Today’s article might offend some people. And before we get into it, I want to say that’s not my intention.
I understand many people choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for moral and environmental reasons. I don’t want to “yuck on your yum,” which is a fancy way of saying hate on something close to your heart.
But the hype around vegetarianism and veganism hits close to my heart. And I want to explain my experience with vegetarianism, my friends’ and family’s experience with it, and why it’s not as healthy as it seems.
Before we dive into the reasons why these diet choices are unhealthy, let me explain my side of the story.
How Vegetarianism Made Me Sick—All The Time
In my late teens, I decided to go vegetarian. This was before the even stricter diet of veganism became popular. And I practiced a vegetarian lifestyle into my early 30s.
Here’s why I bring it up:
I’m not like most people who bash on vegetarians or vegans because it’s trendy. I know what it’s like to avoid meat for years — and I know how it sabotaged my health.
Like most vegetarians and vegans, I decided to give up meat for environmental and moral reasons. I love the earth, love all the animals I meet, and I thought it was unusually cruel how we treat the animals we go on to eat.
That’s when I decided to go vegetarian, which, as I stated, lasted until my early 30s.
Here’s my biggest beef (pun intended, ha!) with the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle:
I got sick all the time. I would catch a cold or a flu an absurd number of times throughout a given year. I’m talking like 4-6 times in one year!
And you know what?
Each time I got a cold or flu, it would last for 2 weeks or more — much longer than it lasts for others.
My acne also blossomed out of control over my face and caused serious confidence problems. No matter what skincare remedy I tried, every time one pimple would go away, two (or more) would fill its place.
I wasn’t as health conscious in my teens and 20s as I am today. In my book, mac n cheese and pop tarts were vegetarian. And I ate copious amounts of both. I never read food labels either.
In a weird way, going vegetarian was an excuse to eat junk food. And, unfortunately, I see this happen with many vegetarians and vegans today too. (This also applies to other diets like paleo and keto, which as they become more popular, more junk foods claiming they’re paleo or keto pop out of the woodwork.)
Well, everything changed when I got pregnant…
Shortly after getting pregnant, I decided I wanted to have a natural childbirth. (Which isn’t as scary or painful as you think and is far cheaper than going to the hospital.)
But there was one problem:
I didn’t eat nearly enough protein because I was a vegetarian and I’m sure I had other nutrient deficiencies, too. And, again, this applies to most vegetarians and vegans today (even though there are way more healthy protein options today than when I was a vegetarian).
After deciding on a natural childbirth, I started going to Bradley Method classes. In those classes, I learned I needed at least 100g of protein a day. And I hit the proverbial fork in the road:
There was no way I could eat 100g of protein a day without adding some animal meat back into my diet. By this time, I started eating more fish, but I still came nowhere close to 100g of protein a day.
So, I started eating chicken. I still avoided red meat for a few reasons:
- After being without meat for so long, red meat made me sick. Not good, since I was already touchy with food.
- Red meat is harder to digest. In fact, it can take up to three days to completely digest.
- I still thought eating meat—especially red meat—was bad for the environment. (I don’t think this way anymore, and I’ll explain why eating meat isn’t as bad for the environment as you might think soon.)
A couple years after my second pregnancy, I started Nourishing World with my husband. And this is when I stumbled on the amazing Weston A. Price Foundation, which finally taught me what it really means to be healthy.
I added grass-fed beef back into my diet and switched to cage free for my poultry. Aside from all the nutritional benefits of grass-fed beef, it also made meal planning a breeze because I could be more diverse. My family’s complaints about “chicken again?!” vanished overnight, too.
And you know what?
I’m light years healthier now than I was as a vegetarian. I rarely get sick anymore (knock on wood) — which was quite the welcome guest after getting sick 4 to 6 times a year.
That said, I attribute my transformation from always sick to almost never sick to a complete lifestyle change — including eating a clean paleo/keto diet loaded with healthy supplements. In my opinion, I’d rather pay the farm than the pharmacy.
But, I’m not the only one in my family who was lured in by vegetarianism…
Why Vegetarianism Hits Close To My Heart
Looks like the inclination to try a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle might be genetic…
My 15 year old niece went vegetarian last year and it breaks my heart. I see how poorly she eats. She’s allergic to most nuts and doesn’t like eggs either. And like her aunt (when I was around her age), she doesn’t get nearly enough protein, which is, by far, the most important macronutrient.
Vegetarianism tried to enter my home again too — through my 16 year old daughter.
She was a huge meat eater from a young age, but a few months ago, she told me she wanted to try a vegetarian diet. Like her mom, she wanted to help the environment as much as possible. And while I applaud (and am proud of) her enthusiasm for the environment… I refused to let her go vegetarian (I think she secretly didn’t want me to let her).
But my daughter has cut out red meat completely as a compromise for me not letting her go full vegetarian.
My sister also had a wicked experience with vegetarianism.
