"Any lifelong dietary plan that requires nutrient supplementation on a regular basis makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective. You don't have to be an evolutionary biologist to realize that wild animals don't take nutritional supplements, nor do they normally develop vitamin deficiencies when living in their native environment."When we consume a diet low in animal fat (meat, organ meat, fish, eggs, butter...), we tend to consume more carbohydrates (grains, legumes) and sugar. So less fat, more carbs and vice versa. So the base of a vegetarian diet is: grains, fruits and vegetables, eggs and diary products. Vegans eat only food of plant origin. They might consume even more grains than vegetarians, as they do not eat eggs and dairy products. Those who are on a raw vegan diet, consume only fruits and vegetables.
- Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Here are a few deficiency concerns:
Vitamin B12: The best sources of this vitamin are meat products and even better: organ meat. There is very little in milk and eggs. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you need supplementation, otherwise you become deficient over the years. I have yet to see a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet, as most of the people on these diets maintain deficient or marginal vitamin B12 concentrations in their bloodstream. I have to say that it is beyond my comprehension why certain health boards still qualify this diet healthy.
One of the most important damage this vitamin deficiency can cause, is the appearance of a toxic substance called homocysteine. If your homocysteine level is high, you are at a greater risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Homocysteine damages the cells that line the blood vessels which is one of the first steps that lead to clogged arteries. If this goes on for decades, it may result in heart disease.
The case of India:
India is the ideal country to study the effect of a lifelong vegetarian diet on our health. If consuming vegetarian diet for a lifetime is considered healthy and prevents heart disease, you would expect to find a low prevalence of heart disease and stroke in this country. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is happening. The incidence of cardiovascular disease is much higher in India, especially among vegetarians, than anywhere else in the world. Moreover, they develop it at an earlier age.
"We believe that the beneficial effects of a vegetarian diet in this population is circumvented by deficiency of vitamin B12."
- Dr Kumar
Zinc: found in high concentrations in red meat and liver. It is also found in plant food such as beans nuts and whole grains. So on paper, vegetarians take enough zinc with their diet. The problem is that the zinc found in plants is bound to phytate making it unavailable for absorption. Phytate is an anti-nutrient found in grains, legumes and nuts. It prevents the assimilation of many other minerals. Zinc from animal food is much better absorbed by our body. So vegetarians are at a higher risk of zinc deficiency.
Zinc deficiency should be measured not in the blood, but in the cell. Usually, zinc levels in the blood are normal, but at a cellular level, they are very low in vegetarians.
Zinc deficiency impairs our immune system, slows wound healing, causes infertility (poor sperm count and often low testosterone level).
Iron: The same diets that cause zinc deficiency will also cause iron deficiency. This is the most common deficiency worldwide. Iron deficiency causes fatigue, worsens performance and has many other health implications as well.
Iodine: Plant food (except for seaweed) is very poor in iodine compared to meat, fish and eggs. Deficiencies has been noticed in vegetarians and especially in vegans. If your iodine stores are depleted, some plant food make the situation even worse, such as beans, sweet potato, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower...). If you are consuming enough animal food, these plants will have no effect on your iodine assimilation.
Iodine deficiencies cause goiter swelling of the thyroid gland, lower IQ level in children.
Vitamin D: The highest concentration of this vitamin is stored in the liver and fat tissues of animals. Those who do not consume of this type of food, might be deficient in vitamin D. Sun exposure is also necessary for adequate vitamin D level, but it is not sufficient.
Vitamin B6: is found in plant food as well, but in the form of pyroxidine glucoside, which is poorly absorbed and never reaches our bloodstream. We absorb it much better from animal food. If you examine the vitamin B6 food intake of vegetarians. It might seem that they consume enough of this vitamin. However, blood tests show the opposite.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid:
There are 3 main types: EPA, DHA, ALA
- EPA and DHA: they are found in fish, seafood, grass-fed meat. These are necessary to achieve high blood levels. Vegetarians have absolutely none of these in their diet. They are depending on ALA found in plants. Milk and eggs are not a good source of these nutrients.
- ALA: in plant and animal food. The problem is that the ALA found in plant food is not efficiently converted into DHA and EPA.
Deficiencies of Omega 3 Fatty Acid have been linked to higher incidence of cancer as well.
"One early hypothesis was that meat-eating was the problem and that primitive populations were protected from cancer by eating mostly vegetarian diets. But this failed to explain why malignancies were prevalent among Hindus in India - 'to whom the fleshpot is an abomination' - and rare to absent in the Inuit, Masai and other decidedly carnivorous populations"
- Gary Taubes
It can cause other inflammatory diseases such as: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Diabetes...
Now a word about grains and legumes:
Whole grains contain more vitamins and minerals than refined grains. However, they also contain a lot of anti-nutrients, having a negative effect on calcium and vitamin D absorption. These nutrients are the pillars of good skeletal health. The more whole grains you include in your diet, the less nutrient will be available to build healthy bones. This has been observed in populations around the world when they transitioned from their native diet to a more "civilized" diet based on grains. The first sign of this deficiency can be see in the dental health: crooked teeth, underbites, overbites, and cavities. Native populations on their traditional diet, have very broad jaws and a lot of space for their teeth to grow straight, and they do not develop cavities, even though dental hygiene is nonexistent.
Legumes contain protein and carbohydrates as well. They are NOT equivalent with animal sources of protein. They contain anti-nutrients just like grains, impairing mineral absorption.
If we ignore evolution and if we deviate from what we were eating for 2 million years, we will end up with chronic diseases. In the recent past we changed our diet (more grains, sugar, less meat, fish eggs...), so it is not a surprise that we are getting sicker and sicker.
Exactly the same thing is happening to animals. When we take them away from their natural environment. We feed them the food their digestive system is not adapted to assimilate, they end up exactly with the same chronic diseases.
So, what is the base of our food?
"There is no credible fossil, archaeological, anthropological, or biochemical evidence to show that any hunter-gatherers or pre-agricultural human beings consumed exclusively plant based diets. This information should be a major clue that there may be some problems with vegetarian dietary recommendations created by human beings for human beings."
- Loren Cordain
"[...] hunter gatherers consumed the entire carcass of an animal, not just the muscle meat, and preferentially consumed the fattest parts of the carcass - including organs, tongue and marrows - and the fattest animals."
- Gary Taubes
Our main nutrient came from fat (meat, fish, the fattest parts, eggs, seafood...), some protein, and very little of other type of food. Native Indians considered plant food "not suitable for humans". (In the near future, I will write a more detailed post on evolution, native populations and their diet.)
If our digestive system adapted to absorb nutrients from animal food (fattest parts), and if we exclude this type of food from our diet, we will suffer vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Bottom line: if you are vegetarian or vegan, I highly recommend you to supplement your diet. If you are meat eater, try to consume more fatty meat, fish, bone broth and organ meat.