Is A Vegetarian Diet Healthy?
Is a vegetarian diet healthy? First! A note to the vegetarians and vegans who come across this post: Before you start yelling at me or sending me nasty emails, please believe me when I say that I totally understand where you’re at.
I toyed with vegetarianism off and on throughout my teens and twenties, and then became, and remained, a vegetarian for over a decade in my thirties and forties. I also ate a strictly vegan diet for over two years during that time.
I’ve read the literature, the ‘science’ and the studies about the benefits of alkaline, plant based diets. I’ve read about the environmental issues. I’ve cried over the inhumane farming practices that are so common today, and I know intimately, the pro-vegetarian arguments.
I grew up with my Dad, just recently turned eighty, a committed vegetarian of over 40 years. I can still hear him explaining to me while doing the dishes, how much easier it is to clean a pot that veggies have been cooked in compared to a pot in which meat has been cooked. The inference of course, being that vegetables are a ‘cleaner’ food than meat. I guess the fact that I remember that conversation, means that it had an impact on my thoughts and beliefs about food…
So I understand completely WHY people opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet.
And I still think about the animals that are slaughtered for the meat that I eat every day. It’s something that I continue to struggle with.
But I choose to eat meat.
The switch back to an omnivorous diet
I started eating meat again about eight years ago. It was (seriously) like changing religion and it certainly wasn’t a decision I took lightly.
I, like many vegetarians and vegans, took pride in my resolve not to eat other sentient beings and I even considered at one point, having a t-shirt made to declare that I didn’t ‘eat anything that had a face’. (Somebody stole my idea!)
But I’d been craving meat for probably a couple of years.
I was in denial.
I was battling a growing list of health problems, both physical and mental, including the constant anxiety that although it had been a life long problem for me, was getting much worse. Many healthy issues including thyroid, adrenal and hormonal problems were increasing and no matter what I tried, nothing worked.
So after reading more about eating for your blood type (I’m an O+) I made the tough decision. I started eating meat again and almost immediately, although I didn’t want to, I could feel the difference.
Is a vegetarian diet healthy? Why your vegetarian diet might be unhealthy – for you
Copper! Or to be more specific, copper overload.
Too much copper and not enough zinc is the reason why your vegetarian or vegan diet may be gradually causing you health problems. (Note that copper overload is more common for women than men due to estrogen, the use of oral contraceptives, copper IUD’s and naturally higher copper levels).
Zinc and copper balance each other out in the body. Not enough of one, means too much of the other. Both are essential nutrients, but copper is only required in small amounts. Zinc in much higher amounts.
The potential problem with vegetarian and vegan diets is that they tend to be naturally high in copper and low in zinc.
Now for some people, the low zinc and higher copper found in a vegetarian diet might not be a problem.
If you’ve got good genes and everything functions as it should in your body, you might be fine. If you’re this lucky AND male, then perhaps you might thrive for a lifetime on a vegetarian diet.
But for others, particularly those like myself with Pyrrole disorder, a vegetarian diet could be compared to a ticking time bomb.
Due to the deficiency of zinc and B6 caused by Pyrrole Disorder (Pyroluria), there is naturally going to be a tendency toward high copper levels. Add to that a diet high in beans, nuts and seeds and you have a recipe for disaster.
I know this from personal experience.
And it’s not only those with Pyrrole disorder that need to be aware of this issue. Many people are apparently overloaded with copper these days due to copper water pipes, copper sprays used on produce as fungicides, overuse of supplements containing copper along with other types of exposures.
The problem is, that when you’re unaware, this whole copper thing kind of creeps up on you. It gradually causes a few symptoms here and a few symptoms there that you might put down to stress, lifestyle or aging. Then one day you find yourself in a situation where you’re falling to bits and nothing you try works. Not only do you have bizarre, debilitating physical symptoms, but mental ones as well.
Life becomes difficult and the word ‘Hypochondriac’ springs to mind….
And that would be funny – except it’s not.
Sources of zinc and copper
The best sources of zinc are animal products. There is no denying that. Red meat and eggs for example, contain good amounts of zinc with almost no copper.
Of course, some plant foods contain reasonable amounts of zinc as well, BUT plant sources tend to also have high levels of copper (some are very high). Plus, many commonly eaten plant foods (example Kale, beans, nuts) contain high levels of copper, with little or no zinc to balance it.
The tool over at Healthalicious.com makes it easy to compare nutrients in different foods.
Zinc can be taken in supplemental form.
Symptoms of copper overload
There are many potential symptoms of copper overload, however the most common ones to watch for are:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Hormonal problems
- Thyroid disease
- Connective tissue disorders
- Skin disorders
There are potentially many other symptoms and health conditions that could be caused or exacerbated by too much copper in the body (see Dr Terry Wahl’s story about how she cured her MS). Having one or two of these conditions doesn’t mean that you have a problem with copper, but be aware that it is a possibility – particularly if you are, or have been, eating vegetarian or vegan diet.
P.S. I’m currently reading The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. It’s an interesting read so far and has varied and interesting reviews. Stay posted. I might get around to doing a review of this book once I’ve finished it. 🙂