⏱ reading time: 10-12mins
Welcome To Vegan-Mania!
The Vegan / Plant-Based movement has exploded over the last couple of years in particular, as more and more people get conscious about their health, their toll on the planet, and animal welfare. Combine that with #veganuary, celebs trying plant-based diets and an ever growing spread of Vegan fare in restaurants, supermarkets, cookbooks and the mock-meat industry… and you can see why it’s a booming way of eating.
Putting aside the ideology, sketchy propaganda, and other belief systems that compel people to try and/or stick to a plant-based diet, there is one huge problem with this way of eating that needs discussion. People’s health and wellbeing.
Time For Some Real-Talk
A fully plant-based diet simply does not meet the full spectrum of our biological needs, and has not been a successful nutritional approach as we scan through our evolution timeline. For the two million or so years of Homo Sapiens, agriculture only started to feature 10-12 thousand years ago. Up until which point we thrived as Facultative Carnivores – i.e. we favoured and ate almost exclusively animal-based nutrition to propel us forwards as the premier species on the planet, and leveraging plants as a form of sustenance in between successful hunts.
If you’re interested to learn more about our biological preference and necessity for animal-based nutrition, check out this article that also comes accompanied with a couple Podcast interviews.
That said, liberalism is a beautiful thing. Free choice baby! To go about living your life however you see fit, assuming you do so lawfully and without causing harm to others. Whilst poorer countries have not had much choice in the matter, individuals in a modern western society have freedom to chose a plant-based diet as their lifestyle and way of eating if they see fit. And to do so without judgement or ridicule.
Here’s the rub however… if a plant-based diet is managed poorly, people’s health can deteriorate over the coming years. Whilst the wellness bump from a standard highly-processed diet is significant and cannot be refuted when people transition to a Vegan diet, deficiencies and biological dysfunction are likely to catch up with you unless the diet is tightly managed.
Does that seem both counter-intuitive and overly dramatic? That’s fair, at first glance it doesn’t seem to make much sense. The reality is, when a diet is high in carbs, anti nutrients, grains, and absent in animal micro and macro nutrition, the body and mind will pay a hefty price.
Lierre Keith was a vegan for 20 years. Her story is one of thousands that start off well, but eventually lead to some serious health issues. I’d encourage all to have an open-mind and to listen to her journey of deteriorating health whilst pursuing her Vegan ideology.
In addition, the Restoration Health Vegan Recovery Group and meatheals.com are just two examples of supportive communities that share their spiralling health journeys, and how they are managing their recovery through the re-introduction of animal-based nutrition.
There are also a number of high profile cases. Famous ex-vegans such as Anne Hathaway, Virpi Mikkonen, Raw Alignment, and Rawvana are among the many that eventually turn their back on this way of eating due deteriorating physical, mental and metabolic health issues.
Does that mean there is No Hope for Plant-Based?
Well, what this does mean is that there is NO PERFECT VEGAN DIET.
If you want optimal health and wellness, then you shouldn’t be choosing a plant-only lifestyle. It’s really that simple. It’s not optimal, and comes with a bunch of problems that need to be carefully managed.
But I wouldn’t give up hope, if this way of eating is compelling for other reasons. There are people who seem to do well with a well-managed plant-based diet, and can do so for many years. This may be down to genetics, enzymes and lineage to some degree, and there could also be some loosening of the vegan rulebook here and there in these seemingly thriving individuals.
It is possible to minimise the downsides of a Plant-Based diet to a point where it can become a longterm healthy choice, albeit it’s unequivocally not the healthiest.
Why is a Plant-Based diet not the healthiest, even with careful planning?
Here are the top reasons why:
1️⃣ Plants and Human’s fundamentally run off different Operating Systems – We rely on conversions of plant vitamin and mineral precursors to turn them into the actual micro nutrients that are used in the body. There is a strong reliance on having a healthy gut, sufficient enzymes, and high enough volume and diversity of plant matter to get adequate nutrients.
2️⃣ Plant-Based Protein is incomplete – Many long-term strict vegans can develop an emaciated physique. That’s the result of insufficient protein – both in overall volume, low bioavailability and incomplete ratios of the essential amino acids. In contrast, animal-nutrition comes complete with a full complement of amino acids, in the right ratios, with maximal bioavailability, and densely packaged for maximum food efficiency. Without enough complete protein, the muscles and vital organs atrophy.
3️⃣ High Insulin-Dependance – Homo Sapiens evolved on a mostly large mammal meat diet, meaning we for the most part operated on animal fat and animal protein. This combination of macros has a low insulin demand. In contrast, a plant-based diet it very high in Carbs – typically 60-80%, and this has a high demand for Insulin to quickly shuttle the corrosive glucose out of our blood and into our muscles, organs and fat stores. Over time, this can cause Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.
4️⃣ Low in Saturated Fat & Cholesterol – There are a number of essential fatty acids our body needs to operate, not least Cholesterol. Cholesterol is the backbone for hormone production, Vitamin D production, immune system response and many other physiological needs. Cholesterol is only found in animals. Without sufficient Cholesterol, poor health outcomes will follow.
