Should Everyone Eat a Vegan Diet? – Pros and Cons | The Game Changers [Podcast Episode #93]

By: Ben Brown

Of increasing popularity is the adoption of a vegetarian or “plant-based” diet due to health concerns as well as those wishing to take a higher level of responsibility for the environment and/or the treatment of animals.

In this episode, I want to discuss several things with you that are worth considering when making this kind of lifestyle change as well as some (hopefully) helpful educational, nutritional and supplemental strategies to help aid you in your journey, including:

- What’s the difference between vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based? Is one better than the other?

- What merit does the “Game Changers” movie have with respect to the benefits of being vegan and what did they get terribly wrong?

- Who benefits from a movie like this?

​- Do vegetarians live longer than omnivores?

​- Vegetarian diets and muscle building, strength, and athletic performance

- Are animal proteins and plant proteins created equal?

- Established protein goals for vegetarians

- What nutrients/micronutrients are missing in a vegan diet?

- How to supplement a vegan diet

- What (in my opinion) is a valid reason to make the switch and what is not

- How we can stop arguing over nonsensical ideaologies​

Let’s start with the basics: Terminology (Most to least restrictive)

Veganism: The strictest vegetarian diet. Excludes ALL animal products from the diet, including food products derived from animals (for example: milk, eggs, and in some cases honey). Some vegans even avoid using animal products made from leather or wool and avoid plants that are not organically grown.

Lacto Vegetarianism: “Lacto” means “dairy,” and this variation thus includes milk products, but no eggs or meats of any kind (fish, poultry or red meat).

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarianism: “Ovo” means “egg,” which is why egg products, but no meat, is included in this vegetarian variation.

Pesco-Vegetarianism: Are similar to lacto-ovo vegetarians, but also eat fish and crustaceans.

Semi-Vegetarianism or “flexitarianism”: Occasionally consume meat, but try to choose vegetarian options when possible. Some flexitarians exclude red meat completely, but still eat chicken and fish.

Plant-Based: Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.

Vegetarian Diets and Health: Do Vegetarians Live Longer than Meat-Eaters?

Vegans and vegetarians are probably some of the most health-conscious people on the planet - they tend to have a higher education, exercise more, sleep more, smoke less, and drink less alcohol. This also means that when you compare these people to the general U.S. population of non-vegetarians (less educated, less active smokers), avoiding meat is but one of a myriad of differences between them.

Observing differences in health outcomes is relatively easy but determining the cause of those differences is virtually impossible because of the confounding variables (education, exercise, smoke less, drink less alcohol, etc…).

But when adjusted for lifestyle, it turns out that the vegetarian diet doesn’t make us live longer. A 2017 meta-analysis looking at observational data from 130,000 vegetarians and 15,000 vegans, comparing them to a control group of non-vegetarians, reached this conclusion. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26853923)

Another major problem with this type of comparison is generalizing about what a “meat-based” diet constitutes - which in reality is comparing vegetarian diets to the Standard American Diet (SAD) Diet.

Let’s take a look at the top 10 sources of calories in the US and you tell me if you think it’s the meat that’s the problem:

​1. Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars)

2. ​Yeast breads

3. Chicken and chicken-mixed dishes​

4. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks

5. Pizza

6. Alcoholic beverages

7. Pasta and pasta dishes

8. Mexican mixed dishes

9. Beef and beef-mixed dishes

10. Dairy desserts​

Now despite the fact that everything on this list tastes fantastic, it’s easy to see how there’s far more, from a dietary perspective, to the sickening of the American population that just a meat-based diet.

I’d argue that doing literally anything but the SAD diet would positively impact health and longevity, with going more “plant-based” certainly being one of those things… but also low carb, keto, Mediterranean, the banana diet, the potato diet, the Atkins diet, etc… because all of these diets would effectively eliminate one or multiple of the calorically dense and potentially nutritionally void food of the foods or beverages that I just mentioned.

The problem is that when you have so many variables that can and do change—often simultaneously—when leaving the SAD, it is very difficult to determine what the actual health effects are coming from, probably because it’s coming from some combination of all of the dietary and lifestyle changes, i.e. in the case of transitioning from a SAD diet to a plant-based diet, one would start to eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. They eat less refined carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fat. They exercise more and may put more of an emphasis on stress management as well as social support. During the transition, they may quit smoking, quit or reduce the consumption of alcohol, and focus more on getting adequate sleep. While we could debate the evidence for and against each one of these interventions, the point is that there are many changes taking place, in addition to cutting out animal products, that are consistent with what many people believe to be healthy living.

