Can you still be healthy?
Will you have optimal health, however?
Not really. It’s just not in the cards– as mentioned below, animal products 1) are quite nutrient dense, 2) contain a complete profile of amino acids, and 3) lack the nasty phytates and lectins so prevalent in vegetables (yes, concentrated in grains but present still in all veggies) that inhibit nutrient absorption. This means that eating animals makes it easy to obtain a lot of important nutrients. What’s more, you’ll never balance any omega 6s in your diet if you’re a vegetarian. This is because the only significant sources of omega 3s in our diets are fish and grass-fed beef. If you’re a vegetarian, you have got to supplement with omega 3 fatty acids.
But you still really love animals, abstain for religious reasons, can’t get over potentially misguided sustainability arguments, etc. How do you eat?
You want to still strive for high amounts of fat, moderate protein, and low to moderate carbohydrate intake. Your fat will be primarily saturated and monosaturated fats, and you will limit your consumption of omega 6 vegetable oils and nuts. You will probably eat legumes, even though they are similar to grains in structure and can contribute to leaky gut. Leaky gut is bad, bad news. It is the common cause of every autoimmune condition, from diabetes to psoriasis to arthritis to Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and to many, many more. But this is where you will get some protein. Your carbs will be vegetables with some “safe starches.” You will eat a little bit of fruit. You might eat some dairy, too, so long as you don’t respond negatively to dairy and are safely, positively free of any autoimmune conditions.
Coconut: Eat coconut cream, coconut oil, coconut meat, coconut milk, coconut water. Use it for seasoning, on it’s own, as a feature in soups and stir fries. Make coconut whipped cream (Skim the fat off the top of coconut water and beat it with a hand mixer. Add Cinnamon, vanilla, or orange zest, and other spices to taste.) Use coconut oil for as many sauteeing needs as possible. With eggs is particularly good, as is with a variety of vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. Why? You want to eat coconut because it is a phenomenal source of saturated fat, and medium chain fatty acids. Coconut promotes thyroid function, contains the medium-chain fatty acid lauric acid which is excellent at fighting viral infections, bad bacteria, yeast, and fungi, and at boosting the immune system, and promotes hormone balance.
Butter: Butter is an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin E and selenium. It also contains lecithin and several anti-oxidants, and components of real butter have anti-cancer properties. Butter is delicious and is the least risky form of dairy to ingest, since the problematic dairy proteins such as lactose have been neutralized by the butter distillation process. If you find that butter is still problematic for you, clarify it, and make ghee. All you have to do is heat it some, and the rest of the milk solids are removed. You are left with gloriously healthy saturated fat, and it is good, good, good for you.
Avocados. Another good source of fat, but not the best. In one super sized avocado you might have 35 grams of fat. 5 grams are saturated, 4 are polyunsaturated (almost entirely omega 6) and 26 grams monosaturated. Monosaturated fats are fine, and are in fact the primary fat of olive oil, so feel free to eat avocados all you like. The same avocado will have 5 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbs. Most of all, of course: guacamole is delicious. Eat up!
Olive oil. Olive oil is the one seed oil I give you a green light on. The rest: get out the front door. Canola, soy, corn, “vegetable,” — you name it — are all super high in omega 6 fats and are not permissible for anyone at anytime (special occasions fine but I’m still going to be indignant about it.) Mark Sisson just made a passionate defense of olive oil. Sure, it’s ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats isn’t stellar. But the totally amount of these polyunsaturated fats is rather low, and the dominant fat here is monosaturated. Two tablespoons of average olive oil (more more “virgin” it is, the better) gives you about 2.8 grams of linoleic acid, a component of omega 6 fatty acids. That’s less, according to Mark, than poultry and pork meats. Just be sure to use olive oil fairly sparingly and to supplement with your good ol’ omega 3s.
Eggs. Sort of vegetarian, I know. But they are enormously nutritious. Please consider eating them. An egg is a precursor to an entire organism, so it contains a complete profile of amino acids (so complete, in fact, that the quality of egg protein is the standard against which all other proteins are measured), some saturated fat, lots of cholesterol (which is NOT a bad thing so long as you eat a proper anti-inflammatory diet), and lots of nutrients. These include: vitamins A, E, and K, as well as a selection of B vitamins including B12, B2, biotin, choline, folic acid, pantothenic acid and niacin. Eggs are one of the few foods that are a good source of naturally occurring vitamin D, which is important for the development of bones and teeth. Important minerals in eggs include zinc, iron, selenium, phosphorous and iodine. Eggs also contain small amounts of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.
