Angelina Jolie - The Vegan Diet that Almost Killed Her

vegetarian dietIn comments reportedly made during a press briefing for her new movie SALT, Angelina Jolie discussed her bad experiences with a vegan diet.

“I joke that a big juicy steak is my beauty secret,” said Jolie. “But seriously, I love red meat. I was a vegan for a long time, and it nearly killed me. I found I was not getting enough nutrition.”

This is not an uncommon complaint among former vegans; the limitations of the diet require extra diligence to make sure you get proper nutrients.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Any time you make a comment about vegetarianism/veganism, like actress Angelina Jolie’s recent casual remark, you run the risk of ruffling more than a few feathers.

But her experience was loudly echoed in many of the comments that were posted on the China Study rebuttal I posted last week.

There’s tremendous controversy about what type of diet is best – and whether or not you should ever eat meat.

My Beliefs on Vegetarianism

Let me summarize my position on this issue as it seems I failed to previously communicate it clearly and many thought I was advocating that everyone should eat meat, which is not at all the case.

I strongly believe every one should seek to consume high quality fresh organic and locally grown vegetables every day. The only question is how many, and what type of vegetables. I believe vegetables, and not large amounts of fruits, provide the powerhouse of nutritional benefits that will vastly improve your health.

As an example of complications of consuming too many fruits, I experimented with following a mostly vegetarian diet after reading the book Fit for Life back in 1985. The book made some very compelling arguments.

However, after a few weeks of eating fruit for breakfast I was stunned to discover my fasting triglycerides had skyrocketed from below 100 to nearly 3,000 (yes that is not a typo)! Clearly this diet was NOT right for me and was rapidly doing some serious damage to my body. I’m thankful I caught my mistake before it was too late.

I stated that if I had continued on that program I would have likely passed away from cardiovascular disease long ago. That does not mean the program does not work for some as I am sure many benefit by using it. However it clearly did not work for me personally, and I believe it could be a disaster for other strong protein types like myself.

However I am open to change and I view my life as a giant experiment to see how healthy I can get.

Previously I consumed meat at least once a day and more commonly twice a day. I have decreased my meat consumption over the past year to once or twice a week and replaced most of the meat with wild Alaskan salmon from Vital Choice. All the beef and chicken are organically and humanely raised, not factory farmed.

After reviewing the evidence it seems that raw organic milk is probably one of the healthiest proteins you can consume to promote health as it has many immune benefits and factors that will stimulate muscle growth if exercising properly and insufficient muscle mass is a problem for most people.

Raw milk has the highest biologic value and utilization of any protein. I personally drink over a gallon of raw organic sheep milk every week with my Miracle Whey protein and I believe that and my exercise program are the reason I have been able to reduce my body fat to 10%, gain ten pounds of muscle and lose ten pounds of fat and look like a sprinter now instead of a marathon runner.

Why Vegetarianism/Veganism is Not Right for Everyone

Before I go any further, I want to stress the importance of personal differences. It’s dangerous to say that any one diet is right or “best” for everyone.

Please understand that I am not at all advocating everyone needs to eat meat and certainly no one should eat factory farmed meat, where the harm may outweigh the benefit for most because of their well-documented problems, which are only exacerbated when the meat is cooked.

It is my clinical belief that virtually everyone benefits from some animal protein. In some cultures this may be very little and might just be the insects consumed in grains as in India. It is clear that meat is not necessary for most carb types, but they would benefit from other animal proteins like raw organic dairy and eggs. These protein sources would not violate any ethical concerns about sacrificing animals for meats.

A major confirmation to this belief was pointed out by a reader on my previous article by mentioning that there are 90,000 individuals in the US that are 100 years or older but none of them are vegetarians.

