Are there Medical Conditions Requiring Animal Foods?

Question:

Are there any medical conditions which require someone to eat flesh?
Are there any that prevent someone from being vegan?

Answer:

There are certainly people who feel like their health suffers when they don’t eat meat, unfortunately.

As I’ve posted about recently, there are some conditions which might make it difficult to eat a normal vegan diet, such as having herpes, being allergic or intolerant of soy or wheat, and having trouble absorbing iron.

And although research shows that a plant-based diet is a good way to treat early chronic kidney disease, once someone has to be on dialysis it can be difficult. This is because most plant foods are either high in phosphorus (as is dairy) or potassium. People on dialysis tend to need large amounts of protein and it’s hard to get it from plants without also getting phosphorus. You can take calcium tablets to try to prevent phosphorus absorption but this strategy is limited.

Vegetarian Diet for Kidney Disease Treatment, by Joan Brookhyser, RD, CSR, CD, is a book about how to be vegetarian or vegan while on dialysis. So, it can be done but I do not know how often it is done.

Finally, there might be some people whose bodies don’t make enough of a nutrient that can only be obtained, at this time, from animal foods.

I once corresponded with an animal advocate who thought his body did not produce enough cholesterol and it was causing him to pass out. He did have very low cholesterol (under 100 mg/dl) which may or may not have been the problem. He said that when he ate cheese, he felt much better and didn’t pass out. We tried to figure out what else it might be, such as not enough calories or fat, but we did not succeed. However, I do not think that cheese, or any other animal product, has magical properties. If the cheese really was solving his problem, then there must be some molecule(s) in the cheese that can be uncovered as the cause.

Eventually, we might be able to produce all such molecules without harming animals, particularly if in vitro meat becomes a reality.

7 Responses to “Are there Medical Conditions Requiring Animal Foods?”

  1. Audra Says:

    I missed the post where you wrote that a vegan diet could be difficult with soy allergies… I just wanted to comment that I have a soy allergy and a gluten intolerance… It seems really daunting at first, but it’s actually really doable and REALLY healthy. I’m sure that you wrote about the fact that it can be done, but I wanted to write as someone who has experienced it firsthand.

    Being allergic to soy has made my vegan diet incredibly healthy in comparison to how I was eating before. Now, I eat a whole foods based diet, with way more vegetables, fruits, and variety of grains (rices, amaranth, quinoa, etc.) than I ever would have touched before. Before, I was processed food vegan junk foodie. Now I’m healthy girl, glowing and happy!

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Good point, Audra!

    I only meant that I’ve mentioned soy and gluten allergies and intolerances in some of my posts (such as here and here).

  3. beforewisdom Says:

    I started eating a vegetarian diet back in the early 80s before soy products became ubiquitous and affordable in metropolitan areas. In other words, I had to learn how to cook and eat homemade meals.

    Eating a vegan diet with a soy allergy would be slightly inconvenient but IMHO I think “difficult” would be far too strong of a word.

  4. Kathy Says:

    I had never heard about that it might be difficult for someone with herpes. I have actually had the opposite reaction. I have had herpes II for about 25 years and have been on suppresive therapy (800 mg) acyclovir for about 10 years–it was the only thing that would prevent my having breakouts every 2 weeks. In the last few years, I have been able to reduce to 400 mg per day, but if I missed a few days, I would get a breakout. I went vegan in July of 2008–I forgot to take my acyclovir for awhile and realized I had not had a breakout, so I stayed off the drug. Since then, I have had one breakout. I was actually thinking that going vegan could be a CURE for herpes! Maybe I’m just lucky! Thanks for your blog!

  5. Living Without Meat » Blog Archive » ‘But My Doctor Said I Can’t Be Vegan …’ Says:

    [...] can be healthy or unhealthy, just as meat-based ones can be either. Jack Norris RD recently asked, “Are There Medical Conditions Requiring Animal Foods?“ And he subsequently answered, “there are some conditions which might make it difficult to eat [...]

  6. Amanda Says:

    Thanks for sending me this link, Jack. I was just curious. It seems like all of these problems will be solved before veganism becomes anything near universal. Maybe we will even find a better treatment/cure for kidney problems.

    But just out of curiosity, if someone claims their body only recognizes animal protein, did they hear that from a doctor? Or did they probably just make it up or read it from a conspiracy website? Because it sounds like the latter to me, but I don’t want to confront anyone about something if it is actually true.

    For example, I have a friend (she’s quite a character in many ways) who went vegetarian (not vegan) for about a week, and said she felt extremely weak. Then she said the second she ate fish, she felt better. So now she is a pescetarian and she says, “Don’t get mad at me. If adding a little bit of animal protein to my diet makes me healthy, then let me do it.” Also, that’s a lie because she eats some kind of fish with just about every meal, which I’m sure must be unnecessary for anyone.

    I know it sounds like I’m a vegangelist, going around making people uncomfortable, but I’m actually very quiet. It’s just all staying in my head and I wanted to ask an expert about it.

  7. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Amanda,

    > if someone claims their body only recognizes animal protein, did they hear that from a doctor?

    It’s possible. But it’s extremely unlikely that her body doesn’t “recognize” animal protein.

    That said, it’s possible (though, again, unlikely) she was not getting enough of the right amino acids from the plant foods she was choosing. If she was eating little to no legumes, she might have been short on the amino acid lysine.

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