There are few things in today’s world that get more heated discussions over a dinner table than politics, religion and food choices.
We become strong and uncompromising advocates for the things that have worked for us (or we think that did) and hearing another person’s point of view is often not welcome. In truth, most of us like to surround ourselves with people to agree with us and validate our opinions and not to question us.
When I tell people what I do, the first question, or rather statement 80% of them make is: “So, you must be a vegetarian”.
No, I am not a vegetarian.
I’m well aware this article will ruffle many feathers. Probably, especially so, if you are a vegetarian.
You joined my website for a reason; to seek answers and solutions as to how to heal your thyroid. If this is still your intent, I will ask you to stay open-minded and read it till the end. Because, really, if you continue doing what are you currently doing why would you expect a different result?
Let’s take a quick look on why people go off meat. They have some valid arguments, such as:
- Meat is full of saturated fats and is the key reason why we suffer from so many heart diseases and obesity today. My response: It’s true that many people lose weight getting off meat. They typically make many other dietary changes. The bigger issue here is the amount and quality of meat the person was consuming.The one filter I like to use when not sure if a certain food is “good” or “bad” is this: how did we live and eat “back then”, like 50, or 100 years ago? After all, we did not have an pandemic of autoimmune diseases, heart issues and obesity. So if we use this filter, let me ask you this question: our grand parents used to eat eggs and bacon for breakfast and had no heart or weight issues. How is that?Fat is a larger topic, you can refer to my earlier article (Why Low-Fat is Killing Your Thyroid) but you need to know that we need good amounts of fats, including saturated fats (yes, it’s not a typo) to function properly. See more on that below.
- Animal killing is cruel, especially in factory farms. My response: I totally agree that factory farming should cease to exist. When you watch a documentary like “Meet Your Meat”, you might lose your willingness to eat meat for days or forever. If you can’t get passed the slaughtering part, I respect that. One thing to consider here though is this: animals also kill other animals in order to live; it’s part of the cycle of life. Factory farming is without a doubt cruel, I therefore urge you to buy organic, grass-fed meat, their slaughtering practices are as humane as they can be.
Having considered these arguments for/against eating meat in general, let’s look at a more specific question:
Is Vegetarianism or Veganism Good for People with Thyroid Conditions?
This is what I see happening many times: people who become vegetarians and vegans experience great health and energy improvement as their overall diet improves. People who go on any new diet, for that matter, heighten their level of food awareness and become very conscious of what they put in their mouth and how the food makes them feel. Along with cutting down on meat, they often do the same with processed food, sugar and alcohol. If this is you, I encourage and praise you for any small diet and lifestyle change you make to get on a healing path.
We need to remember that every person is different. Just because a vegan/vegetarian diet worked for you, it does not mean it will work for Annie. If Annie is struggling with her thyroid, she would most likely not be well and recover on a diet without a good amount of animal protein.
In fact, I have to tell you that I had few [former] vegetarian clients who after years of feeling terrible caved in and started having moderate amounts of grass-fed, sustainably raised meat to see their healing path sky-rocket. You can read one such short story from Lucy (scroll down to Lucy Nurkse).
Here are a few reasons why people with thyroid conditions need meat.
Reason #1 Why People with Thyroid Conditions Need Meat: GLUTAMINE.
Glutamine is one of the 20 amino acids formed by the human body. Glutamine provides cells in the digestive tract with a vital source of energy that is required for regulating their production. Its role in re-building and strengthening the gut lining is critical.
Since most of thyroid conditions are autoimmune-related conditions and the immune system starts with the lymph nodes found in the digestive tract, it’s critical to start your healing by re-building the health of your gut. Most people with thyroid conditions also suffer from leaky gut.
What is lesser known is that glutamine also plays a role in the health of the pancreas, liver, mouth and esophagus. All these organs have a big impact on the digestion and the metabolism of your hormones.
Take a look at the food where glutamine is found:
- barley – grain and gluten
- corn – grain
- cabbage – goiterous
- cottage cheese – dairy
- egg whites
- milk – dairy
- peanuts – highly allergenic
- poultry beef
- raw parsley
- raw spinach – goiterous
- soy – to be avoided
- yogurt – dairy
Here is the challenge: I see most people having digestive problems from grains like corn, dairy, eggs and peanuts (how you find out about your food intolerances, you can learn from the Elimination Diet Guide). This leaves raw spinach which we need to reduce in the raw form due to its goiterous properties. This leaves us with parley and meat like beef and poultry.
One of my favorite ways to get glutamine and collagen (which is the over-hyped substance added to your anti-aging cream – you need it internally more than externally to get the benefits) – is from a good beef bone broth made of grass-fed cow bones, feet and joining tissue – the more connective tissue the better.
Reason #2 Why People with Thyroid Conditions Need Meat: TYROSINE
Tyrosine is a precursor of neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine.
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers between your brain and vital organs like your stomach, heart, lungs, etc. They can therefore affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.
Many people joke that vegetarians are always depressed – maybe there is something to it.
So back to tyrosine – it is also the precursor amino acid for the thyroid gland hormone thyroxin, and a defect in this may result in hypothyroidism. Now, did you know that?
Reason #3 Why People with Thyroid Conditions Need Meat: SATURATED FATS
This is a big topic and if you think I am losing it, I recommend doing some more reading. What you need to know now is this: saturated fats are the base material for producing cholesterol which is the precursor for critical hormones, thyroid included.
