Becoming Vegetarian. Embracing a Vegetarian Diet. What’s the real health impact?
Fact is, vegetarianism is a serious matter. While many embrace it for reasons from poor digestion to animal love, many health practitioners – including myself – observe an increase of negative health effects caused by the diets of many vegetarian people.
What is really happening? Is vegetarianism a healthy choice but many people just don’t know how to apply its principles? Or is vegetarianism not healthy?
And what about veganism? Is it a healthier choice still, or a more radical form of dietary depravation, only for the “brave” on their no-kill journey?
Let’s get to the bottom of this.
Animals: What Can They Teach Us?
If we look at animals in the wild, and take for example the bears, we observe that they eat radically differently among their species.
The Polar Bears are almost 100 % carnivorous, occasionally eating a little bit of certain sea plants, while the Giant Panda Bears eat only bamboo. Most of the other mammalian bears eat a variety of both plants and meat. Why don’t all bears share the same “healthy bear diet”?
For the same reason humans don’t all share the same “a healthy vegetarian diet”.
Panda researcher and anthropologist Russell Ciochon observed that: “[much] like the vegetarian gorilla, the low body surface area to body volume [of the giant panda] is indicative of a lower metabolic rate. This lower metabolic rate and a more sedentary lifestyle allow the giant panda to subsist on nutrient poor resources such as bamboo.”
Indeed, the Panda’s metabolism has compensated and adapted to the large amount of plants he’s ingesting. On the other hand, Polar Bears would surely die on a diet of plants, and adapted instead on a high fat and protein diet to survive the climate on the Arctic ice.
There are many such examples we find in Nature. Most sharks are predators and eat only protein and fats, but some sharks just open their mouth to take in microscopic plankton like whales do.
Obviously, animal species don’t always share the same biochemistry or benefit from the same foods. There are huge differences within species.
As humans, it is ridiculous to think that we are all the same and share the same biochemistry, and so there is only “one healthy diet” for every human being – be that vegetarian or omnivore. Unfortunately, this thought is still widely accepted in the mainstream nutritional world.
Accepting a very wide range of biochemical individuality within the same species – including of course humans – is simply accepting how nature has evolved. When it comes to wild animals we take it for granted that they just choose foods they instinctively know are good for them, from whatever is readily available (regionally and seasonally). And that is exactly what our ancestors did around the world.
So why do we think we should all benefit in the same way from the same foods?
Are You a Vegetarian Eskimo?
Imagine you’re an Eskimo. You can eat up to 10 pounds of meat a day, huge amounts of fat, and literally no carbohydrates. But you are perfectly healthy. Your entire family is healthy and your ancestors were too. They didn’t know what cancer or heart disease were. But then you decide to move to the jungle of South America and live with the Quechua Indians, who have been thriving for a long time on a nearly vegetarian diet. You marry a local and you have kids.
So, what will you eat then locally to stay healthy? How about your children? Will you turn from a previous-carnivore-Eskimo into a locally-vegetarian?
Of course this scenario is less likely to happen to such extent in real life, but I hope you got the analogy…
We live in a genetic melting pot. Our ancestors came from different parts of the world and most of us have lots of different blood running through our veins. In 1930 a brilliant and world renowned scientist – Dr. Weston Price traveled all over the world and sought out all the indigenous populations untouched by white man and his processed foods, to study their diet and their health. His book,” Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” is a remarkable study.
He discovered that the diets of all the indigenous peoples were tremendously varied, being dependent on geography, climate and the food naturally available. Those indigenous people who followed their ancestral diets were robustly healthy, but those who moved away or for other reasons strayed from their ancestral diet developed degenerative processes.
Dr. Price also analyzed the foods of indigenous people compared to the American diet of his day and found that they provided at least ten times more fat-soluble vitamins from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish, organ meats, eggs and animal fats. He concluded:
… that there were no healthy vegetarian societies or tribes. While he did find some vegetarians, there were always healthier tribes nearby eating meat or animal products. In fact, if you study cultural anthropology, one of the things you will find is that the amount of meat eaten by any society was determined, not by religious beliefs or health fads, but rather by availability alone. Looking at the diets of traditional aboriginals in Australia, you can see a clear example of this. The inland aboriginals eat a diet of approximately 75-90% vegetable and 10-25% animal foods. The coastal aboriginals, who have access to fish and larger animals like kangaroo, eat about 75% animal and 25% vegetable foods.
If viewed from a purely historical perspective, the current dogma over eating meat and heart health is suspect as well. Humans have been eating animal foods as a primary food staple in every part of the world with a winter. This includes the fish eaten in every region near lakes and the ocean. More generally, humans have eaten meat and saturated animal fats throughout an evolutionary history spanning hundreds of thousands of years. If eating meat were as unhealthy as suggested, we’d never have lasted so long. (Paul Check – Vegetarianism Inside Out)
What is More Important, Nutritionally Speaking?
Meat and vegetables are both important food groups. But one’s vegetable or meat might be another one’s poison. That is because we are all so biochemically different as we are on our fingerprints.
Plant-based foods have a vital role in most of today’s populations, only their ratios and the kind of these are different, depending on how people adapted over generations to the local varieties.
One could survive without fruits and cereals, but it would be almost impossible without vegetables, for most of the world’s populations. Their sufficient daily consumption could help prevent major diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. Vegetables are high in minerals, vitamins, fiber and phytochemicals. They contain significant amounts of beta carotene, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, biotin, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, lutein, magnesium and potassium.
As far as meat consumption is concerned, saturated fats play many important roles in the body. They provide integrity to the cell wall, promote the body’s use of essential fatty acids, enhance the immune system, protect the liver and contribute to strong bones. The lungs and kidneys cannot work without saturated fat. Red meat is a rich source of nutrients that protect the heart and nervous system; these include vitamins B12 and B6, zinc phosphorus, carnitine and co-enzyme-Q10. Dietary cholesterol contributes to the strength of the intestinal wall and helps babies and children develop a healthy brain and nervous system. Cholesterol is vital for making our hormones, which have a profound influence over how we feel and act.
There are metabolisms which thrive on high amounts of red meat and fat and there are metabolisms which thrive on lean, white meat instead. Ratios of animal proteins and fats, as well as the type of proteins and fats vary tremendously from person to person, from culture to culture, from metabolism to metabolism.
The only healthy diet is the one that meets one’s genetically-based requirements. For most of us, excluding completely any of these vital food groups from our diet would be a mistake, which would cost us our health.
Our nutrient requirements are heavily influenced by our environments and the kind of lifestyles we lead, both of which have shifted dramatically over the course of the last century. Biochemical individuality is responsible for the fact that nutrients behave differently in different metabolisms. William Wolcott, founder of the Healthexcel System of Metabolic Typing explains:
“Fat doesn’t make you fat. Protein doesn’t make you fat. Carbohydrates don’t make you fat. And even calories per se don’t make you fat. But what does make you fat is the inability to properly metabolize, or convert to energy, carbs, proteins, fats and calories.
Eat the right foods for your Metabolic Type (metabolism) and eat the right ratios of macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbs) and you’ll be giving your body the right kind of fuel for your engines of metabolism. Science is beginning to awaken to the idea that much of what our bodies do with food is in our genes.”
The Clinical Facts
Is all that fat and meat good for my heart?
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the processing of omega 6-rich vegetable oils such as corn, soybean, canola and safflower oils – which are so abundant in our diet today – the balanced ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids on which our human genome thrived for hundreds of thousands of years changed drastically in our diets.
These days, it is estimated that we eat one-tenth of the amount of omega 3 fatty acids required for normal functioning. This is one of the reasons why a high percentage of our modern population is susceptible to food-related health conditions like heart disease, cancer, insulin resistance and diabetes, obesity, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. The elimination of toxic trans fatty acids alone, could avert tens of thousands of coronary events each year in the United States and around the world!
Back in the 1960′s the average medical doctor totally ignored high cholesterol unless it exceeded 300. Now, anything above 250 (or even lower than that) is considered a problem, and it is generally recommended that people should avoid eating too many eggs or too much meat because of the risk of heart disease from cholesterol intake.
Did the medical profession suddenly have an epiphany, realizing cholesterol was dangerous? No. It was the processed food industry that started the anti-cholesterol movement, led in particular by the seed oil industry. Archer Daniels Midland wanted to sell an ocean of soybean oil, and thus lead the charge against cholesterol in particular and saturated fat in general. Palm and coconut oils were banned from importation, butter consumption dramatically plummeted and everyone “knew” that margarine was going to save the nation!
Then, the Statin drugs were invented accompanied by a ‘paradigm shift’ in the medical establishment and the war against cholesterol and saturated fat.
Although ignored by the ‘opinion leaders’ in the medical field, studies which confirmed this fallacy continued to be published. Research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 199; 281(15):1387-954) showed that there was absolutely no connection between eating eggs and the risk of heart disease or stroke in either men or women. Many other such studies followed.