So tell me why we need to be looking at this in black or white?

Because of these two points that I have the biggest problem with the way the Game Changers movie represents itself. Certainly it’s not with the diet itself but because the movie references subpar and often inaccurate science to mislead the viewer in a dogmatic and ideological way when there’s clearly nuance and a healthy balance to be considered.

I think it’s great that it’s helping motivate people to want to lead healthier lifestyles but I’m vehemently opposed to using biased viewpoints and politically and financially charged dietary drama (probably to help feed Netflix views) to push an agenda on us when it’s so difficult to know what’s right or wrong for us with the scope of the nutritional landscape as it is.

If you’re interested in a reference that debunk many of the Game Changers Health Claims, check out the references below because I’m just not going to waste my time on the idiotic claims made.

Vegetarian Diets and Environmental Impact:

I’m actually not going to dive into this. It’s terribly complex, extremely emotionally fueled - understandably so - and definitely not my area of expertise nor something I’m really interested in examining.

Here’s my opinion and what I can say:

I think that commercially raised, farmed, and slaughtered, meat is a problem. Particularly, I’m referring to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) - industrial-sized livestock operation. They grossly mistreat their animals, feed them a diet that’s not conducive to health which affects the quality and health of the meat, use tons of antibiotics and hormones, and are massive contributors to global pollution, through both our water and air.

If it was that or being vegan, I think we’d be better off going vegan.

But, fortunately, there’s a lot that we can do choose a healthier way of eating for ourselves, the animals, and the environment.

1. Eat less meat - Meatless Monday - and implement more intermittent fasting.

2. Choose meats from local farms that are sustainably farmed and fed on pasture.

3. Hunt your own meat (see my friend Curtis Jackson's hunting academy​)

4. Use higher protein, non-meat foods, like beans, lentils, and chia seeds as nutrient-dense sources of protein​.

If you’re passionate about this topic and want to learn more, I’d suggest following Diana Rogers - @sustainabledish (https://www.instagram.com/sustainabledish/) on IG as a resource to better understand the role of animal farming and sustainable livestock on climate change.

Vegetarian diets and muscle building, strength, and athletic performance.

There’s really no long term-studies to suggest any difference between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in athletic performance, so it makes sense to look into the effects of muscle building and strength…

The reality is that plant-proteins are simply not as dense of a protein source as animal proteins. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, just the biochemical reality - so let’s discuss what that means briefly and how to objectively look at plant-protein vs. animal protein intake.

The two most important dietary factors for building muscle are:

1. Getting enough calories and

2. Getting enough protein in your diet​

As you know, proteins are made of 20 amino acids, 9 of which aren’t made in our bodies, meaning that we need them in our diet (a.k.a. the EAAs). Three of the EAAs are known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and have a particularly important role in protein metabolism. About a third of the protein in your muscles is made of BCAAs

We build muscle through something called muscle protein synthesis (MPS), particularly when MPS is greater than muscle protein breakdown. When it comes to stimulating MPS, EAAs as a group do it best, but mostly due to the BCAAs, and particularly the amino acid leucine. In order o maximize MPS after a meal, it is estimated that you need around 2-3 g of leucine - which is known as the “leucine threshold” - and THIS is the biggest difference between animal and plant-based protein sources.

Plant-based proteins contain around 6–8% leucine, while animal-based proteins contain about 8–11% leucine - What we see is that in smaller amounts, animal proteins seems to better stimulate MPS because of the amount of Leucine, however at higher doses, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference when total amount of protein is equated, i.e. 48g of plant-protein vs. 48g of animal protein. The tough part becomes HOW to get in the necessary dose when eating plant-based…

Vegans need to eat larger amounts of plant proteins to give the same muscle building signal (MPS) as animal protein. At the same time, it is more difficult to get as high – let alone higher – protein levels from a plant-based diet compared to your average non-vegetarian diet.

The reason for this is because protein from plants is less efficiently absorbed as compared to animal-based protein, meaning that less of the plant-based protein you eat actually ends up in your blood. Furthermore, many other essential amino acids are more commonly missing in a plant-based diet. These include lysine (most commonly missing), methionine, isoleucine, threonine, and tryptophan.

