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Benefit from a vegan diet without adopting one

Consistency has been called many things. What builds trust. A great comfort. The way to be.

Even “the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

When Oscar Wilde said that, though, he was referring to a type of consistency that keeps you living in the past. A “foolish consistency,” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, that’s the “hobgoblin of little minds.”

A sensible consistency, however, helps when it comes to maintaining or optimizing your health and fitness - but only most of the time. That’s because, as Henry Ford once observed, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

In other words, you need to break not just bad but also good dietary and exercises patterns if you want to make them better. Which begs a question that seems to be attributed to no one: When should you leave well enough alone?

It’s a question only you can answer for yourself. The gist of last week’s article explains why.

It focused on an eight-week Stanford study that recruited 22 pairs of twins and found a “significant protective cardiometabolic advantage” to a healthy vegan diet when compared to a healthy omnivorous one. That pronouncement is based, in part, on the difference recorded in the LDL-cholesterol levels between the groups at the study’s conclusion.

But - and it’s a big but - all of the twins already had healthy LDL-cholesterol levels at the start. So the real takeaway here is that you can always take any good diet and make it better.

And you decide, and you alone, when to change bad to good - or if good needs to get better.

If you decide, for instance, the number you see when you step on the scale is too high, here’s a diet study to consider. But first, it’s worth restating that the Stanford twins study featured in last week’s article found the twins on a healthy vegan diet lost on average 4.2 pounds in eight weeks more than the twins eating a healthy omnivore diet - even though weight loss wasn’t the goal and all participants were instructed to eat “until they were satiated throughout the study.”

This new diet study, sponsored by The Yale Diabetes Center and published November 28 by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition is additional analysis of research first published in JAMA Open Network in November 2020, which had half a group of 244 overweight omnivores (mostly female with an average age of 54) follow a vegan diet for 16 weeks. The other half was told to continue eating normally and all involved were instructed not to alter their exercise routines or “preexisting medical regimens.”

All participants self-reported dietary intake, and those going vegan attended weekly classes for “detailed instruction” on how to do it. But unlike the twins study, no additional guidance was provided.

Ultimately, the researchers took the three final days of the vegans’ dietary intake info and graded it. For our purposes, we’ll avoid the researchers’ verbiage and rename the three grades given as (1) typical, (2) really healthy, or (3) unhealthy.

Yes, a vegan diet can be unhealthy.

A Medical News Today article, in fact, calls it the vegan’s “dirty little secret.” That while foods like potato chips and Oreos are viewed as junk food, neither has a single ingredient that’s animal-based.

Yet what this study found is that even the vegan diets that graded out as unhealthy created weight loss. Although it was only about half the amount lost by those whose diets were typical, it allowed the overall weight-loss average for all vegan dieters in the study to be 13 pounds in 16 weeks.

For those who would argue that any dietary change that causes 354 fewer calories to be consumed per day will lead to weight loss, consider the observation made by Stephanie Wells, a registered dietitian and owner of Thyme to Go Vegan Nutrition Services, who was not involved in the study. Unlike the weight loss that results from most fad diets, the weight lost by the vegans in this study “was from body fat and pro-inflammatory visceral fat, not muscle.”

Moreover, the authors of the study noted more of a thermic effect in the vegan diet when comparing it to the control group diet. That means the vegans were burning more of the food they were consuming to digest the food they were consuming than the control group did.

That makes sense since only 10% of the calories consumed by the vegans in the study came from fat, the macronutrient that causes no more than a 3% thermic effect. The average American diet is about 36% fat by calories.

Additionally, the typical American diet is about 22% added sugars, the simple carbohydrate that has a thermic effect of about 5%; whereas high-fiber vegetables can have a thermic effect of 20%.

With that all this mind, it makes sense to end with an observation made by Dr. Christopher D. Gardner, Ph.D., the lead author of the aforementioned twins study: that what’s more important than going strictly vegan is to include more plant-based foods in any diet - especially the typical American’s.