We’d like to answer briefly but definitively the question of whether green diets are better than red ones, and also explain which forms of modern eating are likely best overall and why. To do this, we’ll first define our terms and then consider the overall health implications of four potential daily diets on the “red-green” continuum.
HumanaNatura’s OurPlate Model In Practice
When we talk about green diets, we of course mean ones dominated by plant foods, whether measured by both food volume or total calories. Green diets typically will have at least 65% of calories from vegetable sources, and often very high amounts of raw vegetables and fruits in particular.
Green eating includes not just vegetarian and vegan diets, but also other vegetable and fruit-rich forms of eating – such as the Mediterranean diet and HumanaNatura’s OurPlate healthy natural eating model.
Red diets, by contrast, are ones where food volume and calories are dominated by animal foods, and where animal proteins and fats will generally account for more than 50% of total calories. Red-based eating includes diets rich in fatty red meats and eggs, but also ones with high amounts of lean meats, poultry, and fish.
In defining and contrasting these two general and common modes of modern eating, we would also like to introduce the idea of beige diets. By beige diets, we mean eating patterns high in carbohydrate and/or fat-rich industrial and agricultural foods – foods other than those in our primary natural diet of unprocessed meats, raw vegetables, and fruit. Modern calorie-dense beige foods typically displace or augment natural meat, raw vegetable, and fruit consumption and frequently result in greatly elevated daily calorie levels.
On this point, we would add that when beige eating is blended with a green or red dietary pattern – as is common today – we get the variants of grain and bean dominated beige-green diets and fast food oriented beige-red diets (think soyburgers or hamburgers eaten with sugary sodas and sweet dessert foods).
The Scientific Evidence
As we consider the question of optimal modern nutrition, focusing on red versus green eating, it hardly can be a surprise that HumanaNatura concludes that green diets are generally healthier than red (and beige) ones.
After all, health science institutions and government health agencies – see here for example – have long campaigned for greater raw vegetable and fruit consumption, and for reduced meat and processed food use, supported by extensive and still growing scientific evidence recommending this eating pattern.
Similarly, we are all now routinely exposed to new research highlighting the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets over traditional red-biased eating – see here for a recent example.
Importantly, however, while research into vegetarian diets supports the larger proposal that green eating is better, we would point out that the overall scientific case for 100% vegetarian eating is less strong than for plant-dominated diets more generally, as succinctly summarized here.
Four Model Diets To Shed Light
If greener but not necessarily 100% green diets are naturally healthier, this begs the question of which forms of green eating are optimal, and what amount of red foods might be permissible and even desirable from a nutritional standpoint.
To get at these important questions in a clear and accessible way, we’d like to discuss four model diets and use them to introduce several essential ideas related to optimal modern eating: 1) why excessive red eating is harmful, 2) why exclusively green diets are not natural and may not be optimal for us nutritionally, 3) what the ideal mix of green and red foods likely is, and 4) why highly processed beige foods of all kinds have little or no place in a health conscious modern diet.
#1: Meatatarian – let’s start with the extreme case of a high-meat diet. What we will call meatatarian eating is red-rich and high in animal foods, even approaching 100% of total calories Any non-meat foods included in this general way of eating can range from ultra-beige industrial foods to agricultural-age grains and starches to natural vegetables and fruits. In all cases, this basic diet and its variants is simply not consistent with our best health science (even including diets counterbalancing high meat intake exclusively with natural raw veggies and fruits – what we might call a “red paleo” diet). It produces an eating pattern with too much protein and animal fat, too little dietary fiber, too little natural carbohydrates and micro-nutrients and potentially too many unnatural carbohydrates and lectins than is desirable. Key risks include cardiovascular disease and intestinal cancers. Our parents, earlier civilizations, and even some of our natural ancestors may have eaten in this general way, but our best science says it is less healthy.
