I’m a HUGE fan of eating tons and tons of vegetables, as well as other nutritious plant-based foods including fruits, nuts, seeds, and small amounts of legumes and whole grains. And most people ASSUME that being such a "health-freak" that I MUST be vegetarian.
But that’s not the case.
In my years as a health coach, I’ve learned (and keep proving, to myself and others) that no one diet works for everyone. We are all different, and while many people do best on vegan diets (the benefits are numerous!), many people do best with some animal protein.
There are SOME health “rules” I believe apply to everyone, such as: AVOID or at least LIMIT processed food, sugar, fake sugars, alcohol, processed meats, ultra-processed fats/oils particularly vegetable oil and trans fats. Drink more water, exercise regularly, relax regularly, and sleep 7-9 hours every night.
Also, I believe eating MORE vegetables and usually LESS meat (for those that consume it daily and in large quantities) is KEY for optimal health.
But GOOD-QUALITY ANIMAL PROTEIN is one of those variables that I believe is not necessary for everyone, yet in small amounts, can be HUGELY BENEFICIAL for many people.
In my case, I chose to eat small amounts of good quality animal protein as it helps me achieve hormonal balance.
So first, what do I mean by GOOD-QUALITY?
Look for animal protein (beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, game, fish, eggs) that is organic, or at least grass-fed (particularly in the case of red meat), raised freely vs. in a cage (in the case of chicken and its eggs) and raised in the wild (in the case of fish), and always FREE of hormones and antibiotics.
What do I mean by SMALL AMOUNTS?
Everyone is different and our protein needs are different, but I generally suggest just 20-30 grams of protein per meal. That usually about 3-5 ounces of animal protein, or roughly the size of your fist. And note, even if you're aiming for 40g of protein, you can have just 4 oz of animal protein and still get the additional protein in your meal from your veggies ( for ex., kale and broccoli have tons of protein!), healthy fats, as well as legumes/grains/nuts/seeds.
HOW OFTEN should we eat animal protein?
While our needs are different, I usually suggest only one meal a day include animal protein, maximum two. As for red meat in particular, I generally recommend sticking to consuming it once or twice a week, not more. If you have specific health concerns, this can vary.
There are studies that show eating good-quality red meat 2-4 times per week (just palm-sized servings) was beneficial for mental health, helping to combat depression and anxiety. However, eating 70g of meat every day can have the OPPOSITE effect. So the “good quality”, “small amounts”, and “not too frequent” is key in my opinion.
Not to mention that the way we raise cattle and produce animal protein generally is not great for the environment. And animal cruelty is still an issue in my opinion. PLUS you probably know the risks with consuming too much meat, including raising your cholesterol and overall increasing your risk for most disease.
So again, i would emphasize, if you choose to eat meat, aim for “good quality”, “small amounts”, and “not too frequent”.
WHY DO I CHOOSE TO EAT MEAT? WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Lean, good-quality animal protein is an excellent source of protein, nutrition (particularly Iron and B-Vitamins) and healthy fats.
PROTEIN: As most of you know, protein is an essential part of a balanced diet. We need it to build muscle and create hormones, and lack of protein can lead to blood sugar and hormonal imbalances, as well as lack of strength and energy. It can also result in weak/dull hair, skin and nails. Plus, it keeps us satisfied at meals.
While it is completely possible to consume enough protein from plant-based foods (and I often suggest everyone enjoy some purely plant-based meals a few times per week), animal protein (including red meat, chicken, turkey and fish) also provide great sources of protein, rich in a variety of minerals, vitamins and healthy fats (as long as we stick to good-quality meats as mentioned above, and leaner cuts).
They also provide some amino acids that we cannot find in plant-based foods, like creatine (a great source of energy creation in our body) and carnosine (a powerful antioxidant).
B-VITAMINS: They’re also very rich in B-vitamins (especially liver!) which are generally harder to find in plant-based foods, and B-vitamins are essential for hormonal health, mental health, digestion, to combat stress, for strong hair/skin/nails, and more!
Women with a history of taking birth control often have their b-vitamins depleted (in particular vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid), so if you’re on the pill or have taken the pill in the past, you need to be extra careful to eat foods rich in b-vitamins (and/or take a supplement).
And if you’re pregnant and need to boost your folate (folic acid), one of the best ways to do so, other than supplementing, is consuming some grass-fed beef liver once or twice a week!
B-12 deficiency is also extremely common (one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in the world), leading to many health issues (including fatigue, joint and muscle pain, poor memory, dizziness, digestive issues, heart irregularities, and more). Great sources of B12 include liver, beef, lamb and wild fish including salmon, mackerel, trout and tuna.
IRON: Animal protein, in particular red meat and organ meats (ex. liver), are a great source of iron. They offer “heme-iron” which is generally better absorbed by our bodies than “non-heme iron”, found in plant foods like spinach.
Iron is key for keeping us energized as its essential to build red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout our bodies. Low iron levels will usually leave us feeling fatigued.
Also, women generally have lower iron levels because we bleed out iron each month when we menstruate. Even women who don’t menstruate regularly have a tendency of low iron levels. Apart from leaving us tired, low iron levels is linked to low thyroid hormones, which can lead to menstrual issues (such as heavy bleeding, which means more iron deficiency) as well as difficulty losing weight, and more.
So while I am someone who absolutely loves plant-based foods, fully understands their benefit and necessity in staying healthy (and negatives of too much meat), I also found that including some animal protein in my diet, including organic eggs, wild fish and small amounts of grass-fed red meat, helps me:
- Keep up the variety of my (delicious) meals. I'm a huge foodie, so this is key!
- Ensure that I always get my daily intake of PROTEIN (even by just eating animal protein 1/day and the rest coming from vegan sources); I need this given my tendency for blood sugar imbalances and to keep me satiated as I'm always hungry otherwise.
- Ensure that I’m getting enough IRON, and B-VITAMINS, which are key in particular for my tendency for low hemoglobin, to boost my low production levels of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, and for my overall hormonal health.
That being said, my diet is roughly 80% plant-based and only 20% (or less) animal protein. That’s what I find works for ME and keeps me healthy and feeling my best.
WHAT ARE MY FAVORITE ANIMAL PROTEIN SOURCES (PARTICULARLY FROM A NUTRITION PERSPECTIVE)?
- Wild fish, particularly salmon
- Organic cage-free eggs
- Grass fed beef (lean cuts)
- Organic liver (beef or chicken)
- Bone broth (beef or chicken)
- Organic chicken
How do you know what diet WORKS FOR YOU?
It requires developing a closer relationship with your body; listening and responding to your body by giving it what it needs. This includes incorporating habits such as: eating when you’re really hungry (not when you’re bored), stop eating when you’re full, resting when you’re tired, etc. But also, paying close attention to the signals that our body gives us, and digging deep to understand why we have certain health issues, including nutrient deficiencies or hormonal imbalances. And then doing some trial and error to find what foods make us feel best.
Working with a health coach can be extremely beneficial. Also, you can try a one-week detox (or up to three week detox), where you eliminate, then add back in, certain foods that you suspect you have difficulty digesting or just don’t make you feel great. Even minimizing certain foods (including red meat), and seeing how you feel with only small amounts. If you want more help on this, please reach out!
Love and Animal Foods,