To Be Or Not To Be…Vegetarian

Marketing is an amazing thing, especially when you consider the impact a book like “Skinny Bitch” has had on the American public’s meat consumption. Those two women are pretty dang smart. Title a book “Skinny Bitch”, watch half of America buy it (men bought it, too!)…and spread the news about today’s commercial factory farming methods farther and faster than imaginable. It definitely worked. Trouble is, you’re not getting the whole story on the diet this book propagates. I suppose that’s why they call it a bias. And since this is my newsletter, I’ll give you mine. ;-)

Raw, vegan and vegetarian diets appeal to people for vastly different reasons. Some people are against cruelty to animals, and we agree with this. Embarrassingly, factory farming has become the largest source of inhumane practices on the planet. The living conditions alone lead to the need for antibiotics and create ecological disaster zones with far reaching effects down the watershed all the way to the ocean. You’ll get no argument from us on that.

Raw food diets sound like the healthiest of all, don’t they? It’s totally natural so it’s GOT to be the best thing for us. Well, raw food can be healthy…or it can potentially make an existing, undiagnosed digestive problem much worse. We live in a country loaded with television ads for constipation, heartburn and diarrhea. Few Americans know what normal digestion really looks like or how it should behave.

Did you know that gas and bloating are signs of dysfunction?

Gas and bloating are indicators that you can’t digest your food. When we have too much undigested food, the wrong kind of bacteria in our gut can create undesirable by-products as they “eat” these foods. This causes fermentation, inflammation and gas. Normal digestion causes none of these symptoms. Raw foods have a lot of difficult-to-digest fiber and complex carbohydrates that can actually damage a person with weak digestion. In addition, some foods are actually more nutritious cooked or fermented – like yogurt.

You might be asking yourself…what about all the GOOD that can come from eating all those fruits and vegetables? To that end, I agree. We eat lots of vegetables ourselves every day. At the same time, there are a few risks to a totally plant-based diet…some of which have not been marketed nearly as well as “Skinny Bitch”. ;-) I have several vegetarian friends and patients and I completely respect that lifestyle. That said, I also appreciate the opportunity to open up this topic a bit.

1. The nutrients commonly missing in a vegetarian diet are usually justified by advice from various sources like “eat beans with rice and you’ll get what you need”.

This is controversial advice. If you’ve read anything about the vegetarian diet, you may already know that it is deficient in nutrients like B12, vitamin A, vitamin D and weak in zinc. But why does it matter?

Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the chief causes of fatigue. You know all those energy drinks you see in the store? Pick one up and check the label ingredients for B12 – you’ll often find it listed. The body absolutely requires B12 for normal cell activity, and it works along with folic acid to control the level of homocysteine (a building block of protein) in your body. An excess of homocysteine increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, two of the premier causes of death in this country. B12 does not exist in the plant world. There are look-a-likes (analogues) but not the real thing. These analogues actually interfere and cause us to need even more of this vital nutrient. B12 is found in dairy, meat, eggs and poultry.

Vitamin A deficiency weakens your immune system. It is an antioxidant, it develops your bones and the enamel in your teeth, and it stimulates stomach acid for proper digestion. Vitamin A sources include butterfat, egg yolks, organ meats, seafood, and the ever popular (of late) cod liver oil.

Vitamin D deficiency causes illness – particularly colds and flu. It also causes muscular weakness. It aids in the absorption of calcium and protects and maintains your bones. Vitamin D sources include sunlight, fish, liver, eggs, chese and cod liver oil (another health industry “buzz word” of late).

Zinc deficiency causes infertility and reduced libido in men, an upset menstrual cycle in women, hair loss, frequent infections, reduced ability to see in the dark, poor appetite and mental fatigue. A trace mineral, it is second only to iron in the body. It is essential for the proper functioning of your immune system. Zinc sources include beef, pork, chicken, fish, oysters and lamb. High levels of copper in soy and many vegetable foods antagonize zinc in the body.

Because deficiencies can take decades to fully develop, the proportions of vegans and vegetarians who develop nutritional deficiencies over time (if they stick with the diet) is likely close to 100 percent.

2. The average lifespan of a vegetarian is not what you might think.

Overall, vegetarians die of slightly less heart attacks, but they do not have as long a lifespan as non-vegetarians. In terms of disease, it is widely known that obesity and diabetes both rank right up there with heart disease and cancer in terms of the leading causes of death. What you probably don’t know is what all these things have in common – insulin and inflammation.

You may have heard that inflammation causes heart attacks. A lesser known fact is that high insulin causes inflammation…which causes the disease. High insulin is caused by excessive carbohydrate consumption. Given that vegans and vegetarians eat mainly fruits and vegetables, one of the biggest struggles is avoiding the over-consumption of carbohydrates. This is paramount to controlling insulin, and therefore, disease.

