The vegetarian diet can be healthy, but vegetarians or people contemplating the diet need to educate themselves about nutrition and make sure they get enough animal protein (eggs and dairy) every day. Without animal protein, they can suffer nutritional deficiencies evidenced in subtle physical manifestations that, over time, can lead to major health problems. I do not advise people to eat a vegetarian diet, though I think some people can be perfectly healthy not eating meat.
Many vegetarians may not be happy with a few statements in this article. I’ve found that vegetarians are very passionate and can be defensive about their diet, as I was when I became a vegetarian. Please try to have an open mind and be open to the possibility that there is information you may not be aware of about vegetarianism. I used to be a vegetarian, and then ‘graduated’ to veganism. I was a vegetarian for all the usual reasons: I didn’t want to hurt animals, save the planet, etc. My health seemed okay on the vegetarian diet, but began to deteriorate quickly when I became vegan. However, when my health was at stake, the above issues began to pale in comparison. I hated to eat animals, but my health was a higher priority. My deteriorating health spurned a deeper look into whether the vegetarian and vegan diets are really healthy.
In the process of evolution, we humans have evolved to be omnivores, eating everything we can find in the environment: plants, eggs, fish, and meats. For four million years, our ancestors and their descendents have eaten meat. It is hard to believe or argue that all of a sudden in the 21st century, we no longer need animal protein. To be healthy and full of energy, we require a substantial amount of animal protein every day. Animal proteins are far easier for us to digest than plant protein. So, if you’re going to be a vegetarian, I urge you to get protein every day from dairy, butter, eggs, etc. This is imperative for your health.
When I was vegetarian, I read in many books that you can get all your protein needs met with vegetable protein. This is simply not true. Though plants do contain protein, our bodies cannot assimilate all the proteins from these foods. It doesn’t matter what a label says is in a food, it only matters what your body can utilize.
Plant foods are very difficult for humans to digest and contain anti-nutrients, which can damage the gut lining. Vegetarians can begin to develop digestive issues, including IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, symptoms, including gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea. As the digestive system becomes more and more damaged (usually from grains, beans, soy, and gluten or from them being improperly prepared and fermented), it is less able to nourish the person, and nutritional deficiencies begin to develop.
Vitamins B12, B6, B1, B2, niacin, essential amino acids, zinc and proteins are the first nutritional deficiencies a beginner vegetarian usually develops. As malnutrition sets in, the immune system cannot function well, leading to chronic low-grade infections.
Apart from causing malnutrition via damage to the digestive system, plants foods are not the best sources of nutrients. I know this sounds crazy. I am aware that nutrition books are filled with factoids extolling the wealth of nutrition in each vegetable. They are full of phytochemicals, flavanoids, and many nutrients we have yet to discover. When analyzed in a laboratory, vegetables contain large amounts of various vitamins and proteins. Don’t let this lure you into a false sense of security.
In a lab, many methods and chemicals for extracting nutrients from plants are used: methods our human digestive system does not possess. The human gut has a very limited ability to digest plants and extracts limited nutrition from them. We cannot break down the cellulose, the plant wall, to extract the nutrients inside. The best digestive system in the healthiest person can extract only forty percent of nutrients in plants, at best. Juicing can extract ninety-nine percent of nutrients, making juicing a very important component of a healthy diet. Plant foods are very necessary for fiber, antioxidants and minerals, but it is absurd to think they can meet all of your nutritional needs. On top of this, vegetables must be cooked to break down the cell wall and extract the nutrition they contain. Otherwise, nutrients remain in the cell wall, very little is absorbed and the vegetable serves as a mere colon cleanser.
Nature has equipped herbivorous animals (ruminants) with very special digestive systems to eat plants. Their digestive tracts are very long with several stomachs full of special plant-breaking fermentative bacteria necessary to digest plants. We humans have no such thing. The human digestive system is similar to the gut of predatory animals, such as wolves and lions: our digestive system is fairly short and we have only one stomach with virtually no bacteria in it comparatively. In fact, our human stomach produces hydrochloric acid and pepsin, which are only able to break down meat, fish, and eggs.
Our digestive systems have been designed to cope best with animal foods. Evolutionary-wise, eating meat led our digestive systems to shrink, freeing up energy for our brains to grow twice as large as a primate our same size. Gorillas are vegetarians and they have both the smallest brains and the largest digestive tract of any primate. We are the opposite. And our brains need to be fed.
Cultures throughout history knew this instinctively, eating animal protein as their primary food source. Cavemen ate about 65% of their dietary calories from meat. Today, hunter-gatherer societies do the same, obtaining about 10-30% or more of their calories from animal protein, give or take, depending upon the tribe and location. Primitive people instinctively knew that plants foods were hard to digest. All traditional cultures have developed food preparation methods to extract more nutrition from plants and to make them more digestible, such as fermentation, malting, sprouting, and special ways of cooking. Unfortunately, in our modern world, these methods are largely forgotten.
Vegetarians, like everyone, need to learn to listen to their bodies and their cravings. Your mind may disagree with what your body wants. Many crave meats or more specifically, fats. If your body is craving a food, it usually needs a nutrient or other property from that food. Only by listening to their bodies will they be able to deem if their vegetarian diet is a healthy one for their body.
I strongly recommend blood work to see if one is suffering from anemia (iron deficiency), fat-soluble vitamin (A, D, E, K) deficiency, Vitamin B complex and B12 deficiency, zinc deficiency, adrenal fatigue, thyroid issues, etc. This is the only way one can know for sure if their vegetarian diet is working for them or not. Usually, the signs of health problems due to diet are very subtle and easily blamed on other issues. If you don’t feel joyous and vibrant, with glowing eyes and skin, are full of energy, and have great digestion there may be a problem.
