Purely in terms of health, I believe eating meat is a better choice than vegetarianism. There, I said it.
This is going to be a controversial post for some people, so let me preface it by saying these are simply my thoughts on this matter. I have some very dear family members and friends who are vegetarians and so I totally respect each person’s right to eat in the manner which makes them most comfortable. This is just a bunch of my thoughts, as well as a collection of documented facts, on why I think most people are healthier including meat in their diets than not doing so.
I toyed with the idea of vegetarianism for years. I liked the idea of it. I envisioned us all living in harmony with animals – going about our daily business chomping on grains and vegetables whilst all the animals were frolicking around happily in green meadows. What’s not to love about that image?! It also seemed healthier. After all, most of us grew up learning about how red meat is terrible for us and how we will die if we eat saturated fat. So, of course eating a plant-based diet would be healthier. And WAY better for the environment, right?
Far from it.
If I believed that, as human beings, we could live healthfully on a diet free from animal products with the foods available to us today, I would be the first to advocate it. To me, health and living in harmony with nature, go hand in hand. If we live in harmony with nature we will automatically be healthy and vice versa. In my opinion, the natural order of things is pretty perfect, and it is only when we mess with it that things start to go wrong. For our health as well as for the planet.
So how does eating meat fit into that natural order of things?
1. We are a part of a food-chain, whether we like it or not
One of the main arguments for eschewing meat has to do with the desire to avoid the needless cruelty towards, and killing of, animals. I understand that totally.
I certainly do not enjoy the thought of killing any living creature (well except for mosquitos), but here’s the thing – we live in a world where the entire eco-system is based on the fact that, in order for one animal to survive, another must become its prey. As much as it would be lovely to imagine a world in which animals frolic together happily in sun-lit meadows, this is not the way nature works. It is far crueler than most of us would care to admit, and the natural fate of most animals (at least those not at the top of the food-chain) is to eventually become food for another, (certainly not to while away their lives well into old-age, eventually dying of a broken-hip). Death by “natural causes” in the animal kingdom means, more often than not, being hunted and eaten by another. And mostly, these deaths are pretty grizzly, bloody and violent.
This is, and always will be, a fact. As cruel, gruesome, and unacceptable as that may be for some, this is the way nature works. Period. We cannot change that, and as human beings, we have been a part of this natural circle of life since we first appeared on this planet.
Although killing animals for food seems cruel and unfair to some, if done with respect and care, will often be a far less painful fate than what would await them in the wild. That aside, the thought that it is even possible to coexist with animals withOUT any killing, is a complete myth. With the advent of agriculture, for example, came drastic, and largely terrible, consequences for the environment. Billions of acres of natural habitats have been destroyed, the world over, in order to grow the grains that now form a staple part of most peoples’ diets. In destroying these habitats, countless living creatures are also destroyed, often violently, or left to die out without the ecosystem in which they were once supported. How is this any better than the conscientious raising of animals in a humane manner to then use as food? Apart from the health problems associated with eating them, this is another reason I would never support the grain industry. Simply put, it is destroying our planet.
Now I am not saying that the factory feedlot farming we see across the continent is any better. This is unacceptable and another terrible example of how human beings bull-dozed their way over the natural world and turned food into a multi-billion dollar industry. I do not, and never will, support factory farming of animals. This also has dire consequences on the environment, not to mention the moral issues around the cruelty with which these animals are treated.
Ruminant animals (cows, sheep etc) are meant to roam free, to eat grass, and to live out in the open, and so they should be allowed to do this. If done in harmony with nature, the type of farming used to raise these animals poses no negative impact on the environment. All that is required is sunshine to grow grass. This article goes into some more depth on this.
This talk highlights how we could, in fact, solve the global problem of desertification and climate change if we begin raising animals in this way. And for anyone who still thinks vegetarianism is better for the planet (or our bodies), check out this video.
2. There are nutrients that are essential to us, which we can ONLY get from animal products
As much as vegetarians and vegans often argue that it is possible to get all essential nutrients from plants, this simply is not true.
One such nutrient is Vitamin B12. A common myth is that it’s possible to get B12 from plant sources like seaweed, fermented soy, spirulina and brewers yeast. Unfortunately this is not the case – plant foods said to contain B12 actually contain B12 analogs called cobamides that block intake of and increase the need for true B12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10552882
Another study using more advanced diagnostic methods finds that among vegetarians, up to 62% of pregnant women, 86% of children and 90% of elderly are B12 deficient. Not surprisingly, the highest rates of deficiency were observed among vegans and lifelong vegetarians.
This is something all vegetarians and vegans need to be aware of, because B12 deficiency has serious consequences—especially for the most vulnerable populations (pregnant women, children, and the elderly) who are also the most likely to be affected. Here are some of the conditions linked with a deficiency:
- Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive decline and memory loss (collectively referred to as “aging”)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurological disorders
- Mental illness (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Learning or developmental disorders in kids
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Autoimmune disease and immune dysregulation
- Male and female infertility
See the following articles on this subject for more info:
This is just one nutrient. In addition to this and other B vitamins, meat is also an important source of Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Iron and other minerals not easily absorbed from other foods.
Incidentally, to get 1 day’s supply of Vit A from a non-meat source, you would need to eat about 20 eggs or 15 CUPS of carrots per day (and that is assuming the conversion from betacarotene can be made). To get adequate Vitamin D, you would need to eat about 50 mushrooms (or again, 20 eggs). I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could fit all that in my tummy in one day.
Other essential nutrients not found in bioavailable forms from plants are Vitamins K2, EPA and DHA from Omega 3 fatty acids. There are no plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids that even come close to fish or grassfed meat. Why fish stomps flax as a source of Omega 3.
