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Why more vegans and vegetarians are putting meat back on their plates

More vegans say they're becoming Paleo.
More vegans say they're becoming Paleo. (Just not super loudly.) Photo: Delanoix

For five years, Claire Murray was a vegetarian, confident in her belief that she needed fruit, veggies, and whole foods for nourishment—and nothing more. But 18 months ago, as she struggled with bad eczema and difficulty concentrating, the Aussie naturopath had to cop to a hard truth: meat-free living wasn’t working for her.

“I was confused as to why I wasn’t a beaming, radiant goddess bursting with health,” says the 23-year-old. When she switched to a Paleo diet, Murray says, she felt her energy levels increase.

She’s not alone. Whether you chalk it up to the popularity of the Paleo Diet and CrossFit or the availability of better, grass-fed meat choices, many wellness experts have noticed a major return-to-meat moment.

“We’re seeing a trend,” says nutritionist Dana James, MS, founder of Food Coach. She’s seen plenty of women who went plant-based to feel better in their bodies, but “as they tuned in two to three years later, they realized, ‘Maybe that was more than what I needed to let go.'”

Nutritionist Dana James is seeing more clients go back to meat, she says. (Photo: Dana James)
Nutritionist Dana James is seeing more clients go back to meat. (Photo: James)

“Vegan with a side of Paleo”

New Jersey-based physician’s assistant, Megan McGrane, 29, recently went from vegan to carnivore for health reasons, having grappled with autoimmune disorders for years. “I was like, ‘I’m in my twenties, and I feel crummy every day when I wake up,’” McGrane says.

After seeing integrative guru Frank Lipman, MD, and completing his two-week cleanse (which allows certain types of organic, free-range animal protein), McGrane made the switch, full-time, to what she calls “vegan with a side of Paleo”—Bulletproof coffee in the morning, a huge salad with chicken for lunch, and a small serving of high-quality animal protein with a sweet potato or roasted root vegetables for dinner. She feels great, though the change has been a bit of a culture clash.

“I’m a big yoga person,” McGrane says. “The stereotype of Paleo is Crossfit. It’s kind of a funny mix when you’re sitting in the yoga studio and topics come up like, ‘Oh, did you see the Instagram of my bison burger?’”

Why the return to meat?

Experts agree that hardcore workout is a big reason behind the trend. “Most CrossFit gyms recommend a Paleo lifestyle,” says nutritionist Amy Shapiro, RD, founder of Real Nutrition. While it’s certainly not a requirement to join a box, CrossFit diehards tend to become a part of the tight-knit community and culture in a way that doesn’t happen with other workouts. And who wants to be the only one ordering a post-WOD lentil burger?

Plus, the fact that grass-fed and organic meat are “gaining recognition” takes some of the guilt off of those whose main goal is to eat consciously, vegan or otherwise.

But topping the list of meat-free-eaters’ complaints are health and digestive issues, particularly among those filling their plates with hard-to-break-down raw veggies. Nutritionist James has also seen mood issues, from too little protein and too few brain-boosting amino acids.

For her part, Murray says switching from no-meat to Paleo (with a focus on veggies) has generated its share of blank stares and eye-rolls, but her increased energy is all the defense she needs. “I didn’t do it to jump on a trendy bandwagon,” she says. “I did it to eat medicinally, for my health.”

The debate rages on: This Paleo pioneer wants you to eat less meat—while Michael Pollan says that eating meat is better for the environment than you might think. One thing we can all agree on? Vegan milkshakes!

Originally posted April 21, 2014 updated June 14, 2016.