There is a place at different times in people’s lives for a vegetarian diet. When people develop cancer, a vegetarian or vegan diet seems wise, but this of course depends on the person and the cancer. Or when people are trying to lose weight, a vegetarian diet may be the answer. It may be good to try and see if this diet works for your body chemistry. But I doubt the diet’s usefulness for a lifetime unless very carefully monitored for nutrient deficiencies and supplemented.
For many, their premise for the vegetarian and vegan diets is to ward off the diseases of western affluence and eat with their conscience and the environment in mind. This is the argument in The China Study by Colin Campbell, the basis for many popular books advocating the vegetarian and vegan diets like Joel Fuhrman‘s Eat to Live, and Neal Barnard‘s, John McDougall‘s, and John Robbins’ books. I fell victim to these books and their arguments, changing my diet to a vegan diet the minute I read The China Study. I developed all kinds of health problems, including adrenal fatigue and numerous nutrient deficiencies. I’ve since learned there are serious flaws in The China Study research, upon which they are based.
The China Study is a 30-year on-going epidemiological study, studying disease rates among populations. This epidemiological study merely notes a CORRELATION between meat and dairy consumption and the diseases of western affluence: cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, etc. This does not mean that meat and dairy CAUSE the diseases of western affluence. It is simply observing a correlation. The book makes a very convincing argument, making it sound as if meat and dairy are the CAUSE of these diseases. Affluent people consume a lot of meat and dairy, but they also eat a lot of sugar, grains, and flour. I believe this oversight is a confounding variable that is the real cause of the diseases of western affluence. No doubt, we eat too much meat, and most people eat poor quality meat – a definite cause of disease — but flour, grains, and sugar are much more to blame for causing disease.
I don’t care what the ‘research’ shows. Research can be very limited its scope and so many factors can contribute to inconclusive or incorrect results. You can read more about the issues in meat and vegetarian research, which I explain thoroughly in my article Red Meat Does Not Cause Disease.
Research cited in The China Study refers to rats and mice that were fed dairy and developed cancer. The problem with this research is that if you were only fed dairy for months or years, you’d probably get pretty sick, too. The studies have to be done this way since a confounding variable, a variable that could alter the results of the study — say broccoli — could make it hard to determine what, exactly, was making the rats sick or not. The researcher has to narrow the study down to one food (dairy) to know if the results (cancer) are being caused by this diet.
The facts are undeniable. Hunter-gatherer societies throughout millennia and today who eat meat and dairy do not suffer the diseases of western affluence. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, etc. are very rare among these people – and they eat plenty of meat, with some eating dairy. But they grass fed meats, dairy, and eggs from animals that are eating grasses or insects – animals eating what they were meant to eat.
Weston A. Price searched to find primitive cultures that were vegan. He was very disappointed to not find any. There are no cultures or societies ever found to have eaten a vegan diet. None. There is a reason for this. Vegan diets do not sustain a healthy life and reproduction in the long-term.
Protein malnutrition is a very serious matter: the body cannot produce hormones, many enzymes, neurotransmitters and a myriad of other active substances. While many vegetarians may get enough protein, many do not if they are intolerant of dairy or do not like eggs. Plant sources of protein are virtually indigestible by the human gut. The best quality and easiest to digest proteins come from animal foods: meat, fish, eggs, and diary.
If you do not eat meat, I urge you to eat as many eggs as you can choke down! Eggs are an amazing perfect protein that are very easy to digest. See the Paleo Guide to Eggs and Poultry to source the highest quality eggs possible. Eggs should be eaten organic and grass fed. When chickens are grass fed, they eat insects that add a ton of omega 3’s to the eggs, making them much healthier for you. If you cannot find grass fed at your local farmer’s market or health food store, get the omega 3 enriched eggs. Even eggs that are organic, though the chickens are not given antibiotics or GMO feed, can still be produced on factory farms and can be very unhealthy. And don’t even bother with eggs that only say ‘free range’ on the package. This means nothing, as the phrase is not regulated by the FDA. To see how your eggs rate, see the Cornucopia Institute’s Egg Scorecard. My favorite are Frenz eggs from New Zealand. The yolks are a bright orange and the shells are thick — the sign of a healthy egg. I haven’t found a better egg, but they cost a billion dollars a carton.
Vegetarian and vegan sources of protein are grains, beans, soy, nuts, protein bars and powders. Whole grains such as rice, millet, quinoa (actually seeds), buckwheat, and oats are much different from processed grains, but still pose the problems mentioned below in the Grains section. What protein grains do contain is low quality – lacking essential amino acids – and comes wrapped in indigestible fiber. Beans contain a more complete set of amino acids (protein components) than other plant foods. Use fresh beans that are smaller, like split peas, mung, and adzuki beans and eat them in small quantities if you’re not used to eating them. To make beans easier to digest, soak them overnight on the countertop in a little vinegar and add some kombu seaweed to the pot when cooking to decrease gas. I would only consume soy in fermented forms. Today’s trend to consume soy in various unnatural, highly processed forms like commercial soymilk, soy meat, and soy ice cream is not a good idea. Also, many people are allergic to soy. Nuts can be very difficult to digest and are high in fat, albeit healthy fats. I would eat only a handful of raw nuts a day or as a nut butter. I would avoid protein bars, as most are full of chemicals and unnatural sweeteners. Stick to whole protein powders if you’re looking for a meal replacement.
Though they are not recommended in high amounts, eating a whole protein powder, like whey, hemp or pea protein — not a protein isolate — can be a good addition to a vegetarian diet. I would not normally recommend protein powders because they do not replicate the nutrition found in meat. Meat is rich in minerals and many other nutrients – it is not merely protein. Processsed foods like protein powder cannot ever hope to compare to animal protein.
