June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson is dead: Vegetarianism and high-energy concerts don't mix

I know the news has only just broke that Michael Jackson is dead, and that some might think this is in bad taste, but it's worth pointing out how endurance-type activities -- like preparing for and putting on a dramatic rock concert, complete with lots of dancing leading up to and during the performance -- don't mix with a vegetarian diet. That's right: since about the mid-1980s, Michael Jackson was a vegetarian, occasionally starving himself as well.

(Some think he had anorexia nervosa. If so, it would corroborate what I noticed here about anorexic girls eating almost exclusively carbs and no sort of animal products, other than the odd container of sugar-loaded yoghurt.)

Heart disease is caused by inflammation, and certain types of cholesterol transporters -- low-density lipoproteins -- are more easily damaged and can get lodged into the arterial walls more easily than other types. There are basically two shapes that an LDL particle comes in (there's a spectrum in between, but it's mostly one side or the other): a small, dense BB shape, and a large, fluffy cotton ball shape.

Having high total cholesterol, or even having high LDL cholesterol (so-called "bad" cholesterol), doesn't predict whether you'll get heart disease. It is the shape of these LDL particles -- the transporters that cholesterol rides on -- that matters. The BB-shaped ones are more likely to cause heart disease, probably because they're small and dense size allows them to get embedded in the arterial walls more easily, and because they are more easily oxidized (turning into the kind of thing that anti-oxidants go after) and cause an inflammatory response. This just sends more of these LDL particles to the site of inflammation, and they begin to get stuck and get oxidized, eventually forming a plaque. To reiterate, it's not cholesterol that is the culprit -- it's the shoddy construction of the its transporter that is to blame.

Well, what causes you to have the atherogenic BB-shaped LDL particles rather than the protective cotton ball-shaped ones? Carbs in the diet. I'll try to explain the mechanism later on, but for now I'll just quote one of the pioneering researchers in the study of HDL, LDL, heart disease, diet, etc., Ronald Krauss (from Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories, p. 176):

"I am now convinced it is the carbohydrate inducing this atherogenic [profile] in a reasonable percentage of the population," says Krauss. "...we see a quite striking benefit of carbohydrate restriction."

Both Taubes and Krauss appeared on this Talk of the Nation show, which was very good, and they at some point discuss the relationship between how rich your diet is in carbs and how likely you are to have an atherogenic -- i.e., heart disease-causing -- LDL shape.

LDL particle size is not something that is routinely tested, by the way, so just because your LDL is low doesn't mean anything. You have to request the doctor to test your particle size. You could have low LDL but have most of it in the harmful BB shape. We can be pretty sure that Michael Jackson did after 25 years of a vegetarian diet. Switching to such a diet is unlikely to make you drop dead at age 50, but if you compound it with a high-endurance activity level, which puts more stress on the body than brief interval-burst activities, you're asking for trouble.

Just to emphasize how little the standard blood lipid tests tell you about your heart's health, ignoring as they always do the LDL particle size test, here's a brief news item on Jackson's health and performance from only 3 months ago:

Chief executive [of promoter AEG Live] Randy Phillips said he isn't worried.

"The insurance brokers sent doctors and they spend five hours with him, taking blood tests. He's a vegetarian, he's in great shape," he said.

"We would be prepared to self-insure to make up the dates. It's a risk we're willing to take to bring the King of Pop to his fans."

When a rock star dies of a drug overdose, everyone holds him at least partially responsible, as much as they may sympathize with his addiction. But when a pop star dies from heart disease after being anorexic and vegetarian -- knowing pretty well that human beings aren't designed to be that way -- everyone treats it like he was struck by lightning. Don't get me wrong, I love the Jackson Five and Michael Jackson's own work (at least up through the "Smooth Criminal" days), so I'm not going on about his diet to trash someone I don't like. I'm just pissed that the guy who sang "I Want You Back" and "Billie Jean" decided to destroy his health the way he did.

In the same way that kids should learn not to try drugs when their favorite rock star dies with a needle in his arm, everyone who ever got down to "Beat It" should take note and view vegetarianism as the cooky and harmful diet that it is.


  1. Farrah Fawcett also died today, and it was apparently duet to anal cancer. It's the first time I've ever heard of anyone getting anal cancer. Could that be somehow related to her behavior? Anal sex maybe?

  2. What low-carb books and websites would you suggest?

  3. Michael Jackson was probably the greatest African American ever.

  4. www.marksdailyapple.com

  5. Low-carb books -- Protein Power Lifeplan by Eades is the most accessible and has the broadest info (not just how to maintain weight, but what iron does, which anti-oxidants recycle one another, etc.).

    If you want to know all there is about the science of obesity and heart disease, of course Good Calories, Bad Calories is the one you want.

    Eades has an awesome blog, btw. Just google "Eades" and it's the first result. Google "cholesterol and health" -- another great one, really concise but covering lots of material too.

  6. are you sure it was vegetarianism?

    latest info says he got the heart attack after taking a painkiller.

