In the U.S. alone, there are close to 16 million vegetarians, with about half of those being full vegans.
While it’s been around for a while, it’s clearly becoming more and more popular to ditch meat altogether and focus on a plant-based diet.
But, is it a passing fad, the latest trend, or is a vegan diet healthy?
While it’s growing in popularity, and likely here to stay, that doesn’t mean it’s a diet you should turn to.
What Does Vegan/Vegetarian Mean?
A vegetarian diet refers to someone who strictly avoids eating all types of animal meat. There are other types of vegetarians such as vegans and pescatarians.
A vegan diet means that you’re strictly against using all animal products. This means nothing that comes from an animal, like dairy, eggs, and obviously the animal meat itself. Often, vegans avoid even using products like leather or crocodile boots (is that even a thing anymore?).
Pescatarians avoid all types of meat except for fish.
In this post, I’ll mostly be referring to people who consume little to no animal meat and foods that come from animals (dairy, eggs). If I use vegetarians/vegans somewhat interchangeably, that’s why.
The Vegan Argument
You’ve probably figured out (brilliantly, I might add) that here at ERSS we’re definitely not vegetarians, let alone vegans. Erin can’t help but order steak at restaurants and I would die if pepperoni didn’t exist for pizza.
However, in order to understand both sides, let’s first talk about why you might be swayed to cut out meat, eggs, and dairy.
Avoids Fats and Cholesterol
Over the past 50 years, the consensus has mostly been to avoid fats and cholesterol at all costs.
Supposedly, eating fat packs on the pounds and cholesterol beelines for your arteries, causing heart attacks.
Keeps Calories at a Minimum
Each gram of fat carries 9 calories, while protein and carbs pack only 4.
Veggies contain only a few grams of carbs (if any), meaning they’re a low calorie food. One of the reasons we’re told to eat so many veggies is that you can fill half your plate with broccoli, get tons of nutrients, yet only eat a couple dozen calories, at most.
It’s when you have steak with melted butter on top, or roast with gravy, that the calories come hard and fast at you.
A lunch salad based on spinach, shredded carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and maybe some olive oil makes for a low-cal, high nutrient meal.
Because veganism lends itself well to keeping caloric intake low, it’s becoming popular.
Provides All Essential Nutrition Including Complete Proteins
The argument goes that all nutrients found in meat and dairy are easily obtained elsewhere. We can find ‘em elsewhere, so why should we go through the hassle of raising and butchering animals, leading to insane amounts of calories?
Vitamin B12 is one of those nutrients not found in plant foods. Studies from 1955 showed vitamin B12 deficiency to be a rampant issue among vegans.
Now, a vegan would argue that you can easily obtain B12 in supplements. It’s produced by bacteria and sourced from bacteria cultures – making it vegan and natural.
Fruits/Veggies Are Insanely Healthy and Should Form the Basis of Your diet.
Well, I agree 100% with this one – but of course I’d add meat and dairy to that foundation of veggies. We don’t exclude any major food groups in our diet. Of course if you’re intolerant or allergic that’s a different story.
Raising and Eating Animals is Morally/Spiritually/Environmentally Wrong
Killing an animal can be hard to stomach. For example, I’m definitely not a fan of hunting (here in Utah it’s HUGE). I think deer are awesome creatures and couldn’t imagine hurting one. I’ve heard the argument that you should have to butcher an animal at least one time if you’re a meateater (Does cleaning a fish count?). If that were the case, I’d have a hard time eating meat.
Environmentally, it’s true that we grow lots of grain in order to raise cows and other animals. That land could be used to grow food for humans.
Plus, most animals are raised in inhumane conditions, adding another arrow in the quiver for animal rights activists. Cows raised in feedlots are so packed together that not only do they get sick, but they can also severely pollute the local environment with feces.
On the other hand, let’s see why cutting out meat is one of the worst health decisions you can make.
Why You Shouldn’t Go Vegan
Fat and Cholesterol are Essential Nutrients
Saturated fats provide the building blocks for cell membranes, keeping the structural integrity of our organs. For example, it’s common for vegans to have intestinal issues, including leaky bowel syndrome. Part of the issue stems from a lack of saturated fats.
Recently, the government redacted its long-standing warning against cholesterol, stating that it is no longer a “nutrient of concern.”
Not only is cholesterol not a concern, it provides a variety of helpful functions to the body, such as:
- Improves memory
- Fixes stuff in the body. It’s actually dispatched to heal tears, infections, and diseases
- Produces hormones (and hormones affect, well, everything)
- Provides cell structure, much like saturated fats do
Healthy sources of cholesterol are only found in animal products. Saturated fats are found most abundantly in animal products, but can also be found in healthy oils and avocados.
