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I'm A Nutritionist. Here's Why I Have Concerns About Vegan Diets

Michelle Strong
Written by Michelle Strong

Often people assume that because I am a nutritionist, I'm also a vegan or vegetarian. I can see how one might presume this. Today fish, meats and poultry are so contaminated with hormones, antibiotics and chemicals like PCBs.

Since vegetarians and vegans don't consume these additives, they might seem to be healthier. By avoiding meats and fish, they also avoid the animal-based saturated fats and cholesterol that many of us fear.

However, in my seven years of practice, I’ve come to the conclusion that many vegans and vegetarian are not as healthy as you might assume. In my experience with many (not all) vegans and vegetarians, here are some patterns I've observed.

1. They’re not getting enough protein.

In my opinion, in order to keep body fat low and lean mass up, a minimum of 0.4 grams of protein should be consumed for every pound a person weighs. So if you weigh 140 pounds, you would need roughly 50 grams of protein per day. To put that number in perspective, a boneless, skinless chicken breast contains about 31 grams of protein and a serving of salmon contains about 39 grams.

It’s hard to hit that protein quota by eating just veggies and nuts. Protein helps to balance your satiety hormones and keeps you full. Adding more protein to your diet may help to facilitate weight loss and can provide more energy.

2. Vegans and vegetarians eat far too many grain products.

The vegans and vegetarians I’ve worked with eat too many breads and cereals, often leading to extra fat around the midsection. They rely on these foods because they’re quick and convenient and vegans and vegetarians are (somewhat) limited in their protein options.

I advise vegans and vegetarians to consider healthier grain sources, like quinoa, which has eight grams of protein per cup. Beans are also a great option as they contain about seven grams of protein per serving. (Inspired? Here's a fun recipe for sweet potato quinoa cakes with avocado-lime dressing.)

3. Poor quality substitutes are often used to replace meats.

Often the "fake meat" products are high in sodium and contain preservatives and genetically modified soy ingredients. If you look closely at their ingredients, you'll usually notice canola oil, wheat flour, dextrose, genetically engineered soybeans, and more. I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in eating any of those items. Your body doesn't know how to process these non-foods, which makes it hard to digest them.

4. They're missing out on the health benefits of animal-based protein.

I encourage my clients to consume antibiotic-free, wild, organic, and cruelty-free sources of animal protein. Lean proteins like chicken and fish contain vital amino acids, the building blocks of a host of functions involving muscles, bones, and hormones.

Put simply, I believe meat eaters, vegans, and vegetarians should choose their proteins from sources that have two or fewer legs. Think about it: The sources we all know to be lean are those coming from fish, poultry, and plants, such as beans and lentils. Meat from four-legged creatures (including pigs and cows) is not lean and should be eaten with discretion.

I bear no ill will toward vegans and vegetarians, and I encourage them to include clean protein sources in their diets. I know that this can be a challenge!

Here are a few of my favorite meat-free sources:

  • Hemp seeds
  • Clean protein powders (like Genuine Health Fermented Proteins and Omega Nutrition Pump Seed Powder)
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • GMO-free tofu and tempeh (limit to just a few times per week)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Cottage cheese
  • Ricotta cheese

Whether you're a meat eater or vegetarian, being smart about what you're eating is key. If you're vegetarian or vegan, try to choose plant-based proteins with as little processing as possible. The closer the item is to nature, the better.

To my fellow carnivores, please choose sources that are lean and clean. Limit red meats and pork (four legs) and stick to organic, wild poultry and fish (one or two legs) and of course, the non-meat-based proteins mentioned above.

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