Upfront, this is a case for why meat is needed in most healthy diets. But there's more to it than a one-line, yes-no summary!
Philosophical and spiritual arguments aside, vegetarianism and veganism are not diets meant for all people or more importantly... all lifestyles. This is partly a biological, and partly a Traditional Chinese Medicinal (TCM) case that I am making.
Chaotic lifestyles or mindsets keep a person locked in Fight or Flight. As you spend more time in this state of being, more demand is placed on your nervous, muscular and adrenal systems. The longer these systems have to put out, the more likely they are to diminish in returns. Possible signs that these systems are overworked:
Nervous - trouble thinking clearly, fatigue
Muscular - aches, fatigue
Adrenal - sexual dysfunction, fatigue
As a one-stop-shop, nothing replenishes these three systems like meat.
Fats and cholesterol are vital to healthy nervous and adrenal systems.
Proteins are especially beneficial to the nervous and muscular systems.
Animal Products have a complete profile of essential amino acids (amino acids that cannot be produced by the body), come high in saturated fats, and are the only dietary source of cholesterol! Cholesterol is a HUGE topic that will not be discussed in this post. Having a "complete profile" means you have less guess work to do in getting the proper ratios that your body needs!
Pg 916 HAP (proteins)- "Animal products contain the highest-quality proteins... those with the greatest amount and best ratios of essential amino acids."
The body respects ratios above checklists! When nature provides you with the ratios, are you really better off trying to mimic these artificially? Now the case for natural ratios is more a case against bottled nutrition than it is a case for meat, but I digress...
Though many plant substances are protein rich, most of them are lacking at least one or more essential amino acids which means a wider range of foods must be sought after and prepared in order to meet human needs. This article will come shy of covering vitamin and mineral contents within food groups. Likely another day.
Within traditional Chinese medicine...
Animal products were typically viewed as critical materia medica for use when a patient's condition has deteriorated significantly.
pg. 52 HWHF (Animal Products)- "Animal products such as eggs, fish, fowl, and mammal meat have been traditionally used for deficiency."
I've had at least one patient with a stubborn pain/fatigue condition see some surprising turnaround just by adding meat back into his diet. However even doing that took some prep work (a self care tool soon to come) because he had been off meat for so long (almost 30 years) his body wasn't ready to resume the task of meat digestion. Interestingly this male in his late forties actually looked to be in his mid-late thirties, though pale and thin. I wish I could have done some long-term followup to see if eating meat had changed the way he aged.
Because of their potency, animal materials were meant to be used responsibly and as a last resort relative to plant-based herbs. Eating meat is not the solution to all problems! Maybe not even most. A lack of it however can lead to a host of avoidable troubles. As a therapy, it is primarily for conditions of deficiency and there are certainly people who would benefit from lowering meat intake.
Pg 915 HAP (nutrients)- "Nutrition advice is constantly in flux and often mired in the self-interest of food companies. Nonetheless, basic dietary principles have not changed in years and are not in dispute: Eat only what you need; eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains; avoid junk food."
Because the above quote comes from a western biological text, I'm going to modify some of these ground rules from the lens of my learning and experience: Meat is important, and it has a vital place in the health of human beings. Really all categories of food have their place in the healthy human lifestyle (even junk food), and all of the categories can also be overused and abused (especially junk food).
So can a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle be done well?
I believe so. I ate vegetarian for four years, but eventually had to let it go when my own physical conditions (energy and digestion) deteriorated. So admittedly I'm not an expert on making the lifestyle or mentality work. I do deeply respect anyone who commits to the effort and mentality for it is a worthy cause in so many ways!
I am confident that the more fear, anger, and guilt (STRESS!) that are running in the background of your daily life, the harder the diet is to physically maintain. Some people and families may have better genetics for vegetarianism, but lifestyle matters just as much and it's not really feasible for most people to determine where the genetic factor begins and the lifestyle factor ends. Either way, if you are considering making a dietary change either for more or less plant or animal foods, I suggest you do it with some professional help even if you are a nutrition expert yourself! I can't emphasize this enough. Progress made alone pales in comparison to progress made with help.
Elaine Marieb, Katja Hoehn. 2015. Human Anatomy and Physiology (HAP), 10th edition. Boston: Pearson. (HAP)
Pitchford Paul. 1993. Healing with Whole Foods, Revised Edition. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. (HWHF)