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Paleo, vegetarianism, and other dietary debates

scary foodI’ve been writing for 24 Hours Vancouver for more than 2 years now. Wow! I hadn’t realized how long it had been until I looked it up to write this blog. I’ve written about health topics as diverse as kidney health, hot or cold application for pain, and workplace wellness. A number of those articles have also included food suggestions.

But few of them have created as much controversy and dialogue as my most recent article–Meat-less in May–on eating less meat or going meatless for a month. I mentioned that my husband and I are doing a Meatless May, and I wrote about the health benefits and challenges of going vegetarian.

Within a few days of the online and in print edition of my article on 24 Hours I started receiving emails and comments about it. The comments from meat eaters include, “Please stop preaching to me what I should eat and not eat. I will be the one that decides.” Vegetarians criticize me. I’m asked, “Wonder why this article wasn’t more truthful” because I stated that vegans and vegetarians need to be aware that they may be deficient in certain nutrients if they don’t make the right food choices and, in some cases, supplement (e.g. B12 if vegan). 

And today, within 5 minutes of sending out my newsletter with a link to that article, one of my friends unsubscribed from my newsletter. She believes that we are evolving into carnivores and some people eat too many vegetables. 

So, why are people so persnickety when it comes to their food choices?

I am not a vegetarian, but I am an animal lover. Like everyone else, I’m trying to find my own path, making choices that reflect a balance of what I know, think, and feel. I do not presume to know what is the right diet for everyone. I do not believe that there is ONE right diet for everyone. We are all different. 

This is why paleo followers can be healthy and heal their illnesses with their food choices; why vegans can do the same; why macrobiotic ditto; why raw (yes, even raw meat for some) also. This is why nutrition is so darn confusing. 

Generally, those who eat real, whole foods, limiting processed foods, are healthier. There are those who eat junk regularly and seem to get away with it. Sometimes just for awhile. Sometimes for longer than one would have foreseen. But, what is beautiful about food is that there is such a diversity and you can find what works best for you.

In case you want to know my responses to those people…

To those who don’t want me to tell them what to eat: 
No problem. Eat what you like. But if you have health problems and come see me in clinic, I’m probably going to offer you suggestions. If you don’t like what I write in an article, stop reading, or offer me a valid point of information that I can work with.

To those who believe that we are evolving into carnivores and some of us eat too many vegetables:
Yes, we are not like rabbits. We have very different digestive systems. And yes, rabbits may have a hard time digesting all the fibre they eat. But fibre is meant to help absorb substances and toxins and move them out of our bodies, so we aren’t meant to absorb it all. That is not proof that we are more like carnivores. Gorillas are omnivores who eat a lot of vegetable matter. We are more like primates than lagomorphs (the order for rabbits; I thought they were rodents, but they aren’t).

My response to the vegetarian who thought I was basing my article on my opinion, trying to scare vegetarians and vegans about nutrient deficiencies. This is what I wrote to one:
I was not trying to scare people into eating meat or not eating meat. My article was meant to provide information, as we currently understand, about different dietary choices. I am not a vegetarian, but am enjoying the start of my month of vegetarianism. I eat little meat normally, but am committed to this Meatless May. I do not presume to know what is the right diet for everyone. I do not believe there is one right diet for everyone, as we are all different. My choice to go vegetarian this month is for ethical reasons with regard to animals, not related to my health, though my article is about health because that is what I’m asked to write about.

Carnosine is found in our bodies, particularly muscle and brain tissue. When people eat meat, they are consuming carnosine. Vegetarians do not consume carnosine, and as a result may have less of this in their tissues. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15955546 and http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/carnosine We don’t fully understand the possible impacts of this, but carnosine has been found to be a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent AGEs, compounds that accelerate the aging of cells, contribute to inflammation, and more. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030314p10.shtml

For this reason, it might be suitable for some vegetarians to supplement, probably in the form of the amino acid beta-alanine. But that depends on the individual, so I won’t recommend that to all in the form of a 400 word article to general public.

A vegan diet does not contain B12 that can be absorbed by our bodies, so supplementation is important for vegans. Vegetarians and vegans can certainly obtain the other nutrients I listed (zinc, protein, omega 3s, calcium, and iron) from their foods, but they need to be more conscious of healthy eating, not just assume that not eating meat is necessarily always healthy. Some vegetarians do not eat enough vegetables, are may be better names pastatarians or breadatarians. It is not as simple as being meatless. Of course many people who do eat meat make unhealthy choices as well.

I agree that we are not carnivores. We have the teeth of an omnivore (eating meat and vegetable matter, both). This is not my opinion. Our gut microbiome (bacteria) also indicate that we are most like omnivorous primates. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/320/5883/1647.short

However, some of us choose to avoid eating animal tissue. I know many vegetarians and vegans and support their food choices. The same for my patients. I make sure that if I suggest any course of treatment or supplementation to any of my patients, that they understand what they are for. Each of us are ultimately responsible for our own health and well-being.

I do appreciate your passion for protecting animals by not eating them. We are all on our own journey.

I hope that clarifies my article a bit more for you.

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