613: Diana Rodgers on Meat Myths and Why Animal Products Are Vital for Humans to Thrive

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Diana Rodgers on Meat Myths and Why Animal Products Are Vital for Humans to Thrive
Wellness Mama » Episode » 613: Diana Rodgers on Meat Myths and Why Animal Products Are Vital for Humans to Thrive
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The Wellness Mama Podcast
613: Diana Rodgers on Meat Myths and Why Animal Products Are Vital for Humans to Thrive
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Today’s episode is more of a controversial topic, but it’s a very important one. I’m here with Diana Rodgers, a dietician, real food nutritionist, and sustainability advocate. She co-wrote Sacred Cow (the book and the movie) with my friend Robb Wolf. Her latest adventure is the Global Food Justice Alliance, which advocates for including animal foods in global dietary policies. The goal is to create a more nutritious, sustainable, and equitable food system for people around the world.

I’ve had Diana on before to talk about the book Sacred Cow, but today we take a deeper dive into the topic. She busts some of the myths behind the thinking that cattle are bad for the environment and unhealthy for humans. We cover how much water cows really use (hint: not as much as we’ve been told), the health differences between grain-fed and grass-fed meat, and how we can all help create a more sustainable food supply. Plus much much more.

In half of the countries worldwide, women still aren’t allowed to own land, but they can own livestock. And women and children especially are at a nutritional disadvantage when they don’t eat enough animal products. While protein is an important macronutrient for all of us, sustainable animal farming has a really big impact, especially for women.

I hope you’ll join me and listen in as I chat with Diana today!

Episode Highlights With Diana Rodgers

  • How she got into nutrition through her own undiagnosed celiac
  • Why meat is the most vilified food and some reasons this is off base
  • The most common myths and misconceptions about meat: nutrition, environment, and ethics
  • Why personal food decisions should stay personal and not be imposed on others
  • What the research says about meat being critical for childhood development
  • The elephant in the room: 60% of the US diet is ultra-processed foods
  • Why it’s possible to meet protein needs and still be deficient in amino acids
  • Protein consumption is especially important for women and children and specifically from animal products
  • What sarcopenia is and why it is such a big problem
  • Ways to help avoid sarcopenia
  • For every pound of plant-based protein, there are four pounds of waste
  • The ways that cows are actually beneficial and important for the environment
  • Almonds vs cows for water consumption and why almonds waste much more water than cows

