A gift certificate for a plant based cooking class makes a great father's day gift!

You Are What You Eat?

8 January 2024

Welcome to week 2 of Veganuary. If you haven't signed up yet, it's not too late. It's one strategy for moving to a plant-based diet, going “all in” with the support and resources available now.  Of course, if that's not your cup of tea, you could also utilize the new year's impetus to just focus on plants without excluding foods (and naturally crowding out highly processed and animal-based foods). Please reach out for any guidance you may need.

You may have heard about the Netflix series, You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment.  You can find the research upon which this was based here: Cardiometabolic Effects of Omnivorous vs Vegan Diets in Identical Twins.

I first heard about the research from a colleague in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and study author, Matthew Landry, PhD, RDN, DipACLM, FAND, FAHA. Upon publication of the study, he noted that many mainstream media sources were extrapolating some conclusions that had not been proven by this study. It was exciting, though, in that it was the first time identical twins had been examined, taking genetics out of the equation.

Importantly, both study groups were provided (first 4 weeks) or given guidance on (weeks 4-8) a healthy whole foods diet. The omnivorous group were instructed to consume an average of 6-8 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry, 1 egg, and 1.5 servings of dairy each day. But they were also told to eat 3 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruit, and 6 servings of grains or starchy veg.

Most Americans only eat one serving of fruit and 1½ servings of vegetables per day!

The vegan group obviously were meant to avoid all animal products for the course of the study.  Additionally, they were given higher fruit and vegetable targets, and instructed to consume 5 servings of legumes, nuts, seeds, or vegan meat, and 6 servings of grains or starchy vegetables each day.

The part that grabbed my attention was that “participants assigned to the vegan diet arm reported the largest decrease in diet satisfaction when eating out at weeks 4 and 8 relative to baseline.”  Why was this?  Let's explore.

Our culture encourages an animal-based diet (have you seen those Arby's commercials?!?!).  The default at restaurants is meat and dairy.  Even vegetarian options are largely based around cheese (more on this addicting topic next week!).  Check out this humorous instagram reel to get a tongue-in-cheek view of what vegans are up against. I got the Happy Cow app to find vegan restaurants near me.  Guess what! There's only one. Thank you, Root2Rise!

To me, this is all backwards.  Why not make vegan the default, with an animal-based “add-on”, similar to the way some salad places sell salads with “protein add-on” (which irks the grammar nerd and plant-based proponent in me because protein ≠ meat)? Except make the “basic” meal balanced and healthy, not just a bowl of iceberg lettuce.

At home, we may be prepared to pay $5+ per pound for [highly subsidized] meat, yet fail to see the tremendous value in a 99¢ can of chickpeas with significantly fewer “external costs”. Our Standard American Diet was not always this way. Since the year I was born, per capita consumption of beef, pork, chicken and fish has gone up 23% (with poultry almost tripling!).  And obviously consumption of ultra-processed foods of any description has increased to the point that it now exceeds real food in our diets.

I believe that if people were aware of how delicious and easy whole food plant-based home cooking can be, they would do it more! True?  Meanwhile, we also have to work on changing norms (in restaurants, supermarkets, at events, etc.) so that home cooking is not strictly required to follow this type of diet (since we all live in the real world, not a scientific study).

Despite attacks that the Netflix series was biased (and what isn't, these days?), I think the clear conclusion was that there were many benefits to including an abundance of whole plant foods in participants' diets, and many elected to maintain at least plant predominance after the study ended.

“Nearly all respondents in the vegan diet arm (91%) and the majority of participants in the omnivorous arm (67%) reported that after the intervention they plan to continue to follow some but not all recommendations for their assigned diet.”

Let's root for progress over perfection (since there may not be one universal “perfect” for anyone anyway). Choosing a variety of plant foods every day incontrovertibly makes us healthier, reduces demand on inhumane animal farming practices, and decreases our environmental impact.  Watch the series and let me know what you think!

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