Monday Health & Wellness: Cautions on Vegetarian/Veganism and Uniting the Real Food Movement |
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Monday Health & Wellness: Cautions on Vegetarian/Veganism and Uniting the Real Food Movement

admin May 9, 2011

Image by Elaine Vigneault

Right now, there’s a bit of a divide between “vegetarian/vegans” and “traditional foodies.”  And yes, in terms of exactly what they consume, they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Vegetarians and vegans intend to minimize or eliminate their consumption of animal products, while traditional foodies swear by animal products (and often minimize or eliminate grains).

Now, I don’t believe that vegetarianism or, especially, veganism, is a truly healthy diet.  With that said, though, we have far more in common than we realize — and, different people do require different diets.  So let’s take a closer look at vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as how we can unite the real food movement.

Is Vegetarian Healthy?

In most cases…no.  But many vegetarians are a bit mainstream in their approach, and largely consume grains and starches.  They avoid meats, but they don’t focus on healthy foods.  It’s not going to make you healthier to exclude any food group if what you do eat isn’t any better.  (This is more commonly found in teenage girls or those who are becoming vegetarians as a “protest” than a health move, though.)

There are traditional societies where people ate little to no meat.  They did, however, consume dairy and fish.  Some of the healthiest societies ate this way (fish consumption, especially, was correlated with healthy populations).  Choosing not to consume meat can be completely fine, especially for those who don’t like it or don’t have access to high-quality meat, if real butter, raw milk, fish and fish stock and other such foods are consumed.  This would still be a perfectly appropriate and healthy traditional diet.

So, the focus of the diet is what matters.  If the focus is largely grains and starches with little fat, too much sugar, little to no fish, and not too many vegetables (yes, some vegetarians focus more heavily on starches than vegetables), the diet won’t be a healthy one.  But a vegetarian who consumes plenty of butter, coconut oil, raw milk, fish, vegetables and not too many grains can be perfectly healthy.

Is Vegan Healthy?

No.  With a complete elimination of animal products, it is impossible to get enough of crucial nutrients.  Most vegans also eat very low-fat diets, which in and of itself isn’t good (coconut oil could solve that problem, but most vegans think that fat is bad and are especially afraid of saturated fat).

Only from animal sources can you get adequate B12, iron, and vitamin A.  Without adequate fat, you can’t absorb vitamins A, D, E, or K.  And I know — “plants contain vitamin A!” Not really.  They contain beta-carotene, which, under ideal circumstances has about a 7:1 conversion.  Under less-than-ideal circumstances (especially low-fat diets) the conversion can be 25:1 or worse…and some can’t make the conversion at all!  To get adequate vitamin A, people require animal foods.

Certainly vegans can do better if they add in coconut oil, properly prepared whole grains, and a wide variety of plant foods.  But there were no traditional societies that were entirely vegan.  Even those who consumed few animal products knew that they were necessary at certain times — in illness, during pregnancy or breastfeeding, for growing children, and so on.

Although I’m sure vegans don’t want to hear this, it is the truth and we need to know it.

Uniting the Real Food Movement

There are plenty of vegetarians and vegans who have chosen this lifestyle in the pursuit of health.  They know that meat produced on factory farms isn’t healthy — which is very true.

There is another option, though: locally and sustainably raised animals.  They can produce very healthy meat, milk, and eggs.  They live under ideal conditions and are healthy and well-treated.  This is a great alternative and one that we choose for our family.  I’d never encourage anyone to choose industrially-produced animal products (unless you absolutely have no options, but even then, see what you can do).

It’s important to remember, though, that we can have different ideologies about health and eating and still work together.  I’m sure vegetarians want to see healthy animal products (even if it’s just milk and eggs) as much as the traditional foodies do. 

We all want to see more local, organic produce; more organic whole grains; more local raw honey and real maple syrup.  Why can’t we unite over these facts and work together to make them happen?  We may disagree on the consumption of animal products but we also have a lot in common!