Macademia nuts. Over others. Nuts are not ideal. Nuts contain lectins in their sheaths and are generally high in omega 6 fats. They are often sold “roasted” which oxidizes their omega 6 fats and wreaks havoc on our tissues. Oxidative stress accelerates aging and tissue decay and harms every type of cell in your body. Omega 6 oils are bad. Omega 6 oils heated (as well as omega 3s) is worse. (This is why deep frying is so bad). So: don’t eat nuts. At least not too many. You want to keep your overall polyunsaturated fat intake low, and to balance whatever omega 6 intake you have to incur with omega 3s. However: since there is no source of significant omega 3 in your diet, you want to limit your omega 6s as much as possible. This is why I said: eat macadamia nuts. A lot of people can’t seem to live without nuts. Also, they are a fair source of protein. Macadamia’s have virtually no polyunsaturated fats in them, and are instead mostly monosaturated and saturated fats. What’s more, they contain some antioxidants. So eat up! They’re not too bad.
Vegetables. They are made primarily of carbohydrates, but a lot of this carbohydrate is tied up with fiber, which is good for you in moderate amounts, and the rest of it is glucose. Glucose is the “safest” form of carbohydrate to consume.
Safe starches and carby veggies. These include: potato, sweet potato, yam, taro root, beets, and squashes. You may even have some white rice, though it is completely without nutritional value and is considered a filler food only. Glucose, when digested, spikes blood sugar, but so long as your insulin pathway is functioning properly, and your weight is under control, the sugar is shuttled happily away to your fat cells for storage. This is a much, much safer form of carbohydrate consumption than fructose, so given that your vegetarian diet almost forces you to increase your carbohydrate intake to meet your caloric needs, this is the way to do it. Plus, they are delicious. I highly recommend sweet potatoes, which have a great nutritional profile compared to other starches. Sweet potatoes have almost twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A (or, I suppose, vitamin A derived from beta carotene), 42 percent of the recommendation for vitamin C, and is also fairly rich in dietary fiber, iron and calcium.
Berries. Other fruits, yeah, I guess, go ahead, but really. I am a big, unashamed fructose hater. Berries are the fruits lowest in fructose, and highest in antioxidants, so have a field day with them. (No, don’t, just a serving a day is more than enough.) Fructose, unlike glucose, is not released into the bloodstream but is instead sent directly to the liver to be converted into fatty acids. As such, it adds stress to your liver and makes you fat. Fructose is a big contributor, researchers are beginning to realize, to fatty liver disease. Bad news bears. What’s more, fructose fucks with leptin signalling, and can create feelings of hunger and deprivation unlike any other food. Gross. So eat berries and cherries if you’re craving fruit.
Maybe eat if you’re absolutely autoimmune free:
Dairy. Best is raw, unpasteurized dairy. Pasteurization kills natural enzymes such as lactase in the dairy which aid in digestion, and antibodies which bind with lectins and would otherwise naturally remove them from your body. Pasteurization also enables quicker spoiling of the products, which means that pasteurized goods are often heavily preserved with unhealthy chemicals. However, all dairy products will still contain 1. lactose, which is a sugar that can cause inflammation without proper lactase activity, and 2. casein, a protein similar in structure to gluten which many have trouble digesting. Check out this post on dairy for more information re: perils and benefits. Fermented forms of dairy such as yogurt and cheese are also more innocuous, as the added bacteria help you break down the potentially harmful proteins. Note also that dairy is highly insulinogenic, so if you are watching your insulin levels or hoping to lose weight, you probably want to steer clear. Finally, on dairy, I say this: try a month without it and see how you feel. Does re-introducing it cause any problems? Listen to your body and do what feels right. Dairy can be a good source of protein and fat if you exercise caution and eat the right stuff.
Sometimes eat maybe I’m not sure no don’t eat them:
Legumes. While not quite as bad as grains, legumes are still high in lectin content, which, as mentioned above, promotes intestinal permeability and depletes healthy gut flora. If you are at all at risk for autoimmune conditions, or inflammatory conditions, or are overweight, or have any type of disease of civilization, no legumes for you. However, if you just love chick peas and feel like you need more protein and are unconcerned about your high carbohydrate intake and your gut health (consider supplementing with a high quality probiotic) occasional legumes won’t kill you.
Sometimes eat maybe I’m not sure no don’t eat it:
Quinoa. People ask me about quinoa often. Quinoa gets the same answer, practically, as legumes. No gluten, sure, but plenty of lectins to go around. What’s more, people exhibit the same inflammatory reactions to quinoa as they to do wheat, despite the fact that it contains no gluten. Because quinoa has “complete protein” as so many vegetarians are happy to tell you, if you must reach for a wheat-type substance, and safe starches are not in the running, you may reach for quinoa instead. Do not forget, however, that while delivering some protein, quinoa is still primarily a carbohydrate, and enormously high in carb content. Same, again, as legumes.
And that’s it! Stuff on the “don’t eat” list remains the same:
Vegetable oils. Refined sugar. Too much fruit. Any fructose. Too many nuts. Processed goods.
Get as much fat and protein as possible, and fill in the rest with your beloved veggies and safe starches.
My hard drive just crashed but I managed to crank this out on a computer in my Taiwanese University’s basement regardless. Better edits and information may follow in time.