Can You Get all the Benefits of Eating Meat on a Vegan Diet?

Benefits of Eating Meat Vegan Diet, Health RoomYou’ve heard all about the potential benefits of going vegan: cutting down on the meat and dairy, and upping your plant intake.

You’ve read stories about people reversing health conditions and gaining more energy. You know that moving towards a plant based diet would mean plus points on the animal welfare front, and could help cut your carbon footprint too.


But there’s one question that still lingers in the back of your mind:

Are there certain benefits of eating meat that you can’t get on a vegan diet?

If you’re anything like me, you’re afraid that if you drop the animal products you’ll become weak and sickly. Afraid that all your hard-earned fitness gains will disappear overnight. Afraid that you’ll be unable to focus at work and provide for your family.


Even if you’re one of those full-fledged 10 year+ vegans, you may still have your doubts from time to time, which is completely natural.

So that’s what I want to look at today:

Can you get all that beneficial nutrition found in meat, via plant based sources?

We’ll look at everything from K2 and B12, to iodine and cholesterol (and more at a future date when I get the time to update this).

How much do you really need, why do you need it, and where can you find it?

Whether you’re a weekend warrior, hard-charging business exec or someone simply looking to lose a few pounds, can you get all the pros promised by plant-based wellness gurus, only with less potential adverse side effects on your health, the environment, and the other species we share our home with?

Maybe, maybe not.

Read on to find out what the evidence suggests.

One quick thing before we start:

I’ve tried to make this as unbiased as possible. I’m not suggesting everyone should be vegan, or indeed that you shouldn’t be. Remember that I’m out here just doing my best to figure things out, just like everybody else. And it almost goes without saying that none of the ideas I mention below are a substitute for sound medical advice.

Let’s dig in…

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ProteinVitamin K2IodineVitamin DCreatineVitamin B12IronCalciumSaturated FatDHA & EPAGood BacteriaTaurineCarnitineArachidonic AcidCholesterol

Benefits of Eating Meat 1: Protein

Why is it important? 

Proteins are polymer chains made up of amino acids that are joined together by peptide bonds.

Or in human language…

They basically act as the building blocks for our tissues, and are needed for proper growth and repair.

Protein can also act as a fuel source, providing around 4 kcal of energy per gram.

Where can you find it?

You ask the average person on the street where they get their protein from, you’ll probably get a pretty standard response:

Meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and maybe whey protein powders if they like hitting the gym (#IIFYM).

Many consider these to be the highest quality, complete protein sources. Ones that contain all the essential amino acids the body needs and are integral for living a healthy lifestyle.

Whilst they do indeed contain a wide range of amino acids, animal protein sources have also been linked to a fair share of health issues (particularly at the level of consumption seen in standard western diets).

We won’t get into all of them here today, but a couple of the big issues highlighted in the scientific literature include:

  • Increased production of Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1) – great for making gainz, but too much of which can accelerate cell growth and promote cancer. It’s a fine balance.
  • Impaired kidney function due to increased ammonia production and hyper-filtration, placing excess load on the kidneys.

Albeit on a different magnitude, claiming meat is essential because of it’s protein content is a bit like saying smoking is good for you because it lowers your risk of Parkinson’s – but completely ignoring all the other negative health implications.

So what’s the alternative?

Lucky for us, we can find plenty of protein in a variety of plant sources:

Plant based protein sources

Data sourced from

Quinoa, chia seeds, hemp seeds and soy are some of the complete vegan protein sources (although that’s probably not something you need to worry about). Pumpkin seeds, nuts, lentils, beans, and oats also contain ample amounts.

Interestingly, studies have shown that even when consumed in the same quantities as animal protein, plant protein doesn’t cause the same rise in IGF-1 levels, and may even improve renal function.

In terms of the amount of protein you need per day, the general consensus is a minimum of around 0.8 g per kg of body weight, or roughly 10-15% of total calories from protein.

So if you weigh 70 kg, you’d shoot for at least 58 g of protein a day.

And that’s easy to do if you eat a wide variety of plants – I typically average more than 100 g, and that’s without taking any supplements into account.

So I’m more in the region of 1.2 – 1.5 g per kg of bodyweight a day without any trouble.

But what if you’re an athlete/gym bro?  

Sure, there are plant based protein powders out there, and I use them from time to time to bulk out a smoothie. But they’re by no means necessary.

Whilst the demand for protein increases for athletes and people engaged in regular exercise, so does the demand for overall calories.

So the way I see it, you should up your overall food intake if you’re active, but your percentage of calories from protein probably doesn’t need to change that much.

Protein - Luke's Verdict
Protein - Luke's Verdict
  • Protein is put forth as one of the main benefits of eating meat, but you’ll find plenty of the good stuff in plant based sources such as nuts, seeds, pseudo grains and legumes.
  • If you want an extra boost, you can always opt for a vegan protein powder. I like Sun Warrior’s Warrior Blend or a simple Organic Hemp Protein.

Benefits of Eating Meat 2: Vitamin K2

Why is it important?

Vitamin K2 is a bit like your favourite overnight pop star – irrelevant for a long time, but suddenly all the rage.

Before we get into the details as to why, lets go over the basics:

There are a few main types of vitamin K.

  • The first and most commonly talked about form is K1, found in leafy greens and other cruciferous veggies. It plays an important role in blood clotting – without it, you would bleed out from a small cut.
  • The second form, vitamin K2, is produced through the conversion of K1 and as a byproduct of intestinal bacteria. As well as being involved in blood clotting, K2 also aids in calcium absorption, potentially helping to maintain a healthy skeletal structure.

It’s also linked with a reduced risk of arterial plaque buildup and heart disease, but the evidence is currently limited to one study.

Dr. Jack Norris points out that:

Preliminary evidence suggests that vitamin K2 could reduce the risk of heart disease, but the research is mixed and the positive findings come from only one country. More research is needed. If vitamin K2 reduces the risk of heart disease, it does not mean that eating animal products high in vitamin K2 will also reduce the risk, since animal products often contain other components that may increase the risk of heart disease more than vitamin K2 decreases it.

Where can you find it?

The body can convert a certain amount of vitamin K1 into K2, but there’s been a bit of controversy lately regarding the effectiveness of the conversion process.

That’s why many people are advocating that we need vitamin K2 in our diets.

As you probably guessed, you’ll find lots of it in animal products – particularly organ meats, eggs, cheese and milk. But if that’s not your thing, what are the alternatives?

As I mentioned above, K2 is also produced by bacteria – many strains of which you’ll find in your digestive tract. So under normal conditions you should be able to create ample amounts yourself.

Natto k2 benefits of eating meat on a vegan diet

Natto – apparently the Japanese version of marmite (you either love it or hate it)

However, if you’ve undergone a course of antibiotics or you have a gut imbalance, you might not be producing enough.

Natto is the only known plant based source of K2, but there are also a number of vegan K2 supplements available.

I’ve played around with this supplement by Veganicity, but can’t say I noticed a massive difference in how I felt. But I do get through a shed load of leafy greens, and pay good attention to maintaining a healthy gut…

As for the amount of K2 we should aim for, estimates vary.

The guys at LifeExtension had this to say:

Scientists are still debating this question. Supplements generally contain between 50 mcg and 1,000 mcg of Vitamin K2. Even the low end of the supplement dose of 50 mcg a day may help to support healthy bone density and protect the arterial wall from calcification.

Just be careful if you’re on any blood-thinning medications such as Warfarin, as the supplements might interact and have adverse effects.

Vitamin K2 - Luke's Verdict
Vitamin K2 - Luke's Verdict
  • You’ll find plenty of K1 in leafy greens and cruciferous veg, which is then converted into K2.
  • Vitamin K2 can be found in the fermented food natto, but is also available in supplement form.
  • Your body should produce enough K2 if you have a healthy gut, so be wary of unnecessary antibiotic use, and avoid overly processed foods.

Benefits of Eating Meat 3: Iodine

Why is it important?

Iodine is an important trace mineral involved in hormone production in the thyroid gland.

A deficiency is associated with all sorts of health issues, including goiter (enlargement of the thyroid), hypothyroidism, and increased risks of miscarriage during pregnancy.

Like with many other micronutrients in the body, you need to maintain a delicate balance of iodine – it’s not just a case of ‘the more the better’.

Both too much and too little iodine can interfere with normal hormone production and influence your health.

Where can you find it?

You’ll find iodine in sea food such as scallops and cod. It’s also present in commercial dairy products, interestingly as a derivative of cleaning products often used to wash down equipment.


Nori roll iodine benefits of eating meat

Iodine: a valid excuse to eat more sushi…

In terms of plant based foods, iodine is abundant in sea vegetables like nori, kelp, and wakame. These are the most potent sources, although their iodine content can vary greatly.

There’s also some iodine in potatoes, cranberries, strawberries and legumes, but don’t rely on them.

If it’s supplements you’re after, pure iodine drops are available. Personally, if I haven’t eaten any sea vegetables for a few days, I’ll pop half a good quality kelp supplement for good measure.

Although daily intake recommendations vary, the general consensus is around 150 micrograms.

Also keep in mind that there’s an intricate relationship between the mineral selenium and iodine, particularly with regards to thyroid function. Selenium can determine how iodine affects the thyroid gland and influence the resulting hormone balance. So as well as consuming the RDA of iodine, make sure you’re getting enough selenium in your diet (a few Brazil nuts a day should be enough).

Iodine - Luke's Verdict
Iodine - Luke's Verdict
  • You should be able to get all the iodine you need from sea vegetables such as kelp, wakame and nori. In the US, most table salt is also iodized, which is handy.
  • If your levels are low or you don’t eat sea vegetables often, you might want to consider supplementing with iodine drops or kelp tablets, but be careful not to exceed the RDA of 150 micrograms.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough selenium with a few Brazil nuts a day.

Benefits of Eating Meat 4: Vitamin D

Why is it important?

Vitamin D plays a number of important roles in the body.

It’s involved with calcium and phosphorous absorption (supporting bone health), maintaining immune function, regulating blood pressure, and may even reduce heart disease risk.

