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Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Veganism - bad for you?

You read all the time "Is vegan diet safe for vegan athletes?", "The dangers of vegan diets!" etc.  Usually touted by someone with an agenda, so I think I might just have a little rant about it if you don't mind, as today I read yet another, stupid, ill-thought out claim from yet another site.  So, let's cover a few facts.  I won't reference this as I want to rant, not dig about on the net, if you really want references ask below.  First off, is a vegan diet safe - you have all these gurus, often with a paelo agenda, or into keto-style eating moaning about the 'dangers' of a vegan diet.  So, let's look for a moment at science & how it works.  First off, a study shows us very little really, one study says virtually nothing, a few imply something, a lot show what we call consensus.  Research is an attempt to achieve consensus by looking at loads of research & seeing if any common threads occur.  Therefore I can find a study that says blueberries are bad, this does not mean blueberries are bad, because the consensus is that taking everything into account blueberries are actually pretty good!  So, to avoid the 'annoyance' of consensus many authors, especially those selling a product like a book or product do what is called 'cherry picking' studies.  Dig through the studies & you will find some that will show you that fruit is bad, that veggies are bad, that grains are bad, that nuts are bad take your pick & I can find a study or 2 that can back up your claim if I cherry pick.

Now let's go back to the vegan diet.  What is the consensus.  I could go dig up a load of studies about vegan diet, both good & bad, but I could cherry pick or I could show them all, but let's avoid that.  Most dietary organisations have already done the hard work for you & we find that just about every major dietary organisation in the world say that a vegan diet is safe for any age (I say 'just about every' because it's possible there are some I've missed out, I don't claim to have checked out every single dietary organisation on earth!).  They have all looked at the studies & all found the same thing...& yet the nay-sayers still jump up & say 'the science says vegan is bad!"...NO IT DOESN'T!  You are lying if you claim that anyone of any note says that, it is simply not true.  No one actually says that apart from a few self-opinionated gurus with an agenda, so simply ignore that.

...but what about PERSON X (fill in the name yourself), they ate a vegan diet & they got sick...let's tackle this head on shall we?  Chances are they actually did something wrong, VERY wrong!  Let's compare to the average meat eater?  In the US & UK at least 25% of people get something very wrong in their diets - you think I'm lying?  Just look at the obesity figures for those countries & you will find that approx 25% of the populations are obese (very nearly all will be typical meat eaters).  This doesn't include other conditions that occur to meat eaters JUST obesity!  So, 25% of average meat eaters go very wrong eating an animal based diet.  They all know to eat fruit & veggies, they know whole foods are better than refined foods, but they still become obese because they get it very wrong.  So, here we have proof how easy it is to get something very wrong; now suppose you try to move to a vegan diet?  Some people eat the same, but drop the meat, those fail pretty quickly.  You lose vast amounts of calories daily & soon lose vitality & health.  It's a guaranteed formula for failure.  You have novel foods that people have to find, get used to & start using regularly, you often have to eat more in portion size to maintain the same calorific intake, so people trying to add mass have to eat a LOT more than they are used to to keep growing, also the intestinal bacteria is radically different between a flesh eater & a plant-based eater, so you might need some help breeding the right intestinal 'friends' to help with the digestion.  So, you have a lot on your plate (pardon the pun) when you first become a vegan.

