Ask the RD: Are Seeds Healthy and Animal Foods for Vegetarians

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Join Kelsey Marksteiner, MS, RD and Laura Schoenfeld, MPH, RD, staff nutritionists at ChrisKresser.com, as they answer your questions about ancestral and Paleo nutrition. A must-listen for anyone new to the Paleo diet or looking to improve their current Paleo diet based on their personal needs and health goals.

The content on this show reflects the opinion of Kelsey and Laura and does not represent the opinions of Chris Kresser, who has not reviewed the content of this podcast.

Have a question for our nutritionists? Submit it here.

Thank you to everyone who has submitted questions so far, and we hope you’re enjoying the podcast. Laura is also very happy to announce that she has finally earned her RD degree and will now be taking private clients. Now we have two RDs in our “Ask the RD” podcast!

Here are the questions that Laura and Kelsey address in this episode:

  1. I would like to ask whether chia, flax, sunflower and pumpkin seeds fall within the paleo diet. Can I harm my health by eating a few tablespoons of these seeds on a daily basis? I usually put them into a breakfast smoothie.
  2. There’s a lot of talk in regard to exercise about ‘minimum effective dose’ or how to achieve the best results with limited time. I would be really interested to hear you discuss the ‘minimum effective dose’ of animal products. I think this would open up the paleo diet to a broader audience, including those that don’t want to eat a lot of meat for various personal reasons, whether that be ethics, spirituality, environmental values, or simply personal preferences. If you were to design a diet that is mostly vegetarian (so includes dairy products and eggs), but adds just a few key animal products that fill in the gaps normally left by a vegetarian diet. What would be the, say, five key animal products that you would add that would give the most bang for the buck and also be palatable for someone with more vegetarian sensibilities?
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ATRD_L_KAbout Laura: Laura is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Public Health from UNC Chapel Hill. She has been a content manager for ChrisKresser.com since 2011. She is passionate about making traditional diets healthful and accessible for all her clients. You can learn more about Laura by checking out her blog or visiting her on Facebook.

About Kelsey: Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. She works in private practice and recommends individualized dietary therapy focusing on biologically appropriate diet principles to aid her clients in losing weight, gaining energy, and pursuing continued health.  You can learn more about Kelsey on her staff bio page, or by visiting her website. Join her newsletter here!

TRANSCRIPT

Thanks again to Amy Berger of TuitNutrition.com for the amazing transcription!

LAURA: Hey everyone, welcome to this week’s episode of Ask the RD. I’m Laura, and on the other end of the line is Kelsey. How are you doing this week, Kelsey?

KELSEY: Doing pretty well, how about yourself, Laura?

LAURA: Good, I’m just preparing to take my RD exam finally, so…

KELSEY: Yikes!

LAURA: So hopefully the next time I’m on this show, it’ll be actually legitimate Ask the RD.

KELSEY: Right, double RDs. Excellent.

LAURA: We can change it to Ask the RDs, plural!

KELSEY: Perfect. Well, good luck!

LAURA: Thanks. All right, well, are you ready to get started with our first question?

KELSEY: Yeah, and this one’s for you.

LAURA: Cool.

KELSEY: I would like to ask whether chia, flax, sunflower and pumpkin seeds fall within the Paleo diet. Can I harm my health by eating a few tablespoons of these seeds on a daily basis? I usually put them into a breakfast smoothie.

LAURA: Okay, so I actually think it’s a really good habit to have a few nuts and seeds every day. And it’s generally not something that will harm your health unless you have a condition that is sensitive to nuts and seeds, such as an autoimmune disease. And even though seeds are somewhat higher in omega-6 fats, they do have a lot of health benefits to them that I think make them worth eating. They’re generally pretty high in a lot of different nutrients, and a few of them are really high in omega-3 fats, but we need to talk about the various nutritional benefits of eating seeds, since I think there’s a slight misconception that they’re not healthy for you because of their omega-6 content. And I do want to address the omega-3 issue, because as many of our listeners probably know, the omega-3s that come from seeds is different from the omega-3 that comes from fatty fish, eggs, and that kind of thing.

