November 21, 2011

Carnivorous Yogini. Can We Practice Yoga & Eat Meat?

Kate Leinweber, B.Sc R.H.N

I am a yogini and I eat meat.

Balance with Strength

Referring to myself as a carnivore is a bit dramatic. Although I’ve tried the new trend of Palaeolithic diets, my body really needs a variety of grains, fruits and vegetables to find balanced health. I eat a plant-based diet, but not a plant-only diet. I call myself a conscious omnivore. I eat whatever my body wants and needs to have the strength and energy to succeed in the present moment.

When I first started practicing yoga intensely, of course, I followed the trend and became a vegetarian like everyone else, then a vegan, and then a vegan raw foodist. As I restricted and restricted my diet, I got hungrier and hungrier. Every day on my mat as I sought to connect to my body and dig deep into my emotional baggage I found it harder and harder.

Physically I found my strength and energy levels were all over the place and sometimes even had a hard time holding downward dog.

Emotionally I would collapse into crying spells about once a month which of course was blamed on being a woman blessed with menstruation. It sure didn’t feel like a blessing to lie in bed with a hot water bottle and pop Advil like candy for one day every month. Even on a daily basis, there was the potential for me to feel completely overwhelmed by a simple situation and have to go home and lie down.

It was a very challenging time of my life, and also extremely confusing, because I thought I was following the path of healing and ease. I felt more dis-ease than ease. My restriction of fat and protein had led to a constant state of hypoglycemia, which explained the constant energy crashes, hunger, sweet cravings and emotional break-downs. I wasn’t supporting my physical body enough for it to be able to work on my emotional issues. In fact, I was exacerbating emotional imbalances by not giving my body the nutrients it needed to survive, let alone thrive.

I started to stray from the raw food diet and rediscovered my enthusiasm for cooking. I experienced immediate muscular strength. Then I started eating raw dairy products, and I had more energy. I then tried some organic meat, and I returned to the ground. My hypoglycemia disappeared; the crying spells, the instability and the insecurity were suddenly absent. As my physical body grew stronger, it was able to support my capacity to hold emotion. I was able to practice asana more, to sit longer, and finally, still my mind.

I was practicing yoga.

I know this is a very controversial subject in the yoga world: this is just my story. I take the practice of Ahimsa seriously, but first I must apply it to myself before my kindness can spread and affect others. By not practicing Ahimsa towards myself I was in a constant state of collapse and under-nourishment, and unable to help those around me.

Do we all need to eat meat? Of course not! We all have different genetic histories and physical and emotional struggles. Some bodies heal and thrive on a meat-only diet, and others on a plant-only diet. We do have a choice, and that choice has ramifications on the body. If you pay enough attention, your body will tell you what it needs.

Ready for the science behind all of this?

What is a Protein?

Proteins are the building blocks of our muscles, enzymes, organs, nerves and skin.

Proteins are made of 22 standard amino acids. Only eight of these amino acids are required in the diet (essential), and the others can be made by our body provided it is in optimal health. It is important to remember that not everyone can produce all the non-essential amino acids (especially children). It depends on the quality of digestion, absorption, hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, and abundance of protease enzymes. If one essential amino acid is low or missing a protein deficiency can exist.

What do Proteins do?

Protein supports normal growth, hormonal production, blood clotting, formation of milk during lactation, regulates acid-alkaline balance and executes every metabolic reaction in the body!

Protein Sources.

There are many protein sources both plant and animal.

Tempeh is a great source of Plant Based Protein

If following a plant-only diet it is necessary to practice protein combining. Plant sources of protein are limiting or low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Protein combining involves eating a variety of beans, legumes and grains, and rotating them through the diet. So if rice is low in one amino acid, then a lentil will have it in a higher amount. These foods do not need to be combined at every meal. Eating them over the course of two days is fine. If digestion is at all compromised, someone on a vegetarian diet may not be absorbing protein efficiently, and could exhibit weakness and fatigue.

Grass feeding ruminant animals like cows, sheep and goats, take the protein in plants and digest it in their four stomachs. This process is very efficient at extracting protein and other nutrients from plants and is assimilated into the muscles of the animal. Our digestive system is not set up to feed on grass nor is it as efficient at extracting nutrients from plants. Since meat is digested protein from plants, this makes it the most abundant and bioavailable (easily digested & utilized) source of protein. In fact, animal products are the only complete source of protein, which means they have all the essential amino acids.

The sulphur-containing amino acids, which are very important to brain and nervous system function, are found most plentifully in meats and eggs. Some non-essential amino acids related to energy levels, such as taurine, are only found in red meats.

Sardines - Source of Omega 3 fats and low in toxins

I cannot stress enough the importance of taking great care in purchasing animal products. Only organic, fresh, and preferably local, pasture-fed animals should be consumed. Your body deserves the highest quality. Processed meats are high in nitrites and nitrates; potent carcinogens. Conventional meats commonly contain steroids and antibiotics.

Fish should be included in the diet at least once a week. This is recommended as they are high in essential poly-unsaturated fats. Choose deep water fish for a higher content of oils (rock cod, salmon). Concerned about toxins? Choose smaller fish that have shorter lives and not as long to absorb toxins like mercury and PCBs (mackerel, sardines, anchovies). Concerned about ethical fishing? Purchase your fish from local farmers markets. Talk to the vendors about their fishing techniques.

How much protein do I need? 

This depends on genetics and constitution. Too much protein in the diet will lead to cravings for sweet refined foods like breads, sugar, white pasta, white rice, etc. Too little protein will result in muscle wasting and is also exhibited by craving the sweet flavor. Ideally protein from meat is regarded as a supplement added to a diet already rich in a variety of plant-foods. Recommended consumption for a balanced individual should not exceed 2-3times per week with the portion size being ½ the size of one’s palm. Factors such as personal constitution, health issues, season and climate will change the amount needed by the body.

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