It’s also been linked with healthy sleep cycles, improved mood and enhanced recovery from training.

Where can you find it?

In terms of dietary sources, you’ll find vitamin D in many animal products.  This is because they have a built-in mechanism to produce vitamin D themselves… Just like we humans do.

It’s called the sunshine vitamin for a reason – when the sun interacts with sterols on your skin, your clever body produces it’s own vitamin D.

Around 15 minutes of full body exposure to bright sunlight is thought to be sufficient for fair skinned people, but that goes up to to a few hours if your skin is darker. For many of us that isn’t always realistic…

As we’ve moved further away from the equator and populated areas with fewer sunlight hours, basking in the midday sun has become pretty difficult. Add to that the fact that most of us work indoors (try asking your boss for an hour off work to sunbathe…) – it’s no wonder that up to 75% of the population may be D deficient.

Interesting side note – I found through online blood testing that my vitamin D levels tend towards the low side. Since supplementing, I’ve noticed my energy levels are much higher, and I generally feel more like myself. 

Now, we don’t really find vitamin D in any plant foods, aside from negligible amounts in some mushrooms (I don’t trust them). But there are a number of supplements out there.

Vitamin D3 is thought to be more easily absorbed than the D2 variety at high doses, but is often derived from animal sources. There are however an increasing number of vegan D3 options on the market.

Current guidelines suggest you should consume around 600 IU of Vitamin D if you’re under 70, but 800 IU if you’re older than 70.

However, some believe that the RDA’s are not high enough to maintain optimal health, and that a value closer to 7000 IU a day is preferable.

I typically go for around 2500 IU, and that seems to work quite well for me.

Vitamin D - Luke's Verdict
Vitamin D - Luke's Verdict
  • Safely expose as much skin as possible to the sun whenever possible.
  • If you find though lab testing that your levels are low, you may want to also consider supplementing with around 2500 IU a day of Vitamin D3.

Benefits of Eating Meat 5: Creatine

Why is it important?

Creatine is an organic compound that helps to supply energy in the body, by increasing ATP production.

Creatine benefits of eating meat

Creatine – you’re doing it wrong…

You’ve probably heard of it as a sports supplement, where it’s used to increase maximum power output and performance in high-intensity, anaerobic work. It’s also been linked with increased testosterone production and decreased short-term cortisol levels after training.

Creatine is perhaps less known for it’s positive impact on brain function – improving memory and processing speed.

Where can you find it?

You’ll primarily find creatine in animal products such as meat and fish.

But just like with vitamin D, we have a built in mechanism that allows us to generate our own.

Creatine is naturally produced in our liver, kidneys and pancreas from a combination of the amino acids glycine and arginine. It’s then shifted to the brain and muscles to supply them with energy.

Studies have shown that vegans typically have slightly lower blood levels of creatine compared to omnivores, but when they use a creatine supplement, the positive effects on cognition are significantly more than those observed in omnivores (who actually saw a slight negative impact in the above study).

This may be because the omnivores have inadvertently down-regulated their natural production of creatine by consuming it on a regular basis through their diet.

So what does this mean for people eating a vegan diet? Should they supplement with creatine, or give it a miss?

Well, it depends on your priorities, and what studies you read…

Whilst it does seem that taking creatine on an infrequent basis may give you a brain boost and increase your performance in the gym, if you’re consuming it regularly, some theorise that you may be turning off your bodies natural ability to produce it (at least temporarily).

I’m not sure how valid that really is, but it may be worth keeping in mind.

And there are a few other things to consider:

  • Creatine has been shown to increase the production of IGF-1, which as we mentioned earlier, doesn’t just help you to build muscles – it accelerates all cell growth and increases cancer risk.
  • There’s also heavy metal contaminants to think about. One study tested 33 different brands of creatine supplements on the market and discovered that 50% of them surpassed the maximum level recommended by the European Food Safety Authority for at least one harmful contaminant.

Others argue that creatine is the most tested supplement on the market, and that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

So it’s personal preference really.

If you do choose to go ahead, the general recommendations for creatine supplementation is around 3-5 g a day, and some also advocate cycling your intake with one week off after every four on.

Creatine - Luke's Verdict
Creatine - Luke's Verdict
  • I’ve personally played around with vegan creatine supplements and observed a slight increase in my work capacity in the gym (and some weight gain). Can’t really comment on whether it’s improved my cognitive function.
  • By all means experiment with creatine, but be wary of the potential drawbacks.

Benefits of Eating Meat 6: Vitamin B12

Why is it important?

Let’s face it – you knew this one was coming up soon.

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin involved in a wide range of important bodily processes.

As well as helping to support the nervous system, it also affects DNA synthesis, the metabolism of amino acids and fatty acids, and a whole load of other important stuff that isn’t worth going into.

All you really need to know is that a deficiency in B12 has been linked to pretty much every nasty chronic disease you can think of – including accelerated ageing, neurological disorders, mental illness, cancers, cardiovascular disease, and infertility.

So it’s a pretty important one.

Where can you find it?

