strongly believe that their lifestyle is both right and healthy,
and are not really interested in exploring the possible downsides.
So until now, discussion of the pros and cons has not been high
on the list of pages to be added to the site. But the recent publicity
about serious illness and death due to lack of B12 in New Zealand
children with a vegan diet has prompted me to write this article.
It is widely assumed
that a diet low in fat and especially one low in red meat (and thus
vegetarianism) is the most healthy. This is not necessarily the
case. Although many people thrive on a vegetarian diet, there are
potential dangers. First let's look at the types of vegetarianism,
then have a good look at how healthy they really are.
eat no meat, but do eat other animal products. Some eat fish, and
most eat eggs and dairy products. The majority of their diet will
be from fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts & seeds.
one step further and eat no animal products at all - no meat, fish,
eggs, dairy or derivatives. Their diet will be entirely from plant
life - fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts & seeds.
Fruitarians eat all fruit and
berries, plus the vegetable fruits - avocado, cucumbers, tomatoes,
peppers, olives and squash. There are slight differences in the
ranges of food - for example, some may also eat nuts and seeds,
at least when they first change eating styles. All food is raw so
that the enzymes are kept intact. They believe that as the body
adjusts to a raw fruit diet, the food is better assimilated and
all needed nutrients (including protein and essential fats) are
extracted from the food. An advanced fruitarian may eat only one
type of fruit at each meal to get the maximum benefit from it.
I completely understand the ethical
and ideological reasons why a person would wish to be vegetarian,
and can't argue with any of them. But the health reasons are a different
story. There are many people who keep very good health on a vegetarian
diet. But you only have to visit the blood type diet website to
hear many first hand stories from people who have passionately believed
in their vegetarian lifestyle, only to fall ill with a variety of
chronic diseases. When they start eating meat again, usually after
a lot of difficult soul searching, their health returns.
So why do many people have the idea
that vegetarianism is the most healthy way to eat? Some people believe
that our ancestors ate a mainly plant based diet, and so should
we. Another reason is that many people believe the hypothesis that
fat is bad for you, especially saturated fat. So meat, which is
high in saturated fat, is bad for you. This started as a hypothesis,
and was so well promoted that it has become accepted as fact. Actually,
it has never been proven and the data all indicates that it is not
Let's look at some of the reasons these
theories fall down :
* The latest research into
the Paleolithic diet shows that our ancestors actually got 65% of
their food from animal sources, and 35% from plant sources, rather
than the other way around.
* Anthropological studies haven't
found any societies (now or historically) in good health, whose
native diet is exclusively vegetarian. All healthy groups eat at
least seafood, and usually meat. The organ meats and fatty parts
of the animals are most prized due to the vital fat content. Weston
Price did observe some isolated cultures located in more temperate
climates living primarily off fruits and other vegetation. Fish
and animals were consumed less frequently and in smaller amounts,
but were still an important part of the diet.
* When our digestive systems
are compared to those of a dog (a carnivore) and a sheep (a vegetarian),
using 39 points of comparison, we are identical to dogs on 37 points
and similar to dogs on 2 points. We are dissimilar to sheep on all
points. We are, in fact, omnivores.
* There is a lot of disagreement
about how much protein we need. But think about this - we need protein
for rebuilding our bodies in all sorts of ways, whereas carbohydrates
are used solely for energy. The level is debatable, but there is
no doubt our health will suffer if we eat inadequate protein. Complete
protein is difficult to get without eating animal products. It is
possible, of course, to get all the animo acids you need by carefully
combining plant sources, but those plant sources will also contribute
a high level of carbohydrate to your diet. This brings me to my
* A diet high in carbohydrate
has been assumed to be the ultimate healthy diet. But not so. In
the decades that our fat intake has been dropping, and our carb
intake increasing, obesity has increased by 25%. Some of this is
because of the type of processed carbs we're eating, but part of
that is because of the nature of carbohydrate itself. It is converted
to sugar by the body before it can be used and even complex carbohydrate
will cause a rise in insulin levels if eaten to excess. This has
resulted in a huge increase in associated diseases - those that
some call Syndrome X.
* Another problem is the heavy
reliance on grains and legumes. These have anti-nutrients which
made them unsuitable for our Paleolithic ancestors to eat. Eventually
they found out how to tolerate them by grinding and cooking them,
which changed the face of history. But because we can tolerate them
does not mean they are good for us, and their intake has resulted
in another increase in ill health - this time chronic diseases such
as food intolerances & auto-immune diseases.
