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    Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian & Vegan Diets

    Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian & Vegan Diets

    There are many reasons why someone may decide to go vegan or vegetarian. Some are compelled by environmental animal feeding operations while others by ethical or religious reasons. I respect these choices, even if my own exploration of these questions has led me to a different answer.

    But many choose vegan or vegetarian diet because they believe it’s a healthier choice from a nutritional perspective. For the last 50 years, we have been told that meat, eggs, and animal fats are bad for us. This is has been so drilled into our brains that very few people ever question it anymore. 

    Plant-based diets emphasize vegetables, which are very nutrient dense, and fruits, which are somewhat nutrient dense. However, these diets often include larger amounts of cereal grains (refined and unrefined) and legumes, both of which are low in bioavailable nutrients and high in anti-nutrients such as phytate. They also avoid organ meats, meats, fish, and shellfish, which are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat (1).

    Vegan diets, in particular, are almost completely devoid of certain nutrients that are crucial for physiological function. Several studies have shown that both vegetarians and vegans are prone to deficiencies in B12, calcium, iron, zinc, the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA, and fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D. 

    Let’s take a closer look at these nutrients on a vegan or vegetarian diet:

    B12

    This vitamin works together with folate in the synthesis of DNA and red blood cells. It’s also involved in the production of the myelin sheath around the nerves, and the conduction of nerve impulses. Studies have shown that 68% of vegetarians and 83% of vegans are deficient, compared to 5% of omnivores (2). B12 deficiencies can cause symptoms of fatigue, lethargy, weakness, memory loss, neurological and psychiatric problems, anemia, and much more! It’s also a myth that it’s possible to get B12 from plant sources such as seaweed, fermented soy, spirulina, and brewers yeast, but these foods actually contain B12 analogs called cobamides that block the intake of and increase the need for B12. 

    Calcium

    The bioavailability of calcium from plant foods is affected by vegans levels of oxalate and phytate, which are inhibitors of calcium absorption and thus decrease the amount of calcium the body can extract from plant foods (3). So while leafy greens like spinach and kale have a relatively high calcium content, the calcium is not efficiently absorbed during digestion. 

    Iron

    Ferritin, the long-term storage form of iron are notably lower in vegetarian and vegans (4). As with calcium, the bioavailability of the iron in plant foods is much lower than in animal foods. Plant-based forms of iron are also inhibited by other commonly consumed substances, such as coffee, tea, dairy products, supplemental fiber, and supplemental calcium. This explains why vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce non-heme iron absorption by 70% and total iron absorption of 85% (5).

    Zinc

    Although deficiencies not often seen in Western vegetarians, their intake still often falls below recommendations. This is another case where bioavailability is important. Many plant foods containing zinc also contain phytate, which inhibits zinc absorption by about 35% compared to omnivorous diets (8). Therefore, deficiency may still occur. This study suggested that vegetarians may even require 50% more zinc than omnivores (9).

    EPA and DHA

    Plant foods contain both linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) which are both considered to be essential fatty acids, meaning that they cannot be synthesized or produced by the body and therefore must be obtained through food. Of the two essential amino acids, EPA and DHA from omega-3 fatty acids play a protective role in the body such as fighting disease, cancer, asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and autoimmune disease by greatly reducing inflammation in the body. Although it is possible for some omega-3 fatty acids from plant foods to be converted to EPA and DHA, that conversion is poor: between 5-10% for EPA and 2-5% for DHA (10). Vegetarians also have 30% lower EPA and nearly 60% lower DHA (11). 

    Fat-Soluble Vitamins

    Probably one of the biggest problems with vegetarian and vegan diets is their near total lack of the fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Fat-soluble vitamins are critical to human health. Vitamin A promotes healthy immune function, fertility, eyesight, and skin. Vitamin D regulates calcium metabolism, immune function, reduces inflammation and protects against many forms of cancer. These fat-soluble vitamins are concentrated and found almost exclusively in animal foods: seafood, organ meats, eggs and dairy products (12). Also, the idea that plant foods contain vitamin A is a misconception. Plants contain beta-carotene, the precursor to active vitamin A (retinol). While beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in humans, the conversion is inefficient (13).

    With care and attention, it is possible to meet nutrient needs with a VEGETARIAN diet that includes liberal amounts of pasture-raised, full-fat dairy and eggs, with one exception: EPA and DHA. These long-chain omega fats are found exclusively in marine algae and fish and shellfish, so the only way to get them on a vegetarian diet would be to take a microalgae supplement (which contains DHA) or to take fish-oil or cod-liver oil as a supplement (which isn’t vegetarian). Still, while it may be possible to obtain adequate nutrition on a vegetarian diet, it is not optimal—as the research above indicates.

    I do not, however, think it’s possible to meet nutrient needs on a vegan diet without supplements—and quite a few of them. Vegan diets are low in B12, bioavailable iron and zinc, choline, vitamin A & D, calcium, and EPA and DHA. So if you’re intent on following a vegan diet, make sure you are supplementing with those nutrients

    When working with clients who I believe may suffer from nutrition deficiencies I often run a micronutrients blood test to see exactly where we need to fill in the gaps. Click here more information on testing and nutrition consulting.

    Guest post by Rachel Scheer, BS Nutrition & Dietetics from Baylor University. DFW Clinical Nutritionist (www.rachelscheer.com - @rachelscheer)

    Sleeping 101

    Sleeping 101

    In today's society the physical and mental demands of our responsibilities don't leave enough hours in the day to get everything done. When we get overwhelmed with deadlines, errands, studies, and projects, proper sleep is unfortunately one of the first casualties.