When making a decision about which foods to eat, there are a number of factors that need to be considered.. These factors all contribute to people’s confusion about diet, and about whether or not they should eat meat:

  1. Your nutritional type, which determines what ratio of fats, carbohydrates and protein your body needs to thrive.

    I believe it’s safe to say we all need some of each of these three categories, but our bodies require different ratios of each. This means that some people will thrive on very large amounts of vegetables and very little animal protein. For others, this ratio would spell disaster for their health.
  2. The quality of the meat, and the way it is cooked will impact its health benefits.
  3. The types and amounts of vegetables chosen, as not all vegetables are suitable for all nutritional types, and different types need more or less vegetables to thrive.

The people who fare the worst on a vegetarian diet are those who are naturally protein types, as they're depriving their bodies of essential fuel, determined by their genetic and biochemical makeup.

Freedom to Choose

I would never argue with someone refusing to choose any diet based on spiritual convictions, as that is their right. However I strongly believe that there are health consequences for choosing to avoid all animal protein. While many will stay lean and avoid disease they are likely missing critical nutrients needed to optimize their health. It is my intent to help people understand the risks of the choices they are making.

The issue is all about informed choice, very similar to informed consent with vaccines which virtually never occurs. Most people are never given all the details and they blindly accept by faith and trust in the doctors that vaccines are useful. I have a major problem with anyone taking a vaccine without doing their homework but if they have carefully studied both sides of the issue and choose to vaccinate then I would never argue with them as that is their right and privilege.

Will Cholesterol and Fat from Meat Harm Your Health?

In all likelihood Ms. Jolie is a protein type, or perhaps a mixed type, and adding an occasional steak back into her diet may very well be just what she needed – even though some pro-vegan MD’s like Stuart Seale vehemently disagree and ask her to “reconsider her position.” In his blog he responds to Jolie’s comment by saying:

“Carbohydrates are the primary fuel the body uses for energy production, not protein, so if you’re feeling fatigued eating more animal foods won’t help.  What you will find naturally in animal foods are cholesterol, excess saturated fats, trans fat, antibiotics, concentrated toxins, and disease-causing bacteria (any potential bacterial contamination of plant foods comes from animal sources).”

Well, you need to remember that there’s more to nutrition than this and it’s all about synergy. You need a little bit of everything. And the idea that cholesterol and saturated fats are bad for you is also one of the most common health myths out there. First of all, fatigue and listlessness can be due to any number of nutritional deficiencies, not just a lack of fuel in the form of carbs.

Just as a quick example, certain animal-based foods such as raw milk products, raw eggs, and meat contain high concentrations of the precursor amino acids that your body uses to make glutathione, which is your body’s most powerful antioxidant. Not only that, but your body cannot function properly without sufficient amounts of protein (which will vary from person to person). Without high quality protein you cannot build new cells or maintain tissues, for example.

As for cholesterol and saturated fat being your enemy, this misconception has been carefully debunked in more recent years. Alas, the conventional system is not known for its speed to embrace corrective action even when a fallacy has been clearly revealed. For an in-depth review of this issue, please read my most recent cholesterol reportThe truth is, many of the health problems attributed to fat and cholesterol are in fact caused by SUGAR, not fat!If you do not understand this vital concept, you will likely continue to sabotage your health – avoiding health promoting foods, and substituting them with some of the most harmful ones.

As for meats being loaded with “antibiotics, concentrated toxins, and disease-causing bacteria,” Dr. Seale is correct – when discussing commercially-raised, factory farmed meatsThese problems, however, are absent when restricting meat choices to organically-raised, grass-fed meats. Folks, these really are like two entirely different animals, and unless you can wrap your head around that fact, you’ll continue to be misled about the dangers of meat and other animal-based protein such as eggs and raw dairy as well.

Gold Standard of Vegetarian “Proof” is Anything But

Many who decide to become vegetarians for health reasons are often encouraged by research like The China Study written by  T. Colin Campbell, who is not a physician but a PhD researcher with no clinical experience. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with the “evidence” laid out in Campbell’s work, which many ironically consider to be the gold standard of proof for the vegetarian diet. First of all, the very title of the book is inaccurate. The China study is NOT actually a study but a comprehensive set of observations.