If you will not and cannot eat meat, consider having some fish, if only occasionally. Fish is some of the most contaminated animal protein, but I believe it is worse to suffer a protein deficiency than for your body to deal with the potential toxins in fish. Your body deals with pollutants every day and is quite adept at dealing with them. Eat smaller fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and herring three times a week as they have less time to accumulate heavy metals and PCB’s. Farmed fish and shrimp have antibiotics, hormones, and dyes in them just like factory-farmed meats. Fish broth can be very healing. Put those shrimp shells, fish heads, etc in a pot and cook ’em up!
Dairy includes butter, ghee, milk, cream, sour cream, cheese, kefir and yogurt. Dairy is highly recommended if you don’t eat meat for its protein, fats and calcium and other essential nutrients. Green leafy veggies, beans, sprouts, and almonds contain calcium, but also contain phytates, which prevent much of its absorption. Carrot juice is actually very high in bioavailable calcium and my first choice for calcium if you won’t eat meat or dairy. Sardines are a great source, too.
Most nonorganic milk contains a whole host of nasty contaminants. Eighty-five percent of nonorganic milk contains rGBH, a genetically modified growth hormone made by Monsanto, to increase a cow’s milk production. rGBH is shown to increase inflammation markers in humans. Nonorganic milk also contains antibiotics, other growth hormones, and GMO corn and soy fed to the cows. Just buy organic already!
Not all organic dairy is healthy. Skip Horizon brand organic – it does not meet organic standards. It is factory-farmed dairy with 20,000 cows on one dairy farm. The company markets their milk by adding DHA and EPA, made by algae, whose DHA and EPA are then extracted by a very toxic chemical solvent, which ends up in your milk (and sadly, in ALL baby formula marketed with added DHA and EPA). This DHA and EPA oil is a product never before consumed by humans and causes explosive diarrhea in a subset of the population. The USDA is ignoring the addition of this nonorganic ingredient in a product sold as organic, even to babies.
If you choose to eat dairy, eat only RAW, grass fed organic dairy. Raw milk can be usually be tolerated by people who cannot tolerate pasteurized milk. Fermented and cultured raw dairy products like cultured butter, sour cream, yogurt, and kefir are best, as the lactose proteins have been broken down making them easier to digest. Raw yogurt, kefir, sour cream, milk, and butter are high in enzymes and vitamins destroyed by pasteurization.
Raw dairy, especially raw butter, contains essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, most of which are destroyed during pasteurization. These are necessary to absorb vitamins and minerals from vegetables. I put raw butter on all my food. You won’t find raw dairy products in major stores, but at farmer’s markets, your local dairy farm, or small natural health food stores. For a list of organic raw dairy farmers, see westonprice.org and realmilk.org.
Salmonella, E. coli and many other bacteria cannot survive in raw milk; beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and immune complexes naturally present in raw milk destroy them. If these pathogenic microbes get into pasteurized milk, however, they thrive because the enzymes and beneficial bacteria have been destroyed by pasteurization. Milk that is not raw has been pasteurized and homogenized which deforms the fats, making them very unhealthy, unrecognizable to the body and difficult to digest. Learn more on my article Are you the Half that Should Avoid Dairy.
If you’re not eating meat, you’re likely eating a lot of grains: rice, pasta, cereals, tortillas, corn, bread, wheat, oats, barley, rye, and even more of their industrial endpoints of refined flours, sugars, and oils. Be careful in eating too many grains – foods our ancestors never ate. They definitely contribute to the diseases of western affluence: heart disease, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer, etc. – if only because they are over consumed. Wheat, in fact, was shown in the China Study to have the highest correlation of any food to disease. The diseases of western affluence are actually the diseases of agriculture. Our bodies are not well equipped to digest them, as grains didn’t begin to be cultivated until about 10,000 years ago. Ancient man ate some but in very limited amounts.
Eating grains causes many problems. The first is that a grain-based diet will include too many starches and sugars, overloading the small intestines. They, in turn will pass them undigested to the colon, the large intestine. These sugars create a veritable picnic for abnormal gut flora in the intestines, causing an explosion in their growth. This over-productive fermentation can then surge back into the small intestine, causing an inflammatory response, killing microvilli, the cells that absorb nutrients. This can result in poor absorption of nutrients and malnutrition.
Whether ‘complex’ or ‘simple,’ all carbohydrates are sugars. The only difference is whether they are individual sugar molecules or a string of sugar molecules. Glucose is the simplest sugar, made of a single molecule. Sucrose, table sugar, is made of two molecules. Sugars with more molecules, called polysaccharides, include grains, beans, and potatoes. Why don’t these differences matter? Because our digestive system can’t digest the long chains of sugars in polysaccharides. They’re too big to be absorbed through the intestinal wall. So our bodies break them down into simple sugars. And every last molecule hits the bloodstream and causes an insulin surge.
Over time, high blood sugar will damage the insulin receptors, possibly leading to diabetes. Chronic excess sugar destroys the nerves, the arteries, the retinas in the eyes, and the heart. High blood sugar causes the liver to produce cholesterol – fats to protect the arteries from the sugar, resulting in high cholesterol. That’s right. High cholesterol is caused by flour and sugar – not by eating dietary cholesterol in meat or eggs. Over a lifetime, high sugar wreaks the most havoc in long-lived proteins, including elastin, the proteins that give the skin its youthful firmness, DNA, the genetic blueprint present in all cells, and collagen, the structural protein in the body’s tissues, including the framework of the bones and organs.