#2: Carbotarian – for comparison, we’d next like to introduce the idea of a carbotarian diet, one lower in meat and less red than in the first example diet, but using increased and/or unnatural carbohydrate or fat consumption to make up for the more limited calorie intake from animal foods – and thus a diet that is more beige than green in content. In this way of eating, large quantities of grains, cereals, legumes, starches, and/or other carbohydrate-rich industrial foods are typically consumed. Fat intake can range from far less to modestly lower than in a meatatarian diet, depending on how the added carbohydrate-rich foods are prepared or produced. The amount of fruit and vegetable consumption can vary as well, though is generally lower than is desirable. Overall, this is the classic modern eating pattern of junk-foodism, rich in so-called “empty” calories or non-whole and unnatural foods. While protein intake may be adequate and is less likely to be excessive, overall this approach produces an unnatural diet high in refined carbohydrates and lectins and likely low in dietary fiber. It is also a diet frequently marked by food cravings and/or feelings of lethargy, leading to increased eating, as dominating carbohydrate foods are quickly metabolized and fail to produce natural satiety after meals or snacks. Key risks include chronic metabolic imbalance, chronic tissue inflammation destruction of bacteria essential to our natural physiology, diabetes, and elevated rates of some cancers.
#3: Vegetarian – diets without animal foods or that include only animal-sustaining foods (principally dairy and eggs) represent the two basic forms of vegetarian eating. Like carbotarian diets, vegetarian diets can vary considerably in content, but in all cases should be viewed as at least partly unnatural – in the sense that they do not reflect the way that naturally omnivorous humans ate in wild nature. Depending on how protein is obtained, vegetarian diets can be high in fatty eggs and dairy products or alternatively in sugary grains and beans. At the same time, included amounts of carbohydrate and fat-rich industrial foods and natural fruits and vegetables can vary widely, as can the mix of refined and whole grains. For this reason and as highlighted in the research summary here, the quality of vegetarian diets can range from poor to very good. In general, vegetarian diets emphasizing whole grains, legumes, a high intake of raw vegetables and fruits, and some but not excessive eggs and dairy will produce good health outcomes – by enabling diets with adequate protein that are low in fat, high in fiber, and high in natural carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Importantly, vegan diets with no animal foods will be deficient in vitamin B12 (necessitating supplementation) and may produce a diet with insufficient protein levels (as opposed to protein diversity). And almost always, vegetarian and vegan diets will have undesirably high carbohydrate levels and include significant amounts of unnatural carbohydrates (those not from fruits and raw roots), potentially leading to metabolic patterns similar to those found with carbotarian diets. Still, owing to the high fiber, low-fat, and low refined carbohydrate nature of most vegetarian diets, they will produce health outcomes superior to the first two model diets for many people.
#4: Humanitarian – the last model eating pattern we would like to discuss is a natural or ancestral human diet, and one that has been intentionally greened to optimize its health effects. We will call this diet a humanitarian diet, a term intended to underscore its natural foundations in pre-agricultural human life (and its strong alignment with HumanaNatura’s Natural Eating recommendations). As suggested already, this diet is plant-rich, but not plant-exclusive, and is represented both substantively and graphically by HumanaNatura’s OurPlate natural eating model. It is similar to a Mediterranean diet, except that grains and legumes are not used (for both personal and ecological health reasons, and in keeping with the humanitarian diet’s naturalized or pre-agricultural orientation). This approach, which might be characterized as “green-paleo” eating, includes the goal of at least 50% of food volume in the form of raw vegetables, adequate but not excessive lean animal and fish protein foods to meet DRI levels, inclusion of tree nuts, and fruit consumption to meet our remaining caloric needs. In practice, this and similar humanitarian diet produces near ideal nutrition and health conditions, with adequate protein, lowered saturated fats and limited unnatural carbohydrates, high fiber, and all needed vitamins and minerals. And, owing to its greatly simplified “three food-group” approach (vegetables, proteins, and fruits) it is also generally subject to much less variation than in the preceding model diets.
Our Natural Truth Rating
Given our discussion, HumanaNatura rates the proposal that plant-dominated green diets are superior to meat or industrial food dominated red and beige diets a 10/10 (Almost Certainly True) in our Natural Truth rating system.
We base our rating on extensive science supporting plant-dominated eating. But we would qualify our rating by again highlighting that the science supporting 100% vegetarian diets is less strong. And we would underscore that green diets still can be less than ideal, when high amounts of beige foods – unnatural industrial foods or carbohydrate and allergan-rich grains and cereals – are consumed.
We hope this discussion of plant-dominated and other forms of eating is valuable to you, and that it helps you to make more informed and optimal decisions regarding your and your family’s daily eating practices.
You can click the following link to learn more about our Natural Truth health information campaign and evidence-based 1-10 rating system. And we always welcome your comments and input on this or any other HumanaNatura Natural Truth review.
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