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Vegetarian in Thailand

Spook Edwards, 126

Thailand might just be the best place I can imagine to transition to vegetarianism. Not only is it easy to avoid drive-thrus and cheap, greasy delivery food (because it’s not available), but there is a wealth of sweet and delicious fresh, local produce to eat instead!

Our bodies were designed for a plant-based diet as can easily be shown by a comparison of our digestive process to that of other animals. Briefly[1], while carnivores have conical, pointed teeth, even our so-called “canines” have flat grinding surfaces, and we possess molars, something true carnivores live happily without. Our saliva is mainly composed of amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starches, as well as the enzyme ptyalin, to predigest grains. Actual carnivores do not have either enzyme in their saliva and do most of their digesting in their super-acidic stomachs. The acid in our stomachs is roughly 5% the strength of a carnivore’s stomach acid, which is why they can consume muscle flesh, scales, skin, bone, and food that might be starting to rot, whereas none of those things are appetizing to humans and might actually kill us.

We have a digestive system about twelve times the length of our bodies, a small cecum and a distinctly sacculated colon, highly similar to the alimentary canals of herbivores[2], and completely unlike the short (three times the length of their bodies) digestive tracts of carnivores. Carnivores and animals who are designed to mainly eat other animals also tend to be nocturnal, so they don’t have sweat glands and sweat through their tongues. Anyone who’s lived in Thailand during April knows that’s definitely NOT how people were designed[3]! Furthermore, carnivores and other animals intended to eat a high-protein diet do not require the same vitamins and minerals we do to survive; Vitamin C, for example[4].

Finally, people don’t even find raw bloody food appetizing. We grind, de-bone, de-vein, and do as much as we can to make animal flesh look like it didn’t come from animals. Our most popular meat foods, hamburgers, hotdogs and the like, don’t look anything like the flesh from which they come. The more one looks at our psychology, physiology and nutritional needs, it’s apparent that human beings were intended to consume a plant-based omnivorous diet. Why, then, have we always been told that meats and dairy are the most important part of a balanced diet? Why have we been eating the wrong foods for so long?

It was around 1839 when the first macronutrient was discovered, and it was protein. Justus von Liebig was the scientist who discovered that if you withhold ‘protein’ from mice, they die. Well, the scientific community was abuzz with this news and went further, thinking that if some is good, more must be better. Now, we know that this is not true, and even though later in life von Liebig himself found through scientific experimentation that the popular Law of the Minimum[5] doesn’t work in this case, the idea had taken hold. Furthermore, the discovery fed into our classicism and snobbery, the fact that only the higher classes could afford to have meat dishes every day, so eating ‘well’ and ‘better’ became equated with consuming meat and dairy. Today there might be less of a formal class system, but the meat and dairy industries have become so powerful they basically elect our government officials, so those groups are heavily subsidized and their interests are well protected. Add in everything that happened concerning the McGovern Committee and report[6], and no government official or lobbyist looking to keep their job is going to recommend consuming less[7], let alone no meat or dairy.

But meats and dairy are not what we were meant to eat. When we consume dairy we’re enjoying cow lactation…which is kind of gross when you think about it. Bovine lactation is filled with estrogen, because it’s cow breast milk. It is similar enough to our (also) mammalian estrogen receptors so it elevates human blood levels of estrogen to put us at greater risk for breast cancer[8]. Cow’s milk is also intended to help a baby cow put on hundreds of pounds in a few short months, so it’s filled with the hormone IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, which also raises the IGF-1 hormone level in humans[9]. Aside from making it easy to gain weight, IGF-1 is an extremely powerful cancer promoter, and there is a strong relationship between IGF-1 levels and breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancers. There’s actually a stronger link between low-fat milk consumption and prostate cancer than there is between smoking and lung cancer! [10]

Meats do similar things to our bodies, raising cancer-causing hormones and setting us up for diseases as well as blocking our abilities to absorb nutrients we need. Every time in history a population has consumed less meat and dairy (because of a war or due to incarceration, for example), if their basic caloric needs were still being met by plant-foods, their health improved greatly. However, when considering a vegetarian or vegan diet or if you decide to in some other way reject SAD (the Standard American Diet) the first thing people will ask you about is if you can get enough protein without meat and dairy.

As adults our protein needs are actually quite low, only about 2.5% of an adult’s diet needs to be protein, and plants have more than enough protein to supply us with that meagre amount. If that sounds unbelievable to you, consider that the ideal amount of protein for humans in their most rapid phase of growth, as infants, is only about 6%! Now, if you’ve read any recent diet books you know that this little protein isn’t at all popular with the diet, pharmaceutical or other industries that profit from people’s confusion about what and how much to eat. Do remember that those groups are definitely seeking to profit. Healthy people don’t need medicine, complicated diet books or wacky weight-loss gadgets, so it makes abundant sense that this little protein isn’t usually even included in an industry-funded ‘study’.

Starches and carbohydrates have a really bad reputation right now, and I’m sure in another 20 years they’ll be villainized again (Atkins has come around before, in 1972, and it’ll probably be back again later, despite the obvious fact that if it worked, no-one would still be fat). The problem is not with the food itself, rather with public perception based on the campaign of lies and results taken out of context, misquoted science, and industry-funded research that skews an experiment’s results. Unless you’re willing to look up the study, who supported it, and what they were actually testing to find out if it’s actually just a press release in disguise, it’s easy to be misled[11]. Often these studies will put their diet against an equally unhealthy diet and then proclaim a 2% difference as being great news and that their diet is the way to everlasting health. There are also plenty of ‘studies’ that couple the fad diet with a low-calorie regimen and claim the same thing, without testing a simple low-calorie regimen as a control. So again, unless you’re getting your information from the study itself, it’s easy to be fooled and find the truth requires some legwork[12].

