have also been strong links between gluten sensitivity and certain disorders of the brain. Schizophrenia (study,study) and cerebellar ataxia (study, study), for example.
I always believe there is no smoke without fire. Most bread contains gluten and we know gluten has the propensity to trigger an immune response in certain individuals who have a susceptibility. So if you have unexplained symptoms of tiredness, digestive pains, bloating or even anxiety or depression, then seek medical advice. The only real way to establish whether you have a gluten sensitivity is to remove gluten from your diet for a period of 30 days and then reintroduce foods containing gluten to see if your body reacts (but this should be under the supervision of an experienced professional).
The Toxic Ingredients of Bread
The reality may be that Gluten is actually the lessor of two evils. The real dangers of bread may actually come from some of its unsavoury ingredients:
Artificial Flavours & Colours: Obviously these vary in usage from country to country. Artificial flavours and colours are also normally derived from petroleum. And many of these additives have been linked to health issues in children such as allergies, asthma and hyperactivity.
Preservatives: All foods are supposed to be eaten fresh, and bread is no exception. Steer clear of any breads that contain preservatives. A common one in a lot of countries is calcium propionate. Again, this has been linked to child health problems such as ADHD.
Refined Sugars:This can be an ingredient that is incredibly difficult to spot, even in breads that are marketed as “low sugar” and “healthy”. Some common household breads contain as much as 2-3 grams of sugar per slice. The World Health Organisation advises that we should consume no more than 6 grams a day. There is also the contentious issue in some countries that the sugar used is derived from GMO sugar beets.
Dough Conditioners: In traditional bread making techniques these would never have been used. They have literally been introduced so that manufacturers can speed up the manufacturing process and maximise profit. Many dough conditioners are derived from extracting fat from corn or soybean oil and then manipulating it with other ingredients. Some common examples (and also ones that have been banned) include: sodium stearoyl lactylate, monoglycerides, azodicarbonamide and DATEM.
GMOs: Thankfully these haven’t made their way into the UK yet (but I am sure it’s only a matter of time). A lot of countries (especially the U.S.) use multiple GMO ingredients in the production of household breads. GMO soy flour, corn oil and soybean oil are all common. GMO use is clearly a contentious issue. The issue for me is that there have never been any long term tests on humans that assess the health impacts. And the argument that GMO’s are safer because no pesticides are used is incorrect. Some GMO’s are actually engineered by inserting toxic pesticides into the seed. This then causes the insects stomach to explode when trying to eat the crop.
Nutritional Profile of Bread
Bread is really just empty calories. It contains only low levels of vitamins and minerals. High levels of sugar. Low levels of protein. Often high amounts of unhealthy fats. High amounts of salt. And not much else.
But what about whole grain bread, I hear you cry? Well, it’s not much better I’m afraid.
While whole grains offer slightly more vitamins and minerals than processed grains, whole grain bread will contain higher levels of phytic acid, so it will potentially block any increased nutritional profile.
Is bread vegan? Is bread healthy? It can be. Why not try one of these healthy recipes?
Deliciously Ella: Date & Pecan Loaf
Plant Based Judy: Date & Pecan Loaf
Vegan Corner: Gluten Free Buns
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Vegan blogs are a great! And vegan blogs are also one of the main reasons that veganism has grown so much over the last 10 years. They inspire people to make fundamental and lasting changes in their lives.
There are now thousands of blogs to choose from. Blogs on nutrition, health, animal rights, recipes, environmental issues…..the list is endless.
I am often struck and blown away by how creative these blogs are now becoming and the direction they are now taking veganism. I am even getting friends and family saying to me: “oh, I cooked a recipe that I found on such and such a blog and it was delicious”. Times are clearly changing.
Below I have compiled a list of my favourite vegan blogs. I have put them into 3 categories: health and nutrition, recipes and environment and animals.
I am always on the lookout for new blogs to get inspired by, so if I have missed any good ones, then please leave a comment in the comments section below and I will update this list on a regular basis.
(Just as an FYI – the blogs are in no particular order!)
Dr John McDougall has one of the most inspirational vegan blogs on the internet and he inspires me more than most. His blog has tons of information covering everything from recipes, health education, a nutrition program, success stories about people who have reversed chronic diseases, apps, videos, podcasts, discussion boards and even a shop where you can buy nutritious food. If you are looking to regain your health or get healthy, then this is the first place you should stop.
