Body of Evidence
"Humans aren’t physiologically designed to eat meat"

Cardiologist William C. Roberts hails from the famed cattle state of Texas, but he says this without hesitation: Humans aren’t physiologically designed to eat meat. “I think the evidence is pretty clear. If you look at various characteristics of carnivores versus herbivores, it doesn't take a genius to see where humans line up.”

As further evidence, Roberts cites the carnivore’s short intestinal tract, which reaches about three times its body length. An herbivore’s intestines are 12 times its body length, and humans are closer to herbivores, he says. Roberts rattles off other similarities between human beings and herbivores. Both get vitamin C from their diets (carnivores make it internally). Both sip water, not lap it up with their tongues. Both cool their bodies by perspiring (carnivores pant).

Human beings and herbivorous animals have little mouths in relation to their head sizes, unlike carnivores, whose big mouths are all the better for “seizing, killing and dismembering prey,” argues nutrition specialist Dr. Milton R. Mills, associate director of preventive medicine for the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). People and herbivores extensively chew their food, he says, whereas swallowing food whole is the preferred method of carnivores and omnivores.

Dr. Neal D. Barnard, PCRM’s founder and president, says humans lack the raw abilities to be good hunters. “We are not quick and don't have claws like cats, hawks or other predators,” he says. “It was not until the advent of arrowheads, hatchets and other implements that killing and capturing prey became possible.” 

Got Milk?

Milk, another animal product, can also be problematic for people. That’s why, in response to the popular “Got Milk?” ad campaign, Barnard’s organization sponsored billboards this past summer that read, “Got Diarrhea?”

“Dairy foods are definitely not a natural part of our diet,” contends vegetarian dietitian and author Virginia Messina, who fields the public’s nutritional questions at “We only started consuming them about 10,000 years ago, which is very recent in our evolution. Our physiology suggests that we really did not evolve to consume dairy beyond early childhood.” 

Three out of 10 adults are lactose intolerant, meaning they can’t digest the sugar in milk. So they likely suffer gas or diarrhea when undigested lactose reaches the large intestine, according to an April report in the Nutrition Action Healthletter. 

While celebrities sport milk mustaches in ad campaigns, some research raises questions as to whether milk is a better source of calcium than, say, spinach or collard greens. Echoing the conclusions of research elsewhere, a Harvard University study of more than 75,000 nurses found no evidence that nurses who drank the most milk enjoyed fewer broken bones.

Milk’s high protein actually could leach calcium from bones, according to Dr. Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health, speaking on the PBS program HealthWeek. 

“Drinking cow milk has been linked to iron-deficiency anemia in infants and children; it has been named as the cause of cramps and diarrhea in much of the world’s population and the cause of multiple forms of allergies as well. The possibility has been raised that it may play a central role in the origins of atherosclerosis and heart attacks,” 

 Dr. Frank Oski, former director of the Johns Hopkins University Department of Pediatrics, From his latest book, Don’t Drink Your Milk!

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Biblical Vegetarianism