Plant Based Diet or Animal Based Diet? Which Does The Research Support?

by | Mar 2, 2023 | Blog

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a long-time listener who shared that she feels a plant-based diet is best for human health. Though she didn’t share any particular research, she indicated that her research indicated that plant based diets offer health benefits not seen in animal based diets. I disagree and I want to explain why but more importantly, I want to shed some light on why nutrition research can be misleading.

How is it possible that nutrition research can indicate that plant based diets lower cholesterol, lower inflammation and reduce risk of chronic disease due to the exclusion of meat while at the same time, different research indicates the exact opposite? It’s true: there’s compelling research on both sides. More importantly, there’s compelling real world evidence on both side. There are plant based individuals who have seen reduction in disease markers and animal based individuals who also experience dramatic health improvements with their carnivore diets.

Can this be explained? Yes, it can.

When the research is muddled, where should we focus? I’ll share my thoughts on that, too.

The Big Picture About Health: It’s Not As Simple as Plant Based Diet Versus Animal Based Diet

One of the big issues in nutrition research is known as healthy user bias. Science Direct describes healthy user bias this way.

“Healthy user bias gives the impression that the health of participants is the result of therapy {intervention}, when their good health stems from other healthy habits. Thus, healthy user bias can skew the results of case control or cohort studies. For example, in a cohort study using electronic records of statin use, those who renewed a statin prescription were more likely to receive a number of other preventive health services, including prostate-specific antigen testing, mammography, and influenza vaccinations, than those who didn’t.”

So, are their results related to statin use? Or is it that this group was more likely to receive other preventive health services? It’s an important question.

Studies that examine the health benefits of a plant-based or carnivore-style diet often do not or cannot control for confounding variables. A study of 100 vegans may find that they have better health markers than the general population. But this may be due to the fact that vegans are more likely to be active, non-smokers, not overweight, and consume less sugar and processed foods. It’s not necessarily because they don’t eat animal products.

Similarly, studies of people who follow a carnivore-style diet often fail to control for confounding variables. These individuals may also be more active, consume fewer processed foods, and carry more muscle and less fat. It’s not necessarily because they eat animal products.

The biggest issues affecting health are sugar, processed foods, seed/crop oils, overeating, being sedentary, and being overweight. It’s not just about whether you eat meat or plants. If you want to avoid animal products, that’s great. If you want to eat animal products, that’s great too. My role isn’t to convince anyone to eat a certain way.

What’s important is that we understand the bigger picture about health. And that we listen to our bodies and do what represents an improvement for us as individuals.

Anyone can claim that it’s about plants or animals. For most individuals, they’d be better served to focus on eating fewer processed foods, eating less seed oils, avoiding overeating, walking and putting on some muscle mass. And when you come across someone who wants to argue for these edge-of-the-spectrum approaches, keep in mind that these big rocks are what matter most!

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