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the “Wellness Mama” Podcast. I’m Katie, from wellnessmama.com. And this episode is all about myths and misconceptions surrounding meat consumption, and why animal products are vital for humans to thrive. I know that’s a strong statement, and today’s guest is able to back it up very strongly. I’m here with Diana Rodgers, who is a registered dietitian, and a real food nutritionist, and a sustainability advocate. She runs a clinical nutrition practice, hosts the “Sustainable Dish” podcast, and has served on an advisory board for numerous nutrition and agriculture organizations, including Whole30, Animal Welfare Approved and Savory Institute. And she speaks internationally about the intersection of optimal human nutrition, regenerative agriculture, and food justice. And more recently, she has been focused on shifting the anti-meat narrative. She’s the co-author of “Sacred Cow,” with my friend Robb Wolf, and the movie by the same name. And her new initiative is the Global Food Justice Alliance, which advocates for the inclusion of animal-sourced foods in dietary policies for a more nutritious, sustainable, and equitable worldwide food system.
And we go into a lot of these topics today. We talk about why meat is the most qualified food, and some reasons that this is off base. We talk about the most common myths and misconceptions when it comes to meat consumption, which are nutrition, environmental factors, and ethics. Why personal food decisions should stay personal and not be imposed on others. What the research actually says about meat being critical for childhood development. The elephant in the room that 60% of the U.S. diet is ultra-processed foods, that has nothing to do with meat consumption. Why it’s possible to meet protein needs and still be deficient in amino acids. And the incredible volume of food a person would need to consume to get an optimal amount of protein, if not eating animal products. We talk about why protein consumption is especially important for women and children. What sarcopenia is, and why it is such a big problem. Why for every pound of plant-based protein, there are four pounds of waste. The ways that cows are actually beneficial and important for the environment. And so much more. Diana is a wealth of knowledge. And I always love getting to chat with her. I know you will learn a lot. So let’s join Diana Rodgers. Diana, welcome back.
Diana: Thank you so much for having me.
Katie: Well, I’m excited for our conversation today, and hopefully to dispel some myths that are still floating around. But before we do that, I have a note from your bio, that you have synesthesia, and you see colors when you hear music. And I would love to hear what that’s about, because I am aware of this concept, but I’ve not experienced that.
Diana: Ah, yeah. It’s so funny because I was chatting with my son who’s now 18. But a few years ago, we were chatting, and I was like, “Did you know that, like, every number has a color associated with it?” And he’s like, “Yeah, like, who doesn’t? You know, two is blue.” And I said, “I know. Exactly.” And so he’s got it, too. It’s kind of funny, and I’ve heard that it’s genetic. But yeah, I was an art major undergrad, and paint a lot and do a lot of art on the side. And when I hear music, it’s very visual for me. And I can, like, see colors in full paintings when I hear certain pieces of music.
Katie: That is so cool. And probably really fun to get to translate that into art as a hobby for you as well. That’s really neat.
Diana: Yeah, totally.
Katie: Well, all these skills I didn’t even know you had. But one thing I did know about you is that you are extremely knowledgeable on the topics we’re going to talk about today. And I think there’s some important myths when it comes to this that I’m really excited to go deep on. But before we jump into the specifics of that, can you just give us a little background? I know you’ve been on before. We’ll link to the first episode in the show notes. But about your background and how you got into this specific area of nutrition.
Diana: Yeah, so I got into nutrition really, because I’ve always been interested in what was my problem. I had undiagnosed celiac disease until I was 26. And when I got diagnosed, I went to one of the leading hospitals, one of the leading dieticians on celiac disease. And I was just sort of, like, handed a bunch of coupons for some gluten free processed foods, which back then were not awesome options. There was, like, some really dry, crumbly bread that tasted like cardboard, and a couple of frozen meals by Amy’s, which were like, okay, but definitely not awesome. And so my stomach felt better, but I was still on this kind of like blood sugar roller coaster, would get, like, hypoglycemic often, and just didn’t know what was going on with that. And I was married to a farmer. And we were hosting a raw milk co-op. And I was like, “Who are these crazy people coming in here for their raw milk and their butter?” You know, and so I started learning more. I went to a Weston A. Price conference. I had to hear, like, 17 times that was okay to eat butter before I actually ate butter. And it really made a huge difference in my life to just, like, pull in some more animal fats.
And so I decided to go back to school. First, I went to NTA, Nutritional Therapy Association, which was a great foundation, because it’s really hard to unlearn something. So I’m so happy that I didn’t become a dietician, like, straight out of college. Because I would have learned, I think, everything the wrong way. So, after NTA, and I got that foundation in, like, why bone broth, and butter, and sauerkraut, and all the things you and I both talked about, are so good for you. I decided to then become a dietitian, really just to get that credential, so that I could work more with medical doctors, and I would just kind of have a little more credibility. So, as I was in the training, I noticed just more and more people talking about why, you know, cutting out processed foods is not good because it’s kind of cutting out whole food groups, but yet vegan and vegetarian diets were good because of animal welfare reasons, and also because of the planet. And, you know, I was living on this farm where we were like pretty much a closed loop. Like, you need the animals in order to, you know, grow healthy kale, and vegetables, and all that. And I just noticed that there was no one who was in the real food space that was also talking about sustainability.
And, you know, all the conversations about, like, how are we going to feed the world moving forward was all, like, plant-based, or, you know, some of these alternative proteins, and just very sort of synthetic and not real. And so, I decided to really make that my passion. And it just happens to be largely focused on meat these days, just because meat is the most vilified food when it comes to, you know, health, nutrition, animal welfare issues. And so, it wasn’t like, you know, always dreamed of being a meat advocate from age six, but it just sort of happened that way. So when I decided to write the book, “Sacred Cow,” I went to Robb Wolf, who, you know, one of the questions that you emailed me about ahead of time was like, what book was kind of the most influential in your life. And it’s hard to pick one book, but definitely “The Paleo Solution” was one of the most influential books in my life. And Robb is now one of my closest friends. And so, we had this idea for the book, “Sacred Cow,” maybe, gosh, 10 years ago, but we just felt like it was too soon. Like, no one would pick it up. The timing wasn’t quite right. Like, people just weren’t talking about sustainability on the scale that we really needed it to.
And I know I met you at Paleo FX. And, you know, the first few years when I would go to conferences and talk about sustainability, there’d be, like, three people in the room. But then towards the end, it would be standing room only, everyone wanted to know, you know, at least how to defend themselves when other people were coming on to their social media feeds and claiming that cows are destroying the planet, and it’s wrong to eat beautiful animals, and all these things. And so, we felt like the timing was right to put out the book. And then halfway through reading the book, yet another vegan documentary came out, you know, talking about how if you feed your kids meat in the morning, you might as well be giving them cigarettes for breakfast. And so I decided, if I really want to reach a lot of people, I’d better make a film about this. And so, that’s why I made the film, “Sacred Cow.” So lately, I’ve been just doing a lot of traveling and speaking. I started a nonprofit just to advocate for access for animal source foods to people that need it. And yeah, I’m like a meat evangelist.
Katie: Well, like you, I went to Weston A. Price conferences pretty early on in my own journey, and actually met some of my closest friends at that particular conference. And they have kept in touch, they actually live close by now, which is exciting. But that also opened my eyes pretty early on to some of these things we’re going to talk about. And you are so much more well researched on this than I am. So I’ll always love to learn from you. I know this one question could be many episodes of answers on its own. But to start really broad, what are some of the common myths and misconceptions around meat consumption that you hear the most? Because I know you get a lot of engagement on these topics on social media, and you probably have some very recurring questions/objections.