* Vegetarians usually get a
lot fo their protein from soy. There
is a lot of discussion of how good soy really is for you, and many
people now believe it isn't. While women may be able to tolerate
a certain amount of it, the high estrogen content makes it unsuitable
for men and children. It should only be eaten in fermented forms
(eg. tempeh, miso and tamari) and in small amounts. It is unwise
to rely on it as the main form of protein.
* Straying from the diet of
our ancestors also means that we are getting a different intake
of the micro-nutrients - vitamins and minerals. Our bodies need
these in carefully balanced amounts and imbalances can cause all
sorts of problems. The lack of B12 in a vegan diet has been the
cause of serious child illnesses and developmental problems. For
those who are able metabolically to follow a vegetarian lifestyle,
it is critical to ensure that adequate supplementation is undertaken.
Despite the latest research on the
Paleolithic diet, I don't believe we all need the same diet. If
you read the section on metabolic
diets, you will see that there is a spectrum of dietary needs.
A continuum you could say, with those people whose metabolism is
essentially unchanged from our Paleolithic ancestors at one end
and those who have evolved to need a diet higher in carbohydrate
and lower in fat and purines at the other. For those with an Agriculturist
metabolism, a vegetarian diet may well be the most healthy. More
extreme Agriculturists may find a vegan or even a fruitarian diet
is suitable. But remember that these are extreme diets and for those
who are not Agriculturists they could do much more harm than good.
So how do I know if I should try it?
you may ask. Read up about metabolic
diets and especially about Agriculturists.
If you think it sounds like you, give it a try. As always, if you
feel unwell after an initial adjustment phase (give it at least
a week, but if you feel really bad, don't go more than a couple)
try something else.
Your next question might be "I've been
a vegetarian for xxx amount of time now. How do I know if it's working
for me?". Have a run through this checklist :
1. Are you eating a wide variety
of foods, including lots of different types of fruits, berries,
vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs?
2. Do you keep your grains
and legumes to a minimum, and make sure you prepare them optimally?
Traditions" by Sally Fallon for how to reduce the anti-nutrients
and make them digestible)
3. If you are not eating fish,
eggs or dairy, are you making sure you combine your food correctly
to get complete protein at every meal?
4. Are you getting an adequate
intake of essential fats?
5. Are you supplementing
to make up for any nutritional gaps?
6. Is your weight appropriate
& stable? ie. You are neither too fat or too thin.
7. Do you have a good level
of muscle mass?
8. Do you feel energetic?
9. Do you feel satisfied by
the foods you eat, with no cravings, bingeing or food reactions?
10. Do you keep good health?
ie. Good immune status and no chronic conditions
11. Are your hair, skin and
nails in good condition?
your sex drive within normal limits (normal for you, that is)?
If you can answer Yes to all of these
questions, sounds like you're on the right track. If you answer
No to even one of these questions, you need to look at the reasons
why. Also, remember that changing to a vegetarian diet may have
very good results at first, as you eliminate a lot of junk food
from your diet. But it's how you go on the long haul that is important.
A side note about meat quality:
Vegetarians often say to me "But meat is full of toxins
and hormones, so we need to avoid it anyway." Not necessarily
If you check out the whole
foods page, you'll see that I'm not suggesting you eat
just any meat, but only good quality meat. I agree that factory
farmed meat shouldn't be eaten by anyone. Look for quality
meat that comes from animals who were:
- Free range
- Grass fed (beef and lamb)
- And preferably organic
This way, your meat is nutritionally superior, and you know
that it's come from an animal that lived its life in the way
it was meant to.
This is only a brief discussion of
some of the possible drawbacks. For a full and frank discussion
of some of the issues surrounding vegetarianism, I would recommend
for more information.
At the end of the day, only you can
work out your own best diet, so you need to take responsibility
for that. But I highly recommend being fully informed first.
Footnote : much of the information
on Paleolithic diet came from The
Protein Power Lifeplan. If you feel a Paleolithic
diet sounds more like you, this book is well worth checking out.
I may have given the impression that I'm "anti"
vegetarianism, but that's not the case. What I AM
against is the automatic assumption that a vegetarian diet
is the most healthy one, without considering individual metabolic
needs. It's great when a person eats a whole food, vegetarian
diet, and thrives. It's tragic when another person eats the
same diet, believing it's healthy and instead ruins their
Where people are vegetarian for moral, ethical or spiritual
reasons, it can cause a real dilemma. What do you do when
your body's needs conflict with your spiritual needs?
My philosophy is that part of any spiritual journey is honouring
the mental, emotional and physical needs of the vessel we're
in and nurturing it accordingly. While the more spiritually
advanced amongst us may thrive without meat, my personal belief
is that we cannot over-ride our body's needs when the body
is not yet ready to change.
