How to Reintroduce Meat After Being Vegan or Vegetarian
If vegetarianism or veganism doesn’t work for you, then you’ll want to read this post with eight tips for reintroducing meat after being on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Eating Meat Again
Eating meat again after being vegan or vegetarian is a controversial topic. People who have made the commitment to being vegan or vegetarian because of ethical reasons 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 health risks can lead to irreversible health damage.
Most People Eat Meat Again
One study showed that 84% of vegetarians return to eating meat again. There are obviously vegan diet risks and benefits. Once you realize that you aren’t thriving on a vegetarian or vegan diet, 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 to move away from a vegan diet. 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 to Reintroduce Meat
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. By all means, don’t fall for the pack of lies that fake meat is comparable to real meat. Fake meat is, in fact, a highly processed, unhealthy food.
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). In fact, adding meat back into your diet may help reverse one of the biggest dangers of vegan diet.
2. Support your digestion by taking enzymes
If you’ve ever experienced or heard about the “heavy” feeling that can come with eating meat after being vegan or vegetarian, then you might benefit from taking some digestive enzymes or betaine HCL with your meal. Eating meat after being vegetarian can take some time for your body to adjust.
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. You might like this recipe for Slow Cooker Tri Tip with Root Vegetables, for example. Slow cooking your meat will help break down the proteins more making it easier to digest (see all my tips for how to eat clean without starving yourself).
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.
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. The idea that eating meat always causes disease is one of the ways proponents of a vegan diet use fear to grow the movement. Choosing cleaner, less processed sources of meat and not charring it helps mitigate your cancer risk as well.
Additionally, in 2019, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine “found low- to very low-certainty evidence that diets lower in unprocessed red meat may have little or no effect on the risk for major cardiometabolic outcomes and cancer mortality and incidence.” So, this is further evidence that meat is not bad for humans.
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.
This interesting study 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 also provides a great balanced perspective on how the vegan talking points aren’t actually correct.
Here are some other tips for what to do if you have orthorexia.
7. Choose a variety of red meats and animal proteins
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 our 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 and other animal proteins when I order online.
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 and have experienced vegan health risks. Life transitions as big as this are always made easier with the support of others.
No, vegans do not eat meat or any product that comes from an animal. Many vegans also avoid wearing clothes or using any other products that come from an animal, such as leather.
Vegetarians or vegans won’t get sick when they eat meat, but they might feel sluggish or have a stomachache if they eat too much too quickly.
Start slowly and with small amounts. Some people might find it easier to eat fish or ground meat to start.
Vegetarians or vegans might not be making as much digestive enzymes, so it’s not a bad idea to take digestive enzymes when you reintroduce meat.
Vegetarians technically do not eat fish, but I would encourage you to be less concerned about rules, and more concerned about supplying your body with the nutrients it needs. So, if you want to eat fish, then eat fish!
This is a tough issue and may require some professional counseling from a dietitian or eating disorders specialist. There is really no reason to feel guilt for nourishing your body the way it evolved to be fed. However, societal pressures can lead to feelings of guilt. Outside of consulting with a professional, you might try offering thanks to the animals for nourishing you before you eat a meal.
If you are not feeling well on a strict vegan diet, then you may want to consider consulting a profession who can do lab work or evaluate whether or not you need to change your diet. A vegan diet is considered a very restrictive diet and can lead to health issues.
It may be helpful to consult a dietitian or eating disorders specialist who can help you change your attitudes about eating meat.
You may also want to try meat dishes that are made in a slow-cooker with lots of vegetables to help mask the flavor of meat as you are getting used to eating it again.
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.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.