The worst grains you can eat are found in cereals. These are formed by extrusion — high pressure and heat are used to force the grain through a space that creates the shape, say an ‘O’, or a puffed cereal. This high heat and pressure deform the proteins in the cereal, making them unrecognizable by the body. Rats fed these cereal grains die after two weeks! Rats fed the box the cereal came in, died after four weeks. Rats fed whole grains live a year. Organic cereals are even worse because they contain more deformed proteins, as organic foods have a higher nutritional content. Cereals are touted as health foods by the food industry because they are highly profitable sectors. Avoid these dead, deformed grains.
Many cultures use grains as a staple in their diet, but they must be properly prepared so they don’t cause a detriment to health. If you do eat grains, they need to be properly prepared: fermented, soaked, or sprouted. This will reduce the amount of phytic acid in the grains so the nutrients will be more available. Soak grains at least overnight on your countertop (warmth) with a little acid (lemon juice, apple cider vinegar). Then prepare them as you normally would. Sprouting breaks down the proteins in the grains so they are easier to digest and increases the nutrient value exponentially. You can buy sprouted grain bread and tortillas. Sourdough bread is a great choice because it is fermented.
Not only do many grains cause issue for many for the reasons cited about, but a good portion of the population suffer from gluten intolerance. For more information, see my article Gluten Sensitivity Affects 1 in 3. Then again, there are some people that do just fine on grains. Chris Kresser postulates that people would be able to handle grains better if their gut flora was healthy and intact.
Don’t even get me started on soy. Soy should be avoided completely or eaten only on rare occasions. Soy is not a health food. In fact, many countries have issued warnings to their citizens about the dangers of soy. Note that in many Asian cultures, soy is eaten in tiny quantities (1-2 tablespoons a day) if at all and is usually fermented to mitigate its anti-nutrient qualities. Soy is extremely difficult to digest and full of anti-nutrients, robbing your body of vitamins and minerals, specifically calcium and zinc. Soy contains protease inhibitors, protein digesting enzymes, interfering with your ability to digest protein. Soy impairs iodine absorption, reducing thyroid function, which impairs one’s ability to lose weight and affects fertility. Soy can also damage your nervous system by killing brain cells, specifically in the hippocampus, the area responsible for memory and learning.
The most serious problem with soy is the phytoestrogens. They are similar enough to estrogens to cause significant endocrine disruption in the body. They are not ‘weak’ as the food industry that profits immensely from soy would have you believe. Some think soy should be classified as a drug. Soy protein contains a type of phytoestrogens called isoflavones. They bind to hormone receptors, and interfere with the production of all the sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Isoflavones interfere with estrogen receptor sites causing premature periods in girls and promoting cancer (many cancers grow when there is an abundance of estrogen or estrogenic substances). Soy has contraceptive effects, with some cultures using it to reduce the chance of pregnancy and to lower libido. You can increase your libido by eliminating soy from your diet. In fact, it’s very popular in Buddhist monasteries with monks that have taken a vow of celibacy. In men, soy lowers testosterone levels, and reduces the quantity and quality of sperm.
Soy can cause the most damage during pregnancy and infancy. Sadly, its negative effects rarely show up until puberty. Eating soy while pregnant can impair your child’s fertility when they are adults and cause genital deformities, especially in boys, who are more sensitive to estrogen in utero. This is why male babies are 8 times more likely to suffer genital deformities. When baby boys are fed soy formula, the estrogens cause boy’s physical maturation to be delayed or not happen at all. Pediatricians are reporting that record numbers of boys reach teenage years with underdeveloped gonads, undescended testicles, low sperm counts, and low sex hormones. Baby girls become over-estrogenized leading to early puberty, fertility problems, menstruation problems, and prematurely enlarged breasts. Of course, there are many estrogenic substances in the environment contributing to these symptoms, but soy is definitely part of the picture. Soy is also very high in manganese (50-80 times the amount found in dairy formula), which is toxic to infants and children. Manganese toxicity, negatively impacting the development of the brain and nervous system, mimics autistic symptoms. Soy infant formula also can cause lifelong allergies, autoimmune thyroid disease, asthma, and attention deficit disorder. Soy infant formula should never be used except as a last resort.
Most people unwittingly eat soy protein isolate or textured soy protein in the form of protein powders, veggie burgers, vegetarian meats, etc. How is soy protein isolate made? After removing the fiber, the beans are put in an aluminum pot with an acid wash. They absorb the aluminum (linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s) and then are treated with many chemicals including nitrates (linked to cancer). This soy protein isolate powder is in up to 60% of processed foods, including soymilk and infant formula. Soy milk is a highly processed food and is very unhealthy. Its proteins, due to high heat and processing, have been deformed, making them very difficult to digest and are unrecognizable by the body. Besides it containing plant estrogens, it contains a very hard to absorb calcium. It also contains synthetic Vitamin D2, not D3, the form our bodies need. It should never be consumed.
Additionally, 90% of the world’s soy production is genetically modified. GMO soy has higher levels of protease inhibitors and higher levels of pesticides. Soy is one of the top eight allergens, namely due to GMO soy coming on the market in the ’90’s. So, if you don’t buy organic, you’re almost certainly consuming soy that is proven to lower immunity, cause infertility, and damage organs in animals. Organic soybeans are problematic as well, possessing all the problems mentioned above. If consumed, eat only non-GMO tofu and fermented soy products like soy sauce, miso, natto, and tempeh. The processing and fermentation methods mitigate the anti-nutrient effects and reduce soy allergens, making them digestible and even healthy, albeit in limited quantities. For more information, see my article Little Known Dangers of Soy.
