It’s never easy writing about different diets or ways of eating and whether they are good or bad for you. People choose foods for a variety of reasons including moral, personal, health or reactional reasons. You might come across a wide range of opinions on whether a vegan diet is right for your health or if animal-based diets are our evolutionary standard.
I should emphasize right off the bat that this post will not focus on the morals behind consuming (or not consuming) animal products. I can bring no more insight into the debate of this highly polarising topic than the information that is already out there.
In this post, I’m going to discuss the health benefits (and drawbacks) involved when examining vegan diets vs. animal-based diets — focusing on the health benefits both day-to-day and in the realm of diseases.
Disclaimer: I have been eating a predominantly vegan diet for close to 3 years, and although I am not strict, I think that most people consume too many animal-based products on a day-to-day basis. (Think bacon for breakfast, burgers for lunch, and steak for dinner)
Is a Vegan diet Healthy?
Vegan diets have become all the rage nowadays. With more restaurants and grocery stores catering to vegans, you might think Vegans were taking over. But I can tell you, following a vegan diet can drastically optimize your health – but you need to eat plants, not just chips and gummy bears.
One indisputable fact is that plant-based foods are fantastic for our bodies. The doctor always said to eat your fruits and veggies – and for good reasons.
Is following a strictly vegan diet the best way to go for your body? That’s something everyone should find out. Specific diets may not be genetically compatible with your own body.
You may be wondering if cutting out meat and dairy is entirely optimal for your health – and I’ll touch on that further on in this post. Each body is different in what fuel (or food) it uses optimally. But for now, I want to focus on the reasons why it can be healthy for a general body.
The Positives of Vegan Diets
Because a vegan diet often tries to make up for the lack of animal products with nutrient-filled fruits and vegetables; people often can pull themselves out of certain nutrient deficiencies commonly found in western diets. Eating more nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables and decreasing (or eliminating) meat or dairy products can potentially reduce inflammation.
Studies have shown that a vegan diet can also reduce blood pressure. Considering an estimated 1 billion people worldwide suffer from hypertension, a vegan diet may save a lot of lives and allow us all to have a healthy heart.
Inflammation is the root cause of many illnesses and diseases. Now, this ultimately depends on the person and body in question. Someone shifting from a strict paleo diet to a vegan diet will not see a drastic difference. However, individuals switching from a McDonalds/fast-food based diet to a vegan diet will be astounded by the outcome and also doing a whole world of good for their body.
Decrease in IGF1 – Effects on Cancer
A vegan diet lowers insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) which is an essential function in your body. Mainly, by reducing IGF1, studies show you can increase your life span and curb the growth of cancerous cells . And nobody wants those cancerous cells to grow.
Due to their mostly plant-based diets, having lower IGF1 is one theory on why the eastern world has a longer life span than the western world. There is a massive and detailed study of Eastern diets versus Western in The China Study. I highly recommend giving this book a read to understand the benefits and health effects from eating plants.
Now that I’ve listed several positives let’s discuss the negatives of vegan diets (yes, there are some). You’ve probably heard the famous statement “You don’t get vitamin B12 from a vegan diet”. Maybe you’ve even heard vegan diets also tend to lack iron, calcium, and zinc, or whats your source of protein. While this can be true, it is highly dependent on the type of plant produce you consume.
Let me explain, as this can get a little more complicated than just assuming ‘vegan diets lack these vital nutrients.’
Personal Example (Low in B12)
As mentioned previously, I’m going on three years of eating a mostly vegan diet. Following this type of plant-based diet, I was entirely able to consume adequate amounts of most vitamins and minerals.
It may surprise you to find out that several plant sources contain B12. However, the type of B12 found in plants is not adequate for your body to metabolize. Seaweeds like Spirulina, Nori, Chlorella and a few others all contain B12. The problem is verifying if these vegan forms of B12 are bioavailable to our body. Studies show it is difficult to absorb B12 provided by Spirulina and often depends on the type of meal consumed with the product.
To counter our body’s inability to metabolize B12 found in plant-based diets properly, manufactured products fortified with B12 and supplements are becoming much more common. If supplementation of a vital nutrient because of lack of absorption is a worry, perhaps you should question whether this diet is right for you.
Blood results confirmed that I had high homocysteine levels, which is usually caused by a deficiency of B12 (even though I was consuming plant foods rich in B12). In a standard serum test, this did not hold to be true; instead, it showed adequate levels of B12 in my body. To verify this information, I took an absorption test from Spectracell which specifically showed that I was not making use of the circulating B12 found in my bloodstream.
Further to this, I decided to explore my genetics, specifically nutrigenetics which focuses on how genetic variations affect nutrient absorption, use, and metabolism. From my nutrigenetic information, I found that I was susceptible to high homocysteine levels when B12 levels were low. Thus, in my situation, it was vital to keep adequate B12 levels.