Diana: Yes, definitely. So I’d say the biggest… Well, they fall into three camps. There’s nutrition, environment, and ethics. And so we can go down any rabbit hole you think your listeners might be most interested in. I’m sure you talk about nutrition a lot. But nutritionally, it’s, you know, does meat cause cancer, heart disease? And, you know, can’t I just eat plants for all the nutrients I need? The answer is no to all those things. The studies against meat are not solid science. And there’s very good evidence that meat is incredibly important for cognitive development, especially in women and children. And then we move on to environment. And that gets broken into, you know, are cows inefficient with land use? Shouldn’t we just, you know, only grow vegetables? Are they inefficient with water? Does it take 10 bathtubs full of water for a burger? Let’s see, greenhouse gases. And then there’s one more environmental argument that I’m spacing on right now. So we’ve got the environmental, like, issues around meat.
And then of course, there’s ethical issues, which are… It can be a challenge to figure out… You know, everyone has their own ethical moral compass. Right? So what might make sense for you or I might not, you know, be justifiable reasons to eat meat for someone else. But at the end of the day, I think your personal food decisions should be your personal food decisions, but then to impose your personal decisions on other people is wrong. That’s called imperialism. And we know that that’s wrong. We know that…you know, we should allow people to have the choice to choose whatever diet is appropriate for them and their family. And when it comes to children, we do know that meat is absolutely critical for cognitive development. And so, those pushing a meat-free diet, especially on children, I think there’s some ethical considerations to that that need to be explored more deeply.
Katie: Yeah. So many directions to go. And I definitely want to circle back to that one, because I feel like at least I most commonly hear the ethical arguments right now. And they seem to go in waves. But starting off on the nutritional side, because this is the one I’m most personally well-versed in. You mentioned some of the top bullet items. And certainly we’ve all probably seen the headlines in the media about red meat causing cancer and processed meat causing cancer. And I know there’s a lot of nuance and things to delve into here. I also feel like a lot of these arguments are based on a lot of assumptions. And at least for me, when I’ve actually gone to the literature itself, that’s not what the study actually says. And this is a widespread problem, much beyond just meat consumption, where the media will tend to pull a sensationalist headline out of a study and ignore the entirety of the data of the study. But let’s actually walk through the health implications, the nutrition implications of meat consumption, especially, and where some of these myths come from.
Diana: Yeah, I mean, the myths are coming even today, even from the Lancet. So there’s a study called the Global Burden of Disease, and it comes out every two years. And it’s what most global food policies are set on. And they reference back to this one massive paper. And in the 2019 issue of the study, red meat was found to be 36 times more deadly than it was two years prior. And the researchers said they conducted their own systematic review. They never showed any evidence for this. There’s not been any new evidence showing that meat is more toxic. And they set the tolerable risk exposure level to zero amount. So, meaning any amount of red meat you eat is contributing to your death, with no evidence at all. So this isn’t happening just, you know, through vegan influencers online. We’re seeing headlines like this from the “New York Times,” from the “Wall Street Journal,” “The Washington Post,” “Fox,” “The Economist.” Those are just a handful of the most anti-meat media places. And so it’s really a tidal wave, and it’s coming from everywhere. People are really misinformed about all of the aspects of meat. And they just don’t get it. And there’s a lot of money to be made in the fake meat products out there. And I think that’s where a lot of the misinformation is being driven from, is, you know, Silicon Valley, and the people that are standing to gain financially from this, so.
But yeah, the studies nutritionally against meat are weak at best. And so there should never be any policies set on that. They largely use association. So, if you take your average vegetarian, and then compare them to an average American meat eater, there are so many lifestyle differences between these two populations, right? So, a typical vegetarian is more likely to do yoga, exercise more, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, less likely to smoke and drink, all those important things that we know are good for health. A typical meat eater in America is less likely to do those things. And, you know, also 60% of our diet is ultra-processed foods in the U.S. And so meat gets lumped into ultra-processed foods. So when you think of a typical ultra-processed, you know, fast food meal, it might be a burger with some fries, and a 72-ounce soda drink, and maybe a deep-fried apple pie to go with it. Right? I would argue that that burger patty is the healthiest thing that they’re probably eating all day. Even a burger patty from McDonald’s is just beef, salt, and pepper. There’s not anything sort of, like, toxic and horrible in there. I know that there’s, like, better and worse ways to raise the animals. But for people of low income, like, those burger patties are definitely the way to go. So, when you adjust for all those confounding factors, those lifestyle factors, they’ve never found any evidence that eliminating meat will lead to better health outcomes.
Katie: Yeah. And I feel like this is such a widespread misconception. And just purely my own anecdotal data, combined with several guests I’ve had recently on this podcast. My own journey in the last couple of years, I realized I was drastically under-eating, and especially under-eating protein. And this is one of the few things I’ve really tweaked in the last year, and the changes in my muscle tone have been dramatic. And we do know in the data, for instance, that lean muscle mass correlates with longevity, with aging markers, with so many important things as we get older. And so I have a lot of concern when we talk about people trying to remove animal meat from our diets entirely. Like you said, this could have really, really negative impacts on kids, but for all of us.
Diana: Especially women and children. And I’ve seen your health transformation too, and I’m, like, so happy about it. And I think, you know, women are taught that only a certain amount of protein is right, and that we’re all eating too much meat. I think there’s this perception that all Americans are setting down to, like, a 72-ounce tomahawk steak every night for dinner. But the average protein intake is actually less than ideal. Our protein requirements set by the RDA for protein is about half of what’s the optimal amount. And, gosh, I just think everyone needs to be probably doubling the amount of protein they’re getting. And so this whole idea of, like, less meat, better meat… You know, I hear that a lot from the regenerative grass-fed community. And I question the less meat part because I don’t necessarily think that we’re eating too much meat. I think there are some people out there that are, you know, over-consuming calories. But when it comes to meat, you know, it’s not just the protein, it’s also the micronutrients, you’re getting in there, the satiating quality of that meat. Like, it just fills you up. And so, if I get a brand-new nutrition client, the very first thing I do is jack up their meat intake, because they’re just less likely to overindulge in other foods, if they’re full of not just all those great amino acids, but also the iron, the B 12, and all those other micronutrients that when we’re deficient in them, actually drive cravings for other foods.
Katie: Yeah. And when we really start delving into not just the minimum to survive, but optimal amounts of protein consumption, and breaking that down and working backwards, it also becomes obviously difficult to even get enough minimal protein without animal foods. Because the amount of calories and volume that you would have to consume would be daunting every single day. And I’ve had guests like Dr. Gabrielle Lyon talking about, you know, the problem in the U.S. is not that we have are over-fat, that’s a symptom of the fact that we are under-muscled. And protein synthesis, there’s this whole cascade, she explains, but basically, we have a higher need for protein than we’re currently getting. And she views this as one of the big factors that we’re facing right now. And I know you’ve talked about this as well. But to your point, like, for women and children, this is pretty dramatic and important.
Diana: Yes. And I’m a huge fan of hers. I love her work. You know, another thing is, it’s possible to still meet your total protein needs, but also be deficient in amino acids, because plants just don’t have that right amino acid profile that we need. And even when we’re talking about, like, you mentioned calories. To get 30 grams of protein, you could eat 180 calories worth of steak, or 750 calories worth of beans and rice. And so, we don’t need extra calories or extra carbs in our food system, we just need good nourishment. You know, and kids are wiggly and squirmy, it’s hard to get them to sit down and really, like, eat 750 calories worth of beans and rice. There was a study that was done in India that looked at, you know, what would an eight-year-old boy need to eat in terms of lentils in order to get his daily protein requirement. And they found that he physically couldn’t eat enough lentils to get it. Like, it’s really hard to put back that much food and still meet your protein requirements.
