Why I will Never Choose a Vegan Diet
It seems that the internet is in a frenzy with diets and healthy eating tips left and right, the most popular at the moment seems to be ‘plant-based’ eating. This is just another way of saying vegan, a trending diet that relies solely on plant products and unprocessed foods, completely eliminating fish, meat and animal byproducts such as butter and eggs.
As someone who has never dieted in my 23 years, I find diets hard to comprehend since I feel that they create a lot of stress in relationship to food and nutrition. Calorie counting, meal prepping, macro management, supplementation, restricting and limiting your food intake are all stressful on your eating habits, and change your relationship with food from something that is nourishing to your body to something that must be managed and controlled.
I personally believe in intuitive eating, which allows you to heal your relationship with food from that of control and management and guilt, to one of satisfaction, enjoyment, and healthier eating habits. I believe in intuitive eating because our bodies are telling us they are hungry for a reason, we cannot punish ourselves for experiencing hunger or wanting to eat - we simply cannot survive without nutrition.
Intuitive eating principles:
reject the concept of diets and food guilt
eat when you are hungry, not when you are starving
allow yourself to eat real food and enjoy it
listen to your body
eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed
let go of emotional eating: stress eating, anxiety eating, depressed eating
respect your body: exercise to feel good, not to punish yourself
I believe that having a healthy relationship with food is the most important aspect of living a healthy, active, and happy lifestyle. I think most of us can agree, no matter what eating regimen we follow that the foundation of a healthy, balanced diet includes these important factors:
• Eat and enjoy an abundance of freshly prepared, organic and seasonal vegetables
• Minimize our intake of processed foods, processed sugars and packaged foods and instead cook meals from scratch
• Eat mindfully and without guilt
• Source as much local, organic and seasonal foods as possible and support small local farmers
As someone who is not vegetarian or vegan, and I will explain why in a moment, I always follow these principles. When I lived in France, I went to the local farmers market and purchased my cheese, meats, fresh fruits and veggies from small farmers who grew organically. I ate seasonal foods that were readily available, and I ate as the french did (yes, baguettes, cheese and wine were staples, and I loved every minute of it!). When I lived in Canada, I went to a small grocery store that supplied local produce, and purchased my meats and dairy from small organic markets. Again, I ate seasonally and focused on local foods that were readily available (maple syrup, wild blueberries, sweet potatoes, lamb, cold water trout). No matter where you live or what environment you live in, these principles really are the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.
In choosing continue to eat animal products and practice intuitive eating, I in no way have any ill-will towards those who choose a plant based or vegetarian lifestyle for their own personal reasons. This post is in no way intending to criticize others who have chosen this eating regimen, it is simply very personal to me and my relationship with food, and I felt compelled to share. Many people continue to spread ideas that eating animal products is dangerous, and in some ways it is. But just like eating mass produced GMO vegetables differs from buying from the local farmers market, so does the meat and dairy industry and I think it's important that this issue be highlighted.
Looking at history, cultures did not survive solely on plant foods. Cultures in colder environments could never have survived without fish, meat and animal products. No traditional culture ever subsisted on a vegan diet (according to Dr. Price). Plant based diets in these times simply do not provide fat-soluble vitamins A and D, however many people today believe they do. For example, carotene found in carrots is not the same as Vitamin A - it is the precursor to Vitamin A, but our bodies cannot absorb it without the presence of fat. Vitamin D-3, derived from fish oils and eggs simply cannot be found in a plant-based diet. Some people do believe that vitamin D can be absorbed from mushrooms, but mushrooms contain vitamin D-2, which our bodies cannot absorb and does very little for us health-wise.
Personally, I believe vegan diets are lacking in important nutrients for our optimal health, and you can see that right away, some key vitamins are simply not available from plants by themselves. This is my largest reason for not ever choosing to go vegan. Further, I know of quite a few people who are now ‘recovering vegans’ and are slowly healing themselves by reincorporating healthy animal products such as bone broth and collagen. Again, this is a personal choice and in no way a criticism.