Calorie Counting is the Wrong Emphasis
We strongly believe that focusing on a calorie total for the day sets you down an unhealthy path.
While it’s true that calories are part of what makes you gain weight, it’s such a small part of the overall equation that it’s laughable.
How big are you? How much muscle do you have? How much do you exercise? What’s your gender? How’s your metabolism doing? Are your calories from carbs, fats, or protein? Are your calories from healthy sources? What do your genetics say?
These all must be taken into consideration to properly judge how much and what types of calories you need.
Check out our extensive post on why we never count calories.
Here’s the cliff-notes version:
- A Snickers bar and a salad have very different effects on your body.
- If you’re below your calories for the day, it’s easy to add food, even unhealthy food to hit your calories for the day (oooh, I only had 300 calories for lunch… I can fit in a doughnut!).
- It’s stressful, and as Emily at Butter Believer likes to point out, stressing over food can cause more harm than just eating the unhealthy food.
- When you eat whole, natural foods you fill up faster than if you eat processed foods. You’ll naturally eat less calories.
If you’ve gone vegan to avoid calorie-dense foods, keep this is mind: calories from fat are proven to keep you full longer. Especially if you’re eating artificial vegan foods with additives.
Have you noticed that you could eat Cheetos all day, but a steak with potatoes will fill you up for hours?
Quit worrying about the calories – it’s the source that matters. And as you’ll see soon, healthy meat is insanely nutritious.
The Vitamin B12 Problem
I know that vitamin B12 deficiency doesn’t have to be an issue with vegans today.
However, B12 deficiency wasn’t always so easily cured and that disproves veganism as a viable diet.
Here’s what I mean:
The vitamin B12 found in the supplements is created by bacteria and sourced by bacteria cultures. This process did not exist a few decades ago, meaning that someone trying to be a vegan in the 1920’s would’ve eventually acquired anemia and possibly died.
Even today many vegans neglect B12 and suffer from deficiency.
Also, according to Dr. Mercola, the few plant sources that vegans claim to be sources of B12 are actually B12 analogs. These block the absorption of true B12, exacerbating the problem.
Another concern with vitamin B12 comes from taking cyanocobalamin – a form of B12 that carries a cyanide molecule. I haven’t done a ton of research (I get my B12 from animal sources) but I’ve read varying reports claiming it to be perfectly safe with others claiming it to be toxic.
Remember what happened to this guy when he chewed cyanide?
The Vitamin D Problem
You might’ve heard that vitamin D comes from sunlight, but it’s actually a much trickier proposition than we’re told.
There are several factors affecting your body’s ability to absorb sunlight, such as:
- Only one type of UV radiation actually converts sunlight to vitamin D (UV-B).
- UV-B rays are only present at certain times, in certain places, and certain months of the year.
- The darker your skin, the less UV-B rays you’ll absorb.
And even in optimal conditions, it’s estimated you’ll need up to 2 hours per day of continual sunning (and Dr. Weston Price estimated we may need 10x more vitamin D than the current recommended daily allowance).
Vegans might argue that some plants contain vitamin D. This type is known as D2, and studies have shown that it’s been less efficient in the treatment of conditions related to vitamin D deficiency than the vitamin D found in meta.
The Vitamin A Problem
Vitamin A is another essential vitamin you get only from eating meat.
“But carrots, squash, cantaloupe, and other plant foods are super high in vitamin A!”
Close, but not quite.
These plant foods actually produce beta carotene – and only converts to vitamin A in the presence of fat. Unfortunately, relying on our bodies to effectively convert beta carotene to vitamin A can be a tricky proposition considering the average American isn’t all that healthy.
For example, infants or people with hypothyroidism, diabetes, and gall bladder problems don’t convert beta carotene to vitamin A very well.
Even the healthiest of us convert at a 6 to 1 ratio – meaning we need 6 units of beta carotene to produce a single unit of usable vitamin A.
Then on top of all that, our bodies don’t store carotenoids very well (like we do vitamin A). It’s much easier to become deficient in vitamin A if we’re relying on plant foods alone.
I’m not sure about you, but relying on factors we may or may not fully understand for vitamin A conversion seems strange when we have easy sources of vitamin A in animal foods.
Veganism is too extreme
We’ll always be against extreme diets – they’re not sustainable and usually have the reverse effect you’re looking for if you stick with them too long.
For example, a no-carb diet can be a great way to lose weight… for a week or two.
After that, a couple of things happen:
- Your body enters a state of perpetual stress – after all, you’ve cut off the principle energy supply.
