Updated: Aug 23
A controversial topic but one that is becoming more prevalent in society and that is veganism. Not only as a diet but as an ideology, an ethical stance essentially it's an entire lifestyle change. It's a complicated subject and on our podcast episode, it took us over 2 hours to discuss. If you'd prefer to listen to our thoughts then listen down below where the 4 of us discuss ethics, performance, misconceptions and socioeconomic. 4? Yes we are joined by Mark Jackson from @strongtobeuseful. A vegan "PowerBuilder" who we believe has a great approach to the topic so he was a welcome addition to this weeks episode.
In this article, I'm going to cover some key points. I'm not going to cover absolutely everything discussed in the episode otherwise this article will end up turning into a short novel! Let's start with the main reason many including myself decide to go vegan. Ethics.
It's a fact that in order for us as human beings to consume dairy, eggs, meat and so on that there must be a victim, whether that's the ultimate slaughter of an animal, the constant artificial insemination of cows to produce milk. The list goes on. As a society, we accept this. Consciously? Perhaps not. Down below is a video from "Earthling Ed" He explains it far better than I ever could so I implore you to watch the full video. Don't worry he's not a shouty militant vegan.
Something I took away from this what his mention of the "Ostrich effect". He is essentially saying that when are beliefs, culture, social status, way of life etc are challenged many of us will dig our head in the dirt and pretend it's not there. This applies to many parts of our lives not just veganism. A good example of this would be let's say you and your family have steak every Friday it's something you have done for years and years and is a staple of your week. Now someone like Ed comes along and shows you the cold hard truth of how that steak is now on your plate and explains that in 2020 the reality is there are alternatives. Now Ed has just challenged something that is a family tradition something you have done for years. What do you do? You either admit you don't care about animal welfare, give your counter argument (there are some!) or you dig your head in the dirt pretend you're listening but in reality, you are pretending it's not there. It's a complicated subject but I believe a lot of it boils down to social norms, upbringing, and an inherent desire to be apart of the "flock" whether that's consciously or subconsciously.
Before we move onto some of the common misconceptions I want to give an example of what some would call a militant vegan. Joey Carbstrong. Search him up on YouTube and he has numerous videos debating with the public on the issue. I think his approach works for some but as we discussed some may be put off by it.
The Issue of Protein
A common misconception is that once on a vegan diet you can simply not get enough protein or that the quality of it isn't good enough for building muscle and the like. This is simply not true. Bottom line is is that if you are getting sufficient protein for your activity level then regardless of the source you should be having no problems. A great point Mark made on the podcast was that once you get to those higher ranges (1g per Ibs of bodyweight) you essentially become saturated with the amino acids needed to build muscle, become stronger. The problem comes with lack of education. We have been brought up being told that things like chicken, beef, eggs, whey protein etc are the building blocks for high protein foods. The reality is that if you look into plant-based alternatives they are in abundance. Here are some examples of great vegan protein.
Soy. An incredibly affordable, convenient protein source. Used in loads of meat alternatives such as meat-free burgers, mince and chicken. Let's also not forget Soy milk as a fantastic alternative to regular dairy milk.
Lentils. An incredibly cheap source. Bag of 500g lentils £1. That bag has 125g of protein in it. Lentil ragu is a favourite of mine. Be wary though that this is a carb source as well so if monitoring macro intake this is crucial to know.
Peas. Yes, peas. This goes for some green vegetables in general. Broccoli, spinach etc. Peas offer a good amount of protein and then obviously all the other benefits of having vegetables. A lot of vegan protein shakes actually use pea protein in them. Remember it all adds up!
Spirulina. This is a blue/green algae that offer an exceptional nutritional profile. I use it in a "snack shake" to increase my protein intake. in a 10g serving, you get 7g of high-quality protein. Classed as a "superfood" if you look it up!
Nuts and seeds.
Nutritional Yeast. This stuff is amazing. Great to sprinkle onto meals. Has a cheesy taste to it so great for pasta etc. Decent amount of protein per serving and normally fortified with B12 amongst others.
BEANS! Beans, in general, are a brilliant source of not only protein but fibre as well (which a lot of people are sorely lacking in!) Black beans, kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas are also classed as beans.
Protein shakes. These are getting a lot better now and there are so many options out there for an affordable price so as non-vegans do when they take shakes to supplement protein vegans can do it as well no problem.
