Written by John A. McDougall, M.D.
Protein, fat, cholesterol, methionine (a sulfur-containing amino acid) and dietary acids, which are all superabundant in animal foods, are poisoning nearly everyone following the standard Western diet. Most people cannot fathom this because it takes four or more decades of consumption before disability, disfigurement and death become common from these endogenous toxins. This long latent period fools the public into thinking there is no harm done by choosing an animal-food-based diet. If the case were one of instantaneous feedback — one plate of fried eggs caused excruciating chest pains, paralysis from a stroke followed a prime rib dinner or a hard cancerous lump appeared within a week of a grilled cheese sandwich — then eating animal foods would be widely recognized as an exceedingly unwise choice. Similar failures to appreciate slow poisonings from our lifestyle choices are seen with tobacco and alcohol use. If one package of cigarettes were followed by a week on a respirator or a bottle or two of gin caused hepatic (liver) coma, then no one would indulge in these instruments of long-drawn-out death. The difference defining the failure to take long overdue actions is that the dangers from tobacco and alcohol use are universally known and accepted, whereas almost everyone considers red meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products necessary parts of a healthy diet.
The Art of Selling Slow Poisons:
Distract the Consumer Sellers of animal foods for human consumption draw in customers with the marketing strategy of “unique positioning” — each industry tries to make its merchandise stand apart from other foods by promoting a nutrient that is especially plentiful in its product. Over time, this effective advertising approach has meant that the mention of calcium brings to mind milk and cheese, iron has become synonymous with beef and eggs are well known as the “best source of high quality protein.”
Because these highly sensationalized nutrients are always plentiful in basic plant foods, illnesses from deficiencies of these nutrients are essentially unknown, as long as there is enough food to eat. Thus, there are no real nutritional advantages to choosing red meat, poultry, dairy and egg products with an especially high density of one particular nutrient. Ironically, milk and cheese are iron deficient, and red meat, poultry and eggs (unless you eat the shells) contain almost no calcium.
Focusing on the abundance of an individual nutrient accomplishes an even more insidious marketing goal; it diverts the consumer’s, and oftentimes the professional dietitian’s, attention away from the harmful impact on the human body of consuming all kinds of animal foods. In my 42 years of providing medical care, I have never seen a patient sickened by eating potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, rice, beans, fruits and/or vegetables (unspoiled and uncontaminated).
However, during my everyday practice I have witnessed (just like every other practicing medical doctor) a wide diversity of diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, type-2 diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and cancer from eating freshly killed and/or collected, as well as processed and/or preserved, animal-derived foods.
A Simplified View of Animal-food Poisoning
Animal foods — be they from cow, pig or chicken muscles, or the ovum of a bird or the lactation fluids of a mammal — are all so similar in their nutritional makeup and their impact on human health that they should be considered as the same (see the comparison tables at the end of this article, page 57). In order to avoid the confusion created by the marketing strategy of “unique positioning,” let’s look at different kinds of animal products mixed together to make one food, and compare them to their antithesis, starches. If I were to blend together red meat, chicken, eggs and cheese, which most Americans do three or more times a day in their stomachs, the end product would be a highly acidic mixture of mostly protein, fat and water — each individual food having contributed a similar amount of each component.
A blend of various starches — beans, rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes — would produce an opposite in composition.
The Five Overloads from Animal Foods that Poison Us Protein, fat, cholesterol, sulfur- containing amino acids (methionine, for example) and dietary acids poison us when consumed in amounts that exceed the body’s metabolic capabilities to detoxify and eliminate the excesses. Compared to the proper human diet, which is based on starches (see my February 2009 newsletter at DrMcDougall.com), animal foods burden us with three times more protein, 15 times more fat, greater than 100 times more cholesterol, four times more methionine and at least 10 times more dietary acid. Furthermore, the toxic effects of these poisons are interactive. For example, excesses of protein, methionine and dietary acids work together to destroy the bones. Excesses of dietary fat and cholesterol combine their deleterious effects to damage the arteries (atherosclerosis) and promote cancer. Let me provide some more details on how these five destructive elements from animal foods ruin your health.
Once your protein needs are met then the excess must be eliminated from your body, primarily by your liver and kidneys. You can notice an overload of protein by the strong smell of urea in your body sweat and urine. The work of eliminating excess protein takes a toll even on healthy people. On average, 25% of kidney function is lost over a lifetime (70 years) from consuming the high animal-protein Western diet.1, 2 For people with already damaged livers and kidneys, consuming excess protein will speed up the processes that lead to complete organ failure.3 – 7 Excess protein damages the bones. Doubling the dietary intake of protein increases the loss of calcium into the urine by 50%, fostering the development of osteoporosis and kidney stones.8 Lipotoxicity (Fat Overload)
The most recent report (for 2007 to 2008) on the epidemic of obesity in the U.S. finds 33.8% of adults obese with 68.0% of all adults overweight.9 Dietary fats are almost effortlessly stored in your body fat.10 When consumed in excess, dietary fats also result in a surplus of fats stored in your liver, heart and muscles. From all this over-accumulation, insulin resistance develops, contributing to other health problems, including heart disease, strokes and type-2 diabetes.11 The extra pounds you carry around cause damage to the joints of your lower extremities (osteoarthritis). Excess fat in your diet and on your body alters your cellular metabolism, promoting cancers by many already discovered mechanisms.12
Cholesterol is only found in animal products. As an animal, you make all the cholesterol you need. Unfortunately, your capacity to eliminate it is limited to a little more than the amount you make. As a result, the cholesterol added by eating animal foods accumulates in your body parts, including your skin, tendons and arteries. Cholesterol deposited in your arteries is a major contributor to vascular diseases of your heart and brain.13 Cholesterol also facilitates cancer development.14
Overconsumption of sulfur-containing amino acids (for example, methionine) will cause you many unwelcome problems.15 Most noticeably, sulfur stinks, like rotten eggs, causing halitosis, body odor and noxious flatus. Methionine is metabolized into homocysteine, a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, peripheral vascular disease, venous thrombosis, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Sulfur feeds cancerous tumors and is known to be toxic to the tissues of the intestine. Sulfur-containing amino acids are metabolized into sulfuric acid — one of the most potent acids found in nature.
After ingestion, your body must neutralize the over-abundance of endogenous dietary acids in the animal foods you eat. Your bones are the primary buffering system of your body.16 – 20 They counteract these dietary acids by releasing alkaline materials (carbonate, citrate and sodium) — thereby the bones dissolve. Acids from animal foods also raise cortisol (steroid) levels in your body.21 An excess of steroids is another mechanism for further bone loss. The net result from this chronic acid poisoning is kidney stones and osteoporosis.
Detoxifying with a Starch-based Diet
Simply by making the right food choices you will immediately relieve yourself from the burden of five dietary poisons inherently found in animal foods. At the same time, you will be reducing your intake of pesticides, antibiotics and other toxic chemicals found in high concentrations in most animal foods. You will also be adding generous amounts of complex carbohydrates, dietary fibers, alkaline substances and a healthy balance of vitamins, minerals and essential phyto-chemicals to your body. And finally, you will be avoiding exposure to animal-borne, infectious microbes (bacteria, viruses, parasites and prions) that can cause acute and deadly illnesses. Give yourself a break today: choose starches, free of the five endogenous poisons superabundant in animal foods.
Calculations based on information found in: Pennington J. Food Values of Portions