Can a diet totally devoid of animal protein be healthy? A new study seems to suggest that a stint of vegan eating benefits both heart health and weight loss, without imposing any restrictions on caloric intake. Rarely has a diet come under such criticism as the vegan diet. Not enough iron, zero vitamin B12, too little protein, lack of variety and no dairy. Surely this can’t be a healthy way to live? Plenty of evidence suggests it may be.
For example, because of food rationing after World War I in Denmark, animal protein, fats and alcohol were severely restricted for some years, forcing the population to subsist mainly on potatoes, bread, barley and vegetables. During that period, the country recorded the lowest mortality rate from non-infectious chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, in its entire history.
And now in November 2014, the Nutrition Journal published the results of a study attesting further to the powerful impact a restrictive diet can have on health. This study involved 1,615 patients who took part in a 10-day residential dietary intervention program in California. An entirely vegan buffet was laid out for them at mealtimes, consisting of a selection of minimally processed plant-based foods, including wheat flour products, rice, oats, corn, barley, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, legumes, vegetables and fruit.
No additional oils were provided, but small amounts of simple sugars, salt and spices were provided. Low-fat desserts containing some sugar were also served, while participants were free to add sugar to their morning cereal. Overall, the quantity of food intake was entirely unrestricted.
After seven days, a number of key biomarkers for cardiovascular disease risk were measured including blood pressure (BP), blood lipids and blood sugar. Every biomarker showed significant improvements, especially in the most overweight study subjects. Last but by no means least, a median weight loss of 1.4 kg was also recorded.
The results of this study go against official healthy eating advice such as the Eatwell Plate advocated by the UK Food Standards Agency in which dairy products account for 15% of the plate depicting ‘optimum’ meal composition. Similarly, the USDA’s MyPlate arrangement is also based on the customary five food groups.
The vegan diet consumed by study subjects derived fewer than 10% of its calories from fat, around 80% from carbohydrates and the rest from protein. In contrast, the ideal U.S. macronutrient intake recommends 20-35% of total calories coming from fat, 45-65% from carbohydrates and 15-25% from protein.
At the start of the new year, most people typically crave lighter meals with fresh fruit and vegetables. The results of this study suggest that going vegan for a week or two after a prolonged period of overindulgence provides a significant health boost, including weight loss.
In fact, going vegan for a while could well be the new detox.