And, you know, there’s also a lot of longevity people out there talking about how we need to eat less protein for longevity. And I mean, I’m in Dr. Lyon’s camp, as far as like, you know, do we just want to live forever and be stuck in a hospital bed and not functional? Or do we want to be robust and strong as we move forward? And so, you know, sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss, is a really big problem. And the best way that, you know, anyone over 40 can really push back against that is to double their protein intake and lift heavy things.
Katie: Yeah, those have been consistent themes among many of the experts on this podcast. And I always love to hear those echoed. And I don’t want to be alarmist, but I’ve seen enough news headlines recently to make me a little concerned about this. Do you think we are in a situation where we could actually face an inability to access animal products in the future with a lot of the way that these things are starting to move?
Diana: Yeah, I mean, I was just at COP 27, which is the UN climate change talks in Egypt. And there are a lot of people out there pushing for less meat, more alternative proteins, you know, because of climate change, or because of animal welfare reasons, with no nutrition education at all, with no respect for the fact that there are a lot of people that don’t have that privilege of choice. You know, there’s a lot of talk about privilege these days. But people deserve to make their own choices when it comes to food. And there’s a lot of people in the world that don’t have the privilege to push away something really nutritious, something that might be growing locally to them. You know, also for women, still today, in 2022, in half the country’s worldwide, women can’t own land, but they can own livestock. And so when we can empower these women by giving them a goat or a flock of chickens, it improves the economic stability and the nutrition status of the whole household.
Katie: And you mentioned climate change. I feel like this is one of the reasons a lot of this policy is being driven, or at least the reason given when they’re pushing for these changes. And we talked about this a little bit in our first episode, but I would love to kind of break down the reasoning behind this and the myths surrounding the cows causing climate change idea.
Diana: Yeah. So I go through it, you know, if anyone’s curious, and maybe they’ve even seen my film, “Sacred Cow.” But the book really goes into this, like, we’ve got a whole choose your own adventure section in the beginning of the book. So people can just go through, like, cows, are they inefficient with water or land? Or, you know, what about the greenhouse gases? And so, there’s a lot of components. And it’s sort of, like, every day, I’m playing this game of whack a mole, where, you know, I answer, okay, this is… The issue with land use, for example. And I’ll go into that briefly. But I’ll sort of take the moment to really kind of dismantle the misunderstanding around land use. And then they immediately switch to greenhouse gases and methane, and then I have to explain the methane issue. And then they’ll say, “Well, it’s wrong to kill a beautiful animal.” So I’m constantly just kind of, like, going in all these circles, explaining all the reasons.
And I think that’s why we’re seeing less influencers online promoting meat, because it’s just, like, kind of a liability. Like, why even lose followers, right? And I’ve met people who have said that to me. So I think the biggest eye opener when it comes to cows and the environment is really the idea of this land use. So, people say, “Well, cows take, you know, 10 times more land than growing potatoes or peas. And so we should just be doing that.” And what people don’t understand is that most of our agricultural land, about 60% to 70% of it, can really only support grazing because it’s either too hilly, or too rocky, or there’s not enough water, or it’s just too arid. And so grazing animals, like cattle and goats, can actually do great on these areas. And I think there’s a lot of people that, you know, maybe haven’t been to other parts of the world where there’s no chance you could grow a field of soy or pea protein in order to make a Beyond Burger. And so that’s one of the big issues, is like, oh, so if we took the cows away, we can’t just, like, grow more crops. And that’s true.
When it comes to climate change, I think the methane is one of the biggest, like, pieces that people kind of focus on as, you know, why cows are so bad. But we have to understand that the methane that’s coming from cattle is just recycling molecules that are already in the environment. So if you picture, like, one of those ecospheres, you probably have one of those for your kids, with the little, like, shrimp inside or whatever. So it’s like if you were saying that that shrimp is evil because when it eats the little algae in there, it’s emitting methane, even though the methane then breaks down quickly, and gets just recycled back into that ecosphere. So it’s not, like, adding brand new greenhouse gases to that ecosphere. The same thing with cattle. They’re eating carbon, which is grass, and through their digestive process, they’re belching out methane. But that’s what happens when things break down anaerobically anyway. So, if the grass didn’t go through a cow and get turned into protein, it would still emit methane. So the cattle are just kind of accelerating that process. But then, as the methane goes into the atmosphere, after 10 years, it breaks into CO2 and H20.
So H2O is water, that becomes rain. And then the CO2 gets actually taken back up by the plants, again, through photosynthesis. They release oxygen, which is what we breathe. And then the carbon molecule becomes the grass again, becomes the roots, feeds the microorganisms underground. And about 40% of that can get sequestered underground. So it’s very different than fossil fuels. So fossil fuels are digging up ancient methane and carbon that’s already been sequestered from the Earth’s core, and pumping it directly into the atmosphere without an equal exchange happening. And I’m kind of using my hands… You know, I have a…I’ll send you the video that we have, the animation that helps people understand this a little bit better. But it’s like that ecosphere example that I gave you where, you know, let’s say the cattle or the shrimp inside the little ecosphere, and they’re doing their thing inside, and there’s a natural balance to everything inside. And that’s why those things don’t often die. If I were fossil fuels, it would be like me taking a straw and blowing extra methane directly into that, so wrecking the ecosphere. That’s what’s happening with fossil fuels. Does that make sense?
Katie: It does. And I feel like that nuance is not understood. And the assumption just being that cows create methane, therefore cows are bad is the assumption that a lot of these things are based on, without even the understanding of the percentages. And I’ve seen this from you as well on Instagram, like, the breakdown of what percentage of that comes from things like fossil fuels versus cows. And that ignores the entire flip side, which is that, from what I’ve read, there’s some pretty strong evidence about cows actually being a very valuable part of the ecosystem that benefited over the long term. And if we’re talking about circling back to the nutrition, needing to feed a growing world population, the nutrient density of animal foods per acre is much higher than almost anything else we can produce. So, can you talk about the beneficial aspects to the environment of these regeneratively raised… Obviously, no one is, you know, advocating for unethical treatment of animals. But, like, animals raised in accordance with their own nature and with the environment, how they can actually benefit.
Diana: Yeah, definitely. And there’s even nuance to that too, because, you know, I don’t want people to get in the way of good. And so, like, all meat is healthy. You know, you and I both promote grass fed regenerative type producers. But even in the case, I just want to mention a feedlot finished beef if, you know, that’s all your family can access. I just want people to know that those animals can still be grazed in a great way for the environment before they end up on feedlots. They’re not spending their whole lives on feedlots. And for every pound of plant-based protein, there are four pounds of waste. Those four pounds of waste can either be fed to a cow to be turned into protein, or sit in a pile and emit methane. So, you know, I, again, am not advocating, like you said, for, like, unethical treatment of animals. But just because an animal was finished on a feedlot, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unhealthy, was tortured its whole life. Because I’ve been to some feedlots, and, you know, it’s sort of like Club Med for cows. They just kind of, like, hang out and eat for a few months. And then they have the one bad day. And when they’re on pasture, they can either be sort of continuously grazed or moved around frequently.
And so that’s the type of grazing that I advocate for, is this rotational grazing, some people call it mob grazing. But it’s this idea that you want to move them frequently. So if you picture, like, the Serengeti, and those herds, or maybe how the bison kind of moved across North America before we got rid of all of them. They weren’t just hanging out in one kind of, like, you know, 20-acre paddock for their whole lives, right? They were migrating. And one of the benefits of the migrating is that the grass area gets intensive grazing and stomping, but then it gets a huge, long rest. And it’s really important for that rest period to happen, because that’s when the magic happens, that’s when the roots grow back, grow really deep. That’s when carbon gets sequestered in the ground. And so there are better and worse ways to graze meat. Just because something is grass fed doesn’t even necessarily mean that it was, you know, grazed in a way that’s actually really benefiting the environment.