Nutrition Facts is a website run by Dr Michael Greger. This website and blog is one of my favourite health resources on the internet. Dr Greger is a physician and bestselling author. He is also an internationally renowned public speaker. Nutrition Facts.Org provides daily blogs and videos on the latest nutrition research. The information is presented in easy to understand way that leaves you informed and ready to take on the world. Again, if you want to lead a healthy life, regain your health or simply want to understand the best foods to eat for optimal health then visit the blog and website. Dr Gregers latest book: How Not To Die is also a must read!
Dr Neal Barnard is another leading physician who advocates a plant and vegan based diet. Neal Barnard set up the Physicians Committee which is a leading revolution in the world of medicine. The committee has a membership of over 12,000 physicians and doctors and also has over 150,000 committed members from all around the world. The Committee aims to educate doctors about how modern diseases can be treated and reversed on plant based diets. All diseases are looked at from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. By putting prevention at the forefront of Dr’s minds, the committee empowers Dr’s and patients to take control of their own lives.
The Center for Nutrition Studies was set up in 2007 by Dr Colin Campbell. The Center was set up following a lifetimes worth of nutrition research and the world famous China Study (if you have never read it then buy it!). The centre also runs one of my favourite vegan blogs which provides daily and weekly articles on everything from health and nutrition, recipes, plant based nutrition courses and lots of other useful information. A very good nutrition resource!
Ok, not strictly a blog, but this entry was always going to be in my list. The website is a great resource for health articles and scientific facts as well as plant based recipes. The website was born out of the bestselling documentary also titled: Fork Over Knives. If you haven’t seen the film, where have you been the last 10 years? The film and website examine the claim (or as I like to call it – truth) that most degenerative diseases today are caused by poor nutrition and that most of these diseases can indeed be controlled, prevented and reversed by removing animal based foods from your diet. This is where it all started for me. If you have been thinking about transitioning to a vegan diet then I strongly recommend you watch the film, if you haven’t already done so (available on Netflix in most countries).
The blog is run by Robert Cheeke, a 36-year-old vegan bodybuilder from the U.S. Robert turned vegan at 15 and between 1995 and 2003 had gained 75 pounds in muscle following the adoption of a plant based diet. On the blog there is so much information if you are looking to build healthy muscle on a plant based diet. There is everything from meal plans, forums, articles and a nice resources section. Robert is one of many who are dispelling the myth that vegans are “weak and skinny”. Definitely worth a look……even if you aren’t into bodybuilding!
The Oh She Glows vegan blog was created by Angela Liddon, a leading bestseller author. For over 6 years Angela has created over 600 recipes (all free) that enable people to live healthier lifestyles. Her goal is to encourage more people to transition to plant-based diets by developing mouth-watering vegan recipes. Her recipes are also great for parents who are trying to get their children to eat healthier foods (her recipes work a treat on even the pickiest of children). Most of the recipes on the blog are also gluten free and allergy friendly!
Laura Millers blog (Raw. Vegan. Not Gross) is one of the most vibrant vegan blogs on the internet. Laura Miller is an American vegan who has had well over 87 different jobs before stumbling on her real passion in life. Predominantly raw vegan recipes. Her recipes are bright, colourful and super tasty. Oh, and highly nutritious. She also has a series on Tastemade, which is EPIC. So check it out!
If you love a vegan blog with tons of attitude, then look no further. But be warned. The content contains more expletives than a wound up Gordon Ramsey. If you have a great sense of humour and love delicious and affordable recipes, then this is the blog for you.
Dreena has been vegan for well over 20 years. During this period, she has built up a substantial recipe portfolio that includes a number of bestselling books. Her recipes are centred around bringing families together with whole-food recipes that look and taste great.
If you love tasty food with minimal fuss, then this is your blog. The website is the brainchild of Dana and John (married) who wanted to offer one-bowl recipes that can be made from scratch in under 30 minutes (and who doesn’t need this in their lives!). The food photography on this website is stunning, so give it a glance. But be warned, you will salivate!
The Post Punk Kitchen was actually a TV cooking show that aired for 2 years between 2003-2005. Fortunately for all of us, when the show was stopped, the website and blog went full steam ahead. This has resulted in a number of well received cookbooks. The blog is run by Isa Chandra Moskowitz who is also a bestselling vegan cookbook author.