5️⃣ Out of Whack Omega6:3 Fatty Acid Ratio – Omega 3’s, especially DHA, are needed for cognitive function and development, as well as being a significant anti-inflammatory agent. Omega 6’s are pro-inflammatory, which is necessary for proper health, but when elevated causes systemic inflammation across the body and leading to a series of poor health outcomes. Plant-based nutrition offers little Omega 3’s, negligible DHA bioavailability, and lots of opportunity for very high Omega 6’s. A healthy ratio is sub 4:1, but can be 1000’s:1 on a grain-healthy and plant-only diet.
6️⃣ Plant’s come with lots of Anti Nutrients & Toxins – As a defence mechanism, all plants have chemicals to limit their consumption by predators. Some have significantly more than others, hence the need for the majority of vegetables, seeds and legumes to be processed prior to being digestible. Cooking, soaking, fermenting, sprouting, milling, roasting, and pressure cooking are just some of the processes we adopt today to reduce the toxic burden.
7️⃣ Things like B-12, K2, Iron and Creatine are a problem – These are just some of the holes in plant-based nutrition that occur without the consumption of animal-based nutrition. Bioavailable B-12 and Creatine are only found in animals, and both are needed for good human health and performance.
In contrast, if animal-nutrition is handled with due care and attention from a livestock welfare and feed perspective, and you take a nose-to-tail approach, all of our nutritional biological needs are met with a whole food animal-based diet.
Again, more insight into why a meat-dominant diet is superior for human health can be found in this linked article, or by listening to the below Podcast 2-parter.
That doesn’t mean that a Carnivore Diet is the only way to be optimally healthy. But excluding animal-nutrition completely is not a wise strategy for the super majority of people.
How To Make a Vegan Diet Work
Apologies for a damning read so far. These are some hard truths to accept, but they do need to be shared.
If these truths have not had you running for the hills yet, and you are motivated to make a plant-based diet work for you, then these tips will get you to the very best plant-based compromise:
Vegan Diet Essential Guidelines for Good Health
#1 – Focus on a high Protein & Micronutrient to Energy Ratio Protein:kcal
To not atrophy away, make sure to get sufficient complete-profile protein (e.g. rice & pea protein powder blend). Aim for 20%+ of overall calories, or 1g per pound of bodyweight.
#2 – Careful selection of nutrient dense and bioavailable plant-nutrition
Understanding the nutritional profile of your vegetables is important, including the level of bioavailable micronutrients that our bodies can use. Micronutrient planning across your food choices will be wise.
#3 – Focus on increasing the Fat:Carb Ratio
The body and mind preferentially runs better on fat for fuel versus carbs, plus the brain is made of 70%+ of fat. Fats (lipids) play an important role in health, but not all fats are equal. Saturated fats offer the greatest health benefits, which can be found in abundance in Coconut Oil.
#4 – Avoid plant nutrition high in Anti-Nutrients, Toxic Compounds and Lectins
Certain plant nutrition comes with a heavy burden of toxic compounds that the body will need to detoxify or eliminate via antibodies. Broccoli, for example, has forty identified toxic compounds. As such, research not just on the benefits, but the collateral damage of certain plant foods such as Turmeric, Sulforaphane and phytoestrogens in Soy products.
#5 – Minimise Oxalate intake
Oxalates trap minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium, plus is a harmful toxic crystal to all our tissues and mitochondria. When the kidneys cannot excrete Oxalates quick enough, it is stored in you glands, skin, bones and other tissues – causing a whole host of symptoms. Spinach, Almonds, Soy, Beets, Cacao powder, Sweet Potatoes and Navy Beans are examples of high oxalate foods. Comprehensive list here.
#6 – Aim to Reduce Omega 6:3 Ratio as much as possible
Healthy ratio would be 4:1. It’s unlikely a plant-based diet can match this ratio, but you should look to reduce Omega 6 rich foods as much as possible whilst following the point below. Grains, Soy, Vegetable Oils and high-processed foods are the big Omega 6 offenders.
#7 – Take A Fish Oil Supplement for Omega 3 DHA
This is a difficult one for many Vegans, but there really isn’t any appropriate plant-based source of DHA. Flax seed, as an example, only has ALA, has terrible bioavailability, and is poorly digested. The seeds go straight through you. Taking a quality Fish Oil is considered essential to maintain cognitive health when not consuming fish in your diet.
#8 – Reduce Gluten Consumption
Gluten and Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA) are just antagonistic to our guts. There are significant bodies of evidence and books written about the effects of Gluten and WGA – namely visceral fat accumulation, leaky gut, initiating autoimmune conditions, joint inflammation and cognitive decline. And then you have the Omega 6’s. A little is fine if you tolerate Gluten well, but it’s better off controlling your volume and opting for the occasional 48h fermented Sourdough.
#9 – Supplement with bioavailable B-12
Vitamin B-12 is crucial to the normal function of the brain and the nervous system. It is also involved in the formation of red blood cells and helps to create and regulate DNA. The metabolism of every cell in the body depends on vitamin B-12, as it plays a part in the synthesis of fatty acids and energy production. B-12 is only found in animal-nutrition and animal-derived supplements.