3. If history says anything, there is proof.

There have been healthy societies that only ate animal foods, but we have NO records of a healthy vegetarian society that did not fall prey to modern diseases. India and China have been touted as healthy vegetarian societies (made famous by another well-marketed book – “The China Study”). What has not been fully explained is that both countries were really forced into being vegetarians by poverty and starvation.
In Oriental Medical School, we only learned about treating malnutrition. Our Chinese professors had nothing to say about weight loss. It had never been a major problem in China. Drs. Royal Lee and Weston A. Price were huge researchers in the field of nutrition, probably the best the U.S. has ever produced. They both were vegetarian and studied cultures from around the world looking for healthy people with straight teeth and superior resistance to disease. Only a handful of cultures met this criteria in the 1930’s and none of them were vegetarian. Drs. Lee and Price found that weak patients could not be brought back to health without using animal sources for nutrition. After traveling across six continents, Dr. Price stated that his biggest disappointment in life was that he never found a healthy vegetarian society.

With all this conflicting information, how should I really be eating?

Overall, I recommend eating a balanced diet of unprocessed foods. The ideal diet consists of high quality meats, fish from unpolluted waters, extra virgin olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables (organic if available) and very limited carbohydrates and sugars. Nix the soda, go easy on the coffee, drink filtered water and limit your alcohol consumption. Pretty simple actually.

Keep in mind, the grocery stores we shop today are not the same grocery stores that existed when your grandmother shopped with her mom as a little kid. All those boxes and bags didn’t exist. I assert the expanded consciousness to “eat your greens” is a response to all that processed food. We know it isn’t good for us. Have you ever gone on a sugar binge for a day or two, and then said, “Whoa, diet starts tomorrow!” I suspect that same reaction often applies to those going vegetarian. It’s often a reaction to a diet that has been poor for years…with the hopes of restoring health quickly. Alas, no damage is undone overnight, and certainly not by depriving the body of essential nutrients.

But what about the factory farming issue?

If this is of major importance to you, I recommend using local and online sources to find meat that has been humanely raised and slaughtered. I listed a few below for you.

Greenling

Greenling is awesome and they are here in Austin. They feature local and organic food delivered to your home or office for about the same price as you’d find in a regular grocery store. Tell them we sent you!

Richardson Farms 

Another local favorite, Richardson Farms offers humanely raised antibiotic and growth hormone free beef, pork and poultry.

Diestel Turkey

Serving up some of the most delicious turkeys around, you can find Diestel products at their website or at Whole Foods Market.

It’s true that many of us would do well to eat more vegetables. That said, you don’t have to give up one major source of nutrients for another.

How To Protect Yourself Against Cancer With Food

Vitamin C – An important antioxidant that prevents damage by free radicals. Found in many fruits and vegetables and in certain organ meats.Vitamin B6 – Deficiencies are associated with cancer. Contributes to the function of over 100 enzymes. Most bio-available from animal foods.Vitamin B12 – Deficiencies are associated with cancer. Found only in animal foods.Vitamin B17 – Protects against cancer. Found in a variety of organically grown grains, legumes, nuts and berries.

Vitamin D – Required for mineral absorption. Strongly protective against breast and colon cancer. Found only in animal foods and sunlight.

Vitamin E – Works as an antioxidant at the cellular level. Found in unprocessed oils as well as in butter and egg yolks.

CLA – Strongly protective against breast cancer. Found in the butterfat and meat fat of animals.

Cholesterol – A potent antioxidant that protects against free radicals in cell membranes. Found only in animal foods.

Minerals – Zinc, magnesium and selenium are vital components of enzymes that help the body fight carcinogens. Minerals are more easily absorbed from animal foods.

Lactic acid and friendly bacteria – Contribute to the health of the digestive tract. Found in fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut), cultured dairy foods (like yogurt) and cured meats.

Saturated fats – Strengthen the immune system. Needed for proper use of the essential fatty acids. The lungs cannot function without saturated fats. Found mostly in animal foods.

Long chain fatty acids – AA, EPA and DHA help fight cancer at the cellular level. They are found mostly in animal foods like butter, organ meats, cod liver oil and seafood.

Co-Enzyme Q10 – Highly protective against cancer. Found only in animal foods.

(Last section reprinted courtesy of Wise Traditions, Weston Price Foundation, Spring 2008, Volume 9, Number 1.)

1 reply
  1. Jennifer Peterson
    Jennifer Peterson says:

    wow, highly informative. Healthy Diet is not an all-or-nothing proposition. The source of our foods ( hormone free, free range, organic)is more important than simply avoiding animal products.

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