Recently, I viewed the documentary series "You Are What You Eat." (By Netflix). For those who have not yet seen it or are unfamiliar with it, the series illustrates a study conducted at Stanford where researchers investigated the impact of diet on our health. The study contrasts carnivorous and vegan diets, examining their effects on the physiological and cognitive aspects of identical twins. Over an 8-week period, a cohort of approximately 20 identical twins was divided into two groups: one twin adhered to a carnivorous diet (with no alterations to their existing eating habits), while the other twin embraced a vegan diet, incorporating fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
At the outset of the study, measurements were taken for weight, muscle mass, and fat percentage. Cognitive assessments were also administered to evaluate brain function and vascular health. Throughout the study duration, all participants were supervised by fitness trainers and maintained comparable levels of physical activity. Upon completion of the study, researchers scrutinized and compared the physiological and cognitive changes observed in the two groups.
While the research outcomes did not reveal a significant disparity in muscle mass and weight between those following a carnivorous diet and those adhering to a vegan lifestyle, the health and cognitive well-being of the vegan twin exhibited notable improvement. Positive changes were evident in LDL cholesterol levels (the unfavorable cholesterol), markers of inflammation, memory, focus, and even the cellular aging rate. Furthermore, a favorable shift was noted in the bacterial community within the intestines, specifically in the Bifidobacteria, of the vegan twin.
What's special about Bifidobacteria?
Bifidobacteria belong to the flora community in the intestines and feed on nutritional fibers found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Bifidobacteria aid in preventing infectious diseases (anti-inflammatory), produce and assist in the absorption of vital vitamins and chemicals in the body, and also maintain gut health. Therefore, a substantial community of Bifidobacteria is crucial and significantly influences overall body health.
Researchers' conclusion: A vegan diet is healthier than a carnivorous diet.
Is it true?
While indeed the dietary change in the vegan twin positively affected his health, the question arises whether a vegan diet is necessarily the cause. Furthermore, would a similar conclusion be reached a year after the study?
I decided to examine the research's reliability and the possible reasons for the health improvement.
Research Reliability - Who funded it and what is the motivation?
While the series did touch on the twin study, over 60% of its content focused on the meat industry, its impact on the environment and animals, the rapidly evolving vegan technology, and even veganism in the culinary and taste industry. Moreover, one of the interviewees in the series was the owner of the vegan restaurant 11 Madison Park. Despite describing the restaurant's success and showcasing its unique vegan dishes, I failed to understand the connection between him and the research.
For these reasons and others, I decided to scrutinize the research, check its funding sources, and see if there is any agenda behind it.
Through a brief check, I discovered that the research is funded by Beyond Meat, the world's largest vegan company for plant-based meat alternatives. I must note that the quality of Beyond Meat products is debated, and from a functional medicine standpoint, they may be considered processed food and not necessarily healthy.
Additionally, the lead researcher is vegan, and many interviewees are vegan food producers who, beyond promoting their brands, did not participate in the research.
The secret is in balance.
I am not dismissing the researchers' findings, and I significantly agree that a plant-rich diet is healthy. Therefore, the study results do not surprise me. Bacterial flora, such as Bifidobacteria, nourished by plant-based foods rich in dietary fibers, will enhance its community and influence our health. The bacterial community has a tremendous impact on our health, and it is not necessarily related to the absence of animal protein.
Moreover, plant-based protein may not provide an adequate substitute for animal protein in many individuals, especially those with high muscle mass, such as adolescent boys and men. To bridge the protein gap, their diet may be high in calories, and it's probable they will need to supplement with nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3, and iron, which may strain the intestines and not necessarily be absorbed into cells.
Not all proteins are equal.
Animal protein contains all the essential amino acids necessary for maximum absorption, and therefore, the body will absorb around 94% of the consumed protein. In contrast, plant protein lacks some amino acids and whole grains, resulting in only about 28% absorption of the consumed protein. Therefore, only about 28 grams of protein will be absorbed from 100 grams of plant protein. To increase absorption, it is advisable to consume plant protein along with whole grains, such as in a dish containing brown rice and lentils.
You are what you eat ate.
Not all animal proteins are identical and healthy. It's crucial to consider where the protein comes from, what the animal ate, and its lifestyle. All these factors significantly affect the quality of protein more than the source of animal protein versus plant protein. Therefore, whether it's animal-based or plant-based protein, it's crucial that it comes from a clean and healthy source. Protein from an animal fed on a questionable diet, living in crowded conditions, subjected to antibiotics and chemicals, may potentially harm us more than benefit us. Similarly, fatty meat from an unhealthy animal or processed meat may create inflammation, increasing the risk of cholesterol.
Likewise, the quality of the rest of our food is crucial. Vegetables and fruits that are genetically modified, sprayed with pesticides, or picked prematurely and traveled for months before reaching our plate will not provide an equivalent amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutritional fibers as fresh and clean plants.
It's all about balance.
Our plate should ideally consist of about 50% plant-based foods. The remaining 50% should be divided among whole carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, depending on various factors such as age, gender, lifestyle, season, and origin. It is not reasonable for a 40-year-old man living in Antarctica to have the same diet as a 60-year-old woman living in Hawaii.
Diet should not be recommended in a sweeping manner; it should be tailored according to physiological data, genetics, health status, season, and our lifestyle. Additionally, the balance of bacterial and hormonal levels has a significant impact on nutritional absorption and the body's need for a particular diet. Therefore, nutritional recommendations should be individualized.
I highly recommend checking metabolic typing before choosing a specific diet and also examining bacterial balance to prevent potential harm if deciding to eliminate key components from the diet.
If you want to learn more about your Metabolic Typing and want to find out what diet is right for you, schedule a free consultation with me: