We all know the USDA Food Pyramid is flawed conventional “wisdom” but what about the Vegan Food Pyramid? Can there be anything worse for your health than being a vegan?
Answer: Yes, being a low-fat vegan!
All joking aside, for today’s post I would like to share a true story from one of my clients. We are still shaking our heads in disbelief that this conversation with a “physician” actually took place. Let’s meet Jane and get a little background on her….
My name is Jane and I met Paula in Sept. 2008 for an initial fitness assessment. I was 50 years old, had some health issues and was unhappy with my current fitness/nutritional regime. Here’s how the health problems began…
In 2004 with no health problems but at the urging of my then trainer, I went to a vegan diet. She showed me a movie on The Rave Diet which extolled the benefits of a plant-based diet and came with a video showing helpless chickens getting their beaks cut off and crippled from being cramped in cages. It also showed sick cattle feeding off of manure and other animal byproducts along with steroid infested turkeys toppling over because their breasts were so big they couldn’t walk. Being an animal lover I took all this animal abuse to heart.
I immediately pulled a 360 and took all animal products out of my diet including eggs and dairy. I was about 125 pounds of healthy muscle and 17% body fat. I felt great and had no health issues. I was very defined and enjoyed a healthy exercise routine of weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise. After switching to the vegan lifestyle I immediately lost about 5 to 7 pounds and looked absolutely shredded.
Wow, I thought, this is great! But then, the weight kept coming off and my beautiful muscle started disappearing. I looked soft and skinny fat. I started freaking out a little but stayed on the path because of how “healthy” it was. After about 3 months I just couldn’t stand it anymore and I added fish only back in but still no eggs/dairy or shellfish. I felt a little better although the food was not enjoyable anymore and I used to love to eat. I was hungry after every meal no matter how much rice, beans, bread, and vegetables I included with the bland white fish or better yet hydrolyzed soy products.
I added very little oil/fat to anything. Just a little olive oil on my salads and vegetables; tofu was delicious, right–even though my husband refused to eat it? After all, those animal fats would clog my arteries and kill me.
After about 6 to 9 months I noticed I didn’t have quite the energy I used to when working out, I was very irritable and easily angered, I didn’t sleep well at night, was cold all the time and I had intermittent bouts of depression. Being 50 years old I blamed it on hormones and going through the change.
Fast forward to 2008 and my health had drastically deteriorated over those 4 years. On a side note, isn’t it interesting how pro-plant based diet propaganda films like What The Health never seem to cover these types of cases!
My last physical and blood work showed thyroid dysfunction but not enough to warrant treatment, low iron levels, positive response for autoimmune issues, borderline high blood sugar but a very “healthy” cholesterol level of 155. I sought the help of a holistic/conventional MD and immediately took to him. He made a few suggestions on supplements I could take but did not even ask me about my diet.
Around the same time, I met Paula and switched to her for training. In desperation, I listened to her complete opposite advice on what to eat. Always an all or nothing girl I did a 360 again and switched to a Primal and traditional foods diet. I threw out my grains, my soy, beans and bought myself a piece of buffalo meat, cooked it in butter and ate it. OMG, I had never tasted anything so good. I slept like a log that night, I felt satisfied and “happy” for the first time in years. For a solid week I had buffalo meat at least 2x a day and lots of butter on everything, I literally craved it. The extreme cravings eventually subsided. My muscles started coming back. I followed this diet very strictly for at least 1 ½ years before putting anything “un-Primal” back in on occasion. Yearly blood work kept improving. After 2 years the autoimmune issues were resolved. I felt great–slept soundly, had endless energy, zero depression/anger and was the happiest I had ever been in my life. So I was very surprised when I went in last week to get the results of my yearly blood work…
While waiting to see the doctor the nurse had given me a copy. As I looked over it I said to myself this is the best it has ever been and I was very excited–I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say about it.