  7. I don't know what exactly Jackson was eating, but it's pretty clear that while eating a bunch of crappy carbs is bad for your health, eating lots of fruits, veggies and beans is not. You can argue about whether animal or vegetable protein is better, but it seems a wash. I think you are right to bash junk food carbs, but a diet that is mostly vegetables, and fruit that also includes adequate protein, is healthy.

    Don't forget healthy exercise.

    Also, is black male life expectancy similar across SES?

  8. Saying this *wasn't* a drug overdose is premature. Not to mention rather optimistic (in the context of the argument you're making).

  9. roissy suggests that fawcett's anal cancer could have something to do with red meat consumption.

    i've heard this a lot before, every few months in the media they say that there's some link between red meat consumption and colon cancer. It's almost like common knowledge by now. and it's something the crazed vegetarians have promoted.

    all the media reports about this are on epidemiological studies. although you will hear some kind of explanation for it sometimes, usually about how the red meat as it goes through colon leaves all its carcinogens there, or something to that effect.

    so the low fat pro veg people advocate veggies, and say that fiber is good cuz it cleans out the colon, preventing the carcinogens from taking root.

    but the low carb pro meat people say that fiber is actually not that great, that it feeds the bacteria that damages the colon. and that meat, red or otherwise, isn't bad for the colon.

    any thoughts?

    when will this, if ever, be resolved?

  10. "Heart disease is caused by inflammation"

    Im beginning to think that most long-term maladies are caused by inflammation. Our bodies are trying to tell us something when certain foods constantly inflame our tissues.

  11. We'll have to wait and see what the proximate cause of death was, but if it was anything related to his heart, his diet played a huge role in that.

    It's like with AIDS -- you might die from a common cold, but it's the AIDS that weakened your immune system.

  12. This is ludicrous. A healthy vegetarian diet shouldn't be composed primarily of carbs, nor should a carnivorous diet. In both cases vegetables should be the bulk of one's diet. The typical American diet is far more likely to cause disease than a healthy and balanced vegetarian one. Most cultures on earth did not evolve to subsist primarily on meat, and none on refined carbs, yet these two components, along with a substantial dose of toxic petrochemicals comprise the typical American diet. I have been a vegetarian for life and I am healthy as an ox.

  13. I live in the states, and I've always been wary of red meat because of hormones.

  14. Dave From Hawaii6/26/09, 5:36 PM

    reffon, the studies on "red meat" and cancer are all corrupted, because they never differentiate between fresh, wholesome sources of meat and all of the processed meats loaded with carcinogenic preservatives and chemicals. Sausages, canned meats, hot dogs, and most meats in just about and packaged pre-made food are loaded with substances that can cause colorectal cancer from a lifetime of eating such garbage.

  15. If vegetables form the bulk of your diet, you *will* be deficient in vitamins A, D, and B12, not to mention the essential fatty acids and essential amino acids.

    You might make a dent in the vitamin A deficiency if you eat about 50 lbs of spinach a day, but not worth it.

    You may be healthy and vegetarian, but I'll wager you've always had decent or better health. This is why pointing out that athletes follow this or that diet isn't helpful -- they'll do better than the rest of us no matter what they eat, so their diet is mostly subject to fashion within the personal trainer community.

    But if you take a random sample of people and give them a mostly animal product diet vs. a mostly vegetarian diet, the former thrive while the latter waste. This is just a repeat of the history of agriculture -- our health didn't take such a major hit until we started relying less on animals and more on crops.

  16. "This is ludicrous. A healthy vegetarian diet shouldn't be composed primarily of carbs, nor should a carnivorous diet. In both cases vegetables should be the bulk of one's diet."

    What exactly do you think you get out of a diet that's mostly vegetables? Fat? Protein?

    The fats you get from vegetables are the unhealthy and damaging omega 6 fats.

    You get basically no protein from vegetables and the protein you do get is of low quality (low in essential amino acids) at best and harmful at worst (google soy protein and estrogen).

    A healthy diet is one very low in carbs, high in fat and moderate in protein. The way to get this is to eat dairy from grass fed livestock, meat from same, wild fish, nuts and some vegetables in moderation.

    I used to do the whole low fat complex carb diet and felt like hell. Since I've switched the change has been amazing. Even amounts of high energy and a huge increase in my ability to focus have been the best day to day effects. Huge gains in strength in the gym have been a nice side effect.

