Listening to the Smartest Vegans

Nutritional wars can be quite entertaining. This post is about my place in the latest battles.

As many of you know, I abandoned the low-carb view of Paleo back in 2012. In the post No More Low Carb Lies, I tell that story.  Since then, I have been gradually increasing my carbs. Today my Peasant Diet is quite high in carbs. Lots of potatoes and legumes. What I discovered was the high satiety from these foods not only helped me drop my weight 28 pounds but do it in a way that I never experienced hunger. And I’ve kept the weight off effortlessly for more than a year.

While I was eating my high-carb, low-fat Peasant Diet and getting lean, the Keto Diet was gaining popularity. A repackaged low-carb diet digging up old myths and repeating lies about carbs. I fell for some of those lies a decade ago. Not anymore. I’m wiser now.

Back before I restricted my Twitter access to 15 minutes a day (across 3 accounts), I would enjoy seeing smart bloggers slam the keto arguments. I’d throw out the Likes and Retweets to my new allies in the ongoing nutritional wars.

Then I discovered something most interesting. A few of my allies were vegans. Some were doctors. Smart too. Not the “save Bambi” vegans, but PubMed Warriors delivering knowledge.

WW1 Trench

Me and a vegan attacking the keto lunacy on Twitter. Either that or the Royal Scots in a trench (WW1).

If we agreed that whole food carbs were healthy foods, what else could I learn from them? I decided a few months ago to check out a few podcasts and videos on YouTube from some very impressive vegans. I’m learning a lot and I’m gaining a new respect for a group that I now feel I was too dismissive of before.

I’m not likely to become a vegan, but I am ready to revisit old nutritional arguments with fresh eyes. With the exception of dairy, my diet has been drifting gradually more towards whole food vegan than the meat diet we imagine cavemen ate (but probably didn’t).

Nobody should listen to me for nutritional guidance. Everywhere I turn there are persuasive arguments both for and against most things. I’ll be approaching my decisions as if we don’t know the answers. I’m less concerned about who is right and who is wrong. Instead, I’m looking at the consequences of each side should they end up being wrong.

If the average American eats 222 pounds of meat a year and the average vegan consumes 0 pounds and vegans tend to have better outcomes than most, then 222 is likely too high of a number. Replacing at least some or most of those pounds with legumes and tubers seems to be a smart move for me. Plus it is a journey that I already started a few years ago, even if that wasn’t my intent.

I’m still early on this path and I could change my mind, but for now, I’m experimenting with some of the strongest vegan arguments. I’ve cut out 90% of my dairy and red meat consumption. I’m still eating eggs, white meat, and fish. Since my motivation is nutrition and learning from my choices, I want to see my own results by not moving too many variables at once.

If you have any resources that you would recommend to me, leave a comment. At this time, I’m only interested in the strongest nutritional arguments. Not that the ethical and environmental positions aren’t important, but I want to stick to the nutrition for now.

18 Comments

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  1. I would check Ray Cronise. he jokes about killing an animal but eating the cabbage instead. his podcast with Dr Rhonda Patrick is worth checking out.

  2. Over the years, I noticed a trend in my grandparents’ social circle of moving to a plant based diet and more snacking. Just seems like the traditional 8 oz steak and potatoes meal is to much. They can get 4 meals from that one steak!

  3. Quick question @MAS – I remember you saying in a previous post re: the vast and conflicting nutritional information we’re bombarded with (poss one of your Ray Peat-related posts?) that the best approach was to see what they had in common, and one of them was reducing PUFA.
    By reducing dairy and red meat consumption but eating eggs, white meat, and fish, does that mean reducing saturated fat but keeping PUFA relatively higher?

  4. @SCMelville – I’m not increasing my white meat and egg consumption. I’ve been decreasing red meat and dairy while increasing grains, tubers, and legumes. So my net fat levels are dropping.

    I also should mention that I almost never cook with oil these days. Lots of pressure cooking.

  5. I’m trending to a similar place nutritionally. But what’s the argument for cutting dairy (but not white meat, eggs, etc)? Is it the saturated fat? I’ve switched to mostly non-fat dairy, and I haven’t found good nutritional/health arguments against it from vegans or anyone else.

  6. @Mal – Check out the YouTube channel for “Mic the Vegan” and look for his dairy videos. I’ve now seen 20 or 30 of his videos and the dairy ones made the strongest impact on me. Probably because I have had such a positive view of dairy my entire life. I’m still experimenting and learning. I have not come to any conclusions. No rush.

  7. Very interesting post. I have always been drawn to a starch based diet but I am making a huge effort to listen to my body and how I feel after eating and how stable my energy and blood sugars are between meals. I have noticed a lack of satisfaction from meals with no animal products and I will generally be more food focused if I drop too low in protein. Eggs and sardines with my starch meals make me feel amazing. Could there be some truth in the protein leverage hypothesis?

  8. Excellent vidéo indeed. He makes a very convincing case and I am always impressed by people healing themselves on a potato diet. Maybe I will try another hack next week. After that I am off to France for 7 weeks where I will be considered a freak if I don’t eat gobs of cheese and baguettes. My mother in law thinks anyone who doesn’t eat a traditional French diet has an eating disorder!