He reviewed almost each and every marker with me in detail. ANA screen negative, iron levels ideal, Hemo A1C within range, fasting blood glucose 77, CRP .2, vitamin D levels were way up, thyroid in ideal ranges, not one marker was out of “normal” range except for my cholesterol. Total 239: HDL 118, LDL 112, TRI’s 47. I thought it looked pretty darn good.
The conversation with the doctor went like this (any of this sound familiar?) . . .
“Well, we need to do something to get your cholesterol down”.
What’s wrong with my cholesterol?
“It’s too high”.
But that’s because of the high HDL, the total ratio is well below the range limit.
“Yes, but HDL that high is not good, it could be indicative of neurotoxicity, we want to lower it”
But my tri’s are low–wouldn’t that be indicative of low inflammation.
“Yes, but they are a little too low.”
Huh? I thought.
“And your LDL is too high.”
But they could be big fluffy particles.
“Yes, we did not test for that; we might do that in the future”.
And my CRP is below .2, isn’t that indicative of low risk, low inflammation?
“Yes, but your cholesterol is too high. What I would recommend to prevent heart disease–which is a 360 from what you have been doing–but you really should give it a try, is a low-fat vegan diet with less than 10% of your calories from fat. Numerous studies from Dean Ornish show. . . blah, blah, blah.”
But Doc that is what made me sick in the first place! And Dean Ornish sells himself for grant money plus he’s chubby.
“Well, if you aren’t willing to do that take some fish oil capsules that we sell here.”
But I eat egg yolks every day, liver once a week and make stock from fish heads and carcasses.
“Yes, well we also have a protein powder that will lower your cholesterol.”
Hmmm, powdered peas, no thanks. And thank you for your advice doc but I believe it’s time to go home and start dinner. . . grass fed ribeye cooked in raw butter with a nice big helping of veggies cooked in lard freshly rendered from my happy pastured pigs!
Thank you, Jane, you have learned your lessons well. But a low-fat vegan diet?? Nah, long live saturated fat and our healthy hearts!
I think numbers can always confuse things, they can be made to mean what you want or what the doctor wants. If you are feeling healthy on the inside and I believe you can feel when everything is in order, then that is the important thing.
Adding more healthy things into your diet, like fish and nuts, reducing excess and exercising regularly is the way it should be. Not all or nothing diets or medications such as Lipitor.
Kendahl (@NourishingRoots) (@NourishingRoots)
Confessions of a Reformed #Vegetarian – The Healthy Home Economist http://t.co/Gj7k0nfa #realfood #omnivorism
Do you know that Gorillas are vegetarians? Interesting needless to say.
Dr. Lanny Gabbert, DC
It has always amazed me how anyone could say that we humans were meant to be vegetarians, knowing full well that our teeth are very similar to all other carnivours. Yes that would make us meat eating machines and occassionaly vegetables. Nothing is more satisfiying that a good fat and protein diet and the hunger stays away.
Our teeth are NOTHING like carnivores!! Is that a joke??
Of course not … they are like an omnivore which has a few carnivore teeth. Look in the mirror and notice the 4 pointy teeth staring back at you.
Hi! I wish I could take a poll here and find out what all of the reformed vegetarian’s blood types were… Reading this definitely makes me feel like I need to start eating meat (I haven’t in 12 years, although added fish a few years ago) I just feel an intuitive pull NOT to. I don’t crave it and as I consider doing the GAPS- I cringe at the thought of it- which makes sense if the Blood Type Diet science is correct. Does anyone know what this woman’s blood type was? And I’d love to know what yours is too Sarah and Paula if you don’t mind sharing!! (or any other thoughts you have on this) Thank you!