    -Steve Johnson

  17. Steve,
    Are you confusing vegetarianism with veganism? They're not the same. Consuming eggs and dairy remedies the deficiencies stated previously. As for omega threes, there are plant based sources if you do your research. All of these argument come down to viewing diet through the lens of processed food. Processed food and the carbs and vegetable oils found in them have all of these problems, yes. Many vegetables are not high carb. If your palette of vegetables is limited to root vegetables and fruits, yes. Leafy greens should comprise a large portion of either dietary preference. Don't get me wrong, if you like to eat meat I'm not saying you shouldn't, although I would qualify that with saying that due to bioaccumulation of toxins any animal products eaten should be free-range and organic. There are ample examples of healthy vegetable fats including olive oil, coconut and avocado oils, nuts as you said and others. The problem with avoiding a broad spectrum of vegetables in your diet regardless of whether it contains meat or not, is you miss out on a vast number of phytonutrients and antioxidants that are of great value nutritionally. Your point on soy is well taken, and I don't suggest that it should be one's primary source of protein. Legumes and nuts fill this need admirably. Some carbs in the form of whole grains are fine, but again not to excess. The worst form of carbs are refined carbs. It is a common perception in America that vast quantities of animal protein are required for health and it's simply not so. That is the propaganda of the meat and dairy lobbies. Some parts of the world have long legacies of vegetarianism and it's adherents often have exemplary health. It all comes down to what you know about nutrition and whether you satisfy those needs in your own diet. Consider this: we share about 99% of our genes with chimps, who typically eat meat only occasionally and remain healthy. Gorillas get all of their protein from plant sources and could bench press a VW beetle. Meat isn't bad if its not raised in the toxic factory farms predominant here, but it's also not requisite for health. In veganism it is harder to get the requisite nutrition, but if one eats eggs and dairy one has no difficulty satisfying one's needs.

  18. "Meat isn't bad if its not raised in the toxic factory farms predominant here, but it's also not requisite for health."

    Well, by all means, if you feel good on low-fat, high-carb do as you please. But meat is absolutely essential for health, children especially. Don't say such ridiculous things.

    Also, I'd like to add that low-fat diets made me feel more unhappy and pessimistic. On low-carb, I work faster, think more positively and lose weight.

  19. "Consider this: we share about 99% of our genes with chimps, who typically eat meat only occasionally and remain healthy. Gorillas get all of their protein from plant sources and could bench press a VW beetle."

    These kind of "we share x amount of genes" arguments are always misleading and deceptive. We share around 90% of our genes with rats. So what does that mean, that it's ok to eat garbage and raw sewage once in a while?

    Interesting to bring up gorillas. You note the similarities between gorillas and humans, and then make a case based on this similarity for vegetable consumption. But it's important to note that key differences between us and gorillas and other primates seems to be tied to, whaddya know, animal meat and fat consumption. Gorillas have huge stomachs, small craniums, and huge jaws. These are all adaptations to subsisting largely on vegetation. Small craniums necessary to anchor large, powerful jaws necessary for chewing up large amounts of vegetation, and huge stomachs to digest all that fibrous vegetation.

    Evolving larger brains would've required increased animal fat and protein consumption. And the cognitive demands of hunting animals for food would've selected for larger brains and more intelligence. It doesn't require much intelligence to pick stuff off the ground or trees to eat. The difference between us and other apes almost certainly is somehow tied to our increased meat consumption. The hunting, consumption, preparing, cooking of animal meat.

  20. According to Wikipedia, around 25% of Indians are vegetarian, numbers going up to 69% for Gujaratis and 60% for Rajasthanis.

    I couldn't find a mention of Indian vegetarianism in your blog. Shouldn't there be reliable data to assess authoritatively related health hazards?

  21. Fatty diet linked to Pancreatic Cancer


    Any ideas if this might actually be true?

  22. Looks bogus -- it's only an association, and they don't tell us what other things vary between the high and low risk groups.

    Insulin resistance is caused by having lots of carbs -- requiring more insulin, and your cells habituating to this higher level.

    It's pretty risible that they'd suggest fats as something that would wreck your pancreas, knowing that the mechanism must have to do with insulin, and that this responds to carbs, not fats.

  23. Taubes discusses (I think that's where I read it) the vegetarian Indians in his book, and they actually have much higher rates of heart disease than the meat-eater Indians.

  24. Comparative causes of death, note moderate meat consumption, fish eaters and vegetarians have similar rates of death, neither extreme of no animal products, or predominately meat is ideal.
    The issue with carbs lies in insulin resistance and the degree to which a source of carbs stimulates the release insulin in the body. The glycemic index of various foods is a scale to measure this. As I stated, refined carbs are the worst, and many vegetables have a low glycemic index.
    Complex carbs and vegetables beneficial in preventing insulin resistance.
    Omega-3's aren't a problem to someone knowledgeable and vegetarian supplements exist.
    Seaweed and algae also contain appreciable amounts and are very healthy.
    Amino acids are a non-issue unless vegan, but even then, balancing one's food addresses this.
    Quinoa is one example of a non-meat food that contains all of the essential amino acids.
    Vitamin B12 must be supplemented for vegans, vegetarians can obtain it from eggs and dairy.
    Children raised vegetarian have no difference in health from meat eating peers.
    Virtually everyone is deficient in vitamin D regardless of diet and should supplement.
    Vitamin A deficiency is not an issue except perhaps for vegans, but any multivitamin will address this.
    Ample healthy fats are available from vegetable sources

    Our physiology mimics a primarily vegetable based diet. If you reject the premise of substantial biological similarities between ourselves and primates, and even rats and mice, you have to throw out virtually all health and safety studies used in medicine. The mouse model is broadly substantiated.