So, again, in the film, “Sacred Cow,” we kind of show the difference between that type of grazing, and the continuous grazing, which actually leads to animals being sicker because if one animal has, like, a parasite load problem, it poops in the field. If they’re all stuck in the same field with that same animal, they’re all gonna get that parasite, right? But if these animals are moved frequently, then the flocks of birds that come down and pick through the manure are actually taking care and cleaning that process. And so the whole entire herd is getting a more diverse diet. They’re healthier animals. There’s more protection for the wildlife. There’s more biodiversity in that area. And so I’m a huge advocate for making sure the animals are moved frequently.
Katie: And I think, are there any other myths within those two categories that you feel like are very top of mind, that are often talked about or that you get a lot of heat from?
Diana: Yeah. I’d say the water one is another really huge one, right? So everyone…well, you know, they’re inefficient with water, as if cows are just these, like, ever expanding blimps, just sucking all of their groundwater, taking water away from people. And that’s not really true. The way we measure water is, there’s blue water and green water. Green water is the moisture that’s already in the grass, it’s already in the environment. Blue water is when you look down at a map, and you see, like, lakes and rivers, that’s blue, underground aquifers, things that we’re using for irrigation, that’s blue water. Ninety seven percent of the water footprint attributed to cattle, for grass fed cattle is green water. Like, whether or not that cow was in the environment at all. It’s rain. It’s like saying that you walking to a train station when it’s raining wasted water because the water fell on you. In feedlot finished cattle, it’s still really great. The green water percentage is 94%. So that means that the majority of the water that these cows are taking in is just moisture that’s already in the feed that they’re eating. And so very little of it is actually competing with humans for drinking water. Foods like almonds, which are flood irrigated with aquifers, those are competing directly with us. It’s wasting way more water than beef. Sugar, rice, and walnuts are also much more water intensive than cattle are when we look at, you know, the blue water and the green water.
Katie: And now potentially the most touchy area that seems to be the one that people default to when they run out of arguments within these other two categories, which is the ethical side. And much like you, I certainly want to respect anyone’s right to make their own dietary choices. And I would never judge someone for choosing not to eat animal products. It however, seems like there is a big movement of, like you said, trying to remove animal products from the ability to even choose to eat them for the rest of the world. So let’s really delve into the ethical side, because I feel like this is the one that probably is the most difficult to, like, logically come at for some people.
Diana: Yeah. And, you know, there’s so many angles to this. And I think that, you know, there are issues in the meat industry, there’s issues in the slaughterhouse industry. There’s also issues in the tomato industry with… I mean, still in the U.S. So, you know, there are still child labor, and migrant workers, and exploited workers in the vegetable industry. It’s actually much worse just because you need more labor to harvest all of those tomatoes than you do to raise livestock. So there are farm worker issues. There’s a really great film that was made about that called, “Food Chains.” Actually, Eva Longoria was the producer of that. It was really fantastic. And there’s also a lot of death that happens just from chemical spraying, from tractors. So there is no way that any of us can eat from a food system where no death is required. Right? So then you have a choice. Well, you know, do I want to just ignore things and just claim that, “Well, I didn’t intend for any animals to die, therefore, I get off free.” And, you know, that doesn’t really hold up in court very well. So, you know, no, you can’t claim intent.
So then we move on to this argument of least harm. If you want to cause less harm with your diet, should you be consuming animals or not? And when you actually pick apart that argument, and you consider that one cow can produce almost 500 pounds of meat, then killing one cow, especially if it was raised in one of these regenerative farms, that actually increased ecosystem health, increased biodiversity and wildlife habitat. One of those animals can feed a family for a really long time, 500 pounds of meat, compared to, you know, a typical vegan diet that maybe has some Beyond Burger or just as grain and bean heavy. There’s a lot of monocropping involved in that. You know, none of those fake meat products are made with organic ingredients, none of the major ones anyway. So there’s a lot of spraying involved. There’s, like, a complete ecosystem annihilation that has to happen in order for those crops to survive. But then, even if you discount all of that, we have to understand that, you know, pulling meat away especially from growing children can cause very serious permanent brain damage. B-12 deficiency causes permanent brain damage in children.
So when I see meatless Mondays in the New York City public schools, and then vegan Fridays, so you’re taking a population where 70% of these kids are already low income, 10% are homeless. And so they’re going home to a food insecure household, right? Where maybe in the morning, they get some cereal. Maybe at lunch, they might get a sandwich or some mac and cheese. Who knows what they’re getting for dinner, probably some fast food. The meat part of the fast food, just like I was illustrating before, with, like, a fast-food dinner. You know, when you think in the context of what do inner city children eat, that burger patty is probably the best thing they’re doing. So if we’re telling these kids, which, you know, the Meatless Monday campaign gets to put propaganda all over the school, telling these children how meat is bad for their health and bad for the environment. When we tell these kids this, then what are they going to do? Go order a burger meal with no burger patty in it and just get, like, the fries, and the bun, and the… You know, they’re not going to go to Sweet Green and get a $20 kale quinoa bowl, right? And that’s not what’s being served in the schools too. I’ve seen pictures of what vegan Fridays and meatless Mondays look like, and it’s just refined starchy carbs. It’s not these beautiful salad bowls that I think a lot of people assume.
Katie: Yeah. And you brought up another point, because you’re right, it seems like these are disproportionately aimed at animal products. Whereas if we were going to delve into the products in different food industries, most people are aware of, like, the forced child labor in the chocolate industry. But we don’t see many people trying to ban chocolate from the American diet. Or it’s obviously very well known that smoking is harmful to your health, across the board, I’m yet to hear anyone argue for the benefits of smoking, yet we haven’t banned smoking in the U.S. as a whole. And so it seems a little crazy to me that we’re going after animal products, when this is something you could apply to any industry and find problems in the food supply chain, certainly. And another one that’s near and dear to my heart, personally. I’ve been a beekeeper on and off for most of my life. And a lot of these monocrop commercial agriculture have really dramatic negative effects on the bee population. And of course, I want to be aware of keeping the earth healthy and solving some of these problems. But also, if we remove the pollinators, we really drastically affect the ecosystem very, very quickly. And we’re moving in that direction. And I feel like that part is not talked about enough.
Diana: Yeah. And it’s really too bad because a lot of the organizations that are pro-bee… And I’ve been stung a lot, and I have, like, really strong reactions to insect. So I’ve never had the guts to be a beekeeper, but I’m always, like, very in awe when I meet somebody who has the guts to do that. But, you know, when I see Friends of the Earth, for example, is an organization that has been really vocal about making sure that we don’t have any nicotinamides in anything. And they’ve been very pro-bee, but they’re not pro-regenerative livestock. They’re very anti-animal agriculture across the board, without accepting any benefits at all that animal agriculture can have. And I think that, you know, what we’re seeing is this massive polarization in every way by every camp in the U.S., right? You’re either urban or rural, or blue or red. There’s just no room for nuanced conversations, for deeper conversations, and for listening. Everyone just has these knee jerk, you know, headline reactions to everything. And, you know, the problem is, like, with the almond industry and bees. Like, all of that almond milk is destroying the bee population. But we don’t hear people, you know, arguing for bees’ rights, and banning almonds, for example.
Katie: Yeah, great point. And yeah, I’d just like to remind people, you know, as the bees go, so goes humanity. So I hope that we start to have these nuanced conversations.
This episode is sponsored by Joovv Red Light. You know how seriously I take my health routine and red light has been a non-negotiable part of my routine for years. And you’ve probably heard me talk about Joovv before. That’s J-O-O-V-V. I use it to support healthy cellular function, which is the foundation of our health. Having healthy cellular function gives me peace of mind that my body is working efficiently and has the energy it needs to get through the day. There are so many clinically proven benefits from red light therapy and I’ve personally experienced, especially changes in my skin and hair and supporting my thyroid.