So, one of the major fats in these seeds is called alpha-linolenic acid, which is the plant form of omega-3, and it is an anti-inflammatory fat that does lower levels of C-reactive protein in the blood. And like I said, it’s important to remember that alpha-linolenic acid, which I’ll refer to as ALA, is not the same thing as the omega-3 fats found in animal foods. So, don’t take this to mean you can get the omega-3s that you need strictly from ALA. Chris Masterjohn actually wrote a great series on the essential fatty acids, and he explains that too much ALA, and also too much EPA, which comes from fish and fish oil and that kind of thing, it can actually interfere with the body’s production and utilization of both arachidonic acid and DHA. So I don’t recommend taking any supplements that have ALA in them, or consuming handfuls and handfuls of seeds every day. And it’s also important to remember that a diet high in linoleic acid also reduces the conversion of ALA to DHA, and that conversion is really what makes ALA something that’s a healthy component of the diet, is that it can be concerted in small amounts to DHA, which is a very important omega-3 fat. And while there is some linoleic acid in these seeds, most of our linoleic acid in the American diet actually comes from things like industrial seed oils, such as soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. So you definitely want to be avoiding these oils in order to get any of the benefits from the ALA in the nuts and seeds. And I’ll link to Chris’s article in the show notes, because it’s pretty long and I can’t summarize the whole thing in this podcast, but it’s an important read because it’s crucial to understand the different roles of the fats that we refer to as essential fatty acids, and he even asks the question whether or not these fatty acids should be called essential.

However, there are many studies that show benefits to eating a diet rich in ALA. And I do think in the context of eating a well-rounded diet with lots of DHA-rich omega-3s from fatty fish and eggs, that including one or two servings of fresh, whole seeds is fine and likely healthy for the general population. And in fact, I would guess that the main reason that a diet high in ALA is shown to be beneficial in population studies is because whole foods that are rich in ALA, like these seeds, really have a lot of other beneficial nutrients that would make them a good choice for moderate consumption.

So, these seeds—particularly pumpkin seeds, I think are probably the highest—but they all are high in minerals, such as zinc, magnesium, iron, and manganese. And zinc is a really great immune booster, and it helps with skin health and hormone stability, and it’s also crucial for blood cell production, muscle growth and anabolism, fertility, cardiovascular health, and lots of other conditions that require zinc to help the body heal. And it may even be protective against cancer, so zinc is a really important nutrient to get adequate amounts of, and these seeds do have about 10-20% of your daily needs in one ounce. Magnesium is another one of these crucial minerals , and there are so many roles that magnesium plays that it’s difficult to even start explaining why we need adequate amounts of it, but magnesium is used in normal muscle and nerve function, proper immune function, heart rhythm maintenance, and building bones, among many other things that magnesium does. And pumpkin seeds have 150mg in one ounce, which is about a third of the daily value. And the daily value is, I think between 400-450mg per day, which, there’s arguments that that’s not enough for the majority of people, but 450mg, if you’re getting that from your food or maybe you’re taking a 400mg per day supplement, you should be getting enough. So, like I said, if you’re getting an ounce of these seeds in your smoothie, you’ll be getting a third of what you potentially may need during the day.

And manganese is another important mineral that’s used in enzyme function, wound healing, and bone growth, and an ounce of pumpkin seeds has about 64% of your daily value. And you may even be surprised that pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds also have about 20% of the daily value for iron. And granted, this is non-heme iron, which may be absorbed differently and not used as well as heme iron found in animals, but getting 20% of your daily value from these seeds is not so bad, either. And like I said, you can get a lot of these minerals in other foods—particularly animal foods such as shellfish or liver, and different types of meats, but I would like to point out that the high mineral content of seeds is probably one of their top benefits, and because it’s important that people are getting a lot of these minerals on a daily basis, I do think that seeds can play a role in meeting your daily needs.