Your mind may disagree with what your body needs. Trust your body. If you are craving a food or dreaming about it, you should heed the craving and fulfill the need, as your body is craving something in that food that it requires. If you do not eat properly on a vegetarian diet, the following deficiencies may begin to occur:
- Protein. Protein is the first deficiency one is likely to suffer, as plant sources of protein are not easily digestible by the human gut. The best quality and easiest to digest proteins come from animal foods: meat, fish, eggs, and diary. Protein malnutrition is a very serious matter: the body cannot produce hormones, many enzymes, neurotransmitters and a myriad of other active substances. What protein grains do contain is low quality – lacking essential amino acids – and comes wrapped in indigestible fiber.
- Fats. As the vegetarian diet can be very low in healthy fats, this can lead to a cascade of problems due to deficiencies of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. You need Vitamin A and D to be able to absorb the minerals in the vegetables you eat. This is a disaster for all sorts of metabolic functions in the body, particularly the immune system and nervous system and brain, which is 60% fat. Health issues can be avoided by eating eggs, healthy oils (flax, olive, macadamia, pumpkin seed, etc), dairy, and butter. Butter is an amazingly nutritious food, containing all the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K (given it’s not pasteurized and is grass fed).
- Zinc. Zinc deficiency is common among vegetarians. I highly recommend supplementing a chelated zinc daily. Zinc is found most abundantly in red meat, with very little in white meat. This mineral is involved in 200 enzymatic reactions in the body, all of which suffer. Phytates are organic phosphorus compounds, which bind zinc, calcium and magnesium in the intestines, rendering these essential nutrients bio-unavailable, thus worsening a vegetarian’s zinc deficiency. If you eat a lot of grains, particularly brown rice, and do not soak (ferment) them properly prior to consumption, the phytic acid will deplete your zinc stores, even down to zero! This is the main problem with the macrobiotic diet, which suggests brown rice as the diet staple. Low zinc levels can result in fatigue, hair loss and skin rashes, impairments in growth and healing, immunity, sexual function, taste, smell, and digestion. Food sources include oysters, organ meats, seeds, nuts, red meat, chicken, herring, milk, yeast, leafy and root vegetables. Albeit, it is difficult to get sufficient zinc from plant sources. Interestingly, a zinc deficiency, whether due to stress, ingestion of junk food, or inheritance of a zinc deficiency from birth due to a zinc-deficient parent can also be a cause for adopting a vegetarian diet. Because zinc is required for certain pancreatic digestive enzymes, e.g., carboxypeptidase A and B, a zinc deficiency will result in a digestive enzyme deficiency. This can cause a reduced ability to digest animal proteins and fats. When you eat it, you won’t feel well, leading to the mistaken conclusion that meat is not for you.
- Low Phosphorus. A low tissue phosphorus level is an excellent indicator of inadequate protein metabolism, or inadequate protein ingestion, or both. A low phosphorus level is often a result of vegetarianism for the following reasons. Many vegetarians eat inadequate amounts of protein, or poor-quality protein. Vegetarians with adrenal fatigue suffer from varying degrees of gastric hydrochloric acid deficiency. The result is impaired protein digestion and utilization. A low zinc level or zinc deficiency, so characteristic of vegetarian diets, can result in a low phosphorus levels because zinc is required for an enzyme intimately involved in protein synthesis — RNA transferase. A low tissue phosphorus level may also be a contributing cause of the attraction to vegetarianism. You can raise your phosphorus levels by taking digestive enzymes. I love Carbo-G digestive enzymes. You can also take Standard Process’ Phosfood.
- Vitamin B group. The B vitamin group are eight water-soluble vitamins, crucial for metabolism, cell growth, development and reproduction. These vitamins play a very important role in maintaining the health of various body systems including the nervous, digestive and immune systems. Lack of these vitamins results in low energy, depression, and a whole host of problems too numerous to mention. Meats, eggs, dairy, bee products, blue-green algae, and fermented soy products are the main sources of the B vitamins. I highly recommend an organic food-based B complex.
- B12. Vitamin B12 is essential for normal nervous system function, energy production, maintenance of DNA, and blood cell production. You will use all of your B12 reserves in 3 years. If they are not replaced, you can suffer many side effects including confusion, poor concentration and memory, irritability, depression, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, chromosome breaks, numbness and tingling of hands and feet, sore mouth and tongue, and weakness. Lack of B12 also causes infertility, birth defects, and repeat miscarriages. The main sources of vitamin B12 include meat, eggs, and dairy products. You can also eat nutritional yeast. If you don’t want to eat eggs or dairy, it is recommended to do weekly to monthly shots of B12 in the form of methylcobalamin, NOT cyanocobalamin (synthetic). Oral supplements of B12 don’t absorb very well. Many foods are fortified with B12, but keep in mind that even though a food is fortified with B12 it is always a synthetic form that is not absorbed well or at all by your body. Additionally, B12 is not absorbed from plant sources and soy, though it contains b12, will actually increase your need for B12.
- Iron. Anemia is a potentially serious condition in which the body does not make enough oxygen-bearing red blood cells. Anemia is primarily caused by copper dysregulation, which is caused by the zinc deficiency and adrenal issues commonly suffered by vegetarians. Anemia can also be caused by B12 deficiency. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, paleness, weakness, irritability, light-headedness or dizziness, and cold hands and feet. You should never take vitamins with iron or iron supplements as these have a form of iron that is not absorbed well by the body and builds up to toxic levels. It must be consumed in iron-rich foods like red meat, oysters, black strap molasses, green leafy vegetables, beans, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, prune juice, and raisins. Vegetables contain non-heme iron, which is not well utilized by the body. Better absorbed, heme sources of iron can be found only in animal protein.
