Member Center: A Meat Eater's Rant

Got a question for Dr. Fuhrman? Want to ask him directly? Do you know about the “Ask the Doctor” section of DrFuhrman.com? That’s where Dr. Fuhrman can address your individual concern or inquiry. Like this one.

Recently one member wanted doctor’s reaction to this tirade by someone bashing the vegetable-based/vegan diet and promoting the advantages of gobbling up lots of animal products and organ meats. Here’s the actual rant:
It's disgraceful that you steer (or help steer) people toward veganism in your capacity as a professional nutrition consultant. No one in your profession should ever be allowed to practice if they approve of veganism as being healthy and safe for most, especially over the long haul. Meat and fish contain many nutrients that are either absent from, or present in only scarce amounts in, plant foods. Here are some examples:


Creatine is used to form adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP), our ultimate source of cellular energy. Creatine availability is critical during situations when neither fat nor glucose can be processed quickly enough to form ATP, such as during the first few seconds of high-intensity physical activities like sprinting and picking up heavy objects. Creatine supplements have been shown in numerous studies to aid performance in power-oriented sports, and to improve muscular strength in patients with congestive heart failure [Kreider RB].

Creatine only occurs naturally in animal foods, with meat by far the richest source. Not surprisingly, habitual vegetarians exhibit poorer creatine status than omnivores [Maughan RJ].

Meat, along with certain species of fish and seafood, is a rich source of taurine, an important amino acid whose concentration in eggs, milk, and plant foods ranges from negligible to none [LaidlowSA][Pasantes-Morales H]. Taurine is found in high concentrations in the heart, brain, and central nervous system, where it helps stabilize the cellular response to nervous stimulation. Taurine possesses antioxidant capabilities and has been shown in double-blind clinical trials to improve cardiac function in patients with congestive heart failure [Schaffer SW][Azuma J][Azuma J].

Taurine cannot be found in plant foods. Humans can manufacture their own taurine but with far less efficiency than herbivorous animals, as evidenced by significantly lower blood taurine levels in vegans and rural Mexican women reporting low meat intakes [Laidlaw][Pasantes-MoralesH].

Carnitine is a remarkable amino acid that plays a pivotal role in energy production, and is absolutely essential for the fat-burning process to proceed. Because of its pivotal role in energy production, high levels of carnitine are found in the heart and skeletal muscle. Clinical trials have observed markedly improved survival outcomes resulting from carnitine supplementation in patients with heart failure and coronary heart disease [Davini P][Rizos I][Singh RB][Iliceto S]. A review of the scientific literature shows that this versatile amino acid has been shown to benefit anorexia, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, male infertility, sexual dysfunction and depression in aging men, and pregnancy outcomes. Exercise, even at moderate levels, can cause a significant drop in muscle carnitine levels; in patients with angina and respiratory disorders, carnitine enhances exercise tolerance [Kelly GS][Cavallini G][Gentile V].

The richest food source of carnitine, by far and away, is meat. Compared to omnivores, vegetarians repeatedly exhibit lower blood levels of carnitine [Krajcovicova-Kudlackova M][Lombard KA]. Carnitine status appears to also be worsened by the high-carbohydrate diets recommended by folks like Campbell. In healthy men receiving the same amount of dietary carnitine, blood levels of this all-important amino acid rose significantly in individuals following a high-fat, low-carb diet, while no change in carnitine levels were observed in individuals on a high carb, low-fat diet [Cederblad G].

Meat is the only food containing significant amounts of carnosine, an amino acid with some rather interesting and highly beneficial properties [Chan KM]. Carnosine is a potent antioxidant, being particularly effective in protecting cellular fats against free radical damage. Research shows carnosine may accelerate wound healing, boost the immune system, protect against cataracts, reduce gastric ulcer formation, rid the body of toxic metals, and even help fight against cancer [Hipkiss AR]. The most potent effect of carnosine however, appears to be its ability to prevent glycation, which, along with free-radical production, is a major contributor to degenerative illness and the aging process [Price DL, et al].

The potent anti-glycation effects of carnosine may explain why a comparison of vegetarians, vegans and meat-eating omnivores revealed the latter to have significantly lower levels of nasty glycation end-products known as advanced glycosylation end-products (AGEs) circulating in their bloodstreams. The difference couldn't be explained by total carbohydrate intake, blood sugar, age or kidney function, as all these variables were similar between the vegetarian and omnivorous groups [Sebekova K].