You’ll find B12 in animal products – meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

But here’s the deal:

B12 isn’t actually made by the animals themselves. Much like K2, it’s actually produced by the bacteria that line their guts.

And interestingly, we have the very same B12 producing bacteria in our guts, but they’re a little too far down in the colon for us to be able to absorb the B12. Such a shame.

It’s okay though, because we can always get it through fortified foods such as cereals, plant milks and nutritional yeast. There are some claims that algal sources such as chlorella and spirulina also contain B12, but the current evidence is limited.

I personally don’t eat fortified foods all that often, as they tend to be quite processed. Sorry solid. 

I instead opt for a B12 supplement – the two most widely available forms of being methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin.

Vitamin B12 Spray Benefits of Eating meat on a vegan diet

The methylcobalamin B12 spray that I personally use.

Although methylcobalamin may be more easily absorbed and is thought to be the more natural form of B-12, most of the studies done on B-12 supplementation have used cyanocobalamin.

So it’s up to you which one you go for – either seems to be fine.

In terms of how much you need, again it depends on what studies you read. Previous RDA ranges fell between 1.5-3 micrograms per day, but a more recent (and seemingly more reliable study) suggests that levels between 4-7 micrograms are much more effective.

Absorption levels of B-12 can vary between 0.5% and 50% depending on the source and dosage. For that reason, Dr. Greger of recommends either a weekly dose of 2500 micrograms, or a daily dose of 250.

One more thing to add:

B12 supplementation isn’t just reserved for vegans.

One study showed that one in six people eating in omnivorous diet may in fact be B12 deficient, and those with the highest B12 levels are those who consume fortified foods and B12 supplements, not necessarily those that ate meat.

Vitamin B12 - Luke's Verdict
Vitamin B12 - Luke's Verdict
  • Don’t skip your B12 people! Whether or not you’re eating animal products or fortified foods, it’s probably worth taking a B12 supplement.
  • I go for this methylcobalamin spray, and I occasionally take a multivitamin that contains cyanocobalamin.

Benefits of Eating Meat 7: Iron

Why is it important?

Iron is another micronutrient that gets the red flag in the whole ‘benefits of eating meat vs eating a vegan diet’ debate.

It makes up an important part of haemoglobin, one of the key components of red blood cells that help to transport oxygen around the body.

An iron deficiency (which you’ll recognise as anaemia) can cause issues with fatigue, skin and hair health, brain fog, and can lead to compromised immune function.

Where can you find it?

There are two main types of iron: heme and non-heme.

Heme iron is the type found only in animal foods – meat, poultry and fish. It makes up about 40% of the iron content in these sources, the rest coming from non-heme.

Whilst heme iron is thought to be more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme, studies have shown that it may cause an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even certain cancers.

Non-heme iron makes up 100% of the iron found in plant foods. Athough it may not be absorbed quite as well as heme iron, it doesn’t seem show the same negative side effects. In fact, it’s even been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Some of the top plant based iron sources include dark chocolate, seeds, nuts, legumes and leafy greens.

Plant Based Iron Sources

Data sourced from

Vitamin C also aids in iron absorption, found in abundance in red peppers, broccoli, leafy greens, berries and citrus fruits.

Like iodine, the balance of iron needed in the body is delicate. Too little leads to the negative conditions mentioned above, but iron overload increases oxidative stress and DNA damage, potentially increasing cancer risk.

If for some reason, you’re suffering from an iron deficiency and upping your intake of iron rich foods isn’t cutting it, talk with your doctor about using a non-heme iron supplement as opposed to a heme based one. The body has no mechanism to get rid of excess heme iron, whilst it does have a little more control over the non-heme variety.

The amount of iron needed will vary depending on your age, but the general RDA is around 8.7 mg a day for men, and 14.8 mg a day for women.

Iron - Luke's Verdict
Iron - Luke's Verdict
  • You can get your non-heme iron from wholefood sources such as dark chocolate, seeds, nuts, legumes and leafy greens whenever possible.
  • If you’re taking a supplement, go for a non-heme iron one, and be cautious of overdoing it. 

Benefits of Eating Meat 8: Calcium

Why is it important?

True fact:

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the body.

It makes up a big portion of our bones and teeth, supporting their structure and allowing for optimal function.

A small portion of calcium is also required for nerve transmission, vasoconstriction and vasodilation, muscle function, and hormonal secretion.

Just like iron and B-12, calcium is another micronutrient that people assume it’s difficult to get on a vegan diet.

But that’s not neccessarily the case.

Where can you find it?

You’ve got to hand it to them:

The dairy industry has done a pretty good job with their marketing campaign over the years…

To the extent that calcium is almost exclusively associated with milk and cheese.

However, an increasing number of people are becoming wary of dairy products. There’s a growing body of evidence showing the negative impacts associated with dairy consumption – including an increased cancer risk, higher rates of diabetes, increased production of IGF-1, chronic inflammation, and allergic responses.

Another common claim is that dairy is so acidic that it causes calcium to leach from your bones and escape the body via the urine.

