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Which is more healthy for consumption by humans, animals or plants?

Updated on February 21, 2009
Luckily for us we're neither cows... (Photo by Tabako the Jaguar)
Luckily for us we're neither cows... (Photo by Tabako the Jaguar)
...Nor cats! (Photo by
...Nor cats! (Photo by

Humans are lucky enough to be one of the most versatile eaters of any creatures in the world. Unlike cows or cats, which can only digest vegetable or animal foods respectively, humans can eat both animal and plant foods, and an astonishing variety of both!

In recent years, however, this versatility has led to many debates among both scientists and the general public is about what exactly the ideal human diet is. Meat lovers scoff at vegetarian diets; vegetarians point to the numerous studies indicating that their diets are just as healthy and complete as those of meat lovers, and scoff right back. Vegans scoff at both.

Lost in the endless arguments are a few simple facts:

  1. It is not possible for humans to receive all the nutrients necessary for good health on a 100% vegan diet or a 100% meat diet (though some Arctic cultures come close), without including some supplements or fortified foods.
  2. It is possible for humans to receive all the nutrients necessary for good health on a vegetarian diet, without supplementation or fortification.
  3. The easiest (though not the only) method of ensuring a balanced, healthful diet is to consume a mix of plant and animal foods, including meat.

More and more traditional food cultures are being shown to incorporate a diet that promotes optimum human health. Most traditional food cultures are based around plant foods, especially whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruits, but incorporate nutrient-dense grassfed meats (including organ meats and bone marrow), eggs, fermented dairy products, and butter or lard, as well as fish and seafood. 

Contrast this to the average American diet, which focuses on grain-fed meat and refined grains, with high consumption of refined sugars and hydrogenated vegetable oils and relatively low consumption of vegetables, fruits, and fermented foods, and you begin to see where we have gone wrong.

Whether you choose to eat meat, go vegetarian, or even go vegan with proper supplements is largely a matter of philosophy. Any of the three diets can promote good health and adequate nutrition.

What is far more important is that, whichever diet you choose, you eat real food, not highly refined and processed "food."

Most of the health risks associated with a diet high in animal products come not from the foods themselves, but from the way they were raised and processed. A steak that comes from a steer jammed in an overcrowded feedlot and stuffed with grain, antibiotics and growth hormones to fatten him and keep him healthy in unhealthy, stressful conditions is not going to be as good for you (or the environment!) as a steak from a steer left to fatten slowly and naturally on good pasture in the fresh air and sunshine.

Neither is an apple dusted with toxic pesticides residues, or a grain of wheat grown in depleted soil that is kept productive by application of large amounts of petroleum-based fertilizers and stripped of its bran before being mixed with high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and other fake foods to end up in your breakfast cereal.

The secret to healthy eating is not what diet philosophy you do or don't follow, it's this simple phrase: Eat Real Food.


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    • hsofyan profile image

      hsofyan 9 years ago from Indonesia

      wise answer!

    • Melissa G profile image

      Melissa G 9 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Great hub, Kerry! I was a part-time vegetarian in high school, a carnivorous Atkins dieter in college, and then a strict vegan for a couple of years. I did it because I felt bad for the animals, and I also thought it was a healthy way to live. Unfortunately, I was almost always hungry, prone to compulsive eating fits (especially Trader Joe's vegan chocolate chip cookies), and gained about 20 pounds! The problem is exactly as you described it, I wasn't meeting my nutritional needs, and I was eating a lot of fake, soy-based creations that were loaded with preservatives and genetically modified ingredients.

      I remember meeting people when I was vegan who insisted that they needed meat sometimes, and I would scoff at them and think it was all in their minds, but ever since I started incorporating fish, poultry, and meat proteins back into my diet, I've felt a LOT healthier, and I eat more real food.

      I'm glad people are starting to come to this realization and demanding more local produce and ethically raised, properly fed animals. The food tastes better and it's more nutritious.

      Thanks for another great and informative read!


    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 9 years ago from Washington, USA

      Kerry- I have grown up in a vegetarian family and ate meat 4 times so far in my life(twice fish and 1 chicken/1 mutton). But i had such a severe pangs of guilty conscience that I had to give it up completely. I don't know if it is due to years of being a vegetarian I feel so guilty or something else. And you are right number 2 in the list seems fine(at least that's what I would like to believe)..LOL

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 9 years ago from USA

      Thanks, Nicole!

      I was mostly vegetarian as a teenager, but never could give up meat entirely, because I really love bison, salmon, and shrimp.

      Recently, as I've gotten more and more interested in nutrition, I've also become increasingly convinced that it's not the meat that's making people fat and sick, it's the skewed ratio of fats you get with factory-farmed animals, as well as the refined sugars that are snuck into nearly everything in the supermarket these days.

      If you don't have access to grassfed meats, going vegetarian probably is the healthiest choice, especially if you also go organic. But if you do have access, the concerns over human health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability that drive many vegetarians all evaporate as soon as you get animals out of warehouses and feedlots and back onto pastures where they belong. Unless you genuinely believe that humans have no right to kill animals for meat (and of course many vegetarians do) there is NO reason it's better to go vegetarian instead of switching to grassfed and pastured animal products, and several reasons switching to grassfed is better.

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 9 years ago from New Brunswick

      You hit the nail right on the head: eat real food. I agree that a combination of foods including meat and vegetables is healthy.

    • Nicole Winter profile image

      Nicole A. Winter 9 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Great hub, kerryg, I can't wait to show it to my roomate when she gets home. (She's a vegetarian.)  I've always personally believed that humans were made to eat a mix of both vegetation and animal products.  Americans in particular, however, have a really whacked out ratio of meat : vegetables.  Meat is more for emergency consumption, i.e. back in the old days of flight or fight humans needed stored salted meats to tide them over through the winter months when foraging for vegetation became more difficult.  If your diet is 80% vegetation and 20% meat, whole grains and other beneficial carbs I think you're doing fantastic.