In short, we’ve had a reduction of animal fat consumption, an increase in hydrogenated vegetable oils, and an increase in heart disease since 1920. It’s hard to see how consuming less animal fats has made for healthy hearts.
Isn’t Meat Consumption Making My Body Acidic?
The “acid – alkaline body” is one of the most complex concepts in natural healing and nutrition. There are many nutritionists, clinicians, naturopaths and dieticians out there continuously advising us all to “alkalinize” our body by eating more and more plant based foods. But for some, this is a serious clinical and biochemical error.
The environment influences our biochemistry quite dramatically, particularly over thousands of years due to the rate of genetic modification. For example, Eskimos maintain optimal pH balance on a diet of 90% animal foods, while some Hindus and inland Aboriginals maintain optimal pH balance with the converse of 90% plant foods.
The famous health expert Emanuel Revici, who Einstein believed to be “the greatest mind he had ever met”, offered in his 77 years of clinical research more than 120 significant medical discoveries and revolutionary concepts. He showed that pH in a normal, healthy person should cycle twice over a 24 hour period above and below the median. The median for urine is 6.2 and for saliva is 6.7. He also proved that a pH stuck acid OR alkaline was evidence of pathology and the body’s defense against a degenerative process. According to a 2013 Natural News report:
He found healthy patients had daily rhythmic fluctuations with urinary pH and their levels of free potassium in the blood, where the cancer patients did not have these normal fluctuations and exhibited patterns of either acidic or alkaline imbalances. He investigated the possibility of relieving cancer pains by raising patient’s pH using sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and it worked. http://www.cancer.org
pH is specific to body compartment and body fluid. Therefore, when making any reference to pH it is imperative to make a clear statement as to where the measurement is taking place (urine, venous blood, arterial blood, saliva, and even specific organs). The stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, for example, all have different optimal pH levels.
Over the last 35 years, a system of Metabolic Typing discovered that ANY food can be either stimulating or sedating, acidifying or alkalinizing — not due to an inherent quality of the food itself, but rather due to the effect of the food on the dominant control mechanism in your body. The acid/alkaline ash of foods plays a lesser role in the determination of pH; far more potent is the specific stimulatory or inhibitory influence of foods and nutrients on the body’s specific control systems.
Have you ever observed your reactions after eating an orange? High potassium foods like this will cause certain body’s pH to shift alkaline and produce a sedating effect. But in a different metabolism, the same amount of potassium or an orange will produce an acid shift and a stimulating response.
How About Increased Inflammation?
The real danger here is the consumption of processed vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, which stimulate the arachidonic acid cascade, producing inflammation.
Disease is frequently caused by consuming processed food which contains potentially toxic and even carcinogenic substances, commercially grown produce containing herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and rodenticides (2 billion pounds of such chemicals are used annually in the US alone!) and commercially farmed animals that are raised on steroids, antibiotics, food laden with mycotoxins (very poisonous toxins from mold and fungus) – and other toxic additives.
Organic animal products such as eggs, organ meats, and bones provide a wide variety of essential and supportive nutrients like sulfur-containing molecules, vitamin B12, calcium, trace minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, and the fatty acid profile of organic grass-fed meats is notably more favorable than their commercial counterparts.
Quality animal-based nutrition not only provides nutritional value that can’t be obtained from vegetarian diets, but supports liver function, detoxification and general tissue healing.
”The fact that life requires sacrifice has profound spiritual ramifications. In order for something to live, something else must die. And that should provide us a lesson in how we serve one another and the creation and Creator around us. Everything is eating and being eaten. The perpetual sacrifice of one thing creates life for the next. To see this as regenerative is both mature and normal”. (Joel Salatin -Folks, This Ain’t Normal)
Tapping again into ancestral wisdom and historical evidence, you will find that deep spirituality was lived and practiced by many Native American tribes, all of whom consumed meat as part of their diet. The same can be said of Eskimos and most indigenous peoples, particularly before being influenced by Christian missionaries.
While… following his native plant based diet may be helpful for accelerated spiritual development, ignoring one’s genetic, racial, or ethnic needs for fat and protein only diminishes health and vitality. This is obviously antagonistic to spiritual development. This becomes obvious when you consider the fact that all hormones are protein based. Steroid hormones are derived from both protein and cholesterol, of which animal foods.. [are] the most bio-available. This is very important because hormones are molecules of emotion and any disruption of hormonal health/balance impacts our quantity and quality of consciousness.