The vegan Yack Attack blog is run by Jackie Sobon. It covers a wide spectrum of vegan recipes from delicious desserts, nutritious meal ideas and even raw recipes for those raw veganists. There is literally something for everyone. I love how simplistic and appetising many of the recipes are. Give it a look over!
What a couple of years it has been for Ella Woodward. It was only a few years back In 2011 that she was diagnosed with a serious disease (Postural Tachycardia Syndrome POTS). She was bed-bound and exhausted. After trying medications for 6 months she soon realised that this wasn’t going to be her solution. So she began her journey. After experimenting with her diet and removing meat, dairy, eggs and gluten, she was able to come off all her medications within 18 months of her diagnosis. The Deliciously Ella blog was born during this period and has gone from strength to strength. Ella also has some amazing cookbooks (that Mrs Goji & I love). If you have never been on Ella’s website…..go there now!
Bitter Sweet is a great vegan blog with a focus around sweet treats (a must for those with a sweet tooth). Although the focus is all things sweet, it wouldn’t be fair to not mention that the blog also contains great savoury and fresh vegetable dishes for those wanting to rustle up something quick and nutritious.
Vegan Richa is run by Richa Hingle, an award winning blogger and photographer. She has featured in Oprah.com, VegNews.com, Cosmopolitan and Huffington Post to name a few. Richa has been blogging since 2009 following a career in software development and also following a potentially fatal brain tumour diagnosis. Richa went plant based in 2010 and has never looked back. Her recipes and blog is simply stunning. I love the quote she gave on her blog when asked why vegan. She responded: “I couldn’t directly or indirectly cause extreme suffering and death of any other animal or human when there are alternatives”. Amen to that!
I love food photography and I am continually looking for creative inspirations. If you share this passion too then I can’t recommend strongly enough that you pay a visit to Pickles and Honey. This is one of the best vegan blogs on the internet for recipes and stunning photography. It will literally leave you drooling! Enjoy!
Gluten Free Girl is the blog of Solveig, a 20-year-old vegan blogger. She started the blog at 16 after discovering she had developed a gluten sensitivity. The blog chronicles the journey of Solveig and provides lots of tips and information for anyone who thinks they have health problems associated with gluten. There are lots of stunning gluten free recipes from: breads, breakfast ideas, desserts, cakes, cookies, pies and tarts, sweet treats, main courses, raw vegan ideas, soups and spreads. Basically this is a great collection for those wanting to avoid gluten!
This is another one of my favourite vegan blogs and it is a great site for those of you that love food photography. I have slight blog envy if truth be told lol. I love the food outlook that Sara and Hugh have, minimal intervention and freshly prepared. They have recipes for every taste and persuasion. Appetizers, sides, summer, winter, breakfast, beverages, salads and baby foods. You name it, they have it.
The Fig Tree Blog is run by Winnipegger Courtney and was a predominantly vegetarian based blog until Winnipegger was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. Soon after she went vegan. She said goodbye to meat, dairy and eggs and she’s never felt so good. The blog contains lots of great recipe ideas as well as some stunning photography. A great all-round blog!
Keepin It Kind is a blog by Kristy and Chris. I love the whole ethos of the blog from start to finish. Kristy was a self-confessed meat, dairy and eggs lover and the thought of going vegan filled her with fear. In her early 20’s she transitioned to be vegetarian and struggled to give up cheese. Eventually she transitioned fully to a vegan diet and now her and Chris (photographer) make stunning recipes accompanied by visually pleasing food snaps. Stop by and say hello to Kristy and Chris!
Is a great vegan blog for those who have dietary restrictions. The blog is run by Cara and she states that: “My hope in starting this blog was to create a site where people with dietary restrictions will not only feel normal, but find that eating without certain ingredients can still be good”. Here, here to that! And the blog certainly delivers on that front. There are lots of breakfast recipes, bread recipes, copycat treats, cookies and bars, snacks, all raw recipes, ice cream, chocolate recipes and side dishes…….to name a few.
I love Vegan is run by Brittany and William, a young married couple from Canada. Their goal is to make living a vegan lifestyle as simple and sustainable as possible. They are both passionate about veganism and they are both passionate about food photography. They have some great vegan recipes and some vegan resources on their blog, so stop by and say hi!