- Vitamin D. As vitamin D is fat-soluble, a diet poor in healthy fats will cause this deficiency, leading to weak bones, cancer, asthma, diabetes, cognitive impairment, and many other diseases. You need Vitamin D to be able to absorb the minerals in the vegetables you eat. Foods you must eat to get vitamin D are fish, cod liver oil, liver, eggs, and cheese. It is also found in tofu and soymilk, but I do not recommend eating soy. Note the vitamin D in milk and other fortified products is synthetic vitamin D (D2) and not well utilized, if at all, by the body. I recommend you ingest Vitamin D3 daily and get plenty of sunshine to synthesize Vitamin D naturally. I prefer food sources like grass fed butter and Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil. Or you can take this vegan organic food-based Vitamin D3 supplement.
- Magnesium. Vegetarian diets are largely based on carbohydrates, which require a tremendous amount of magnesium to be digested and metabolized, so deficiency in magnesium soon follows. Sugar consumption poses the same problem. Magnesium is needed for more than 3700 metabolic reactions. I carry many great magnesium supplements in the Myers Detox Store. I recommend chelated magnesium and taking it in several forms – oral, transdermal and liquid like with Anderson’s Trace Minerals. Key areas requiring magnesium include energy production, bone formation, muscle and nerve cell conduction. Low magnesium may result in muscle weakness and spasm, constipation, depression, hypertension, heart arrhythmias, and personality changes. Food sources include dark leafy greens, oatmeal, buckwheat, chocolate, milk, nuts and seeds, lima beans, molasses, coconut water and kefir.
When a vegetarian is not getting adequate nutrition, their health suffers a downward spiral of events that can be very subtle and easily attributable to other causes. Common symptoms include sugar cravings, feeling spacey and jittery, fatigue, weight loss, loss of healthy color in facial area, feeling weak, anemia (iron deficiency), change in hair color and texture, skin inflammation (in severe cases), and pot belly (in severe cases). I suffered many of these problems, just thinking I was getting older and my hormones were out of whack. Or I thought it was because I was recovering from having a baby. This was not the case. My diet was to blame for my health problems. Only you can decide for yourself if potential poor health is worth staying committed to a vegetarian diet.
- Adrenal Fatigue. The most notable problem with the vegetarian diet is adrenal fatigue. Hormones are proteins. The body cannot build them without a good supply of high-quality protein, zinc, magnesium, fat-soluble vitamins, and B vitamins, thiamine, niacin, carnitine and taurine which are found mainly in animal protein, the very vitamins in which many vegetarians are deficient. Over a period of time, these nutrient deficiencies can significantly contribute to further adrenal exhaustion. A deficit in estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and other hormones results. As hormones rule our metabolism, growth, repair, and a myriad of other functions, the following problems ensue: slow growth, menstruation irregularities or cessation, low libido, poor muscle tone, muscle aches and pulls, osteoporosis, arthritis, fatigue, emotional and behavioral problems, inability to concentrate or learn, sleep disorders, skin problems, etc.
- Copper toxicity. Copper toxicity and Copper Dysregulation can be a cause or a result of vegetarianism. Copper dysregulation is promoted by zinc deficiency. Vegetarian proteins such as beans, avocados, seeds and nuts are high in copper, which can build up toxic levels. Conversely, an elevated copper level can also cause a person to become a vegetarian. Exhaustion of the adrenal glands results in an increased storage of copper in the liver that results in impaired liver function. One’s ability to derive adequate energy levels from fat, protein and complex carbohydrates is impaired and one’s rate of metabolism (energy production) is slowed. Is it any wonder that such a person feels much better on a low-fat, low protein, high carbohydrate, vegetarian regimen? Due to an antagonism between the minerals zinc and copper, excessive copper will displace zinc in enzymes that are zinc dependent. In this way, excess copper promotes zinc deficiency. Impaired adrenal glands will cause copper to become unavailable and to accumulate in body tissues. Copper also depresses potassium levels and glucocorticoid hormone secretion. This contributes to many metabolic dysfunctions and symptoms common to vegetarians.
- Immune System Dysfunction. Due to inappropriate diet, a person suffers the nutritional deficiencies listed above. Consequently, the immune system becomes malnourished and cannot function properly. The result is recurrent infections. As infections are treated with antibiotics, damage to gut flora follows, impairing the immune system even further.
- Abnormal Gut Flora. A problem with many vegetarian grain-based diets (full of starches and sugars) is exponential growth of abnormal gut flora. Overgrowth of bad bacteria in the intestines produce many toxic substances. These toxins flow through the damaged gut wall into the blood and get distributed throughout the body. As these toxins get into the brain, they cause problems with mood, behavior, learning, concentration, memory and sensory perception. I highly recommend taking the best probiotics I have compiled in the Myers Detox Store to combat gut dysbiosis.
- Gut Degeneration. Abnormal gut flora damage the gut wall, making it porous and ‘leaky.’ In order to produce new gut wall cells, the body needs healthy gut flora, nutrients, and hormones, many of which are not available in many vegetarians due to their diet and gut degeneration. As the gut lining degenerates and it is unable to handle food properly, this leads to impaired nutrient absorption and further nutritional deficiencies. L-glutamine, found mainly in animal sources, can be good to supplement to heal and seal the gut. It’s the main amino acid used by the body to repair the intestines.