Meat, especially red meat, is the richest source of B-complex vitamins. The B vitamins perform a myriad of crucial functions in the body and requirements for these vital nutrients are dramatically increased during periods of stress, illness and physical activity. Unfortunately, the body can't store a surplus of B-vitamins for times of increased need, so optimal amounts must be consumed daily.

Meat, especially red meat, is also a rich source of iron. Iron forms an essential component of hemoglobin, the red pigment in blood that transports oxygen from the lungs to the various body tissues. Insufficient iron intake can result in impaired immune function, decreased athletic performance and lack of energy. A double-blind Swiss study of women aged 18-55 who had sought medical advice for fatigue, found that most of the women had low blood concentrations of iron. After four weeks, a significantly greater number of women receiving iron supplements reported a decrease in fatigue symptoms than those receiving placebo [Verdon F]. Australian women complaining of fatigue showed similar improvements when treated with either iron supplements or a high-iron diet [Patterson AJ].

Those who need to boost their iron stores should look to red meat rather than supplements or plant foods. When previously sedentary women were challenged with 12 weeks of aerobic exercise, a high meat diet protected iron stores more effectively than iron supplements[RM Lyle]. Heme iron (the form of iron found in meat) is far more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron from plant sources. Men and women on lacto-ovo vegetarian diets consistently exhibit lower blood levels of iron, even when consuming similar total amounts of dietary iron as omnivores [Alexander D][Hunt JR].

Animal foods are also by far and away the richest source of zinc. Apart from oysters, meat is the richest source of this mineral, with red meats again containing greater amounts of this mineral than white meats. Zinc is essential for optimal growth and repair, being involved in the actions of several vital hormones and hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body. Zinc is essential for the formation of superoxide dismutase, one of the body's most potent antioxidants. Zinc deficiencies can result in growth retardation in children, significantly weakened immune function, poor wound healing and muscle loss, lowered testosterone levels and sperm counts, and have also been linked to depression and gastric cancer [Prasad AS][Brown KH][Siklar Z][Dardenne M][Ibs KH][Maes M][Nakaji S][Prasad AS][Hunt CD].

Overt zinc deficiencies are common to Third World countries where animal protein consumption is low. Milder, 'sub-clinical' zinc deficiencies also appear to be a common phenomenon in modernized nations. Those who follow low fat diets are at even greater risk of zinc deficiency [Retzlaff BM][Baghurst KI, et al].

Animal foods, most notably brains and fatty fish, are the only dietary source of long chain omega 3 fats such as DHA and EPA (special algae supplements containing LCPUFA have only recently become available). Some plant foods do contain omega-3 fatty acids, but in a form known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). To obtain the LCPUFA the body needs, ALA must be converted endogenously to longer-chain omega-3s such as DHA and EPA. The conversion rate, however, is very low, with clinical studies repeatedly showing that omega-3 fats from plant sources to be vastly inferior to those from animal foods when it comes to boosting long-chain omega-3 status [Fokkema MR][Francois CA][Tang AB, et al].

Numerous studies have shown that vegetarians consume far lower levels of long-chain omega-3 fats--not surprising considering their avoidance of meat and fish [Rosell MR, et al]. Studies of pregnant women show that, compared to omnivores, vegetarians have significantly lower levels of DHA in their breast milk, with vegans displaying the lowest levels of all. These negative fatty acid profiles are reflected in infants, with vegan newborns displaying significantly lower red blood cell levels of DHA. This is an ominous finding, given the critical role that omega-3 fats play in healthy immune function and cognitive development [Williams C][O'Connor DL][Helland IB][Moriguchi T][Dunstan JA].

Along with lowering one's omega-3 levels, low meat intakes also increase the concentration of omega-6 fats inside the body. A high dietary and bodily ratio of omega-6: omega-3 fats increases the risk of numerous diseases, including cardiovascular disease. A sizable portion of heart attacks are triggered when blood clots lodge themselves in narrowed coronary arteries and prevent the flow of blood to the heart, a process also known as arterial thrombosis. One of the early and key events in the development of thrombosis is platelet aggregation, the 'clumping together' of blood platelets. Researchers from Melbourne, Australia, compared heavy-meat eaters, moderate-meat-eaters, lacto-ovo-vegetarians and vegans and found that as meat consumption increased, platelet aggregation decreased. Heavy-meat-eaters displayed the lowest levels of platelet aggregation, while vegans displayed the highest levels.

While meat eaters ate more of the omega-6 fat arachidonic acid, vegetarians consumed significantly higher concentrations of the omega-6 fat linoleic acid and significantly lower amounts of long chain omega-3's. The resultant unfavorable omega-6: omega-3 is believed to be responsible for the higher levels of thromboxane A2 (TXA2) seen in the vegetarian group[Li D]. TXA2 is an eicosanoid that stimulates platelet aggregation. Chilean researchers have similarly observed significantly lower blood levels of EPA and DHA, and concomitant increases in blood platelet aggregation, among vegetarians [Mezzano D].
Now, check out Dr. Fuhrman’s response. As usual he pulls no punches in his support of the vegetable-based (and not necessarily vegan) diet:
Most people eating omnivorous diets in America are severely deficient in antioxidants and phytochemicals because of a low percentage of calories from fruits and vegetables; especially raw vegetables and green vegetables. It is this major deficiency that is a large component in the development of cancer.


Most people eating vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diets in America are severely deficient in antioxidants and phytochemicals because of a low percentage of calories from fruits and vegetables; especially raw vegetables and green vegetables. It is this major deficiency that is the biggest factor in the development of cancer, however it has been shown that this deficiency is less compared to the meat-eating counterparts.

But since we are talking here about lifespan and not about success as a linebacker on the Chicago Bears, and since the major cause of death in America is heart disease, it is still true that a person with less B-vitamins, iron, zinc, fatty acids and amino acids on the “junkatarian” vegan diet will still have lower risk of a life threatening disease compared to the average meat-eating American.

We are not just adding up nutrients here, it is end points (age of death and cause of premature death) that should be our main consideration, not just what nutrients might be optimized with one type of diet versus another.

So, while a conventional and unsupplemented vegan diet may be low in Omega-3 fatty acids, B12, other B-vitamins, zinc, and many non-essential amino acids, there are still other advantages that make this less-than-optimal diet better than the conventional omnivorous diet. When supplemented appropriately even the conventional vegan diet would grant a higher probability of a longer life than a conventional omnivorous diet.

When we are considering my nutritional recommendations it is a horse of a different color because we are not comparing a low-nutrient vegan diet to a low nutrient omnivorous diet. We are comparing a vegetable-based vegetarian, flexitarian (near vegetarian diet) that emphasizes lots of green vegetables both raw and cooked in the menus.

Plus my conservative supplemental recommendations assure nobody is low in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, B12 or Vitamin D. Some people call this diet-style Eat to Live to match the name of my best-selling book, but it may be more descriptively be described as a high nutrient density, vegetable-based, flexitarian diet. So let’s call it Eat to Live for simplicity here. Since green vegetables are rich in iron, zinc and B-vitamins, you can no longer critique this type of vegan diet as being low in these nutrients. The typical essential amino acids that a vegan diet is low in is lysine and methionine, but these are not deficient in a vegan diet that follows my Eat to Live recommendations as lysine is high in nuts and seeds and beans are rich in methionine and greens have both.

In other words, it would be extremely rare for someone following a truly healthy and well-designed vegan diet to be dangerously low in any essential or non-essential amino acids. When all the essential amino acids are adequately present, the non-essentials will also be produced in an adequate fashion. But even if they were relatively low in amino acids compared to a meat eater that lowness would most likely be a good thing not a bad thing because lower protein diets are linked to longer life and lower cancer risk, not the other way around.

The writer, who proposed a higher level of non-essential amino acids from animal products is favorable, may be able to show muscle growth is enhanced, but he can’t show lifespan is enhanced or cancer rates are lowered because the preponderance of the evidence shows less animal proteins, less cancer.

What is interesting is my book Eat to Live is critiqued on Amazon for not recommended the “proven” benefits of a diet containing grass-fed animal products. As if there are studies showing the consumption of more grass-fed animal products lower cancer rates or increase lifespan? People are just so ignorant about nutrition it is frightening. And, because the review is on Amazon, I cannot comment on some of those inaccurate and even ridiculous critiques.

In fact even a study this month December 2006 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is just about this topic. It is a study that shows that less animal products result in less cancer and more animal protein raises IGF-1 and promotes breast and prostate cancer.

To conclude, my recommendations to eat a whole food, high vegetable, plant-based diet with less than three serving of animal products a week (vegan or flexitarian) is still hands down the most healthful diet to eat. I can’t speak on behalf of other vegetarian diets; they may be less than ideal. This does not mean that a vegan diet is healthier or more lifespan promoting compared to one that eats a small serving of animal products a few times a week. This we don’t know yet.

Here's a good article on the missing nutrients in a vegan diet go to: VeganOutReach
Be sure to click “continue reading” or “permalink” for more references and resources.
M Abdulla, I Andersson, NG Asp, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 34, 2464-2477 Nutrient intake and health status of vegans. Chemical analyses of diets using the duplicate portion sampling technique.

