Author Topic: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?  (Read 1580 times)

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Offline warmonga

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Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« on: February 16, 2009, 06:55:50 AM »
This should be tacked to the "Humans were not meant to eat meat" thread.

The research I have done is inconclusive. It seems that as a general rule meat is more difficult to digest than vegetables.  This seems to be due to the saturated fat content, which makes meat harder to digest. So lean meat is easier to digest... and meat that is not cooked too much (this would seem right in evolutionary terms if humans only recently started cooking meats, right?).

However, there seems to be lots of non-meats that are difficult to digest too - things like legumes, broccoli, potato, pasta.

My question is "is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables"? or is there no general rule?   If there was no general rule, it would seem to lend support to the idea that humans have evolved as omnivores, would it not?

A supplementary question is does pork take the longest of all the meats to digest?


Offline Drosophila

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2009, 07:00:58 AM »
Why does it matter? Your digestive system doesn't have union regulations: There's no need to go easy on it. Your body (assuming it's relatively healthy) is perfectly capable of digesting any food you put in it. Just make sure you chew properly to avoid cramps.

Edited to add:
If there was no general rule, it would seem to lend support to the idea that humans have evolved as omnivores, would it not?
Our teeth give us away as omnivores. Our loss of the ability to produce our own vitamin C is also compatible with that notion.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2009, 07:05:05 AM by Drosophila »
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Offline Bob C

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2009, 08:11:26 AM »
Well humans DID evolve as omnivores, in that we and our closest cousins both eat meat.

I don't see why that is a point which has to proven in some complicated way, since we're surely all the evidence we need? It's not as if we were all eating baked beans until Tesco decided to package up some sliced pick and distribute it to the masses.

Out of interest, what relevance does it have whether the human body is slightly better at digesting meat, or non-meat?

Offline David "Stubb" Oswald

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2009, 08:18:46 AM »
We can pretty much eat anything but the really hard plant material like Lignin, Cellulose, and Hemicellulose.  If someone wants to argue that we should only eat plants from an ethical view go ahead.  However, when we view it from a biological standpoint are inability to digest any of the above three compounds does but us at a disadvantage as supposed herbivores.

I believe meat is easier to digest and starches seem to be the best nutritionally.
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Offline Drosophila

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2009, 08:47:28 AM »
I believe meat is easier to digest and starches seem to be the best nutritionally.
That's an odd statement. We need carbs (starches), lipids, proteins and vitamins (plus trace elements of bits and bobs). Saying which one is best for us nutritionally is based on what? What we die first from lack of?
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Offline Vincegamer

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2009, 08:49:35 AM »
You'd have to decide what is meant by "easier".
(and then decide why that matters)

I think you would have to define easier in some way that takes into account the return on investment.  For instance, water is incredibly easy to digest, but you get almost nothing out of it, certainly no vitamins or minerals.  Beef would be "harder" to digest than water, but the value derived would be far greater.  It's easier to digest water but easier to survive off beef.
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Offline Drosophila

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2009, 09:01:57 AM »
You'd have to decide what is meant by "easier".
(and then decide why that matters)

I think you would have to define easier in some way that takes into account the return on investment.
I'm overrunning this thread, aren't I. Oh well. It's either this or do my statistics exercise. Anyway, I assumed that by easier, it is meant how much resources the body must spend digesting something.
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Offline David "Stubb" Oswald

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2009, 01:26:03 PM »
I believe meat is easier to digest and starches seem to be the best nutritionally.
That's an odd statement. We need carbs (starches), lipids, proteins and vitamins (plus trace elements of bits and bobs). Saying which one is best for us nutritionally is based on what? What we die first from lack of?
What I meant is most of our calories come from starches, and we seem evolved to digest them.
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Offline Drosophila

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2009, 02:24:22 PM »
I believe meat is easier to digest and starches seem to be the best nutritionally.
That's an odd statement. We need carbs (starches), lipids, proteins and vitamins (plus trace elements of bits and bobs). Saying which one is best for us nutritionally is based on what? What we die first from lack of?
What I meant is most of our calories come from starches, and we seem evolved to digest them.
Well, what are calories? They are a unit of energy. The fact that different substances provide us with different amounts of energy is almost completely due to the structure of them and not so much that we handle them in some special way. It's all about potential energy and partly about the ease at which our bodies can make use of different substances. As it happens, there's most calories in fat. We have more difficulty absorbing calories from carbs (says wiki), and that's probably why we have to eat so much of it. I'm not sure we get most of our calories from starches, actually. Haven't checked. But I will agree that we have evolved to digest starches. No doubt about it.
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Offline JamesTate

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2009, 07:27:07 PM »
If I recall, in our evolutionary past, when we began to eat meat (Morrow at first) and cook, that this allowed less energy for the stomach and allowed for our brains to develop. 