  25. Just an observation of both the NZ born and immigrant Gujaratis in my local community, is that they are very high consumers of the public health system.

    I employ a Gujarati man..he has type 1 diabetes and his wife has type 2. She is more a strict Hindu and total vegetarian, he will eat meat, mostly chicken. The diet is very high in sugar and refined carbs, as I get little gifts of sweets and dumplings regularly..which are very tasty but too rich for daily consumption. The women seem more religious and as a consequence have no meat and enjoy making very sweet and refined treats for special religious occasions...which are quite common!

    He attends funerals regularly, without fail the subject is in her/his 60's or early 70's. I know this as I pay him for the time off.
    The local meat-eating Sikhs are taller, straighter and slenderer.

  26. Nah, the physiology shows conclusively that we're not vegetable-eaters. All of them have huge guts to digest all that hard-to-digest vegetable matter. Their rib-cages are cone-shaped as a result -- huge at the base, narrower at the top.

    Starting with homo erectus, our rib-cages became more barrel-shaped, indicating a reduction in gut size. That's because we began abandoning vegetables for dead animals and their products.

  27. Nah, the physiology shows conclusively that we're not vegetable-eaters. All of them have huge guts to digest all that hard-to-digest vegetable matter. Their rib-cages are cone-shaped as a result -- huge at the base, narrower at the top.

    You base your entire conclusion on one morphological characteristic? To see the truth of the matter we need to examine a broad number of physiological factors. It appears to me that you are comparing us with ungulates, grazers with four stomachs. These animals subsist primarily on grass and have a highly complex digestive system in order to digest cellulose found in cell walls. This is not the sole indicator or mode of primarily vegetarian subsistence. Nobody would argue that we are grazers meant to eat only grass. Here is an article that addresses a broad scope of physiological factors: http://www.nealhendrickson.com/mcdougall/030700pumeatinthehumandiet.htm

  28. It's one, but it's the most obvious. Not comparing to ungulates -- to other primates, including pre-Erectus hominids. Teeth are another -- incisors needed for shearing.

    Trust me, the physical anthropological details are pretty clear.

    Also to consider: there are essential fatty acids and essential amino acids, but no essential carbohydrates. We can make glucose from amino acids but not vice versa.

    You say that eating eggs and dairy make a vegetarian diet OK, but remember that dairy is extremely new -- maybe 10,000 years or less. And eggs are hard to come by reliably. Therefore, vegetarians would've been fucked for most of human evolution.

    That's still true for hunter-gatherers today -- none are vegetarian, while a fair amount don't eat vegetables, fruits, or agricultural carbs at all (grains, cereals, starches, etc.), at least on their traditional diet, such as the Eskimo and the Masai.

  29. Historically, and today, people are going to eat what's available in order to survive. I'm not suggesting that proto-humans didn't eat meat, certainly many if not most did. Similarly during the ice age and in norther winters survivors had to as well (though they, like Eskimos would eat portions most now eschew to get full nutrition, mere muscle meat doesn't suffice).

    If I were in a survival situation I would eat you for cripes sake. Virtually none of us in America are in a starvation scenario, however, and we have access to the broadest range of cheap foodstuffs in human history. As such we can tailor our diet to our own satisfaction. All the evidence, even from pro-meat researchers, shows that vegetables should form a substantial portion of you diet, most in fact.

    To reduce vegetables to nothing more than carbs is an obtuse approach. Meat is more than protein, I acknowledged your nutritional points and provided viable vegetarian alternatives, and vegetables are far more than carbs, to deny this is willful ignorance.

    Archaeology at its core is a science of surmising. Physiological studies performed on real living human beings alive today hold more weight for me. I'm not debating whether our ancestors could live long enough to reproduce on mammoth alone. What do we find correlated with health today? Did you read the article linked in my last comment? Our digestive systems which despite your assertion are more herbivorous/omnivorous than carnivorous, as for our teeth, the same, our dietary requirements and what we can and can't manufacture in house all support a diet that requires substantial vegetable food sources for health and limited animal products from whatever source one prefers.

    All of it show a bias towards a mostly vegetable diet. Did you read the mortality rankings in my first link? It shows vegetarian mortality rates to essentially equal that of moderate meat consumption, or fish consumption, precisely what I've been saying here.

    A change in the rib cage in hominids could have come about in a variety of ways, bipedal locomotion comes to mind. That change renovated our entire musculoskeletal system.

    Moderation of meat consumption time and again are linked to health and longevity.
    And lower rates of heart disease, the premise advanced in your article.

  30. Omnivorous, sure. But that's not a primarily vegetable diet. And we do do better on a carnivorous diet than a vegetable diet -- association studies from the present notwithstanding.