Saturated fats are necessary for calcium to be incorporated into our bones, this is why low-fat or skim milk won’t work as a calcium source, unless you eat some saturated fat in your meal.
Saturated fats are needed to boost immune function, and to build a healthy nervous system and digestive tract.
Saturated fats are the base material out of which the body makes cholesterol, which is the precursor to such critical hormones as vitamin D, cortisol, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. There hormones work hand-in-hand with the thyroid and their deficiency will impact the thyroid as well.
Fats also are needed as carriers for the fat soluble vitamins (the antioxidant vitamins), like vitamin A, E, D, K, and a low fat diet can lead to deficiencies in these nutrients. As a domino effect – these deficiencies also cause a problem in converting the T4 hormone to T3 (the power horse in our body).
Breast milk is high in saturated fat for a reason – it is vital for the healthy development of the baby. How can it be that saturated fats are vital for a baby but are health-threatening for an adult?
Reason #4 Why People with Thyroid Conditions Need Meat: TRYPTOPHAN
Good dietary sources for this amino acid is cottage cheese, milk, meat, soy protein and peanuts. Again, do you see how meat is the only safe food here from this list?
This amino acid is required for the production of niacin (vitamin B3). It is used by the human body to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is important for normal nerve and brain function. Serotonin is important in sleep, stabilizing emotional moods, pain control, inflammation, intestinal peristalsis, etc.
Reason #5 Why People with Thyroid Conditions Need Meat: VITAMIN B12 and IRON
You probably know this part already: we get plenty of vitamin B12 and iron from meat. It’s hard to find plenty of them in grains and vegetables alone. What is key to remember is that both Vitamin 12 and iron (as well as many other vitamins and minerals) are key in converting the T4 thyroid hormone (whether in its natural form or synthetic like Synthroid) to the T3 hormone which is what your body needs to function properly.
A word of caution here: some meat-eaters (even the keen ones) can still suffer from low B12 and iron deficiency (!) and this is more to do with the low absorption of food due to the damage in the digestive tract. Addressing your food intolerances would be the first step in improving your gut’s ability to absorb the goodness of food you are giving it, meat or no meat.
All this might be rather confusing, especially when all the glossy magazines are telling you to go vegetarian for good health. The problem is: nobody heals from the advice of glossy magazines.
Here’s a Re-Cap of My Point of View on Eating Meat
We have eaten meat for centuries, and every culture and cuisine in the world incorporates elements of meat. I’ve travelled to 37 countries (I actually counted it today for the first time.) and have lived in six and have not come across any culture that does not eat some form of animal-based proteins or meat. This is apart from small religious groups like the Buddhist monks or the Indian sadhus (holy men), who I would not consider large communities.
Eat meat but in moderate quantities. Traditionally, we viewed meat as a treat, not staple food. Our staple food consisted of grains, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruit. Meat was served in small quantities, at special occasions and often used as a remedy to boost the energy of a weak person. Things have changed along the way, for many meat became a status symbol, a politically-fueled food everyone should aspire to eat. And, I mean, seriously, who needs to eat a 10-oz (280g) steak?!
Get your meat from responsible sources – always grass-fed, organic, free- range meat is key. No compromises here. The hormones, antibiotics and growth hormones are no myth, they are real and avoiding them will be key in restoring and maintaining your health. This is not to mention that it is also the most ethical way to pick your meat from the perspective of treating the animal. If cost is an issue for you, there is a solution – look at getting your meat (and other food) from local farms. Not only will you support a hard-working and diligent local farmer but you will get local and reasonably-priced meat. To get started, you can go to Weston A. Price’s Foundation to find a local chapter: http://www.westonaprice.org/local-chapters/find-a-local-chapter or find a local CSA/farm on http://www.localharvest.org. Remember that a home-made grilled burger from grass-fed beef/bison (my favorite, recipe here) is a different food from a commercial burger (many only contain only 35% meat, rest are fillers like soy) that was fried in hydrogenated oils. Their nutritional profile is like day and night.
If you don’t like meat too much, re-frame your thinking to: “Let it be my medicine.” and focus on highly nutritionally packed parts like livers. This is one recipe that has turned liver haters to liver lovers.
Listen to your body. If your body tells you to eat meat, eat it. Many women around their period, crave meat for its iron. Don’t deprive yourself, it’s not a bad craving. Cravings are our body’s well of telling us that it needs something from us to be well. Don’t ignore these voices.
Cut back on the supplements. If you know me well, you know I truly dislike the supplement industry. It’s manipulative and profits driven – their job is to make profit not to make you healthy. The marketing claims boosted by skillful and articulate spokesmen and backed by medical professionals makes us feel like the biggest fool if we do not get this supplement NOW. The reality is: they are synthetic in nature and even if there is an element of natural compounds, they are often too condensed in nature for people with autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, remember that our body is designed to absorb REAL food, not synthetic supplements. You might retort by saying that today’s food is not as nutritious – which is true. My answer is simple: get organic food. Get clean food.
Going vegetarian/vegan is no guarantee for health – many people I meet are vegans but their health leaves much to be desired. Very simply: there is often too much processed food, plenty too much sugar and high-starch carbohydrates from food like pasta, white bread, power bars and sugary morning cereals even in vegetarian and vegan diets.
What is most important is to clean up and fix your gut. (You can start by doing Cooking for Balance.) This will ensure that your digestive tract has full absorption capability.
Be well, eat clean and heal.