Sunday, 2 December 2012

Dissecting veggie propaganda

Now I'm all for vegetarianism.  I think it's a great way of reducing carbon footprint, improving the health of the bowels and such.  However, when people use dodgy science to get militant about it then I have to say something.  

This is doing the rounds as the reason why broccoli is better than steak:
Notice the mass.  The broccoli is roughly fifteen times the mass of the steak.  That already shows you that this is a crap chart, as a real mass-for-mass comparison requires you to get out your calculator and times all the numbers for steak by 14.875

Thankfully, I've taken a pop at the arithmetic:
  • 81g of protein,
  • 35.7mg of Ca
  • 10.4125mg of Fe
  • 74.375mg of Mg
I can go on if you like, but you get the picture.  On the calories, niacin, and all the metals (except Calcium) the steak beats the broccoli.  Broccoli wins on vitamins and fibre.  

  "Phytochemicals" are just chemicals made in plants. It comes from "phytos" - "plant" in old Greek.  This can be anything from Vitamin C (which is helpful), to chlorophyll (the most abundant phytochemical, which does nothing for humans), to strychnine (which is poisonous to humans and many other mammals).  Some phytochemicals (such as lycopene in tomatoes) are being investigated for drug-like properties, but so what?  To get a therapeutic dose of the stuff you have to either eat your weight in tomatoes every day or else synthesise concentrated lycopene into pill form.  

  You're not going to beat the drug companies or stave off cancer by shopping for phytochemicals.  Having a good variety of vitamins and other important chemicals like citrate in your diet is a good thing, but increasing your intake of "phytochemicals" in so broad a term as that is a bit of a nonsense frankly.  It serves nothing.  I'll bet my right eye that the use of the term with reference to diet has something to do with "nutritionists" - those mountebanks of the 21st Century.   

Anything not given a numerical value but merely listed as "very high" can be discounted for comparison purposes.  You cannot compare anything that does not have a value, so its inclusion is meant to skew opinion without any scientific basis for doing so.  

Phytochemicals can be discounted from any comparison between meat and veg because you may just as well ask "is a cow a plant?  yes/no"  

  To get a day's worth of calories and amino acids from broccoli you'd have to be eating broccoli all day. 700g of raw broccoli will see you scrape by on amino acids, but will only provide you with less than a tenth of your calories. You'd have to chug chip fat to make up the shortfall.  Alternately you could just eat a balanced meal.  Maybe have the broccoli and the steak with some boiled potatoes and asparagus.  Job done.  


  1. It is not an insult that the Scientific understanding of something does not tally with your worldview. Science aims to show the world as it is, but it is for all people to say how the world ought to be.

  2. ^^ That is what I was going to comment saying.

    It's not just actively damaging to political movements to promote inaccurate or downright bullshit information, but it's also damaging to people. Science should be there for ALL people as a way to understand their world. Unfortunately it really isn't, due to academic privilege and media that abuses scientific knowledge to promote this kind of rubbish, but it should be.