- Stomach and Digestive Issues. Do you feel sick when you eat? Specifically, do you feel distended, bloated, or like it takes a long time to empty? It’s not your blood type and it’s not because you’re naturally meant to eat light. It’s due to phosphorus deficiency and adrenal fatigue, which decreases your production of stomach acid and a decreased ability to digest food. So, it feels like a rock in your stomach. Decreased stomach acid results in the inability to assimilate all the nutrients from your food, leading to further nutritional deficiencies. If you can’t eat the food your body needs, it’s because you’ve damaged your digestion from too many blood sugar highs and lows, caused by eating too many carbohydrates. It can be fixed, but you need to eat animal protein and fat. Eating a high carbohydrate diet can damage your stomach’s ability to produce hydrochloric acid. Taking hydrochloric acid supplementation is advised if you have digestive issues.
- Thyroid Dysfunction. Adrenal fatigue, in turn, affects thyroid function. The thyroid regulates metabolism and energy. The thyroid needs iodine, selenium, zinc, and iron to be healthy. Low levels of Vitamin A and D prevent thyroid hormones from binding to receptor sites in the body. Symptoms of the more common hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) include weight gain, low energy, hair loss, coldness, loss of libido, depression, etc. Low thyroid activity can also prevent females from releasing eggs, reducing fertility.
- DNA synthesis. Most vegetarians are deficient in B12. B12 helps with synthesis of DNA during cell division. Lack of B12 causes formation of abnormal cells, which eventually will lead to anemia.
- Mental Health Declines. Animal proteins are needed to make neurotransmitters. Without animal protein, you may suffer depression, irritability, anger, or mood swings from a deficiency in serotonin and dopamine. These are side effects of a brain deficient in protein and fats. Tryptophan is the amino acid precursor for serotonin, and is found mainly in animal protein. Antidepressants, specifically SSRI’s, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, won’t do you any good if there’s no serotonin to take up. This is explained very well in Julia Ross’ The Mood Cure.
- Physical Disability. Some vegetarians, myself having been one of them, are lactose intolerant. That being so, I avoided most dairy products at the same time avoiding meat, essentially making me vegan by default. Being vegan for an extended period of time can result in permanent physical disability. Vegans are especially prone to osteoporosis due to low hormones and little fat, or poor fat profile, in their diet. If osteoporosis is allowed to develop for too long, you may not recover. Vegetarians are prone to muscle pains, muscle loss, and bone damage. I urge you to listen to your body if you are vegetarian or vegan and in physical discomfort or pain. Do not ignore it or brush it off. Your diet is a very likely culprit.
- Decreased Fertility. Lack of B12 causes infertility, birth defects, and repeat miscarriages. Low thyroid can cause a woman to not release eggs. Vegetarian women also enter menopause earlier, which can shorten the length of time they can have a child.
- Decreased Life Span. According to census data, vegetarians die younger than people who eat meat. This is contrary to what the vegetarian books tell you. They are wrong. The annual all-cause death rate of vegetarian men is slightly more than that of non-vegetarians (.93% vs .89%); the annual all-cause death rate of vegetarian women is significantly more than that of non-vegetarian women (.86% vs .54%). The longest-lived cultures in the world consume fish and meat.
- Decreased ability to detoxify. Meat contains sulphur-containing amino acids the liver needs to detox the body. Without it, the phase II detox pathway in the liver cannot function. This leaves you vulnerable to toxin accumulation that can cause you health problems. This is why you hear of vegetarians and vegans still dying of cancer and other diseases like autoimmune illness. You may escape heart disease and metabolic syndrome, but toxin accumulation can get you in the end.
Recovering from Vegetarianism
If you feel your energy or health is suffering, and doctors do not seem to be able to figure out what is wrong with you, your vegetarian or vegan diet may be the culprit. It is worth getting checked by a doctor to see if you are suffering from diet-related medical issues or vitamin deficiencies. When I felt something wasn’t right in my body, I am so thankful that I pursued my suspicions and went to a doctor. I never suspected my diet, because I ate so healthy! Or so I thought. I have a few tips to get you started on the road to health.
- Grass fed Meat. When it comes to quality grass fed animal food, more is better. One need not fear eating too much, and a substantial part is best eaten raw or undercooked.
- Small Wild Fish. There is a legitimate of concern of pollution in seafood. However, you can avoid heavy metal and pollution contamination by eating small wild fish like herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. They don’t live long enough to accumulate these pollutants.
- Raw Dairy. Almost every individual does well with the right kind and quantities of grass fed raw dairy foods. It is best to eat cultured or fermented dairy products, like butter, sour cream, kefir, and yogurt, as they are easier to digest. Pasteurization deforms the delicate fats and proteins in milk, making them unrecognizable by the body. These deformed proteins and fats are very hard to digest and very unhealthy to consume. Many who are lactose intolerant find they can tolerate raw milk just fine.
- Fermented foods. Fermented vegetables, dairy products, and coconut water kefir will help to reestablish your gut flora and generally improve your health.
- Grains. Grains are a relatively new food for humans. Only a few traditional healthy cultures eat grains. When eaten, grains were very carefully and traditionally prepared. Grain foods that are not fermented or soaked are best avoided. Many people feel best by simply eliminating all grain foods, including rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye, etc.
- Supplements. Supplemental nutrients result in a much more rapid and thorough recovery. These include multivitamins, zinc, calcium, magnesium, b12 shots, fermented cod liver oil (Vitamin D), hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, and probiotics.
