Results Of My Vegan Experiment
The results are in… finally!
Many of you have written to me, anxious to read these results. Thanks for your patience. Let’s get to it…
First off, this post focus on my experiences and the results of the experiment. If you want to know more about why I decided to eat vegan for a month or how I approached the experiment, read My Vegan Experiment.
How hard was it to eat vegan?
It was actually quite easy. I did have to educate myself a bit at the beginning and develop some new habits, but before long eating vegan became quite simple and straight forward.
How limited were your food choices?
I have to admit that eating entirely vegan was a scary prospect. I dreaded the thought of f being so limited with my food choices. I suppose that’s why I hadn’t tried it earlier. However, I quickly discovered that eating vegan was not limiting at all. On the contrary, it was quite liberating. How many meat options do meat eaters have to choose from? There is really just beef, poultry, pork and fish/seafood prepared in different ways. Now consider that there are thousands of vegetables in the world. Thousands! Talk about options. Add to that the wide range of fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains and other plant-based foods and you can see just how many options vegans have to choose from.
Why don’t you just eat more veggies with your meat?
You certainly can and should. Do you? I didn’t. My friend and chef extraordinaire, Luisa Rios, owner of Cooking Journeys, had an interesting observation. We usually think of meat as the focal point of our meals and add vegetables as a second thought. That often results in uninspired vegetable choices and preparation. And when those limited meat options and uninspired veggie preparations gets boring, how do we make our meals more palatable? The answer is usually unhealthy, creamy and fatty sauces or sugary toppings.
Eating vegan awakened me to the incredible variety and flavours that plant foods have to offer. If you’re still doubtful, check out this article and this article for some pictures of what I was eating throughout the experiment. I can honestly say that I enjoyed my food more consistently throughout my vegan experiment than I can remember at any other period in recent memory. I attribute that to two things… mindful eating and the food tasted frickin’ amazing!
Was it difficult to eat out at restaurants?
Okay, this part of the experiment had me worried. I love going to restaurants. Luckily I have a few amazing vegan and vegetarian restaurants close to my home that I visited regularly. And surprisingly, non-vegan restaurants presented less of a challenge than I anticipated. Many restaurants have vegan options listed on their menu and most vegetarian options can easily be made vegan.
And believe it or not, the best vegan meals I had during the experiment were at non-vegan restaurants. I would simply explain to my server that I required a vegan meal and asked that the chef surprise me. And surprise me they did. I enjoyed some of my most memorable meals ever at these restaurants.
Did a vegan diet actually satisfy you?
Yes. The food tasted amazing so there was no issue in that respect. I should note that at the beginning of the experiment I did feel hungry. Or so I thought. What I quickly realized was that I wasn’t really hungry. I just felt lighter. Prior to the experiment when I ate meat it would sit in my stomach for a long period of time being digested. It gave me a sense of being heavy and weighed down. Plant foods were the opposite. They would fill me up, but still leave me with a sense of lightness.
What happened to your energy levels?
They increased. I could literally feel the plant-based foods fuelling my body. Instead of being weighed down by meat I was energized by plants. However, I did have to eat regularly. If I skipped a meal I would feel my energy levels drop quickly. I expect this was because plant foods digested quickly and wouldn’t sit in my gut for extended periods of time like meat would.
I also think my energy increased because I was slept better. I can’t say for sure that my vegan diet was the cause, but during the experiment I seemed to fall to sleep easily, slept well and woke feeling well rested… even with a 6 month old baby.
How did your sport performance change?
This is the one area I wish I had more quantifiable results to offer. This experiment took place at the end of my triathlon season so I was not training nearly as often or intensely. However, I do have some anecdotal results that I have heard echoed by many vegan athletes such as Scott Jurek, Brendan Braizer and the No Meat Athlete.
When I did train I felt much more energized and my endurance seemed to improve, but what I was most stuck by was the lightness I mentioned earlier. When eating meat in the past I would have to take time to digest my meal before even considering a workout, but eating vegan allowed me to train almost immediately after eating. The food didn’t weigh me down, it energized me and helped fuel my workout.
Did you lose muscle?
Again, I wish I had more quantifiable data. I’ve usually focused my exercise on endurance sport and not on building muscle. That said, I do have a good sense of when my body is feeling toned and strong, and during the experiment I did feel toned and strong. I believe this was due in large part to the plant-based foods providing me with the nutrients I needed to train well and recover quickly.
How did you get enough protein?
Protein is necessary to maintaining your health, however how much protein we need is a hotly debated topic. I’m not going to open that debate here. Let me just say this…. regardless of how much you think you need, all of your protein requirements can come from plant sources. Even bodybuilders can get all the protein they need from plant sources. Check out VeganBodybuilding.com and VeganBodybuilding.org to see some examples of just how much muscle you can build without animal products.
Did you gain or lose weight?