Bottom line is there are so many options if you do your research. To say that you can't get enough or the quality isn't there just simply isn't true. Here is an example of a great tasting recipe that utilises quinoa and black beans for that protein punch. Recommend 2 servings to maximise "gains".
Speaking of protein let's address the issue that is "If you drink soy milk you're gonna get boobs". There was actually a case of gynecomastia whereupon further inspection the guy was drinking roughly 7 pints of soy milk a day. What a maniac. Here is what the study found in regards to this unusual case.
Objective: To document a case of gynecomastia related to ingestion of soy products and review the literature. Methods: We present the clinical course of a man with gynecomastia in relation to ingestion of 2 different soy products and review related literature. Results: A 60-year-old man was referred to the endocrinology clinic for evaluation of bilateral gynecomastia of 6 months' duration. He reported erectile dysfunction and decreased libido. On further review of systems, he reported no changes in testicular size, no history of testicular trauma, no sexually transmitted diseases, no headaches, no visual changes, and no change in muscular mass or strength. Initial laboratory assessment showed estrone and estradiol concentrations to be 4-fold increased above the upper limit of the reference range. Subsequent findings from testicular ultrasonography; computed tomography of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis; and positron emission tomography were normal. Because of the normal findings from the imaging evaluation, the patient was interviewed again, and he described a daily intake of 3 quarts of soy milk. After he discontinued drinking soy milk, his breast tenderness resolved and his estradiol concentration slowly returned to normal. Conclusions: This is a very unusual case of gynecomastia related to ingestion of soy products. Health care providers should thoroughly review patients' dietary habits to possibly reveal the etiology of medical conditions.
Martinez J, Lewi JE. An unusual case of gynecomastia associated with soy product consumption.Endocr Pract. 2008;14(4):415-418. doi:10.4158/EP.14.4.415
Essentially even if you were to have soy with every meal it really isn't practical enough to get enough to develop "man boobs". On further research, you actually get a high level of isoflavones (what causes the boobs) in other foods and things like beer as well! Yes, beer! So for those who say soy is bad etc perhaps put down the 6 pack of Stella if you're that worried!
Lack of vitamin B12. This has come about due to the fact that you can get B12 from meat, fish etc. So take those away and you're not getting B12 anymore, right? Most plant-based foods, milk, nutritional yeast and even most meat replacements actually fortify B12 so it's actually hard to not get enough, in fact, you are probably getting more than you would usually. Fortified!! That's not good!! I can hear you saying. Let's look at this direct quote from a great article from Vegan Life.
"This is where it gets interesting. In most cases this form of fortified vegan-friendly B12 is not bound to protein, therefore it has a greater bio-availability (increased and easier rate of absorption through the gut lining), unlike animal-based versions which rely more on the efficiency of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid in the stomach to break it down to a smaller component, allowing it to pass into the bloodstream. Not only is this fantastic for those that choose to eat a plant-based diet, but also for those who suffer from digestive problems. Digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chrohn’s Disease, Dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut flora), or low stomach acid production can negatively affect the way food is digested and absorbed, due to either an imbalance of essential bacteria, a physical manifestation, or inflammation. This readily digestible form of B12 does not require your digestive system to work as vigorously, and therefore may help increase absorption rates dramatically where digestion may otherwise be compromised. It must also be noted that the elderly may also be at risk of B12 deficiency due to declining digestive function with age. Therefore, these fortified versions would also make a perfect addition to their pre-existing diet."
For those of you who are screaming it's not natural at the screen, here's some food for thought. The appeal to nature thing is just a fallacy. We weren't meant to fly. We have planes. We aren't naturally built to move at 70mph. We have cars. You are literally reading this over the invisible technology known as the internet on a device so beyond what is "natural". We are so advanced now that if we can get B12 fortified in without having to create a victim then I'm certainly on board.
Please note that out of every microgram of Vitamin B12 obtained through diet,
approximately 56% is absorbed. Therefore to go above and beyond this is acceptable, due to B12 not having any known adverse side effects or toxicity risks.
Lack of vitamin D. I'll keep this short and sweet. From a UK residency standpoint, it's the general consensus that most of us should be supplementing with vitamin D especially those of colour due to us not getting enough sun. Once again due to this most vegan foods & milks are actually fortified with it in.
Iron. Once again the same can be said for iron. This is being fortified into numerous plant-based alternatives so it should not be an issue.
Lack of calcium. 100% you need calcium and in the society, we live in today we are constantly told you need dairy to "make your bones stronger". It's 2020 and it's simply not the case. Even before the alternatives, we have leafy greens that offer large amounts of calcium. Let's say you don't eat loads of leafy greens and love your milk? Well simply put all the milk replacements I've seen actually contain the exact same amount of calcium as dairy milk and in my opinion offer a healthier option in terms of lower levels of sugar (including the sweetened versions), lower levels of saturated fat and if you get soy you will be getting the same amount of protein as well.
I know some of you will be saying "It doesn't taste nice in my tea". We are in a society where we have been brought up with the taste of regular milk in our teas, coffees, on our cereal etc. This has become a constant taste that we are used to. When you change that it's a massive shock from the norm at the automatic response is no not having it! I get it. As we harped on about in the podcast gradual change is crucial to success. When I first tried soy milk in my coffee I was disgusted, I then tried hazelnut, was disgusted, I then tried oat milk and it wasn't bad and over time I've completely adjusted to it and don't miss normal milk at all. The point I'm making is to try them all embrace change and if you really don't like any of them after giving it a fair run then that's life. We can't all like everything!
Going vegan is healthy. This is simply not true. With the stigma around veganism slowly disappearing more and more people are making the switch. This creates a demand for things such as treats. So vegan pizza, vegan chocolate, vegan ice cream etc. When people say you'll be healthier they are referring to a whole foods plant-based diet with plenty of whole grains, vegetables, beans etc. Going vegan is an ethical stance and not one to be mistaken with a healthy choice.
Going vegan is expensive. We mentioned a lot in the episode that education is key. Even Tom and Andy said yeah it can be expensive when the reality is it's really not. The problem is is that veganism is sometimes associated with hipster cafes and avocado on toast with sprinkles of magic and wonder etc. The real core foods like fruit, vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu and even normal foods like pasta and bread are all super cheap. As I mentioned earlier in the article, £1 for a 500g of lentils. Tofu is £2 for 2 portions. Even the plant-based alternatives to meat are affordable. Plant-based chicken, £2.50. Compare that to normal chicken breast and you won't be far off. Yes, you may see vegan Ben & Jerry's for £5 a tub but normal Ben & Jerrys can be expensive and ice cream isn't exactly a staple food. I think what a lot of these companies have played off is that if you are vegan for the ethical side you are going to essentially pay anything but now with it becoming more popular with greater demand, there is more competition out there so prices have had to come down.
Socioeconomics. Tom's favourite buzz word but this links closely to being expensive that it's not just about price. Because we have this basic template of what we have been eating for years it's super easy and convenient to smash together a non-vegan meal and convenience is crucial if you are let's say a single mum with 3 kids. Sometimes convenience trumps ethics for these families and that's the reality of it. Same can be said for "food deserts" these are places that perhaps don't have access to the foods in question and only have access to cheap low-quality ready meals. These are just a part of the problem, not the entire problem. Now the evidence shows that these places do exist but a counter-argument to them is that even when given the opportunity will these people choose the other option? Will they choose the fruit and vegetables over the pizza and icecream. This study doesn't think so.
Crucial takeaway? More education is needed. I kept saying this in the podcast and that is we need to educate. If someone doesn't know the facts or reality of a situation then are they really to blame? "Health isn't cool" We are never really impacted by bad health choices immediately. Smoking takes decades to cause serious harm, eating an unhealthy diet doesn't lead to type 2 diabetes in a week. We need to continue to educate on the dangers of bad nutrition and bad health choices. This study essentially says that even when presented with healthier options, people chose what they normally do. Habit? Not knowing how to perhaps prepare vegetables and the like into tasty meals? There are so many factors at play here and it's our job in the health and fitness industry to educate. The picture below reinforces the sheer amount of factors at play.
Final Points. Remember any drastic change from the norm, any habitual change will take time. If this is something you're interested in then I implore you to take your time and slowly adjust. Make a few swaps here and there. If you go flash to bang you will simply have loads of cravings not really know what you need to eat and essentially fail. Or don't change? We all live our own lives and can make our own choices, it's what works well for individuals that is crucial for success. If you have anything you'd like to discuss or are really against anything I've said please get in touch. We are all about learning and further education. I don't want to be in an echo chamber I want to talk to people from all different viewpoints and opinions and that's crucial for growth in my opinion. Example of this is that on the podcast episode It was only myself and Mark as vegans and Tom and Andy who are not. No shouting, just great discussion.
Back next week with more health and fitness related information to wrap your brains around! Speak soon.