I love that Joovv’s modular design allows for a variety of set up options that gives you flexibility. Plus the treatments are super easy and can be done in as little as ten minutes. All I have to do is relax and let my body take in the light. Joovv offers several different size options including a wireless handheld device called the Joovv Go, that’s great for targeting specific areas around your body like hurting joints or sore muscles. Go check out Joovv today and while you’re there, Joovv is offering all my listeners an exclusive discount on their first order: Just go to Joovv.com/wellnessmama and apply my code WellnessMama to your order. Pick up a Joovv today!

This podcast is sponsored by LMNT, which is a tasty electrolyte drink mix with everything you need and nothing you don’t. It is a science-backed electrolyte ratio, with none of the junk found in electrolyte drinks. No sugar. No coloring. No artificial ingredients. No gluten. No fillers. No BS. I love this company so much that I invested in them and am a daily user of their electrolyte mix. Many of us are not hydrated enough, and this doesn’t just mean we need more water… electrolytes are an important part of this balance as well, which is why LMNT is so helpful. Electrolytes in this particular ratio can help prevent and eliminate headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, sleeplessness, and other common symptoms of electrolyte deficiency. They can also boost performance and recovery. Electrolytes facilitate hundreds of functions in the body, including the conduction of nerve impulses, hormonal regulation, nutrient absorption, and fluid balance. Many people find that these electrolytes support a low-carb lifestyle by preventing, mitigating, and eliminating the “low carb/keto flu” and they can also support healthy fasting. LMNT replaces electrolytes without breaking a fast.
As a listener of this podcast, you can get a free sample pack with any order. The LMNT Sample Pack includes 1 packet of every flavor. This is the perfect offer for anyone who is interested in trying all of our flavors or who wants to introduce a friend to LMNT. This offer is exclusively available through VIP LMNT Partners – you won’t find this offer publicly available and is available for new and returning customers. They always offer no questions asked refunds on all orders if you aren’t completely happy. Grab the deal at drinklmnt.com/wellnessmama.

