Q: Four years ago, I became a vegetarian because I was disturbed about factory farms, and I also heard that avoiding meat was better for the environment. At first, I felt great, but about three months into the diet, I developed strong sugar and carb cravings. Over time, I gained weight and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. My teenage daughter, who also became a vegetarian a few years ago, developed anemia and stopped having a menstrual period. So I’ve started to rethink my beliefs about vegetarianism. Now I’m wondering if animals raised humanely using regenerative practices are not only good for the environment, but maybe important for my best health, as well.
A: Some people who adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet for health, ethical, and/ or environmental reasons discover that meat from animals humanely raised on pasture is a superior, back-to-nature alternative. Not only is this type of meat more nutritious and in keeping with the type of meat our ancestors ate, but allowing animals to graze and naturally fertilize grass can actually renew soil health and allow us to grow more nutritious food. This alone is a compelling reason to consider eating ethically raised meat. But improved health is probably the number one reason why some vegetarians are deciding to beef up their diets.
We’re All Biochemically Unique
Many people do very well on a vegan or vegetarian diet. But for others, it’s only a matter of time before something happens with their health, which leads them to rethink their diet. There may be several reasons why this happens. For one thing, plant foods are high in carbs, a quick-burning fuel that doesn’t provide sustained energy. Animal products, on the other hand, provide protein and fat, which are slower-burning fuels that can stabilize blood sugar and energy levels for longer periods of time.
Several nutrients—vitamin B12, iron, zinc, EPA/DHA from fish (omega-3s), and calcium—are either exclusively found in animal foods or are easier for the body to absorb from animal foods. That means that vegetarians have a greater risk for developing nutrient deficiencies, according to the 2020 documentary Sacred Cow: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat.
Grass-fed meats are richer in betacarotene and hard-to-obtain omega-3 fatty acids than conventional factory-farmed meats. And they are the richest source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that is believed to reduce the risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and a number of immune disorders.
Former Vegetarians Tell Why They Started Eating Meat Again
What really matters most is finding a diet that enables you to thrive. The following are five examples of former vegetarians who added healthy meat back into their diets, primarily because doing so dramatically improved their health.
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