H for Health

Meat vs. plants

Are humans created as meat-eaters or plant-eaters? And what are humans meant to eat for optimal health?

Plant eaters are called herbivores and meat eaters are called carnivores.

Numerous international studies have shown that whole-food plant-based diets provide the optimal foods for humans, minimizing chronic diseases and maximizing health, longevity and vitality.

Yet, some people argue that humans historically ate animal products. Therefore, animal products must be necessary and healthy in a human diet. However, we have been evolving for millions of years. We split off from our last great ape ancestor about 20 million years ago. For the first 90 percent of our time on Earth, we ate what the rest of the great apes were eating: A diet made up of more than 95 percent plants.

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Humans are often described as omnivores

An omnivore is an animal that has the ability to eat and survive on both plant and animal matter. This is based on the observation that humans generally eat a wide variety of plant and animal foods. However, we eat what we have learned to eat and what we have become accustomed to eat. We are “behavioral” omnivores. All herbivores can digest and utilize some animal product. But animal products are not optimal and healthy food choices for humans.

One way to answer the question whether humans are carnivores or herbivores, is to study anatomical differences between the two. Anatomical features are observable facts. They objectively show the types of foods we and other creatures evolved to eat and thrive on.

Carnivores and omnivores have sharp claws for catching and tearing their prey. We have flat nails or hooves.

Our teeth are not designed for tearing flesh like the teeth of carnivores. Instead, our teeth are flat and suitable for grinding plant-based foods. Our molars are wider and flatter than carnivores, which allows us to chew our food more thoroughly. Carnivores and omnivores have long, curved, sharp canines for capturing, killing, and tearing prey. Human canines are short and blunt.

Carnivores and omnivores swallow food whole or simply crush it and have no digestive enzymes in their mouths. Herbivores and humans require extensive chewing and have digestive enzymes in their saliva such as amylase that is necessary for breaking down the carbohydrates in plant-based foods.

Our jaw muscles are much weaker than those of carnivores. This is because we do not need to exert as much force to chew plant-based foods. Carnivores, on the other hand, need strong jaw muscles to tear apart their prey.

Carnivores and omnivores have a wide esophagus that can handle whole chunks of meat. Herbivores and humans have narrow esophagi best suited for swallowing small, soft, thoroughly chewed balls of food. When humans attempt to swallow large chunks of meat, they risk choking.

The acidity of our stomach acid is much lower than that of carnivores. Meat, especially decaying flesh, often has abundant pathogens. These are killed by the stomach acid in carnivores. No animal cooks food except humans.

This innovation helps kill pathogens in meat and compensates for the lack of a high acid carnivorous stomach.

Carnivores and omnivores

Meat vs. Plants

Carnivores and omnivores have large stomach capacities (60 to 70 percent of the digestive system). Herbivores and humans have smaller stomach capacities (less than 30 percent of the digestive system). 

Carnivores and omnivores have relatively short, smooth small intestines (3 to 6 times body length). Herbivores and humans have longer, pouched small intestines (10 to 12 times body length). The longer intestines of herbivores and humans evolved to slowly digest fibrous plant material.

Another important aspect of human anatomy that supports our herbivorous nature is our gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that lives in our digestive tract. Studies have shown that the gut microbiome of herbivores is significantly different from that of carnivores, with herbivores having a greater diversity of beneficial bacteria. This suggests that humans are better adapted to a plant-based diet, as our gut microbiome is optimized to digest and extract nutrients from plant matter.

In conclusion, the human nails, dental composition, and digestive tract resemble those of herbivores due to our common evolutionary processes.We have evolved and thrived on fully or primarily whole-food plant-based diets until the industrialization of food production has changed our diets immensely, increasing the amount of calories consumed from processed foods including animal-based products, sugars, oils, and fats.

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