Veggies are increasingly commonplace in society now, and statistics claim that almost 7% of the population of Europe, traditionally a meat eating culture, has turned vegetarian. So, why have they decided to do this? And what if any, are the health implications?
We are going to show four sides of this debate, giving the vegetarian and meat eating doctors a say, the sports nutritionists a say, as well as an ex pro sportsman meat eater, turned vegetarian, turned meat eater again. Of course Athleat, a meat supplying company, will give some timely opinions from time to time when meat eating is getting a hard time...See below!
Why is protein necessary for the hard training athlete as well as the "Average Joe?"
Many highly thought of nutritionists, doctors and strength and conditioners will confirm that input of whole food protein is the key for individuals who are putting their bodies under physical stress. This protein intake is paramount to recovery and the improvements in athletic ability that all athletes are seeking.
Protein makes up the second greatest portion of our body weight. Your muscles are essentially made of protein, so it's important to eat an sufficient amount in our daily diets to gain the positive effects. There are many positives, here are just two...Positive effect #1 - In the short term a high protein diet makes it easier to maintain a desirable weight/body fat level. Excess intake of protein cannot be stored as fat, and overkill with protein will only mean your kidneys getting a bit of a workout. Positive effect #2 - If you keep your muscles strong and healthy by eating a high protein diet AND following an appropriate training regime, you will benefit from a lower risk of atrophy. Not only will atrophy lower your metabolic rate and make you look "skinny fat", atrophy of your "core" muscles can also lead to a variety of skeletal problems (including the eponymous "bad back") and therefore following a program that will halt this process is advantageous and will lead to a better posture as we get older.
But alongside all this protein consumption there has to be a “protective” influence in your diet in the form of good fruits and veggies. These fruits and veggies are going to provide your body with a high nutrient input into your diet to supplement the animal protein intake. There are of course protein sources outside of the animal kingdom, but are they as effective? Can you get all your protein sources without good quality meat?
Essentially some vegetarians exposing the detrimental health effects of eating meat (not the moral/religious issues!) assume that meat eaters are ONLY eating meat and nothing else. But eating meat alongside high proportions of veggies is clearly the way to go don't you think? But with vegetarianism that is the exact opposite, meaning that you are ONLY eating plant based food, without any dietary influence from animals at all depending on the regime the vegetarian is following. People have said in the past that the best diet in the world is a vegetarian one, if you add good quality meat to it... Is this abstinence from animal protein the correct way an omnivore should be eating? Or is it going to be detrimental to our health?
Veggies abstain from meat for a number of reasons. We have explored these typecasts in a very unscientific way, with no market research at all...as per usual...These typecasts are as follows;
The Diet Veggie:
...otherwise known as the episodic vegetarian. They will cut out meat for a few weeks and then proudly declare to anyone who will listen, “I’m a vegetarian now” with conviction and steely nerve. As soon as they declare this, you know in a matter of weeks they will be stuffing their face with any number of dead animals you care to mention. Disregard anything they say about vegetarianism and its virtues.
The Health Conscious Veggie:
This one is the type of person who is always instilling the virtues of Avocado as the best source of protein. They eat nuts, seeds and generally look anaemic and work at a health food store, probably wearing hemp clothing...
The Ambivalent Veggie:
Having been a veggie for so long, the ambivalent veggie worries that they won’t be able to digest any meat products anymore due to the lack of key stomach enzymes, and alongside this they fear getting ill, and this worries them inexorably. They have lost that craving for meat (which everyone has in the inner recesses of ancestry, after all we are naturally omnivores) which makes it easy, apart from the fact that they eat fish...fish are animals aren’t they? Where do you draw the line on what you can eat and what you can’t?
The Moral Veggie:
The worst kind of vegetarian, frequently self-righteous and condescending because they are in it to be as moral as humanly possible, which makes them a better person than you. Next time you are having a meal with a veggie and you order steak, look into their eyes... at that point you will know if you are being judged by a moral veggie!