While this approach can be valuable, it cannot, and in fact does not, prove his assertion that animal protein should be avoided. None of his theories were ever tested to verify the veracity of his hypotheses. The data from Campbell’s China "study" was first published in a massive book called Diet, Life-Style and Mortality in China. It contains several thousands of statistical correlations, which Campbell insists show that consuming animal protein is associated with increased rates of cancer. However, it’s important to realize two things:

  1. Since the China "study" was merely an observational study, the correlations do not – in fact, cannot -- prove causation. All you can really do with data from an observational study is to form a hypothesis, which must then be tested in randomized, controlled trials, to ferret out the truth about whether or not x actually causes y.
  2. In many cases, the data do not show statistically significant correlations between animal protein consumption and disease such as cancer at all. On the contrary. It would seem that sugar and carbohydrates are correlated with cancer – not animal protein. In addition, the data indicate that fat is negatively correlated with cancer mortality, which again contradicts the claim that meat is harmful.

I recently addressed Campbell’s book in the article The Dark Side of the China Study Story Supporting Vegetarianism. For even more information, I highly recommend reading through Dr. Eade’s critique of The China Study, as he’s another practicing physician who like me - has treated tens of thousands of patients with nutritional interventions.

Granted, in addition to Campbell’s work there are other studies showing that eating meat is bad for you in one way or another, and being vegetarian is good. But it is my belief that most of these studies get the favorable findings toward vegetarianism because most people consume cooked animal protein, which can create all kinds of toxic, cancer-causing substances in the meat, which I’ll go over in a moment.

And again, I’m willing to bet that those studies were NOT done on people who exclusively eat only organic, grass-fed meats, which I believe would make all the difference in the world. To the best of my knowledge there are no studies comparing raw animal-food-based diets versus cooked vegetarian diets. Nor are there any studies comparing grass-fed, organic, lightly cooked meat diets to vegetarian ones. And even if there were, these types of studies could still be flawed because they most likely would not factor in the person’s nutritional type...

There is No Perfect Diet that Works for Everyone

Most of the confusion in this debate results from this reality. Vegetarian diets described by Campbell do work for large numbers of people. From my observations, perhaps about one third of the population would benefit from it – those who are strong carbohydrate types. These people thrive on plant-based foods and have spectacular health.

However, there is an equally large, or even larger, population whose health is devastated by restricting animal protein and fats. Forcing them to buy into the vegetarian dream is neither helpful nor “right.” I personally learned this truth the hard way, after many of my patients failed to thrive on the largely plant-based diet I recommended to them. Then, about ten years ago, I was finally exposed to concepts that helped me understand this shocking observation.

I came to realize that there is an enormous level of biochemical and genetic individuality that essentially guarantees that there is no perfect food plan that will work for everyone, and each person must be treated as a whole individual unto themselves. I eventually adopted a program called Nutritional Typing, which has become a central part of my health plan and is now available for free on my siteThis plan categorizes people into three different groups:

  • Protein: High amounts of healthy fats and protein and lower amounts of vegetables
  • Carb: High amounts of vegetables and lower amounts of protein and fat
  • Mixed: Somewhere between the above options

The population is divided equally between the groups, with about one third of the population of the US in each group. In certain countries you will find high percentages in one group or another, but the US is has a widespread heterogeneity, probably because we are such a melting pot of different genetic backgrounds. Interestingly, after implementing nutritional typing, some of the most dramatic improvements I saw were in individuals who turned out to be protein types but were eating mostly vegetables.

Some of these people had strong ethical positions about eating animal products, and I would never ask someone to eat animal foods if they had spiritual convictions against doing so. However, others were simply confused about this issue, and thought being a vegetarian was the healthiest option. They couldn't understand why they felt so sick and had so many health problems. Once we were able to clear up that confusion, and experiment with the program, the result was typically quite impressive.

