Basically, it’s not the healthiest route forward. Regardless of whether you’re an athlete or an office worker, going vegetarian isn’t the smartest thing to do.
It’s Hard to Get Enough Protein
Protein has many benefits which I talked about in the recent article ‘How Much protein should you eat?‘. Unfortunately, getting enough protein from non-meat sources isn’t as easy. While foods like beans, milk and nuts do contain protein, their protein density is just too low.
For example, getting 20g of protein from chicken means eating 100g of chicken breasts, about 110kcal. Getting 20g of protein from milk means drinking 3 glasses of skim milk (300kcal), and getting that same amount of protein from kidney beans means eating 100g of dry beans (300kcal).
People just can’t eat enough food to hit a protein intake that is beneficial for health and fitness goals. Of course, some people are not interested in such goals. Others manage to get their protein through whey/rice/soy protein shakes. That’s fine, but…
You are bound to be missing out on some nutrients
Let’s talk about milk.
Furthermore, milk seems to be a great post workout beverage. Interestingly, whole milk, despite it’s greater fat and lower protein, showed in this study to increase muscle protein synthesis even more so than skim or light milk.
The thing is, no one knows why milk does these things. Researchers can only speculate – Could it be that the proteins interact with calcium is a funny way? Could fat actually help amino acid delivery?
We presently can’t make a list of every single possible nutrient found in milk or in any other food. Of those nutrients that we do know about, the way they interact with each other in different foods continues to leave researchers perplexed.
The bottom line is: We can’t imitate nature; Food seems to be the best delivery mechanism for nutrients
What this means to vegetarianism
By cutting out meat entirely, you’re missing out on a certain class of nutrients that can potentially be beneficial for health.
Most Centenarians are not vegetarians
Whether it be the occasional fish in the Okinawan Diet, or the fine italian meats that the Sardinians enjoy weekly, the diets of the longest-lived people are not vegetarian.
Yes, they eat eat mostly plants, but that doesn’t imply that they don’t eat meat. Similarly, eating meat doesn’t imply being a friend of the abattoir.
On the Topic of Ethics
On a similar note, being against vegetarianism because of it’s nutritional downsides doesn’t mean that I’m an explicit supporter of the means used in “harvesting” animals for food.
I, like everyone else, have to weigh the relative value of my personal ethical values and nutritional needs, along with the power I have to control each domain, and come to a personal conclusion.
So yes, I admit to implicitly encouraging the culling of animals for food just so I can fulfil my nutritional needs. Like everything else in life, look at the costs and the benefits, and make a call without ever looking back with regret.
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