Should I Be Vegetarian?

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

“Should I become a vegetarian or should I stick with being a vegetarian?” I can’t tell you how often I’ve been asked this question over the years. While a meat-heavy diet is linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease and cancer, a total absence of meat can be unhealthy too. What do most all of the strict vegetarians (vegans) I’ve examined have in common?

Low blood levels of CoQ10, L-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, and vitamin B12 – critical nutrients found most abundantly in animal protein. If you’re firmly wedded to being on a strict vegetarian diet, I would strongly recommend that you try to compensate for these missing nutrients through supplementation.

Instead of a strict vegetarian diet, I’ve long recommended the Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) diet, which combines the eating habits of the Mediterranean cultures with traditional Asian cuisine. Meat is not a big part of this diet, but is instead often used as a condiment in meals or to flavor sauces. But cold water fish and organic eggs, which are great sources of essential fatty acids, play a key role.

Working within the framework of the PAMM diet, I suggest following the 80/20 rule:

  • Eat 80 percent vegetarian foods. This includes plenty of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats, such as olive, sesame, walnut, avocado, and flax oils.
  • Eat 20 percent animal protein foods. This includes wild Alaskan salmon, grass-fed buffalo, organic chicken, turkey and lamb, organic eggs fortified with DHA, and organic low-fat yogurt, milk, and cheese.

That’s the formula I have found that has worked the best for my patients as well as for me and my family.

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