A strict vegetarian diet [vegan diet (VD)] was investigated. Six middle- aged vegans (three men and three women) collected copies of 24-h diets using the duplicate portion sampling technique. By chemical analyses, the nutrient composition was determined in detail and compared with corresponding figures of a normal mixed Swedish diet. In the VD 30% of the energy originated from fat compared with 40% in normal Swedish mixed diet (MD). Linoleic acid was the dominant fatty acid (60% of total fat in VD versus 8% in MD). The VD contained 24 g protein/1000 kcal compared to 30 g/1000 kcal in MD, but the intake of essential amino acids by the vegans exceeded the recommendations. Dietary fiber was about 5 times higher in the vegan diet (29 versus 6 g/1000 kcal) and sucrose similar to MD (18 versus 21 g/1000 kcal). Among the inorganic nutrients the concentration of calcium (351 versus 391 mg/1000 kcal) and sodium (53 versus 49 mmol/1000 kcal) were similar in both types of diets but the amount of potassium (56 versus 30 mmol/1000 kcal, magnesium (300 versus 110 mg/1000 kcal), iron (9 versus 6.5 mg/1000 kcal), zinc (6.5 versus 4.7 mg/1000 kcal), and copper (2 versus 0.7 mg/1000 kcal) were nearly doubled. Iodine (39 versus 156 micrograms/1000 kcal and selenium (5 versus 17 micrograms/1000 kcal) were much lower in the VD, selenium even being undetectable in several 24-h diets. The VD was rich in folic acid (301 versus 90 micrograms/1000 kcal in MD) but the intake of vitamin B12 was only 0.3 to 0.4 microgram/day (MD: 3 to 4 micrograms/day). No clinical signs of nutritional deficiency were observed in the vegans. Serum protein levels of the vegans as well as their serum lipoproteins were near the lower range of the reference group. In addition, none of the vegans was overweight and their blood pressures were low for their age.

Ella H Haddad, Lee S Berk, James D Kettering, et al. Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70, No. 3, 586S-593S, September 1999

Vegetarian diet: panacea for modern lifestyle diseases? QJM: An International Journal of Medicine Volume 92, Number 9 Pp. 531-544 Q J Med 1999; 92: 531-544. M. Segasothy and P.A. Phillips

We review the beneficial and adverse effects of vegetarian diets in various medical conditions. Soy-bean-protein diet, legumes, nuts and soluble fiber significantly decrease total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides. Diets rich in fiber and complex carbohydrate, and restricted in fat, improve control of blood glucose concentration, lower insulin requirement and aid in weight control in diabetic patients. An inverse association has been reported between nut, fruit, vegetable and fiber consumption, and the risk of coronary heart disease. Patients eating a vegetarian diet, with comprehensive lifestyle changes, have had reduced frequency, duration and severity of angina as well as regression of coronary atherosclerosis and improved coronary perfusion. An inverse association between fruit and vegetable consumption and stroke has been suggested. Consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially spinach and collard green, was associated with a lower risk of age-related ocular macular degeneration. There is an inverse association between dietary fiber intake and incidence of colon and breast cancer as well as prevalence of colonic diverticula and gallstones. A decreased breast cancer risk has been associated with high intake of soy bean products. The beneficial effects could be due to the diet (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals, fiber, complex carbohydrate, antioxidant vitamins, flavanoids, folic acid and phytoestrogens) as well as the associated healthy lifestyle in vegetarians. There are few adverse effects, mainly increased intestinal gas production and a small risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Luigi Fontana, Samuel Klein and John O Holloszy. Long-term low-protein, low-calorie diet and endurance exercise modulate metabolic factors associated with cancer risk American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 84, No. 6, 1456-1462, December 2006

Background: Western diets, obesity, and sedentary lifestyles are associated with increased cancer risk. The mechanisms responsible for this increased risk, however, are not clear.

Objective: We hypothesized that long-term low protein, low calorie intake and endurance exercise are associated with low concentrations of plasma growth factors and hormones that are linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Design: Plasma growth factors and hormones were evaluated in 21 sedentary subjects, who had been eating a low-protein, low-calorie diet for 4.4 ± 2.8 y ( ± SD age: 53.0 ± 11 y); 21 endurance runners matched by body mass index (BMI; in kg/m2); and 21 age- and sex-matched sedentary subjects eating Western diets.

