Monday, 16 January 2017

Post 41: Cowlean Goes Vegetarian


Hi guys,

Let’s be honest, that was a bit clickbait-y of me, so before you go running off to tell Grandma it’s the end of the world, it’s not. I’m still going to be eating meat, but what if I did indeed lose a portion of my marbles and became a vegetarian?

Humans are not designed to be vegetarians, just look at some of our teeth: we’re omnivores. But just because we have the tools, doesn’t mean that we must use them.


It might be easy for me to stand here and say “I could never go vegetarian”, but on the other hand there’s a tonne of people out there who say “I could never give up pasta”. Taking the first step is always the hardest one, and once you’re past that you find that everything is a lot easier than you thought. So am I planning on binning the meat? No. But I know that I could.

I’ve said before, that I think a decent rationale for vegetarianism is ethical grounds. Most meat comes from animals which are treated poorly and this translates to unhealthy food. From my own selfish perspective, that’s something I want to avoid. When most people go vegetarian, they remove a lot of what was making them feel bad, and they consequently lose weight. Then again, moving away from the standard western diet in most cases is positive.

So to sum up my thoughts on the “why do it” train: if you can afford high quality meat, go for it, and we don’t need as much as most people are eating. A little bit of the right thing is much better than lots of a mediocre food. If good meat is too pricey, then being a vegetarian might be a wise choice.


If animal ethics is your primary concern, then my advice would be to take care of the animals yourself and treat them as you see fit, giving you access to fresh produce.

Today we’re going to look at exactly what I would do if I went vegetarian, and I mean proper vegetarian. I’m not going to chicken out (huhuhuhuh) and go for pescetarian because I want to explore this topic in more detail. As a pescetarian I would eat nearly exactly the same food but swap meat for fish.


But before we get started, you need to consider that the vast majority of my diet is already vegetarian. One of my main focuses is to eat nutritious and natural food which helps me to look and feel the way I want to. This is something which I think that a lot of vegetarians would agree with.

But just because it comes from the earth doesn’t mean that it’s healthy (e.g. grains). There are a lot of products out there which are vegetarian, but should still be thought of as junk food. There are no “free-passes”, as it were. The same goes for foods marked as paleo. The problem is that you must always be on-guard!

As I just said, there are natural foods which I wouldn’t eat much of if at all, including grains and legumes (beans). Now, these can be a big part of a vegetarian’s diet, which leaves me thinking: where are the calories going to come from?

The answer lies in fats, including butter, eggs, and avocados. I would probably also increase my carb content by eating more sweet potatoes and white rice (more on this later).



Protein

Getting enough protein is a common concern/criticism of vegetarian diets, but this comes full circle to what I was saying earlier about pasta. People are out there thinking: if I don’t eat bread then what can I eat for lunch?! Having changed my diet years ago, I know there’s a land of plenty beyond that change.

I wouldn’t be eating legumes, which contain a decent amount of protein, so enter eggs. Lots and lots of eggs.


Eggs provide an enormous array of vitamins and nutrients (think about it, the egg has to provide the fuel to grow an entire chick). I would definitely increase my intake.

They’ve also got a great macronutrient profile: roughly 4.5g of fat and 6g of protein, which is 40.5 kcals from fat and 24 kcals from protein (63% fat and 37% protein). That’s a solid profile to build from.

Dairy might also be a good protein source, but firstly it contains too much sugar (lactose), and causes me skin problems. Dairy can be a problem for many people, and you never really know before you eliminate and reintroduce it. The good news is that you can still use butter and ghee, due to negligible amounts of dairy protein (casein). For me, chugging pints of milk is a no-go, but some here and there plus cheese is certainly doable.


Another source of protein would be nuts, but I wouldn’t overdo them. As we go into later, it will skew your omega 6 to omega 3 ratio negatively, and they’re also full of PUFAs. PUFA stands for polyunsaturated fatty acid. This type of fat is easily oxidised. Oxidised fats cause inflammation and accelerated aging.



Meat Substitutes

One thing I certainly would not eat are meat substitutes. One popular brand is made using something dubbed “mycoprotein”, essentially protein derived from mushrooms. Now, mushrooms are okay in my books, but they’re susceptible to mould plus you’re eating a synthetic product: something that goes against my food philosophy.

Other meat substitutes are made of soy, which are dreadful for a number of reasons including: high PUFAs, soy is incredibly allergenic, antinutrients, it is damaging to your thyroid and slows metabolism, and phytoestrogens (mimics estrogen in your body).

I also take issue at the attempt to replicate meat. In my opinion, if you’re a vegetarian, you’ve made a decision not to eat meat so therefore at a base level you should not want it. It’s like going low carb but always having “low-carb” versions of things. These substitutes are trying and failing to give you what your body actually wants. The real experience contains a full set of amino acids. So if you’re dead-set of being vegetarian, then maybe just consider eating meat once a month, and only have the very best you can find, rather than eating these frankenfoods.




Fats

Animal fats are an important part of my diet, and of course they would have to go, even if I chose to be pescetarian. I like to mix up the fats that I cook with, but I use goose fat and lard often, which would be swapped out most likely for coconut oil.


Coconut oil is a great fat to cook with because of its high saturated fat content and high smoke point. Basically it is incredibly hard to oxidise.

Like I said earlier, grass-fed butter would still be included, and it is a good source of omega 3 fat as well.

Unfortunately, when you remove access to grass fed meat and fish, your omega 3 levels will suffer. This means you’re going to have to pay special attention to you omega 6 consumption because you should aim for a ratio in the neighbourhood of 4:1 omega 6 to omega 3. My recommendation for someone following a vegetarian diet would be to make a special exception and purchase a high quality omega 3 supplement. In addition you can eat omega 3 enriched eggs.



Ketogenic Diet and Vegetarianism

I couldn’t finish this post without discussing my precious #ketodiet ;)

It it possible? Of course. Is it harder? Yes.

By taking a quick swipe through paleo-vegetarian recipes and dishes, I’m struck by the sheer amount of sugar that’s on display. I know that the food in these articles are supposed to be appetising and enticing, but it makes me think that being a keto vegetarian would be a struggle.

My current diet is characterised by low carb, and often ultra low carb days, so of course those meals wouldn’t make it into my cookbook.

I imagine that it would be much easier to maintain or very slowly gain weight (primarily muscle, hopefully) while being a keto-veggie. If you’re losing weight, you want to up your protein to maintain muscle, and I think that would require an unreasonable amount of eggs!

On workout days you could closely track, but ultimately eat more, carbs. By keeping a beady eye on your ketones and pushing the limit with your carbs, you’d be able to increase the number of calories consumed whilst staying ketogenic.



Takeaways

I hope you enjoyed the post this week. I liked putting together this thought experiment, and collating my thoughts on the matter. It should be of use to many vegetarians out there. Here’s this week’s takeaways:

  1. Identify the protein sources you can safely eat and make sure you get enough, but don’t worry, there are lots of healthy options
  2. Be mindful of PUFA content as a vegetarian; it can be easy to fall into the trap of eating too many
  3. If you can make some exceptions as a vegetarian: once a month eat some very high quality meat, and consider a high quality omega 3 supplement

Until next time,

Cowlean

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