Modern Eating Disorders – Part Two: The Clean Food Myth

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Somewhere along the way, the War on Food took a turn towards anointing certain foods with the label “clean”. Unfortunately, while promoting the so-called clean foods, it left people thinking that other real and healthy foods were somehow unusually loaded with toxins and carcinogens. Some fanatics (yes, I went there!) even refer to the latter as “white foods”, a reference to white flour, sugar and rice, which is meant to make people believe that they have no value to the human body. What are these unclean, white foods? The animal foods we discussed in Part One of this series.

Modern Eating Disorders - Part Two: The Clean Food Myth

The myth of animal foods being unhealthy, unclean and unsuitable for human consumption stems from a variety of misunderstandings. First, they are considered “acid-forming”, which insinuates that they tear the body down by creating an acid residue in the blood and urine. Not quite true. What animal foods do is they stimulate the release of hydrochloric acid in the stomach so that the body can digest foods — all foods. Without adequate hydrochloric acid (along with a few other factors), foods pass undigested through the bowel. This sets up a host of allergies as undigested amino acids seep into the bloodstream from the intestines. This is called leaky gut syndrome. Crohn’s, colitis, gluten-intolerance and IBS all stem from this basic inability to fully digest foods due to failures in the digestive process.

I'm a vegetarian but

Another myth about animal foods is that they cause mucus build up. This could be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the function of mucus is to clean the body. Once you recognize that mucus escorts bacteria out of the body it is not hard to understand that when people experience mucus-formation after eating certain foods — namely dairy — it acts to remove debris such as dust, pollen, bacteria and other invaders from the mucous membranes.

It didn’t hit me just how powerful this was until I went on a raw milk fast — a fast that has been performed in the Ayurvedic tradition for centuries — as an experiment to understand it better. During the first day of the fast, I was loaded with mucus to the point that I thought I would have to discontinue. But something told me that ancient people of the East knew a lot more about this than modern hearsay. So I stuck with the fast for an additional 12 hours and voilà — the mucus cleared and I felt better than I had going into the fast. My digestive capacity and energy soared. All traces of seasonal allergies disappeared. When I weaned myself off of the fast, I found that my digestion of other foods greatly improved too. Big win for Ayurveda!!!

While it is true that vegetables and fruits are great and can have excellent health-promoting properties and phytochemicals not found in meat (including poultry, fish and seafood), eggs and dairy, it is unwise to think that they are somehow inherently cleaner than animal foods. Yes, therapeutically they may help someone to overcome cancers or certain digestive problems, but followed long term, the opposite is usually true. I once asked one of my mentors about this early in my training. His assessment was that these diets whether vegetarian, macrobiotic or raw food worked temporarily when switching from a Standard American Diet of processed not foods such as Hamburger Helper and potato chips. And it only worked when strictly followed using foods from nature. What many people are unaware of is that a number of doctors are treating digestive disorders, heart disease, diabetes and cancer and other serious diseases are having even better outcomes by increasing the amount of animal foods including animal fats in the diet. These results appear to be longer lasting than those of diets that avoid animal products altogether.

periodic table cropped

An all vegetable and fruit diet leaves what I call “holes” in the bodies nutrient receptors. Simply put, different cells in the body require specific nutrients to function optimally. The nutrients the body needs for optimal activity fit like a key into a lock. However, when the body’s required nutrients are not provided, perhaps because they cannot be assimilated sufficiently or they are missing, the result is that another competing and potentially dangerous chemical will replace it.

Without getting too nerdy on you, take a look at the periodic table of elements on this page. If you remember from your high school chemistry class, the elements are ordered vertically based upon the number of electrons in the outer ring. So let’s take a look at iodine (I) which is important for thyroid health. Many of the green leafy vegetables that we are always told to eat more of as well as soy foods block iodine uptake. If you are not getting enough iodine, then the iodine receptors in your body will chose another chemical that may actually be in your diet or even in the air like fluorine (F – a toxic waste product from aluminum manufacturing which by the way is added to water and toothpaste under false pretenses), bromine (Br – often found in many flour-containing products) or chlorine (Cl – from city tap water, chemical factories and swimming pools). Is it any wonder that people avoiding animal foods, which don’t contain goitrogens (unless the animals are heavily supplemented with soy — a fattening agent) in favor of high goitrogen foods are experiencing “unexplained weight gain”, heavy metal poisoning, cancer and other disturbing health outcomes?

