Friday, 6 September 2013

Why a Vegetarian Diet Might Not Be for Everyone

I stared at the doctor. And she stared back at me. It was awkward.

'Keep a food diary', she eventually piped up. But I struggled to understand how this could be diet related. 

I'd decided, five months earlier, to go vegetarian, as I'd heard enough in the media about how bad red meat was for you, and how everything from salmon to bacon could give you cancer. I decided to avoid eating meat and fish for a while and just concentrate on eating wholegrains, brown rice, nuts, seeds, beans, dairy and loads of veggies. I was doing everything the experts had told me (through the news) that I should. So why had my health suddenly taken a turn for the worst? 

steak taste test5
Does this look good? Well then you might be a 'protein type'... 

Here I was, complaining of indigestion, heartburn, tiredness and an unpredictable and often very painful tummy. My psoriasis patches were raging: red, itchy and burning. I was hungry all the time, and bloated. In the end, I was put on stomach acid-reducing tablets, given strong steroid cream for my skin and sent off to have a blood test for a stomach ulcer. It came back negative. 
The Meat Fix by John Nicholson (Amazon link)

'Maybe you're not eating enough protein', my vegetarian Mum advised on the phone one day. 'Eat more soya, that's got protein in it.' She lives on the stuff, with her Quorn fillets and pretend scampi. Desperate, and by now quite ill, I did, along with the nuts, seeds and cheese I was already eating. But everything just got worse. I'd lost a lot of weight, was constantly moody and the tablets didn't seem to be working, as my heartburn and indigestion raged on.

In the library, the spine of an orange-coloured book stood out from all the others on the shelf. It was called 'The Meat Fix: How a Lifetime of Healthy Eating Nearly Killed Me', written by John Nicholson. I had to read it. I was so gripped that I finished it in two days. It told the story of a man who had been vegetarian for 26 years. He'd suffered from similar symptoms to mine and just put it down to age, stress or other lifestyle factors, until the day he ate meat again. 

He says: 

'After eating I felt elated. I felt very strongly that the steak was really good for me; that it suited me; that it was feeding me properly... it was an entirely new sensation and, I must reiterate, it was a profound one.' 

He talks about how he has more energy, sleeps better and feels more satisfied after eating, needing to eat less and actually losing weight. All the health problems, which he'd put up with for all those years, vanished almost overnight.

I did some searching online, and found other similar stories. Lots of them. Kids that were poorly and underweight on vegan diets, similar stories of constant heartburn affecting decades-long vegetarians - even Angelina Jolie stated once that a vegan diet nearly killed her

Acting on Ang's advice that 'a steak is her beauty secret' I tucked into my first piece of flesh (roast chicken) in almost half a year. So can a vegetarian or vegan diet really be followed by everyone? Dr Mercola thinks not. He reckons that people are all different, and we all need different ratios of things like animal protein, veggies and wholegrains. Apparently Ang is clearly a 'protein type' and thrives as an omnivore. They also note, reassuringly, that 'there is no one diet that works for everyone'. Phew. After I started eating meat again, my tummy problems cleared up, I seem to be more focused and generally happier. I eat far fewer carbs than I used to, and my psoriasis is fading a bit, too. 

But, unlike Dr Mercola, the doctors I saw didn't seem to want to acknowledge our biological differences. Some of us don't react well to a vegetarian diet, obviously, although the advice is dished out as if suitable for everyone. 

My Mum, a vegetarian for decades, gets on great, and has often told me she believes humans were never designed to eat meat, picking on berries and snacking on root veggies. After reading up about the Paleo diet, I have other ideas. But hats off to her, she's been vegetarian for decades, and she's fine.

To all you vegetarians and vegans who get on fine with your diets, I salute you. I really do. I wish I'd managed it. You do feel lighter and less stodgy as a vegetarian. But if you've tried a vegetarian or vegan diet and subsequently develop some health problems like I did, consider your diet, and have a chat with your doctor. Maybe you just need a different ratio of foods. We're all different, after all...

Do you think it's possible that some of us just aren't cut out for vegetarian diets? Let me know what you think...