Paleo shmaleo: Why I don’t eat red meat (or much of any animal food, for that matter)

A typical day of macro and micronutrient consumption, sans meat.

A typical day of macro and micronutrient consumption, sans meat.

Since all of us endurance sport and fitness folks love to talk about food and debate endlessly about what diet works best based on x goals, here are some interesting stats about mine (paleo people, you might want to cover your ears): I eat close to 300 grams of carbohydrates every day. That makes up about 60% of my macronutrient ratio, for all you IIFYM people. I don’t eat dairy or red meat, and eat very little poultry and fish. All the fats I consume come in the form of plants: peanut butter, olive oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter. The majority of the protein I consume also comes from plants. I also eat a crap-load of grains (earmuffs, paleo lovers, earmuffs!)

And you know what? I’m not unhealthy nor overweight. I sit at about 17-19% body fat and have put on a few pounds of lean muscle mass in the past year thanks to heavy lifting. I feel better and have also gotten stronger and faster since switching to a more whole foods, plant-based diet (WFPB — might as well just acronym that now since I think it’ll be the “next big thing” in the diet industry).

There are several reason why I don’t eat as much animal protein as I used to. First off, I’ve never really liked red meat to begin with, so I have no problem cutting that out of my diet. Then there’s the whole lactose intolerant thing: I’ve come to learn that a bowl of ice cream is not worth hours on the floor in my bathroom in the fetal position. Oh, and also there’s the whole animal cruelty and suffering thing and the fact that large-scale animal agriculture is one of the most environmentally damaging practices on the planet, using a third of the world fresh water supply and about 30% of the word’s total ice-free surface just to grow the grains to feed the chickens, cows and pigs.

All hippy-west-coast-vegan beliefs aside, though, the main reason why I stopped eating less meat and more plants is because I have the cholesterol levels of an obese 50-year-old man.

Yeah. Surprising, isn’t it? Even though I eat cholesterol-lowering foods, exercise six days a week and run long distance.

Two years ago before my 50K ultra, I asked my doctor for a physical to make sure I wouldn’t die during the race. He was surprised when I asked and said I didn’t need one, but I insisted.

And I’m glad I did.

Both of my good and bad levels of cholesterol were elevated, and my iron levels were very low. During this time, I was training about eight hours a week and eating meat and eggs about four to six days a week. When I asked him about it, he said it’s not anything to worry about right now but I will probably need to go on statins because it’s most likely a hereditary thing (my dad has heart disease and it runs in my family).

Statins? Me? Hell no.

I did a bit of research and decided to cut out read meat all together, cut way back on all animal protein and increase the amount of high-protein, plant-based foods I was eating, such as legumes, spinach, soy, tempeh and spirulina. I was a bit worried about my iron levels because of the lack of animal meat in my diet, but when I had my blood tested a year later, the opposite was true:

Iron level lab results from last year and this year.

Iron level lab results from 2013 and 2014. I still may need to supplement, thanks to being female and a marathoner.

And check out what happened to my cholesterol levels:

LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol levels from last year and this year after eating a whole foods, plant-based diet.

LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol levels from last year and this year after eating a whole foods, plant-based diet.

My cholesterol was still a bit high, but it’s improved drastically since 2013. I’m still eating about 85% plant-based (I eat more eggs during the week now), and only eat poultry and fish when out to eat or if it’s served to me. I haven’t gone for a blood test since last year but plan to go again soon — usually I need a reason for it as my doctor won’t give me one “just because I’m curious”.

I’m not writing about this to convince you that your low-carb, high-fat paleo diet is BS, environmentally unfriendly and unhealthy (though I will say that cutting out entire food groups without a medical reason and eating less than 100 grams of carbs a day is BS and unhealthy — you need AT LEAST 100 grams of carbs a day just to fuel your brain). Bottom line is, humans are omnivores and can live on lots of different foods and do well on lots of different diets; but what works for some may not work for others. The best thing you can do is to go get a blood test and a physical, no matter how young and healthy you are, to make sure what you’re eating is keeping you healthy instead of sending you into an early grave.

Do you follow a plant-based diet? Have you had your cholesterol levels checked? Do you go for regular physicals?

Follow my blog with Bloglovin