Studies indeed showed that elevated calcium levels in the urine occurred with a high consumption of animal products. But the whole acidic-bone leaching theory is up for debate.

The excess calcium found in the urine actually comes from the diet. A high protein consumption somehow leads to more calcium being absorbed from food, which is then excreted through the urine.

Regardless, that doesn’t excuse all of the other negative health impacts.

So, what are the vegan alternatives?

Leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds are all rich in calcium, without the negative side effects of dairy products.

Plant Based Calcium Sources

Data sourced from

A 150 g serving of tofu with a good few handfuls of collard greens, spinach and a few tablespoons of sesame seeds will get you pretty close to the RDA of around 1000 milligrams.

What about supplements? 

Calcium supplements are particularly popular amongst middle aged women, looking to avoid osteoporosis and reduce their risk of breaking a bone.

But as Chris Kresser wrote about a few months ago, recent studies have shown that calcium supplements don’t give any added benefits where osteoporosis or fracture risk is concerned, and may in fact increase risk of developing heart disease, stroke, cancers and all cause mortality.

So you’re probably better off ditching the supplements and getting your calcium from wholefood sources instead.

And if you’re still worried about maintaining strong healthy bones, make sure you’re regularly engaging in weight bearing exercise and taking in enough vitamins D and K2 (from the sun and from supplements).

Calcium - Luke's Verdict
Calcium - Luke's Verdict

  • To get your 1000 mg a day of calcium, get plenty of legumes, leafy greens, nuts and seeds.
  • Stay clear of calcium supplements whenever possible, and instead focus on weight bearing exercise, and vitamins K2 and D for building strong bones. 

Benefits of Eating Meat 9: Saturated Fat

Why is it important?

There’s a big divide over saturated fat consumption, almost as big the one over eating meat. As always, it depends on what you read, and which sources of information you trust the most.

  • On the one hand you have people who state that it’s essential for maintaining a healthy brain and optimal hormone function. You’ll probably have noticed the headlines stating that ‘butter is back’, that avoiding saturated fat is in fact bad for you, and that there are populations like the inuit and Masai who eat diets high in saturated fats, yet experience little to no chronic diseases.
  • But then on the other hand, there also seems to be quite a bit of support behind the idea that saturated fat consumption is associated with a number nasty chronic diseases (particularly heart disease), so we should limit our consumption.

Again, we’re not short of controversy.

Now, I don’t claim to have the definitive answer to the saturated fat debate, but from the evidence that I’ve seen, I currently lean slightly towards the latter of the two above options.

Here’s why:

If we delve deep into the basis of ‘butter is back’ argument, we come to the Siri-Tarino study, in which the authors looked at the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease in a cross section of observational studies.

They concluded that saturated fat consumption actually reduces LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and does not contribute to heart disease.

The media ran with it, and here we are today.

However, that’s not really the whole story…

Every study undergoes some form of statistical analysis to remove some of the variables that can effect the end result. That’s just how it works. But it just so happens that the studies picked by the authors were over adjusted, seemingly to skew the results.

As Dr. Garth Davis explained on episode 150 of the Rich Roll Podcast:

Here’s the key – they took out people that had high cholesterol, because high cholesterol is an independent cause of heart disease. But saturated fat causes heart disease by raising cholesterol, in part. So by removing those people from there, you’re removing the people that actually are affected by saturated fat, and you’re leaving for the study people that have a genetic disposition where they can eat saturated fat, not raise their cholesterol and not get heart disease. 

It’s also worth mentioning that all of the scientists involved with the Siri-Tarino study received funding from the meat or dairy industries.


But what about the Inuit and Masai populations that were thought to eat an abundance of saturated fat and stay disease free?

A closer look at the evidence from Thomas Campbell M.D suggests otherwise:

Have you heard of the Masai and the Inuit having very low rates of chronic disease on entirely animal-food diets? If you have, chances are that you haven’t heard the whole story. There has been some important information missing in oft-repeated mantra of the exceptional health of the Inuit and the Masai, and it is worth revisiting the evidence…

Where can you find it?

As you might have guessed, saturated fat is primarily found in animal products – meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy.

Regardless of the controversy we talked about above, lets assume that for some reason you wanted to cut down on your animal product consumption, but still wanted to consume some saturated fats.

So there are a few plant based sources – coconuts, coconut milk, coconut oil, cocoa butter and smaller amounts are also found in nuts and seeds. Most vegetable oils contain a little bit too.

But the question remains:

Are these plant-derived saturated fats somehow more beneficial than the saturated fats found in animal products, or are they the same?

We’ll take a quick look at coconut oil, as that seems to be one of the more popular sources lately.

First the good news:

Studies have shown that it doesn’t cause the same spike in inflammation seen immediately after the consumption of saturated animal fats. And, coconut oil contains a form of saturated fat called stearic acid, which has been shown to have a neutral affect on cholesterol levels.


When you look at the actual breakdown of the saturated fat content in coconut oil, you’ll see that only a small percentage actually comes from stearic acid (3%), with the rest derived from other forms of saturated fats (palmitic, myristic, and lauric acid) – that are linked with raising LDL cholesterol.