- Your stressed out body releases cortisol.
- A major disruption in the cortisol production in your body has shown to increase weight gain.
And that’s not even mentioning that cutting out carbs is just flat-out hard. I can go no-carb for about 5-7 days, but then I usually feel either too tired or under siege from cravings and I stop (and sometimes binge).
But here’s why Americans always try extreme diets:
We try to simplify EVERYTHING. It’s a natural reaction of our brain that when we learn a new piece of information to try and cut it down to its simplest form.
For example, you read that carbs lead to weight gain.
What’s the solution? Cut out all the carbs, of course!
Or you know how we’re told to eat 2,000 calories a day? The whole point of that is to take something complicated and simplify it down for people who don’t want to take the time to learn true nutrition.
Or the BMI (Body Mass Index). It was originally developed to simply tell us if we’re fat or not. It disregards nutrition, muscle mass, bone mass, and other factors.
For example, LeBron James’s BMI is 27.4 and considered “overweight.” I wouldn’t mind having his body (working on it Erin!).
So, have you heard that calories and red meat are bad so you did the extreme thing and went vegan?
If that’s the reason, realize that you’re oversimplifying. Too many carbs isn’t healthy. A TON of meat, like the Atkins diet, isn’t great for you either. We’ve also learned from our naturopath that excess protein can cause tumors.
The truth lies in balance, not in extreme stances.
For example, we like to do juice cleanses. They’re our favorite way to manage our weight, plus they are effective for toxin removal. While juice cleanses are extreme, we don’t do them for long periods, and we know it’s helping us avoid future illness.
Dr. Gabriel Cousens claims that a raw vegan diet can help stabilize blood sugar and even cure diabetes. However, this type of thing should be done under the direction of a holistic doctor (because most MDs would just think you’re off your rocker) and shouldn’t be done for longer than about 3 weeks.
Even potentially curing diabetes doesn’t require an extreme diet for longer than 21 days. (Note: I’m not a doctor, don’t try to cure anything without information from a professional)
Raising and Eating Animals Should be Humane and Environmentally Friendly
The way the majority of animals are treated is monstrously bad and steps should be taken.
I think we’ll agree there.
However, the Eat Real Stay Sane philosophy of eating healthy meat actually promotes raising animals humanely and in an environmentally friendly way.
We only eat grass-fed beef. These are cows that are usually roaming in pastures, eating the food they were designed to eat. They don’t need antibiotics to combat illnesses brought on by grain consumption or standing in their own filth.
They’re also not those weird body-builder cows created by using growth hormones like rBST.
We give the farmers who raise animals ethically our money. We’re literally promoting friendly animal environments because we’ve taken our dollars away from owners of disgusting feedlots and given it to the farmers raising happy and healthy cows.
I Don’t Believe Eating Animals is Spiritually Wrong
I’ll be quick here, because spiritual beliefs often (and should) go much further than logic dictates. I’m a spiritutal person and understand that my beliefs often can’t be explained by rational logic.
I believe our Heavenly Father put animals here for our use. Many animals serve a purpose, whether we know that purpose or not (for example, did you know that if bees disappeared, all life on Earth would cease within 4 years?)
I actually think of that scene in Avatar where Neytiri says after killing an animal, “I see you brother and thank you! Your spirit goes with Eywa, your body stays behind to become part of the people.” And I’m sure they do that in other cultures in real life. It’s the great circle of life!
And animals like cows, pigs, and chickens are here for our consumption. It’s no coincidence that they taste good and have a wide variety of beneficial nutrients in a readily bioavailable form.
Or, if you want to talk Bible, Paul teaches about vegetarians. One sign of people abandoning the faith will be when they “[command] to abstain from meats.” (1 Tim 4:3).
Vegan Alternatives Are Generally Super-Unhealthy
Seriously, be honest, do vegans actually like tofu? I’m not sure I could stomach it.
And, I’m not sure you should.
The dangers of soy (main ingredient in tofu) have been well documented.
Infants who drink soy formula have been shown to have up to 20 times the normal amount of estrogen in their systems – sometimes resulting in diabetes, cancer, and severe neurological and psychological disorders.
Veggie burgers are another famously unhealthy food, jam-packed with yucky fillers and health-killing additives.
Many other foods that try to be vegan friendly are processed and contain added chemicals.
If you’re going vegan, at least stick to whole, natural, unprocessed foods!
Indigenous and Ancient Populations Have Always Eaten Meat
The smoking gun about the overall dangers of our diet is that isolated populations throughout the world are extraordinarily healthy.