So What’s the Best Way to Determine YOUR Optimal Diet?

One of the underlying principles of the nutritional typing program is to "Listen to Your Body" and adjust your foods based on how you feel mentally and physically after consuming themMany who claim to have tried nutritional typing and report feeling worse, have clearly missed this most essential point. If, after a meal, you feel sluggish, tired, nauseous, or depressed, your meal was not ideal. If you are indeed following the nutritional typing program, this will be a giant clue that you need to modify your diet!

You make a great mistake if you simply take the test once and strictly follow the food choices recommended for that type – you must continuously check in with yourself and keep modifying your food choices until you find the right balance of fats, healthy carbs and protein for you. Nutritional typing is a way to determine what YOUR customized diet is, and it is not even a one-size-fits-all within each nutritional grouping. If you take nutritional typing seriously, its guidelines will help you modify your food intake until you find the right balance; the optimal ratio of fats, carbs and protein, and the optimal foods within each of those three nutrient groups.

How You Cook Your Meat Matters

Just as a vegetarian diet is not healthy for everyone, eating meat is not healthy across the board either. As I already mentioned, there are a number of factors that influence the quality and hence, the health benefits, of the meat you eat, such as:

  • Whether or not it’s organic (conventional meat is loaded with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals)
  • Whether or not it’s grass-fed (essential for healthy meat)
  • Whether or not it contains nitrates, preservatives linked to cancer (processed meats have virtually no redeeming health value)
  • How the meat is cooked

Any time you cook meat at high temperatures, whether you’re grilling, frying, or broiling, some pretty dangerous chemicals are created, including:

  • Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs): These form when food is cooked at high temperatures, and they’re linked to cancer. In terms of HCA, the worst part of the meat is the blackened section, which is why you should always avoid charring your meat, and never eat blackened sections.
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): When fat drips onto the heat source, causing excess smoke, and the smoke surrounds your food, it can transfer cancer-causing PAHs to the meat.
  • Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs): When food is cooked at high temperatures (including when it is pasteurized or sterilized), it increases the formation of AGEs in your food. When you eat the food, it transfers the AGEs into your body. AGEs build up in your body over time leading to oxidative stress, inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease.

In other words, even if you are a protein type who thrives on red meat, eating factory farmed, grain-feed beef that’s been charred to a crisp will NOT improve your health. In order for meat to be its healthiest, it should be organic and grass-fed, and it should be cooked as little as possible. You can, for example, quickly sear the meat on both sides, leaving the inside quite rare. This gives the illusion that you’re eating cooked meat, with many of the benefits of raw.

Keep in mind that when it comes to parasites or other infections, the quality of the animal is of utmost importance. If you are consuming factory farmed animals that are fed and housed poorly, then disease-causing bacteria is certainly an issue. But infections become far less likely if you are consuming meat from appropriately fed and humanely raised animals. So, while there are many variables involved, the majority of people (likely about 60 percent or so) will feel their best when they include some healthy sources of lightly cooked or raw animal protein in their diet.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, if you are honest with yourself and sincere in your quest to determine what diet is best for you, my recommendation is to abandon any previously held convictions you might have about diet and start listening to your body. If your current diet allows you to function at the highest level of energy and fitness and you rarely feel hungry or crave sweets that is a fairly good sign that you are eating food appropriate for your nutritional type.

However if you are struggling with health challenges and have rigidly adhered to a diet that severely limits or avoids animal protein, because you believe you should or you are choosing it for ethical reasons then I would encourage you to consider changing your diet to include some animal proteins.

You can experiment for yourself and observe your reactions – both mental, physical and emotional -- but if you would like a systemized way to approach this process where you can record your results, then I would encourage you to take the FREE Nutritional Typing Test.

Just be honest with yourself and objectively evaluate your body's response. Your body is the most awesome instrument to make this important assessment.