If we’re gonna play the stearic acid card, beef and butter actually get much higher percentages of their saturated fat content from stearic acid. But that doesn’t necessarily make them healthy…

At the end of the day, it does seem that coconut oil is just another processed food that we probably shouldn’t go crazy with.

walnuts benefits of eating meatBut what about nuts and seeds?

They typically contain saturated fats in much lower concentrations than the amounts seen in processed oils, and studies have shown they can actually help to reduce LDL cholesterol and heart attack risk.

I’m with Dr. Klaper M.D. – who kindly had this to say when I reached out to him:

I feel modest amounts of saturated fats are beneficial, especially when eaten in their whole form and served with non-starch vegetables (greens, salads, etc.) as they assist in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin K. So, I am in favor of fats in the form of nut-based gravies over broccoli, tahini dressings over salad, walnuts or coconut shreds served on salads, etc.

Again, it goes back to the age old advice of consuming whole, unprocessed foods.

Saturated Fats - Luke's Verdict
Saturated Fats - Luke's Verdict

  • From what I can see, right now the risks outweigh the benefits with regards to regularly consuming large amounts of saturated fats. I may be wrong though, and I’d welcome the discussion. Hit me in the comments section below.
  • Whole food sources of saturated fats such as nuts and seeds are beneficial in moderation.
  • If your cholesterol is low and you’re already in good health, you might be okay with using processed forms of saturated fats like coconut oil sparingly, but it’s probably best not to overdo it.

Benefits of Eating Meat 10: DHA and EPA

Why are they important?

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are long chain omega-3 fatty acids, needed to maintain brain health and normal hormone production.

Both have been linked with a reduced risk of developing heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

They’ve also been shown to improve our capacity for learning, and can also have a significant positive impact on the cognitive development of children when pregnant women increase their intake.

Where can you find them?

DHA and EPA are primarily found in fish and eggs.

They can also be synthesised in the body from the shorter chain omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which is found in plant foods such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, soy beans and walnuts.

However, our bodies are not always that efficient at the conversion process, potentially leaving us short.

Thankfully, there are a number of vegan DHA and EPA supplements available.

I’ve used a UK brand of DHA supplement called Nothing Fishy, which is derived from an algal source. There are also a number of combined vegan DHA/EPA supplements available.

There are no RDA’s for EPA and DHA, but the the FDA has advised in the past that adults can safely consume a combined amount of up to 3 grams per day (say that sentence quick enough and you sound like a rapper). Around 250 mg daily for each seems to be the general consensus though to maintain good health, but I prefer 500-1000 mg.

As well as taking a supplement and consuming other omega-3 rich foods, it’s important to limit your consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, found in high concentrations in vegetable oils.

In excess, omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation, which isn’t something we want to be dealing with on a regular basis.

DHA and EPA - Luke's Verdict
DHA and EPA - Luke's Verdict

  • If you’re not consuming seafood, go for plenty of omega-3 rich foods like flaxseeds, walnuts, and soy beans and limit omega-6 rich vegetable oils.
  • To keep your levels topped up you could also consider taking a daily plant based DHA and EPA supplement.

Benefits of Eating Meat 11: Good Bacteria

Why is it important?

Probiotics or ‘good bacteria’ are strains of bacteria that help to break down foods and promote a healthy gut flora.

It’s well established that the gut plays a key role in digesting and assimilating our food, but we’re starting to see that it goes much deeper than that…

The latest findings suggest that the gut almost acts as a second brain.

The enteric nervous system found in the gut lining contains more than 100 million nerves, very similar in structure and function to those found in the brain.

Studies of this complex brain-gut connection point towards the idea that not only can our mood and stress levels affect the status of our gut and digestion, but the opposite is also true – the health of our gut can influence our brain.

So it makes sense to treat our guts right, and one way of doing that is consuming lots of good bacteria.

Where can you find it?

pickled vegetables benefits of eating meatStrains of gut-friendly bacteria are produced when we ferment foods.

There are a few fermented animal products such as yoghurts and cheese, but there are also plenty of plant based sources. Some of the most popular include sauerkraut, kimchee, pickled vegetables, miso paste, natto and kombucha.

Including these into your diet most days should help you to keep your gut in good check, but if you’ve suffered from gut issues in the past or have taken heavy doses of antibiotics, you may need a little extra help.

That’s where probiotic supplements can be useful.

There are plenty of vegan ones on the market. Just make sure you go for one that contains a wide variety of strains, and shoot for more than 10 billion colony forming units per day.

And speaking of gut health, one food that’s doing the headline rounds lately is bone broth.

By many it’s considered a cure-all elixir that can solve leaky gut, improve your sleep and give you more energy. This may be the case, although scientific studies to back these claims up are few and far between…

The literature that is out there suggests that broth may in fact not be that desirable, and may increase lead buildup in the body (although I’d argue that this would probably depend on the source).

Whether it’s beneficial or not, I think it’s safe to say that bone broth isn’t an essential part of a healthy diet. There are plenty of other things that you can do and foods you can eat to maintain a healthy gut without having to boil up a bag of bones – although that is one route you could go down if you wish.