I just wanted to add that for those of you not familiar- the Blood Type Diet follows pretty similar concepts as the Traditional Foods- or at least makes sense in similar ways- but the idea of “where you live or where your ancestors came from” and the traditional foods associated with that area, are how your body will respond best. And Type A’s, (which I am) traditionally thrive on a more vegetarian or Mediterranean (fish, etc). I DO have some hormonal issues including Hashimotos, endometrosis, etc (which went un-detected bc I pushed myself as an athlete (and LOOKED healthy) but eventually just burned out my adrenal glands from coffee, stimulants, etc) and my immune system. Now I am struggling with digestive issues, constant bloated stomach, weight gain, and fatigue. Every arrow seems to point to trying GAPS or what this woman did- but this is my one big unanswered question. Is it truly right for everyone with these issues? Or do you all just happen to be Type O’s :)?
Jane and I have a lot in common as well as being similar ages–I am also a reformed vegetarian. I did a 3 1/2 year stint and had similar issues to what you are experiencing although I craved beef, butter and bacon. My blood type is A positive and she is A negative. So much for that theory. Whether one’s ancestors hailed from the artic or the equator the nutrients needed are the same, the macronutrient ratios along with the foods will vary somewhat especially in the more extreme climates but eliminating all animal products will eventually cause distress and disease. I do believe some people do better with the lower purine proteins and some with the higher purine. Eating seafood only would be sufficient.
Emily, in a post above said it well. “You have to first heal the gut.” Both Jane & I did that before we able to eat certain things again.
Thank you for responding. I am feeling a LOT more confident now that I am hearing a few positive results from some Type A’s out there. I’m wondering if the correlation will be in regards to the stomach acid thing and adjusting your own personal needs regarding that. I am still going to ease in slowly to GAPS- first no grains, sugar and fish broth and add in the meat bone broth (and of course the fermented stuff). I am nervous about die off symptoms. I’d like to continue strengthening myself as an athlete at the same time (I have a marathon and an ultra in the spring). And hopefully these changes will help me lean out, etc. Anyway, I really appreciate your response. It definitely helps soothe that bit of doubt that was gnawing on me.
(Also, I STILL believe that individuals need to be intuitive about what is right for them- and your last comment speaks to that.)
Your nutritional plan sounds solid. I always “liked” die off symtpoms because they meant it was working and the toxins were leaving the body. You do need to be intuitive about what is right for you.
As a strength and conditioning coach I would caution the marathon and most definitely avoid the ultra. You want your body to heal and the type of training required for those events really taxes the whole system and could be part of the problem. Some good weight training with plenty of recovery to build a base and perhaps later on an endurance event. Just my opinion and good luck!
THANKS for posting!
I just posted too!
I was GAPS for about 1 1/2 years. The intro almost killed me. I am coming to the conclusion that I CANNOT do meat. Period. See my post. I just think everyone is unique and one diet doest fit all. My intuition is telling me PLAN B!
Lori Winter (@LaurelofLeaves)
One woman’s story of how a #vegan diet stole her health. This is how she reclaimed it: http://t.co/eVgjOcpJ (via @healthyhomeecon)
Lori @ Laurel of Leaves
SUCH a powerful story! Thank you so much for sharing this! Vegan/raw diets make a good detox for a short time, but without those saturated fats, your body can’t assimilate any of the vitamins & minerals. Plus our brain & nervous system are 60% fat & cholesterol! Our body needs it to function!
What a story! Thanks for sharing. I was also told my cholesterol was too high. The conversation in my head ran very much like hers, and I realized I knew more than the typical nurse about cholesterol numbers and what they really mean. So I walked out of the doctor’s office and forgot about it.
The truth is our cholesterol numbers are normal, and the drug companies threshold for putting people on statin drugs is artificially low and abnormal. Considering the dangers of these drugs, lowered immunity, cancer risk, muscle waisting, we must seek our own counsel on this matter.
Check out the Seattle Times article (reprints are available of the whole series), Suddenly Sick: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20050626&slug=sickintro26m
Jennifer Thompson Hicks via Facebook
Something seems to be wrong with your site. It isn’t loading and some odd stuff is coming up. Did you get hacked?
Story is a bit messed up… Was she 50 in 2008? Or 50 in 2004?
50 in 2004
Very sorry, that is worded in a confusing manner. Jane was 50 when I met her in 2008, she is now 53.