The Moral People-Pleasing Veggie:
This type of veggie goes out of their way to pretend it’s not a morality issue so as to not upset the blood raw, steak munching caveman they are having dinner with and make them feel bad. They will often say, “No, its fine, it really doesn’t bother me at all” whilst secretly resenting them and backstabbing them with their sweet potatoes...
The American Veggie:
In America, the vegetarian way of life is more loosely interpreted. They even sometimes eat bacon! If you tell someone in America that you are a veggie you may get the response “yeah great, but you eat chicken right?” It seems that it is a non sacred meat, as it’s the default meat for everyone, and therefore not considered as an animal...To echo this fact, one reason is that because chickens lay eggs, which makes them more akin to fish they are not an applicable food that the American veggie has to avoid. Many also think that because chicken can be reasonably tasteless compared to other good meat, it doesn’t count, so who cares?
Now the Science bit:
Now we get back to the “science” after a the societal influences on humans. We have below tried to detail opinions of various professionals and non professionals with a strong opinion on this particular debate. We will start with the Sports Nutritionist. Nutritionists have an extraordinary good knowledge of the specifics involved in diet, and how to influence athletic ability for your chosen sport as well as altering body composition by monitoring micro and macro nutrients. So if you want good advice see an appropriately trained nutritionist, or even better, one that specialises in sport.
The Sports Nutritionist:
Ben Coomber of Bodytype Nutrition is a young and progressive sports nutritionist who recommends the metabolic typing diet, a system that looks at your individual needs more closely, to ensure that your needs are met in a very specific way. He offers a nutrition system that is a complete approach to building the body that you want. He provides all the support and information you will ever need through his members area and the system itself, including articles, expert advice from our nutritionists, workout plans, goal trackers, members forum and much more.
“I will start by saying that I do not disagree with many people’s reasons for being vegetarian, but I do disagree with people that are vegetarian for the “health benefits” when they are not what I would describe as a “good vegetarian”.
There are many trends I see in the quality of health with a vegetarian, which I shall outline below.
Firstly what do I describe as a “bad” vegetarian:
Someone that is vegetarian because they believe it is healthier, so avoid animal products and sources high in fat. Instead they make no conscious effort to become highly educated on the short comings of a vegetarian diet in terms of protein, fat and essential nutrition from alternative food sources, yet think eating a bit of soy protein and other replacement protein sources is sufficient.
And a “good” vegetarian:
A good vegetarian will go to many lengths to educate themselves on how to get sufficient protein, a variety of beneficial fats, enough B vitamins (especially B12), iron, some saturated fats, and eat foods that are as nutrient dense as possible seeing as animal protein, when from a good source, is one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat.
Now what are the medical/physiological problems I routinely see in vegetarians?
1. Pale skin and dark eyes
2. Poor skin elasticity, shown as a loose feel to the skin
3. Often overweight in the abdomen, back and hip areas
4. They have poor mental energy levels after several years being a vegetarian
5. Women will enter into menopause early.
6. Men find it hard to maintain a healthy level of muscle mass while still holding onto a gut.
7. They have poor immune systems after a few years as a vegetarian.
8. Poor energy regulation and endurance under exercise stress.
9. An overall lack of physical strength.
10. Onset wheat and gluten intolerance due to long term over exposure/consumption.
Now don’t start going mad and throwing the vegan handbook at me, the above is very common (in my experience as a nutritionist) in people that are “bad” vegetarians, but often good ones too, just not to the same capacity or extent.
Now as a whole, if I was to look at the perfect human diet, do I think being a vegetarian or a vegan is THE optimal way to eat, NO. Does it mean that it cannot be close to ideal, no, but it takes a lot of research, knowledge and trial and error over time to make 100% sure that you are covering all your nutritional bases in terms of essential nutrition. In essence, don’t be a “bad” vegetarian.