Let’s use all our power to create real change in the food industry.  When we’re busy fighting with each other over exactly what we should eat, we’re a movement without much power, and the government and major food producers don’t have to pay attention.  When we work together, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with!

What do you think?  Are you vegetarian or vegan?  Can we unite the “real foodies” to force real change?

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11 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I seem to have stumbled across it at exactly the right time in my food journey. For the past year and a half, I have been eating a primarily vegan diet (no animal products whatsoever aside from the occasional piece of fish). However, about a month ago, I came across several blogs about traditional foods (yours, Food Renegade, Nourished Kitchen, Nourishing Days, and several others), and it has totally got me re-thinking my way of eating. While I felt relatively healthy on my almost-vegan diet, I always felt I was lacking something and had bouts of struggling with mood swings and low energy levels. So for the past month or so, I have been slowly reintroducing high-quality animal products back into my diet: local/organic pastured eggs, milk, butter, cream, cheese (as well as more seafood and fish stock). I thought it would make me sick to eat these foods again, but my body seems to have happily accepted the reintroduction of high-quality dairy. I think it's too early to tell exactly how the change in diet is affecting me, but I definitely feel more "satisfied" after eating, and I need smaller amounts of food to feel full. I've been struggling with how to reconcile this new way of eating with my preconceptions of a healthy diet (I continue to hear from various sources about how bad dairy and meat is for the body), but I'm slowly realizing that eating intuitively and thinking for myself are the only real ways to know for sure. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for this post as it really helped me at this point in my journey!

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  2. Very informative post!

    As a reforming vegetarian (and almost vegan….for many reasons), I echo that it is important to make sure one is getting a balanced diet.

    One additional point that I did not know until recently is that vegetarian diets, and especially vegan diets, are particularly low in zinc. Zinc is a copper antagonist. For many reasons, (among them being the fact that adrenal fatigue is on the rise) copper toxicity appears to be on the rise and as such a vegetarian or vegan diet would not be wise for persons who are high in copper.

    And yes, let's all work towards real food in all arenas. Vegetables, meat and grains :-).

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  3. Good post. We are definitely not vegetarian and I am trying to use more traditional food preparations. We have been a real food family for twenty years. However our dear friends are vegetarians, though not strict about it. They will eat whatever is served to them in other homes, meat or otherwise. We definitely come from different perspectives, though our goal is the same. We both want good health. There are so many studies supposedly saying one thing and then the next says something totally different. We have to have grace for one another as we seek answers. My husband and I have used the Bible as our plumb line. It says a lot about food. The Word of God is unchanging. Studies are always changing. The Bible says that meat is good. Then it is good. Obviously, how it is raised and prepared makes a difference. Until there is unity we can certainly work together for common goals. Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

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  4. I am a VERY healthy vegan, thank you very much! A vegan diet can be very healthy IF it's well planned. It is irresponsible to tell people it is not healthy if you haven't done proper research. You say it's "the truth", but it's not. I eat very healthy, wholesome, REAL food, and I'm not afraid of fat. I definitely wouldn't call my diet low-fat. I eat the same as any very healthy person, minus animal products. I just had my blood work done and I am only deficient in Vitamin D, which has nothing to do with me being vegan, considering half the population is deficient in Vit D. I do take a multivitamin with B-12, but that's the only supplement I need. I know of a couple vegans who aren't very healthy, but they eat processed and fast food all the time. I do not. Nobody should!
    I applaud you for getting people to eat the right kinds of animal products though. I don't expect everyone to be vegan, but I do expect them to do what you do (: Grocery store meat and dairy is just not right, from the abuse of the poor animals to the disgusting additives and nutritionally void products. I just wanted to give you a healthy vegan's point of view. I love your blog, even though I have some different views. Thank you!

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  5. I was just talking to my husband yesterday about the differences within the whole foods movement. Since getting into eating real, whole and unprocessed foods I have found it eye-opening to see how many different approaches there are to eating this way. In the mainstream media there is always conflicting information and opinions so that it is hard to discern what is really healthy and what is just a fad or misconstrued data. I was surprised to see this was also the case within the real foods arena as well.