Good Bacteria - Luke's Verdict
Good Bacteria - Luke's Verdict

  • Try to eat plenty of fermented foods – sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, pickled vegetables, natto and kombucha.
  • If gut issues are a recurring problem for you, you may also want to play around with a good vegan probiotic supplement.
  • Be wary of taking antibiotics if they’re not absolutely needed, and avoid other gut harming activities such as binge drinking, low vitamin D intake, and chronic stress. 

Benefits of Eating Meat 12: Taurine

Why is it important?

Although it’s often referred to as an amino acid, taurine is in fact an amino-sulfonic acid, because it doesn’t have a carboxyl group.

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that taurine is involved with a load of important bodily functions.

It’s a major component of bile, which helps to break down fats. It’s also linked with cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, muscle function, and immune-system modulation.

Where can you find it?

In terms of dietary sources, taurine is only found naturally in animal products. It’s also added in a synthetic form to many energy drinks.

Studies have shown that vegans tend to show lower blood levels of taurine, but there’s been no evidence to date that suggests this is anything to be too worried about.

Your body produces taurine by combining the amino acids cysteine and pyridoxine – both of which are found in or synthesised from a wide range of plant foods. So most of us should be fine.

For some people though – namely pregnant women, premature babies and those lacking the required enzyme – taurine synthesis can sometimes prove difficult.

If this is something you’re concerned about, thankfully there are a number of vegan taurine supplements available. It’s probably best if you talk to your doctor before going ahead with anything though.

Whilst there is no official RDA for taurine, it’s generally thought that you shouldn’t exceed 3000 mg a day.

Taurine - Luke's Verdict
Taurine - Luke's Verdict

  • Under normal conditions, it seems your body can synthesise all the taurine it needs.
  • If you are deficient in taurine for some reason, there are plenty of vegan taurine supplements available. 

Benefits of Eating Meat 13: Carnitine

Why is it important?

Carnitine is a non-essential amino acid that is involved in fat metabolism – breaking down long chain fatty acids so they can be used as an energy source.

It also acts an antioxidant in the body, helping to remove toxins from the cell.

Where can you find it?

Like taurine, carnitine is produced in the body through the combination of other amino acids and micronutrients.

The National Institute of Health states:

Healthy children and adults do not need to consume carnitine from food or supplements, as the liver and kidneys produce sufficient amounts from the amino acids lysine and methionine to meet daily needs.

However, some people have a genetic birth defect that inhibits carnitine production.

In terms of dietary sources, it’s mainly associated with animal foods such as meat and dairy. However, you’ll also find a substantial amount in tempeh, the fermented soy food.

Vegan carnitine supplements are also available.

Again, no RDA has been set, but studies indicate that up to 2,000 mg of carnitine per day is safe.

Carnitine - Luke's Verdict
Carnitine - Luke's Verdict

  • Like taurine, under normal conditions,  your body can synthesise all the carnitine it needs.
  • If you do have a carnitine deficiency, you can take a vegan carnitine supplement.

Benefits of Eating Meat 14: Arachidonic Acid

Why is it important?

Arachidonic acid is a type of polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acid.

My girlfriend decided it should be renamed ‘spider acid’ when she proof read this article for me. Bless her.

As well as being involved in cell signalling and vasodilation, it also plays a key role in the inflammatory response.

But wait… Isn’t inflammation something we want to avoid?

Chronic inflammation, for sure.

But without short term inflammation, we wouldn’t be able to recover from injuries or bounce back from illnesses.

Where can you find it?

You’ll find arachidonic acid in meat, dairy, and eggs.

As far as I’m aware, there are no plant based sources.

Under normal conditions however, that’s not an issue, as we can make it ourselves. Arachidonic acid is synthesized from another fatty acid called linoleic acid, found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.

If your body is producing enough, then there’s really no need to take in any more arachidonic acid through your diet.

In fact, it may do more harm than good, increasing your risk of developing inflammation-related conditions like ulcerative colitis.

Arachidonic Acid - Luke's Verdict
Arachidonic Acid - Luke's Verdict

  • Like taurine and carnitine, under normal conditions our clever bodies make enough arachidonic acid to trigger an inflammatory response when needed.

Benefits of Eating Meat 15: Cholesterol

This is a bit of a controversial one, and full transparency –  I’m not entirely sure where I stand at this moment in time. Keep that in mind.

Why is it important?

Cholesterol is a lipid that’s made by all cells in the body, forming an important part of the cell membrane. It’s because of cholesterol that animal cells can get away without having a cell wall, unlike plant cells.

It also plays a role in the synthesis of vitamin D, steroid hormones, and bile, and help to maintain a functioning nervous system.

Cholesterol is carried in the bloodstream by proteins. When the cholesterol combines with the proteins, a lipoprotein is formed, the two main types being:

  • LDL – often called bad cholesterol. It carries cholesterol to cells that are in need of it, however too much can lead to build up in the artery walls, causing heart disease. Levels lower than 2 mmol/l (~70 mg/dl) are recommend. These are the levels seen at birth, in other primates, and in heart disease free populations. Anything higher, and your heart disease risk starts to increase.
  • HDL – often called good cholesterol. It transports cholesterol away from the cells to the liver, where it’s broken down to be reused or excreted. Levels higher than 1 mmol/l (~35 mg/dl) are generally desirable.