I reached out to her for a quote, and here’s what she said:
“I have more energy throughout the day and more stable blood sugar levels, no more feeling light-headed and dizzy.”
Why Vegetarianism Isn’t As Healthy As You Think
1. Creates nutrient deficiencies
Vegetarian and vegan diets create nutrient deficiencies in your body. And each different deficiency causes a whole host of varying health problems — making it difficult to pinpoint the cause of why you aren’t feeling as good as you should be.
In particular, the nutrient deficiencies which most affect vegetarians and vegans include:
- Vitamin B12
- Essential fatty acids (long chain) EPA and DHA (essential for brain health)
- Proteins, essential for neurotransmitters (brain function) and healthy tissues
- Fat soluble vitamins A and D, very important for brain and hormonal health
(For more about all the nutrient deficiencies and problems they cause, check out this article.)
It’s important to realize that humans are omnivores. We were designed to eat both meat and veggies. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, not just gatherers, for a reason.
Plus, there’s the whole problem of declining nutrients in food in general, which happens because of modern agricultural processes.
Take an apple for example.
Apples today have:
- 96% less iron
- 48% less calcium
- 84% less phosphorus
- 82% less magnesium
…than apples had 80 years ago!
And this problem applies to ALL foods.
2. Makes you get sick more often
As I explained above with my own anecdote.
But there’s also a vicious downward cycle of poor health several vegetarians and vegans go through.
Here’s how it works, according to nutritionist Nonie De Long:
“Typically the problems start with a lack of appetite, energy, and strength, and escalate over time to chronic fatigue, dental problems, muscle wasting, premature aging, digestive issues, skin conditions, and very often a mental-health issue: anxiety, panic, mood swings, depression, or eating disorders (which are actually a very complex mental-health issue).”
Which leads me into my final reason…
3. Disrupts relationship with food
Extreme dieting can cause unintended side effects. Like ruining your relationship with food and even causing eating disorders. In fact, there’s a special kind of eating disorder called “orthorexia,” which is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy.
Long-term loyalty to any diet without taking a break from it can cause orthorexia. This includes vegan diets as much as it includes carnivore diets and everything in between.
On the other hand…
Many vegetarian-, vegan-, and even keto-friendly foods prioritize marketing over nutrition.
Here’s what I mean:
It’s easy to slap a label on your food and call it vegetarian or vegan. But that doesn’t instantly mean it’s healthy. Which is to say, it’s too easy to become a “junk food vegetarian” like I was.
But Pop-Tarts, mac-n-cheese, and other junk foods claiming they are vegan or vegetarian aren’t healthy and exacerbate many of the problems we’ve already discussed.
Why Vegetarianism Isn’t As Good For the Environment As You Think
A diet of responsibly-farmed meat and veggies creates the lowest carbon footprint.
Because of clear cutting and monocropping. Many industrial farms use these destructive practices when growing veggies, which is a net negative for the environment.
Clear cutting is when they wipe out all the trees in a given area at once. And monocropping is when farmers grow the same crop on the same plot of land year after year. This not only depletes the nutrients in the soil, but can also cause significant erosion.
Not to mention factory processing operations used in the big industrial cereal, processed food, and sugar crops create disastrous outcomes for our environment too.
And it’s not only bad for our environment, but it’s also bad for animals.
Growing a plantation takes more time and labor than animal farming. Meaning, you’re potentially hurting animals too.
Check out this snippet from an article called: Benefits of a vegan diet don’t outweigh its environmental impact:
“In Australia, producing wheat and other grains results in 25 times more sentient animals being killed per kilogram of useable protein, more environmental damage and animal cruelty than farming red meat. The agriculture to produce these grains requires clear-cutting native vegetation which kills thousands of Australian animals and plants since they’ve lost more than half of their native vegetation.”
And if you want to dive deeper into how eating more meat is better for the environment, check out this TED talk by Allan Savory:
An ever growing body of research suggests that nurturing grass-fed beef could help us humans reverse some of the damage done to our soils, our waterways and our atmosphere. In other words, eating conscientiously sourced red meat is better for the environment than being a vegetarian.
It’s something to consider, if nothing else.
How To Get Enough Protein (and other nutrients) If you’re a vegan or vegetarian
Despite everything I listed above, I realize you still might not be convinced to add meat back into your diet.
And I have some good news if that’s you:
As I researched this article, I realized it’s still possible to be healthy if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. But it is NOT easy. It takes much more vigilance and discipline to get certain nutrients. Personally, I have no desire to go back there. And I think I would have to eat WAY more than I do now!
But it’s possible 🙂
Also, quick side note before I forget:
Tom Brady often receives praise for his plant-based diet. But if you do any research, you realize it is not 100% plant-based. He can’t look the way he does and train the way he does without eating lean meat protein.
Many vegans and vegetarians choose the lifestyle because of their deep love for animals, rather than health reasons.
But what if I told you there was an easy way to get enough protein and nutrients without eating meat?
