Will Becoming a Vegan Save Your Life?

Recently, one of the biggest names in fitness — perhaps the biggest — made a stunning admission.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, champion bodybuilder, movie star and former governor of California, announced that he is now “99 percent vegan.”

That’s right, the guy who relied on tuna, beef, eggs and chicken to fuel his bodybuilding dreams… the guy who in the 2013 movie Escape Plan, famously said, “You hit like a vegetarian,” has gone to the green side!

 “I stay away more from the meats and more from animal products, and animal proteins, because there was this misconception that that’s the only way you get big and strong, so now I back off that and I feel much better,” said Schwarzenegger, who won the Mr. Olympia contest — bodybuilding’s most coveted prize — seven times.

Schwarzenegger documents his new love of lettuce (and other veggies) in the Netflix documentary “Game Changers”.

But is the Terminator right? Is a vegan or vegetarian diet the secret to good health?

Vegetarian vs. Vegan: What’s the Difference?

First, we should probably explain the difference between vegan and vegetarian. Simply put, it is this: While both vegans and vegetarians avoid eating animals, vegans abstain from consuming animal products — milk, eggs, cheese, honey, etc. — as well.

So, with that out of the way, let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages of a vegan diet.

The Advantages of a Vegan Diet

1) According to Harvard Health, “there’s some evidence that vegetarians have a lower risk for cardiac events (such as a heart attack) and death from cardiac causes. In one of the largest studies — a combined analysis of data from five prospective studies involving more than 76,000 participants published several years ago — vegetarians were, on average, 25% less likely to die of heart disease.

“…In another study involving 65,000 people in the Oxford cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Oxford), researchers found a 19% lower risk of death from heart disease among vegetarians. However, there were few deaths in either group, so the observed differences may have been due to chance.”

What’s more, a 2013 study from the University of Oxford, which was referenced on Livestrong.com, “found that vegetarians have a 32 percent lower risk of hospitalization from cardiovascular disease compared to meat and fish eaters. An analysis of 45,000 volunteers, of whom 34 percent were vegetarian, took into consideration factors such as smoking, diet, exercise and alcohol consumption.”

2) There are numerous studies suggesting that a vegetarian diet can also reduce the risk of getting certain types of cancer, particularly colon cancer. However, data from the Oxford Vegetarian Study and EPIC-Oxford, noted that “fish-eaters had a lower risk of certain cancers than vegetarians,” according to Harvard Health.

3) SFGate reports that “vegetarians tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMI)” than meat-eaters and that vegans “tend to have even lower BMIs and body weights than vegetarians.”

“According to a study published in 2015 in the journal Nutrition, people who adopt a vegan diet tend to lose more weight than those who adopt a vegetarian, semi-vegetarian or pescatarian diet. A research review published in 2014 in the journal Nutrients found that nearly 30 percent of omnivores were overweight or obese, but only about 18 percent of vegetarians and 13 percent of vegans were overweight or obese,” SFGate said.

4) Lastly, there is evidence to suggest that a largely plant-based diet can reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes.

The Disadvantages of a Vegan Diet

As you might guess, there are drawbacks to a vegan diet too.

1) According to a 2015 study published in Talking Nutrition, “vegans and vegetarians are more likely than omnivores to be deficient in certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

“For example, researchers found that almost half of vegans in the study were deficient in zinc, some vegetarians were deficient in vitamin B6 and a significant percentage of vegans were deficient in vitamin B12, which is only naturally occurring in animal-based foods,” SFGate reported.

2) Despite what Schwarzenegger says, getting enough protein can also be an issue for vegans and vegetarians, particularly those who are elite athletes.

As pointed out in a review of “Game Changers” on the Perfect Keto blog, most plants do not offer the full complement of essential amino acids (EAAs).

“As defined by the FDA, a complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Incomplete proteins do not have sufficient amounts of one or more of the essential amino acids. Or, they’re missing amino acids altogether,” the blog notes.

“Animal protein sources come naturally packed with all of the essential amino acids in amounts that your body needs to function. Plant proteins [apart from soy], on the other hand, do not.

“This may not sound like that big of a deal, but when it comes down to your actual diet, the question becomes: how much rice and beans do you need to eat to make the same amount of complete protein in a 4oz piece of chicken?”

3) Related to the above, protein quality is often a problem for those on vegan diets as well. In addition to assessing the amino acid profile previously discussed, the PDCAAS (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score) also considers the bioavailability and digestibility of the protein in question.

A PDCAAS of 1.0 is considered ideal.

Eggs, milk and whey protein all have a PDCAAS of 1.0, while beef checks in at 0.92. Among the top vegetarian proteins, only soy protein isolate has a perfect rating, followed by pea protein concentrate (0.89), cooked rolled oats (0.67) and cooked kidney beans (0.65).

4) Furthermore, Harvard Health notes: “Diets that include no fish or eggs are low in EPA and DHA. Our bodies can convert ALA in plant foods to EPA and DHA, but not very efficiently. Vegans can get DHA from algae supplements, which increase blood levels of DHA as well as EPA (by a process called retroversion). DHA-fortified breakfast bars and soy milk are also available. Official dietary guidelines recommend 1.10 grams per day of ALA for women, but vegetarians who consume little or no EPA and DHA should probably get more than that. Good ALA sources include flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, and soy.”

The Bottom Line on a Vegetarian Lifestyle

So, what does all this mean? Should we all be throwing out our steaks and having salad and soy instead?

Frankly, it’s a personal decision, but be aware that whatever you decide, there are great food and beverage options for you. For example, the new and improved Bang® Energy drinks, including the decaffeinated versions, are all vegan-friendly*. 

And if you don’t want to go green, there’s Bang® Keto Coffee, which packs a whopping 20 grams of high-grade protein into each can. Plus, it’s Kosher… but that’s a topic for another day.

*Only the reformulated Bang® Energy drinks have been tested and verified to be gluten-free and vegan-friendly. If you receive cans that have “BCAA Aminos” instead of “EAA Aminos” printed on them, we cannot guarantee that they fall within the gluten-free and vegan-friendly guidelines.

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