Some ways that people have found to get around this dilemma
- Giving thanks to the spirit of the animal that was sacrificed
to give them life and health
- Eating only organic, free range animals that have been
- Including bone broths in the diet to reduce the amount
of meat needed
Where the dilemma cannot be resolved, it is a challenge to
find a way to supply the body's needs as closely as possible,
without compromising the spirit.
are two personal viewpoints of a vegetarian lifestyle - one from
a family that found that veganism destroyed their health, and one
from a family who are well suited to vegetarianism.
First is an extract of a letter was printed in the Spring 2003
edition of Wise Traditions - the quarterly magazine of the Weston
A Price Foundation. This really highlights how important it
is to be aware of how your diet is affecting your health, and to
make your own decisions on what is healthy for you. remember that
We are trying to undo the teaching we did through our workshop
to students across the US. We taught a vegan diet, extolling the
virtues of the "Hallelujah Diet." In the end our family
lost our health on the diet as well as many of Hallelujah Acres
"Health Ministers" and our students. [Hallelujah Acres
is a Canadian religious group that promotes an extreme vegan diet.]
You can read our story at www.weighofwisdom.com
... I am so thankful for the work of Dr. Price and the Foundation......
We know we won't win all the people, but we want to inform those
who are searching for truth, as well as help the people recover
from their deficiencies.
Judie Westbrook Chandler, AZ
and Truths about Vegetarianism" by Stephen Byrnes and
posted on the WAPFwebsite contains a wealth of references on the
dangers of the vegan diet.
Second is an email that was sent to me. My responses
Your site is very interesting - and I have derived a lot of information
from it. Still I have one objection. Your site has a definite
bias toward Hunter-gatherer type diets - although you disavow
Being a Hunter Gatherer myself, I acknowledge it is probably
impossible for me to be totally unbiased. And H-G diets are
the ones I know most about. Also, in our society, there is a
large bias towards diets that suit Agriculturist types, so possibly
I over-react slightly in response to that. However, I am as
unbiased as I can be with my own experiences and observations.
Thank you for the opportunity to expand that.
My observation is that the majority of people are actually mixed
type - with small minorities of people who have the extreme Hunter-gatherer
or Agriculturist type metabolism.
Agreed. However, people with extreme metabolisms of either
type are probably disproportionately represented amongst people
with chronic health problems. They are disadvantaged not only
by the poor food supply available in many western countries,
but by the fact that what is commonly regarded as a "balanced"
diet doesn't suit either extreme.
I find that the extreme types spend a great deal of time debunking
each others theories. This is wasted time and energy. As what
is true for one is definitely not true for the other.
I am beginning to doubt whether most of these extremists accept
the validity of the others metabolism - although the scientific
proof is incontestable.
Common sense observation will demonstrate that we are mainly
omnivores with different needs for the amount of proteins and
fat we need.
I find much erroneous thinking from the extreme sides. Example
it is distressing for me and my wife to read the constant criticism
of the vegetarian lifestyle. Huntergatherers attempt to debunk
the agriculturist metabolic type as a fraud make ridiculous indefensible
comments about vegetarianism. One link from your site is Barry
Groves article debunking vegetarianism - not one assertion in
that article has any scientific (or even logical sense). He asserts
in various ways that there are no healthy vegetarians and never
have been any vegetarian cultures. This is insulting and exhibits
a total lack of understanding of the facts of the world of the
millions of vegetarians.
I'll have another look at that link and take it off if
I agree with you. Can you tell me which link it is - I can't
find a link to a Barry Groves article.
Perhaps there is some racism in this. I am an Indian who was
raised in a vegetarian culture and have seen thousands of healthy
dynamic people who eat very little or no non vegetable food. These
people are strong - healthy - energetic - intelligent and many
of our leaders have achieved all of the human ideals. I can give
you long lists of famous people of immense achievement who are
vegetarians - or I could show you strong ordinary people who do
hard physical labor on little more than rice (or wheat) and lentils,
supplemented with some vegetables and fruits.
Speaking for myself, there is no intentional racism. But
maybe there is unintentionally. The majority of my "audience"
is in New Zealand or the US, where the proportion of Agriculturists
is lower than in India.
Millions of women conceive and deliver healthy children on vegetable
food. The fact is that hunter-gatherers do not believe in the
validity of these obvious facts. They can not accept that millions
thrive on vegetable based diet. So they make up bogus facts to
belittle the vegetarian achievements - this is simply head in
the sand stuff.
