by Lee Kurisko, MD
In Part Three, I dispelled the misconception that plant foods cannot provide sufficient protein for health. People are also often concerned about calcium, iron, and zinc.
I was raised believing that only dairy foods provided a significant amount of calcium to be healthy and have strong bones. Invariably, the “educational” materials making such claims are sponsored by the dairy industry. Dairy is not essential, and in fact, 75% of the world’s population cannot consume dairy because they do not produce lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose (milk sugar). Despite the lack of dairy consumption for most of the world, the cultures with the largest dairy consumption have the weakest bones with the highest prevalence of osteoporotic fractures. Milk, being relatively acidic, requires buffering in the body by drawing calcium from the bones. Paradoxically, despite being high in calcium, milk may cause us to lose calcium from the bones! No other species on Earth consumes dairy after the age of weaning and especially does not consume the milk of a different species.
In nature, the purpose of milk is to turn a 60 pound calf into a 600 pound cow in the space of a year. Milk is baby cow growth fluid and is totally unnatural for human consumption. Dairy consumption raises IGF-1, which is a growth promoter, but when elevated to unnatural levels, is a cancer promoter. Teenage boys consuming a single serving of milk through adolescence raise their risk of prostate cancer as men by 300%! This is highly concerning for me because I was having milk at least three times a day as a teenager. I remember my father getting angry at my brother and I for drinking so much milk depleting the fridge of milk so quickly. Dairy consumption has also been implicated in breast and gynecological cancers. Besides, according to USDA data, the American milk supply averages 224,000 somatic (pus) cells per milliliter. Yum!!
Where do cows get their calcium? From plants. Likewise, the biggest strongest land animals on earth such as the elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus, get their calcium from plants and so can you.
Iron intake is another common area of concern. This is actually not an issue. The iron in plant food is “non-heme”, which has the advantage that the body will tend to simply absorb what is needs unlike “heme” iron from animal products that can be excessively absorbed. It is now known that excess iron is a risk factor for disease, especially heart disease. I just had some blood work done myself, and my hemoglobin remains completely normal since eating plant-based since last June.
Zinc has been pointed out as a concern. Although animal foods have the highest concentration of zinc, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds also contain zinc. Pumpkin seeds are a particularly good source of zinc.
Omega 3 fats are essential anti-inflammatory fats that are most commonly associated with fish. Fish are indeed an excellent source of these, but unfortunately in our modern polluted world, fish is also a very rich source of undesirable heavy metals such as mercury and organic pollutants. Omega 3’s can also be obtained from plant foods such as walnuts, flax, and hemp seeds. Even green vegetables are a source. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is plant-derived Omega 3. The body must convert this to DHA and EPA, which is the type obtained from fish. Some people may not be efficient at this conversion, so if undertaking a whole food plant-based diet, consider taking algae-based DHA and EPA. A single small capsule with a combined total of 250 mg should suffice while avoiding the metals and organic pollutants. Besides, algae is the same place fish get Omega 3’s from. It is a misconception that fish produce this.
With the exception of Vitamin B12 (discussed in Part 1), and the limitations of Omega 3, all nutrients can be derived from a plant-based diet.
Lee Kurisko, MD is Chief Medical Officer with MediBid and radiologist with Consulting Radiologists Ltd. based in the Twin Cities. He is Medical Director of Diagnostic Imaging at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee, Minnesota. He is trained in Family Medicine, Radiology, Neuroradiology, and Nutritional and Metabolic Medicine.
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