One of the most commonly-asked questions I get is how to reintroduce meat to your diet after being vegan or vegetarian? This post include 8 tips for reintroducing meat.
Eating meat again after being vegan or vegetarian is a controversial topic. Folks who have made the commitment to being vegan or vegetarian don’t like to hear about people who aren’t thriving on such a strict diet. After following a 100% strict vegan diet for 3 1/2 years, I realized in 2014 that I needed to expand my dietary choices and figure out which foods really would nourish my individual needs.
The truth is, being vegetarian or vegan isn’t right for everyone, and can lead to nutritional deficiencies and even disordered eating patterns. I wrote a comprehensive article with eight vegan diet dangers that you might be interested in reading. One of the vegan diet dangers can lead to irreversible health damage.
One study showed that 84% of vegetarians return to eating meat again. Once you realize that you aren’t thriving as a vegetarian or vegan, you’re then faced with the choice of discarding everything you’ve come to believe, making that mental shift, and adding meat back into your diet. I get how difficult of a decision this is. The vast majority of my audience and friends were incredibly supportive when I made my announcement, but there were a few people who were unkind and cruel showed a disturbing lack of compassion and humanity.
So, in order to offer support to those who are going through this tough transition, I’ve come up with eight tips for how to reintroduce meat back into your diet after being vegan or vegetarian. And, just to be clear, I’m not trying to convince anyone to eat meat or to stop being vegan or vegetarian. This post is for the many, many people who have reached out to me asking for help because they’ve realized they need to try adding meat back into their diets. Along with these tips, I offer kindness, compassion, and empathy for a very tough decision.
8 Tips for Reintroducing Meat After Being Vegan or Vegetarian
1. Re-introduce animal foods slowly and one at a time.
A person transitioning from a vegetarian or vegan diet back to an omnivorous diet might want to introduce fish first, then poultry, and then red meat. If you have been vegan and are adding animal products back in, eggs might even be a better first choice before fish. It’s a very individual decision and there’s no one right way to start. Even listening to your cravings might be the best rule of thumb.
I understand that some people may choose to stay away from red meat for good, but for others, red meat provides the nutrients that they’ve been lacking on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Red meat from grass-fed, organic sources is an incredible source of healthy vitamins like B12, minerals such as zinc and iron, beneficial antioxidants like glutathione, and essential fatty acids such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
2. Support your digestion by taking enzymes.
If you’ve ever experienced or heard about the “heavy” feeling that can come with eating meat, then you might benefit from taking some digestive enzymes or betaine HCL with your meal. I like this brand (affiliate link included). The most likely reason for that heavy feeling you get after eating red meat is compromised digestion. Or, maybe you ate too much of it at one time. Those meat-digesting enzymes were taking a break when you were vegetarian or vegan, and your body might need some help. Low stomach acid is not uncommon. Your functional medicine practitioner can run tests to determine if you would benefit from taking enzymes.
If you suspect that red meat is affecting your gallbladder, you may need to supplement with bile salts. It helps if you use a slow cooker to prepare your meat. Slow cooking your meat will help break down the proteins more making it easier to digest (here are all my tips for clean eating cooking techniques). Or, for another red meat option, you could opt for bison instead, which has less fat and may be easier for your digestive system to process.
3. Choose higher-fat cuts of meat for more flavor.
Let’s be honest, the most flavorful cuts of red meat contain more fat. If you find yourself grimacing at the taste of red meat, it may mean that you’re choosing too lean of a cut. An example is switching from consuming 99% lean ground beef to one that has an 80/20 ratio. There’s no need to fear the fat if you’re consuming organic, grass-fed and grass-finished beef. In conventionally raised beef products, toxins generally get stored in fat tissue. But in organic, grass-fed and grass-finished beef products, consuming some of the fat is actually quite beneficial. You’ll get an added dose of conjugated linoleic acid, plus the fat will help you absorb all those essential vitamins and minerals that are so plentiful in red meat.
4. Consider the source of your meats.
Conventional feedlot beef is not a good choice for a myriad of reasons. Both vegan and paleo communities agree that factory farming is unethical, unnatural, and horrible for animals and the planet. There are quite a few companies that source their meat from organic, grass-fed and grass-finished farms. Outside of buying from local farms, you can now order online and have frozen grass-fed meats shipped directly to your door. Buying from U.S. Wellness Meats is a great options (affiliate links included).
5. Lose the fear of eating meat.
Sarah Ballantyne from The Paleo Mom wrote an informative blog post debunking the ‘unhealthy’ myth that surrounds red meat consumption. She cites studies that have shown that red meat may cause cancer. And while it’s possible that red meat does contribute to the formation of cancer, eating red meat with plenty of vegetables mitigates your cancer risk. There’s really no need to worry about red meat being unhealthy if you’re eating clean most of the time and consuming plenty of vegetables. Choosing cleaner, less processed sources of meat and not charring it helps mitigate your cancer risk as well.
6. Get help with disordered eating patterns.
Even with the understanding that red meat is part of a healthy, balanced diet, people with a history of eating disorders or disease may struggle with the idea of eating red meat again. As stated above, red meat is not an unhealthy addition to one’s diet when done right. However, obsessing about restricting certain foods, such as red meat, could be unhealthy and may trigger some people to go back to their disordered ways of eating.
Here is an interesting study that encourages the use of “real food” meal plans over restricted diet meal plans for people recovering from eating disorders. Getting help could include anything from working with a specialist to simply learning from informed people who have a balanced perspective. This article provides a great balanced perspective on how the vegan talking points aren’t actually correct.
7. Choose a variety of red meats.
The truth is, humans evolved eating a much more varied diet than most of us eat now. The variety is what provides us with the macro- and micro-nutrients are bodies need. I am guilty of eating the same foods over and over again, but I’m trying to get into the habit of ordering different types and cuts of red meat when I order online. U.S. Wellness Meats is such a great source for offering a variety of meats and cuts.
8. Get social support and join new communities.
Leaving veganism or vegetarianism is a huge life change; many people say that veganism is less of a diet and more of a lifestyle. For me, the experience meant re-building my identify and finding new communities to join. The paleo and primal communities are filled with ex-vegans, including Mark Sisson and Chris Kresser who have each created empires around conscious food choices.
A simple search on Facebook for “recovering vegans” will result in groups of people who have gone through this experience. Life transitions as big as this are always made easier with the support of others. I also have a Clean Eating Support Facebook group where questions on this topic are always welcome.
I hope you find this post helpful! Have you had experience reintroducing red meat back into your diet after deciding to transition away from being a vegetarian or vegan? Let me know other suggestions in the comments below.
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