Are Vegetarian Gluten Free Diets Good For You?
Many people going gluten free question whether or not a gluten free vegetarian diet is a smart move to improve their overall health. The answer to this question is not simple. There are a number of factors to consider. The video below breaks the topic down in greater detail. You can also read the summary below the video.
Vegetarian VS. Meat
Let’s start with the premise that no one diet is right for everyone. Some people thrive on a vegetarian diet and some do very poorly. Understand that diets should be based on personal uniqueness, biochemical individuality, state of health, pre-existing illnesses, and many other factors. Some people do well adopting a temporary vegetarian diet before needing to add meats. Some are so sick and protein malnourished, that a vegetarian diet could be a bad idea initially. If you are on a gluten free diet for health issues, t is a very good idea to work with a reputable functional medicine doctor who is versed in gluten sensitivity to help you determine the right course of action to take.
Gluten Free Vegetarian Diet Concerns
A gluten free vegetarian diet comes with a few nutritional concerns. Remember that years of gluten can contribute to severe malabsorption and nutritional deficiency. Some of the most common nutritional deficiencies caused by gluten damage match the nutrients that a vegetarian diet is naturally lower in. Research has shown that of people diagnosed with gluten issues:
- 87.5% of patients diagnosed had at least 1 vitamin or mineral deficiency
- 53.8% were deficient in at least 2 nutrients
- 67% were deficient in the mineral zinc
- 46% were deficient in iron storage
- 32% were anemic
- 19% were deficient in vitamin B12
- 14.5% were deficient in vitamin B6
Monitor These Nutrients
That being said, there are a number of essential nutrients that should be monitored to ensure overall adequate nutrition if you are attempting a gluten free vegetarian diet. The short list includes:
- Vitamin B12 – because vitamin B12 comes from bacterial action on animal meats, this nutrient deficiency can be common in vegetarian diets. B12 is important for maintaining nerve function and integrity. It is also necessary for energy production, cellular healing, liver function, and the very important process of methylation. Ask your doctor to track your B12 adequacy by measuring your homocysteine, methylmalonic acid, and intracellular B12 levels. I highly recommend that people following a gluten free vegetarian diet supplement with vitamin B12.
- Iron – iron deficiency causes anemia. The symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle pain, anxiety, and brain fog. Though many plant based foods do contain iron, plant based iron can be harder to absorb. Ask your doctor to monitor your blood counts, serum iron, and ferritin levels.
- Zinc – Zinc is required for more than 200 chemical reactions in the body. Like iron, zinc is available in many plant based foods, but plant based zincs can be harder to absorb. A more in depth breakdown on zinc can be found here.
- Vitamin B6 – This B vitamin is essential for protein metabolism, energy production, and the creation of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Research shows that vegetarians are more prone to vitamin B6 deficiency, so if you are going gluten free vegetarian, ask you doctor to monitor your intracellular B6 levels.
- Methionine – This amino acid plays a major role in body detoxification. It is also important in the production of new DNA, RNA, fats, and protein. All of which are essential for healing and repair. Ask your doctor to monitor your plasma amino acid levels to ensure your gluten free vegetarian diet is high enough in methionine.
- High Biological Value Protein – HBV protein contains all of the 10 essential amino acids. It can be more difficult to get HBV protein following a vegetarian diet. Remember that protein is necessary for the production of hormones, neurotransmitters, immunoglobulins, and collagen. Protein malnourishment prevents healing, so make sure to ask your doctor to monitor your plasma amino acid levels.
Farming Concerns Over Meat
Much of the meat that is produced in industrialized nations is not healthy. Mass production farms employ practices that are not conducive to creating a healthy meat based product. Cattle, pig, chicken, and turkey farms create animal overcrowding and minimal access to fresh air and sunshine for the animals. This practices increased the risk for disease development along with exposure to high levels of ammonia because the animals in closed quarters are breathing in the gasses from an abundance of their own feces.
These factory farms also provide a processed food meal product for the animals that is designed to increase size and weight. This fattening up effect in the animals alters the type of fat in the meat. In essence, it increases the quantity of Omega 6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, this type of fat when consumed without adequate Omega 3 fats, contributes to increased inflammation and the chronic degenerative diseases.
Research has shown that grass fed beef and grass fed dairy based products have a more favorable Omega 6/3 balance. Research also shows that grass/forage fed animals have higher levels of alpha tocopherol (vitamin E) and other antioxidants in their meat.
Processed Meats Are Not Healthy
The processing of meats with nitrites, nitrosamines, and nitrates has been linked to some cancers, so take care to read the labels on packaged meat products. Another issue with processed meats is that they can contain excessive quantities of salt. High salt diets are know to contribute to elevations in blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Many meat products also contain an enzyme called microbial transglutaminase. That’s a mouthful! It is often times referred to as “MEAT GLUE”. This is important to know, because food that is processed with meat glue has been shown to cause inflammation in those with gluten sensitivity.
How You Cook The Meat Matters
Overcooking meats can increase the quantity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) and heterocyclic amines (HA). Some research has shown that high amounts of these substances may be linked to an increased risk for different forms of cancer.
If you are consuming meat as a part of your staple diet, you should avoid processed and packaged meat based products that are preserved with nitrates and other chemical preservatives. Avoid overcooking meat products to reduce exposure to PAH and HA. You should seek out wild game or free range/grass fed options.
Should You Go Gluten Free Vegetarian?
The bottom line is this – there is no one diet that is right for everyone. Some benefit greatly from a vegetarian diet, and some do poorly without adequate animal protein in their diets. The best thing you can do it to follow up with a functional medicine doctor who understands how to help you customize your gluten free diet based on your own biochemical uniqueness.
Chime in below – do you do better with or without meat?
Always looking out for you,
Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior