More and more people are going vegan, including our very own Dr Dan. Whether it’s an interest in animal welfare or healthier living, veganism seems to bring good mojo. But cutting out food products derived from animals – yup, that includes cheese - can seem restrictive to many, so why do it?
A Healthier Choice?
A recent review comparing vegetarians and vegans with meat eaters found that veggies had a lower BMI, less heart disease and lower total LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. That’s a pretty big win for metabolic health! These benefits are particularly relevant to some of the genes that FitnessGenes tests for, particularly AGT (a gene for blood flow), BDKRB2 (a gene for vascular function) and APOA2 (a gene for response to saturated fat). Vegan diets are typically lower in saturated fats, simple carbohydrates and total calories. A recent Swedish study found a greater vegetable intake and reduced cake and cookie intake in vegans, not ground breaking but definitely healthier.
The long standing question to those who want to build muscle on an animal-free diet is what to eat for protein? Chicken, eggs, beef and whey are out of the picture, so what are the alternatives? Fortunately there has been no better time than now for vegan food availability. Quorn is bringing out lean, high protein vegan meat substitutes. There are plenty of protein powders on the market, including soy, hemp, peanut, pea and oats. And Ben and Jerry’s has launched a range of very delicious vegan ice creams – perfect for cheat days!
Possibly to the surprise of some, many plant foods are packed with protein. Lentils, for example, have 18g protein per serving – two servings provide a third of daily protein needed for a 70kg adult following a 1.6g protein per kg body weight diet. However, most plant proteins are low in at least one of the nine essential amino acids. Fortunately different foods have different levels of these aminos, so if you want a complete protein meal, more than one source of protein will do the trick. A classic example is rice and peas, a Jamaican dish of long grain rice, coconut milk and kidney beans. Rice has low lysine and tryptophan whilst kidney beans are low in methionine - combine them and your body is ready to get going on some muscle protein synthesis!
Room For Compromise?
Still seeming pretty restrictive? While going vegan can be better for your health, the planet and animals, you’re still eliminating a lot of food that’s around you. Saying yes to a cup of tea or having a slice of birthday cake is not going to undo the impact of an otherwise healthier diet. Reduction is far easier than exclusion, and having the odd bit of dairy, egg or even meat is still much better than a common unhealthy diet. If pure veganism is a stretch too far, then perhaps start with a few vegan or vegetarian days in the week and see if you notice the benefit.