Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is A Vegetarian Diet Really Healthy? Three Vegetarian Diet Myths Exposed

Closely tied to the cholesterol and saturated fat scare comes the notion that vegetarianism, or the strict avoidance of meat products, leads to improved health and vitality. Pick up any so-called health and fitness magazine or medical journal and you’ll find quite a few articles promoting the benefits of decreasing your meat consumption and increasing your consumption of grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes. Where vegetables are tied to health, vitality and energy, meat products are tied to heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer and ultimately, death.

While I don’t believe that one-size fits all when it comes to nutrition (as many of us have varying macronutrient needs), I strongly believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet is one of the unhealthiest diets one can follow. Here are just a few vegetarian myths that most people wrongly believe to be true.

Myth #1: Vegetarian diets are healthier than diets that include animal proteins

Fact: Vegetarian diets cause nutrient depletion

Because there are a number of vital nutrients that you can only get from eating meat, vegetarians are often deficient in nutrients that are critical for overall health and vitality, including:

B12: Vegetarians who do not take B12 supplements often develop anemia and digestive disorders. Additionally, because B12 is also responsible for maintaining nerve health (including the optic nerve), a severe B12 deficiency can lead to blindness.

Omega 3: An essential fatty acid that is found primarily in animal products, Omega-3 promotes a strong immune system, protects from chronic disease (such as heart disease and cancer), lowers overall body inflammation and even triggers weight loss. Without supplementation, most vegetarians will develop an imbalance of Omega-6 to Omega-3, causing an increased risk of disease.

Vitamin A: Also known as the anti-infective vitamin, Vitamin A is found only in animal fats (such as butter and cod liver oil) and organ meats. Vitamin A is hugely important for the repair of bodily tissue (especially the skin), maintenance of the thyroid gland and maintenance of healthy vision.

Myth #2: Vegetarianism promotes mental acuity and increased energy

Fact: Vegetarianism is linked to depression and fatigue

High quality, grass-fed, organic red meat contains various amino acids that are essential for brain health, such as cysteine, carnitine and taurine. Over time, people who refrain from eating meat become deficient in these vital amino acids, and report experiencing depression, weight gain and chronic fatigue syndrome. Additionally, because these amino acids are so important for cognitive function, recent studies prove that a deficiency leads to decreased attention span, learning capacity and memory.

Myth #3: Vegetarianism improves athletic ability

Fact: Vegetarianism decreases lean muscle mass and does not generate adequate energy for athletic competitions

This one is pretty simple. You need to eat complete proteins in order to help your body create lean muscle mass. Complete proteins are found almost exclusively in animal products, such as eggs, red meat, chicken, etc. Because a vegetarian diet consists largely of carbohydrates, grains and sugars, those on a vegetarian diet have a much harder time creating muscle than those on an organic, balanced diet.

There’s also been a lot of hype lately regarding the benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet for athletes. Many of these athletes report feeling less lethargic and more energetic upon eliminating the meat from their diets. However, if you read closely, the proteins these athletes often refer to is actually protein powder--most likely a cheap, synthetic, highly processed, hard-to-digest form of protein. Anyone would feel better upon giving that up! You also have to wonder about the quality of the animal proteins these athletes eliminated. There’s a huge difference between eating the protein from sick, antibiotic-fed animals, and eating the protein from certified humane, high-quality, organic sources.

In addition, a recent study proved that when athletes carb-loaded for events (which would be the only option for a vegan or vegetarian) they reported having significantly less energy than athletes who fat loaded. Why? Because for most, proteins and fats are a much better source of energy than carbohydrates (which are metabolized simply as sugar).

There is no question that organic vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. But I urge you all to make your own educated decisions when it comes to eliminating animal protein from your diet. For more information, check out Mary Enig’s research, which can be found with a simple google search, or do a search on for his clinical vegetarian and vegan findings.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Should you really cut salt out of your diet?

Like saturated fats, salt has earned a bad reputation in the medical industry, leaving many people eliminating salt from their diet in an attempt to lower their blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, most people fail to realize that there are two very distinct forms of salt: refined, white table salt, a stripped or nutritionally lacking form of salt, and unrefined sea salt, a naturally-occurring, nutrient-rich form of salt. Most people also fail to realize that most of the documentation on salt and its negative effects on heart health is based on research conducted on table salt, and not on salt in its organic form.

Why table salt is so bad:

Because our bodies are designed to eat until we are nutritionally satisfied, when we eat a food that is stripped, such as table salt, we will continue to eat and eat until our bodies believe that we’ve obtained adequate nutrition. For this reason, foods that are loaded with table salt, such as potato chips, cause people to eat and eat without ever truly feeling full. Surely you’ve heard the Pringles tagline “Once you pop you can’t stop”…well, Proctor and Gamble did their research when they developed that one. Food companies have known for years that adding table salt to their products causes people to consume more of that particular product (which provides quite a nice increase in sales).

In addition, table salt contains additives such as heavy metals (such as aluminum, a metal that is often linked with diseases ranging from alzheimers to various forms of cancer) and even dextrose, a form of sugar. Many of these additives are thought to be associated with mineral mal-absorption, bloating, joint pain and over time, kidney and heart disease.

Why sea salt is so good:

As opposed to stripped, processed table salt, sea salt contains over 40 trace minerals that are essential for optimal health, aiding in many of the regulatory functions of the body. Additionally, sea salt is a natural antihistamine, helps prevent muscle cramps, removes excess acid from cells (specifically brain cells), balances blood sugar levels, helps the GI absorb nutrition from food particles, clears excess mucus and phlegm from the lungs and increases bone strength.

So yes, you should remove salt from your diet...but it should only be the table salt. For optimal health and vitality, add some organic sea salt to your food (and a pinch to your water). I highly recommend the Celtic or Himalayan brands of sea salt. Generally, sea salts from France or New Zealand are also very high quality.