The Colorful Kitchen is a great blog that is based on great plant based recipes that are mainly gluten free. The blog is run by Ilene (a certified health coach) and Ilene is a firm believer in listening to the body and making choices based on what the body is telling you to do. There are lots of great recipe ideas on The Colorful Kitchen: smoothies, breakfast recipes, baked goods recipes, raw food recipes, desserts and also great holiday recipes.
The Cowspiracy blog is one of the best vegan blogs on the internet that highlights the destructive consequences that animal agriculture is having on the planet. The blog and website is born out of the critically acclaimed film: Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. If you haven’t seen it then get yourself on Netflix NOW! As most of us know, animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and produces more greenhouse gases than all of the transportation industries combined. The blog is a great resource that takes these facts one step further and provides daily and weekly articles around highlighting further issues born out of the animal agriculture industry. A great blog and resource for all vegans.
Get Vegucated is a leading blog from the makers of Vegucated. Vegucated is a critically acclaimed film following the journey of three meat and dairy loving New Yorkers as they follow a vegan diet for six weeks (a must see film!). The blog contains lots of great information from resource pages to communities that you can get involved in. There is also lots of great articles that will help you keep informed on everything vegan!
ADAPTT was formed in 1996 by Gary Yourofsky. Gary is a leading animal rights activist and to date has given over 2,600 lectures to well over 60,000 people and his YouTube videos have been viewed millions of times on the internet. Despite being arrested numerous times and being banned from 5 countries, Gary still continues to motivate and inspire. His website and blog is a great resource for anyone who thinks I wish I had an answer for that vegan question. There is information on plant based diets, animal rights, recipes, videos and other great presentation materials. A great all round source of information.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a UK based charity that is run to protect the rights of all animals. PETA campaigns tirelessly via research, legislation, events, public education and even celebrity involvement campaigns to highlight the mistreatment of animals all around the world. Their blog is one of my go to sites to keep up to date on animal activism information and I strongly urge you to stop by on their blog at least once a week!
Does cooking vegetables remove nutrients? The short answer is that it depends on which vegetables we are talking about!
We all should strive to eat a combination of raw and cooked vegetables on a daily basis to receive the maximum amount of nutrition possible.
Most of us are aware that when we cook food the chemical and physical composition can be greatly altered. For some vegetables the cooking process causes a loss of nutrients through leaching and degradation. For other vegetables it can be beneficial for us, as cooking can increase absorption rates as it helps soften cell walls and other food components (1).
We are all taught in school that some nutrients in food can be damaged by the effects of oxidisation, heat, light or a combination of the three. For example, vitamin C tends to be the nutrient most susceptible to damage through cooking. When you cook leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, roughly 30% of the vitamin C content is lost (2). B-Vitamins, antioxidants and folate are also particularly susceptible to heat damage. Alternatively, we know that fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E & K) are less prone to degradation as they are more stable when subjected to cooking (3).
Another area of nutrition that we are beginning to understand better are the glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables. When the plant cell walls are broken down fully (either by chopping or chewing), glucosinolates are converted into isothiocyanates (ITC’s – which have potent anti-cancer properties). It is important to mention here that heat de-activates the enzyme (myrosinase) that enables this conversation, so it is important that the vegetables are finely chopped or blended before cooking (ideally blended). We know that blending your greens and adding them to stews and soups generates the most isothiocyanates. It also appears that steaming instead of stir-frying and boiling your greens will result in minimal glucosinate loss in broccoli, but as always, try and subject the vegetable to as little heat as possible. Another tip for you to remember is that when you deactivate the myrosinase through heat, you will need to add in some more raw cruciferous vegetables (such as shredded cabbage) in order to produce more isothiocycanates (4).
And then we come to carotenoids. Most of the common carotenoids (lycopene, alpha and beta) tend to be fairly heat stable and you will actually increase your uptake of the compounds by cooking as they become more absorbable to the body. This is because lycopene, alpha and beta-carotenoids (and all carotenoids) are contained in plant cells in quite a rigid structure. To remove the compounds you have to literally “shake them out” which is what the heating and blending process does (5). It also appears that vitamin E is more accessible to the body following the cooking process (6). Recent studies on those who eat only raw foods have shown that they have lower levels of lycopene and other carotenoids in their bodies, compared to those who ate a mixture of raw and cooked. The study also showed that you can increase the amount of carotenoids in your body by adding fat to the meal (nuts and avocados are great choices) (7).