Well, I have some more good news…
We have supplements which can help fill in any nutrient gaps in your diet:
Vegan Supplement #1 — Perfect Plant Protein
Did you know pumpkin seeds are a protein powerhouse? That’s probably why they are the first ingredient in Perfect Plant Protein. Besides pumpkin seeds Perfect Plant Protein only contains two other ingredients: hemp seed and sacha inchi seed.
These three fantastic ingredients in Perfect Plant Protein make this a nutrient powerhouse (even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian).
It clocks in at 17g per serving — making it competitive with other animal-based protein powders.
Plus, besides all 9 amino acids and protein, it also contains a bunch of crucial minerals and trace minerals that keep our bodies functioning properly, like…
Not to mention, there are some powerful antioxidants like Vitamin E, along with omegas 3, 6, and 9.
Vegan Supplement #2 — Perfect Spirulina
Spirulina is an excellent nutritional aid to help obtain calories, protein, and vitamin B12 for supplementing the diet of vegans and vegetarians. It contains all eight essential amino acids and about 65% protein. Perfect Spirulina is naturally grown and harvested, is a good source of numerous vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and essential fatty acids, and is available in capsule or powder form.
Spirulina platensis is the food supplement form of one-celled, spiral-shaped microscopic blue-green algae containing protein, chlorophyll, vitamin B12, B complex, beta carotene, iron, iodine, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and many other nutrients. It grows naturally in freshwater, tropical springs, and salt pan environments.
Vegan Supplement #3 — Perfect Chlorella
Chlorella is another fantastic option for vegans and vegetarians. It includes:
- 16 Amino Acids, the “building blocks” of protein, including all 8 Essential Amino Acids, plus 9.15 g protein per tablespoon
- Essential Fatty Acids (healthy fats) such as Omega-3 and Omega-6, required to maintain the heart, nervous system and brain
- Minerals: Iron (35% RDA in a 3g serving), Potassium and Magnesium
- Immune Boosting Vitamins: 60% RDA of Vitamin A and 130% RDA of Vitamin C in a 3g serving
- Vitamin B12, which plays a key role in the formation of blood as well as the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, but is normally only found in animal products
- 90mg of Chlorophyll per 3g serving, which may assist with heavy-metal detox and may assist cancer patients by protecting the body from damage caused by ultraviolet radiation
And clinical studies have been conducted suggesting Chlorella may reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol as well as possess anti-tumor properties. Perfect Chlorella is available in capsule or powder forms.
Perfect Supplements also makes Aquatic Greens, which is a 50/50 blend of both Spirulina and Chlorella.
Vegan Supplement #4 — Perfect Matchinga
Perfect matchinga is another superfood combination that is both good for you and the planet.
Perfect Matchinga is a 50/50 blend of fifth generation Japanese grown organic Matcha with fair trade organic Moringa.
And it’s absolutely jam-packed with beneficial nutrients, including:
- 9x the calcium of milk
- 7x the protein of yogurt
- 6x the iron of spinach
- 48x the Vitamin B2 of kale
- 17x the antioxidants of wild blueberries
- 10x the nutritional potency of green tea
- 4x the potassium of bananas
- 3x the Vitamin A of carrots
- 50% more Vitamin C than oranges
- Excellent source of L-Theanine
- Contains 18 of 20 amino acids and all 9 essential amino acids
Vegan Supplement #5 — VeganZyme
Our last vegan supplement recommendation is VeganZyme, which helps you better digest and get more nutrients from your plant-based diet. As well as a bunch of other benefits like…
- May support healthy joint function and a healthy inflammatory response
- Indicated via reviews to have a great potential for use by food allergy patients suffering from bloat and slow digestion, especially after an accidental exposure to an allergen
- Provides systemic support for wound healing
- Assists in the removal of candida and other types of yeast and fungus in the digestive tract, potentially increasing the effectiveness of other supplements used to combat overgrowth
- May help to thin mucus in lungs and sinus passages
- Supports peristalsis (intestinal contractions) by reducing viscosity of the fibers in some plant-based food
- Increases mineral availability by breaking down phytic acid from plants, grains, and seeds
- Helps reduce harmful by-products of normal metabolic processes
And if you’d like to browse our full collection of vegan-friendly supplements, you can find all of them here.
Disclaimer: It’s always best to get your nutrient needs from whole foods instead of supplements wherever possible.
Need more information on why vegetarianism or veganism isn’t as healthy as it seems?
Check out these articles:
- Twenty-Two Reasons Not to Go Vegetarian by Sally Fallon Morell, founding president of Weston A Price Foundation
- 8 Vegan Diet Dangers (& How to Avoid Them) by Carrie Forrest, MPH in Nutrition
- Why You Should Think Twice about Removing Animal Products from Your Diet by Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac., and New York Times-bestselling author of The Paleo Cure
And if you’re absolutely convinced about a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and won’t change your mind, please check out the supplement recommendations above, so you can be as healthy as possible.