One key problem I observe with vegetarians is in the early days. When we are younger our diet is likely to slip a lot more. Look around at the diet of anyone below 25, or a student for example. This diet is often far poorer compared to an older individual due to cooking and life skills, and the constant social environment and contact with more poor food choices. We all ate in places like McDonald’s more when we were younger and knew no better!
When you are younger you abuse your diet far more, and in the case of the vegetarian this is always far worse. Poor vegetarian choices will always severely lack protein, and is often high in starchy carbohydrate and trans-fats, chips being of prime example. Back in my university days I know many vegetarians that would often gorge on chips when out at a restaurant, as they didn’t feel like much else and it seemed like an easy choice, especially as there are always less menu options for a vegetarian or vegan.
Implementing this state of mind over a period of time and you have a recipe for poor health, poor food creeps in more and more, especially as a meal high in starchy carbohydrates and trans or saturated fat is a recipe to get fat super quick. Eat a vegetarian meal at an Italian restaurant and this is exactly what I mean.
As a “good” vegetarian you should always be focusing on where your source of protein and quality fat is coming from. Many vegetarians will eat ample vegetables and fruit, so this should not be the focus, you should always be looking at the deficiencies your diet has as a result of not including animal and fish sources in your diet.
Don’t be a “bad” vegetarian, educate yourself.
*This was taken from a blog post by Ben Coomber under strict authority...
Now, we move onto the professionals at the coalface of society, the people who deal with the general public’s aches, pains and general health worries. The G.P will have heard the debate on vegetarianism a thousand times over, and will have seen many veggies and meat eaters alike, but what is their personal preference? To Eat Meat or Not To Eat Meat?
The Veggie GP:
Dr David Ryne has been a vegetarian for 20 years, as well as a vegan – and therefore is someone who eschews all animal products, including clothing and shampoo – and has done for the past 15 years. His opinion on vegetarianism is:
“When I became a vegetarian I kept a low profile because I felt people might think it was eccentric for a doctor. But then I kept discovering other veggies and I noticed they were all “slim”.... I began recommending utilising a vegetarian and vegan diet to my overweight patients and got startlingly good results.
I started looking into the biochemistry of it all. If you take a blood sample from someone who's had a “standard” meal, the serum is foggy with fat particles and the red blood cells stick together in clumps. In a vegan, the serum is translucent and red cells remain separate, which means the blood can take up more oxygen and diffuse it to the tissues better.
Vegans and vegetarians also have much lower cholesterol levels. You need much more stomach acid to digest animal protein rather than plant protein - carnivorous animals produce ten times what we do - which has implications for acid dyspepsia.
Patients with chronic indigestion have seen it clear up within a week or two of changing their diet. One woman with gall bladder problems found her pain disappeared completely after she switched. It's also been effective for patients with late onset diabetes.
People say 'Where do you get your calcium from if you don't drink milk? Where do you get your protein from if you don't eat meat?' Well where does the cow get her calcium from, or the bull? They get it from vegetation. All the big powerful animals with massive bones - the horse, the elephant, the gorilla and the rhino - are plant eaters.
They also worry about iron, but too much iron means the reserves can act as free radicals which damage the cells.
I am convinced our digestive system from the shape and movement of our jaws to the length of our bowels - is designed for plant eaters.
Your diet doesn't make you immortal. Vegetarians and vegans still have to die, and they die of the same things as everyone else. But the incidence of the disease is usually much less.”
The Meat Eating GP:
Dr Paul Stillman, 52, has been a GP for more than 20 years, during which time he has seen many patients switch to vegetarian diets. He and his family, however, still eat meat. He says:
“Our bodies are designed to eat meat, and meat is an integral part of our diet. We evolved essentially as hunter gatherers therefore we need high nutrient food for energy and stamina. We have a short digestive throughput - we don't need to keep food in our bodies for a long time because we can extract a high proportion of nutrients from what we eat.
Animals designed to be vegetarians have a different system: think of the cow with all its stomachs geared to deal with cellulose. The cow may thrive on grass (*editor– as all Cows should do...), but it spends all its time eating and regurgitating. We don't.
