Why going meatless isn’t always a good idea

What happens when you exclude all meat and animal products from your diet?

For starters, that makes you a vegan… like a popular social media influencer who built a huge following on Instagram and YouTube and came to a starling health realization…

Alyssa Parker stopped eating meat quite a few years ago and then eventually excluded all animal products including dairy — making her a practicing vegan.

But she began experiencing some health issues that led her to do something that may have ended her social media career, or at the least upset her devoted followers: She began eating meat again.

And she reports that she’s never felt better.

I’m not surprised in the least, and here’s why…

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What can happen when you don’t eat meat

When people give up meat, specifically vegetarians and vegans, one thing they tend to do is fill that void with grains and beans. If you have a vegan friend you’ve probably heard them talk about combining beans and rice (or another grain) to make a complete protein. That way they try to combat the protein loss that results from eating less meat.

Here’s the problem: Grains and legumes (most beans) are phytates. Phytates are considered anti-nutrients, meaning they are basically the opposite of nutrients — the substances that promote health.

Phytates and other anti-nutrients increase inflammation in the body (the root cause of disease) and lead to fatigue (chronic fatigue, often), brain fog, and myriad other random and difficult-to-pin-down symptoms.

These foods are excluded from the paleo diet. This is exactly why the paleo diet (which includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds) is so helpful for suppressing inflammation and increasing the power of your immune system. And I believe it just may be the perfect anti-disease diet.

Dr. Terry Wahls was a self-professed vegetarian when she was diagnosed with MS in 2000. Her health deteriorated quickly, and she found herself wheelchair-bound. In 2002 she discovered the paleo diet, eventually creating her own diet protocol. Last I checked, she was riding a bicycle to work.

She credits her dramatic turn-around from a debilitating autoimmune disease — remember, MS is one — to an anti-disease diet, which includes meat and excludes phytonutrients, for providing her body with the correct building blocks required for the chemistry of life: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fats.

What can happen when you eat too much meat

Just a couple of years back a review of 800 scientific studies published by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund found that every 1.8 ounces of processed meat you eat per day raises your risk of stomach cancer by 18 percent.

And another study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that eating more meat leads to a shorter lifespan. Here’s the thing, the association between premature death and meat consumption was especially connected to eating a lot of processed and red meat.

But, let’s not forget when in 2019 The Annals of Medicine published new guidelines saying, in a nutshell, there’s no need to cut back on red and processed meat.

Confused? Don’t be…

Other studies (such as the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factor Study, published in The Lancet in 2020) that have warned against the “dangers” of meat are also coming into question… 

Dr Alice Stanton, of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, one of the authors reviewing the anti-meat claims, notes:

“The peer-reviewed evidence published reaffirms that [the 2019 Global Burden of Disease Risk Factors Report] which claimed that consumption of even tiny amounts of red meat harms health is fatally scientifically flawed… In fact, removing fresh meat and dairy from diets would harm human health. Women, children, the elderly and low income would be particularly negatively impacted.”

My colleague, Jenny Smiechowski put it perfectly recently:

“The fact of the matter is, you should always take nutritional advice with a grain of (unprocessed sea) salt. We don’t have concrete answers about how every aspect of your diet affects you. That’s why you hear so much conflicting advice. All you can do is look at the research that is available and, most importantly, go with your gut… What foods make you feel good? What eating habits give you energy? What habits make your skin and hair look good? All these are signs that you’re doing something right.”

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Consider the “Goldilocks Factor”

We’ve all heard the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. You probably never dreamed you’d give it much thought as an adult, right?

But in so many aspects of life, finding just the right amount of anything — that sweet spot, whether it’s sleep, exercise, social or downtime, or the amount of meat you eat — is key to making things work.

I’ve read and researched extensively on nutrition, and the best advice I see over and over again is to eat a balanced diet.

Right now, you might be asking, “Well, Margaret, then why do you follow a paleo diet?”

The idea that paleo is all the meats and nothing but the meats is a dangerous misconception. It’s also the biggest mistake that paleo newbies make.

Vegetables and fruits are part of the paleo diet. Most grains are not. For me that works, because I have a serious gluten intolerance.

But someone who doesn’t have a gluten intolerance might not want to give that up. Eating whole grains raises the levels of 5-amino valeric acid betaine, or 5-AVAB, which is shown to be heart-protective. 5-AVAB builds up in your heart tissue which delivers a protective effect for your heart.

That brings me back to what Jenny said above. Your diet needs to make you feel good. That means there will be some level of personalization in the way you create a balanced diet that works for you.

I find I feel best when I eat a lean cut of meat a couple of times a week. Another day, I’ll enjoy salmon. But every day I enjoy lots of plant-based foods and avoid processed foods (including processed meat) — a key point, no matter what diet you follow.

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Sources:

  1. Vegan influencer eats meat for 30 days, tells fans she’s healthier than she’s ‘felt in years’ — New York Post
  2. Why women, especially, need this anti-disease diet — Easy Health Options®
  3. How to beat meat’s bad rap — Easy Health Options®
  4. Grains’ newly discovered heart-protective compound works like a drug — Easy Health Options®
  5. Meat is crucial for human health, scientists warn — MSN
Margaret Cantwell

By Margaret Cantwell

Margaret Cantwell began her paleo diet in 2010 in an effort to lose weight. Since then, the diet has been instrumental in helping her overcome a number of other health problems. Thanks to the benefits she has enjoyed from her paleo diet and lifestyle, she dedicates her time as managing editor of Easy Health Digest™, researching and writing about a broad range of health and wellness topics, including diet, exercise, nutrition and supplementation, so that readers can also be empowered to experience their best health possible.

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