Updated: Jul 11, 2019
There have been times in my life that I have thought about going vegan for many reasons. One... I love animals so much and the idea of taking the life of one is disheartening to me, although I did participate in an animal sacrifice at a conscious farm where they use every part of the animal from toe to tail, like the traditions of the native Americans. I felt that if I was going to eat animal protein I had better have the experience of what it was like to take its life. It was done in a mindful and purposeful way with the animal calmly taken to the location on the farm where this was to be done so it did not experience stress. The animal was surrounded by love from the small group that attended this. There were prayers of gratitude, lots of tears, and in the end we all had a tremendous education about sacrifice and the conscious use of the entire animal.
Another reason I have thought about veganism is for the environment. Although the final verdict is still out on this, some believe that animals raised for meat put too much impact on our land. This statement is a bit black and white because there are many factors that can go into raising animals. They can cut your grass for you, some keep the weeds out, and they produce the most rich natural fertilizer for gardens and for enriching our soil. But whenever I have tried this strict plant-based diet in the past, my body has told me that it is not the right choice for ME. It just does not "feel right" for me, for my body. I loose my strength, and my stomach does not digest nuts, seeds and avocados well.
It turns out that our ability to convert to veganism is actually in our genes. Scientists at Cornell University have found an actual vegetarian allele, (vegetarian gene). Those who have this allele are seemingly able to survive solely on a plant-baed diet alone, and not surprisingly, most have a heritage stemming from cultures that have traditional vegetarian diets. It is believed that the gene adapted to the food conditions available supporting the individual’s survival. The percentage of people who have this vegetarian gene is highest in Africans where 70% of people have the gene, and in South Asians where 53% have the gene. In this particular study, only 18% of Americans actually had it, leaving the other 82% of us needing animal protein in our diets for survival. This is logical because the majority of Americans in this country at this time have European heritages which were high animal protein eaters. Of course as the demographics of our country shift, so will these numbers over time. But for now, it turns out that most of us need some animal protein source in our diet.
This is very important information because so many people are making a switch to vegan diets today and it may not be serving them as well as they believe because of their genetic make up. If you are young, the body has extra enzymes that can assist in the rebuilding processes needed if animal protein is required, but not ingested. However, as we age these enzymes get depleted and are no longer able to assist our body and it begins to deteriorate. The Dali Lama was forced to eat meat by his doctors after his body degenerated to the point that animal protein sources were the only way he could rebuild.
We don't know exactly why some need animal sources but it seems to be a combination of things including how some individual's digestive make-up does not allow digestion of nuts and seeds and grains thus preventing proper assimilation of nutrients into the body, or how animal proteins are complete proteins that contain all of the amino acids necessary for contributing to the rebuilding of new healthy cells. When the body repairs itself, it uses protein as one of its core components. When we eat protein, it breaks down into amino acids. Your DNA then determines what exact combination of amino acids to combine together to repair a specific part of your body. If you do not have the vegetarian gene and you are on a 100% plant-based diet, and your body does not breakdown and assimilate the plant-based nutrients, you will not have the amino acids necessary for cellular repair. So when you are ill or have an injury or have had surgery, you may take much longer to heal than most people or you may not heal at all.
Just how much animal protein is necessary for those without the vegetarian gene is not known and is most likely different from person to person as our individual needs are so different and can also change over the years and circumstances. When I switched to a raw meat diet 16 years ago, my body craved a tremendous amount of raw meat every day, up to 2 pounds of meat a day. My body was craving it for healing purposes. As time went by I went through a natural decrease of this protein intake as my body needed an initial large dose to repair body parts but now I survive very well on a raw egg and raw milk combination as my dominant animal food sources, with smaller amounts of meat. Even today, when I have a lot on my plate and much to handle, I need to bump up my intake for my own personal physical survival. It's in my genes.
Some people may be able to eat a mostly vegan diet and incorporate meat periodically, or survive on eggs and dairy solely for their animal protein sources. Some may need high amounts of red meat and others high amounts of white meat or fish. There is not a “one size fits all” answer for a healthy diet. Our world of “this is the answer for everyone” has disconnected us from our actual genetics and from our own intuition of what is right for us, not only in our relationship to food and awareness of our body, but in many areas of our life.
A great place to start is to be tested for the vegetarian gene mutation. There are also other mutations that some people have and others do not that greatly effect ones health. Some people have a mutation that allows them to eat cooked fruits and vegetables and others do not have that mutation and must eat them uncooked or it causes health conditions in them. There is another mutation that stems from the Inuit in Greenland where those who carry it need seafood in their diet. Genetic testing gives us a starting point. Then we can experiment with how much and what kind of foods feel the best in our body.
Yes, many people who go on a vegan diet that focuses on unprocessed plant-based foods feel amazing! There is no question that this can happen. However, if you are the bulk of America making this change, you are feeling good because you have cut out the crap. You are no longer eating processed cereal, white bread, fried and overly processed foods. You are eating fresh fruits and vegetables and your body is getting the nutrients from these foods. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who have this vegetarian gene and this will sustain you.
It is possible to change our genes and the only way to do this is to change the conditions. This means if we increase our plant-based foods and reduce the intake of animal based foods, at some point our genetics may shift to adjust to the foods available. How long this takes is an unknown but most likely generations. At the same time, we also have to honor our current genetics. It is a fact that some of us need animal products for survival. Knowing your genetic baseline can help. Knowing if you carry this vegetarian gene or not can help you make food decisions based on knowledge instead of emotions. Knowledge allows us to make choices that serve us as individuals instead of making choices based on emotions.