Will a veggie diet help me lose weight? live longer? save the World?
Posted on 16th February 2020 at 20:50
Veggie diets are kind of a big deal now, in the last fifteen years the number of those choosing the way of the vegan have quadrupled from 150,000 to 600,00. Partly this is explained by the fact that it’s just a lot easier to eat veggie friendly foods, a few years ago veggies had to content with a disapproving waiter before reluctantly settling on a salad, but now most restaurants have a good veggie option, even plant based fast food such as Greggs vegetarian sausage roll, a KFC veg chicken sandwich or a McDonalds veggie dipper.
And who can blame them? They are all getting in on the opportunity to rake in the plant-based dollars, part of a £200 million increase in sales in the last three years. Driven by big names like Ariane Grande, Miley Cyrus, Woody Harrelson and Joaquin Phoenix.
Information has been helpfully put out there too, can’t be bothered to learn how to read through peer reviewed articles and understand dietetic concepts?, no problem, Netflix has your back, now you can be an armchair expert with documentaries like “What the health” and “Gamechangers”.
These programs have been covered and critiqued much better than I possibly could.
I suggest you check out this article here by Layne Norton PhD, and this article here written by vegan dietician Virginia Messina, MPH, RD.
I haven’t personally suffered through these programs myself, as I would rather shake a stick into a nest of hornets and then shove that nest up my own rectum whilst dancing a controlled tempo to Gangnam style than have to endure myth after lie after miss truth around veggie diets.
I’ve wanted to write this for a while, my reluctance lies in the fact that I know I’ll get a lot of kick back and criticism, especially from vegetarian/ vegans (I’ll mostly use the term veggie from now on)
Before any of you try and muster the strength to push a keyboard letter please allow me to save your anaemic atrophied structure some time.
I genuinely, all jokes aside, in all seriousness do NOT have a problem with vegetarians/ vegans. In fact, some of my best friends are veggies.
If you know any veggies, please forward them this article, because I’ll be covering how to live a veggie lifestyle in the healthiest possible way.
Meat eaters have mostly shitty diets, and plenty of vegetarians, in spite of attempting a healthier lifestyle, are also eating shitty diets.
This isn’t a veg vs meat eater thing, most of the points I’ll be making throughout this article will apply to most of the meat-eating population too.
My main issue is not with the veggie diet or lifestyle itself, it’s with misconception and untruths. In the context of a short light well humoured and entertaining read I don’t really have enough space to cover this in the detail it deserves, as it would take many volumes to properly and accurately cover this subject to the extent that no further questions where needed.
So, in the spirit of infotainment, let’s proceed and should anybody have further questions or points that I haven’t alluded to their satisfaction, then please contact me.
I’ll cover this subject under three points of contention, often cited as reasons for taking up Veganuary
Health, environment and ethics. In this first article we’ll cover health.
“I can’t believe how much better I feel”
“This diet is so easy, I have so much more energy, I’ve lost weight and don’t even miss meat”
“I’m saving the planet like a proper ethical self-righteous prick who has literally no self-awareness of the real impact they’re making and just wants to virtue signal all over Facebook because it just won’t allow me to masturbate over everybody instead”
These are just some of the statements I imagine might be posted all over Social media in Veganuary.
And if this is you, congratulations my friend, you are officially on the vegan honeymoon.
You have gone from eating a shitty diet (average diet) to eating more veg and being a bit more health concious, and now you feel great.
Well dowse my balls in holy water and summon the great lord it’s a miracle I tell ya.
Before we proceed any futher, remember that the following points apply to meat eaters too.
Most people need to eat more quality protein, Veggie diets are more likely to be Low on Protein
Protein is an important macro nutrient (protein, carbs and fats are referred to as macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc are all called micronutrients). Its most well-known purpose is to build muscle, hence protein powders being sold in gyms and supermarkets.
It also repairs muscle, which gets damaged all day long, not just from working out, but from the activities of daily living, things such as carrying shopping bags, lifting kids up, pushing a heavy shopping trolley, standing up from a chair etc. All these activities cause some muscle damage and unless that damage can be repaired then people lose muscle tissue and therefore, get weaker and with weakness, comes loss of joint stability and with that comes increased risk of falls and fractures, which has to be a big concern for the elderly.
It’s not just your big bicep muscles either, your eye muscles, your heart, the tiny muscles that push food along your intestines etc, these all require a regular supply of protein. In addition, your ligaments, tendons, enzymes, organs, skin, hair and nails also need a constant supply.
So, in the past we’ve had low fat diets and low carb diets, but it seems unlikely we’ll ever see a big surge in low protein diets, it’s just too important.
To better understand what protein is, imagine a Lego set with 21 different coloured bricks. You can make any model you like, so long as within all the models you build each day you include 9 essential bricks. In a protein molecule, those bricks are called amino acids, every molecule containing 9 essential aminos is called a complete protein.
Those 9 essential amino acids are called essential because the body is unable to produce them, therefore they must be gotten from the diet.
Examples of complete proteins include meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
Vegetarian examples include Quinoa, Buckwheat, soy, Quorn, Hempseed, Chia.
A vegetarian complete protein can also be made by combining incomplete sources together in the same meal, such as rice and beans, some might also suggest that it doesn’t matter if they are combined in the same meal or not, so long as at some point throughout the day or week all variety of essential aminos are eaten.
Now that I’ve bored you to death with my nutrition 101 sermon, we can get to the nitty gritty of the point I’m trying to make.
How much protein should we be getting each day?
Government guidelines suggest .75g a kg per day for most adults, on average this is about 45 to 56g a day.
Sigh, I hate doing this, because there are enough disingenuous nutrition zealots out there who are clearly wrong, and the British Nutrition Foundation is clearly trying to do good work in setting these guidelines, but it’s widely recognised in the wider field of nutrition that these guidelines are just plain wrong.
Here are some good examples why.
An in-depth Meta-analysis showed more protein is better for fat loss. 1.1 to 1.6g per day showed greater fat loss and muscle retention than .6 to .9g a day 1.
More protein also showed greater weight loss and improvements in Hba1 levels in diabetics²
A systematic review and another meta-analysis showed that higher protein resulted in lower BMI, improved blood pressure, lower waist circumference, improved weight loss, lower fasting insulin and triglyceride reduction³
I could go on, but you probably didn’t begin reading this article with the hope of having to go and read further studies.
Whilst .75g per kg per day might be sufficient for most people, it’s hardly likely to be optimal. Especially if that person is active (as they should be) or if they are ageing ( the older you get, the higher your need for large intakes of protein, muscle anabolism isn’t usually compromised, but digestion often is, hence the need for more) a sufficient amount of protein is also important if you want to lose weight, which ironically is why many people choose to become a veggie in the first place.
I could go further and discuss the importance of the amino acid leucine and its role in muscle hypertrophy, and why this is likely to be low on a veggie diet, or why soy is so inadequate as a protein compared to whey, and how an over reliance on soy in a veggie diet could potentially affect hormones, but this article is already getting longer than I intended it to be, so I’ll save these topics for another day if anybody wants me to delve further.
After reading this long and lengthy explanation of protein intake (I hope you took notes for the quiz), let us now consider the protein intake of meat vs veggie foods.
Look at the following pictures of meat, dairy and veggie proteins.
I’ve tried to find the amounts that would equal as near to 30g as I could comfortably get, as this is the amount I often suggest to clients in a single meal (this number varies from 20 to 40g depending on size activity level etc).
We can see that it’s not as straight forward as the amount of protein, for a meat eater a Sirloin steak provides nearly double the amount of calories as a chicken breast, just something to bear in mind when deciding what to have as a side. Four eggs would also be high in calories, something to be aware of as a vegetarian.
For veggie proteins, many of the options are higher in calories, it would also be hard to consume that much of the item I’ve suggested. Even I would struggle to eat more than ½ kg of cooked quinoa, which I’ve listed as a common source of veggie protein, and has the advantage of being a complete protein (alongside Tofu, Soy and Quorn).
I’ve listed the 100g peanut butter as this has been cited in veggie documentaries as a credible alternative to meat consumption for hitting protein goals, at 643 calories per 100g however, this isn’t going to help the waistline, and it won’t help as much with muscle gainz (nuts aren’t a complete protein).
For the health-conscious veggie, take some time to plan out your diet, I’ve worked with both vegans and vegetarians in the past and it’s simply a matter of gaining awareness of what’s in our foods. Using an app like myfitnesspal is often a good start to planning and trying to work out which foods will help you reach your protein needs whilst not going silly with calories.
I might also suggest using protein powders, my preference is for Whey protein however there are vegan alternatives on the market like Sun Warrior or ON.
A veggie diet is likely to be Low on EPA/DHA (Omega 3)
Essential fats are so called because the body is unable to produce them itself, therefore these fats must be gotten from the diet.
These fats are responsible for things like controlling inflammation ,4 (especially EPA) and for Brain Health and Eye health (DHA)
These fats have been shown to be useful in helping depression,5, facilitating weight loss ,6, preventing muscle wastage in the elderly7 and much more.