So, with that said, here are my top reasons why I choose not to follow a ‘plant based’ or vegetarian diet:
#1) I do not believe in eating soy
I have a lot of issues with soy. The biggest concern I have with eating soy products in any way shape or form is its phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens basically mimic the estrogen hormone in our body, offsetting our optimal hormone balance. Furthermore, about 90% of soy produced in the U.S. is genetically modified. To add to the problem, the soy crops are heavily sprayed with the herbicide Roundup, which has been associated with many different health issues.
To add to this GMO, roundup-sprayed and estrogen-mimicking problem food, the fatty acids found in soybeans are primarily Omega-6 polyunsaturated fat. Omega-6’s are associated with many health issues such as inflammation, and most Americans consume far too many Omega-6s on a daily basis.
#2) I believe in ethical farming practices
The way that crops and meat alike are commercially produced today is terrifying, to say the very least. Our delicate ecosystem relies on a balance of predators and prey which is naturally self-regulating as nature intended. As humans, we are predators, and hunting is something we have been doing for a very long time. Until we started mass-producing foods and began performing inhumane farming practices, this system was self-regulating and kept our ecosystem functioning as it should. Today, the inhumane practices taking place are destroying the health of our planet. Most plant-based advocates diss on the meat industry - and understandably so. But simply because I consume meat and animal byproducts does not suggest that I support the inhumane practices taking place today by any means. Vegan diets, on the other hand, tend to demand an enormous quantity of cereal grains and soy, crops that are often farmed in mass quantities using pesticides and mass-production, equally wreaking havoc on our ecosystem due to these mass-farming techniques.
The same way that many vegans choose to eat local, organic, fresh seasonal produce and boycott the mass-farming industry if they choose; equally, I choose to support local farms and butchers ethically raising animals, and never buy mass-produced meats or dairy. I only buy local.
#3) I do not understand ‘fake’ animal products
Dairy, cheese and meat ‘fakes’ are filled with non-foods including stabilizers, gums, thickeners and highly processed protein extracts… gross?
So many vegan ‘alternatives’ are highly processed and contain a plethora of ingredients that are not naturally occurring, whole foods. Vegan butter, for example, is full of vegetable oils such as canola, soy, sunflower and pea protein, whereas standard butter consists simply of churned cream and enzymes.
Nut milks aren't as thrilling and delicious as they claim to be. I have never understood the craze, and never will. I personally find that all nut milks taste bland, with the exception of cashew milk. Further, many ingredients found in popular nut milks that give them their ‘milky’ texture are pretty disheartening:
Carageenan: a seaweed-based additive, this ingredient is extremely inflammatory. The World Health Organization classifies carrageenan as a “possible human carcinogen”. Yay!
Natural flavors: “Natural flavors” can include forms of MSG and artificial sweeteners. No, thanks.
Oil in your milk? Most nut or seed milks contain canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower seed oil, and/or soybean oil which are all terrible for your body and your health. Vegetable oils are extracted with toxic solvents as well as high heat and pressure. Further, they are mixed with agents that rancidify the delicate chemical structure of the fatty acids, so you are basically ingesting rancid oils. Ew.
Nutrients: real, raw whole milk provides adequate saturated fats to help the body utilize the calcium and fat-soluble vitamins in the milk. Non-dairy milks offer no natural fats or nutrients that allow you to assimilate vitamins, so they are practically nutritionally useless.
What milk alternatives are a better option?
Coconut milk or homemade nut milk! 1-2 times per week is fine for canned coconut milk, or you can make homemade coconut milk or nut milk by soaking the coconut flakes or nuts for 24 hours and then tossing in a food processor. If you make it yourself by soaking the nuts or the coconut flakes, you will not have all the nasty ingredients and preservatives. But, that is not to say that these milks replace the nutrients found in organic, pastured, raw cow’s or goat’s milk. Many studies over the years have shown that raw milk “benefits and supports children’s growth and development in other ways too, including increasing immunity against infections, boosting dental health and supporting skeletal growth”. Additionally, raw milk is one of the highest sources of minerals and electrolytes, which most adults are lacking in their diet (Dr. Axe).