"..but those paleo people say we were designed to eat meat!".  No we weren't.  I suggest you go & look at ANY book on evolution, humans were not 'designed' for anything.  Humans evolve (& we still are evolving) to suit our environment.  But let's take a look at the paleo arguments.  Early man ate meat, so meat is the perfect food for humans.  First off pre-man ate plants well before early man at meat, but let's leave that.  What does this argument say to you?  Assuming early man did eat a lot of meat (which is by no means settled, but let's accept the premise) what does that say?  Does it say that this is the perfect food for humans, or just it was the most convenient food for humans.  Did early humans live longer than humans today?  No, they didn't, we don't think living in a cave is superior to living in a house, we don't think we should all be forced to live in extended family units where the alpha male beats you into doing what he wants?  So, why is the meat argument any different?  We ate the most convenient thing, not necessarily the best stuff for us..."but if plants are better for you why wouldn't early man eat them?".  Good question right (again you are using the proposition that early man MAY have eaten meat).  Collecting fruit & veggies may have been less effective at the time.  If you had to forage for miles to find a few sweet potato roots, it might have been more efficient to just kill something even though the food source may have been sub-optimal.  It was the supply chain that may have been the sticking point not the foods themselves.  But, see how as soon as people discovered they could grow things, they did grow things & the hunter/gathers where basically only the failures, those unable to get or hold land suitable for growing stuff, yep, all those people still clinging to that old culture where failures forced to marginal land & scrape by while those who grow stuff took over the rest of the land mass of the planet.

Let's look at longevity & evolution.  Again people get confused, evolution has nothing to do with longevity at all.  The one function of evolution is to reproduce, that is it.  I started to become sexually aware in my teens, I began breeding in my mid-teens & without contraception I would have certainly produced enough offspring to have kept my genetic line going (barring disaster of course).  After my breeding life is over (I don't consider my breeding life quite yet over yet thank you very much!) then evolution has done it's bit with me.  How long I live after that will not affect anything from an evolutionary standpoint, like a women after menopause it won't affect evolution except in a small way (like if she can act as a carer while the young breeders leave the small children & forage for example).  So, you can't really 'evolve' to live a long time directly, it may come as a freak benefit, but you can't directly control it in nature as if you are 'progammed' to die at 50, then you will still have produced offspring & they will have grown enough to survive & possibly in some situations you dying young could even add an advantage to their existence?  So, longevity is an attempt to make the most of what you've got, not something that we will 'evolve' at all unless we plan breeding & breed long lived people together, find a gene or 2 that make people live longer etc.

Early humans lived short, hard lives, why?  Because the water wasn't clean, they had to forage or hunt extensively to find food, maybe the diet wasn't perfect either?  Basically you eat what you can find within walking distance of your cave right?  If I dumped you into Africa right now, how much would you find?  I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty hard pushed to keep going a week in those conditions.  If you only have a few miles to gather food, any lack of food & you are in serious trouble.  Suddenly the strongest guys & gals hog the food & the weaker people starve!

You don't look back to find some mystical 'perfect diet', let's be honest it never existed!  Even if we proved that early humans ate whole, vegan foods, that in itself doesn't prove whole vegan foods are the best foods to eat.  So, we from here let's move on to athletes & people who train.....
It's strange?  You read all about the problems of being a vegan athlete, "Oh it's so hard!", "Person X failed at it!" etc etc...but there is a strange issue no one I know has actually mentioned...we are too good!  That's right vegans seem to be too good at sports.  Look at sports, you see vegan athletes everywhere, in strongman, in bodybuilding, in powerlifting, in sprinting, in distance running, in treadmill jogging even (yes, it is a sport & yes I know a vegan who does it)!  If you look at the amount of vegans you see we are still a small percentage of the population, & of those most do not show any inclination towards fitness (in fact a lot are mainly 'foodies' they love food & think nothing of exercise at all), but a tiny % do find their way into training, so that tiny % of a tiny % get into sports & what happens?  They excel!  Not everyone of course will excel, but a surprising amount for the people actually involved do get well above average - why is that?  It might be the pH is better for recovery, it might be that the anti-oxidant or anti-inflammatory effects of fruits & veggies affect them in a way that improves performance?  I honestly don't know?  There is also another great effect for the older athlete, if you start getting joint pain through training then sometimes going vegan can lessen or even eliminate it!  Yes, going vegan can seem to extend some peoples ability to continue in the sport they would otherwise have to give up.  Why?  Again, I don't claim to know, but I have seen it time & again with athletes who've tried it.  A boost in energy & pain diminishes or disappears, you can't guarantee it, that would be an absurd claim, but you can say "why not try it?  If you have to stop anyway, this may help you to continue".  Often it does.

