By Maneka Gandhi
The more meat-eaters are pushed on to the back foot by the thousands of people turning vegan every day, the harder they are fighting back. Meat is no longer called meat. It is called protein, and a variety of myths are spread about plant eaters; that they have less muscle mass and worse endurance than their meat eating counterparts.
Do plant eaters lack muscular strength and have a protein deficiency? There is a popular belief that a vegan diet may be associated with a lower exercise performance, due to the lack of certain nutrients in vegans. So, a major study was done by Boutros, Landry–Duval, Garzon and Karelis, and published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in April 2020, to determine whether a vegan diet was detrimental to endurance and muscle strength. The researchers recruited 56 young women, half vegan and half meat eating, to come to a lab to have their physical health tested. All women in the study were between 18 and 35 years old, were healthy, lean, had normal body mass indexes, and active lifestyles.
The researchers wanted to make sure that they were making fair comparisons between groups so they could pinpoint diet as the key factor. Five measures were taken: estimated VO2 max which is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercise of increasing intensity, upper body muscle strength, lower body muscle strength, body composition, and submaximal endurance (a way of estimating “aerobic fitness”). Researchers also asked participants to keep a journal of their food intake. Vegans were chosen if they had been on a plant-based diet for several years.
What were the results? Good news for vegans – as I expected. They found that, in terms of body composition, both groups were of similar body weight, body mass index, total fat percentage, and total lean body mass. Estimated VO2 max, a measure of endurance, was higher and better in the vegan group than in the omnivore group. Vegans also performed significantly higher on the submaximal endurance test. There were no differences observed for general physical activity or in lower body muscle strength. Researchers also found that vegans ate much more vitamin C, dietary fibre, iron, magnesium and much less saturated fat.
The results show that a vegan diet does not affect the endurance and muscle strength of young, active women – except make it better!
How else does a vegan diet help the body? An analysis of 11 studies was done by Wang, F. et al. Effects of Vegetarian/Vegan Diets on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (Journal of the American Heart Association, 2015). This included 832 participants, and seven of the studies were on vegans. The studies lasted from 3 weeks to 18 months. The researchers evaluated changes in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) “good” cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The results showed that vegan/vegetarian diets effectively lowered all cholesterol levels.
In another study, done by Macknin, M. et al. (The Journal of Pediatrics, 2015), 30 children with obesity and high cholesterol levels and their parents followed either a vegan diet, or an American Heart Association (AHA) diet which contained meat/fish/eggs, for 4 weeks. Children following the vegan diet lost 3.1 kg during the study period. This was 197% more than the weight lost by those in the AHA group. Parents in the vegan groups had an average of 0.16% lower HbA1c level, a measure of blood sugar management. They also had lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels than those on the AHA diet.
The GEICO study printed in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2013, had 291 participants from GEICO corporate offices. They followed either a vegan diet or a meat based diet for 18 weeks. Participants who followed the vegan diet for 18 weeks lost an average of 4.3 kg, compared with 0.1 kg in the control group. Total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels dropped by 8 mg/dL in the vegan group, compared to almost no change in the control groups. HDL (good) cholesterol and triglyceride levels both increased more in the vegan groups than in the control group. HbA1c levels dropped by 0.7% in the vegan group, compared to 0.1% in the control group.
A study was done by Barnard, N.D. et al. on the effects of a low fat, plant based diet on body weight, metabolism and insulin sensitivity (The American Journal of Medicine, 2005) of 64 overweight middle aged females, who followed either a low fat vegan or a low fat meat diet for 14 weeks. Participants in the vegan group lost an average of 5.8 kg compared to 3.8 kg) in those on the control diet. Changes in BMI and waist circumference were also greater in the vegan groups.
A Low Fat Vegan Diet improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors with Type 2 Diabetes, according to a study printed in Diabetes Care, 2006. 99 people divided into two groups, one vegan, the other low fat meat. In the vegan group, HbA1c or blood sugar levels fell by 0.96 points. This was 71% more than the other group. In addition, LDL (bad) and total cholesterol levels fell by 10.1–13.6 mg/dL more in the vegan groups than in the ADA group.
Nicholson, A. S. et al. ( Preventive Medicine, 1999). Eleven people with type 2 diabetes followed either a low fat vegan diet or a conventional low fat diet for 12 weeks. In the vegan group, fasting blood sugar levels fell by 28%, compared with a 12% decrease in those following the conventional low fat diet. People on the vegan diet also lost an average of 7.2 kg over 12 weeks. Those on the conventional diet lost an average of 3.8 kg.
I could go on forever because there have been thousands of studies and each one says the same thing: a vegan diet will help you lose weight, bring your blood sugar and cholesterol down and improve your muscle strength and stamina. You need to take your body’s health seriously. It is the only one you will ever have. See the film that can change your life The Game Changers.
(To join the animal welfare movement contact email@example.com, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)