#4) I pay close attention to gut health
By now there’s enough research to establish that all disease begins in the gut, and all disease must be addressed by improving gut health. Many people suffer from autoimmune diseases whereby the intestines are permeable to toxins and undigested proteins (leaky gut). To heal leaky gut, we must heal our gut lining to repair the damage and help our body be impervious to absorbing these unnecessary toxins. It has been proven time and time again that animal products such as collagen and bone broth are an essential part of healing leaky gut to address autoimmune issues.
#5) Animal products are actual superfoods
It’s true that if you look back at history, we ate a significantly large portion of animal products to survive. In France, animal products are still a huge staple in the diet, and they are one of the healthiest countries. Organ meats, butter, eggs, red meat, full-fat dairy and cheese are all eaten regularly and considered a healthy part of a balanced diet.
Omg what you eat real butter?! Yes, I eat tons of butter with #noregrets. Fun fact, friends: butter does not make you fat!
As a matter of fact, the healthy fat content naturally present in butter plays a key role in satiation, meaning that the healthy fat fills you up faster and makes you feel satisfied, while eating less. The fatty acids in butter stimulate the release of bile from your liver which allows absorption of vitamins and minerals, but also helps flush out and eliminate toxins from the body. Also interesting is the fact that the fats in butter slow down the absorption of sugar into your blood stream. When we eat carbohydrates, they should be combined with a source of healthy fats such as real butter to improve blood sugar stability so that we feel full and satisfied after a meal and do not experience sugar cravings.
Butter also contains the somewhat rare vitamin K2, an important fat-soluble vitamin. Butter also is a great source of vitamins A, D, and E. The reason it is such a health food is because butter provides the necessary fats for your body to be able to absorb the vitamins, as vitamins are fat soluble. Basically, butter offers vitamins to your body in their most assimilable form. Furthermore, butter has the highest concentration of conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid that has been shown to prevent breast cancer. (Source)
There’s a reason that butter tastes so good and our body craves the fat! We actually need these fats to absorb key ingredients such as vitamins and minerals as well as regulate our blood sugars. Butter is a superfood, and if you're running away from it, stop! You are missing out. My idea of a Sunday dinner is a grass-fed steak, medium-rare, slathered in butter. (You bring the wine?)
b) Grass-fed beef
The way that cattle are raised and beef is eaten across the world is an atrocity that is not only disgusting, but harmful to our planet. As a conscious consumer and a health minded person, I am horrified and dismayed at the animal mistreatment and mass-production of beef, chicken and pork. I do not ever buy or eat this kind of meat.
However, eating meat does not equate to harming the planet, destroying the ecosystem and being a downright evil person. You just have to eat the right kinds of meat, and eat it in moderation. Interestingly, new information suggests that holistic livestock practices can not only prevent further ecological damage, but can repair the damage caused by unsound mass farming and cattle raising methods. Since grass is what cows naturally eat, and when they eliminate the plant matter waste, they stomp it back into the ground, thus returning nutrients to the earth and giving the soil new life.
This kind of farming is now being called ‘regenerative farming’, and it has the potential to undo the damage industrial, unethical farming has done to our environment. This style of holistic farming is based on the belief that animal welfare is supremely important, and that nature and our planet has provided everything needed to cultivate healthy, pure food. Regenerative farming harnesses the power of cows, sheep, bison, and goats to ferment plants through special microbial action in their digestive tract, thereby turning their manure into incredibly valuable fertilizer to feed the soils. This holistic farming actually improves the soil, thus promoting thriving ecosystems, pulling carbon from the atmosphere and minimizing the loss of carbon stored in the soil.
Ever since humanity first encountered the cow, grass-fed beef has nourished humanity. Choosing grass-fed, local and holistically raised dairy and meat over industrialized beef means that you are using your money as a vote to repair and protect the wellbeing of our ecosystem through ethical, holistic farming.
Don’t panic. The myth that animal fats increase the risk of heart disease is just that: a myth. Our great-great-grandparents consumed lard and butter and experienced extremely low rates of heart disease, and surprise! - they didn’t experience obesity. Lard is part of a healthy diet and will not give you heart attack.
