Eating meat is a big part of Nigeria’s food culture – just look at how Nigerians react to any mention of suya, nkwobi or peppersoup. I used to love meat too; eating plain rice and stew without even a boiled egg was just painful. All that changed when I discovered the devastating health implications of consuming animal products.
A few years ago when started becoming more health conscious, I began to avoid red meat; I ate mostly chicken and seafood and had salads more often, even though I hated eating raw leaves. I also stopped taking margarine and used real butter instead. I thought I was eating a healthier diet, but I didn’t realise I was running on the spot. In the process of looking for a healthier alternative to frozen chicken, I began to read about how livestock are raised, and this led me to articles about the impact of animal protein on our health. That was how I discovered what the food industry does not want consumers to know as they sell us their sausages, burgers, ice-cream and pizza: all animal products (meat, dairy, fish and eggs) cause serious harm to the human body when consumed habitually in large amounts. I know this goes against what we know about nutrition and a balanced diet from school days, so allow me to share the facts behind this statement.
“All animal products cause serious harm…”
Animal products are unhealthy for numerous reasons, but I’ll just mention three of them:
They promote heart disease
All animal products contain cholesterol, as this is the building block of animal cells. Human beings need cholesterol to be healthy, but all the cholesterol we need is produced by our livers. Therefore any cholesterol we consume is already in excess, no matter how low in cholesterol the food may be. Our bodies have to work hard to get rid of it and prevent it from clogging our arteries. On the other hand, cholesterol is not found in any plant foods.
They promote metabolic acidosis which leads to disease
Human blood in its ideal state should be slightly alkaline, with a pH of 7.35-7.45. Plant foods promote alkalinity while animal products are acid producing. A diet which is high in animal products creates a condition called metabolic acidiosis, where the blood becomes acidic. Acidic blood decreases our ability to absorb nutrients, lowers immune function and makes us more susceptible to disease. Highly acidic blood (pH below 6.0) can even result in death. So understandably when acidiosis occurs, the body tries desperately to neutralise acidity. It does this by pulling calcium from the bones. Over time this can lead to osteoporosis, and the high levels of calcium that must be excreted in urine as a result can also lead to the development of kidney stones.
They are cancer promoting
It’s a common saying nowadays that “everything causes cancer”. It certainly seems this way; everything from deodorants to talc powder to mobile phones have been found to be linked to cancer. It is becoming increasingly difficult in modern society to avoid carcinogenic substances. However this is not what we should worry about – when most cancerous mutations develop in the body they are corrected without us ever noticing it. The problem arises when our internal environment promotes acceleration of the cancer instead of correction. Dr. Colin Campbell, world renowned nutrition scientist and author of The China Study, discovered that it is possible to influence the acceleration or regression of cancerous growths (tumours) by changing one’s diet. He found that increasing animal protein consumption is like flipping the cancer switch on, while reducing animal protein switches it back off. In other words, “[animal] proteins were causing rapid cell development and replication” in tumours. On the flip side, an increase in plant-based proteins showed no increase in cancer growth rate.
“…when consumed habitually in large amounts”
You might be thinking, ‘But I need the protein!’ A common misconception is that we must eat lots of meat to get enough protein. But in reality, we don’t even need that much protein to begin with, and it’s quite easy to get sufficient protein from plants.
The daily protein requirement for a Nigerian adult is about 0.8 grams per kg of body weight; beyond this, you’re consuming excess protein. For a 70kg person this means 56g per day. A single serving of meat/fish/chicken, which provides about 20g of protein, would be about the size of a deck of playing cards.
So three decks of cards already meets your protein requirement for the day. This is not even counting all the protein you consume from yoghurt, rice, beans, pasta, cereal, potatoes, and so on. Many of us already exceed the recommended protein intake on a regular basis, and our bodies have to do extra work to get rid of the excess.
So does this mean you must completely cut out all animal products? Not necessarily. Our ancestors ate meat; but they didn’t suffer from degenerative diseases, because they didn’t eat nearly as much of it as we do now. Their diet was mostly plant-based, with the occasional small piece of meat.
As the name implies, a plant-based diet is one in which most (about 90%) of your calories come from plants. It is commonly believed that this way of eating creates nutritional deficiencies, but this is simply misinformation – this article explains further. People who adopt plant-based eating have found that their blood cholesterol levels improve significantly within weeks. Even people afflicted with morbid obesity, heart disease and diabetes have been able to reverse the disease without the use of drugs.
But what is a plant-based diet? The answer might surprise you – a lot of people who eat this way eat salads less often than you think. There are so many more options than fruits and leaves. All the foods you’re used to, like bread, yam, rice, sweet potatoes, beans, plantain, cashew nuts, egusi, maize and cassava are part of a delicious plant-based diet.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series where I explain how whole foods are the key to dropping excess kgs, and part 3 where I cover how to adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet in Nigeria.