Happy New Year everyone! Wishing you the best in the new year to come. For this first blog of 2018, I would like to reflect on diet wars. People can get really passionate about what they eat! A survey has even shown that people would move country, stop smoking or drinking for love, but not change the way they eat. How strong is that!
Here is a debate which shows how strongly people can believe in something. On one side you have the vegans from the very popular documentary “What the Health” on the other side, you have the omnivore, low-carb or paleo folks. When you look at how strongly each side believes in what they are saying, you have to wonder. The more so because these people are nutrition experts and doctors. One side truly believes that vegan is the way to go while the other side believe that meat and eggs are part of a healthy diet and carbohydrate are the culprit to most modern disease. It is quite entertaining to watch. But who to believe? It can get really confusing. Is meat bad or is it not? Is a plant based diet bad for you or the miracle cure? Let’s look at some of the idea debated.
Eggs are toxic and are bad for you (vegan), eggs are part of a healthy diet (non-vegan).
The Vegan group is basing their claims on this study mainly. The study is called Consumption of Egg Yolks and Carotid Plaque, and it finds that the rate of increase of carotid plaque is the same for women eating 3 yolks per week as it is for women smoking cigarettes. This really sounds scary. Until you read the thing and figure out they did not take into account confounding factor such as exercise and waist circumference. This merely shows a correlation and not a causation. And a correlation does not mean much especially if you don’t take into account confounding factors. In fact we can find correlation everywhere such as this one where it is shown that Facebook invention reverted the cholesterol lowering effect of Justin Bieber’s birth!!!!
In 2016, this study came out showing quite the opposite. Cholesterol intake does not increase cardiovascular risk. Also in 2015, the Dietary Guidelines removed the cholesterol intake upper limit. Dietary cholesterol does not have a lot of impact on serum cholesterol it turns out.
So eggs are not going to kill you but make sure to choose a source that uses pasture raised hens (not free-range, does not mean anything really and hens are still horribly treated) for happier, healthier eggs.
Red Meat will give you cancer (vegan), red meat can be part of a healthy diet (non-vegan)
Yes it’s true red meat can give you colon cancer. It’s been shown to increase the risk, especially processed red meat, by a (very) small margin. Should you take the risk or completely ban this food group from your diet?
Red meat like any other animal protein is very nutrient dense, especially offals. If you were in the wild and could only eat bison you would be just fine. However the secret is in the microbiome. It’s been shown that some bacteria could metabolize your meat protein in pretty nasty compound. So if you are eating meat because you like it and frankly you are an athlete and need it sometimes, make sure to take care of your gut by eating plenty of fibers and adding some fermented foods to your diet. This will have the effect of nourishing your good gut bacteria as well as increasing the transit time of food all very important in minimizing possible deleterious effect of red meat consumption. And then chose your meat well, buy good quality grass-fed meat or pasture raised. It might be more expensive but quality goes a long way and you don’t need to eat red meat every day for sure. Mix with other sources of proteins as well plant-based, dairy, poultry, eggs, lots to choose from.
Fat is making you diabetics (vegan), carbs are making you diabetics (non-vegan).
This is also a huge can of worms. First of all type 2 diabetes is genetic mostly. Yep. Type 2 starts with some set of genes which makes you not secrete that much insulin to begin with. It’s probably the evolutionary results of a thrifty metabolism, when food is scarce too much insulin would result in death by getting you into dangerously low blood sugar level. However, when you eat too many carbohydrates or fats, your body is in an energy surplus and insulin resistance kicks in. What is insulin resistance? It’s actually a catch all term to just indicate that your insulin is not signalling as well. Meaning that if you have insulin resistance you need more insulin for the same effect. Just by losing weight you can regain some insulin signalling and be able to reverse type 2 diabetes. If you eat a crappy diet and decide to go vegan (healthy vegan) it’s going to help for sure, if you decide to go low carb high fat which also have been demonstrated to help with fat loss (less hunger, increased protein, stable blood sugar) you will also improve. So actually both diets can improve type-2 diabetes and revert it. In this case a calorie deficit whether from carbs, fats or both will do the job. Both sides are right to a certain extent. If you truly want your blood sugars to be non pre-diabetics (remember those genes you started with? ) you have no choice to cut the carbs however. Very difficult to do on a vegan diet. There is no vegan that is type-2 diabetic that could achieve HbA1c in the low 5s but they could still reach level in the low 6s (pre-diabetics).
So what do I think?
I think that meat, dairy fish shellfish are the most nutrient dense foods there is. I think that eating too much meat can be a burden to the environment not to mention to the animals themselves so I chose my product well and don’t eat them all the time.
I think that fruits and vegetables are also very nutrient dense. And that, we can all agree on. Vegan diets are full of fruits, vegetables and fibers. You skin will glow, and it will improve your gut health (just beware of grains and beans below). You might also lose weight which could improve your diabetic profile (but not revert it). It could also lower your total cholesterol if that is important for you. I don’t think that LDL cholesterol is necessary a good marker for cardiovascular disease, but that is another blog maybe.
I think that grains and beans can be a good source of plant based protein AND carbohydrates which for athletes are definitely beneficial. However grains and beans are not as nutrient dense as the previous groups and must be prepared appropriately to avoid gut damage (soaked, sprouted, cooked thoroughly).
The last categories would be all processed foods comprised of flours of all kind, sugars and products that contain ingredients you cannot understand. These I would avoid most of the time.
To finish on a fun note, these are currently my two favorite cookbooks. One from each side of the equation with both delicious recipes. At home we try to eat vegan or vegetarian 2-3 times/week the rest of the time focusing on fish, poultry and red meat about once a week.
And please can we stop the diet wars and just eat nutritious foods that you will also enjoy? Let’s be respectful!
Happy New Year!