Down with Vegetables! Vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore? Choosing Health.

DSC_5693About 6 months ago I was perusing my online reviews, because you should do that every once in a while, and I came across a review that skewed my stats with a 1 star out of 5. This happens. You can’t be right for everyone, and given my blunt nature, I’m bound to disappoint here and there. But the content of this one threw me. “Do not see Dr Brody if you are a vegetarian or vegan. She actively campaigns against this lifestyle.” It went downhill from there. Fast. :/

My first thought was “Whaaaaaaa?!!!” And my second, once I realized who had written it was “Oh, dang, I blew that one, big time.”

Beyond the amusing mental image of plastering anti-vegetarianism propaganda all over electrical poles in Portland, this review has given me a great deal to ponder. And I’m grateful for it. Am I really against the idea of being a vegetarian? I mean, I was vegan for years. I get it. I’ve lived it. I even opened a vegan restaurant called the Common Sense Café with my husband at the time (no, you can’t look it up, it was 1995 and the venture didn’t even outlast the marriage, which itself you could have missed if you blinked.)

Here’s how I got to where I currently stand on nutrition:

I initially became vegetarian after a meal my freshman year in college. A high school girlfriend was visiting from her own college and we were at a Friendlies restaurant. I ordered a cheeseburger. She scoffed in that way that only a newly minted college freshman scoffs “you mean a fleshburger?” I shifted in my seat uncomfortably. When my meal arrived I couldn’t eat it. I took the burger off of the square, grilled bread and put it under a napkin and didn’t eat meat again for well over a decade.

I personally flew my veggie (and then vegan) flag on the following platform:

1. Animals shouldn’t be tortured.
2. Commercial farming is a bad thing. Period.
3. We, as a culture, eat too much crap and processed meat.
4. Vegetarians are healthier (and thinner) than meat eaters.
5. Vegetarian diets are healthier than diets build around meat.
6. Meat (and dairy) is disgusting.

Over time it became clear that being vegan wasn’t right for my body (although honestly I wish it had been, will get to that later.) I was overweight, tired, and in a constant state of disturbed digestion. Starting to eat meat was one of the hardest things I’ve done, psychologically, in my life. I had to take a long hard look at my values and beliefs.

I remained steady on the first three points:

1. Animals shouldn’t be tortured
2. Commercial farming is a bad thing. Period.
3. We, as a culture, eat too much crap and processed meat.

It’s after that where things changed…I now believe:

4. Vegetarians on the whole are not more likely to be healthier (or thinner) than meat eaters who eat a whole foods diet including heaps of veggies.
5. Vegetarian diets are healthier than diets built around crappy meat but there are many situations (including my own) where a diet including meat is the healthier choice.
6. Meat comes from dead animals. If we care about animals, it is important for those of us who eat meat to acknowledge that and be honest with ourselves about where our food is coming from. To be honest with ourselves about how the animals they are eating were both raised, and slaughtered. To be honest with ourselves about whether they believe in, and are comfortable with, the idea of the food chain. And children should understand where meat comes from and it is no small thing to take a life for our own benefit.

So yes, I personally eat meat now. But only meat that I know has come from animals on small farms, from animals that have not been tortured. I eat grass fed and grass finished beef. I buy my meat in bulk directly from farms where I can, and from stores and restaurants who ethically source their meat—living in Portland, Oregon does make this easier. If I felt well on a vegetarian diet (no dairy of course), or even a pescatarian diet, I would do it in a heartbeat.

But also, I have to admit that yes, I do believe that most people do better with more protein. In particular, people with certain health issues do better with more protein: fatigue, blood-sugar issues, anxiety, mood swings, PMS, and many others.

In the end, my decades of experience in private practice combined with my ethics as a physician dictates a responsibility to recommend a higher protein diet to those who I believe would be served by this approach.

I’m honest with my patients, perhaps to a fault. I don’t recall the details, nor would they be appropriate for me to go into in any case, but I am confident that if I pushed this patient it was because I had a strong belief that either eliminating soy and gluten protein, adding animal protein, or both would dramatically change her health for the better.

Does that make me an anti-vegetarian crusader? No, actually. It’s the opposite. I support, 100%, those who choose not to eat meat for ethical reasons. This, in my mind, overrides feeling better if, and only if, that person puts the choice not to eat meat at the top of their own values list. And that is the individual’s choice, period. From that place, I have had hundreds of vegetarian patients over the years. Some have become omnivores or flexitarians, and some have remained vegan or vegetarian. I support them all and will continue to serve them with honesty and integrity- actively campaigning for their choices to line up with their own individual health goals, values and desires.

Yours In Health,
Dr Samantha Signature siggy


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