    I lean towards the idea that each person has their own combination of fats, protein and carbs that is the healthiest way for them to eat. That's why there are people who will swear that their way to eat is the best way. It probably is the best way for them but it may not be for everyone else. As long as we are all eating whole and natural foods there are different ways to approach it. I actually got into eating real foods through raw foods and healed my adrenal fatigue and became the healthiest I have ever been when incorporating more raw and unprocessed foods into my diet. I became an "almost vegetarian" because I felt that we needed to eat only the best quality meats and that wasn't in my budget most days. However, I was not 100% vegetarian or a complete raw foodist. There is balance to everything. Eating this way is difficult because you don't fit into a specific label so it's difficult for people to understand what you will and won't eat. Personally, eating as much meat as a lot of Traditional Food people do isn't good for me but I don't doubt that it works for them and for many others.

    I think it was Dr. Mercola that had a test on his website that gave what kind of foods you needed to focus on in your diet. My test showed vegetables as the food I needed to focus on (and that result is for a minority of people according to him). Even as a young child, my favorite foods were vegetables and I've always preferred them over most foods. I usually do a fruit and kefir smoothie in the morning, raw vegetables (and sometimes sprouted bread) for lunch and a cooked dinner that is vegetable centered but can include carbs or meat/fish. I've found this works for me but it wouldn't necessarily work for people who are protein centered. I do a lot of good butter and some other dairy as well as fermented and cultured veggies. When I follow this regimen I feel optimal. Going grain-free helps me lose weight and I'm planning on doing that this summer to help me lose some pregnancy weight. Overall, I think being open to the fact that we all need to focus on the best combinations for our own bodies even if it doesn't fit completely with one label or another. I appreciated your blog post for doing that.

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  6. This is a very informative post. I agree that there is a common ground to be found between vegan/vegetarians and traditional food eaters. I am not vegetarian or vegan, but I eat a limited amount of meat, and I'm working hard to transition all of my animal products to sustainable, healthy and cruelty free choices. I am still struggling with conflicting information about the health of dairy and meat products, but I'm slowing making my way through research to find the right balance for myself. I appreciate your blog as one of my many sources of information.

    There was one line in your post that I found to be a bit offensive. You said: "This is more commonly found in teenage girls or those who are becoming vegetarians as a "protest" than a health move, though," in referring to those who eat an unhealthy vegetarian diet. Maybe this was unintentional, but by placing the word protest in quotes, and lumping those in with teenage girls, you seemed to be demeaning both vegetarians who make eating choices because of moral convictions and teenage girls. Some of them may have received bad information about nutrition but it doesn't mean they made their dietary decision flippantly. I know many vegetarians (teenage girls or otherwise) that chose that way of eating because of deeply held moral convictions about the treatment of animals in the mainstream food industry, and occasionally because of opposition to eating any meats, regardless of how the animal was raised. Some do limit their meat consumption to local, sustainable choices, but that is not possible for all as you pointed out. Others are simply unaware that those choices are out there. Their diet may not be as healthy as it could be (although some are), but their intentions are sincere and extremely thoughtful. Certainly there are some who do not eat meat out of a half-hearted protest or because it's the cool thing to do among certain circles, but that is not the case for everyone in that situation. I found the majority of your post to be very respectful and collaborative in spirit, but that particular line was very troublesome to me. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.

    Caitlin

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  7. I became a vegetarian when I was 10 years old, but not as a "protest" of any sort. My parents weren't exactly against it, but made it a bit of a challenge for me to do so. They said I have to prove I would get the nutrients that I needed and help out more as my mom didn't want to be making 2 meals for one dinner. So I researched everything and started learning to cook.

    I'm now 22 and still a vegetarian, but definitely not a vegan (I love eggs and dairy, and do eat seafood once in a while). Also I'm a pretty relaxed vegetarian; my boyfriend and entire family all eat meat, if soup is made with chicken stock I still eat it, etc. When I discovered the real food movement about a year ago, it was hard to figure out how I could apply the principles to my vegetarian life when it has such a strong focus on meat (so many recipes I couldn't use!). But after I kept reading I've found that they're really more similar than not. These two diet ideas have tons in common, and since I focus on balance and whole foods, I consider myself both!