    (For example, vegetarians are more likely to exercise, not smoke, not eat lots of sweets, etc., and are probably higher in IQ, which is a huge predictor of health. These things, not their vegetable diet, are what make them healthier.)

    On a meat-only diet (including organs), there are no vitamin deficiencies, no essential amino acid or fatty acid deficiencies, and no ill health. Vegetable-only diets are something we only were subjected to after agriculture -- and that is the history of bad teeth, short stature, ricketts, etc.

    Here's another reason why mostly vegetable diets don't work in nature -- you need too wide of a variety of stuff and in too large of an amount to get what you need. If your only source of some amino acid is in season for part of the year, you will be deficient the rest of the year. In Eastern Africa where we evolved, animals surrounded us year-round.

  31. And the rib-cage shape is not an effect of bipedalism -- the earliest human ancestors, Australopithecines, were bipedal but didn't have narrow guts and were mostly vegetarian.

    Millions of years went by when our ancestors were bipedal and yet had cone-like rib-cages. It wasn't until homo erectus that these long-time bipedal creatures had smaller guts.

  32. Vegetarians/vegans sometimes argue that during the bulk of the evolutionary history of hominids vegetables were the primarily or only source of food. That seems to be true of many hominids, but it is not true of humans or even chimpanzees and baboons. Up until about 2-3 million years ago, hominids did feed mostly on plants.

    A. boisei and A. robustus split from the human branch of the hominid family; about 2.5 million years ago when humans began eating meat. Boisei and Robustus were vegetarians. They are gone, a dead end in the hominid family.

    Dental isotopes of Neanderthals show them to be just below the wolf in their carnivory. Almost obligatory carnivores. Neanderthals passed from the scene about 35,000 years ago. Cro Magnon (homo sapiens sapiens) dentition reveals just less than this level of carnivory, and they are the predecessors to us all.

    The human brain requires more fatty acids (EPA and DHA in particular) than can be produced by a human consuming only plants. We, and other carnivores, rely upon other animals as a source of these brain-essential fatty acids. (Children raised on very low fat diets may have diminished brain development.)

    Humans traded stomach tissue for brain tissue. Both tissues metabolize energy at about the same rate. When the human stomach diminished because we had access to high density nutrients and fatty acids in the tissues of prey, the metabolic costs of some stomach tissue could be allocated to brain tissue. This is the expensive tissue hypothesis.

  33. We seem to be diverging from the original debate. That meat eating was instrumental in our evolution and spread around the globe is not my contention. In fact a whole school of thought hypothesizes this as Derrick alluded.
    That's all fine and good and is irrelevant to the original assertion in the article that being a vegetarian is more likely to lead to early death than not being so.

    I'll reiterate my initial premise, the one substantiated by all of the information I've been linking to here: balanced diets high in vegetable content and with limited animal product consumption, be it meat, eggs, dairy or other are shown to be the most healthy by any metric one examines. This is aligned with most everything in biology where a spectrum exists, the extremes are rarely the optima.

    The post posited that Michael Jackson, a contemporary man, with all the sundry foodstuffs available in America today for any price, available to him, died as a result of a vegetarian diet. This is BS.

    Dietary extremes, be it veganism, or strict carnivorism, or the grapefruit diet, or a low-fat diet, or a diet devoid of any carbohydrates, are difficult to thrive under. A vegetarian diet by definition is not low-fat, or high-carb, it's all in how you implement it. A pure meat diet works in some instances, like the traditional Eskimo, who obtained vitamin C from their diet by eating most of their meat raw, or the African tribesman that live on meat, blood and milk, yet I strongly doubt most Americans following the (nearly) all-meat diet are doing these things, not to mention the fact that meat produced by conventional means is far less healthy than wild game in a toxin free environment that was the privilege of our ancestors.

    The best health is experienced by individuals eating a balanced diet with everything except vegetables in moderation.

    Agnostic, you asserted in your post that a vegetarian diet was so horrific as to cause MJ to keel over at 50, yet now you claim the longevity of vegetarians is due to externalities irrelevant to diet.

    Let's go back to two sources I cited above, the first, the mortality study, already corrects for smoking, age and sex. Sure, you could continue with an endless litany of externalities and the flaw of any such study is that you can't exclude them all, but reasonable people should be able to surmise meaning from the endless skeins of research all arriving at the same conclusion. If we can't go to the research, then our debate degenerates to an "is so/is not" feedback loop of irrelevance. Why bother? The second link is a study of 7th day Adventists, the vast majority of whom don't drink or smoke regardless of diet and should provide a fair representation, although the same inability to reduce it to a single variable applies. You of all people should recognize that stats are broadly used in such studies, you yourself compile them assiduously for other posts. It would be inconsistent to take a different position on this issue merely to hedge your original claim.

  34. It's not true that all "extreme" diets are equally unhealthy -- extreme carbs will make you fat, get diabetes, lose your hair and teeth, stunt your growth, etc. An all-meat diet will not do any of those things.

