By Susan Schenck
Can a “veg” diet really produce optimum health? I thought so at one time. I even wrote a 660-page book about it!
I was a very strict raw vegan (no animal products whatsoever) for six years and the first couple years, I had never felt better in my life. Raw foods are, unless you have colon issues, easier to digest—having the inherit food enzymes spares the pancreas from overworking its limited capacity of cranking out digestive enzymes. In my book The Live Food Factor, I include 66 studies (mostly published in reputable scientific journals) which prove the superiority of eating a high raw diet. There is no doubt in my mind, that a 100% raw diet is superior, as long as it includes at least some eggs, fish, and meat.
At the time I got into the raw scene, however, nearly every raw foodist was a vegan. A vegan diet can be refreshing due to the digestive lightness of a plant-only diet. But while it makes a great cleanse for a few weeks or months, it can lead to deficiencies in the long run.
At first I lost weight on a raw vegan diet, but over the years, I grew so hungry that I gained a lot of weight. My body was so starved for protein that I over-indulged in nuts and seeds (which are not adequate protein sources). Eventually my fat soluble vitamins were depleted. My brain functioning deteriorated to the point that I forgot my husband’s cell phone number, and at one point even his NAME was on the tip of my tongue! I was not getting enough DHA to support my brain function, and the B-12 supplement was not being properly absorbed. (Supplements are rarely as good as whole foods, when it comes to bioavailability.)
This led me down a research path and what I found blew my mind. Vegetarians and vegans are not as healthy, on average, as people with a more balanced, traditional diet that includes some animal foods. They sometimes live longer than the average person, but only because they are conscious of other health practices, such as not smoking, exercising, and eating a lot of vegetables. The vegan diet is a fad that started around 100 years ago out of compassion for animals, but not for health reasons.
Those who shun animal products cite the concept that saturated animal fats are not healthy. But the saturated fat hypothesis was a total disaster created by one man, Ancel Keyes, and lasted 50 years only because of food and science politics. Over the decades it became obvious that forgoing saturated fats and animals foods actually increased the rate of heart disease!
I was so enthused to get my health back, after eating eggs and meat, that I decided to write Beyond Broccoili, in which I meticulously documented all my conclusions, the main one being:
The vegan and even vegetarian diets are not conducive to what I call “peak health.” In fact I expose 22 vegetarian/vegan myths in my book, including the concept that apes and other primates are vegetarians, that meat is unhealthy to eat, that our digestive systems indicate we should not eat meat, and much more.
The bottom line is that there are many crucial nutrients found in animal foods that plants lack. Just having a few eggs from pastured free-range chickens or three ounces of meat a day can go a long way. As a vegan, I fervently argued that the body can take the nutrients in plants and produce these nutrients. For example, true Vitamin A is not found in plant food, but if you eat enough beta carotene from yellow or orange vegetables and fruits, your body can convert it to Vitamin A. Vitamin K2 is found in the plant kingdom only in one obscure food: natto, a smelly Japanese fermented soy dish. But if you eat enough K1 (abundant in greens) the argument went, some of it would convert to K2. If you eat a lot of flax seeds you get abundant Omega 3 fats, the precursor to DHA needed by the brain.
So what is the problem? Children, the elderly, and the sick are not efficient at making these conversions. Also, some people genetically cannot make the conversions efficiently.
When young and healthy, some people can still make the conversions from plant nutrients to forms that are found only in animal foods: beta-carotene to vitamin A, omega-3s to DHA, vitamin K1 to K2, essential amino acids to nonessential ones, and vitamin D2 to D3. On the other hand, if you start before your 20s, your brain and nervous system are still growing. (You will want to maximize your child’s full brain growth potential by eating brain foods like fish and eggs.) So one cannot just assume that his/her body will make the necessary conversions for optimal health.
Furthermore, a vegan will have to be somewhat intelligent by keeping up with the latest nutritional research. So the ideal candidate for a vegan diet is a young, healthy, intelligent person with a passion for nutritional research and a lot of money for buying expensive supplements. But these people usually burn out, few lasting on a vegan diet longer than a few years—since it is not our natural diet.
Another issue is that a “veg” diet is usually very high in carbohydrates, which induce the release of insulin—a hormone that accelerates fat storage and aging! As we grow older, we become less tolerant of all these carbs, which is why I gained a lot of weight and got very bloated during my stint as a vegan. You can see my weight changes from the photos. It was easy for me to be in denial though, thinking, “Oh, I am just overeating, but the diet is healthful!”
In fact, a high carb diet is now found to be implicated in heart disease (no longer is saturated fat the culprit!), cancer (sugar feeds the cancer), nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s, ALS, MS, and even dementia. (Alzheimer’s is now often called “type 3 diabetes.”)
Another issue I developed on a vegan diet is SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth). This is because I overate soluble fibers, such as that found in seeds. SIBO causes bloating and eventually can lead to chronic constipation.
Nowadays I eat a high raw diet, but not 100%. I live in Ecuador where parasites thrive, and have decided to eat my meat rare (though I still indulge in raw egg yolks, which I love). I include a lot of raw fermented foods that I make at home: kombucha, sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar, plain yogurt, and kefir. I eat fruit in moderation—one piece in the morning of papaya, melon, green apples, or pineapple. I enjoy berries, which are low in carbs. I eat plenty of greens, which are alkalizing (especially wheat grass). Soup broths are also necessary for strong bones.
If you want to be healthy, look at traditional people who were healthy. The Eskimos for example, were found by Weston Price to be among the healthiest in the world—and they ate a 100% raw animal food diet! I think we don’t have to go to that extreme—but going high raw and low carb are big clues.
Susan Schenck, author of The Live Food Factor and Beyond Broccoli does raw ketogenic food classes and health coaching. Another book of hers you might enjoy is Expats in Cuenca, Ecuador: The Magic & The Madness. She may be contacted at LiveFoodFactor@yahoo.comSign up for our free 5 day mini course