I try to use nature as a guide when making nutrition decisions and recommendations. While I continue to think that most people will benefit from a vegan lifestyle for a month or so twice a year, I have been rethinking a lifelong vegan lifestyle lately because it seems unnatural. Before I go into detail about how I came to this conclusion, I must first say that I am confident that a whole-foods, plant-based diet is the foundation to health and that 90% plant-based foods is probably a good target.
Why do I think 100% vegan is unnatural?… Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a nutrient that is required for health and is only found in animal products. Some plant products have been fortified with B12 and some forms of yeast have B12 too. However, in nature, one would not find adequate B12 to survive without eating animal products, therefore, it must be considered natural to consume some animal products.
What’s a vegan to do? I know that I have no desire to go back to eating meat. I no longer have a taste for it and it has started to gross me out to think about it. I’ll talk about why I don’t think dairy products are a good solution in a moment. I’m going with eggs. Now that we have a small laying flock, we are getting a supply of amazing, nutritious eggs. Since we supplement our chickens with grass, fruits, and vegetables, their yolks are bright orange and loaded with vitamins (including B12) and antioxidants. These are, nutritionally speaking, a far superior food compared to pale, supermarket, mass-produced, eggs. I will also continue to take a B12 supplement [sublingual (under the tongue) methylcobalamin; the most absorbable form of B12.]
Why not dairy? Let’s consider nature again. In nature, we would never walk up to a cow and take a drink right from her udder. That would be about as strange, from a nature perspective, as a cow walking up to a lactating woman for a drink. We are absolutely designed to consume breast milk as infants and many toddlers also thrive on breast milk, but beyond that, it is no longer needed and it becomes very difficult to digest. We are not designed to consume a food that nature made to help turn a 100 lbs. calf into a huge cow! I won’t get into detail in this blog about the destruction of nutrients in milk processing today. There will be a future blog on that.
Don’t get me wrong. I am completely aware of the deliciousness of cheese. Before converting to a healthy lifestyle, I was a true cheese addict. We had at least 3 kinds of cheeses in the fridge at all times and we ate cheese every single day. Cheese was the hardest thing for me to transition from for sure. I had the best success with replacing cheese with hummus – even on pizza and baked potatoes. I do occasionally eat a little cheese when I am out of the house and healthier options are not available, and sometimes when we have house guests that are not open to a mostly vegan diet, we will have some cheese for them. But on the scale of healthy to unhealthy, cheese falls on the dark side.
What about seafood? Occasionally, I think a small amount of seafood is healthy too, particularly wild salmon. Sometimes a restaurant has a horrible selection of vegetarian options. Often white pasta is the only choice and that may be covered in a cream sauce. When I peruse a menu looking for an entrée, I look for vegetarian options first, then I look at modifying entrees that include meat or cheese, and if that doesn’t lead me to a healthy and tasty choice, I will go to the seafood. Wild salmon is loaded with Omega-3 fats which are very healthy and an occasional portion of fish will provide not only some Vitamin B12, but a variety of minerals and other nutrients as well. I do try to avoid farmed salmon because those fish are corn-fed and, like the eggs I mentioned above, have a completely different nutrient profile from their wild cousins. I am also conscious of the amount of contamination in our oceans and therefore eat seafood only once a month or so.
What about people who have no desire to be either vegan or vegetarian? That’s ok. My suggestion would be to only eat animal products in one meal per day and it should be more of a side dish than an entrée. Choose healthy meats and consider one day per week of no meat at all. (More on selecting healthy meats in Chapter 1 of my book 7 Steps to a Naturally Unbridled Life) A plant-based diet, not an exclusively plants diet, is a good rule of thumb; meaning there should be more plants on your plate than anything else and some meals should consist of plants only.
Can you eat a vegan diet and be healthy? Absolutely! Nature is full of highly nourishing plants! Vegans who eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet are thriving all over the world! (Not to be confused with the vegans and vegetarians who eat a lot of white pasta, pizza, cookies, and other unhealthy foods.) You just want to make sure you are getting your Vitamin B12 levels checked and possibly supplement with sublingual methylcobalamin. Many vegans are ethical vegans and they feel that consumption of any animal product is morally wrong. I consider myself to be a nutritional vegan (mostly) and I make my food decisions based on nutrition and what I believe is what nature intended.
Nutrition is the foundation to good health and education is the foundation to good nutrition.