These recommendations are referenced from a strongerbyscience.com article (below)

“Because of the above, we recommend non-athletic vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy eat 1 g/kg/day protein per day (compared to 0.8 g/kg/day for the general population). For non-athletic vegans, we recommend 1.4 g/kg/day. Athletic vegans can aim for 2.0 g/kg/day while bulking and 2.7 g/kg/day while cutting. Protein supplements are therefore a good idea if you want to optimize building muscle on a plant-based diet. There are many vegan-friendly options out there, including pea protein and rice protein supplements.”

Based on 200-lb individual

(converted into grams/lb bodyweight)

Non-athletic vegetarians (eggs and dairy) - 90g protein/day

For non-athletic vegans - 126g protein/day

Athletic Vegans (bulking) - 180g protein/day

Athletic Vegans (cutting) - 243g protein/day

Generally speaking, you’d need to consume approximately 20% more high-quality plant protein (i.e., pea & soy) to be on par with animal protein in terms of amino acid profile quality. - For most that are physically active and physique conscious, that’s about 1g of protein per lb of body weight.

To help make this easier, it can be a good idea to supplement with a plant-based protein powder (some combo of rice/pea/soy) to more easily hit those daily protein goals.

Also, you’ll want to consider increasing your protein intake as you age because age-related sarcopenia and the MORE you strength train, then less protein you can get away with consuming because the training itself stimulates MPS - make sure you check out 2 previous episodes:

1. Lean, Strong, Healthy and Plant-Based with Karina Inkster (episode 43)

2. Optimal Protein Intake and Muscle-Centric Medicine with Dr. Gabrielle Lyon (episode 63)​

What nutrients/micronutrients are missing in a vegan diet?

Vegan diets are lower in vitamin B12, calcium, and iodine. Calcium, iron, and zinc might also be an issue due to poorer absorption from plant sources. Vegans diets do, however, have the benefit of higher fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals (plant-chemicals which, when eaten from plants, have several health benefits).

- Most vegans will need to supplement with vitamin B12 because you won't be able to get enough from your diet. 1,000 mcg (1mg) per day. - about 50% vegans deficient.

- Most vegans are at a high risk of vitamin D (unless you get daily sun exposure without sunscreen) and iodine deficiency (unless you eat a lot of sea vegetables). So consider taking 2,000 IUs of vitamin D and 90 mcg of iodine per day, respectively. ​

- Supplemental iron for some men and certain for menstruating women

- Some vegans will fall short on their calcium needs. Consider 1,000 mg daily.​

Fat Intake:

Vegan diets tend to be lower in fat. Low fat intake levels are linked with low testosterone levels, which can impact health and performance. Aim for at least 15-25% of your daily calories from fats - nuts, seeds, oils, avocado

Should you go Vegan?

Why do you want to?

Where on the nutritional spectrum do you currently stand between SAD diet and Vegan? Can you make improvements without having to make such a big lifestyle change?

If you’re going to do it, please do it the right way, consuming more vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. They eat less refined carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fat. IMO, going vegan does not mean switching from regular whoppers to the impossible burger, vegan mac n’ cheese and sloppy joes, which I just don’t think is making a positive shift, rather more of a lateral move from one shit food to another.

Contact me if you need help, use the Complete Essentials and if you’re looking for high faulty supplements to support you in your health journey at a fantastically discounted rate then I’d suggest signing up for a free Wellevate account - link below. You get a 20% off all practitioner grade products and I get a small kickback to help support the massive amounts of time and energy I put into trying to provide the best possible information, tools, and practical nutrition guidelines for you.

As always, if you love what you hear on this show, then do me a favor and subscribe, leave a positive rating and review and share this episode with a friend or loved one whom you think could benefit. AND, if you want to talk about working with me personally, I’d love to chat, just schedule your free nutrition strategy call over at www.bslnutrition.com/levelup


References:

Debunking many of the “Game Changers” Health Claims: https://rippedbody.com/game-changers/

https://www.strongerbyscience.com/vegetarian-and-vegan-athlete/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26853923

https://peterattiamd.com/191027/

https://peterattiamd.com/is-red-meat-killing-us/

https://www.sierraclub.org/michigan/why-are-cafos-bad


Other Episodes You May Be Interested in:

What Quitting Alcohol Could Do For You (Episode 59)

Metabolic Flexibility – The Best Way to Regulate Fat Loss (Episode 68)

How to Prioritize your Time (Episode 89)




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