And I think bringing awareness to all of these problems for the moms listening, and for those of us who do choose to feed our families animal products, and understand the importance of them, it brings up the question of, what can we each do at a personal level, in our families, in our communities, to, A, help solve some of these problems. Because nobody wants to continue to create problems for the environment, or for nutrition, or for ethical reasons. So how can we help solve these problems and also make sure we have continued access to these products, as this political climate gets a little bit more unstable?
Diana: Definitely. I’ve been doing a lot of advocacy work. Out of my film grew a nonprofit called The Global Food Justice Alliance, where I advocate you know, exactly for what you said. For access to nutritious animal source foods, especially for women and children. And there’s a lot of companies that are starting to add, like, a donation at checkout to Global Food Justice. Or I’m also working with an NFL player right now to get meat sticks, Paleovalley meat sticks into the backpacks of food insecure kids in Cincinnati. So we’re trying to get meat to people. And it also helps some of the work that I do, just flying around the world, and trying to meet with policymakers and make sure that they’re… You know, in New Zealand they’re taxing bee farmers for the emissions. There’s no feedlot situations happening in New Zealand, it is all grass-fed beef. And these farmers are now being taxed for their carbon emissions. Or they’re being told to plant monocrop trees. So take perfectly good food production land out of use, and plant nonnative pine trees just to sequester carbon, to offset the emissions from the cows. I mean, it makes no sense at all.
And that’s just what’s going on in New Zealand. There’s stuff going on in Ireland. The Netherlands, you might have heard, is eliminating…like, 30% of all agriculture is being eliminated in the Netherlands. So, feel free to support the work I do, because I’m the only nutritionist out there that’s actually pushing for this and talking about the nutritional benefits of meat. You know, we have letters that people… Like, if their school system is starting to look like it’s going vegan Fridays or meatless Mondays, we have a sample letter with all the talking points that people can just download for free and use for their own school system. I think it’s only going to get worse, unfortunately, because there’s this sort of this guerilla army of animal rights activists that are super passionate about this, and it’s growing. And, you know, they get into this for the animal welfare reasons, but then they get more fanatical, pulling in climate change, pulling in nutrition, and being very noisy in local governments about that. So as much as we can do to try to, like, support the policymakers that do understand the value also that livestock has to rural communities.
Like, we need small scale farms, and we need the livestock farms in order to have thriving rural communities. I mean, you drive around anywhere, especially in the south, and all you see is boarded up towns and big box stores. And that’s because of the loss of agriculture. So, making sure that your kids know the value of animal source foods. And that can be vegetarian too. As long as kids are getting enough eggs and milk, I think that that’s okay. It’s harder, but it’s certainly possible. I think the real problem is with vegan children who aren’t getting any animal source foods at all. There are just nutrients like choline, B12, DHA, I mean, these things, like I said, are absolutely alarmingly critical for brain development, and cannot be substituted by plants in any way. There’s no, like, algae that can make it so that these kids have healthy brains. And so, you know, trying to make sure that your kids are eating enough animal source foods. And yeah, just push back, push back as much as you want. And, you know, my book has a lot of resources in it that can help you.
Katie: And I definitely will link to the book and the movie in the show notes, as well as to our first episode, because we covered a lot of foundational things in there as well. But it seems like there is also a counter movement to this, and that we are seeing more and more people being open to things like backyard chickens, or, like, our family has ducks, and to, like, a lot more gardening, which is not solving the meat problem, but at least getting people in touch with their food supply. And it’s bringing awareness to the idea of wanting to have that personal pulse on where our food comes from. Also, I’m a big fan of supporting… We have a local farmer who has cows, and he butchers them on site. And we have a very deep connection with our food chain through him. But I think the more we can raise awareness about these things, and all of us at scale start voting with our dollars, considering there’s such a big movement voting with a lot of dollars in the opposite direction. Like, hopefully, we can at least, you know, hold it off. Because like we talked from the beginning, this is alarming to me that there is possibility that governments could try to outlaw animal products.
Diana: Yeah, you’re right. You mentioned a lot of things that I completely didn’t mention, but I have it in the back of the book for, like, what you can do, and then what needs to be done at a policy level. So, you know, unfortunately, there’s a group called… They’re a lifestyle medicine group, and they’ve really gotten their foot in the door in Washington, with the Biden administration. They are a vegan group. They call themselves Lifestyle Medicine. It sounds very benign. They talk about the pillars of healthy lifestyle. But make no mistake, within that healthy lifestyle of sleep and movement, is eating a vegan diet. And so that’s part of the, you know, White House Task Force Against Hunger. And I think it’s just going to be causing hunger. So, I’m very, very dismayed and concerned when it comes to that.
Katie: Yeah. And I will also link to some of those resources, they’re all in the book, I’ll link to the book as well, but some of these resources, so people can find them and keep learning more. Because like you, while I, for instance, wouldn’t choose to be a chain smoker myself, I fully support anybody else’s right to choose to do that. Just like even, you know, if I wouldn’t choose to be vegan, I fully support anyone else’s right to be vegan. And I feel like that’s an important thing to keep in all directions so that we have sovereignty over our food choices, which is one of our sort of, like, most basic pillars of our humanity, so.
Diana: Yeah, you know, and to that point, and I’m glad you brought that up because I’ve seen people say, “Well, shouldn’t we have a sugar tax?” We should not have a sugar tax. And here’s why. Because the government shouldn’t be deciding what foods should be taxed and what shouldn’t be taxed. And guess what’s next if we allow a sugar tax, a butter tax, a meat tax. And people thought I was crazy five years ago, I wrote a whole blog post about this. And now we’re seeing this like actually being discussed in Washington.
Katie: And even without an official tax on these things, I feel like a lot of these things we’ve talked about are leading to more difficulty in the manufacturing and the raising of all these products, which is increasing the price of them already. Like, I think butter is one of the ones that has gone up the most, butter and eggs have gone up really drastically over the last few years, for a host of reasons. And of course, the last few years have been challenging for many people for many reasons. But I feel like we’re even seeing this inadvertently in food cost right now.
Diana: Yeah, but you know what, we have a post coming out on my website talking about, meat is still… If we’re comparing food to nutrients, and not just a per package… We went to walmart.com and looked at the price of organic grass-fed beef per ounce and found that it was cheaper than Beyond Meat by a lot. Snickers Cheerios, you know, foods that people don’t tend to say are elitist or expensive, right? And that was just per ounce, not even then looking at the, you know, micronutrient and protein values of it. So for everyone out there who thinks that meat is too expensive for them, I just want to mention that, you know, it’s actually not. But if organic grass fed, you know, buy from a local farmer, is something that you can’t access, regular meat is still going to give you those nutrients. Or maybe you could go for the less expensive cuts like ground or organ meats that you could get from a local farmer that maybe, you know, has them at a lower price.
Katie: That’s a great point. And returning to some of these sorts of ancestral foods, and using them in ways that preserve and use every part of the animal is a much less expensive way often to do that. And I think you’d also touched on a really big key point, which is that, it’s no secret that in America, it’s said so often, we’re overfed and undernourished. And so these are, in arguably, some of the most nutrient dense foods per ounce. Even if you disagree with eating animal products, they are, on paper, some of the most nutrient dense foods you can consume. And so when we’re facing this nutrient deficiency epidemic, it seems a little absurd to take away foods that are high in nutrient density, especially if we’re not going to address all these other problems that are contributing as well. So, I feel like we’ve gotten to shed light on so many important parts of this conversation. And I know there’s still so many more that we could talk about. So maybe we could do another round on this someday. But I’ll make sure to include all of the resources we’ve mentioned in the show notes so you guys can learn more by Diana’s work. And a couple of last questions I love to ask. The first being, if there is a book or a number of books that have profoundly impacted your life, and if so, what they are and why.
Diana: Yeah, so earlier, I mentioned “The Paleo Solution,” by Robb Wolf. That was definitely pinnacle in changing my whole way of thinking. Another book along those lines is, “Ishmael,” by Daniel Quinn. Really blew my mind. It is sort of a philosophy book, I think Amazon has it down as fantasy. It takes that ancestral framework and applies it to culture. And it’s actually the first of a trilogy, “Ishamel,” “The Story of B,” and “My Ishmael.” So I highly recommend those three books.
Katie: I will link to those as well. And any parting advice for the listeners that could be related to everything we’ve talked about or entirely unrelated?
Diana: Yes. Just jack up your protein, please, jack up that protein. I mean, get as close as you can to one gram of protein per pound of body weight. And I know that sounds radical and crazy, and I may lose my license as a dietitian for telling you this, but it is… You can go to chronometer.com. That’s my favorite tracking website, because you can see not only your macronutrients, like protein, carbs, and fat, but you can also see all your micronutrients. Watch your iron. Women are deficient in iron. Even eating red meat three times a day, you can still not meet your total daily iron requirements. So take a look at that as well.
Katie: I would definitely echo your advice because I’ve seen this firsthand play out for me in the last couple of years, and how drastically different I feel, and how much stronger I’ve gotten with upping my protein consumption. So, definitely encourage you guys do more research on this, look into it, experiment with it in your own life. Diana, thank you so much for your time today. It’s always so fun to get to chat with you. And I love that you are tackling some of these big issues head on. And I’m really grateful for your work.
Diana: Thank you so much for having me.
Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the “Wellness Mama” podcast.
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