So another compound found in seeds is lignans. And lignans are a type of phytoestrogen, or plant compound that has an estrogen-like effect and antioxidant properties in the body. And lignans are found in sesame seeds and flax seeds primarily. It is somewhat controversial what the role of lignans is in human health, but there are a lot of experts that believe lignans can help stabilize hormonal levels, especially high levels of estrogen, because of their role in binding to estrogen receptors and acting far more weakly than the estrogen produced by the body. So blocking that high level of estrogen coming from either the body itself or potentially xenobiotic estrogens—so, estrogens that come from the environment, from chemicals and that kind of thing—this can help reduce symptoms of PMS and menopause, and may even potentially reduce the development of breast and prostate cancers. So, these phytoestrogens are usually what people think of when they think of the main benefits of soy products, so I’d rather see someone eating the seeds to get their phytoestrogens as opposed to eating lots of soy. And again, lignans are not quite understood as far as what their ultimate health benefits are, but they are believed to be generally healthy for people that can tolerate them when consumed in food sources.

So I would say that overall, a moderate amount of seeds and getting lignans on a daily basis is probably generally a good idea for the healthy population. And seeds are also rich in antioxidants, so one of the best antioxidants is vitamin E, and that’s really high in seeds, especially sunflower seeds, which contain about 50% of your daily vitamin E needs. So sunflower seeds will be the best source of this fat-soluble vitamin. But vitamin E is really important because it works as an antioxidant by protecting the fat in cell membranes from oxidative damage. So, as people may know, your cells are surrounded by a fatty layer of various fats and proteins that protect the cell from damage and from losing its internal contents, so the more vitamin E in the cell membrane, the better it’s protected against oxidative damage.

And polyphenols are also something else found in some of these seeds, particularly in chia seeds, and those can also help reduce inflammation. Polyphenols are the compounds that are typically what people consider to be good in wine, so if you’re eating lots of chia seeds, you’ll be getting those polyphenols as well.

And lastly, seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and chia, are really good sources of fiber. They contain about 5-10g of fiber per ounce. And this typically is a blend of both insoluble and soluble fiber, which both have different types of health benefits. However, the fiber in these seeds is generally more insoluble than soluble, so if you are someone who has any trouble eating high-fiber foods—say you have something like IBS, or IBD, or diverticulitis—you probably don’t want to be eating a lot of seeds because high insoluble fiber foods can actually irritate the gut when the gut’s already inflamed. But if you have generally healthy digestion and you don’t have an issue eating high-fiber foods, then eating a diet rich in both of these types of fiber can be beneficial for both cardiovascular health, gut health, a lot of different organs. It helps clear out gut toxins and excess hormones that get secreted in the gut, so a moderately high-fiber diet can actually be really healthy for a lot of people.

So, as you can see, there’s a lot of potential benefits to eating whole, fresh seeds on a regular basis, and I think one or two ounces throughout the day is fine. And I’m emphasizing whole, fresh seeds because I don’t think people should buy pre-ground seeds or seed oils.

KELSEY: Glad you mentioned this, Laura. I was going to say that if you didn’t talk about this.

LAURA: Yeah. Because these seeds have a higher amount of omega-3 fats, they’re very prone to oxidation. So they should be kept in their whole form until you plan to eat them, and I also recommend storing seeds in the freezer until you’re planning on eating them because this can actually help keep the omega-3 oils stable and prevent them from going rancid and this getting oxidative damage. And if you do prefer to use them ground when adding them to food or putting them in your smoothies, you can buy a small coffee grinder and grind the seeds manually before you use them in your food. So you grind them within minutes of you eating them. And I also don’t think anyone should be using seeds in any high-temperature cooking, since the heat can oxidize the fats in the seeds as well, so if you’re going to eat seeds on a regular basis, try to eat them whole or freshly ground and eat them at cold to room temperature, because this is the way you’re going to be getting the most benefits and the least damage from them. So if you’re interested in eating seeds on a regular basis, that would be my recommendation for that.

KELSEY: Awesome! Yeah, the only thing that I would add here is just to consider soaking your nuts and seeds, I would say. And especially things like chia, usually people jell the chia seeds, meaning they put them in water and it kind of absorbs the water and makes this crazy looking gel thing, which is a really good idea just because it starts to break down those things that can potentially irritate the gut for some people. I think most people do fine, but it’s certainly a good idea to soak and dry the seeds before you go for them. And I say this about chia specifically just because it’s a little easier to do and you don’t have to dry it or anything and subject it to heat. It’s just, you soak it in some water and just put it in your smoothie that way. And plus, then you get a little extra hydration, which is certainly not a bad thing either.