Since spiritual development is optimal and/or expanded consciousness, and our consciousness is dependent upon our bodily health, we need to be sure that we eat appropriately. (Paul Check – Vegetarianism Inside Out)
The clinical evidence is that in many meat-restricted diets do not work well. Symptoms of fatigue and spaciness begin to appear – often the result of copper poisoning.
Some people with high copper dislike all protein, craving high-carbohydrate diets. Protein feels heavy and causes gastrointestinal discomfort. Eating protein stimulates glandular activity, which releases stored copper, and causes the symptoms. However, in my experience, these individuals usually need to eat protein and their symptoms will eventually disappear as their health improves.
Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Vegetarian Diets
Vegetarian diets are commonly high in copper and low in zinc, which is very important today, when many people are already copper toxic. The amount of carbohydrates are generally too high and protein too low and of poor quality. Most vegetarians consume proteins from soy, nuts and seeds, and some protein from grains, but these do not seem to nourish the body nearly as well as does meat, eggs, and raw dairy products. This intake, among other imbalances and deficiencies, causes low phosphorus readings on hair tests, telling us that these proteins do not rebuild the body as well.
They are also very low in the essential sulfur-bearing amino acids such as taurine, cysteine, carnitine and methionine. These amino acids are essential for liver detoxification of the heavy metals and of all toxic chemicals as well. No matter how clean the diet, without them the body cannot remove toxins as well, and this shortens the lifespan in many cases.
Other critical problems are the low vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, as are the low B complex vitamins. Many people obtain the bulk of their B-complex vitamins from meats, which are rich sources, along with eggs.
What are the Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet?
Vegetarian diets are generally higher in fiber and higher in fresh fruits and vegetables overall. They also tend to be higher in some vitamins, such as vitamin C and E.
Eating less fat and red meat (and of course, less junk food) can also be beneficial for those with weak digestion, food allergies, iron toxicity and other bowel problems. People who function as carbohydrate metabolic types are less likely to suffer from vegetarian diets.
Typically, many doctors and holistic health practitioners who recommend vegan or vegetarian type diets also recommend organic or bio-dynamic produce. This can result in dramatically reduced incoming toxicity, supporting the immune and detoxification systems of the body in the short term. In many cases the immediate benefits are due to people eating real food for the first time, which increases vitality and mental clarity, and also eating higher quantities of raw or living foods, eliminating multiple sources of toxins and non-foods in the process. In my experience, however, this feeling of well being is short lived in many cases.
Sustainability And Ethics
” …Here are the questions you should ask, a new form of grace to say over your food. Does this food build or destroy topsoil? Does it use only ambient sun and rainfall, or does it require fossil soil, fossil fuel, fossil water, and drained wetlands, damaged rivers? Could you walk to where it grows, or does it come to you on a path slick with petroleum? ” (Lierre Keith – The Vegetarian Myth)
On Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia (“the mecca of sustainable food production” as Lierre Keith likes to call it), his rotating mixture of animals on pasture is building one inch of soil annually, which is huge! Compare that to one-sixteenth of an inch of soil that a pine forest can build in fifty years!
We all know factory farming is destroying our health and planet. If you are supposed to eat meat, then by all means look for local, organic and grass-fed varieties.
Always listen to your body since it IS talking to you. Re-learning how to interpret the signals your body is sending you daily is vital for health and survival. The natural law will always be above the latest science and technology, diet trends, or philosophies and beliefs. Collectively, we have forgotten our ancestral wisdom and much historical evidence. And I think it’s high time we go back and re-learn that precious knowledge that helped humanity thrive for so long. Now THAT would be ethical.
By Raluca Schachter
About the author:
Raluca Schachter is a passionate Nutritionist, Metabolic Typing Advisor®, and a Weston A. Price Chapter Leader. She believes in the benefits of traditional unaltered food, ancestral wisdom, sustainable farming and simple living.
Raluca was able to naturally reverse chronic health conditions she was struggling with most of her life, and now uses her knowledge to help as many people as possible do the same. Her Metabolic Typing® Ecological Lifestyle Programs for Optimal Health offer a very unique and comprehensive approach to health, where individual nutritional and biochemical requirements are firstly met using specific nutrients and foods that each metabolism thrives on. The success of her ‘one diet/herb doesn’t fit all’ approach reveals why truly, ‘one man’s food is another man’s poison.’
Raluca offers her services for local and distance clientele. For more information, visit her website www.guide2health.net
Please note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here are those of the author.