Underlying point, these fats are really important.
So where are we most likely to get these fats from?
Fish, mostly fish. Mackerel, wild salmon, anchovies and of course though fish oil supplementation.
There are of course some vegetarian alternatives, such as flax seeds, chia seeds and nuts. But these types of omega 3 are called Alpha Linoic Aicd (ALA) which needs to then be broken down into EPA and DHA. Interestingly this differs between genders, with men converting about 8% of ALA into EPA, and women converting about 21%, conversion of ALA to DHA is 0 to 4% in men and a 9% in women 8.
For veggies it might be worth supplementing with Algae oil, I’ve heard conflicting views on the direct comparison with fish oil, I can’t seem to confirm any substantial difference, so it’s probably worth trying.
I also wouldn’t be opposed to the use of flax seeds and linseeds, ALA might have a poor conversion rate, but these are at least a great source of fibre, in some research showing benefit to IBS.
Iron is an important nutrient for the creation of haemoglobin, the molecule which helps transport oxygen around the body. Men need less than women (8.7mg per day vs 14.8mg) a veggie can get Iron from non-meat sources such as spinach, lentils or beans. But as these are non-heme types of Iron, they have a lower absorption rate than meat sources. So 200g of steak contains 3.6mg of Iron, of which .54 to 1.26mg is likely to be absorbed (about 15 to 35%). 200g of spinach contains more iron, 5.4mg, but only .108 to 1.08 will be absorbed (about 2 to 20%)
Symptoms of low Iron include fatigue, dizziness, paleness and potentially could lead to anaemia. It’s worth getting a doctor to check it out if your concerned.
For some people it may be worth supplementing with Iron tablets or if these give you digestion issues then try a spray like this one.
Most sources of B12 are meat or fish based, although dairy does also contain some and there are fortified products available such as cereals and bread.
Even so it can be a common deficiency among veggie diets. Symptoms include low energy, feeling faint breathlessness and headaches.
A 2003 study, 15, found that 11% of Omnivores where deficient, vs 77% of vegetarians and 92% of vegans.
I would suggest a B12 supplement could go a long way to help correct this, in a deficiency state, 500μg/day. This couldn’t be gotten from just a multi by itself. I personally like Jarrow supplements, there might well be better options out there. Here is a product I’ve recommended in the past.
You may have heard of creatine as a supplement, it’s often taken by athletes and people who regularly work out, but what is it and what does it do and how does any of this relate to diet?
Creatine is a natural molecule the body can produce by itself from the amino acids (the lego bricks that make up protein) we obtain from food and store in our body for periods of intense energy usage. If you suddenly need to sprint after throwing eggs at Piers Morgan only for that person to turn around and you realize it isn’t him, then your body will be relying mostly on your levels of creatine for energy at that point. The more you have in your system, the more likely you can sustain that intense period of hard work.
It’s also been shown in a number of studies to improve cognition. In one study, just 5g a day helped improve both working memory and intelligence. 9.
Where it gets interesting is when we consider the amount a person might usually have. A 70kg person has the potential to store about 160g in the body.
If that person is a meat eater, they’re probably walking around with about 120g of creatine, I’ve found it hard to get a figure on what the values would be for a vegan or vegetarian however some work by J.Delhange et al showed that serum levels of creatine where significantly lower in vegetarian populations compared to meat eaters ( just a little over half)So do low creatine levels matter?
Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how active you are, if you work out a lot, and if a lack of muscle tissue is an issue for you.
If you are following a veggie diet, then low creatine is a simple fix, buy the creatine monohydrate, take 5g four to five times a day (depending on your current size), do this for 5 days, then maintain high creatine levels with just 5g a day.
It’s a cheap product that can help make you stronger and improve mental clarity, what’s not to like?
I use this one myself.
Is meat just unhealthy?
Plenty of scientific studies support the view that red meat is unhealthy, 10, and that veggie diets have better health outcomes.
In the notes section at the bottom of this article there I’ve included a link (no 10) which shows a comprehensive meta-analysis of 98 studies which shows that meat eaters are more likely to be overweight and smoke, have a poorer education and less likely to consume fruit and vegetables.
Case closed then?
Not quite, these studies are notorious for not distinguishing between types of meat, there’s a whole world of difference between a person who mostly subsides on burgers and fried chicken and a person who dislikes those foods and instead opts for meats such as steak, chicken breast, turkey mince and fish alongside an abundance of fruit and veg.