LAURA: Yeah, nowadays they have a lot of those chia seed pudding recipes. And it’s funny, I was doing the research for this question, and I was like, “I have some chia in my freezer; I should try that pudding thing.” So now there’s a little cup of almond milk and chia mixture in my fridge, Hopefully it’s going to turn into pudding and not just sloshy chia seeds.

KELSEY: Yeah, I’ve never tried any of the puddings made with chia, just because it sort of scares me a little bit, that texture. Like in a smoothie, you don’t really notice the chia, but it’s got this slippery kind of nasty texture, but granted, I’ve never tried it as a pudding, so you’re gonna have to fill us in next time on how that chia seed pudding went for ya.

LAURA: Yeah, I really like weird textures, so I feel like…yeah, that’s my favorite thing, like slimy weird things, so…

KELSEY: Well, you are a strange human, but that’s good that you like those.

LAURA
: Like tapioca pudding or something used to be my favorite type of pudding.

KELSEY: Well there ya go, that makes sense.

LAURA: Yeah, so again, the things like flax seeds or…like I think pumpkin seeds are easier to soak and dry, but something like flax seeds, you’re probably just going to use pretty fresh, and I don’t necessarily think flax seeds would have to be soaked.

KELSEY: Right, yeah, probably like pumpkin and chia are the only things that necessarily would…that you would do that to, I think.

LAURA: Yeah, maybe…no not even sesame. Sesame and flax seeds are really small, so I think as long as you’re doing the fresh grinding it should be fine. And a lot of times you’ll be adding them to liquid anyway, so if it’s in a smoothie you’re getting that liquid to kind of help—

KELSEY: Break it down a little.

LAURA: Yeah, buffer some of the potential problems that might come from eating it just straight, which I don’t know if anyone would actually do, but you never know.

KELSEY: Yeah, and you know, again, just not eating a ton of these things is also a good idea too. And probably the things that you could soak, you could probably get away with a little more of those and kind of go for less of the ones that you wouldn’t necessarily soak, like flax.

LAURA: Right.

KELSEY: I think that’s probably a good idea, too.

LAURA: Yeah, and if you’re using them in recipes, then I think soaking them in advance of using them in the recipe is a really good idea. I know a lot of people will make those Paleo granola bars or something like that out of a mixture of nuts and seeds, but one thing…I did mention the heat issue. It’s hard to know how much heat it would take for something to get oxidized, so if you’re baking with these seeds, just be careful of how much of that kind of stuff you’re eating. I’d rather somebody sprinkle fresh ground seeds—y’know, if they eat dairy or coconut yogurt, eating it on that, or putting it in a smoothie, as opposed to making…I always see these recipes for like, flax muffins, that half of it’s flax seeds and the other half is whatever whole grain flour, and I’m like, ugh, I don’t think that that’s very good to baking at 300 degrees…

KELSEY: Yeah, definitely. So be careful with nuts and seeds in general, with the heat that you’re subjecting them to, because like we said, they’re pretty vulnerable in terms of their oxidation status, so just be careful.

LAURA: Right. Okay! That’s all I wanted to say about seeds. Are we ready to move on to the next question?

KELSEY: Sounds good to me.

LAURA: Great, so this one’s for you, Kelsey. There’s a lot of talk in regard to exercise about “minimum effective dose,” or how to achieve the best results with limited time. I would be really interested to hear you discuss the “minimum effective dose” of animal products. I think this would open up the Paleo diet to a broader audience, including those who don’t want to eat a lot of meat for various personal reasons, whether that be ethics, spirituality, environmental issues, or simply personal preferences. If you were to design a diet that is mostly vegetarian (so it includes dairy products and eggs), but adds just a few key animal products that fill in the gaps normally left by a vegetarian diet, what would be the five key animal products that you would add that would give the most bang for the buck and also be palatable for someone with more vegetarian sensibilities?