     

    Sleep is a crucial part of keeping ourselves healthy. As much as we try to "burn the midnight oil" and grind out extra hours to get things done, neglecting proper rest puts our bodies, minds, and emotions in a state of imbalance. This affects more than muscle recovery or mental clarity — it can even distort our sleeping patterns, hunger, and hydration signals.

     

    What can we do to ensure we get proper rest when the world doesn't stop turning? Create a good wind-down or pre-bed routine that relaxes and de-stimulates our senses.

    Sleep Strategies

     

    1. Natural Light & Morning Activity

    Getting light exercise in the morning can help regulate your body's circadian rhythm and improve circulation. Getting outdoor activity promotes better oxygen intake and blood flow, positively impacting our health.

     

    2. Caffeine Cut-Off

    I love a strong brew or tasty energy drink to get the gears turning just as much as anyone else, but did you know caffeine can last in your system for up to 8 hours? This can easily cause sleep deprivation. Avoiding it after the morning hours ensures your body flushes it out long before you attempt to sleep.

    3. No Snacks Before Bed

    There's no question proper nutrition centered around unprocessed, whole foods helps your body get the nutrients it needs. Studies show opting for carbs before bed can improve sleep, but how do you expect your body to focus on rest when it's busy digesting food? Try to have your last meal at least 2 hours before you plan on sleeping to avoid digestion issues or sleep disruption.

    4. Turn Off Screens

    Blue light from screens suppresses our natural melatonin production, which can easily mess with our sleep. Certain devices and apps have implemented “night mode” to reduce blue light,  but it's still a good idea to minimize your screen time at least an hour before bed.

    5. Cool Dark Space

    Our body temperature needs to drop to get a good night’s sleep. A cooler room promotes deeper sleep, and for most people about 65 degrees is the sweet spot. Light coming through windows can prevent your brain from winding down, so keep your bedroom completely dark with blackout shades/curtains and eliminate all forms of light when trying to sleep.

    6. Meditation/Yoga

    Our minds are constantly thinking, focusing on tasks that need to be done in the future. This can keep us tossing and turning when we truly need rest. Relax physically and mentally with a stretching/yoga routine and a mental stillness practice like meditation. This ensures we transition to a state of rest. Alternatively, writing down tasks you need to complete the next day can potentially remove anxiety about them.

    Supplements

     

    Quick fixes are often our first instinct, rather than taking the healthier route — simple lifestyle changes. Even something as widely accepted as melatonin supplements can be detrimental. In very small doses (0.5mg) melatonin may be beneficial. However, people often take up to 10mg which seriously derails their natural melatonin production, especially when taken habitually.

     

    Taking drugs to counteract poor sleeping habits is like eating fast food every meal and taking a fat burner to lose weight.

     

    That being said, there is one supplement I highly recommend: “Lunar” by Legion Athletics. I’ve been taking it for years and it always helps give me a good night’s sleep. It helps me fall asleep faster, easier, and deeper. Lunar’s dosage has been formulated by scientific research and has minimal impact on natural sleep patterns. For me, taking it 3x a week maximizes its effectiveness while allowing my body to maintain its natural chemical balance.

    Wyatt Medlin’s ICONIC Weight Loss Journey

    Wyatt Medlin’s ICONIC Weight Loss Journey

    In college Wyatt was a weightlifter and avid swimmer. After graduating and entering the workforce, something happened that is all too common — life got in the way and fitness was no longer part of his daily routine. 

     

    Just before January 2021 he weighed 321 lbs, and started eating ICON meals in the new year. His after pics are from June 15th, 50 pounds lighter and looking great! Read on to hear how he got past his biggest challenge: “getting started again.”

     

    Wyatt Medlin Weight Loss ICON Meals

     

    Can you describe the moment when you decided to make a change? What caused you to make that decision?

     

    Late 2020 I went on a family vacation to the mountains and found myself extremely winded and out of breath while hiking trails, struggling to keep up, at only 30 years old. Being an active person most of my life, growing up playing sports and enjoying working out, it hit me very quickly that I had lost focus for my own well-being and had let myself no longer be a priority. It was time to make a change!

     

    When you started, what was your original vision or goal?

     

    My original goal was to realign my physical, emotional, and personal priorities. Finding a new

    routine, trusting the process, becoming comfortable again in the gym, and hitting new goals!

     

    What has been your biggest struggle along the journey so far?

     

    Shifting around a schedule to ensure that I allow myself time every day to be better as a human. 

     

    Do you remember when you finally began to see progress? When was that and how did you feel?

     

    A few weeks into my journey and it was motivating and exciting!

     

    Where are you now? Describe your results and how you feel.

     

    I'm 6.5 months into my journey and ICON Meals has allowed me to follow a healthy, clean diet that takes the guesswork out! I am feeling proud and excited for what's to come!

     

    What advice do you have for others that want to make a change?

     

    Take the first step. You won't regret it! 

     

    Has your journey impacted others? If so, in what way?

     

    My twin sister has joined along on her own journey and it's been so fulfilling to see her progress as well!

     


     

    Share Your Own ICONIC Story!

    Have ICON meals helped you reach your fitness goals? Share your story and inspire others to start their journey.

    In the Gym With Phil Heath and Mike O’Hearn

    Phil and Mike have been bodybuilders for a long time. Phil’s a 7-time Mr. Olympia winner and Mike is the only American Gladiator to be on the original show and the revival nearly 20 years apart. That kind of longevity comes from being smart about developing strength and athleticism.

     

    We captured footage of these two powerhouses training arms and dropping wisdom bombs. It’s worth a watch!

     

    The Titan Breakfast Burrito