As many of you know by now, I work with a lot of people with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and hashimoto’s thyroiditis. As such, the Paleo diet is near and dear to my heart. I find that most autoimmune patients have food sensitivities to gluten, soy, corn, dairy, and eggs. Additionally, most autoimmune-ers tend to react poorly to many grains and have a hard time digesting them. Paleo suits these folks well.
But what about the normal folks out there who are looking to adopt a healthy diet? Is going vegan the way to go? I personally don’t think it’s necessary to go 100% vegan to reap the benefits this diet touts. For that matter, many vegans become deficient in one or more vitamin or mineral and should be screened by a functional medicine doctor regularly.
While books like The China Study claim that any animal protein is bad for you, it appears that this stance is largely not backed by scientific data… even the data from The China Study itself [1, 2]! I do not believe that animal products are the nutritional evil that many make them out to be. However, I don’t advocate eating a lot of animal products for the following reasons.
1. Dairy and eggs are two of the most common food intolerances I see in my clinic. Vegans, unlike vegetarians, do not eat these two foods and many most likely feel better because they are unknowingly treating their undiagnosed food intolerances!
2. The more animal products you eat, the less of an appetite you have for what should occupy the most space on your plate- vegetables.
3. The quality of most animal products in the USA is horrible. Antibiotics, unsanitary conditions, and poor quality feed (usually corn and soy) are among the reasons you should try to not eat conventionally raised meats. If/when you choose to eat meat, try to find a local farmer who allows the animals to go outside and eat a healthy (and natural) diet. Sadly, even organic, grass fed and cage-free in the grocery store does NOT mean it is good quality.
4. Meats and animal products take a LOT of water, gasoline, and feed to produce. The process of growing the grains for feed, cutting them, transporting the feed, feeding and giving water to the animals, transporting the animals to slaughter, running the machinery to slaughter them, processing and cooling the meat, transporting the meat to packing facilities, and finally trucking it to your local grocer puts a huge strain on the environment.
5. I will admit, the way we treat our food animals really depresses me and makes me want to eat less of them. Ultimately, we have to look out for number one first and make choices based on our own health. However, if you can save a few fuzzy animals in the process, that may not be such a bad thing.
I’m not saying you have to go vegan. Not at all, actually. I think there are some things we can all learn from vegans, though. Eating less processed foods is healthy for about a million reasons- that box of mac n cheese isn’t just unhealthy because it contains dairy. Eating less meat means you have to (hopefully) eat a lot more fresh veggies- something we could all benefit from. Caring about where your food comes from doesn’t mean you have to go buy Birkenstocks- it’s good to think about where everything in your life comes from, meat or not. Ever think of the chemicals in your lotions and water bottles, or the weird ingredients in your supplements?
If you ARE a vegan or are considering becoming a vegan, I recommend that you get evaluated by a functional medicine doctor and make sure this is the right diet for you. I also recommend reading this article and following the author’s supplement advice to avoid common vitamin and mineral deficiencies seen in vegans.
In an ideal scenario, I think it is best to limit your animal product intake to 1-2 meals per day and seek out local, small farm sources for those foods. If everyone did this we would surely make great improvements in the global warming situation and feel a little bit better in the process.
If you or somebody you know is interested in working with a functional medicine doctor please call my office at (919) 238-4094 and see if we are the right fit for you. Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham “triangle” area.