However, over the years, independent research into the subject has proven again and again that eliminating meat and dairy products from one’s diet is the healthiest, most natural way to go. When you first decide to try vegetarianism there’ll be a phase where you feel better simply from eliminating the garbage from your diet. Your body, no longer bombarded by phony food-like chemicals, junk food, or foods it was never designed to process, will feel fantastic! But slowly you might notice some fatigue setting in, or that you’re ‘always hungry’. The issue here is that the stomach has two kinds of receptors for feeling full, hunger and satiety receptors. If you eat a pound and a half of vegetables you’ll be full volume-wise, but you’ll still feel hungry and possibly tired because that’s only a few hundred calories! Conversely, if you have a little of a calorie-dense food, a bag of potato chips or something, you’ll have eaten plenty of calories, but from a bulk standpoint you’ll be empty. The trick is to eat plenty of whole-grain starches, which are naturally calorie-dense, and fortunately for us here in Thailand, rice is one of the best! When I say ‘starch’ I’m not talking about über processed pasta, breads and donuts. I mean, for example, a baked potato (skipping the butter and sour cream slathered on top), or some steamed squash, rice, or beans (that haven’t been refried in lard) and corn. These foods, most of which are readily available to us at our local markets, are what humans have been eating healthily for hundreds of years. It’s only in the last forty years that diseases have really set in…because that’s when we started adding fats and oils, processing the fiber and nutrients out of foods and putting fats and phony sugars in their place.

Our service here in Thailand changes us in many ways, our mental attitudes and lifestyles most of all. While we’re here, with fresh, whole foods readily available and affordable, and as our palates will be changing in any case, it is an opportune time to consider or make the switch to a plant-strong diet. As many hard-core Buddhists give up meat in order to pay respect and focus on religion (like the Christian’s season of Lent), making the leap to vegetarianism can be seen as another simple way to take advantage of the experiences our service has to offer us.

If you would like further information about any of the topics raised here, I can recommend:

 

Books:

The China Study, Whole, The Low-Carb Fraud by T. Colin Campbell

Mad Cowboy, Howard F. Lyman

The Happy Herbivore Guide to Plant-Based Living, Lindsay S. Nixon

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan

Food Over Medicine, Pamela Popper

Organic Manifesto, Maria Rodale

The Starch Solution, John A. McDougall

The Volumetrics Eating Plan, Barbara Rolls

…then just stay fat, Shannon Sorrels

Mindless Eating, Slim by Design, Brian Wansink

Also, note that websites, videos and other articles by these people are reliable sources of information!

Movies:

Forks Over Knives, Food, Inc., Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2, Food Matters, Hungry for Change, Fed Up, Vegucated, Farmageddon, and The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue. All available on Netflix, with different viewpoints on the same theme.

YouTube Videos:

Peter Singer, The Ethics of What We Eat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHzwqf_JkrA

 

Websites:

The food pyramid, based on nutrition NOT agriculture subsidy groups: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/22/food-pyramid-guide.aspx

 

A page with visual representations of the caloric breakdown of various countries’ diets: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/what-the-world-eats/

More articles, scientific research, and information on proper diet by T. Colin Campbell: http://nutritionstudies.org/t/plant-based-diet/ I especially love his acerbic tone in the article “How To Sell A Diet Pill”!

[1] This page by the vegan nutritionista also does a quick rundown on the digestive differences between people and other animals, and it has pictures!

[2] Milton, K. “Nutritional characteristics of wild primate foods: Do the diets of our closest living relatives have lessons for us?” Nutrition, 1999, 15: 488-498. In this article Milton points out that chimpanzees and other apes live on a diet that’s 4-6% protein, mainly from ants and termites…which would be easy to copy here in Thailand!

[3] Lyman, Howard F. Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat, 182-184.

[4] Humans cannot synthesize their own vitamin C and other animals that require vitamin C are all plant-eaters; carnivorous mammals do not require vitamin C.

[5] The Theorem of minimum says that a plant’s growth is not determined by the total resources available, but by the scarcest available resource; development is limited by the one essential mineral that is in the relatively shortest supply. …The problem is that animal development does not mirror that of plants!

[6] The McGovern committee was created in the 1970s to form dietary guidelines for the US. Unfortunately, the scientific findings were received with hostility from meat and dairy industry lobbyists, and many politicians subsequently lost their ensuing elections because they were involved in trying to disseminate accurate dietary information (Campbell, T. Colin, The Low-Carb Fraud, 34-37.), or watch this video from NutritionFacts.org.

[7] Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (U.S. Senate): Dietary Goals for the United States, 2nd edition, 83 (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.: 1977).

[8] “When Friends Ask: Why Don’t You Drink Milk?” The McDougall Newsletter, March 2007, http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/march/dairy.htm.

[9] S. Moschos, C. Matzoros, “The Role of the IGF System in Cancer: From Basic to Clinical Studies and Clinical Applicantions,” Oncology 63 no. 4 (2002): 317-32.

[10] Armstrong B, Doll R. “Environmental factors and cancer incidence and mortality in different countries, with special reference to dietary practices”. International Journal of Cancer, 1975, 15: 617-631. Also, see what’s been compiled by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. Yikes!

[11] This disturbing fact can be illustrated by articles such as this one about cola companies and the one where a man literally fooled millions of people into thinking chocolate will make them lose weight: http://io9.com/i-fooled-millions-into-thinking-chocolate-helps-weight-1707251800.

[12] Fortunately, there are scientists out there who can help! Two of my favourite people for solid science and actual nutrition advice are Drs. Marion Nestle and Pamela Popper. Nestle has a great podcast What to Eat, and Popper has a library of YouTube videos debunking and commenting on/correcting pseudo-science here.

 

 

 

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