DISCLAIMER RIGHT OFF THE BAT: If you are a vegan for philosophical beliefs on compassionate grounds, please don’t read the rest of this post. The purpose of this post is to discuss the health implications of following a vegan diet only, not the ideologies.
So, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Russell Simmons and whomever else in the public eye have been promoting vegan diets for a while now, it is clearly very on trend nowadays to be anti-animal products. Various celebrities have accredited their weight loss, better health, graceful ageing and glowing skin to following a strict vegan diet. Can’t go wrong, right?
WELL…Let’s consider this.
A lot people who choose to become vegan for health purposes usually do so because they feel their current diet is making them unwell, or fat. Usually, indigestion and bowel related issues are the most frequently brought up complaints. For good reason. Animal products take longer to digest and assimilate by the body than plant based foods. They’re high in protein and sometimes fat, which takes more energy and effort for your body to work through. If not chewed or digested properly, these types of food can sit in the gut for quite a long time. And if you already have some undiagnosed gut imbalances like SIBO, dysbiosis and leaky gut, well…it might even take longer than that, because these conditions can impair your body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients anyway.
Additionally, the vast majority of commercial animal products are SHIT. They aren’t sustainably sourced. Your bog standard supermarket grade animal products aren’t ethically sourced, they’re the best bang for your buck. Big in appearance, for the cheapest price.
They’re pumped with antibiotics to keep them bloated, rendering the farm more profit per animal (ever notice how your non-organic meat just reduces dramatically in size once you’ve cooked all that water out of it??).
They’ve most probably been fed with fatty, genetically modified crap you don’t want anywhere near your body, let alone inside it.
They also don’t really get to be exposed or have access to the outdoors (non-free range), and probably don’t move very much (non-pasture raised).
And for the cherry on top, supermarkets MUST preserve these animal products in order to display this meat on their shelves for a longer period of time. This stops any visible fungal or bacterial growth on the meat, whether on the shelf in the supermarket or in your fridge.
Once upon a time, animals weren’t raised like this. They ate grass, insects and healthy grains. You know, thing with nutrients. They weren’t filled with antibiotic cocktails (by the way, this is one of the contributing factors as to why there are so many cases of antibiotic resistance to some very nasty diseases out there – our pathogens are already oh so comfortable and acquainted with many antibiotic strains now). They were allowed to roam on a farm, or at least have sunlight exposure for a decent portion of the day.
Traditional butchers didn’t add chemical preservatives to their meats either. They used natural methods such as salts, rosemary extract, etc. The meat came in fresh, and whatever meat didn’t stay fresh, wouldn’t look or smell it.
Good butchers STILL follow this to this day. The only exceptions are PROCESSED MEATS such as sausages, burgers, cured cuts of meat etc. Remember all those bullshit ‘facts’ brought up in that horribly unfactual Netflix documentary, which rhymes with ‘What the Stealth’?
‘Eating meat gives you high blood sugar and diabetes’
‘Eating eggs/animal products is as bad as smoking cigarettes’
And other fantastical, irresponsible facts based on….fuck knows. Well, what they’re actually purposely neglecting to add, is that it isn’t animal products which are the culprits, but rather PROCESSED ANIMAL products..you know, like hot dogs, jerky, canned/corned beef (ew), sausages, commercially made burgers.
Eating sustainably sourced animal produce is actually way more beneficial to the average person, than NOT eating it. Good quality animal products are extremely rich in MANY nutrients, and are much better absorbed by us than some of those offered in plant foods. Take iron as an example. Heme iron foods (iron rich foods derived from animals) is 95% significantly more absorbable than iron rich plant foods, because the heme protein it is attached to can facilitate more efficient absorption to our blood. Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins, zinc, omega 3 fatty acid and vitamin A are other nutrients which are better absorbed from sustainable animal products. These nutrients are ESSENTIAL for cognition, nervous system function, metabolis, hair/nail/skin health, heart health and more.
As far as eating for optimal health, a predominantly plant based diet with modest portions of animal products on a regular, but not daily basis is best for most populations’ health. It is not sustainable, nor may it be affordable to eat animal products at every meal, let alone every day.
There IS a benefit to having some meat free meals, such as allowing your digestive system to have a break from the relatively heavier-duty work required to break down animal products.
So, if you are thinking of going vegan for better health or weight loss purposes, I invite you to try this intervention first instead:
-Reduce the frequency you eat animal products. Have a day or 2 of vegan style meals!
-Buy organic, sustainably sourced products.
-Focus more on meat/poultry/eggs/seafood and limit dairy. Particularly if you have an autoimmune condition, or are prone to food sensitivities and intolerances, because now we’re dealing with other problems like lactose, casein and fat malabsorption.
-Buy your products from a butcher, ask them about the animal’s feed and whether they use preservatives.
-Freeze your meats as soon as possible if you don’t wish to eat them in the next 1-2 days.
-Marinade your meats, and slow cook them to retain the nutrients and to take some of the digestive burdens away from your gut (slow cooked meat is easier to digest and more nutritious, read more here and try it yourself by using this recipe here).
-CHEW YOUR FOOD WELL! Remember, meat is tougher than vegetables, so you absolutely need to chew it very well, and eat slowly, in order to avoid indigestion symptoms usually associated with eating meat.
-Don’t eat a large portion of meat, a palm sized portion is sufficient for your nutritional needs.
-Eat lots of vitamin C rich foods alongside your meat, such as cruciferous vegetables, peppers, tomatoes and parsley. These foods will help you digest and assimilate the iron, as well as other minerals from the meat. They can also help breakdown the fat, which is usually present in some degree in most animal meat products.
-If you feel that meat just ‘sits’ in your gut, try drinking a 50ml cup of warm mineral water mixed with 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar about 20 minutes before your meal. It can help get your digestive juices flowing in advance, and help you break down the meat more easily.
-Avoid eating stodgy accompaniments with the meat, like a large amount of carbohydrates or deep fried foods. Aim for a small portion of carbohydrates, and lots of vegetables. This can help avoid the bloat you feel after eating a meaty meal.
-Avoid eating processed meats as much as possible. They do not contain nutrients, are usually poorly sourced and contain carcinogens (the same stuff found in cigarettes).
-If you follow all these strategies and STILL don’t do well with animal products, you may legitimately have an undiagnosed health issue and should immediately report to your GP. Individuals with gout and other kidney related diseases can become unwell from eating certain types of animal products, and can benefit from following an entirely different dietary approach.
I know this was a long one, but I believe it is necessary to make properly informed decisions before you cut out an entire food group. Remember, we ARE designed with all the mechanisms and accessories required to eat and metabolise animal products. We need them to survive optimally.I hope this was helpful, and do drop a comment on what interventions help you when it comes to eating meat.
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