Dr. Weston A. Price famously visited several of these cultures in the 1930’s. He noted that these people were free of the diseases that riddle our society. They didn’t have cavities, crowded teeth, diabetes, heart attacks, high cancer rates, and much more.
And, these societies ate meat. In fact, one famous example is the Inuits in Norther Alaska. Some of them get up to 80% of their calories from saturated fat, focusing their diet on eating blubber.
People for thousands of years have been hunting and eating animal products. They didn’t live as long as us because they live in harsher societies and without access to superior medicine or sanitation practices.
I suspect if we ate what they ate, and still understood how to treat infections, broken bones, deliver babies, and do surgery like we do that we’d live a good amount longer and suffer from less disease.
If they were the model of health while eating lots of fat, then what’s changed?
“Humans have always been meat-eaters. The fact that no human society is entirely vegetarian, and those that are almost entirely vegetarian suffer from debilitated conditions of health, seems unequivocally to prove that a plant diet must be supplemented with at least a minimum amount of animal protein to sustain health. Humans are meat-eaters and always have been. Humans are also vegetable eaters and always have been, but plant foods must be supplemented by an ample amount of animal protein to maintain optimal health.”
We’re Physiologically Designed to Eat Meat
One of the sillier arguments supporting a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle is that our bodies are designed to only eat plants. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been eating meat my whole life and I seem equipped to do it.
One argument goes like this:
Our molars closely resemble the teeth of herbivores. They’re ideal for grinding, but not for tearing (like how carnivores eat).
But it’s like people totally forget about the teeth in the front of our mouths – the ones used for tearing and shredding. We even have teeth called canines, like the carnivorous dog.
Furthemore, our stomachs produce hydrochloric acid, used for splitting protein enzymes. It’s not found in the stomachs of herbivores.
Our digestive tracts are also very different. Herbivores have VERY long intestines and a very large cecum to digest all of the plant matter. Carnivores have a much shorter intestinal tract while omnivores (you and me) fall somewhere in between. Check it out:
In many ways, our physiology shows that we’re not quite herbivores and not quite carnivores – explaining why our species has been omnivorous since, well, forever.
Why We’re “Vegetarians Who Cheat”
That’s a phrase our holistic doctor likes to say – in his family, they’re vegetarians who cheat. While they still use a fair amount of meat products, they don’t have a meat-focused dinner every night.
When we were first married we ate TERRIBLE! I was in charge of the main course (which was usually carbolicious) and Erin was in charge of the sides like salads and veggies. Erin hated to cook or prepare anything in general (now she tolerates it) and so the healthy sides never got done.
That is the reason why we both got fat when we were first married. It wasn’t just because we were happy newlyweds.
Now, twice a week we like to have plant-based dinners like chiles rellenos or zucchini lasagna. We do this not because we think meat is unhealthy, but because we want to make sure we’re getting our veggies in! We want to make sure that our diet is well rounded and is providing all the nutrients we need.
The Summary of Why We’ll Never Be Vegetarians
Please, stop making your diet so complicated.
I know you’ve noticed that we’re not a healthy society. We’re always in the top 3 for obesity, and diabetes, Alzheimer’s, ADD, heart attacks, autism, and most other degenerative conditions are skyrocketing. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and you’re just trying to make a difference.
But, vegan diets have never been widely used (until very recently) and have never been a major part of any healthy society.
In order to stay healthy as a vegan, you have to mix and match foods to form the proper proteins. You have to buy expensive supplements that are very likely to be synthetic. You have to figure out how to get enough vitamin A and D into your diet, instead of simply eating more meat products.
It doesn’t make sense to me why we’d take something that worked for thousands of years and flip it on its head. We’ve always eaten meat, and healthy indigenous populations to this day eat lots of meat.
Staying away from fat and cholesterol is based on antiquated logic that’s been disproven. You can Google “is saturated fat healthy?” and find tons of quotes and studies showing no correlation to heart attacks or fatalities in general.
Before we figured out how to get vitamin B12 from bacteria, deficiency ran rampant, resulting in many health issues, including death. Being a (semi) healthy vegan wasn’t even possible until the 1950’s when they invented B12 supplements.
At the beginning of human history, we ran on instinct. No science, no marketing. And we ate meat along with other food. We didn’t know what was right or wrong or what scientific studies tell us. Didn’t need a guide to eat better, yet we’re the ones developing all sorts of health problems despite the government and agencies telling us what’s healthy.
If every other animal out there can figure out what they’re supposed to be eating, did we just never figure out we were vegans/vegetarians? And even then vegans ran the risk of fatal B12 deficiency until 1950?
Anyway, it’s an interesting topic of conversation – what do you think? Chime in and let me know why you’re a vegan or why you’re not!