Meat is an important source of protein, iron, omega 3 fatty acids, minerals and other trace elements. Red meat is not only one of the best ways of getting iron to be easily absorbed, it also increases the absorption of iron from vegetables and cereals when eaten at the same time. Lack of iron causes anaemia, which means a patient is pale, tired, lacks stamina and finds it hard to concentrate or think clearly. It can also cause growth retardation and problems in pregnancy.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be another problem if you don't have meat in your diet and can lead to neuropathy, or disease of the nerves, with weakness, loss of sensation, pins and needles and the inability to perform fine movements.
There can also be a lack of other things like zinc, which promotes wound healing and fights infection. You can get zinc from vegetables but the best source is still good quality meat.
Of course it's possible to survive without animal products but meat has an important part to play in a balanced diet. The recent attitude that red meat especially is inherently bad for you, and that you'll get cancer and heart disease and high cholesterol, worries me because it's just not true.
A lot of animal fats can bad for us, but it's perfectly possible to eat good fats and stay healthy, in fact good fats are essential to a good diet, and the low fat “fad” is quite simply wrong!”
BACK FROM THE VEG: The Ex Professional Athletes View:
Donnie Macfadyen was a Professional Rugby Union Player for 10 years, initially with London Scottish in London whilst studying at Brunel University, then with the Glasgow Warriors in Scotland, quickly becoming a crowd favourite and also one of the teams longest serving members amassing well over 100 games for the club in all competitions including the Celtic/Magners League and the Heineken Cup. He also played for Scotland on numerous occasions during his career and narrowly missed out on being selected for the British and Irish Lions on their tour to New Zealand in 2005. He was also a prolific physical presence both on the field and off it becoming known throughout the rugby playing world as a man whose fitness levels were unsurpassed. Point in case lies not with an impressive VO2 max test result (anyone can excel at that with training) but with a weighted chin 1RM of 70kg! Impressive I am sure you will agree! He looked after his diet scrupulously, and was always on the cutting edge when it came nutrition, pioneering methods such as the Paleo Diet, the Dukan Diet, Intermittent Fasting and others before they became "mainstream". Obviously, these particular methods and general nutritional needs of a high performing athlete require protein...lots of it. So good quality meat products were a mainstay in Donnie's diet for many years. So it was a big decision for him to make to become a vegetarian and at times a vegan. Below Donnie describes candidly his mindset during this change, and the reason that his has very recently come:
"Back From The Veg..."
June 2009 – I am at the wedding of a school friend. At the meal (a hog roast), I am sitting beside a young lady who works for the RSPCA. She is also a vegetarian and unfortunately for me she is one of those worthy, preachy vegetarians you sometimes come across. She is appalled by the hog roast and as I sit cheerfully chewing on some crackling she gives me the full run down on the evils of eating meat. She challenges me on my meat eating and my response is that to be honest with you I try not to think about it too much because if I did I think I would get quite upset. I wake up the next morning with a crippling hangover and a nasty dose of paranoia. I also have no bank card and sick on my kilt. It was one of those weddings…
Fast forward a couple of months Michael Palin interviews the Dalai Lama on the program Himalaya, and I am reading everything I can get my hands on about the Dalai Lama. A huge amount of what he says about life makes a lot of sense to me. I have always considered myself a pacifist. Something which I think held me back a bit when I was a pro rugby player…
Whilst reading his autobiography “Freedom from Exile” I read a passage where he talks about his horror at seeing a lamb slaughtered for the kitchen in his palace. He describes seeing the fear in the animal’s eyes and just how upset that experience made him. For me, as a big animal lover reading that was like a switch being turned on in my brain. For the first time I was thinking about how the meat got onto my plate and picturing the animals just as they where about to die and it upset me.
I don’t do things by halves, so I decided from that moment I would be a vegetarian.
Initially it wasn’t too bad. My wife is a vegetarian so I got stuck into making butter bean stir fry’s, sweet potato curry’s and lentil dahl.
