Can Vegetarians Eat The Bulletproof Diet?
A major part of the Bulletproof Diet (if you’re new to it, welcome) is high-quality meat. Grass-fed meat and wild-caught seafood are supreme sources of fat, cholesterol, protein, vitamins, and minerals that are tough to find elsewhere. Meat is a simple way to get a lot of nutrition, fast. It’s like nature’s multivitamin (not that you should take a multivitamin).
Plenty of people don’t eat meat, and one of the most common questions I get is whether vegetarians can eat Bulletproof.
The answer: it’s challenging but possible. You’ll want to be conscious of a few possible gaps in nutrition and make sure you fill them. Below are common pitfalls many vegetarians face – and Bulletproof hacks for each. But before that…
Consider eating meat the Bulletproof way
People become vegetarian for all kinds of reasons – religious beliefs, ethical qualms, environmental concerns, and health reasons, to name a few. Before you read the rest of this article, ask yourself why you became vegetarian. If you did it for ethical, environmental, or health reasons, you may want to reconsider your decision to swear off meat.
- Many vegetarians stop eating meat because they’re put off by the many horrors of factory farming. If you’re concerned about the ethics of eating meat, ask yourself this: would you eat an animal that lived its life grazing on lush pastures, away from the cages and steroid injections of the American meat industry? If so, switch to pasture-raised meat. Grass-fed meat is great for you, and it’s the most cruelty-free option omnivores have.
- Another reason for going vegetarian is concern that raising cattle hurts the environment. Again, that may be true for factory-farmed animals, but as this Wall Street Journal article reveals, it isn’t the case for those that are pasture-raised. In fact, raising cows on pasture replenishes the soil and protects land from development. Eating grass-fed meat is better for the planet than eating no meat at all.
- If you’re avoiding meat because you think it’s bad for you, these two articles might make you reconsider. The toxins, steroids, antibiotics, and inflammatory fats in grain-fed and/or factory-farmed meat are the problems. High-quality meat is amazing for you.
Still set on being a vegetarian? We won’t try to stop you. Here are a few tips for eating a meat-free version of the Bulletproof Diet.
1) Know your omega-3s…and get a lot of the right kind
Omega-3 fatty acids are great for you. They compete in your body with inflammatory omega-6 fats, and omega-3 consumption links with better cardiovascular performance.
Companies that tout vegetarian omega-3-rich foods – chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds, for example – aren’t giving you the whole picture. It’s true that these seeds are high in omega-3s, but they all contain ALA, which is the kind your body can’t use directly.
There are three main types of omega-3 fats:
- EPA and DHA are the types your body can readily use. They’re essential for brain function. They’re also almost exclusively found in animal products.
- ALA isn’t as valuable because your body has to convert it to EPA to use it. ALA comes mostly from plants, and while some animals – rats, for example – are very good at converting ALA to EPA, humans are not. You only convert and use about 6% of the ALA you eat to EPA, and only about 4% to DHA .
A study showed that vegetarian men who took 3.7 grams of ALA every day had tiny increases in EPA; when they took 15.4 grams of ALA daily (that’s about ¼ cup of flaxseed or 7 teaspoons of flaxseed oil) their EPA did increase, but it was still lower than the EPA levels of participants who ate meat, and much lower than the EPA levels of participants who ate fish .
Basically, plant-based ALA is not an efficient way to boost your omega-3 levels. Here are a few better options:
- Take a krill oil or fish oil supplement. It’s the most effective way to get EPA and DHA. The link is to krill oil made by Jarrow. Bulletproof has no affiliation with Jarrow – we just love their commitment to purity and quality.
- Eat pasture-raised eggs. They have lots of EPA and DHA – about 3 times as much as conventional eggs do. Make sure you get “pasture-raised” and not “free range” eggs. The latter just means the chickens have access to the outside; in many cases the bulk of their diet is still cheap feed.
- Be extra-conscious of your omega-6 intake. The ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fats is important because the two compete in the body, and the higher the ratio in favor of omega-3s, the fewer inflammatory omega-6s your body will use. Vegans often have a poorer ratio than meat-eaters do [3,4]. For vegetarians, though, that doesn’t have to be the case. Limit omega-6-rich oils and fats like olive oil and avocado – unless you’re getting plenty of DHA and EPA from supplements and eggs.
2) Avoid vegetarian meat replacements and frankenfoods
Most vegetarian “meat” products are nutritional abominations.
- Seitan may be the worst offender. Seitan is 100% wheat gluten – it’s like edible inflammation.
- Soy-based meat replacements like tofu and tempeh are no good either. Fresh soy is high in inflammatory lectins. It also contains phytic acid, an antinutrient that binds to minerals and stops your body from using them. Fermenting soy decreases phytic, acid but it also creates allergy-triggering histamine. To top it off, soy is estrogenic and can throw your hormones out of whack. Fresh or fermented, soy is trouble.
In addition to meat replacements, several other vegetarian staples have drawbacks:
- Beans, like soy, are high in lectins and phytic acid. There’s a reason they have a reputation for causing gas and bloating – the lectins in beans can damage your stomach lining and cause leaky gut syndrome. You can read more about the downsides of beans here.
- Wheat, barley, corn, potatoes, quinoa, and similar carb sources are all out. Get your carbs from sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrot, butternut squash, and white rice instead.
- Don’t load up on fruit! Many vegetarians do, but fruit is high in hormone-sabotaging fructose. Stick to Bulletproof veggies instead.
3) Get plenty of cholesterol and fat
Vegetarians often don’t eat a lot of fat, and many have lower cholesterol than meat-eaters do . Fat is a cornerstone of the Bulletproof Diet, and even the American Heart Association has stated that cholesterol is not the enemy doctors and nutritionists make it out to be. Make sure you get plenty of high-quality fat and cholesterol. Here are a few good sources:
- Egg yolks are high in cholesterol and fat and egg whites are a great source of protein. To maximize the nutrients you get from eggs, cook your whites (cooking makes egg protein more absorbable) and keep the yolk raw. Soft-boiled or sunny-side up eggs are solid choices. Again, always go for pasture-raised eggs.
- Grass-fed butter is chock-full of saturated fat, cholesterol, butyrate, CLA, carotene, and vitamins A, K2, E, and D (many vegetarians are vitamin D deficient; even if you eat butter, consider supplementing with 1000 iu/25 lbs. body weight). Throw it on all those veggies you eat!
- Raw nuts are full of fat too. Just don’t overdo it – they have a significant amount of omega-6.
4) Tweak your supplements
In addition to krill or fish oil, a couple other supplements are especially important for vegetarians:
- Vitamin D acts on more than 1000 genes, serves as a substrate for sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen, and moderates immune function and inflammation. Most people, vegetarian or not, could use more vitamin D, and vegetarians are especially likely to be vitamin D deficient. Try taking vitamin D3 at a dose of 1000 iu / 25 lbs. bodyweight. Go for a brand that packages in olive oil, like Jarrow.
- Vegetarians are also at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Recent research showed that 92% of vegans were B12 deficient. So were 77% of vegetarians who ate eggs and dairy products. Only 11% of meat eaters had a B12 deficiency . The most abundant sources of vitamin B12 are meat (especially organ meat), eggs, and some shellfish. If you aren’t eating any of those, consider a supplement.
Are you a vegetarian doing Bulletproof? How is it going for you? Any other tips or tricks you’ve found helpful? If so, share them in the comments! Thanks for reading.