This episode is sponsored by Joovv Red Light. You know how seriously I take my health routine and red light has been a non-negotiable part of my routine for years. And you’ve probably heard me talk about Joovv before. That’s J-O-O-V-V. I use it to support healthy cellular function, which is the foundation of our health. Having healthy cellular function gives me peace of mind that my body is working efficiently and has the energy it needs to get through the day. There are so many clinically proven benefits from red light therapy and I’ve personally experienced, especially changes in my skin and hair and supporting my thyroid.

I love that Joovv’s modular design allows for a variety of set up options that gives you flexibility. Plus the treatments are super easy and can be done in as little as ten minutes. All I have to do is relax and let my body take in the light. Joovv offers several different size options including a wireless handheld device called the Joovv Go, that’s great for targeting specific areas around your body like hurting joints or sore muscles. Go check out Joovv today and while you’re there, Joovv is offering all my listeners an exclusive discount on their first order: Just go to Joovv.com/wellnessmama and apply my code WellnessMama to your order. Pick up a Joovv today!

This podcast is sponsored by LMNT, which is a tasty electrolyte drink mix with everything you need and nothing you don’t. It is a science-backed electrolyte ratio, with none of the junk found in electrolyte drinks. No sugar. No coloring. No artificial ingredients. No gluten. No fillers. No BS. I love this company so much that I invested in them and am a daily user of their electrolyte mix. Many of us are not hydrated enough, and this doesn’t just mean we need more water… electrolytes are an important part of this balance as well, which is why LMNT is so helpful. Electrolytes in this particular ratio can help prevent and eliminate headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, sleeplessness, and other common symptoms of electrolyte deficiency. They can also boost performance and recovery. Electrolytes facilitate hundreds of functions in the body, including the conduction of nerve impulses, hormonal regulation, nutrient absorption, and fluid balance. Many people find that these electrolytes support a low-carb lifestyle by preventing, mitigating, and eliminating the “low carb/keto flu” and they can also support healthy fasting. LMNT replaces electrolytes without breaking a fast.
As a listener of this podcast, you can get a free sample pack with any order. The LMNT Sample Pack includes 1 packet of every flavor. This is the perfect offer for anyone who is interested in trying all of our flavors or who wants to introduce a friend to LMNT. This offer is exclusively available through VIP LMNT Partners – you won’t find this offer publicly available and is available for new and returning customers. They always offer no questions asked refunds on all orders if you aren’t completely happy. Grab the deal at drinklmnt.com/wellnessmama.

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

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