    In observational studies, you can't correct for everything. Normally, this may not be a big deal -- but there are so many things that vary in the diet that observational studies are worthless. That's why no serious person pays attention to the "X will give you cancer!" or "X will stop you from aging!" headlines.

    You'd have to correct for all the differences in vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, carbs, PLUS exercise, smoking, etc etc.

    In double-blind placebo experiments, you at least get a feel for what's going on. So far, no one has conducted one on eating an all-meat diet vs. an all-vegetable diet. But there was an informal test when two scientists stuck to an all-meat diet for a year (including organs).

    They thrived, were full of energy, were not deficient in any vitamin, mineral, and never felt hungry. They had their urine checked every week for ketones just to make sure they weren't cheating -- and they never did.

    Back to MJ -- he put enormous strain on his heart by following a vegetarian diet. This actually isn't very different from what the average person eats, since we've been abandoning fats and eating more carbs since the 1970s. I said that it wasn't his diet that killed him this early, but his diet plus his endurance training for concerts.

    This is why marathoners drop dead while sprinters don't.

  35. And of course, there was a large natural experiment in shifting from a mostly-meat diet to a mostly-vegetable diet -- adopting agriculture. No one thrived under that diet -- again, this is basic physical anthropology. That's when you see horrible teeth, stunted growth, the top of your skull or top of the eye sockets turning spongy, etc.

    The only reason that agricultural societies displaced hunter-gatherer societies is that the former allowed more hierarchical and large population sizes -- even though most of the people are now in worse health. Then you can form states, armies, treasuries, etc.

    But if it just came to mano a mano combat, a 1000m run, or just a dancing competition, a Masai would destroy an agricultural peasant in less than 10 seconds.

  36. In double-blind placebo experiments, you at least get a feel for what's going on. So far, no one has conducted one on eating an all-meat diet vs. an all-vegetable diet. But there was an informal test when two scientists stuck to an all-meat diet for a year (including organs).

    Ok, so you dismiss all research except anecdotal experience? I return to my original statement. I have been a vegetarian in excess of thirty years and have perfect health. Many others do as well. It can't be concluded that simply vegetarianism and physical exertion will lead to early death. Then again I don't subsist on exclusively simple carbs as you seem convinced all vegetarians do. As you've stated vegetarians tend to be health oriented and learn what comprises a healthy diet. Only a fool would live on cereal grains alone. To extend the health issues that come under a restrictive and unvaried diet of little more than grain alone is a gross oversimplification.

  37. "I have been a vegetarian in excess of thirty years and have perfect health."

    Your profile says that you're 32 years old. Is that just not updated or are you really just over 30 years old?

    Because if you were a vegetarian since you were an infant there's a very good chance you didn't develop properly.

  38. In excess of, meaning more than thirty.

    I, and every childhood vegetarian I have known, have developed properly. Of the three children in my family we all developed properly, have perfect health, are of normal stature, and well above average IQ. This is exactly what I've been saying, grasp at all the straws you want, but the evidence, anecdotal or otherwise doesn't support the need for meat. All one needs is a balanced diet however they obtain it.

  39. Alphadominance,

    I was being facetious. After all, I don't know you, and the only evidence I have is the fact that you've been a vegetarian since you were very young, and the fact that you stubbornly maintain the merits of vegetarianism. While this is enough for me to be suspicious, in all fairness it is by no means conclusive.

    "This is exactly what I've been saying, grasp at all the straws you want, but the evidence, anecdotal or otherwise doesn't support the need for meat. All one needs is a balanced diet however they obtain it."

    Just as we are aware that one doesn't "need" meat to sustain life for a non trivial period of time, we are aware that one doesn't "need" fruits and vegetables in order to sustain life for a non trivial period of time.

    Indeed it is one of the luxuries of modern civilization to be able to live meat free primarily on fruits and vegetables. Prior to agriculture you wouldn't have been able to survive without meat. And for most of the agricultural period, you would've had to supplement your fruits and vegetables heavily with grains.

    Anyway, it isn't about what is or isn't necessary to sustain life for a non trivial period of time. That's an easy question that we already know the answers to. The issue is optimality. At this point, it looks like a vegetarian/vegetable dominant diet is decidedly suboptimal no matter how much supplementation and how many plant based proteins/fats are taken to replace meat sources.

    Vegetarian diets tend to be very unbalanced to begin with. There's no getting around the fact that most veggies/fruits are mostly carb (simple & complex) with very little fat & protein. You can balance it somewhat with supplements and non meat sources of fat & protein as you've argued. But they're not perfect replacements, and they can be metabolized differently, and sometimes not even absorbed by the body at all.

