When Should I Compromise My Vegetarian Diet?

When it comes to my diet, I think of myself as “primarily vegetarian.” But over the years I’ve come to question whether I should attempt to define myself at all, diet-wise. 

Dr. Connie Hernandez, ND
Dr. Connie Hernandez, ND

Basically, I’ve come around to the belief that it makes sense not to be overly obsessed with attaching labels to my diet, but to simply exercise good judgment about what works for my individual body.

There are so many labels that people attach to their diets nowadays, and I wonder if it isn’t a signal that we’ve become obsessed with diet purity to the point of paranoia.

Vegetarian” has come to mean ovo-lacto-vegetarian, which isn’t really vegetarian…

Then there are the ovo-lacto-pescatarians, who’ll consume fish on occasion and therefore also aren’t really vegetarians.

And what about those who indulge in organic poultry from time to time?

And how can you really be a vegetarian on strict moral grounds if you wear leather shoes and belts, and silk clothing?

I think we need to step back and ask ourselves what’s really at stake. How important it is to split hairs over the words we use to describe our diet, when there’s a good chance that we may be ignoring our body’s actual needs?

In other words, when it comes to food, maybe it would be a good idea to get out of our heads, and back into our bodies.

Instead of endless word-juggling, perhaps we should ask the overarching question: how is our food actually impacting our body and our health?

Like me, many of our clients would love to define themselves as vegetarians – or possibly as vegans or raw-foodists.

But what would happen, if we were suddenly confronted with a health issue that would require us to adopt a temporary, or even permanent, dietary change for its optimal resolution?

For example, what if it would greatly improve our health to start taking fish oil, as a source of Omega 3 fatty acids?

While it’s true that Omega 3s are also found in flax seed, hemp seed, and walnuts, the individual body must be able to convert these food sources effectively. And the simple fact is that our bodies are not created equal – far from it; there are huge differences in our ability to digest and transform the nutrients in our food.

Dr. Marcel and I often prescribe Omega 3s for our patients, as a highly effective source of EPA (eicosopentanoic acid) and CHA (docosahexanoic acid).

These very important substances are, unfortunately, not found in a strictly vegetarian diet in their pure form. So the body must convert them from other food sources, and not all bodies are able to do so equally effectively.

It’s true that we can obtain small amounts of the active constituents of these substances from algae, but the cost of effective dosing is approximately tripled, as is the number of pills required.

Aspiring vegetarians who imagine that they can simply skip these nutrients and “just get by without them” are asking for trouble. Consider: therapeutic doses of EPA and DHA are extremely helpful in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, inflammation, stiff joints, and for tissue stabilization, improving lipid profiles, and much more.  These effects reflect the importance of EPA/DHA in the overall healthy functioning of the human body.

The point is, if you’re fanatically bent on sticking to a rigidly defined vegetarian diet, you may have to resign yourself to living with these symptoms, or adopting less effective remedies.

In earlier times, barnyard eggs contained a small amount of natural EPA and DHA. But the eggs now commonly sold in stores do not. It’s why the sellers commonly boast that they’ve added Omega 3 to their eggs. Similarly, range-fed meats contain EPA and DHA, but stockyard meats do not.

Yet another challenge for the well-intentioned vegetarian: glandular products, which can be highly effective for treating certain deficiency syndromes, are, of course, incompatible with a vegetarian diet.

In prehistoric times, the glands were considered the prize of the kill. That’s because, as science has confirmed, consuming the glands in some mysterious fashion trains the glands in the human body to function more effectively.

Adrenal-support products usually contain glandulars, as do thyroid-support products. While there are non‑glandular products that claim to be effective, quite often the “real item” works much more effectively.

Yet another example: the growing popularity of bone broths. Despite my sincere wish to eat a vegetarian diet, I cannot argue with the fact that these broths contain a wealth of nutrients and restorative substances. 

After a recent shoulder injury that failed to respond to treatment with anti-inflammatory fish oil and glucosamine sulfate, I concluded that I needed the joint-healing properties of collagen. Yet my vegetarian stomach rebelled at the thought of consuming bone broth!

A supplement called Bulletproof Executive came to the rescue. It’s a tasteless, odorless collagen powder that dissolves easily in my morning coffee. Dr. Marcel and I now happily consume a scoop of collagen powder in our morning java. (Follow the link HERE for our Bulletproof coffee recipe.)

I think the point to consider, when we’re trying to decide whether to compromise our vegetarian diet, is which approach will be the most effective for our health in the long run.

Will stubbornly refusing to take any animal-related products keep us sick, impaired, or disabled? Or will taking these substances on a temporary basis, for a higher good – to restore our health and ability to function and serve others – give us the greatest happiness in the long run?

The great teachers of all ages have said that the goal of life is to find ever-increasing happiness and freedom from suffering. And in our slow, steady progress toward the goal, a compromise may occasionally be required.


Find out more about Dr. Connie’s work HERE.