But it’s not just the cooking process that can lead to nutrient degradation. Storing foods in an incorrect manner can also increase the nutrients lost. It is common sense that if you ship produce from the other side of the world, compared to buying local produce, the food will have lost a much greater proportion of its nutritional value. If the vegetables have been frozen before being shipped, then on average they will contain lower levels of vitamin B1, B2, B3 vitamin C (because of the blanching process). With that being said, once you freeze the vegetables, the nutrients that are lost due to the storage process are minimal.
Freezing fruit has even greater benefits. This is because fruits are not subjected to the blanching process before being frozen. This means that they hold on to a larger proportion of their antioxidants (such as flavonoids) (2).
Another point to consider when looking at nutrient loss is that of boiling and steaming certain foods. You may not destroy the nutrients during heating, but you will lose nutrients through the leaching process. This is precisely why soups are so effective for holding onto nutrients (as long as you don’t over-cook).
Also pay particular attention to not cooking vegetables (or any food for that matter) at too high a temperature. This can cause the food to brown and burn which can increase the amount of acrylamide in the food. Acrylamide is a carcinogen that is commonly produced in overcooked starchy foods (particularly potatoes).
As a general rule of thumb I always advise people to eat a wide range of cooked and raw vegetables to maximise the amount of nutrients absorbed. If you are eating large salads on a daily basis and lots of soups and stews then you probably won’t be going too far wrong. Add in the healthy fats to increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E &K).
Suggested Cooking Methods
Cook greens in a steamer for no more than 10 minutes
For vegetables like parsnips, carrots and potatoes: add to stews or soups to avoid nutrient loss through leaching. If you want to bake them ensure you don’t overcook them.
Steam mushrooms for no more than 10 minutes or add to soups or stews.
Blend or puree cruciferous greens and onions before adding them to stews and soups.
For vegetables like butternut squash bake at low temperatures for approximately one hour (depending on oven). Cook around 160 degrees celsius (325 fahrenheit).
A new study by the University of Sydney has revealed that it was starchy carbohydrates that were fundamental in the evolution of the human brain – not meat.
The study published in the Quarterly Review of Biology challenges the previously false belief that human brains were able to grow into what they are today because of increased meat consumption.
This new research is a knock-out blow for those who have championed the paleo diet – a diet which advises people to abstain from starchy grains and vegetables.
Professor Jennie Brand-Miller who co-authored the study said “Global increases in obesity and diet related metabolic disease have led to enormous interest in ancestral or palaeolithic diets”.
“Up until now, there has been a heavy focus on the role of animal protein in the development of the human brain over the last two million years. The importance of carbohydrate, particularly in the form of starch-rich plant foods, has been largely overlooked. Our research suggests that dietary carbohydrates, along with meat, were essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans”
Professor Brand-Miller went on to say: “The evidence suggests that Palaeolithic humans would not have evolved on today’s ‘Paleo’ diet.”
According to the study, the high glucose requirement of the human brain and body would have never have been met by a low carbohydrate diet. The brain utilises about 25% of the body’s available energy and approximately 60% of blood glucose.
Higher demands are placed on the female body during pregnancy and lactation – all of which require additional glucose to facilitate the requirements. The “paleo diet” would not have been sufficient to meet these demands.
We know that early humans would have access to an abundance of starch based foods, particularly nuts, fruits, seeds and tubers. But it was only when man learnt to harness fire that these starchy foods were more easily digested. This inevitably led to the the transformational changes in human evolution said co-author Professor Les Copeland.
“Cooking starchy foods was central to the dietary change that triggered and sustained the growth of the human brain,” Professor Copeland said.
The research team suggest that many of these changes were a direct result of mutations in the salivary amylase genes. These genes determine the amount of enzymes present in the saliva to enable the body to digest starch based foods. Today humans have approximately three copies of these genes – primates only have two (on average). We do not know for certain when in our history that the amylase genes multiplied, but genetic evidence points to sometime during the last million years. This coincides with the time when humans started to routinely cook.
“After cooking became widespread, starch digestion advanced and became the source of preformed dietary glucose that permitted the acceleration in brain size,” Professor Copeland said.
