Why Eat Meat, aka Why a Vegan Diet is Detrimental to your Health
Before I even go into the details, I want to preface this by saying that I was raised vegetarian, mostly vegan. I also ate this way during my first of three pregnancies. The reason for writing this article, which will no doubt upset many, is to help you avoid the same mistakes I made.
Vegan = bad? What?!
If I had a nickel for each time someone has said to me: “I eat pretty well; I hardly ever consume meat!” I’d be rolling in money. It seems that when people hear the term vegan they intrinsically think of positive connotations without even delving into what it means to be vegan or employ a vegan diet.
The truth is that avoiding pasture-raised animal products produces a plethora of deficiencies of nutrients that are essential to our health. By not eating meat, you are depriving the body of zinc, vitamins B12 and D to name just some of the most crucial ones, and vegan diets are inherently low fat, which can also cause a lot of problems.
Let’s explore this a little further…
The Importance of Zinc
Zinc is second only to iron in its concentration in the human body[i]. It’s an essential mineral and a vital element for growth and development.
Here’s just an idea of what zinc is needed for and why it is so important:
- A healthy immune system
- Healthy skin
- Hormone production
- Our reproductive health
You know, just those little things…
And did you see at the top of the list we have a healthy immune system? I can’t stress enough how important this is. Our immune system is what protects us against disease-causing microorganisms and infections. It’s our first line of defense. Zinc is a key player when it comes to our immunity in that it helps in cell division and cell growth, wound healing, and the all-important breakdown of carbohydrates to fuel our bodies. So as you see we need zinc in our diet to help keep our internal protectors ticking along.[ii]
Why eat meat instead of going vegan? Various seafood (in particular, oysters) and red meat (especially organ meat) are all great sources of zinc. Eating grains and legumes, however, can all decrease zinc absorption due to their high levels of phytates, known for its nasty interference of zinc absorption. Plant sources of zinc are also inferior for that reason.
Let me just start by saying that its categorization as a vitamin by definition means it is a “vital” or “required” nutrient. Studies show that 68% of vegetarians and 83% of vegans are B 12 deficient. Yikes!
An organic compound found in animal foods, vitamin B12 is involved in the function of every cell in the body. It is essential for our metabolic function and general health, including the production of red blood cells, function of neural transmission, and the replication of DNA. With a B12 deficiency, our bodies cannot replicate our DNA as it should. This means that the healthy, new cells we’re supposed to be generating… aren’t being generated, mimicking the effects of aging!
And what about neural transmission? We need vitamin B12 to support the normal function of our nerve cells and brain function. An advanced stage of B12 deficiency can cause dementia, with the potential to even resemble Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin B12 is also essential for the healthy growth and development of children. So much so that suffering from a vitamin B12—as well as vitamin A—deficiency, a child in France tragically passed away in 2008. Her parents were vegan converts, and her mother was feeding her nothing but breast milk. At just 11 months old, the child died as a direct result of her mother not consuming enough vitamin B12, which she then passed on through the breast milk.[iii]
Obviously this is an extreme scenario, but it just reiterates the seriousness of not including such a vital nutrient in your diet.
Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin, it’s a hormone. It is essential for bone health and helps us absorb calcium. A deficiency is vitamin D is extremely dangerous for children and can often result in deformed bone characteristics. This is known all too well by Holly Paige, who had employed a strict vegan diet for her two girls since the day they were born. By the ages of just 4 and 3, her girls looked unhealthily drained and skinny, plus the top row of their teeth were brown and full of cavities. Holly learned this was a sign of severe vitamin deficiency, and with the introduction of dairy into their diet, the results were “remarkable”[iv].
My oldest daughter had severe scoliosis, which required spinal fusion. When we first discovered her curvature one of the first things we did was check her vitamin D level. It was abysmal and we of course began supplementing immediately. Coincidence? Maybe. But, let’s just keep our vitamin D levels in check shall we? (For more info on this essential vitamin, check out this post)
While it’s true that we get most of our vitamin D requirement from the sun, pastured meats, in particular organ meats like liver are great vitamin D boosters. Just another reason to eat meat!
A vegan diet is also devoid of many healthy fats. Despite popular belief, fats are essential to a healthy diet, in fact we’re recommended to get 20% to 35% of our calories from fat[v].
Healthy fats are essential to physical and emotional health. They can all help manage your moods, stay in tiptop mental shape, fight fatigue, and even control your weight, as paradoxical as that sounds! In fact, a ketogenic diet, which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates is often the key for weight loss in the most stubborn cases. Kim Knoch describes it in detail in her new book: Kick the Weigh with Keto (learn more here).
I’m sure you’ve heard of essential fatty acids. Well, there’s a dead giveaway in its name…it’s essential! We need fatty acids for brain development, controlling inflammation and blood clotting, to name a few.[vi]. You may have heard of Omega 3s and Omega 6s. Without any effort we tend to consume quite a bit of Omega 6s: the seed oils and grain fed beef you’re exposed to at restaurants, the nuts and seeds that make such a convenient paleo on-the-go snack or dessert, etc. Ideally, you want to try to reduce your Omega 6 intake as much as possible, by avoiding processed foods, grain fed beef and seed oils and limiting consumption of nuts and seeds and increase your Omega 3 intake by consuming grass fed beef, pastured eggs, and wild caught fish, among others.
The only fats you should avoid are trans fats but if you steer clear of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils like margarine and other real food replacements you should be fine. Always stick to real food your grandmother would have recognized, not a chemistry experiment.
When all is said and done, I just can’t fathom how the vegan diet is recommended as anything more than a temporary cleanse and following a vegan diet long term will likely lead to life altering health problems down the road. Our body needs certain nutrients for optimal health and development, and with a vegan diet there are just too many bases being missed.
Are all vegan diets bad? Well, I think there is a spectrum. Obviously a diet that is nothing but corn flakes would be worse than a diet of properly prepared lentils, quinoa, vegetables and plenty of fats from avocados, olive oil and coconut oil. But even the latter does not provide adequate nutrients we need for long term health so I would not recommend it as a long term lifestyle if you can avoid it.