Based purely on the above facts, I think logic would dictate that we are far healthier including high quality animal products in our diets than not doing so – obviously in conjunction with an otherwise healthy diet free from processed foods such as grains, sugar, industrial seed oils etc.
And I haven’t even touched on protein.
“Of the twenty amino acids needed to form protein our bodies can make twelve “on site” (children can only make 11). The rest we have to get from food. Vegetable proteins are “incomplete,” meaning that they contain only a few of the essential amino acids needed. Because the body cannot warehouse protein like it does fat, we need to stock up every. single. day. And unlike animal-based proteins that have everything we need wrapped up in just the right proportions, incomplete proteins simply don’t cut it.
Is it possible to create complete proteins with a vegetarian diet? Yes, but it is vital to avoid soy AND you’ll need to carefully measure and combine foods to provide the full range of amino acids. And because plant-based sources have lower concentrations of amino acids overall you’ll also need to eat much, MUCH more than – say – a piece of steak that contains all nine in high concentrations. This unfortunately, leaves very little room in the belly for other important nutrients!”
– Heather Dessinger
So, from a nutritional perspective, alone, this sways the argument for me. If we have to take artificial supplements (which will NEVER replace real food nutrients) in order to maintain acceptable levels of health as vegetarians/vegans, then it seems to completely go against how nature intended us to live.
This is just my observation, but many people I know suffer from one or all of the following issues (all of which can probably be traced to nutrient deficiencies or imbalances of some sort):
Low energy levels, pale, sallow or dull skin, varicose veins, cellulite, gas and tummy bloating, excess abdominal fat, nerve issues, joint problems, depression, sagging or weak muscles, and even prematurely grey hair.
I’m not saying those issues are exclusive to non meat-eaters – but I know for myself that as soon as I started to incorporate meat (specifically grassfed, organic red meat) back into my diet (in conjunction with cutting out processed foods) a few years ago, I completely transformed my health. Obviously it is about avoiding nutrient-poor foods as well as incorporating nutrient-dense foods.
3. Healthy traditional societies throughout our history ate meat
Long before the advent of modern processed foods, almost all healthy traditional societies on the planet incorporated (in varying proportions) meat, organ-meats, animal fats, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy into their diets.
These societies experienced none of the modern diseases of civilization (heart-disease, cancer, diabetes, auto-immune diseases etc) we see so prevalent today.
A vast and extensive body of anthropological evidence shows that humans have been omnivores for as long as we’ve been human (a little over 2 million years). http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/sep/23/human-hunting-evolution-2million-years Moreover, there is no evidence of any contemporary, vegetarian hunter-gatherer cultures. Even those that didn’t eat much meat went to great lengths to obtain fish, shellfish, grubs, insects and other animal foods when they could.
If you’re, in any way, concerned about hyped up “studies” in the media that try to say that vegetarian diets are healthier or that vegetarians live longer, this is a great article.
So what if I hate/can’t bear the thought of red meat?
Red meat is one of the densest sources of nutrients available (far more nutritious than chicken or turkey, incidentally) and so I would highly advise people to try to incorporate it, in some way, into their diets. This may be an issue for some people. There are those who genuinely do not like the taste of meat, and others say they feel uncomfortable when they eat it. This is probably due to fact that the levels of enzymes that digest protein and fat decrease when one doesn’t eat meat for long periods – but these quickly rise again once one starts, so this is perfectly reversible. It is highly, HIGHLY unlikely for a person to have an allergy to meat. Meat is far easier for the body to digest than vegetables, and infinitely easier to digest than grains or legumes of any kind.
This article gives some tips for how to overcome these issues if you are “meat-challenged”: http://whole9life.com/2013/02/eating-meat-a-primer-for-the-meat-challenged-2/
If you really still can’t bear the thought, then high quality fish and seafood are good alternatives, if eaten daily. If you’re concerned about fish and mercury levels, read this. In addition, I would also recommend the daily consumption of pastured eggs and grassfed (and, if possible, raw) dairy.
Having said all of this, it is pointless to argue about this issue since people often have very deep-rooted emotional responses when it comes to food – especially in relation to the topic of meat consumption. What I advise people is the following: simply try things for yourself and see what works. If you need proof for which way of eating is healthier, experiment a little. It’s not that hard and will be far more convincing, ultimately, than this rambling post will never be for you.
So, go try a vegan/vegetarian diet for a period of say 3 months and measure your bio-markers of health and disease before and after this period (through blood-tests and so on). Also take body composition measurements, observe issues such as abdominal bloating (observe how flat – or not – your tummy is), how clear your skin is, how much energy you have, your satiety levels (do you feel the need to eat every 2-3 hours? Are you hungry a lot?) and so on.
Then, try a diet full of unprocessed vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc and include regular portions of high quality meat and fish (based on this real-food pyramid), and measure the same factors before and after another 3 month period and see which your body functions best on.
I always say, if you are in perfect health, at the perfect weight, never get sick (not even colds/flus etc), if you are fit, strong and full of vibrant energy, if your skin is glowing and clear, if your body composition is great, your tummy is flat and if you are able to sleep well at night, then clearly whatever diet you are following is right for you. Unfortunately the vast majority of people experience a lacking in at least one of these areas and so it is then necessary to perhaps reassess one’s approach.
If you live in the US and you’re looking for a trustworthy source of humanely raised, organic, grassfed meat, I would highly recommend this site: US Wellness Meats
This is a great example of a farm which embodies living and farming practices which are truly in harmony with nature: Polyface Farm