Instinctively, the body knows when it is not getting access to the nutrients it needs, whether those nutrients are from vitamins, minerals, amino acids or some other component of a well-balanced diet. Over the years, it has become apparent that many people who start an all vegetable and fruit diet develop fierce cravings for refined sugar. Sugar mimics the ability to feel good that would normally be produced by the amino acid glutamine, which is primarily found in animal foods. Once deprived of chicken, fish, pork, beef or other animal foods, the cravings become intense and sugar, that old familiar friend, shows up more and more. Many vegetarians will opt for cookies, cake, chocolate or some other dessert item for a meal instead of allowing even a taste of egg, dairy or fish into their mouths. In a book I’m working on with former vegetarians, one woman told me that she actually ordered birthday cakes on a weekly basis during her time as a vegetarian because the sugar cravings were so strong. Other similar stories have been reported.

Where vegetarianism really becomes an eating disorder, though, is in its focus on avoiding animal foods to the point that many vegetarians will opt for highly processed junk and non-food items just to avoid eating an animal food. Like all natural beings, humans are intended to thrive on the foods that have existed alongside us since the beginning of our existence. Consuming factory items that are completely devoid of nutrients and adding nutrient-depleting sugar on top of it is a recipe for disaster.

All of the examples cited in this article are only a small piece of the puzzle as to why so many people, after experiencing initial successes with all vegetable diets, eventually begin to feel crappy, depressed, develop allergies and often even cancers and heart disease. People following these diets often have the highest rates of infertility and children with autism even when vaccinations, which I am not a proponent of, are not in the picture.

Ape chewing

This is precisely where the eating disorder begins to show itself. Just because something worked for you in the past, doesn’t mean it will work for the rest of your life. And if you find yourself no longer eating food just to make a political statement, then perhaps it’s time to reassess your values.  However, the opposite is often true. Many people who pursue the vegetarian lifestyle have positioned themselves as somehow inherently superior to their meat-eating counterparts. What may have started out as a quest for health has become an obsession and reason for violence against other humans.

The case of 27-year old Meredith Marie Lowell, a woman who allegedly hired a hit man on Facebook to kill a fur-wearer in her neighborhood, is a perfect example of a dietary lifestyle turned into a mental illness. I would love to say that she is in the minority here, but I doubt it. On Care2, a website frequented by many vegans, where I originally read the article about Ms. Lowell, any article bringing awareness to animal cruelty immediately gets bombarded with hundreds of comments from vegans screaming death to people who abuse or eat animals (even ethically raised ones). However even several days after the article about Ms. Lowell’s case was posted, there were barely 20 comments. Most of the ones there were from the meat-eaters who frequent the forum expressing pity for the woman and asking where all the vegans who normally post about compassion were. This is only one recent case, but I have experienced many more over the past 20 years.

The bottom line is that when it comes to clean food, any real food can be considered clean or unclean depending on how you want to look at it. As discussed above, eating only vegetation can accelerate toxin and heavy metal absorption. On the other hand, while animal foods are often perceived as unclean, they provide a vital cleaning function in moving food through the body and allowing receptor sites to absorb the appropriate nutrients. If a diet is clearly not giving you the health results you want, you should be willing to open your mind to changes based upon new information as it is presented to you instead of clinging to an ideology.

There are so many more ways in which the clean food myth has damaged our relationship with food, however, I will close here with this thought:

We are ever-changing beings from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, living in variable climates (mostly) and reaching different stages of life where different nutrients are required. How can we be expected to adhere to the same exact diet for the rest of our lives?

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