Vegetarianism like non-vegetarianism has many horrible examples
of poor diet. Most people do not eat intelligently or scientifically
and therefore most people veg and non-veg have poor health. Therefore
to site studies that show poor health of vegetarians are simply
bogus. How many reams of paper would it take to print out a list
of references showing how meat eaters have horrible health. Meat
eaters and vegetarians in general suffer from the same health
issues - most of which have nothing to do with whether they do
or do not eat meat and or vegetables. Most health problems in
the modern world have to do with eating processed grains (perhaps
all grains) - sugar - processed polyunsaturated plant oils - food
preparation styles (such as deep frying) - stress - hormone imbalance
- etc. etc, etc. The modern world is dangerous for all of us meat
and vegetable eaters - and we must solve the problems to be healthy.
The issue of the modern western vegetarians is one issue and
a great deal can be said about it but I will discuss the traditional
vegetarians of India.
The problems of modern western vegetarians is very relevant
to people who come to my site. The observations of a healthy
vegetarian on how to eat a balanced diet would be a very useful
addition. If you have time to say a great deal about it, I'd
love to add it to the site.
In general most Indian vegetarians follow the vegetarian lifestyle
because of religious belief. Contrary to popular concepts - vegetarianism
in India is only widely practiced in the past 150 years. Theoretically
most people defining themselves as vegetarians are grain eaters
who supplement their diet with vegetables, fruits, milk products
(milk, yogurt. butter), and legumes. In south India there are
millions who call themselves vegetarians who actually eat fish
once or twice a week.
In practice the eating of animal foods is very limited because
of two factors - poverty, and tradition. Many modern middle class
vegetarians (such as those who live in Maharashtra and Gujarat
states) follow a modern scientific style of diet which either
eschews animal foods or takes them in small quantities. They can
only take milk and its products - never any other animal food
such as eggs. Their protein intake is low. Yet a large percentage
of them thrive in superior health.
That is really one of my points, that sometimes vegetarianism
is followed for other reasons than health. My page is not aimed
at those people - except where I can supply info that might
help them. My main concern is for people who believe it is healthy
for everybody, and then follow a diet that is not suitable for
The modern health movement in India advises against all processed
foods, sugar, fried foods, highly spiced foods, etc.
Sounds a lot more enlightened than Western nutritional
I would venture to say these people are amongst the healthiest
people in the world. Most of the wealthy families of modern India
follow this diet regime (which actually was the original type
of vegetarian diet advocated by the religious leaders of the past).
Look in any popular Indian magazine and you will see some of the
healthiest and most beautiful people in the world who never ate
flesh in their life. Many of the intellectual leaders of the modern
age in India are strict vegetarians and many are strict vegans
(examples of vegans are people like Mariji Desai (prime minister
of India - all Indian PM's have been vegetarians) - Radhakrishnan
- Tagore - Gandhi - etc.)
I read at your site where someone said that we can never take
the word of vegetarians about their diet. The fact is in my house
we never had any non-veg foods to eat and as I was growing up
I never saw anyone who even questioned our diet system. In our
culture people do not eat flesh period - and they do not lie about
that fact. These types of assertions about vegetarians is simple
prejudice. The fact is these people can not accept anything which
does not fit their prejudicial model.
Whereabouts on my site is that comment? I read a similar
comment on a discussion board recently, where that had been
the personal experience of one ex-vegan. But I can't find it
anywhere on my site.
My wife and I are both agriculturists - in my youth I ate milk,
yogurt, and butter so did she. We are medical researchers in Endocrinology
and for many years have been interested in the concept of metabolic
typing as we had done research on the old Endomorph. Ectomorph,
etc. system. After reading Dr. Kelly and Dr. Wolcott's work I
changed my diet to an even more vegetable based diet. I take fresh
organic yogurt once or twice a week. I also take fat from butter
usually at my evening meal as we cook with it. I will gladly compare
my health to 99% of all men my age (64).
Knowing the facts of vegetarians makes many of the comments I
read such as some at your site - criticizing vegetarians - as
being at the least - prejudiced and uninformed - at worst these
comments are insulting and laughable.
I don't recall criticising vegetarians anywhere. If you
can point out the particular comments you take issue with, I'll
happily review them.
There is a vast range of needs for proteins and fats amongst
we humans - these needs are personal and must be discovered by
each individual. For the high protein types to constantly degrade
the status of non meat eaters and vise versa for the veggie types
to denigrate the meat eaters is simply not defensible in the modern
age where all studies together show that there are a vast range
of types and their personal needs.