Results: BMI was lower in the low-protein, low-calorie diet (21.3 ± 3.1) and runner (21.6 ± 1.6) groups than in the Western diet (26.5 ± 2.7; P < 0.005) group. Plasma concentrations of insulin, free sex hormones, leptin, and C-reactive protein were lower and sex hormone–binding globulin was higher in the low-protein, low-calorie diet and runner groups than in the sedentary Western diet group (all P < 0.05). Plasma insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) and the concentration ratio of IGF-I to IGF binding protein 3 were lower in the low-protein, low-calorie diet group (139 ± 37 ng/mL and 0.033 ± 0.01, respectively) than in the runner (177 ± 37 ng/mL and 0.044 ± 0.01, respectively) and sedentary Western (201 ± 42 ng/mL and 0.046 ± 0.01, respectively) diet groups (P < 0.005).

Conclusions: Exercise training, decreased adiposity, and long-term consumption of a low-protein, low-calorie diet are associated with low plasma growth factors and hormones that are linked to an increased risk of cancer. Low protein intake may have additional protective effects because it is associated with a decrease in circulating IGF-I independent of body fat mass.
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Comments (9) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Kyle Key - December 19, 2006 12:07 AM

Just wanted to add that the veganoutreach link that was posted is slightly outdated; it's now located at: http://www.veganhealth.org/sh

Val - December 19, 2006 6:14 PM

When God created man He left instruction as to what he should eat - (Gen:1.29) fruit & seeds - and man lived for 969 years (Methuselah - Gen:5.25,26).
After Noah's flood God permitted man to add flesh foods to his diet (Gen.9:3,4) and, as a result, man's lenght of days have fallen to around 70 - 80 years. So what we put into our bodies obviously makes a difference - the machinery runs smoothly.
It is interesting to note that before the 'fall tof man in the Garden of Eden' the diet of all the animals and birds was 'the green plants' (Gen.1:30), and many animals still retain that diet today.
Thankyou Dr. Fuhrman, for your books, they are the closest advice I've read to man's original diet. In fact a very learned mulitple Ph.D. friend of ours who has over 1,000 books on 'diet & nutrition' in his library, rates your book 'Eat to Live' as one of the best that has ever written on the subject.

Jay - December 23, 2006 6:11 PM

Hi, I posted the "tirade" on amazon.com quoted on this webpage, basing myself on information I had gleaned from independent researcher Anthony Colpo. I'll believe Colpo any day of the week over Fuhrman's dubious pro-vegan assertions. I scarcely have the time to go through his retort and refute his counterclaims one by one. Suffice it to say I've noticed a few ridiculous statements that are at variance with the facts, such as his statement "But since we are talking here about lifespan... and since the major cause of death in America is heart disease, it is still true that a person with less B-vitamins, iron, zinc, fatty acids and amino acids on the “junkatarian” vegan diet will still have lower risk of a life threatening disease compared to the average meat-eating American."

I won't be surprised if this comment is soon removed or won't be posted at all. Truth hurts those with a pro-vegan agenda.

JD - December 26, 2006 1:03 AM

Thanks for the opinion. And the facts, references, resources, etc.

Glen G - January 29, 2007 9:51 PM

Jay, if you have the time to read through the responses and to then post a response yourself wherein you say that you "scarcely have the time" to push and defend your opinions, then you come off as nothing more than a juvenile contrarian and a hypocrite, with an agenda to drive and nothing but a silver tongue to back it up with. Gather the facts and retort cogently, or do not retort at all, because right now you're doing nothing but spouting substanceless rhetoric and being a jerk.

Your meat-laden position may be the right one, but nobody will believe it if you and your ilk choose to fight with mud rather than wits.

saab - September 12, 2011 2:08 AM

"I scarcely have the time to go through his retort and refute his counterclaims one by one"

In other words, he has no more evidence left against Dr. Fuhrman.

Peter - November 7, 2011 2:05 AM

Jay is probably Mark Sisson in disguise!

Jay - November 7, 2011 5:57 AM

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fat-triggers-marijuana-like-chemicals-another-anti-meat-report-and-teff/

This shows you how the studies that supposedly show us how meat is bad for you is all flawed because processed meat is classified in the same category as organic grass-fed meat.

Jay - November 7, 2011 6:11 AM

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/does-eating-red-meat-increase-type-2-diabetes-risk/#comment-780910

Here's another round for all you anti-meatites. People who ate meat and raised their risk of disease happened to do so because they were doing other bad things like eating potatoes, drinking sodas, and all the other unhealthy stuff.

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