Four years ago, I decided to try out the vegan diet. I had watched the Fork over Knives movie, read the book The China Study, and was inspired talking to people about it.
I had just given birth to my daughter a few months before and was relatively healthy despite a higher than normal cholesterol number. I wanted to see if what The China Study book said about not eating animal products truly worked to curb high cholesterol numbers. So in January 2012 I decided to removed all animal products from my diet – meat, eggs, butter, broth, cheese, all of it. I did still continue to eat fish on occasion, but that was my only source of animal products.
In exchange for giving up the meat, I ate a lot more vegetables. More than half of my plate was vegetables along with some beans and a grain.
The first year seemed to go pretty well. I felt like I had more energy, less bogged down by the heavy feeling of the meat and it helped my weak stomach issues, something I now contribute to eating more veggies and realizing the extent of my lactose intolerance.
In January of 2013, I had my cholesterol levels tested again and to my surprise there was no change. In fact, my numbers had slightly worsened.
Animal products made ZERO difference in my cholesterol numbers!
For the next year, I decided to give up sugar. I went through and purged almost all of it out of the house and it wasn’t just desserts that got the cease and desist order. I had to read every label because it gets sneaked into everything – pasta sauce, salsa, peanut butter, ketchup, cereal, frozen meatballs, pretzels, you name it and they include it. I replaced all those items with ones that were more pure and didn’t add the sugar. I bought organic pasta sauce, sourdough bread, raw peanut butter, and jam without sweetener.
That year, 2013, was almost one of the most sick I had ever felt. My family couldn’t catch a break from constant cold and flu infections. As soon as we recovered from one, we’d catch another… for an entire year! You’d think by eating more healthy, we’d be healthier, but it was not to be.
In January 2014, I had my numbers checked again. That was it! That was the key I had been missing. It was the sugar. The excess sugar had made my cholesterol elevated, not the animal products claimed by The China Study.
But it was too late. Two years of no meat or eggs had taken its toll. My body had been stretched to its limits and been drained of nutrient reserves, partly because I hadn’t been taken in any but also because I’d been breastfeeding for two years by that point. My body had more demands on it than it could give.
In March of that year, I developed ovarian cancer.
(I wrote a post on it around that time which you can still read. This post is an update to that one as I have had more time to process it all since then.)
It wasn’t until April when I had a surgery to remove the tumor which in just a months time had grown to an 8″ wide sack of cancer cells in my abdomen. At the time they did not believe it was cancer, but believed it was a rapidly growing benign tumor. It wasn’t until it was removed that they gave me the bad news.
I had to wait an entire agonizingly-long month to heal enough from that surgery to have another surgery which checked the extent of the spread of the disease. It was then that the decision was made to remove my uterus because of indications that it may have spread there (as well as the appendix and omentum).
It took about a week to get the results from that surgery – another week of relentless prayer.
The results came back Ovarian Cancer Stage 1A, meaning that it had all been removed in the first surgery and nothing, not even a trace of deadly cancer cells, were detected! Thank you, God, for you mercy! There’s not a day that goes by that I am not thankful for God’s hand on the surgeons and medical staff for their quick and thorough action.
However, two and a half years later I am left with all of the fall out that came from that debacle and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on those events. Not only has it scarred my body and left me unable to have any more children, but it has left me with a great sense of awe and wonder over how God created the human body to work.
Two years ago, just a few months after the cancer appeared and was removed, I began to reintroduce animal products into my diet. Meat was first – and I did not like the taste of it! The texture threw me off so terribly I thought I wouldn’t be able to swallow it and nearly gagged, but I continued. I continued because I knew not having it didn’t work. It didn’t do a thing to my cholesterol numbers and like it or not, I spent a year in the most miserable state I could be in followed by a disease I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
I started eating it once a week, then several times a week, and now I’m at a point where I eat it once a day with perhaps some eggs for breakfast.
I will say this about the diet I was on. The amount of vegetables, combined with the lack of sugar (which cancer feeds on), and a lot of prayer, I believe is what saved me and kept the cancer from spreading. I have no doubt about that. However, the formation of the cancer in the first place should not have happened.
Cancer can be caused either by radiation, environmental conditions, genetics, and/or lack of nutrients. I believe my cancer came from a lack of nutrients.
I originally believed it was a lack of calcium and vitamin D alone, but looking at the numbers of how much I actually ate and understanding more about the situation, I don’t believe that’s the case anymore. What I was lacking were the animals nutrients – animo acids, vitamins, minerals – and iodine.
* Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in the function of every cell in the body. It is tightly involved in the formation of blood and the function of the brain. It is only found in meats, eggs, and fish. As a note, every vegan MUST supplement this vitamin in order to survive. It is unavailable in any plant-based food. (I did take this as a supplement, but nothing beats the original form.) (Source)
* Creatine – Scientific studies consistently show that creatine supplementation can increase muscle mass and strength, in addition to improve cognitive function. Creatine is another element not found in plants that must be supplemented. (Source)
* Vitamin D3 – D2 comes from plants, D3 from animals. Studies show that D3 is much more effective than the plant form. It also needs to be combined with calcium to absorb properly. You can also get it from the sun, but when the winter months prohibit you from getting enough sunlight, it must also be supplemented. (Source)
* Carnosine – Carnosine is a very important nutrient that you may never have heard of before. It is strictly found in animal tissues. Carnosine is created out of two amino acids and is highly concentrated in both muscle tissue and brain. (Source)
* DHA – DHA is the most abundant Omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and it is critical for normal brain development. Many people who avoid animal products supplement with flax seed oil instead, which is a great source of ALA… a plant form of Omega-3. However, ALA needs to be converted to DHA for it to work. Studies show that this conversion process is notoriously ineffective in humans. (Source)
* Heme Iron – Heme-iron is a type of iron only found in meat, especially red meat. Not only is heme-iron well absorbed, it also improves the absorption of non-heme iron from plant foods. Unlike non-heme iron, heme-iron is not affected by antinutrients, such as phytic acid, often found in plant foods. (Source)
* Taurine – The function of taurine in the body is not entirely clear. Taurine is only found in animal foods such as fish, seafood, meat, poultry and dairy products. (Source)
* Saturated Fat and Cholesterol – Oh, the irony of just what I was trying to avoid. Many people still think that saturated fat and cholesterol are the root of all evil, despite it having been thoroughly disproven. This has led many people to adopt a low-fat diet, which is low in animal foods, but high in sugars and starches.
Another essential nutrient I did not receive enough of, though not meat-related, is iodine. The change away from iodized table salt to more natural salt puts this element in deficiency:
* Iodine – Iodine is essential for breast, endometrial, and ovarian health. Having switched to Himalayan sea salt, I did not receive enough of this ingredient either. You can google this correlation rather easily. (Study) (FYI, Selenium needs to be taken with iodine as it seems to balance it.)
In addition to these lacking nutrients, eating a vegan diet can also lead to insufficient vitamins and minerals because there just aren’t enough of them in plant foods. These include:
* Zinc – Plant-based foods high in zinc are also high in phytic acid. People eating these diets may require as much as 50% more zinc than non-vegetarians in order to absorb the same amount. (Source)
* CoQ10 – CoQ10 is another element that is generally low in people on a plant-based diet. The richest source of CoQ10 is found in meats at 15.8mg of CoQ10 per 100g. The richest plant-based source comes in at an underwhelming 1.87mg/100g in raw soybeans. (Source)
In order to receive complete nutrition while eating a plant-based diet, many of these nutrients need to be supplemented. The amounts needed on a daily basis cannot be achieved by diet alone and the form in which they exist in plants affects their bioavailability in the body. The vegan diet lacks the essential elements that humans need to survive.
Soon after the multiple surgeries, I went to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned. I hadn’t been in years, but on urging from my husband, I finally decided to go. The dentist said I had nine cavities! Nine! Never have I had so many cavities. Additionally, one tooth had to be pulled because it had decayed down to the root. The funny thing is, I never felt any of them, but the x-rays confirmed what he was saying.
Looking back on this, I now see a correlation between my poor diet and the depletion of minerals in my teeth causing them to look fragile and transparent. Teeth are a good indicator of bone health and having poorly mineralized teeth can only mean one thing. For two years I had let my body be drained of essential nutrients it needed to stay healthy.
Medical science still does not understand the impact of completely removing animal products from the human diet.
There are so many nutrients that we have not discovered that may impact the body in subtle ways. It is my belief that the vegan diet, without supplementation, is insufficient to sustain a healthy body. Without supplementation of these lacking elements we would be leading unhealthy, cancer-ridden lives. Additionally, no one knows what the next nutrient is that researchers will discover that will also require supplementation, because we just found out about it.
I believed what I was eating was the most healthy way to eat. There’s no doubt that eating vegetables and whole grains is healthy, even vital, but when I lacked meat, eggs, and other animal products, I was also lacking in vital nutritional elements in their purest, most easily absorbable form. That itself is one of the main considerations of eating a whole-foods diet.
Do you want to know the key to eating healthy? Here it is:
Everything in moderation!
I don’t gorge on meat, but I don’t gorge on vegetables, fruits, grains, or even sugar for that matter. A well-balanced diet of essential foods is necessary to promote a healthy body, and I don’t believe a vegan diet can provide all that we need.
The China Study and Fork Over Knives claim that animal products are to blame for the many maladies in our lives, but I believe this blame lies elsewhere in a non-essential element – added sugar. My own two year cholesterol study proves this. Sugar is a rarity in this house and saved for special events like birthday parties or Thanksgiving pie. Had I continued indulging in it for many more years, I believe my cancer diagnosis would not have been so favorable and I would probably not be here writing this today.