KELSEY: So first, I want to thank whoever wrote this question, because this is a fantastic question, and I think they bring up a really great point, which is that there are a lot of people who, like this person said, have vegetarian sensibilities. For whatever reason, ethical, spiritual, all of those different reasons, they just decide to go mostly vegetarian. And they’re—or simply personal preferences, as this listener mentioned also. Some people just don’t really like the taste of meat. So, I think this is really awesome to bring up, because I think a lot of vegetarians get scared off from a Paleo diet because they just see it as a very meat-centric diet. However, I think someone who tends to lean toward a vegetarian diet can definitely get a lot out of going Paleo and I’d still recommend they go for it if they’re willing to be open to some things which we’ll discuss. I think it’s absolutely possible to have a very healthy vegetarian diet if it’s done right.

So, I’m actually going to talk about the six animal products that might appeal to a vegetarian that will give them the biggest bang for their buck, plus a bonus that’s kind of an optional one that may not be quite so appealing to a vegetarian, but it would certainly be a good option.

All right. So, if you’re a vegetarian and you’re willing to eat some fish or shellfish, that’s an excellent way to get a lot of nutrition from a meat source. Not only does fatty fish contain a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA, which, Laura, we were just talking about in terms of nuts, you don’t get those long-chain fatty acids from nuts and seeds where you’d get the ALA, but it’s a little bit hard to convert that to EPA and DHA.

LAURA: Actually, that’s one of the reasons why ALA is not necessarily a great food to eat a lot of, because it’s very difficult to convert omega-3, and it can actually block utilization of EPA and DHA from other foods. Chris has a really good article about those fats and why fish is better than flax when it comes to omega-3, so we should probably link to that in the notes.

KELSEY: Perfect; that’s a great idea. Yeah, so this is a really great way to get the long-chain fatty acids like EPA and DHA, which of course you can’t get a ton of from vegetarian sources. And it’s also a really great source of high-quality, bioavailable protein. And the problem with a lot of vegetarian protein sources is that they’re high in antinutrients. So things like beans, or soy, or even nuts have some degree of antinutrients, which is why you’re supposed to soak and sprout them if you can. So, not that nuts are bad for you, or properly prepared beans can’t be well tolerated by some people, but I think that a lot of vegetarians suffer from digestive issues because they eat so many of these things that can cause digestive problems. So if you’re a vegetarian who’s dealing with a digestive issue, adding some more bioavailable and easily digested protein like fish or shellfish is a really, really great idea.

So along the same lines, most people do pretty well with eggs, so that’s next on my list. A good source of protein, and it’s got some amazing nutrients inside that yolk. You’re going to get way more nutrition from a pasture-raised egg, so go for those if they’re available to you versus just kind of the store-bought grocery eggs that are not pasture-raised. There’s going to be more omega-3 fatty acids in that lovely yolk if it’s pasture-raised, which we just talked about how important those omega-3 fatty acids are. It’s got a lot of choline, which is beneficial for the prevention of heart disease and protects the liver. Now, I don’t think you need to be particularly concerned about eating too many eggs, certainly not from the cholesterol perspective. And Laura, we’ve talked about this issue on one of our Q&As for the Personal Paleo Launchpad, but I think for most people, somewhere around four eggs a day is perfectly fine, so don’t feel like you’re eating too many if you’re near that number. Especially as a vegetarian, eggs are great sources of nutrients and protein, so don’t shy away from them, provided that you tolerate them well.

Next on my list would be grass-fed dairy, and especially fermented grass-fed dairy. So, so great for you—if your body tolerates it well. Now, that’s a big if for a lot of people, so you really need to determine if your body can handle it. Our recommendation is to take dairy out of your life for at least a month—if it’s already not out of your diet—and then add it back in to see if you have any adverse effects. If not, it’s fantastic. You get conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and more vitamin A and E, plus beta-carotene and vitamin K2 than its non-grass-fed counterpart. Add fermented to the picture here and you get more easily digested dairy products. It’s going to be packed with probiotics, and most people—especially if they have lactose intolerance to some degree—they’re going to have a lot easier time digesting a fermented dairy product than something unfermented.