“In terms of energy supplied to an increasingly large brain, increased starch consumption may have provided a substantial evolutionary advantage.”
Another co-author of the study, Karen Hardy, a scientist at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “We believe that while meat was important, brain growth is less likely to have happened without the energy obtained from carbohydrates. While cooking has also been proposed as contributing to early brain development, cooking carbohydrates only makes sense if the body has the enzymic equipment to process these.”
According to the research team, the best diet in which humans would largely remain healthy is a diet similar to the one that enabled our brains to become larger. Such a diet would include starchy foods such as sweet potatoes, wheat, barley, rye, corn, oats and quinoa. Such foods are avoided by the modern paleo movement.
“It is clear that our physiology should be optimised to the diet we experienced in our evolutionary past,” Professor Brand-Miller said.
There is a common misconception that fish is a healthier alternative to meat and that it actually promotes health in the human body. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are many reasons why fish is not healthy I have listed the main four below.
Proteins & IGF-1
Regardless of whether you eat fish, meat, eggs or dairy you will run into problems at some point in your life due to the higher concentrations of essential amino acids contained in these foods. One of the main reasons these amino acids are so detrimental in the body is that they increase the levels of IGF-1 (an insulin-like growth hormone) (study, study, study)
The knock-on effect of this is that IGF-1 speeds up the process of cell division in the body. This extra stimulation of cell multiplication has been heavily linked with cancer proliferation for many years. The science is very clear in this area and we know with certainty that animal proteins increase IGF-1 levels in the body and raised IGF-1 levels cause cancer (study, study, study, study).
Saturated Fats And Cholesterol
If you ask most people why they consume fish the standard response is that it’s heart healthy as it contains omega-3 fatty acids. So let me clear this area up for you:
While SOME fish do indeed contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), the vast majority of fatty acids derived from fish is actually in the form saturated fats. Fish also generally contains high levels of cholesterol. Both cholesterol and saturated fats are among the main risk factors for heart disease.
To give you an idea of how much cholesterol is contained in fish – in both a 3 ounce portion of bass and beef there is the same amount of cholesterol (approx. 75 milligrams). Yet most people don’t associate fish with cholesterol.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is derived from the plants they eat in the sea. Fish do not make omega-3’s. You can get omega-3’s by eating plant based foods like nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables and fruits. These foods provide ALA (fatty acid) which then gets converted in the body to the longer chain fatty acids EPA and DHA (both of which protect us from heart disease).
We only need the 1000mg of cholesterol our bodies make every day for optimal health. We DO NOT NEED ANY dietary cholesterol in our bodies. The more dietary cholesterol we load the body with the more we increase our risk of heart disease.
Chemicals & Pollutants
Most health authorities around the world have advisories around the amount of fish people consume. The reason for these advisories is that most oceans are heavily contaminated with metals such as mercury, chemicals such as PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) and insecticides and pesticides such as DDT and chlordane (See sample advisory). In this recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture 84% of all fish sampled from around the world contained unsafe levels of mercury. And why is mercury so bad for the body? Well mercury is neurotoxin (kills brain cells). When you eat foods that contain mercury it is very difficult for your body to remove it. It can then accumulate in the heart (for example) and inhibit normal heart function as well as causing causing central nervous system damage in foetus’s during pregnancy (study, study)
What Fish Is Lacking
So we know that fish today contains dangerous levels of mercury, hazardous chemicals and high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol. So lets also talk about what healthy nutrients fish doesn’t contain. Fish contains no carbohydrates (essential for optimal health). It also contains no fiber, essential for healthy bowel movements and the prevention of digestive cancers. It also lacks any real amounts of antioxidants, phytochemicals and other macronutrients essential for health promotion. So in reality people are eating fish for perceived health benefits when in reality its a pretty poor dietary choice.
Surely Fish Is Better Than Meat Right?
This is a ridiculous notion that we humans love to use. Just because fish is slightly less damaging in the body compared to meat, we classify it as a “health food”. While the science supportsfish eaters being healthier than meat eaters in terms of parameters such as diabetes, weight and other important health factors, lets not be under any illusion. Fish eaters still have very high rates of disease and illness compared to those on plant based diets. So yes, you might be slightly healthier than a meat eater, but if you want to live a long and healthy life then avoid both fish and meat (and dairy for that matter!).
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