SO my guess would be that meat is easier to digest.

Isn't there also more zero food and negative foods in the none meat category then the meat one?
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Offline karirafn

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2009, 08:57:59 PM »
You'd have to decide what is meant by "easier".
(and then decide why that matters)

I think you would have to define easier in some way that takes into account the return on investment.  For instance, water is incredibly easy to digest, but you get almost nothing out of it, certainly no vitamins or minerals.  Beef would be "harder" to digest than water, but the value derived would be far greater.  It's easier to digest water but easier to survive off beef.

Don't mean to nitpick but we don't digest water at all since we don't break water down into smaller pieces. Water is simply a transport medium for everything else in the body. :)
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Offline Evil Eye

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2009, 09:38:48 PM »
You'd have to decide what is meant by "easier".
(and then decide why that matters)

I think you would have to define easier in some way that takes into account the return on investment.  For instance, water is incredibly easy to digest, but you get almost nothing out of it, certainly no vitamins or minerals.  Beef would be "harder" to digest than water, but the value derived would be far greater.  It's easier to digest water but easier to survive off beef.


Don't mean to nitpick but we don't digest water at all since we don't break water down into smaller pieces. Water is simply a transport medium for everything else in the body. :)


Evidence here:  http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/smallgut/absorb_water.html
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Offline warmonga

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2009, 01:17:25 AM »
I made an assumption that things which are harder to digest should be avoided, because I (as a human) have not evolved to eat them. Like, I don't eat grass for instance... or whale blubber.

And things which are easier to digest should be at the top of my shopping list, because this is what we're meant to eat, because if they are easy to digest we must have evolved to make them easy to digest...

Is this some sort of logical fallacy? I'm pretty new to this skeptical business :)


Why does it matter? Your digestive system doesn't have union regulations: There's no need to go easy on it. Your body (assuming it's relatively healthy) is perfectly capable of digesting any food you put in it. Just make sure you chew properly to avoid cramps.

Edited to add:
If there was no general rule, it would seem to lend support to the idea that humans have evolved as omnivores, would it not?
Our teeth give us away as omnivores. Our loss of the ability to produce our own vitamin C is also compatible with that notion.

Offline Drosophila

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2009, 02:25:49 AM »
I made an assumption that things which are harder to digest should be avoided, because I (as a human) have not evolved to eat them. Like, I don't eat grass for instance... or whale blubber.

And things which are easier to digest should be at the top of my shopping list, because this is what we're meant to eat, because if they are easy to digest we must have evolved to make them easy to digest...

Is this some sort of logical fallacy? I'm pretty new to this skeptical business :)
Not really a fallacy, and it could make some intuitive sense that you'd want to stick to foods you can most easily digest because that means it's what our body is "supposed" to have, in terms of past evolution. But I would hardly spend any energy turning over to a new diet because of it. People don't usually die from upset stomachs, and it's a fair bet that you won't either. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes... these are real threats to your health. You should be careful of what you eat, but not down to molecular composition. Have variation in your diet, walk half an hour every day, and don't smoke. Do this and you're well on the way to living a very long time (statistically).
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Offline chelovek

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Re: Is it easier for humans to digest meat or vegetables?
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2009, 03:24:52 PM »
I don't think we should discriminate against other forms of life. People cry rivers about furry animals, yet they don't seem to have a problem swatting a fly, calling the exterminator for roaches, or chopping up and boiling vegetables alive.

Every living thing needs to get nutrients to survive. Plants get it from the sun, and animals get it from plants and other animals. It's the circle of life. Accept it and put your energy toward something more productive.
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