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Vegetarian: To Be or Not to Be

           To Eat Meat or Not to Eat Meat . . . That is the Question

From a clinical standpoint, I believe virtually everyone benefits from some animal protein, provided it's organically raised (grass-fed or pastured). Organic farming also tends to be humane, which is an important issue for most vegetarians/vegans. Even butchering practices are more humane, compared to the factory farm model. That said, if your moral convictions still prompt you to abstain from meat, you do have other options. Other healthy animal proteins include raw organic dairy and organic pastured eggs.

I sincerely believe that the many studies documenting the benefits of a vegetarian diet are related to an increased intake in vegetables and a lowered protein intake. One does not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and exclude all animal products to receive these benefits. It seems lowering your protein intake to one gram per kilogram of lean body mass would likely achieve similar benefits as documented in this featured study.

Certainly, eating a vegetarian diet is far better than eating a high CAFO meat diet. But I believe most people would be wise to consider a more moderate plan. To summarize my view on what I believe is a more ideal diet for most people, here are the key points:

  • Low amounts of high-quality (pastured or grass-fed) animal protein: A general recommendation is to limit animal protein to one gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, or one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body weight
  • Extremely low amounts of refined grain carbohydrates: You need very little grains, if any. Even organic grains are best avoided, to preserve optimal insulin and leptin signaling
  • Extremely low amounts of processed sugar and fructose: A general guideline is to restrict your sugar/fructoseconsumption to 25 grams from all sources, per day. If you are insulin or leptin resistant (if you are overweight, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, then you likely have insulin or leptin resistance), you'd be wise to keep your sugar/fructose to 15 grams per day, from all sources, until your condition has normalized
  • High amounts of high-quality fats: As you cut out carbohydrates, you need to replace them with healthful fats. Most people probably need anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fats, which include olives and olive oil, coconuts and coconut oil, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, organic raw nuts (especially macadamia nuts, which are low in protein and omega-6 fat), organic pastured eggs, and avocados
  • Virtually unlimited amounts of vegetable carbohydrates: Making vegetable juice is a great way to boost the amount and variety of vegetables in your diet

One of the easiest ways to conform to these guidelines is to ditch processed foods and cook from scratch using whole, organic ingredients. I generally advise limiting processed foods to 10 percent of less of your total diet. As for whether or not to eat meat, I firmly believe that it plays a valuable role in optimal health, but quality and quantity are important considerations. Focusing on smaller portions of higher quality (read pastured grass-fed and finished) meats will lead you in the right direction.

Last but not least, let me note that cutting out meat, or animal protein, from your diet is NOT the only way to normalize your blood pressure. There are many other lifestyle strategies that can lower high blood pressure that does not involve abstaining from an important nutrient source. In fact, insulin resistance is a primary promoter of high blood pressure, and the dietary underpinning that creates insulin resistance is a diet too high in sugar, not protein. To learn more about how to normalize your blood pressure without drugs, please see my previous article: "Foundational Lifestyle Strategies to Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure."


Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

A slight deficiency of vitamin B-12 can lead to anemia, fatigue, mania, and depression, while a long term deficiency can potentially cause permanent damage to the brain and central nervous system. Vitamin B-12, or Cobalamin, is naturally found solely in animal foods and thus vegans have to supplement their diets with fortified foods or supplements.

Fortified Cereals
A wide array of cereals now exist with the percent daily value (DV) of vitamin B12 added in. Vegans can eat the cereal with soy, rice, or almond milk.
List of Cereals High in Vitamin B12.

Fortified Soy Products
Most vegans consume soy both as a dairy substitute, and as a source of protein. Many soy products now come fortified with vitamin B12. Check the nutrition facts of the product to be sure.

Fortified Drinks
As more and more people are becoming vegan companies are seeing the benefit of fortifying drinks with vitamin B12. Drinks like Vitamin Water provide a health alternative to soft drinks.

Yeast Extract Spreads (Marmite)
Yeast extract spreads are popular in Britain and Europe, and have started to gain popularity in the U.S. A good vegan source of protein, the spread also packs a lot of vitamin B12. One hundred grams provides 0.5μg (8% DV) of vitamin B12, that is 0.03μg (1% DV) per teaspoon. 
Click to see complete nutrition facts.

Vitamin Pills
Consuming vitamin B12 directly through pills is a great way to to ensure proper levels of vitamin B12 with little fuss. 


People at Risk of a Vitamin B12 Deficiency

  • Older Adults who have Atrophic Gastritis - A condition affecting 30-50% of adults over age 50 and hampers their ability to absorb vitamin B12 from natural foods. Supplements are recommended for people in this group.
  • People with Pernicious Anemia - A condition that affects 1-2% of adults and can only effectively be treated with vitamin B12 injections or shots.
  • Vegans and Vegetarians - Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, however there are some natural vegetarian foods high in vitamin b12 and various fortified B12 foods for vegans.
  • Pregnant and Lactating Women who are Vegetarian or Vegan
  • People taking Certain Medications
    • Proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole (Prilosec®) and lansoprazole (Prevacid®), which are used to treat gastric or pepetic ulcer disease can inhibit absorption of vitamin B12.
    • Metformin - often used for type II diabetes, may interfere with vitmain B12 absorption in certain people.
    • Histamine antagonists, such as cimetidine (Tagamet®), famotidine (Pepcid®), and ranitidine (Zantac®), used to treat peptic ulcer disease, can reduce absorption of vitmain B12 by slowing the release of hydrochloric acid into the stomach.
    • Bacteriostatic Antibiotics, like Chloramphenicol (Chloromycetin®), can interfere with the red blood cell response to vitamin b12 supplements.
    • Anticonvulsants - Anticonvulsants have been shown to interfere with vitamin B12 and vitamin B9 (Folate) metabolism.19-21 One study found that people taking folate supplements and anticonvulsants experienced a 50% decline in Vitamin B12 blood levels.

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