    And another point of contention are the micronutrients and phytochemicals that you and other vegetarians champion so much. It's far from clear that ingesting as many veggies/fruits as you can to get all these micronutrients & phytochemicals is an unqualified good. Aside from the fact that many vitamins and minerals aren't going to be absorbed or metabolized properly (if at all) in a completely meat free/low saturated fat diet, many phytochemicals including the antioxidants everyone is enthralled with (as if it's like a panacea/elixir of life) may be downright harmful. There are studies that indicate increased antioxidant intake may lead to DNA damage, among other harmful effects. This wouldn't be surprising, considering that fruits and vegetables are living things as well. They can't run away from or physically kill their predators immediately (aside from a few rare plants I suppose), so they have to defend themselves against their predators by other means. And antioxidants are one of those means. There are other mechanisms fruits/veggies do this, but I won't go into that here.

  40. Nothing I've seen here or elsewhere indicates to me that vegetarianism is "decidedly sub-optimal" with any greater strength of argument than that of opinion. The best evidence offered so far is the anecdotal account of two people living for a year on meat alone, far from damning evidence.

    We've already covered the anthropological ground and we can all surmise that humans are generalists and that we can often survive to reproductive age on sub-optimal diets. Near the tropics a predominately vegetable diet would have been viable, but in much of the globe it would not.

    Since as agnostic points out, double blind placebo controlled studies in humans of dietary variations have not been preformed due to their being unfeasible. Indeed barring owning and raising humans for the purpose in a cage this in all probability won't happen.

    We are left then with surveys and studies imperfect in that all other variables cannot be excluded. While these are accepted as bearing weight by doctors and nutritionists, you two dismiss any findings thereby. At this juncture then all we have is conjecture. If we agree to argue science from a philosophical standpoint alone we may as well be arguing religion as we cannot come to any conclusion.

    Personally I would rather make decisions on the strength of imperfect information than on faith, and this information supports my assertion that balance is optimal, as does the medical establishment.

    Your conclusion that vegetables are primarily carbs is misguided, all forms of life are formed primarily of structural proteins and the bulk of vegetables (excluding root vegetables and fruits) have low potential for creating insulin resistance as evidenced by the glycemic indices available everywhere.

    The only study I've seen in which an antioxidant increased cancer risk was a study of vitamin E using lab-synthesized uniform tocopherol. It is known that naturally occuring ratios of mixed tocopherols can reduce cancer risk in optimal dietary amounts. Oxidation itself presents a much greater risk of mutation, but like everything good things can be taken to unhealthy extremes. These extremes are unlikely to be reached if your nutrients come from dietary sources rather than megadoses of vitamins.

    Given the information available, both statistical and anecdotal, I cannot come to your conclusion, however I am open to evidentiary based argument as always.

    Nonetheless, agnostic has conceded that vegetarians on the whole live longer, regardless of cause and many examples of athletes of all kinds who have followed a vegetarian diet do not support the conclusion that vegetarianism and endurance activities are not mutually exclusive. http://www.veganathlete.com/vegan_vegetarian_athletes.php I know this anecdotally from my own experience and that of over a dozen other youths raised vegetarian that I have known since pre-school. Not one is unhealthy, diseased, dead, disabled or infertile so far.

    Feel free to provide a preponderance of evidence to the contrary and perhaps I'll have to concede my point, but until then I remain unconvinced.

  41. Feel free to provide a preponderance of evidence to the contrary and perhaps I'll have to concede my point, but until then I remain unconvinced.

    That goes for me too, and I imagine for many others critical of vegetarianism as well.

    Do not act as if there is a "preponderance of evidence" on your side while none on yours. You're being intellectually dishonest by intimating this here.

    And remember, the debate isn't between vegetarianism and an exclusively meat diet, at least as far as I'm concerned. It's between vegetarianism and a diet with sufficient meat intake. That is, between an extreme diet (vegetarianism) and an omnivorous.

    Neither of us is going to be convinced in this thread. All I can suggest is to read Taubes and others, and some of the pro-meat, vegetarian skeptic blogs. To put it simply, fight your confirmation bias.

    As for me, well at least you can concede that there is no shortage of pro vegetarianism promoted throughout the media in our society today. Every week the mainstream media reports on the latest epidemiological study showing that red meat kills, vegetarianism is best, etc. So I am subjected to it by default.

  42. I have provided link after link that supports my case and nobody has bothered to do so for the near to exclusively meat diet you are advocating here. I'll again distinguish between vegetarianism and veganism. Veganism is an extreme and an all meat diet is an extreme. Mortality studies I've linked here show mortality rates essentially equivalent between vegetarians and those who consume some, but not mostly meat or fish. These three represent the more centric or balanced approaches. There's nothing intellectually dishonest about the claim, with documentation I've provided, that one needn't eat meat to be healthy. You'll note I've not taken the absolute position here of saying "all meat is bad" or "you shouldn't eat meat" although this courtesy has not been returned in kind, despite no evidence to the contrary being provided. You claim that the media broadly supports vegetarianism, yet from my experience this is hardly the case. Balanced diet including vegetables, yes, vegetarianism, no. In the course of my life I've had similar discussions with countless people, the vast majority of whom think as you do. "By god, you don't eat meat? You must get sick a lot, break a lot of bones, have developmental disorders..." and so forth. The bias in America absolutely supports the position of the absolute necessity of massive consumption of meat and dairy for health, yet this is simply not supported by any available research. Extreme positions of the utter exclusion of one or another form of nutrient is invariably proven an inferior approach. As you know we've seen this in the Low-fat craze, and we've seen this time and again with whatever the current fad is. Whatever finding is put forth, the media take it to unhealthy extremes. Lately it's to utterly refine carbs and put yourself into a state of ketosis so your body has to cannibalize muscle tissue to feed the brain. The fact is the brain runs solely on glucose, there's no getting around that. The body needs healthy fats, there's no getting around that. Where you choose to get your nutriments is far less relevant than ensuring you get them. The statement that the preponderance of evidence lies with this position is more than an intimation, I have provided litanies of links to support my position. Feel free to do the same if you have such evidence. The fact that neither of you has yet done so "intimates" that you simply don't have it. Or just let it go, I don't really care, just like arguing with the religious there's no point in challenging beliefs taken on faith rather than data.

