Over the past few months, I’ve gotten lots of questions about a vegetarian or vegan diet.
- Are they healthier than meat-eaters (carnivores)?
- Are they lacking in nutrients, since they don’t eat animal products?
- What are the benefits?
- What are typical mistakes?
- How does it affect exercise performance, muscle size, and strength?
- Does it prevent health problems?
- Is it easier to lose weight on it or will I get fat?
- Will I live longer?
These are all great questions and today I’m going to give you a quick overview and summary about all of this.
Difference Between Vegetarian & Vegan
Before I start, I want to first give some clarity to the difference between a vegetarian vs a vegan.
A vegetarian excludes meat, poultry, and seafood from their diet. Some vegetarians also exclude dairy, some don’t, and some may consume eggs.
Likewise, vegans also avoid meat, poultry, and seafood, but they also take it a step further by eliminating all animal products from their diet. This includes any type of animal milk and eggs.
Vegans avoid foods produced using animals or animal products in any way, including honey. Many vegans also avoid household products, clothing, or other items made from animal products or tested on animals.
However, since we’re discussing “diet” today, the main difference will be that a Vegan will also NOT eat any dairy or eggs.
So, let me quickly answer the earlier mentioned questions:
Are vegans healthier than meat-eaters (carnivores)?
I have lots of vegetarian and vegan friends and associates. So, I’ve seen all the different versions of “health” in this eating category.
One of my friends is a really smart guy. He’s a vegetarian, does yoga, and teaches meditation daily. However, he is NOT “healthy” in my opinion because he’s overweight, has high cholesterol, and has high blood pressure.
Why?… Because when we go out to eat, he’ll order fried mozzarella sticks, french fries, and a vegetarian burger with lots of ketchup and dressing. Just because he’s not eating meat, does NOT mean that he is having a healthy diet.
First, as you may already know – I don’t approve of dairy.
Of course, I don’t think fried foods and sauces are healthy.
Technically, a bag of potato chips can be part of a vegetarian/vegan diet. But, this is NOT a healthy food choice.
The point is that no matter what type of diet you are on – you have to prepare foods in a healthy way.
However, assuming one does this, a diet that’s primarily plant-based, is without a doubt, extremely healthy and one that I suggest everyone try.
In fact, over the years I’ve put dozens of my clients and patients, who were very sick or ill, on a plant-based, vegan diet… and every single person was healthier because of it.
HOWEVER, some of them couldn’t sustain it long-term for over a year and we had to make changes and adjustments, and I’ll tell you why and how in a minute.
Are vegans lacking in nutrients, since they don’t eat animal products?
Assuming their diet is well balanced, the only thing they will be lacking over time are some B vitamins and more specifically, B12. This is an easy fix. You can take a sublingual B12 or I suggest B12 shot and sometimes, a full B-Complex shot.
However, some are lacking in essential fatty acids, especially Omega 3s, iron, calcium, iodine or zinc.1 Again, all of this can be fixed with better food choices or the addition of supplements.
Some are also lacking complete proteins, all the essential amino acids. And I’ll tell you how you can fix this in a minute.
What are the benefits?
Assuming the vegan diet is done right, it’s well balanced, no fried foods, and so forth, there are LOTS of benefits:
Vegans tend to be thinner than non-vegans.2
The interesting part is that a vegan diet can cause weight loss faster than a calorie-restricted diet. And the reason is that the diet is high in fiber and bulk, so you can eat a lot of food, get full and it’ll still be fewer calories.3
Lower Blood Sugar
Vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity, and up to a 78% lower risk of developing serious blood sugar issues.4,5
Vegans generally eat considerably more legumes, fruits, and vegetables than non-vegans. This may explain why a recent review of 96 studies found that vegans may benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing tumors.7
There’s a lot more evidence about tumor protection and prevention, that I could keep going. Suffice to say, a plant-based vegan diet is very beneficial at reducing your risk for health problems.
Lower Risk Of Heart Problems
Obviously, eating fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fiber is linked to better health and also a lower risk of heart problems.
Studies comparing vegans to the general population report that vegans may benefit from up to a 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure.7
Vegans may also have up to a 42% lower risk of dying from heart problems 7
Anyway, these are just some of the big benefits. There are also other benefits such as reduced inflammation, better skin, less pain, better digestion, and colon health.
What are typical mistakes?
Sadly, I’ve seen a lot of mistakes by “newbie” vegans or people who haven’t done the research yet.
- Eating unhealthy, fried, and processed foods.
- Lacking in Omega 3 fats and vitamins and minerals like B12, Iron, Calcium, Iodine, and Zinc.
- Not drinking enough water. Since Vegans have more fiber, they also require more water.
- Not eating enough protein and essential amino acids, which I’ll get to in a minute.
- Not taking getting regular blood and hormone tests. For some people, a vegan diet lowers lots of youthful hormones such as testosterone in men, estrogen in women, growth hormone, and thyroid – just to name a few.
How does it affect exercise performance, muscle size, and strength?
This is a big question I’ve received from those that exercise regularly.
The truth is, this one is hit or miss. SOME people do better on a vegan diet. Some, do worse.
Genetics, age, and proper planning have a lot to do with it.
As I stated earlier, I’ve had male athletes on very well-designed vegan diets and after a few months, their performance drops. Less muscle and strength. And when taking a hormone test, you can clearly see why – lowered testosterone levels.
However, when I’ve modified it with a “hybrid” vegan diet, their performance goes right back to before and in fact, it gets better. Of course, this took a lot of experimenting for me to figure out the right solution and the changes that needed to be made.
Some of the changes that were made were that we did add in some animal protein – a little bit of salmon, pasture-raised bison or beef, and whole eggs. THIS was only for those people who were okay with this change.
We also added vegan protein powders to increase their total protein intake and essential amino acids – such as rice and hemp protein.
And if you’d like more about this topic, you can customize your own vegan protein powders, so your diet is better balanced, and your athletic performance and muscle mass don’t decrease.
Will I live longer?
Studies have shown that people who eat a more plant-based diet, especially Vegans – do live longer and are healthier.
However, there’s a LOT that can be said about this.
For example, people who live the longest (over 100 years old), which some researchers refer to as the “Blue Zones”, are more plant-based diets. HOWEVER, they are not vegans. They still consume animal proteins such as beef and fish. But, it’s just at a much lower amount – like 3 oz, 1-2x weekly.
Additionally, these people exercise, don’t eat processed foods, are outside in the sunshine, manage their stress levels by resting and sleeping better, and so forth.
All things considered, a plant-based vegan diet is very healthy. For some, they can stick to it all the time. For others, doing so 80-90% of the time with the occasional consumption of healthy sources of animal protein is still extremely beneficial and will for sure reduce your risks for many illnesses.
At the very least, I suggest you reduce some of your animal proteins and substitute more plants and even vegan protein powders.