Some studies do try to control for this, but it’s not an easy task to distinguish when asking people to fill out a questionnaire about what they have eaten in the last week. Most of us can’t remember what we ate for dinner last night, and would struggle to correctly recall our last seven days diet, even if we tried to tell the truth, which most people don’t, because they’re embarrassed that they ate a Big Mac last Weekend even if the rest of their week was pretty healthy.
Then there is the whole issue around health seeking behaviours, when you go to a health food shop and ask people to fill out a questionnaire for your study, it should be obvious that these people are already health seeking individuals. They eat a vegetarian diet because they read that it’s healthy, they are also less likely to smoke and be more active. It has nothing to do with diet and everything to do with the simple fact that these people are concerned about their health and wellbeing and willing to act on it.
If two people of identical weight, age and height both consume 2000 calories a day, but person As diet comes from vegetables, nuts, fruits, lean meats and fish, where as person B gets most of their calories from Greggs, then it would be completely correct to presume that these two people would have vastly different health outcomes, even if person B is a vegetarian subsiding on Greggs Vegetarian Sausage roll.
When researchers compare health conscious vegetarians with health-conscious meat eaters, they have found that they both live longer than average, with little difference between the two 11, 12, 13.
So when the World Health Organization classed processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen14, they are doing so because there is strong evidence that over consumption of these foods is likely to cause cancer. Alcohol and sunbeds are also in this group.
Unhelpfully they have also classed red meat in general as a probable cause of cancer, meaning there is not enough evidence, but it’s a possibility, putting it in group 2b, alongside magnetic fields, mobile phones and gingko biloba extract.
So what does all of this mean?
If you eat a lot of processed meat, such as hot dogs, burgers and chorizo, then statistically you are most likely not doing other things, like eat lots of fruit and veg, take part in some kind of activity on a regular basis, you might also be a smoker and drink too much.
I don’t want to downplay the risk of eating processed meat, I choose to eat some chorizo in my meals from time to time, I also might eat a burger occasionally. In the grand scheme of things, I believe that my other healthy choices will outweigh any risk associated with these products.
A crappy vegan or vegetarian diet is still a crappy diet. The term itself does not imply health, nor does it guarantee wellbeing.
It’s entirely possible to be very healthy as a vegetarian or vegan, and in fact there are many health-conscious non-meat eaters walking around full of joy and loving life. Similarly, there are plenty of meat eaters who are also living healthy lives with no less health risk than veggies.
I’ve avoided getting into some of the claims made by veggie enthusiast in some of the documentaries doing the rounds, if anybody would like me to delve into why dairy doesn’t cause cancer, or why meat doesn’t destroy gut bacteria, then I’ll be happy to do so, but this is a deep rabbit hole, and I’m not sure yet what purpose I’m trying to achieve in writing these articles.
Mostly I just hope that I can provide a useful resource for those who are already vegetarian or vegan, or for those considering this nutrition choice. I have no qualms with anybody making these choices if they are doing so out of ethical concern for animal welfare, or for religious beliefs, or out of a general distaste of meat and preference for veggie type foods. My most pressing worry with regards for people switching to a veggie diet is that they are doing so because they think it’s healthier, or because they think its going to help them lose weight more easily. I hope from this article you’ll see that it’s just not as straight forward as that.
In my next article I’ll cover how our dietary choices affect the environment, I’ll delve into the issues around meat production and I’ll show why choosing a veggie diet isn’t necessarily going to save the planet.
1. Wycherley et al. (2012)
2. Dong et al. (2013)
3. Santesso et al. (2012)
4. Kremer (2005)
5. Sublette et al. (2011)
6. Noreen et al. (2010)
7. Smith et al. (2010)
8. Burdge et al. (2002)
9. Rae et al. (2007)
11. Key TJ et al. (1999)
12. Thorogood et al. (1994)
13. Timothy et al. (2009)
15. Hermann et al. (2003)
I didn’t have time to go into it in any detail, but if your interested in leucine content of veg vs meat foods then check out Brennan et al. (20019)
End note: I’ve wrote this article, alongside my articles on low carb diets, in the hope that it’ll answer many of the questions I so frequently get around diet. I’ve tried to spend a lot of time researching and gathering information to give accurate evidence-based information. For those academics amongst you, I’ve provided references to studies I cite throughout the article. I hope you enjoy this read, and that it helps you make an informed choice around diet. I have also inserted Amazon affiliate links throughout, buying anything I suggest from these links means I make a small percentage of the sale, it won’t cost you anymore and your free to shop around and choose other products if you wish.
If you'd like to know more abouty my services as a nutritionist or personal trainer then pelase get in touch, I've been working as a Personal Trainer Hull for 16 years now, I've seen a lot of different clients and helped a wide variety of people from all walks of life..
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