I was raised in a culture which denigrated meat eaters as unevolved
types - still stuck in our paleolithic meat eating past and all
humans should be evolving into a more refined dietary style suited
for thinkers and spiritual practioners. Gandhi led this movement
in the past century. All advanced yogis as an example who have
a very high level of physical strength, endurance, and flexibility
are strict vegetarians. I personally know men and women who are
models of physical perfection who live on fruits and nuts. Also
they are not actually eating meat behind closed doors. This is
considered to not just be a physical achievement but also a spiritual
achievement. Most yogi's say that high levels of body purification
and flexibility can not be achieved by meat eaters. Therefore
most modern Indian vegetarians believe that we are evolving toward
I think there is probably a lot of truth in that. But I
also believe that we have to honour the body we're in. As we
evolve we may find that our physical needs change. But I don't
believe we can force evolution by eating a vegetarian diet if
it is inappropriate.
Regardless of the validity of that assertion it is abundantly
clear that human beings are omnivores who must decide personally
what diet best suits them. Meat or no meat is not really the question.
The question is how much protein, fat , and salt do we need and
what type of these substances do we need. My father was a protein
type and so is my son (who has the same body type and metabolism
my father had) yet he never ate flesh in his life yet he lived
a long healthy and socially meaningful life on vegetable based
diet with large quantities of milk and its products. He was a
big eater and frequently amazed people with his gustatory gusto.
Agreed again. But bear in mind that Indians as a race,
are generally much better suited to getting their protein from
dairy. Not everybody is able to use dairy as a major protein
Robert Mc Ferran mentions the case of many agriculturists who
do well on as little protein and fat as possible - I am such a
type. If I leave all animal proteins from my diet I do best. Yet
my wife must take milk products daily to feel at her best. There
are many variations in human metabolism - I hope we can all learn
to understand and accept this fact as I see this issue developing
into a war between the right or wrong of vegetables versus flesh.
That is a shame especially since metabolic typing has already
solved this apparent contradiction.
Below is a second email from Vinod. I have also asked if he would
be prepared to write an article on Ayurveda for the site.:
Thanks for your thoughtful answer to my letter. I found nothing
in your comments to question.
My opinion is that if we can learn to understand and accept each
others differences (some even opposite) then we will have made
one of the biggest steps toward our evolving civilized state.
The fact of being so different in such simple and familiar things
as food choices, mind set,etc. is confusing for many. This is
why the conservatives and the liberals never understand one another
to the point that they often describe each other as the enemy.
They have a different world view - stemming from basic things
like metabolism and it's resulting mental states. Huntergatherers
and Agriculturists have opposite world views because there minds
have the opposite tendencies, attractions, and aversions. Our
old religion (Vedas - thought to be around 5000 years old) have
postulated that the two extremes of our nature are not the goal
of the majority - the goal of most human beings is somewhere toward
the middle of these two extremes.
The old scholars believed that one who has flexibility in their
metabolism were more suited toward a greater range of conditions
and experiences. In modern evolutional terms a mixed metabolism
offers an evolutional advantage for human beings. These great
understandings later evolved into the realization of the Buddha
in his advocacy of a middle more flexible state than had been
understood by most believers of the day. He advised against extremes
because it was not flexible enough to get us through conditions
that were opposite to our nature. Example me - I am near extreme
agriculturist and do not feel well (mainly energy problems and
sluggish mind) if I had to eat lots of protein and or fat. According
to the Buddha this is not flexible enough for many conditions.
The fact that we are moving in that direction (of the Middle Way)
is revealed in the fact that our species are almost exclusively
I have already written a great deal about this great divide and
will put some of it together for you to read and see if it is
of any usefulness for your site.
You know many of these subjects have long been discussed in the
religious and philosophical literature of India, Tibet, China,
and Japan. The ancient medical system of India called Ayurveda
- has described all of these things that modern medical science
is just now discovering - thousands of years ago. In Ayurvedic
tradition there are 3 basic metabolic types with the majority
falling into 6 sub types - which are combinations of the 3 basic
types. So with 3 basic types and the six sub types all human beings
fall into one of nine distinct metabolic types. The translation
of that system into modern understanding is easy for anyone who
clearly understands the metabolic types as described in Mc Farran's
work. Ayurveda clearly describes the type of diet each type should
follow for maximum health - as well as every other facet of life
as it applies to each type. One very important aspect of that
system is its analysis of the disease tendencies of each type.
I have been thinking about the synthesis of these old and new
systems for many years. Many others in modern India are thinking
about these subjects and much has been written on the subject
in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Malayalam etc.