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  8. I am a teenage girl and I am a vegetarian. To state that vegetarianism is simply a passing fad or that teenage girls who have no idea what they're doing is a gross generalization and quite offensive. I get it, you're against being vegan and vegetarian but there is no need to attack it. It is so naive to attack and state facts about a diet that you have never tried and clearly no very little about. Telling people why what they're doing is wrong isn't going to change anything, if you're confident in what you believe is the right way to eat then you would just stick with that. I could go on and on about why eating meat is wrong and remind you that you are having an animal suffer for you, just so you can eat. I am a teenage girl that is a vegetarian and I could bombard you with facts. I am educated, and a proud vegetarian and I know I am doing it right. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read up on some facts. I have read this blog and enjoyed it, however this post really shocked me and now I'm not so sure.
    Who knows, you may never post this comment because it seemes you want no negative feedback. That's fine, I know at least that you will read this.

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  9. Don't forget the news stories of vegan couples whose babies die because they can't get proper nutrition from a vegan diet:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18574603/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/vegan-couple-sentenced-life-over-babys-death/

    That one makes me angry because their 6 week old baby was fed soymilk and apple juice. Not nursed, which could have helped him live because they were vegan and their child wasn't going to consume animal products to include breast milk.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1371172/French-vegan-couple-face-jail-child-neglect-baby-died-vitamin-deficiency.html

    This poor child was exclusively breast fed and died of vitamin deficiencies. The child was severely deficient in vitamins A and B12 – both of which are most easily absorbed from animal products. A 12 pound 11 month old? That's awful!

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  10. Margo,

    You obviously missed the point of the post. It is true that *some* teenage girls that I have known have eaten unhealthy vegetarian diets — myself included, as a teen (yes, surprise, I HAVE tried it).

    But the real point of the post is that even though I don't believe vegetarian/vegan diets to be the best choice (despite that I note that done well, vegetarian can be suitable for some people…another point you missed), we need to work to unite the real food movement. Yelling at me because you've picked out a few points you disagree with certainly won't accomplish that. I hope next time you can look past any disagreements and seek out common interests so that we can work together to make a difference.

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  11. Emma, you need to understand that those people weren't feeding their child a PROPER diet. It had nothing to do with them being vegan. Lots of people have vitamin deficiencies. Heck, over half the country takes supplements. That baby was 11 months old and had never had solid food! There is NOWHERE in any vegan information that suggests that. They suggest introducing whole foods at 6 months. That is the reason that poor baby passed away. It was the parents being ill informed and not doing their research.
    As for the 6 week old baby, those people were just dumb. It CLEARLY states on the soymilk cartons that it is NOT intended for baby formula. They refused to take baby to the doctor, even thought they knew he wasn't gaining weight. They starved that baby, even if it wan't intentional. If these people would have done their research, they would have known that is not okay. I mean, what do you think would happen to a 6 week old if you feed it exclusively cow's milk and sugary juice and you denied them medical care??
    These are instances of ignorance, not diet. Look up vegan babies. You will find a plethora of information about healthy vegan children, who were raised vegan from day one and are now thriving teens and adults. People need to realize that a vegan lifestyle is not to be taken lightly. It must be well planned to be healthy. But that is the same for any diet. Look at what all these parents are doing to their OBESE children by stuffing their faces with McDonalds… That is exactly the same. Just because those kids haven't died yet doesn't mean they won't have to live with diabetes or heart disease because their parents were too ignorant (or lazy) to know how to feed them properly.
    I plan on raising my children vegan. If at ANY point my child isn't getting the nutrients they need, I will gladly add in local, pastured dairy products. No meat, ever, but I am willing to make the sacrifice and give them dairy if need be. You must do what is best for your children. If that cramps my lifestyle, so be it.

    Reply

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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