It is true that I no longer follow a vegetarian diet. It wasn’t right for me. But that is not what this post is about. In the past few years I’ve learned how I could have done the vegetarian diet better. I want to share some of those ideas with vegetarians and at the end of the post vegans.
Vegetarians are 100% right when they reject factory farm meat. The reasons are numerous. However, rejecting a class of unhealthy foods doesn’t automatically make a diet healthy. Here are the steps I would take to improve the nutritional quality of the typical vegetarian diet. Note that I am not endorsing a vegetarian diet, nor am I condemning it.
- Avoid Soy – Soy is not healthy. This highly processed “food” makes billions for big agriculture, but can play hell on your health. It is unfortunate that soy is peddled as the healthy anti-meat alternative. It is criminal that soy is feed to infants and children. The only safe soy is the occasional fermented soy, such as natto or miso soup.
- Cook With Coconut Oil, Palm Oil and Butter – Throw out your corn oil, soybean, canola and other vegetable oils. Industrial seed oils are highly inflammatory. Olive oil is good for salads, but due to its low smoke point is not ideal for cooking.
- Avoid Gluten – Grains are similar to animals in that they don’t want to eaten. They want to survive and pass on their genes too. Gluten is their defense and it is found in most grains. Many humans have trouble digesting it. I encourage everyone to do a 30 Day gluten free test. For more information read Why Grains Are Unhealthy.
- Coconut Milk and Avocados – Your new staples. Highly caloric and full of healthy fats. Saturated fats are not the demons they have been made out to be. They are essential for good health. Read Dr Enig’s article Proven Health Benefits of Saturated Fats for more information.
- No Fructose Without Fiber – Apples are fine. Apple juice isn’t. Only in a society as wasteful as ours would one throw out the fruit to get to a tiny amount of juice.
- Soak Nuts and Seeds – Nuts and seeds have enzyme inhibitors. Soaking them disables the inhibitors and will increase nutrient absorption.
- Soak and Sprout (most) Beans – Beans are a vegetarian staple, but very few go as far as sprouting. Sprouting tricks the living bean to lower its defenses, so we can fully utilize its nutrients. The book Nourishing Traditions covers this topic very well. Warning: kidney and soy beans are toxic when sprouted.
- Embrace Fat – Too many vegetarians eat continually and have extreme sugar cravings. Get off that cycle by reducing your carbs and increasing your fat. Cook with more fat. Eat eggs cooked in butter. Add olive oil to your salads. Soaked nuts. Put pastured butter on your cooked veggies. And of course coconut milk and avocados.
And now for the vegans.
- Rethink Pastured Eggs – I understand that 99.999% of all the eggs are coming from these mega farms that exploit the animals. They are caged, placed under extreme levels of lighting and are fed no grass or insects. However there are hens that are allowed open farm access that eat their natural diet. The eggs cost more, but they are highly nutritious and the animals are not exploited. Meaning that without a rooster to fertilize the egg, it is going to drop anyway. Might as well eat it. I know labels are important and diet can be our identity, but I ask you to just consider the possibility of adding pastured eggs to your diet.
- Embrace The Sun – For 20 minutes in the middle of each day, get outside and soak up some Vitamin D. No sunscreen. If 20 minutes is too much, do 2 sessions of 10 minutes to avoid burning. Vitamin D plays an amazing role in the body. I highly recommend the post Vitamin D by Dr. Kurt Harris. Of course this doesn’t work in the winter months, especially the further north you are. Which leads us to…
- Consider Moving or Winter Vacations – The further one is from the Equator, the less natural a vegetarian diet becomes. Closer to the Equator plants grow year round without having to deal with winter. The sun rains down Vitamin D year round. As cultures move further away from their Equator, their diet increases in animal sources. Animal fat has all the vitamins of plants (except Vitamin C**). If being a vegan and living in harmony with the local environment is important, then choosing to be where plant growth is supported year round might be a consideration. Or you could head to vegan friendly areas like Thailand for your winter vacation. 🙂
- Vitamin K2 – The evidence is pouring in that Vitamin K2 is essential to good health and preventing cancers. Vitamin K1, which is abundant in green leafy vegetables is not the same thing and the body can only convert a small amount to K2. To stay vegan and get this nutrient, eat fermented foods such as natto or kimchi. I make my own kimchi, which is super easy to do. Fermented foods promote good gut flora and are very nutrient dense.
Photo by Danny O.
Note that all these tips are not restricted to vegetarians or vegans. Provided the person doesn’t have a specific food allergy, they should work for anyone. Did I miss anything?
** DECEMBER 2011 UPDATE: Correction, organ meat such as liver does contain Vitamin C. However, cooking it destroys most of it. Some people (me) will occasionally eat small pieces of raw beef liver (after being frozen for 14+ days).
For a much better article on this topic, please read For Vegans by Denise Minger. She is way smarter than me and brings up a few issues I was unaware of.
Another excellent article with ideas on overcoming health problems on a vegan diet is Why Vegan Diets Fail by Matt Stone.