Whether to eat a Vegetarian or meat diet?
Many people wonder if they should eat a vegetarian diet or a meat based diet. That is a good question and one with strong proponents on both sides, with both sides being hotly debated. I have often read and written about nutrition a lot as well as listen to many free health podcasts. And the answer of course is that it depends.
There is a spectrum of individual metabolic types. Some people are genetically predisposed to be able to metabolize meat and fats better than others. Other people are genetically predisposed to be better able to extract nutrients from plants than others.
So everyone is on a spectrum with vegans on one end of the spectrum and pure meat eaters of the other end of the spectrum. Like any bell curve, there are very few individuals that can do well on a vegan diet. And there are very few individuals that do well on a pure meat diet.
I have written how most people should be on a primarily plant based diet. I have also written about the possible problems of a pure vegetarian diet. But of course, there may be a few individuals that do well on those diets. So you can guess that my opinion (and this is only my opinion at the time of this writing in early 2014 and opinions can change over time), is that most people should have a combination of vegetables and some meat (but mostly vegetables).
The ratio of that combination that is optimal for you will depend on your metabolic type. Some need very little meat and other needs more.
The reason why we have such a large range from meat eaters to vegetarians is that humans evolved over many different parts of the world. Eskimos evolved a metabolism that is well adapted to processing fats and meats (because there are no fruits and vegetables in the snowy north). Others evolved in the tropics where there is an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
How to figure out Vegetable to Meat Ratio
How do I tell if I am on the vegetarian end of the spectrum or on the meat eating side? You have to get in touch with your animal instinct and let that tell you.
Animals are not told what to eat. They naturally knows what to eat if they are free to roam and find food on their own. A lion (which is a carnivore) will not touch a salad even if it was starving. That is because the lion metabolism is not adapted to processing plants. It is adapted to metabolizing meat and fats. And it can eat meat all day without getting high cholesterol.
A rabbit (which is a vegetarian) if allowed to fend for its own food will not touch a steak even if there was nothing else to eat. So of course, when experimenters force feed rabbits with saturated fat, the rabbit will develop atherosclerosis.
Humans are omnivores, and fall in between the spectrum of lion and rabbit.
Some people argue that humans eating cholesterol (as in eggs) does not raise cholesterol levels in the blood. However, there are a small percentage of the population (known as hyper responders to cholesterol) that consuming cholesterol does affect cholesterol levels. Perhaps these have a more vegetarian type metabolism.
Some people argue that humans need to eat some animal products (such as fish) in order to obtained essential pre-formed DHA and EPA omega 3 fatty acids because humans are not able to covert well the ALA omega-3 from flaxseeds to the usable form of DHA/EPA. But I have heard elsewhere that are some few individuals that can make this conversion well.
That is why nutrition is such a controversial topic and so hotly debated. Both sides are correct -- to a certain extent. It depends on the individual person that you are talking about. Just like it depends on whether we are talking about lions or talking about rabbits.
Experiment with Vegetarian versus Meat Diet
The lion and the rabbit don't have to read books titled "Eat This, And Not This". They don't listen to nutritional blogs and they don't have philosophical debates about food like we do.
They have a natural instinct dictated by their particular metabolism. And we do too. The problem with us is that we have lost touch of this natural instinct because it is over-ridden by our analytical pre-frontal cortex that causes us to think too much.
If you are healthy individual, you might want to try this experiment to get back in touch with your natural instincts.
For a day or two, eat a pure vegetarian diet. Do you crave meat at the end of the day? Are you hungry? If yes... There you go, that is your natural instinct kicking in. I have heard several instances of vegetarians coming out of vegetarianism due to such a strong craving for some animal product. Your body is telling you that you need to meat protein. If you continue eating like that, you may get nutritional deficiencies. If no, then maybe your metabolism is more of a vegetarian type.
Then for a day or two, eat large portions of meats at every meal. Do you start gagging at the end of the day? Sick of meat? Can't eat anymore? That is your body's natural instinct telling you that your particular metabolism can not metabolize that much saturated fat and protein. If you continue eating like that, you will get atherosclerosis or high cholesterol or homocysteine levels.
Of course, I say preform this experiment only if you do not have any pre-existing medical conditions. For example, you can not perform this experiment if you have gout or kidney issues or had gall bladder removal surgery or other various conditions (because you are not supposed to consume such large amounts of animal protein or on a restricted diet).
Another source of debate is the macro-nutrient ratio between carbs, protein, and fat. Difference sources argue different percentages. Again, it depends on your metabolic type and you need to go with your body's innate intelligence. Eat mostly vegetables. Eat protein if you crave protein and until you don't feel like it anymore. And eat some safe carbs if you feel a bit hungry and crave a bit of carbs.
The most important thing is to eat natural whole foods that come from nature. If you eat natural foods, your body instincts and your hunger signals will tell you what to eat and the right amounts.
If you eat processed food, the whole feedback mechanism that is so well built into your body gets all screwed up. That is because humans have not been exposed to processed food on an evolutionary scale such that it had developed the natural adaptation and feedback mechanisms for it. And plus manufactures use advanced science to alter the food in such a way that makes you keep wanting more of it (over-riding your natural feedback tendencies).