A Little Bit of Everything

Archive for May, 2012

My reasons for not being a vegetarian

I thought I’d post this since I posted it as a comment on an article and I really like it.  The article was about meat being considered more ‘macho’ than vegetarianism and a lot of vegetarians were leaving negative comments about people who eat meat.

“Although I don’t believe that eating meat makes anybody more ‘macho’, I don’t personally agree with vegetarianism.  I like to abide by the ‘Everything in moderation’ maxim.  I grew up believing that a good, balanced dinner meal consists of 1 part vegetables, 1 part starchy material (like rice, potatoes, or noodles) and 1 part meat.  Since then, the vegetable portion has grown, and I don’t panic if there occasionally isn’t meat in the meal but I still like to go to that as my basic proportions.

If others want to be vegetarians, go ahead, I am certainly not going to condemn them.  However, these are MY personal reasons for not being a vegetarian;

I am done my third year with a major in animal biology and a minor in nutritional and nutraceutical sciences and there a couple nutrients I have learned about that seem to not be available from plants.

Vitamin B12; there IS a form in plants however it is not accessible to humans.  The only non-animal sources are fortified breakfast cereals (which usually only have 25% of your daily value in 1 serving so you would have to eat 4 servings each and every day) and supplements.  Whether this is really a non-animal source is debatable though since, the vitamin would probably have to be isolated from meat products.  Vitamin B12 is important for neurological development, red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and for enzymes that affect metabolism.  Unfortunately, symptoms can be masked by an adequate folate intake but there are still significant neurological effects.  This is especially visible in newborns.  We saw a case study of a vegan mother with a newborn.  The mother wasn’t showing symptoms because she had good folate intake (which comes from green leafy vegetables) but the newborn wasn’t developing properly.

Iron;  There are two types of iron, heme and non-heme.  Non-heme is available from plants and is used by the body for a lot of functions.  Heme iron is only available from animal products and is essential for your red blood cells to be able to carry oxygen.  Iron deficiencies have to be pretty severe to lose your hemoglobin because your body holds onto its heme iron the longest, but it IS a concern, especially if you have a large amount of blood loss.  Additionally, non-heme iron from plants isn’t always absorbed well because of the presence of oxalates in phytates.  There is a misconception that spinach and beets have particularly high amounts of iron.  Spinach, because of a clerical error made when first recording the iron content, leading to people believing there was 10x more iron in it than there actually was.  Beets, because the red colour resembles blood.  

According to Health Canada’s DRI tables, daily iron requirement for non-vegetarian men is 8mg/day and for vegetarian men, 14.4 mg/day (requirement is increased for vegetarians because of low bioavailability in purely vegetation-based diets), 18 mg/day for non-vegetarian women and 32.4 mg/day for vegetarian women. With the phytates and oxalates inhibiting absorption, a serving of beets only gives you 0.8 mg of iron per 100g if raw, and 1.82 if canned while 100 g of spinach gives you 2.71 mg if raw and 3.57 if cooked (cooking can help break down some of those inhibitory compounds but not all).  Legumes are the best vegetable source of iron however they still have a lot of phytates and oxalates which inhibit bioavailability.  To improve this, you can ferment soybeans and soak other beans for long periods of time.  Other ways of increasing iron absorption from vegetables include; accompanying the vegetable with animal product (which is obviously out of the question for vegetarians), or increasing vitamin C intake.  Of course, the question is, how much help can that be?

Protein;  A lot of vegetarians eat soy.  As I mentioned above, soy is high in phytates and oxalates which inhibit absorption of protein, as well as iron.  Fermenting helps destroy some of these compounds.  Unfermented, soy has a protein source number of around 0.6, where 2.0 is considered the best protein source.  Another fact proving this is the fact that if you look at the japanese diet, a diet praised as being high in vegetable matter and fish, and low in other animal products, the majority of the soy they eat is fermented (miso, natto, tempeh).

Energy; Meat is very energy dense because fat is energy dense.  Too much fat is bad but a little goes along way.  Fat is often used to fuel the body’s normal functions while carbohydrates fuel the brain.  The main source of energy in plant matter is carbohydrates.  Some plant matter contains starch but most contains cellulose, which is the most abundant source of energy on the planet.  Unfortunately, cellulose is only digestible for herbivores.  Humans do not have enough enzymes or bacteria in their gut to be able to get any substantial amount of energy from it.  Somebody would have to eat a ton of grains, legumes, nuts, starchy foods like potatoes, and fatty fruits like avocadoes to get the same amount of energy that a regular diet of a small piece of beef in a meal can give you.

I’m not convinced that switching to an all vegetation diet would be more economical or environmentally friendly; People seem to say that the space needed for vegetation consumed by one cow could feed more of the world if used for crops.  As I said above, you need a large amount of crops to equal the amount of energy available in the meat from a cow.  This would mean that more habitat would probably have to be destroyed than is destroyed now, to have enough crop fields to feed the world.  Additionally, having several fields of a single crop drastically decreases biodiversity in that area, which has a negative impact on the ecosystem.

(In response to the people who are saying that they look down on hunters, do you just mean sport hunters?  Because, if you’re talking about people who actually eat the meat, that’s a much more environmentally-friendly way of getting food.  It promotes conservation of habitat and biodiversity.  Even hunting for fur is environmentally-friendly, because conservation of habitat HAS to be important to the hunters or else they won’t be able to find animals)

Our digestive system; We are omnivores, and our digestive system is much different from those of herbivores.  Personally, I think that is an important reason why to include meat in my diet.

We have a place in the ecosystem; I personally think that as omnivores and predators, we  have a place in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem, especially since we have gotten rid of so many natural predators.  If the human race were to stop eating meat, it’s possible that the balance of the ecosystems could be thrown completely out of whack and that would be bad.

So, those are my reasons for not being a vegetarian.  Nutrition-wise, I imagine a really determined person who’s willing to do a lot of research, could get by okay.  For me though, because of the other reasons, I am not willing to do all the work to find alternatives for certain nutrients when I can simply eat a little meat with my meals and get the proper nutrition.”