Some people do not digest meats well and can have intolerance or sensitivity symptoms of digestive complaints, headaches, or skin issues after eating meats.

However, there is also a true allergy to red meats called Alpha-gal syndrome.  A tick bite proceeds this syndrome from the Lone Star tick found in the southeastern United States. The tick exposes the body to a sugar called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose alpha-gal, aka “alpha-gal.”  This sugar injected from the tick, in combination with the tick bite, causes the body to create an IgE (or histamine/allergic) response about three to eight hours after ingesting the red meat.  Symptoms are typical of anaphylaxis such as lip swelling, hive, wheezing, trouble breathing.  Meats that have alpha-gal are beef, pork, lamb, venison, mutton, goat, and bison. Also, watch out for foods that contain red meat extracts like broths, gravy, and gelatin. Some individuals with alpha-gal allergy must also avoid dairy products made from cow, sheep, or goat milk.

People who are sensitive or have an allergy to red meats may or may not be sensitive to poultry such as chicken, turkey, and duck. But ask your doctor if you should avoid poultry, in addition, to red meats, as some people do react to both.

If you are considering avoiding meat, it is vital to get enough protein and specific vitamins. Meat is high in B12, and iron and a vegetarian diet may not have enough of these vital nutrients to keep you feeling you best.

Tips below on how to have a healthy ‘meatless’ diet:

Soy: Some people removing meat from their diet turn to soy for their primary source of protein.  Read our article on soy here.

Supplements to consider:

Vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods, so you’ll want ask your doctor or healthcare provider about a good quality B12 supplement. B12 keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA so that deficiencies can lead to tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss (the bad kind), nerve problems, and depression. To find out if you need to up your intake, ask your doctor for a simple blood draw. Also, B vitamins tend to work together, so taking a B complex is often better than B12 alone.

Iron comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme, which makes up about 40% of the iron in animal foods, is easily absorbed by the body. Vegan diets contain only non-heme, which is less readily absorbed, so you may need to ingest more iron if you want to get the same benefit. Good vegan iron sources include legumes, sunflower seeds, dried raisins, and dark leafy greens. Vitamin C-rich foods like red peppers, citrus, and broccoli aid iron absorption. It’s smart to get your blood tested to see if iron is low.

Vitamin D: It is recommended that you get your vitamin D levels checked yearly. This is a very common deficiency and can significantly improve your health (and your mood) if you have adequate levels. An excellent vegan food source of D is mushrooms! Portobello, maitake, morel, button, and shiitake mushrooms are all high in vitamin D. Of course, getting enough sunshine can boost your D levels, but for most people, that only lasts a few months of the year.

Other tips:

Don’t swap animal protein for junk food.Swapping out meat for white bread, pasta, and other packaged foods sets you up for failure on a meat diet. Processed foods tend to provide little nutritional value while being packed with sugar, additives, and other not so healthy ingredients. The result is typically hunger, weight gain, and a grumpy mood!

You don’t have to make the switch all at once! The transition to a meat-free diet takes work, education, and research. So it should also take time. If this diet is new for you, start slowly focusing on listing to your body, and add in more and more plant-based foods. Gradually cut back on animal products, especially those that are non-organic, processed, or refined foods. Making gradual changes and assessing how you are feeling along the way is critically important to your health.

Be prepared to read food labels. Learning to read food labels and verifying ingredients is an acquired skill that is very necessary. For example, casein and whey, which come from milk, are present in many cereal bars, bread, and granola, while gelatin and tallow (also known as suet) are derived from meat. Many food additives and even food dyes are derived from animals. The Vegetarian Resource Group has a list of common food ingredients that is helpful. It’s also important to watch for organic ingredients, so you can avoid GMO’s, added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and other harmful chemicals.

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