Now, raw milk is also a really good option if it’s available to you. It has the fragile milk proteins; they’re not denatured and there are helpful enzymes still left intact. So in fact, some people who can’t tolerate pasteurized dairy can sometimes tolerate raw dairy a lot more easily. So if you’re someone who finds they can’t go for a pasteurized dairy product, you may want to seek out some raw dairy in your area and see how you do with that. And Chris has some great articles on raw dairy, so we’ll link to those as well so you can take a look there.

Number four would have to be bone broth. Now, this is one of the most amazing, nutritious substances out there. It’s packed with glycine, which is fantastic for the gut, and honestly, forget about vegetarians; I think everybody could benefit from adding bone broth to their routine. As I’m sure many of you know, our gut is so important to our overall health, so we really need to be taking care of it to protect our health over the long term. So if you’re not already making this stuff, it’s definitely time to start, whether you’re a vegetarian or not.

Number five is gelatin. Now, this is something I usually recommend for vegetarians along with their bone broth. I usually will have them add it to their bone broth for a little extra protein, and of course, this is wonderful for the gut as well, as we just talked about. I use the Great Lakes brand, which is really excellent. And they make a regular gelatin as well as a hydrolyzed collagen supplement, which means that it can mix into cold liquids. So I love using gelatin in broth not only for some extra gut-healing properties and protein, but it’s also great for making gummies or jello, of course, as long as you’re making it with fresh fruit or maybe even some fresh fruit juice if that works for you. And the hydrolyzed version works really wonderfully in smoothies.

Number six, and last but certainly not least, is cod liver oil. So this stuff has been important for years. Perhaps it’s something you’ve heard your grandmother talk about. It’s a great food-based supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and D and K2. All of these are super-important nutrients that might be missing from a vegetarian-based diet that help immunity and overall health. Now, I personally like the Green Pastures brand that combines it with high-vitamin butter oil for extra nutrition. So of course this is more of a supplement, but it’s definitely food-based, so I wanted to make sure I mentioned it because, especially for a vegetarian, some of these fat-soluble vitamins can be missing, as well as, like we talked about, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. So this is a perfect supplement to kind of get all three of those. Well, all three meaning omega-3s, vitamin A, D, and I guess four, so K2 also. So it’s a good way to get all four of those nutrients in your diet in one easy supplement.

Now my bonus is organ meats. So I know…the reason I hesitated to include this is because I think most people who are vegetarian-inclined would likely steer clear from these, but if you’re willing to give it a shot, it’s absolutely worth including. And particularly, it’s a really great idea to include liver, which is basically nature’s multivitamin. So if you want to get really the best bang for your buck and eat some meat, organ meats are going to be—and especially liver—is going to be the way to go. But all the other ones that I mentioned I think are more appealing to someone who’s vegetarian, and they’d at least hopefully be willing to give it a shot.

LAURA: Yeah, I think it depends on what the reason is for being a vegetarian, ‘cuz if you’re vegetarian for, say, environmental reasons, you may say to yourself, “Okay, liver once a week is a pretty low-impact meat consumption or animal food consumption.”

KELSEY: Right.

LAURA: So as opposed to eating meat every day, maybe that’s okay for you. But if you’re someone who just hates the flavor of red meat, I’m going to guess liver is not going to be something…so if you don’t already like red meat, liver is not going to be any better.

KELSEY: Yeah, definitely, and that’s a good point. It definitely does matter where you are on the spectrum in terms of why you are leaning towards vegetarian. And of course, organ meats are great if you can handle the flavor and texture and everything, but for people who just straight-up don’t like meat, it’s probably not going to be your first choice, and some of the other things I mentioned would probably be better for you.

So those are the six foods, plus a bonus, that I recommend for getting the most out of your animal sources if you tend to lean toward a vegetarian diet. And without those, I think you risk missing out on some of the really important fat-soluble vitamins, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and gut-healing proteins. And with all of them added in, you can certainly make a vegetarian diet really healthy just by making sure to get those foods in and getting those important nutrients.