- Myers Detox Protocol with Hair Mineral Analysis. As the vegetarian diet causes many mineral deficiencies and copper toxicity, it is wise to figure out if you have developed any deficiencies. The underlying cause of most disease and health conditions are nutrient deficiencies coupled with chemical and heavy metal toxicity (which everyone has). Given this, Myers Detox Protocol is the perfect program to recover from vegetarianism while improving your overall health. This is the program I used to heal from vegetarianism. I suffered from zinc deficiency, low phosphorus resulting in poor digestion, adrenal fatigue (low sodium and potassium), low thyroid function and copper toxicity – the common profile seen on a hair test when one practices a vegetarian diet. I’m happy to report that I’m getting better, slowly but surely. It takes time. For more information, see my article Myers Detox Protocol with Hair Mineral Analysis. For specific information on hair testing and vegetarianism, read the article from the hair testing lab about vegetarianism and its inherit problems, Vegetarianism and Body Chemistry: A Research Report.
If your child is thinking of becoming a vegetarian, please have them read the book, The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. Your youngster will undoubtedly have no idea how to eat properly to fulfill their nutritional needs and are in grave danger of mental and physical health problems, as they are still growing. Vegetarian children are more prone to health problems than children who eat meat, particularly low immunity, psychomotor impairment and diseases of the blood.
Research shows they can be more susceptible to an eating disorder and other mental illnesses as a result of low serotonin levels that can occur without enough animal protein. One can only obtain adequate levels of tryptophan from animal protein, the building blocks for serotonin. That being said, do not allow your child to become a vegetarian until he or she has thoroughly studied the subject, beyond being kind to animals, and can provide you with all the information to justify such a fundamental life-changing decision.
A large percentage of girls and boys who develop and eating disorder begin with a vegetarian or vegan diet. I am not saying this diet causes eating disorders, only that it can lead to one in susceptible individuals. Thirty to fifty percent of people in eating disorder treatment centers are vegetarian or vegan. As a child stops eating meat, they develop the serious nutritional deficiencies mentioned above. The first deficiency is protein, a very serious matter, as the body cannot produce hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. In parallel with protein deficiency comes zinc deficiency, as zinc is found primarily in red meat. The brain cannot learn and develop without zinc. Vegetarian diets are largely based on carbohydrates. As carbohydrates alter hormonal balance in the body towards too much insulin production, the whole metabolism shifts to a fat-storing mode. Losing weight in this mode is very difficult, propelling the person into starvation to lose weight.
This is excerpted from Natasha Campbell-McBride’s brilliant, groundbreaking book Gut and Psychology Syndrome. The decent from vegetarianism to an eating disorder looks something like this:
- Due to nutritional deficiencies, the immune system becomes malnourished, resulting in chronic infections. As infections are treated with antibiotics, damage to gut flora follows.
- Abnormal gut flora begins producing toxins, which flow through the damaged gut wall into the blood and get distributed around the body. As these toxins get into the brain, they cause problems with mood, behavior, and sensory perception. It is the sensory perception, namely self-perception, that goes awry in children who develop an eating disorder. When an anorexic girl looks in the mirror and sees a fat person, the reason is the toxicity in her brain. Other forms of perception get distorted as well, like perception of taste and texture of food, sense of smell, perception of human relationships and emotions, etc, etc.
- Gut degeneration. Abnormal gut flora damage the gut wall making it ‘leaky.’ Without nutrients to regenerate the gut lining, it deteriorates and is unable to handle food properly. At the same time the gut cannot produce digestive juices and enzymes essential for food digestion and absorption. This is due in part to the adrenal fatigue that comes with starvation — not enough HCL is produced when one has adrenal fatigue. These digestive problems worsen when anorexics or bulimics are coaxed to eat, further propelling them away from food. The typical vegetarian carbohydrate diet does not get digested properly, but instead feeds pathogenic bacteria in the gut allowing them to produce more toxins.
- Hormonal deficiency. Hormones are proteins. The body cannot build them without an adequate supply of protein, zinc, magnesium, fat-soluble vitamins, etc. As hormones rule our metabolism, growth, repair, the child stops growing properly, develops osteoporosis, fatigue, emotional and behavioral problems, sleep problems, etc. As mainstream medicine gives no thought to what particular food recovering anorexics or bulimics should eat, they are largely given carbohydrates. As the person is low in hormones and has a resultant slow metabolism, the calories get stored as fat. That is why these patients put on weight very quickly as soon as they start eating, which leads to a relapse.
- The pathogenic bacteria and yeast in the gut cause the patient to crave carbohydrates as they have major blood sugar swings. Patients with eating disorders binge on processed carbohydrates like sweets, sodas, chocolates, cakes, etc. When the blood sugar drops, they have an irresistible urge to purge. The processed carbs and sugar feed the abnormal gut flora and perpetuate the whole problem or make it worse in the long run. The only way to get these cravings under control is with an appropriate diet. That diet is full of protein. This is the only way to deal with an eating disorder, be it anorexia, bulimia, compulsive bingeing, etc.
I’m not saying your child will develop an eating disorder if they become vegetarian. It just increases the chances of nutrient and neurotransmitter deficiencies that can propel them into an eating disorder, especially given the fact that a child is more likely to be a junk food vegetarian.
If you don’t want to eat animals because you love them, this is your God-given right. I respect that. For myself, I chose the vegetarian diet to get healthy and avoid disease because this is the main argument in vegetarian books in favor of the diet. This sounded rational to me at the time. Clearly, this is not the guaranteed result of going vegetarian. You avoid heart disease and metabolic syndrome but are still susceptible to copper toxicity, thyroid and adrenal fatigue and diseases like cancer, autoimmune and others exacerbated by nutrient and mineral deficiencies and heavy metal accumulation. Don’t make the mistake of being lulled into a false sense of security thinking the diet gives you insurance or immunity from disease. And certainly, do your homework, eat the most nutrient dense vegetarian foods possible and supplement all the nutrients in which the diet is deficiently mentioned above.
Do you have a story about how vegetarianism hurt your health? Or want to defend your vegetarian diet? I want to hear your story! Leave a comment below.