Let's get down to details. Yes, you have to have a source of B12 (take a multi-everyday & that's covered), yes you need to find a source of omega-3 fatty acids (use ground flax, walnuts or hemp seeds AM with your breakfast-if you are in training I do suggest a DHA/EPA pill made from algae later in the day sometime & you're covered for that), if you live in a cold, dark place (read the UK or similar) take a vit D pill (you can now get vegan vit D3 if you prefer that-I'm still testing that out, so I'll keep you posted on that).  Other than that eat whole foods & watch your calorie intake (both in terms of total calories eaten & macro-nutrient intake- how much carbs, fat & protein you eat).  Other than that it really is fairly simple, eat for your needs, you can use stuff like protein shakes, if you need them, green smoothies if you need them, fake meats now & again.  If you want soya have some, but don't go mad on any one food (if you eat soya, have a non-soya fake milk, if you drink soya milk don't use a soya protein powder), vary your foods a lot, eat a lot of colours, eat things like quinoa (pronounced "Keen-wa" don't ask me why?), amaranth, buckwheat (not a grain, but a seed - buckwheat pasta is awesome!), tofu is becoming normal, so is tempeh, lupin is ok (be aware those with peanut issues steer clear of lupin), the list goes on.  Try cooking from other cultures, try different veggies to the one's you always buy, get a couple of cook books & pick a new recipe to try out a few times a week, experiment a bit.  For the physique types pick the off-season to make any changes, the same for sporting athletes as you may not find the ideal diet for you immediately, so give yourself some time to adapt.  You may need probiotics & digest enzymes for a while (hell, if you are bulking hard, then use them anyway as the gut is having a hard time already!).  If you are really stuck pop over to the forum ask any question you like.  You may not get your compete contest prep if you are a competitor, but you can get some tips & advice so you can get a decent start to your dietary change.

So, hopefully my rant has slightly entertained, possibly amused you?  Yes, I read yet another junk article & I really had seen enough of the garbage spewing from alleged nutritional experts (they really aren't experts you know), people who failed eating vegan (that's like asking a guy who gave up powerlifting after he failed every lift & got injured at the one meet he has done, his thoughts on powerlifting & how to prepare for it!).  It's a stupid & pointless thing to do.  Mr X tried veganism & failed is the same as Mr Y who tried powerlifting & got injured.  Mr X doing it wrong doesn't make veganism wrong, just like Mr Y hurting themselves powerlifting doesn't make powerlifting bad for you!  As I said we excel at sport, our accomplishments go far beyond what our numbers indicate it should.  Sure you can do it wrong, at least 25% of meat eaters do their diet wrong, I don't know the figures for vegan diets but it might be the same for vegan diets, it might even be higher as the change can be hard to grasp for many people (& it is a very different way to eat for many - Yes you eat vegetables AND fruit, shocking isn't it!).  So, ask if you are unsure, we can point you to what has worked for many people, we don't have a special system to sell you, everything is free, there is no secret inner circle or direct debt club for you to join to get the secret, the forum is free, the help is free, if you are really stuck or have personal issues you'd rather not bring up on a forum I'm happy to get personal emails from people.  Use the resources we offer & get the best results we've managed to find so far in terms of diet & health.  I'm not saying we have 'solved' the nutritional puzzle, everyone is different & learning to be your own nutritionist is the goal in all of this.  Some people need more or less fat, some higher or lower carbs, some higher protein than others, but we've had quite a few years working at this & can offer you possible solutions to your problems or answer tricky questions that you may not have quite answered yourself.
So as I feel all 'ranted out' now I'll leave it there!  Thank you for taking the time to read this, now go & get some training done :-) (by the way all the pics are of vegans, enjoying the forms of training they prefer)

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