LAURA: I don’t personally think that eating red meat or poultry is necessarily required for good health. I certainly think it can be helpful, but I think people have this idea of Paleo as being a bunch of slabs of red meat on their plate, and it doesn’t have to be. And I honestly think it shouldn’t be. If you’re going to be eating a balanced Paleo diet that’s really based on the way hunter-gatherers  would be eating, there’s gonna be a lot of plant foods, there’s gonna be a lot of, if you’re eating carbs, it’s gonna have a lot of starchy tubers and starchy fruits and that kind of thing. And at the end of the day, the meat doesn’t have to be a huge component of your diet, and if you’re a vegetarian, if you’re willing to eat fish, I think fish is a great source of the protein that you’d be getting from meat and chicken and that kind of thing, but it’s also got the benefit of having high levels of omega-3, and it’s a little bit different than red meat, which does—if it’s pastured, will have a little bit of omega-3, but it’s not going to quite have those same benefits. And the eggs, like you said, eggs can be good for anyone, and eggs are a little less…they’re a good way to get animal foods in for vegetarians because you’re not technically killing any animals to get it, and same with the dairy products. Maybe find a local farmer that takes really good care of their animals and you might feel better about buying those products.

KELSEY: Yeah, I think those are probably the best way to include animal products if you don’t want to go to meat, because obviously, some vegetarians don’t want to eat fish, either, so that’s a good point: if you don’t want to eat fish, go for the eggs and the grass-fed dairy. Even between those two you’re gonna be getting a lot of things that you might be missing out on otherwise.

LAURA: Right. And I think there’s just a couple of nutrients that are really important to get from animal foods, because of the way humans convert them or just because of nutrient absorption and that kind of thing. So omega-3s are one of the ones that we mentioned and Chris has a whole article on using omega-3s from animals versus from plants. And then vitamin A is another really important nutrient that…I’ve seen research that says 50% of the population is unable to convert adequate amounts of beta-carotene into vitamin A to meet their needs, so that 50% of the population wouldn’t get enough vitamin A from plants. And then a lot of the minerals, like I was mentioning in the seeds question, you can get those minerals from plant foods, but there are some animal foods that are really, really high in them, so something like shellfish has a ton of zinc. So zinc is one of those nutrients that gets bound by the anti-nutrients in plants, so you might be eating a zinc-rich plant food but it might not be as easily absorbed as it would be from something like an oyster or beef liver or that kind of thing.

So I think the vegetarian issue is not so much about protein. I think sometimes people focus on protein too much. I really personally think it’s more about those particular nutrients that are difficult to get adequate amounts of from plants.

KELSEY: Right. So the important things are those omega-3 fatty acids, the fat-soluble vitamins—particularly vitamin A, and I think the gut-healing proteins are important, so like glycine, I think that’s a really good one to get in the diet no matter who you are.

LAURA: Right. Cool! Well, I definitely agree with those seven, and maybe people can leave some comments in the comments section about what they would recommend, or if you are vegetarian and you’re listening, maybe you can share with us what kind of foods you include to help make your Paleo-inspired vegetarian diet a healthy one.

KELSEY: Yeah, absolutely! We’d love to hear from you.

LAURA: Cool! Well, that’s all we have for today, so thanks for listening everyone,  and we’ll make sure to link to all the articles that we mentioned and maybe a couple of products that were mentioned just to help you find those foods that you might want to add if you are doing a vegetarian diet. And we look forward to seeing you around next time.

KELSEY: All right, take care, Laura.

LAURA: You too, Kelsey.

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  1. Marc says

    Great podcast today, ladies. I have a question regarding cod liver oil. Should I focus on fermented cod liver oil alone or should I take this in adition to my fish oil supplement?

  2. says

    Raw vs soaked seeds and nuts—how does the bioavailability of the nutrients compare? Do you have any references for the listeners? Any methodologies for soaking?

    Thanks for another engaging podcast!

  3. STG says

    Thanks to both of you for a great presentation with lots of nutritional information. I do however have some concerns that you may or may not be able to address?

    You recommend eating fish. What about the radiation from Fukushima? Some experts have advised against eating fish from the Pacific which would eliminate salmon. Do you actually think that fish from the Pacific is being batch tested for radiation? I think it is important to consider the benefit/safety of food/drink in an ecological context. One would think that tea is a healthful beverage but a recent study in the Journal of Toxicology found that black, white, green and oolong teas from China and other countries were contaminated with heavy metals!