What I did find odd was people reaction to me telling them I was a vegetarian. Wanting to avoid coming across like my friend from the wedding I would keep it to myself. But when people did find out they invariably wanted to know why. “Don’t you miss bacon” was a favourite line of reasoning. It frustrated me that the best I could come up with was one word – compassion.
There are some very good arguments out there for being a vegetarian and I think what actually upsets me the most is the factory farming that goes on. You see awful pictures and hear terrible stories about the way these animals are treated. But there is another way. Choosing meat that has been responsibly reared and slaughtered makes me feel a bit better now that I have started eating meat again.
Yes, I caved eventually and started eating meat about a month ago. I was a vegetarian and for a wee while even a vegan for almost thirteen months. Another thing that frustrated me about the veggie/vegan lifestyle was when you start looking into it there are animal products in so many day to day items. To cut them out completely becomes quite a challenge. I looked into buying vegan non leather belts and shoes, shampoo's and conditioners are often made using animal fats so they needed to be replaced, a trip to the cinema was never the same because all the pick and mix sweeties have Gelatin in them which is made from cow's hooves! And the list went on and on... So it was becoming increasingly frustrating trying to live my life free from any animal products. I am glad that I did it but I am afraid that I missed that feeling of fullness, that satiety, you get from eating meat. I also found that eating a purely vegetarian diet I found it very difficult to stay lean, and to get the necessary amount of protein in my diet, I found it difficult coming up with alternatives to meat. There are only so many eggs you can eat.
My first "Back From The Veg" experience was one of Athleat's grass fed Sirloin Steaks. I have to say after thirteen long months it was an almost religious experience… I was high on steak!
So I am back eating meat, but whilst previously I wouldn’t have given a second thought about where my meat was coming from, now whenever I sit down to eat one of those steak I say a wee quiet thank you to the cow.
P.s. Even the Dalai Lama couldn’t stick to a vegetarian diet. He was a vegetarian for two years but ended up with jaundice and hepatitis. His doctors recommended that he start eating meat again. He now eats meat every second day, to maintain his health, whilst keeping to his beliefs.
...to sum it all up:
Firstly we would like to thank our contributors for there say in this debate....Now its our turn again.
I think that moderation is the key word in this debate. Following an extreme diet (including vegetarianism) is only ever going to cause issues. Whether that issue be a problem with diet adherence, attaining your goals, health problems or emotional issues (diet and emotion seem to go hand in hand). Dietary moderation means getting all the nutrients that your body requires to function. You require an appropriate amount of protein, carbohydrate, fat, water and vitamins/minerals to function properly. And any diet that tells you to ignore these bodily needs for an extended period of time is ill informed. Which leads us nicely onto the next point....
Vegetarians can sometimes be quite resolute in their opinions. Reading an article from a vegetarian would lead you to believe that all meat eaters are murdering psychopaths who walk into fields killing cows indiscriminately. The reality is obviously different. So you need to have good sources of information to make your food choices the right ones. Now that information is so easily obtained online, it is easy to pick up bad information, and by following this bad information you are probably going to be making huge mistakes. Stop reading the hundreds of bad blog posts out there and find yourself a good source of non-biased information from a qualified professional and stick to it. The longer you read these posts the longer you will procrastinate and delay the task in hand...improving your diet. Good information in our opinion means that the vast majority of your diet needs to come from very natural sources, trying to avoid overly processed food, and that supplements should supplement your diet when appropriate...not the other way round.
Dedication is the final word... People want their body to look good naked, and diet is the easiest way to achieve this, but they are not prepared for the dedication required to get there. Of course there are very few people who can keep this dedication going, hence the reason that there are more people out of shape than in, but if you follow the simple rule that eat "well" 80% of the time, you can allow yourself to lapse 20% of the time. But be aware this percentage applies 24/7! You can't adjust the figures to suit yourself!
So in summation, eat great quality food that is the best you can possibly afford, and reap the benefits that come with it... That especially includes your meat protein sources, the most important of the lot!