Then theres your total cholesterol. which is the sum of your LDL and HDL (plus 20 percent of your triglyceride levels – a type of fat found in the body).

Where can you find it? 

Cholesterol is only found in animal products – meat, fish, dairy and eggs (just one large egg contains more than the RDA). Like humans, these animals have the ability to produce their own cholesterol.

Plant foods contain trace amounts, but not enough to really register on the scale. So on a vegan diet you wouldn’t be taking in any dietary cholesterol.

Is this an issue?

It’s a controversial one, as I said, and I’m always open to hearing both sides of the story.

But from the information I’ve gathered so far, the answer is: likely not.

The Institute of Medicine states that:

Given the capability of all tissues to synthesize sufficient cholesterol for their metabolic and structural needs, there is no evidence for a biological requirement for dietary cholesterol.

Lately there’s been the resurgence of the idea that high cholesterol does not cause heart disease, and that it’s instead an essential part of the human diet.

Some say that we should be looking to increase our HDL, even if that means increasing total cholesterol and LDL levels.

I’m not a big conspiracy nut, but if you look a little closer you’ll see that many of these claims that cholesterol is healthy stem from the same industry that would profit from their validity – namely the egg industry.

So what’s the reality?

In spite of what the egg industry would have you believe, it seems that there’s still a fair amount of evidence that suggests the opposite.

Studies looking at the diets of different populations worldwide show that those with the lowest HDL levels (rural Japan, China, and Africa) have the lowest rate of heart disease and the lowest total cholesterol, whereas areas with the highest HDL and total cholesterol levels (Europe, USA) have more heart disease.

However, correlation doesn’t equal causation.

But what about those studies that show no correlation between cholesterol and heart disease?

According to Dr. Greger, this can largely be put down to the sick-population paradox.

Basically, when you’re studying a population that’s already sick, it becomes really difficult to identify relationships.

The fact remains that nearly everyone eating the standard western diet is at risk of dying from heart disease, even if they’re considered ‘low risk’.

If everyone is eating high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol, adding more to the diet may not increase their heart disease risk much more – because they’re already at a high risk.

So the egg industry could set up a study which shows that adding eggs to your diet doesn’t increase your heart disease risk. But what they fail to mention is that cutting your egg consumption or eliminating eggs would significantly reduce your risk…

Cholesterol - Luke's Verdict
Cholesterol - Luke's Verdict

  • Although it’s subject to debate, it does seem that your body produces all the cholesterol it needs to function properly.
  • I’m not a doctor, and I want to stay open minded. I’d definitely be interested to see any evidence that points to the opposite – so again, let me know in the comment section below if you have something to share!

So there we have it…

Can you get the benefits of eating meat, without the potential side effects? 

It seems with a bit of careful planning and supplementation, being a healthy vegan is possible.

That being said, it breeds the question that if it requires such meticulous planning, is it really that sustainable long term?

Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. I’m still learning, experimenting, and trying to find out what works best for me (and others around me). and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. I’ll update this article as the story unfolds and more information becomes available.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Any feedback is appreciated. Whether you agree with what I’ve said above, or you think the complete opposite – let me know.

I read every comment, and I do my best to reply to them all too.

And don’t forget, if you want a nicely packaged round up of all of the above that you can share with others, you can download your free PDF Summary below.

Benefits of Eating Meat Infographic Download


*Please note that some of the links to supplements in the article above are affiliate links, meaning that Amazon kicks me some spare change if you decide to make a purchase (at no extra cost to you). 

Also keep in mind that I’m not a trained medical professional. All of the info above is for information purposes only, and shouldn’t be used to diagnose or treat a medical condition. 

Luke Jones
Luke Jones is a mover, blogger and wellness enthusiast. He spends his time exploring and sharing ideas in mindful movement, healthy living and adventure.

6 Responses to “Can You Get all the Benefits of Eating Meat on a Vegan Diet?

  • Very insightful look at the science behind it all! Thanks for the lesson, it has convinced me that going vegan is not all as difficult as I had thought.

    • Thanks Ian!

      Yeah it really doesn’t have to be difficult. Just a focus on whole foods, then a few supplements thrown in for some support!

  • Denise Rose
    1 year ago

    Hi Luke,

    I am interested in the following comments re: calcium: “Another common claim is that dairy is so acidic that it causes calcium to leach from your bones and escape the body via the urine.

    Studies indeed showed that elevated calcium levels in the urine occurred with a high consumption of animal products. But the whole acidic-bone leaching theory has since been shown to be false.”

    I see you posted a link to one study about this. I listen to many interviews with our plant-based medical experts (many that you quote in your excellent article) but I have not heard this claim from them, that the leaching theory is false. Have you heard any of them speak about it. Do you know if the study you refer to has been duplicated by others? Would like to know if there is more consensus on this claim.

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