Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet

Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet

Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet

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.

health dangers of a plant-based diet

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

  1. Seeds (Naked vs Protected) / Antinutrients – Health Dangers of Eating Seeds
  2. Roots / Glycoalkaloids – “Potato Paralysis” Health Dangers of Glycoalkaloids
  3. Stems / Glucosinolates – “Broccoli Bombs” – Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables
  4. Leaves / Oxalates – “Spinach Leaf Prick” Health Dangers of Oxalates
  5. Fruit / Phenolics, Cyanogenic Glycosides, Salicylates – “Peach Pit Poison” Health Dangers of Eating Fruit
  6. Conclusion: The Toxin-Time Continuum(a must read)

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 know 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.health dangers of a plant-based diet

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.

health dangers of a plant-based diet

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.seeds grains nuts and beans

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 raises 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:

  1. We are going to look at a plant part. For example, the seed.
  2. We are going to evaluate a big chemical warfare agents that food uses. Like lectins.
  3. We are going to see if there is a way to mitigate it’s attack. Like cooking.

[NOTE: You can now access the complete “Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet” series here]:

The Carnivore Diet

The Carnivore Diet is born out of 2 driving forces:

  1. What humans are designed to eat (meat-based diet)
  2. What humans are ill-equipped to eat (plant-based diet)

In this series we 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.

50 Replies to “Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet”

  1. Plant based diet?
    Good luck when as you age trying to make that work.
    My wife and I are 70. We can’t eat plants based like
    we could because as you age, those pesky plant defenses
    along with thinning stomach causes leaky gut.
    Don’t listen to the young and pay attention to the old folks
    who at advanced age are not eating VEGETABLES or SPICES like they
    once could.

  2. I spent my life working in the natural health field. As it’s termed in Canada. Mostly as a Science Director. I was well paid as it was thought I knew a lot. However, only now that I have become more aware of the dleterious potential of the many plant toxins do I feel that I’ve earned my salt. I will therefore proceed to read everything you have written on this subject. There is a lot of material available. A new and dedicated computer will be necessary and filing cabinets. Keep up your excellent work.

  3. I have read several of your articles this evening. I think your work is very interesting, especially when I think about all of the vegetables I am unable to eat due to a very sensitive GI system. I have eliminated a long list of vegetables I am unable to eat due to them causing stomach pain and discomfort.

    1. Hi Sandy, I appreciate you taking the time to read about a perspective that tends to go against “mainstream” health with an open mind.

      1. I am following a low FODMAP diet, but my GI doctor talked with me yesterday about avoiding cruciferous vegetables due to my sensitive GI system during my appointment. I also have fibromyalgia.

  4. Hi, I have read your e-book 0n carnivore, and thinks it is amazing, understand about the plants and grains, just want to know what you think of rice. You see I have Coeliac Disease and a lot of foods are increasingly making me sick, even G.F. foods, but I do not seem to have a problem with rice, so I wanted to know your thoughts on rice, please. Thank you,
    Wendy Lee.

  5. Let me begin by stating that I am not an expert on this. So take what I say with a grain of salt.

    From what I understand, part of which is from this site (first link from Kevin Stock), is that humans started off eating mostly plants. That explains the jaws and teeth you described. We then moved onto eating more and more meat as per the energy needed to support increasing brain size. Eating mostly plants would have made this very difficult grazing almost all of the waking hours as they didn’t have convenient grocery stores where they could pick up all their food. To me, this alone is a strong indicator that humans ate mostly meat as this would free up much more time to develop tools, culture, etc…

    Your question of why our jaws and teeth are still herbivore in nature is answered, I think, when you consider the use of fire. As we moved from mainly plant diet to the meat diet, our jaws and teeth were still remnant of that diet. However, the use of fire helped to tenderize the meat and make it easier to break down and absorb in the body, which didn’t make larger/stronger jaw/teeth structure a necessity trait in evolution. In other words, those with herbivore jaws/teeth could survive and thrive so they didn’t get wiped out through evolution.

  6. Why dont Primates eat any meat(97%plant 3%insect) are we not like them with our intestinal insides? Along with the fact that both our jaws and teeth are that of an herbivore? All of this info is very opposite the reading I’ve been doing any answers would help thank you in advance.

  7. Read this article a while back. Made so much sense. Then played around with vegan diet (forgetting about this) after wife made us watch “What the Health”. That seemed to make sense too when they organize facts and figures to support their argument. Had to drop the vegan diet because wife started suffering from low energy and body aches. Then started to swing toward Keto diet and I remembered this article. Searched for it, and here I am. (sorry for the rather long background story).

    Got a few questions though:

    1. Borrowed from What the Health, if humans are carnivorous by nature, why do we have very long intestines and sideways moving jaws like herbivores? And our teeth structure seem to indicate that we are herbivores too.