To combat low levels of B12, I needed to raise my intake, particularly in the form of methylcobalamin to ensure that the B12 is directly available for absorption by my body with no conversion process. As a result of this supplementation, my homocysteine levels dropped to near normal range when tested three months later.
It is highly advisable for all vegans to take a higher dosage of methylcobalamin B12 as you secret excess B12 and, therefore, overdosing is not known to be possible.
Not All Vegan Diets Are Good
Lastly, it’s important to note that not all vegan diets are healthy.
Technically a plate of french fries and ketchup is vegan, but that does not mean it’s healthy, far from it. It’s important to eat a balanced diet of whole foods to achieve the best results possible. Bonus points: Vegan diets have tremendous environmental benefits. But I won’t get into that here.
Is an Animal-Based Diet Healthy?
Unfortunately, this is not a cut and dry subject. It all comes down to the types of animal products you are consuming, your genetics and even your environmental makeup. Again, there are both positive and negative effects of eating an animal-based diet. Nothing is ever just straight-forward.
Animal protein contains the nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own. Obtaining these amino acids on a vegan diet is still possible but will require careful planning. Whereas, on an animal-based diet, having a small portion of fish or some organ meat can meet your daily protein requirement in addition to a whole host of other nutritional benefits.
Getting a jammed-packed meat-based nutritious meal from one sitting can work well if you are a picky eater or not willing to stick to a well balanced vegan diet.
Now, you probably won’t like hearing this, but certain parts of the animal are more nutritious than others. Hint: it’s perhaps not the part you enjoy eating.
Which Animal Products to Choose
If you buy animal products from the grocery store; often you’d choose the muscle of the animal such as the tenderloins, filets, or breast. Unfortunately, these are all probably the least beneficial animal parts for you to eat.
Organ meats are an example of nutritionally rich and highly beneficial meat; they are good sources of iron and zinc along with B vitamins. Of course, like everything, the bad comes along with the good. Due to high cholesterol levels found in the liver, caution should be heeded when eating products like chicken liver since it is still unclear whether cholesterol is healthy or not.
“All in moderation” is always a good motto to follow with any foods, chicken liver included. Want to eat animal parts like a pro and reap all the nutritional benefits? All you need to do is to eat the animal from head to toe. But not all in one sitting, please.
When I say head to toe, this can include making broths from the tough to break down parts like chicken feet and large cow bones, don’t just eat meat. Even eating the organs of animals, like hearts, are nutritious. It may sound gross, but I promise, your body will love you for this.
It’s no surprise that in today’s western world animal products are consumed far too much. I mentioned this previously, and it doesn’t hurt to say it again, but The China Study concluded that the more plants you eat, the healthier you will be, overall. It discussed the scientific evidence that high meat consumption and the poor quality of meat products westerners often eat can have adverse effects on our bodies and our health.
When I say poor quality, I mean highly processed, factory raised, hormone injected, and fatty meats. For example, the World Health Organization has recognized processed meats as a carcinogen . Again this may be a concern if you are in the at-risk category of for cancer.
Increase in IGF1 – Effects on Cancer
Just as the vegan diet lowers IGF1, it’s also evident that eating many animal products raises IGF1. Raised IGF1 levels have a high correlation with the increased risk of cancer and other fatal diseases . As we’ve already learned through this post, there is always more to the story, both positive and negative.
It’s important to note that increased IGF1 does not cause cancer, but it will encourage the cancerous cells to grow. Cancerous encouragement can quickly happen if you are 1) in a state where cancer growth is prone to increase or 2) you have an abundance of malignant cells which are not being purged by autophagy, also known as “self-eating”. Soon you’ll find a post all about autophagy – so keep checking back!
From this post, I hope you understand that no one size (or diet) fits all. As a general trend, most people in the west can – and should – cut down on the number of animal products they consume. Decreased animal consumption will optimize your health and aid in having a more environmentally friendly life.
Dependent on your body and nutrigenetics, a percentage of the population may easily be able to eliminate animal products out of their diet with little to no consequence. Conversely, it may be essential for others to keep nutritional animal body parts in their diets (including organ meats and broth). This conclusion stipulates that they consume, only, what their body requires and never in excess.
An important consideration is discerning if there is an illness or disease present. If so, would a plant-based vegan diet be the most beneficial for optimal health? Or is eating nutrient-dense meat products a necessity? Once you’ve uncovered what your body needs, there is so much, you can do to improve your health through educated food choices.
There is so much more I would love to cover relating to this topic including – dairy’s effect on the human body, the environmental cost of animal farming and the ethical reasons related to animal farming – but all in good time! Look out in the future for posts around these topics.
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