  43. Sweet Jesus... I just stumbled on this post and got sucked into the comments. I can see why Alphadominance sounds as if he is about to tear his hair out. The back and forth with the other posters was excruciating. It is easy to grasp Alphas fact-riddled thesis; That a diet of predominantly vegetable matter, leaning towards phytonutrient dense fruits, leafy plants, legumes, nuts, and seeds while de-emphasizing cereal grains or soy will be the most healthy diet, for most people, most of the time and provides a high level of overall health free from chronic disease and greater longevity. He makes no claims for the all-encompassing superiority of an ALL plant diet, and in fact suggests that the moderate consumption of some animal based protein in the form of eggs or dairy can be an easy source for some of the few amino acids and vitamin(s?) scarce in commonly available non-animal foods. About twenty sources are supplied to firmly root his argument as a scientific consensus.

    Exactly what the others are arguing for is far less clear. I think the main point is something to the effect of "More meat/animal products than plants creates health. Humans are designed to eat mostly meat and doing so will result in a long, healthy life". Loads of anthropological blather and some personal examples are cited to indicate the benefit of this outlook, but nary a study has been cited to suggest that it may hold any scientific validity. If nature designed us to be life-long carnivores, it should be simple to find many well documented and respected studies that support this claim, yet I did not even see ONE supplied... If it exists, I'd love to read it, as I consider myself "into" nutrition. I bet Alpha would like to check it out to, as he seems interested in a fact-based discourse. Reading these comments was like reading the back and forth between a bunch of born-again-teens and a rational agnostic adult about the merits of abortion. Y'all DID prove one of your claims with authority. In this thread at least, vegetarian humans have a MUCH higher IQ than their meat eating brethren.

    Now, as far as the original article... He states flat out that M.J. was killed by the lack of meat in his diet, then goes on to acknowledge that he was also anorexic. Heart disease is the most common medical cause of death in people with severe anorexia, and according to the American Heart Association "Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease..." So how the hell he comes to his conclusion that vegetarianism was the culprit is beyond be. The points he goes on to make about the importance in the difference in size in cholesterol is valid. However the real scope of the situation seems to be lost on him, and completely ignored by Agnostic in his posts. It is Trans Fats and REFINED sugars and carbohydrates, the ones that eff with blood sugar and cause inflammation that are the problem. http://www.experiencelifemag.com/issues/june-2009/healthy-eating/cholesterol-reconsidered.html A good article that validates some of Agnostics cholesterol concerns while not throwing the vegetable baby out with the bathwater.
    Further, the problem of cholesterol binding the the walls in the first place is the main issue. When young, our arteries are INCREDIBLY smooth and blemish free. No matter the cholesterol in out blood, there is simply no place for it to stick. When these smooth surfaces experience microscopic tears, cholesterol patches the area. The whole Good/Bad/Small/Large issue becomes less and less of an issue the fewer tears, and therefor fewer patches, in our arteries. Arteries experience fewer tears when kept healthy and elastic. That elasticity is a result of collagen. Vitamin C is involved at every state of the synthesis of collagen. Not much C in a steak. Plenty in fruits and vegetables. Glad I like to eat 'em.

  44. You don't need vitamin C intake on an all-meat diet -- that's what I already said. It's only by consuming carbs that you need vitamin C in the diet.

    The reason is that vitamin C and glucose are structurally very similar and compete for access to the same transporter. Therefore, more glucose means more competition for vitamin C, and so more of it will get pissed out since it's not fat-soluble.

    Remember: no scurvy among H-Gs or the few Westerners who've had their health checked while going on all-meat diets for a year.

    And check my other blog, Low Carb Art and Science, linked to above, to see about what really causes aortic collagen to be destroyed. It's glycation that does it -- and of course that results from higher blood sugar, which reflects dietary carb intake.

    It's not trans fats and refined sugars -- those are very new, but we've been slammed with bad health ever since we adopted agriculture, when there was no trans fats or table sugar. Just eating a lot of whole grain bread and organic potatoes will do it.


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