Meat is Bad for You, but is Vegan Perfect?

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

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Is meat good or bad?

The answer to that question depends on who you are talking to.

Ask a person who adheres to a vegan or vegetarian diet, and they’ll tell you, “Heck no!”

Talk to a carnivore or caveman, and you’ll hear, ‘Heck yes!’

Ask a person who follows no particular diet at all, and they’ll probably tell you something they’ve heard from the news, like, “Red meat is bad” or “Avoid bacon at all costs.”

 

So what is the consensus?!

 

Read on…

Pexels-Photo-69482

The Vegan Explosion

I love walking the aisles at Whole Foods here in Austin. We are spoiled with the International Headquarters in the heart of downtown. There’s always something new on the shelves or promotion being tested on the Austin market. My most recent finding? Parma: A ‘vegan’ friendly parmesan cheese substitute (read: No dairy). Made up of a handful of ingredients:

  • nutritional yeast
  • raw walnuts
  • raw organic sunflower seeds
  • raw organic hemp seeds, and
  • Himalayan crystal salt

(…You won’t believe it’s NOT cheese). If you are dairy sensitive or miss the taste of cheese since removing dairy from your diet, Parma is definitely worth a try. Products, like Parma (vegan-substitutes) are seemingly popping up everywhere. This is great, considering the number of Americans turning more and more to vegan and vegetarian diets. In fact, a recent survey by Wakefield Research (a market research company) found that 55% of Americans have vowed to eat MORE PLANT-BASED foods this year. And, this isn’t so hard to do. Now, more than ever, you can EASILY avoid meat at all costs with plenty of other vegan-friendly options (read: meat-avoiding options) popping up everywhere, from: Frozen pizza options (also at Whole Foods) and Amy’s Kitchen frozen dinners (over half of all products are vegan), to marshmallows at Trader Joes  , vegan-friendly menus at many restaurants nowadays, even Taco Bell  So should YOU go vegan? And what’s the downside (and upside) of meat anyhow? Let’s explore.

What is a “Vegan” anyway?

First thing’s first, let’s define: What is vegan (and also vegetarian)? When one chooses to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, the protocol is fairly straightforward: Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not consume or use other animal products and by-products, such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products. Of course you have your exceptions (like “pesco-tarians”—fish eating vegetarians; or those folks who will eat eggs and dairy products), but generally speaking, both are a plant (fruit, veggie, starch and grain)-based diet.

Why Meat is Bad

Why are so many folks avoiding meat and choosing to follow this type of diet? It’s perhaps safe to say that many folks consider vegan (and vegetarian)-based diets a part of a healthy lifestyle. And it makes sense! With more and more information exposed about our meat industry (such as inhumane farming practices, nitrates and additives in processed meats, hormones in our meat, etc.), over the past few decades, the ‘meat scare’ has been on the rise. Some studies claim meat causes cancer. Others alarm that meat causes heart disease , leads to a shorter life  , causes kidney stones   and is hard to digest. And still others cite the “China Study”a 20-year study, published in 2005 that concluded that people who eat a whole-food, plant-based/vegan diet (avoiding all animal meats, eggs, cheese and milk, and reducing their intake of processed foods and refined carbs) escape or reverse numerous diseases.  The more we hear such news reports, studies and social media feeds, no wonder the widespread movement of veganism and vegetarianism. (Fun fact: The Google search term for the word: “Vegan” jumped by 32% between 2014 and 2015 alone). UNFORTUNATELY, many of the studies demonizing meat use subjects who are smokers, drink too much, eat way too much sugar and processed foods, eat very little fruits and veggies, and do not exercise.  They do not give a CLEAR picture of all factors to consider . Images

Why Meat Is Good

You know it: Protein. While vegetarian and vegan diets do claim you CAN get protein in through broccoli, beans and nuts…the MAJOR thing vegan and vegetarian diets are missing are AMINO ACIDS. All 22 essential amino acids are found in protein, and protein alone:

  • Poultry
  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Fish

These aminos are the BUILDING BLOCKS of our cells—without ‘em we have a weakened cell (that needs aminos, fats AND carbs). Sure you can get SOME aminos from secondary sources like nuts, beans and broccoli, but you can’t get ALL of them like you can from straight up protein. Amino Acids are good for you for:

  • Mental focus and clarity (your neurology)
  • Your mood
  • Balancing stress (and decreasing anxiety)
  • Improving muscle development and growth
  • Improved recovery from workouts and increased endurance
  • Hair, skin and nail health
  • Fat burning and maintaining muscle tissue
  • Immune strength
  • Antioxidant activity (i.e. fighting inflammation)

In addition, protein (i.e. meat) also supplies the optimal dose of:

  • Vitamin B-12
  • Zinc
  • And, iron

These vitamins and minerals are very difficult to get from other sources, and when we are deficient, some side effects (down the road) include low energy, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, sluggish metabolism, loss of appetite, impaired digestion, inflammation, and lowered immunity. Although animal protein gets a bad rep amongst vegan and vegetarian studies, other studies (a, b, c) reveal that meat (in and of itself) is not the sole perpetrator to blame at all for the cancer, heart disease and other issues cited above. Instead, the real culprits that cause health issues have nothing to do with meat (or no meat) at all. Instead they are:

(Note: Meat eaters are not off the hook either—especially folks who eat poor quality proteins. They can EQUALLY experience deficiencies because they are not digesting their proteins well).

The Bottom Line?

Balance

So is meat bad? No. Are vegetarian or vegan diets bad? No. Like a plant that needs water, our bodies need a balance of all food groups AND the minerals and vitamins they provide: proteins, carbs and fats included. Unfortunately, often times, when we’ve been restricting one food group for far too long, we don’t realize how deficient we are until we give it a chance again. I speak from experience. I have tried every diet UNDER the sun—cutting out ALL of these food groups at one time or another:

  • First, I went on the no-fat diet kick—avoiding ANYTHING with even a gram of fat in it. My goal was 0 grams of fat per day, and as few calories as possible.
  • Then, I switched to vegetarian, then vegan for about a year—no protein. Lots of veggies, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Then I joined the low-carb, Atkins’ bandwagon.
  • In between, I tried the South Beach diet, the all-fruit diet, the Lean Cuisine diet, the body-building “eat clean” diet, the Slim Fast diet, the Subway diet, the Special K diet, the juice-cleanse diet—anything that was the latest craze…only to wind up with an unsatisfied need to find a new diet, or continue to ‘fix’ my health…

UNTIL I discovered the POWER of balance: protein, fats AND veggies, based with lots of water…and…voila!

  • Hormones balanced
  • Digestion in check
  • Energy for days
  • Brain power
  • Recovery from workouts
  • Less thoughts or obsessions over food
  • Blood sugar balance (no crashes or headaches)
  • Improved immunity
  • Clear skin

Whoa! Magic.

That being said, once more: BALANCE is key to any healthy diet.

Choosing Your Meat (Wisely)

When it comes to meat, there are definitely bad meats and good meats:

  • Meats that are raised and farmed humanely and sustainably, and;
  • Meats that are farmed in factory meat markets and treated inhumanely.

When you eat meat, it’s best to reach for the following as much as you can to avoid poor farming practices and processing:

  • Grass-fed, beef
  • Pasture raised poultry and eggs
  • Other organic meats
  • Wild-caught seafood

When we support humane farming practices, we actually help the natural progression of the food chain. We support an industry’s growth that is centered on allowing its animals to live healthy lives and to reproduce other healthy animals to carry on doing the same. Humans are omnivores—both meat and plant eaters. By eating meats, fish and chicken that are healthy, our dollars invested help these types of practices to grow.

How do you get enough protein (if you are vegan or vegetarian)

If you are going to stick to a vegetarian or vegan diet, that’s awesome! You still need protein—for most adults, that means at least 20-30 grams of protein at each meal. How to get it in? Here are some ideas of some secondary sources of protein to incorporate into your diet:

Vegetarian & Vegan Protein Sources

    • Plain, full-fat organic, grass-fed yogurt
    • Plain, full-fat organic cottage cheese
    • Pre-soaked beans
    • Chickpeas
    • Nutritional Yeast
    • Lentils
    • Quinoa
    • Spirulina
    • Raw nuts and seeds (pre-soaked) and raw nut-butter
    • [Almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazlenuts, hemp seeds, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pecans, chia seeds, pistachios, pine nuts]
    • Miso
    • Bone broth
    • Collagen
    • Gelatin
    • Low-processed tofu and tempeh
    • Quality protein powder (no artificial sweeteners)
    • [Egg, hemp, pea, rice, whey protein (I like Exos Vegetarian Protein by Thorne Research)]

Summary

  • Vegan and Vegetarian-based diets are popular
  • Vegetarians (most) do not eat meat, chicken or fish
  • Vegans are vegetarian, plus do not consume eggs, dairy or use products or supplements made with animal proteins
  • Meat does not cause cancer, heart disease or death. Processed foods (and meats), sugar, hydrogenated fats and additives do
  • Humans can survive if they restrict a nutrient from their diet, but to thrive our bodies lie balance
  • Aim to get protein with each meal (even vegan and vegetarian sources)

“Vegan” Parmesan Cheese

Ingredients

Directions:

Mix all of the ingredients in a food processor or small blender and process until a crumble-like texture is created.

Sprinkle on top of salads, kale chips, steamed broccoli, spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, meat.

Store in a jar or sealed container in your fridge (lasts about a month).

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One thought on “Meat is Bad for You, but is Vegan Perfect?

  1. I really appreciate this article so much. As a former anorexic, my relationship with food has been an ever-evolving one. There were times, like you, that I avoided fat at all costs. Then, no carbs for several years. In the end, and what I’m finding to be true, is that BALANCE is absolutely necessary for my diet and well being. What’s more, with balance, I stop making villains out of certain food groups. Instead, I’m continually learning how to find the right balance among them all. Thanks for this awesome article.

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