    2. I assume cows, for instance, eat grass and therefore have innate ability to neutralize or deal with the poisons present in the grass. Same for all the other herbivorous animals and insects that feed on plants. If that is the case, could we humans also not have these innate ability to neutralize poison from some of the plants (the ones our ancestors figured out by trial and error)?

    3. If we go on completely carnivorous diet, how and where do we get some of the nutrients that we typically get from plants currently? I know next to nothing about nutrition so I won’t even pretend to know them by Googling them. But I’d imagine that we can’t get everything from animal meats and fats. And even if we could get them all with some of them in trace amounts, wouldn’t eating more meat/fats to get enough of those mean we end up getting too much other things that are present in abundance?

    If #2 is true and we do have the ability to neutralize some of the plants’ poisons, then maybe we are meant to be omnivorous like we were taught when we were kids. Maybe it’s just a matter of degrees rather than this or that; black or white.

    1. Hi Thomas good questions, and I know navigating all the conflicting points of view can be very confusing to say the least.

      To answer some of your questions:

      1. The answer is that we evolved from (key word “from”) primate ancestors who anatomically were built for a plant-based diet: https://www.kevinstock.io/health/what-did-humans-evolve-to-eat/

      2. Cows (ruminants) have a complex stomach structure that enables them to turn nutrient poor plant-based food into high energy fat (we humans have largely lost this ability). I’ve discussed this in numerous posts including:
      Talking about carbs: https://www.kevinstock.io/health/carbohydrates-and-the-carnivore-diet/
      Talking about anatomical and evolutionary adaptations: https://www.kevinstock.io/health/carbohydrates-and-the-carnivore-diet/
      And really wrapping this whole discussion up here: https://www.kevinstock.io/health/evidence-for-a-meat-based-diet/

      3. Plants don’t provide any essential nutrient that cannot be obtained from animals (not vice versa). We can indeed get everything we need from animals.

      And sure, it is clear that humans can eat plants for energy and nutrients (or there wouldn’t be such thing as a vegan), however, some people are better equipped than others to handle various toxins these sources of food provide. I’m not saying it’s “black” or “white” but that most of the world is skewed way too far in the wrong direction.

      1. Thanks for the answers. I didn’t get a notice email so I just checked in today just in case. Sorry for the late response.

        Been watching a lot of YT videos on carnivore diet. Hard to find anyone who’s been doing it for a long time and results. Blood work is a bit of an iffy area because the markers that are used are based on an omnivore diet. But I’d love to see someone’s arteries and see how clean they are on the carnivore diet. I personally love the idea and makes a lot of sense, but wife is harder to convince….

        One thing I read from on the of the YT video comments, which I wanted to ask you was about the gut health. Someone was saying that carnivore diet will contribute to the loss of gut bacteria diversity and that’s why when people reintroduce some of the plant foods they have severe reactions.

        Someone could have been eating a lot of plant foods, but after carnivore diet, they can’t seem to handle it. Some of them get gut wrenching severe pain. The idea of gut diversity seems to fit in with the hypothesis, but I also thought it could be that your body is more “purified” and thus the irritants show their effects more clearly.

        But if that’s true, then how were people able to eat all these plant foods before going on the carnivore diet without being in constant and gut wrenching pain?

        1. I eat a lot of plant foods and after every meal I suffer from burping, stomach pain and severe flatulence. A few days back, I had chicken soup and some steamed rice for lunch and dinner and I was perfectly fine.

  8. Great article!

    Thanks for all your work on this subject, Kevin. I’ve been carnivore for almost two years now with fantastic results. I’m a life-long fitness and nutrition enthusiast, but I’m also an English teacher and a copy editor, so I’m here to help you improve your above article.

    “Beg the question” does not mean “raise the question.” Please, do not use these interchangeably; I beg you!

    “Beg the question” is a type of logical fallacy where the conclusion of an argument is merely a restatement of its premise (for example, “Smoking can kill you because cigarettes are deadly”).

    Keep up the great work, amigo, and let’s all keep our grammar as good as our diet!

    Feel free to contact me if you have any language concerns.


    1. Ah, a fellow pedant! (Sharpening my pencil.)

      You are right about the origin as a logical fallacy; however “begging the question” is also a common phrase used originally to point out that someone is arguing for something with a foregone conclusion. For instance, if someone argues that “we should eat more plant based food to decrease cholesterol”, that would be begging the question if cholesterol is bad for you.

      This application of the term is the original, practical usage of the insight of the logical fallacy. It’s (percieved) meaning has later evolved into other usages.

      (And I wouldn’t call it grammar, as grammar concerns the correct ordering of words in a sentence. “The hammer ate the preposition” is a grammatically correct sentence, but meaningless/incomprehensible. How someone uses common phrases falls into the realm of phraseology.)

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