If you’ve never given much thought to your nutrition before, and then just recently came across the idea that eating well can do wonders for your health, you must have noticed: it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the existing approaches and terminology that comes with them.
I’m going to put together a few articles to help you get an idea how everything works. Please note: I’m not a nutritional scientist, and oftentimes I’m learning along with you while researching this stuff! That’s why I recommend that you do additional research if you wish to learn more on any subject.
In this article, I’d like to focus on the terminology that explains the difference between meat-eating and non-meat-eating species, and find out where we humans belong on this scale.
So here we go:
An omnivore ( ‘all-eater’ in Latin), according to Wikipedia, is a consumer of a variety of material as significant food sources in their natural diet. This applies to species who eat both animal-based and plant-based foods. You can see that most of the world’s human population can be classified as omnivores (at least these days – it’s hard to trace our eating habits tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago due to the lack of remaining evidence, but scientists are working on it!).
A carnivore (‘meat-eater’ in Latin) thrives on a diet that consists mainly or exclusively of meat. Lots of animals come to mind as distinctively carnivorous. Carnivores are adapted both anatomically and physiologically to get access to meat through predation or scavenging, and then derive their nutrition from consuming that meat. Carnivores’ stomach acidity is much higher than that of herbivores because they need to process their food quickly, and the length of their intestinal tract is relatively short – Mother Nature didn’t want all that meat to rot in carnivores’ guts. Interestingly, a lot of meat eaters in the animal world have developed a way to produce vitamin C inside their bodies, so they never have to peel an orange to get this micronutrient 🙂 This article will help you learn more about carnivores.
A herbivore (‘plant-eater’ in Latin) is adapted to receive all of his nutrition from plants. Since plants don’t have lots of tough animal-like protein, herbivores’ stomach juices evolved to be way less acidic than that of carnivores. Herbivores developed a longer (and often more complicated) intestinal system so that to have time to break down the fiber in all that plant matter, and extract every nutrient they need from it. To learn more about herbivores, you can read this article.
The question arises: where do we humans fall in this paradigm? Scientists have tried to answer this for the longest time. A while ago, I came across this video from the vegetarian Society of Hawaii in which Milton Mills, M.D., delivered a great speech that erased every last question for me. Milton Mills has an extensive background in nutrition research, focusing on the role nutrition plays in the development of chronic diseases. He practices at Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, and at free clinics in Washington, D.C., and he suggests to all of his patients that they should try to go vegetarian. This video (just click on the link and watch it on YouTube) is an hour long and a bit grainy, but really worth watching!
Do you still wonder what the difference is between vegetarians and vegans? Stay tuned for my next article! I’m going to focus on the difference among multiple nutritional approaches that exclude meat consumption… or do they?