I had tried eating vegetarian and vegan diets in the past and gained weight because I took an unhealthy approach to the diet. I ate a lot of “fake” meat, pasta, bread and other high glycemic carbs. This time around I avoided those foods and focused on unprocessed, natural plant-based foods.
So what was the result? Despite being in post-Ironman shape and reasonable weight, I still managed to easily lose weight without really trying. During the experiment I lost 8lbs and almost one inch from my stomach measurement. I suppose that some could argue I lost muscle weight, but keep in mind that I felt strong and the change in my stomach measurement indicates fat loss.
Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that while I was training during the experiment, it was very limited. This post-Ironman period is usually one in which I pack on fatty post-season weight.
Was there anything that surprised you during the experiment?
Yeah, a few things really stick out. First, as I’ve mentioned before, it was easier than I thought. I was also surprised by just how good and light I felt and how easily I seemed to lose fat without really trying.
Was it expensive?
No. Actually, I saved money eating vegan. Even buying exotic and organic plant foods is much less expensive than a diet that includes animal products.
So what did the blood tests have to say?
I had blood tests immediately before and after the vegan experiment. While the tests were not entirely comprehensive, they measured a number of indicators that gave me a pretty good indication of how the vegan diet affected my health. Here are the results worth noting:
- B12 - my B12 levels dropped during the experiment, which is not a good thing. B12 plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and in the formation of blood. If you’re low in B12, it will usually result in low energy levels and will reduce your blood’s ability to carry oxygen. So how do you get B12? Animal products are pretty much the only source for B12. Many vegans will note that our vegan ancestors would have received B12 from the soil when picking vegetables, but these days most people prefer to wash their vegetables before eating them. I have yet to see any solution for vegans other than to supplement their diet with B12.
- Iron - there was a small drop in my iron levels, but nothing to worry about. Perhaps longer terms tests would give more cause for concern.
- PH - PH refers to the acidity or alkalinity of your blood. The higher your PH, the more alkaline and the better. The lower your PH, the more acidic your blood will be, which results in a state that promotes disease. My post experiment blood tests showed that my PH went up and became more alkaline, which was a benefit I wasn’t surprised to hear since vegetables are widely considered an excellent way to raise PH levels.
- Thyroid - While I didn’t have thyroid problems prior to the experiment, test results indicated that the vegan diet helped to normalize my thyroid.
- CRP - CRP is an indicator of your inflammatory state. The more inflamed your body, the greater your chances of disease. Inflammation can present itself in obvious ways such as puffiness after a big sugar binge, pasta meal or night of drinking, and it can mask itself in much more subtle ways that promote disease and later reveal themselves as arthritis, cancer and a whole host of other diseases. CRP is measured in cancer patients and used to help determine a prognosis for survival. The higher the CRP and more inflamed, the lesser the chances of survival. So what happened to my CRP? Not surprisingly, it dropped to an excellent level during the vegan experiment.
- White Blood Cells - One surprise was an increase in my white blood cell count. Both my naturopath and family doctor were surprised by this result as it is not typically associated with a vegan diet. They both suggested that it was probably due to me fighting a cold or the result of a recent hard workout, but as with all of these indicators, it was too difficult to draw sound conclusions with the limited number of tests.
What happened when the vegan experiment ended?
I finished the experiment feeling great. That said, I wanted to eat meat again for two reasons – I was interested to see how I would feel eating meat again and I missed it. What can I say, I like the taste of meat. But, as I started to eat meat I was reminded of how heavy it makes me feel and how it seems to rob me of energy. It wasn’t a good feeling. I also ate dairy products again and was amazed at how quickly I became congested with a stuffy and runny nose. I also got a small cold. Whether it was due to eating meat is impossible to say, but it did make me wonder.
Are you now a vegan or a meat eater?
I have to admit that I’m now eating far more meat than I’d like. I don’t feel nearly as good as I did when I was eating vegan since the end of the experiment I have tried to find a balance with my diet. Over the past few years I have experimented with a number of approaches to my diet, including paleo, slow carb and now vegan diets among others. The one undeniable truth I have discover throughout all of my experiments is that vegetables are key to my feeling healthy. Lots of vegetables!
I don’t think meat is bad. I enjoy it and I think I operate better with some meat in my diet. However, I believe that most people eat far too much meat from unhealthy and processed sources, with far too few veggies in their diets. If you take one thing away from this article, it’s EAT MORE VEGGIES!
My diet going forward will be a combination of all the approaches I’ve taken in the past and will be very similar to the approach I outlined in My Simple Six-Step Strategy For Healthy Weight Loss, but with a little less meat . In a nutshell it will look like this:
- Lots of veggies.
- Some fruit.
- Some nuts and seeds.
- Very few grains.
- Very little dairy.
- Meat as a garnish, not as the focal point of my meals. And from organic, free range and grass-fed sources as much as possible.