• An analysis of more than 300,000 people published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that there is no evidence that saturated fat consumption raises the risk of heart disease
• The “diseases of modern civilization” including heart disease and diabetes skyrocketed when animal fats were replaced with factory fats including hydrogenated vegetable oils and vegetable margarine
Interestingly, one tablespoon of lard contains 1,000 IU’s of vitamin D. Also of importance, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin so it requires fatty acids – including saturated fatty acids – to be absorbed and utilized in the human body. Lard provides the perfect package of vitamin D along with the fatty acids to be assimilated and used by your body - of course, your lard must have come from a pastured animal. What’s more, buying local animal products that are raised in local pastures keeps your carbon footprint low, and supports your local economy.
Ghee is one of my all time favorite foods and is probably my favorite cooking oil. This amazing heat resistant butter-fat holds up well in high temperatures and is excellent for people that are lactose intolerant (raw milk also contains enzymes that break down the lactose). Ghee contains vitamin E which is an antioxidant that works to repair damaged skin, balance hormones, improve vision and help to balance out cholesterol levels. As stated before, fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin D + E are absorbed with fat and are essential to maintaining a healthy metabolism.
#6) Nutrient Loss
A plant-based diet can act like a long-term detox, which is why it gives quick results and immediate weight-loss. However, there are vital nutrients which, in my research, cannot be found in a plant-based diet and need to be readily supplemented. Calcium is one of the biggest concerns: calcium bioavailability from plants is affected by certain inhibitors of calcium absorption which decreases the amount of calcium the body can absorb (source). So yes, while it is true that many leafy greens like spinach and kale have a ‘high’ calcium content, it doesn’t mean that this calcium is being efficiently absorbed by the body. One study suggests that it would take 16 servings of spinach to get the same amount of absorbable calcium as an 8 ounce glass of raw, pastured cow’s milk. That would be 33 cups of baby spinach or around 5-6 cups of cooked spinach per day. Yuck?
#7) Eating animal fat helps maintain a healthy weight
Whenever we eat carbohydrates it should be accompanied by a high quality source of fat, such as fatty fish, butter, ghee, or lard. Why? Because healthy fats slow down the absorption of glucose into our bloodstream, thus preventing sugar rushes and crashes. Fat makes us feel full because it digests so slowly, providing long-burning energy. Obviously, it makes our food taste delicious as well, so we end a meal thoroughly satisfied. This keeps us full longer, helps us eat less at meal times which is important to maintaining a healthy weight, or losing unwanted weight.
Also of interest is the fact that protein cannot be properly utilized by the body without fats. That’s why protein and fats occur together naturally in eggs, milk, fish and meat. A high protein diet without being paired with a fat can cause many problems and depletion of vitamin A and D.
By eating plenty of saturated fats from clean animal sources, we provide our body with the necessary ‘building blocks’ for sex hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. To balance out and maintain healthy hormone levels we need to have plenty of good fat in our diets. As a general rule of thumb, we should eat no less than 40% of our daily calories as fat, although many people can benefit from as much as 60% of daily calories from fat.
Although trending diets and dramatic documentaries such as ‘What the Health’ have caused a lot of controversy, I personally believe that newfangled ideas of how we should eat should be approached with caution. Looking backwards, the low-fat high carb trend that was all the rage in the 80s hasn't proven to be good advice. Low-fat diets are messing with women’s hormones, and high-carb intake has caused a spike in consumption of overly processed foods. Sugar addiction is at an all time high, and is making people sick. Eating healthy is made out to be complicated, and dietary recommendations are always fluctuating, but I personally believe that by being consistent with your body and eating intuitively you can heal your relationship with food. Keeping your footprint small by buying organic and local as much as possible is the recipe for a healthy relationship with your diet as well as our ecosystem.
Quick note to end on: I have no intention of starting a debate, sparking controversy or offending anyone who believes in eating a plant-based diet. Since I am often asked why I am such a health minded person who still eats meat and dairy, I thought I would address the topic with my best answers and explanations, this post is in no way targeted at anyone in particular.
With love always,