    My other concern is that you recommend chia seeds and other seeds. But according to Loren Cordain, “chia seeds contain numerous antinutrients that reduce their nutritional. value. . . .Chia seeds are concentrated sources of phytate, an antinutrient that binds many minerals, such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, and copper making them unavailable for absorption. Moreover, “One unusual characteristic of chia seed pinole or food products comes from a clear mucilaginous gel that surrounds the seeds. This sticky gel forms a barrier that impairs digestion and fat absorption and causes a low protein digestibility. (Loren Cordain, The Paleo Answer, pp. 124-126). It appears that raw seeds may not be so nutritious if one can’t absorb the minerals? So is soaking and low heating imperative for seeds and nuts to absorb the minerals? I am confused.

    • says

      Like Kelsey said, chia seeds should definitely be soaked before using. I would definitely try to soak and dry any nuts or seeds you plan to eat on a regular basis. Sesame and flax may be an exception to that, but those should be ground prior to use.

      As far as the Fukushima issue, I honestly have no opinion on that but Chris wrote an article about it recently: http://chriskresser.com/fukushima-seafood

      Toxin issues are really difficult and there’s a lot we don’t know about as far as toxins in various foods go. It’s difficult to make nutrition recommendations that require attention to the sourcing of the products, but it’s hard to argue that fish as a food (or tea, or any other food of concern) is generally a healthy choice. Sourcing high quality items can definitely be an issue though, for many “health foods”.

  4. Marshall Winkler says

    nice job! Great information. Gave me some things to think about. Thanks for putting your knowledge ‘out’ to share.

  5. Sarah Coleman says

    Thanks Laura and Kelsey. I also thought this was a great, and often neglected topic, the question of a vegetarian (mostly) diet. I definitely fall into this camp, yet I am fully on-board with a paleo/whole/real food template from a physical health viewpoint. After eating an ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet for 20+ years I suffered digestive problems, low B12, low D3, low ferritin, constant fatigue, and who knows what other micro-nutrient deficiencies. Under the care of a wholistic practitioner, I have really turned my health around over the years, in a large part due to changing my diet, but still eating (mostly) ovo-lacto-vegetarian. In essence this involved removing most grains (but wheat entirely); removing added sugars and vegetable oils to as large an extent as possible (effectively processed/packaged foods); and really increasing my egg intake (free-range wherever possible), and adding good fats back into my diet (coconut oil, ghee, butter, lots avocadoes). I now essentially purchase local, organic produce wherever possible and cook mostly everything the family eats from scratch. I still, however, can’t (personally) bring myself to eat ‘flesh’, although I am slowly incorporating other products such as FCLO, and am considering, for example, a Great Lakes gelatin – products I feel fairly confident that they are sustainably produced products (I live in Australia and would purchase more local equivalents if I knew where to source them). After that I think my next step will be sustainably harvested shellfish and small whole fish such as sardines, if I can be convinced of their sustainability (although a wonderful source of nutrition, I think our sea-products are unsustainably harvested and managed, but am sure there are ethical producers out there). Sorry, a bit longer than anticipated, but just thought I would throw in my story which is a pretty perfect example of what you were talking about, and encouraging to hear you suggesting/recommending the sorts of products I have arrived at on my journey towards better health balanced with ethical and sustainability considerations. You both appear to have sensible, wise heads for being so young (or at least it appears you are young!). It has taken me a looong time to work all this out! Keep up the great work. Sarah

    • Jen says

      Sarah~
      Thanks for sharing your story. I too am a “ovo-lacto” vegetarian, and have been on and off my whole life. I do not have the digestive issues that you mentioned above, however am concerned with nutrient deficiencies. I get to about year 5-6 in my vegetarian diet, and I start to crave meat/fish. I can only imagine this means my body is trying to tell me something, however do not want to compromise my ethics regarding eating animals. (Yes… I think salmon and gelatin would be good for me). It is a struggle to balance to my desire to be healthy and my ethics. I really just want to be at peace with my food choices and be healthy. Thanks for sharing your journey…I totally get it!

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