#10 – Attempt to move to One Meal A Deal (OMAD)
Given the high carb loading on a Vegan diet combined with low protein and micronutrient content, there is s tendency to graze throughout the day and hunger returning quickly due to unstable blood glucose levels. This could drive up risk for Type 2 Diabetes. To counter the insulin burden, attempt to have just 1-2 meals a day. This will help regulate blood sugar and leverage fat for fuel.
#11 – Due to High-Carb diet, consume Lower-Sugar and lower GI Options
The reality is, all carbs and starches convert to sugar, so a carb-heavy diet is a high-sugar diet. Minimise the impact by reducing the high-sugar and high-GI meals. This will help regulate your blood glucose a little better, and will have a positive affect on hanger pangs and reducing risk of Insulin resistance.
#12 – Limit Fruit to once a day
As above, you will want to limit sugar consumption. Fruit for the most part is a sugar bomb made up fo Glucose and Fructose, and fibre that slows the release a little. Fruit really should be consumed as a dessert, and not as a meal or regular snack in and of itself. Also, opt for non-sugary fruit with higher fat content such as avocado and olives during the day.
#13 – Supplement with a Strong Multi-Vitamin & extra Vitamin D3
There are going to be nutritional gaps. Multi vitamins are not great, because they are synthetic and many have questionable bioavailability – especially if not consumed with fat at the same time. That said, they are essential on a plant-based diet to cover your bases, as is a high dose Vitamin D3 supplement (min 4000 IU).
#14 – Supplement with Creatine
Your bodies primary energy system is ATP, followed by Phosphocreatine, Glucose and Fat Oxidation. To move and contract muscles, you do so anaerobically, where ATP is tapped and after a few seconds borrows energy from your creatine stores housed with your muscles and liver. You have a finite reservoir of Creatine, and the more active you are, the more you deplete. You top up your Creatine by consuming primarily red meat. Read up about Creatine’s physical, mental and health benefits, and make sure to supplement.
#15 – Play close attention to Dental Health & Hygiene
With high carb and high sugar come high plaque buildup and dental decay potential. Furthermore, with the introduction to grains into the human diet, we’ve been suffering with mouth overcrowding ever since – due to the weakening and collapsing of the jaw structure. Make sure to pay special attention to robust dental hygiene and care.
#16 – Ferment, Pressure Cook, Deseed, and Thoroughly Cook to reduce Lectins
Soak and Pressure cook Beans and Legumes. Ferment grains. Pressure cook other high-lectin foods such as peppers and tomatoes. Lectins are highest in the seeds, skins and husks, so remove or reduce these elements of your plant-foods. Generally, as you cook plants, some of the toxic compounds are broken down. As such, don’t go the raw route with veg.
#17 – Get sufficient Sun Exposure for Vitamin D production
This applies to everyone, but especially those on a plant-only diet. Vitamin D is inadequately produced and consumed through nutrition. It is superiorly created when your skin is exposed to sunlight. So, get out in the sun as much as you can. Suncream your face, but try and get 30mins+ of sunshine a day, with a good amount of skin exposed.
#18 – If you are willing, have some Animal-Based foods
This of course is a bold ask for those who choose not to eat animal-nutrition. But, if you can come to terms with the superior health outcomes with some small additions, it will be so worth it. Consider Eggs, Small Oily Fish and Liver – all of which are packed full of micro nutrition, amino acids and fatty acids.
End Of The Day – Choose To Be Healthy First!
As mentioned above, a real food nose-to-tail meat-dominant diet ensures complete nutrition, in the right ratios, in the most bioavailable format, without the toxins, without gastro-intensive fibre, and in the most nutritionally dense and efficient portion sizes.
It’s the most efficient way of eating in terms of time, cooking, numbers of meals and volume, and has the added benefit of being kind for your gut, producing almost zero gas, bloat and odour, and fuels great mental and physical performance. Moreover, managing body fat levels without tracking seems to be easier for most too.
But that’s optimal. It doesn’t mean you cannot be healthy with wildly alternative eating approaches. You absolutely can. By eating real food, minimising processed food, curbing consumption of grains and seeds, managing protein and carb intake, and making sure you get some animal-nutrition, you will be in a great place.
Perhaps you need to avoid certain plant-based foods that you have sensitivities or unfavourable reactions to. Ultimately, listen to your body and add or takeaway things until you get a resounding sense of comfort, satisfaction and health.
If animal-based nutrition is a no go for you, then following the above guidelines will put you in the very best place possible to and will minimise the downsides dramatically. Plant-based nutrition tends to be calorie dense but nutrient poor for humans, so do your best to navigate this nutritional paradox, whilst maintaining lean mass and minimising fat accumulation.
You deserve the best. Please put your health and wellbeing first. If you’re not physically, cognitively, emotionally, psychologically and biologically in a good place, then you limit your potential to help others around you, including the animals and the planet at large.
Follow this and other topic areas in our longer-form Articles series as they unfold, as well as the AdapNation Food Diary for healthy meal inspiration and AdapNation’s #HyperWorkouts for free training plans. Comment if you have questions or ideas.