Can You Follow a Strict, Healthy Vegetarian Diet?

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: General Health, Food and Nutrition
Last Reviewed 04/16/2014

“Some of you have been asking me for my opinion about the new movie “Forks Over Knives” which includes Dr. Campbell who wrote the book The China Study. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, in his book, Campbell suggests that many so-called “normal” illnesses of aging aren’t actually normal. Rather, his findings indicate that the vast majority of degenerative illnesses can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a healthy vegetarian diet.

Can You Follow a Strict, Healthy Vegetarian Diet? I greatly enjoyed reading Dr. Campbell’s book and he’s absolutely right on many points. For example, I think his theory about animal protein promoting the development of breast and prostate cancer is right on. But I don’t fully subscribe to his general premise. Here’s why.

Some vegetarians will not eat meat but will eat eggs and dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Others avoid all foods derived from animals. In my opinion, a strict vegetarian diet will put you behind the nutritional eight ball. 

No Such Thing as a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Every strict vegetarian (vegan) I’ve examined has had low blood levels of CoQ10, L. carnitine, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin B12. These are critical nutrients found most abundantly in animal protein. You can try to compensate for these missing nutrients through supplementation, and I would strongly recommend that if you’re firmly wed to being on a strict, healthy vegetarian diet. But I would not switch to becoming a vegetarian based on The China Study.

I researched international cuisine for many years and came to the conclusion that the best diet on the planet is what I call a Pan-Asian Mediterranean diet. That’s what I eat, and I recommend it to my patients. Asian and Mediterranean cultures enjoy fish and smaller quantities of meat, root vegetables and fresh local fruits and greens. They also frequently use meat to flavor their sauces. 

As for myself, I follow an 80-20 rule. I eat 80 percent vegetarian foods, and 20 percent meat—including lamb, buffalo, salmon and chicken. I also eat a lot of organic vegetables, fruit, eggs, yogurt and some cheese on a day-to-day basis, and I use organic milk on cereals.

Now it’s your turn: Do you follow a healthy vegetarian diet?

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