There are many problems with the way meat is produced. It ruins the environment. It makes animals’ lives miserable. And our industrial feedlot system of raising cows, pigs and chickens creates meat that’s nutritionally subprime.
Yet, if it’s raised optimally, meat has unique nutritional benefits. If instead you choose an all-plant diet, it’s hard to achieve an adequate intake of certain nutrients. This article highlights some of the nutritional challenges you face if you eliminate animal-based foods from your diet altogether.
If you’re a vegan, watch out for these four nutrients:
Methionine is an essential amino acid, one of the building blocks of your body’s proteins. Methionine can’t be produced internally; you’ve got to get it from foods. It is found in plants, but concentrations in foods of animal origin are much higher.
For example, turkey has 930 mg of methionine per 100 grams. By comparison, if you eat tofu, one of the best plant-based sources, you’ll only get 210 mg of methionine in the same 100 grams.
Hydroxyproline is a key component of collagen, which gives cartilage its structural support and flexibility.
Hydroxyproline is another amino acid that’s scarce in plant foods. Though it’s found in alfalfa sprouts, for instance, sprouts are only about 4% protein and only a small portion of the protein is hydroxyproline. You’d have to nibble on alfalfa sprouts for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and in-between meals too, in order to get an adequate supply. Not a feasible option.
Fortunately, hydroxyproline isn’t an essential amino acid. Your body can create it from proline. But you need plenty of vitamin C for the conversion. Even vegans, who presumably consume lots of vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C, might need a supplemental supply.
Inadequate zinc is one of the most common mineral deficiencies, and it’s particularly prevalent among vegans. Emily Ho, an associate professor with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, has estimated that approximately 12% of American adults (going up to 40% of the elderly) are zinc deficient, with vegans presumably at even higher risk.
Among its many roles in the body, zinc is important for immune function, wound healing, and your sense of taste and smell.
Lentils are one of the richest plant sources of zinc. But they only contain 1.3 mg of zinc per 100 gram. By contrast, ground beef contains between three and four times as much: 4.8 mg per 100 gram.
Vitamin B-12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B-12 may present the biggest challenge to vegans. It may exist in a very small number of plant foods (want an order of chlorella algae with that?), and in some fermented foods, but it’s almost impossible to get an adequate supply from vegan sources.
Fortunately, many food products such as breakfast cereals are fortified with B-12. Some individuals, meat-eaters and vegans alike, have absorption problems with B-12. That’s why I recommend supplements that melt in your mouth; you can absorb the vitamin directly into the blood vessels under your tongue.
When it comes to your health, I don’t recommend a strict plant-based diet. Lots of vegetables? Yes! Exclusively vegetables? No.
If you are going to follow a strict vegan path, make sure to include foods rich in these four nutrients, and add in food supplements to give yourself an extra layer of insurance that your diet is adequate.