  9. I had a feeling that you might get interested in veganism when I saw you at Vegetable Police video 🙂
    I am vegan myself (plant-based at first, but later I dived into ethics as well) but I realize there is a lot of misinformation or exaggeration in this crowd – the sin basically all motivated enough movements have in common. Nutrition Facts hosted(?) by MD Michael Greger has a ton of information. Sure, it’s skewed towards WFPB, but science presented there is legit. One could say that Mic the Vegan you mentioned sort of regurgitates info from Nutrition Facts with his own spin about it.

    On unrelated note – have you ever stumbled upon some longevity forum like CR Society? They collect a lot of information on longevity, a lot of vegans/WFPB dieters out there, though some are into some dubious practices like biohacking, nootropics and keto diet. I am yet to hear a good reason for any of these things, but I keep my ears open.

  10. @Marcin – I have not looked at “CR Society”, but I am skeptical of Calorie restriction for longevity. Periods of protein restriction might be enough (Fasting Mimicking Diet or Protein Cycling Diet). I’m no scientist, but Dr. Longo and others have been persuasive to me on this point.

  11. @MAS – Oh, don’t mind the name of the forum (CR Society). Most of people there (regularly commenting sub-population at least) came to conclusion that most probably maintaining bodyfat %, not activating mTor pathways, keeping growth hormones low-ish and overall healthy lifestyle, etc. is the way to go. There are some knowledgeable guys, like Michael R or Dean Pomerleau – their posts is a worthwile read.

  12. @Marcin – Good to know. Thanks.

  13. Always enjoying your content MAS, and intrigued by the “smart vegans” open-mindedness you’re showing. I’m listening to some of the youtubers you recommended, and of course agree with what you (and Paul Jaminet) already convinced me of a while ago – humans are well-suited for starch consumption.

    I do have a thought about your comment: “If the average American eats 222 pounds of meat a year and the average vegan consumes 0 pounds and vegans tend to have better outcomes than most, then 222 is likely too high of a number.”

    Imagine a place where the average person smokes 10 cigarettes a day, drinks 5 beers a day, and eats 2 oranges a day. If a small part of society avoided cigarettes, beer, and oranges, they will be healthier overall. But their health advantage would come entirely from eliminating beer and cigs, and the optimal number of oranges to eat each day could actually be 3 or 4.

    Thus, it is at least plausible that the optimal amount of meat to eat is actually more than 222lbs, and that better outcomes enjoyed by vegans come entirely from avoiding caloric excess, avoiding fried/processed foods, and smoking/drinking less than the average person.

    I’m not saying this is true, simply that it’s quite possible and the assumption that optimal is <222 seems to be a logical mis-step based on associational data.

    Thoughts?

  14. @Bryce – Interesting questions. Some random thoughts.

    1- I don’t believe there is a population that has been studied that meets the criteria of high meat consumption for multiple decades where all other habits were healthy that showed a better outcome than vegans. If the carnivore diet continues to be popular and we can track those outcomes then maybe we can learn something from them.

    2- One of the problems with meat is the AGEs produced from cooking. Grilling and heat temp cooking tends to be the most problematic. If you consider high-heat cooking to be a form of processed food (I would), then a healthy meat eater would favor more pressure cooking or other lower/slower cooking methods. Not impossible to do, but more planning would be needed.

    3- If you eat a lot of meat, you are eating the fat of an animal that (like us) stores environmental toxins. Even the organic pastured animals are breathing less than perfect air and drinking less than perfect water.

    4- If the cuts of meat were super lean, you’d address some of the fat problem. The protein would be high which might keep your weight in check, which is good. With your appetite suppressed, you’d need to make sure you would get the micronutrients and fiber from other foods. Probably doable.

    5- There are other health concerns that the vegans raise, which I’m sure you can guess. I’m not prepared to bring those up or defend those positions. They are not fringe arguments either.

  15. MAS, one by one.

    1 – Certainly agree. Not advocating anything like a carnivore diet (though I do like it as an elimination diet temporarily). I think plenty of starch, fruit, cooked veggies are appropriate. But you also hit the nail on the head – there really is no data to show one way or another what the actual all-cause mortalities are for otherwise healthy populations where the only variable is whole animal vs whole plant sources of energy.

    2. AGE’s may be a problem. Much of our meat is gently/pressure cooked. I would definitely be keen to see any research on that topic that isn’t epidemiological. Much of the meat humans did eat over the past 500k-1m yrs was likely grilled, right? How long would a species need steady exposure to a stressor like AGE’s to be able to deal with it without it being seriously problematic?

    3/4. I mainly buy pastured meat, which is pretty lean, and trim much of (but not all of) the fat for enjoyments sake. Also, organs, egg yolks, minimal but high quality dairy colorful fruits/veggies, shellfish, etc. Not too worried about micronutrients.

    Thanks for engaging and keep sharing your thought-provoking opinions.

    Without feeling like you have to defend any of the claims therein, is there a particular “smart vegan” video by Mic or another that contains arguments you found extremely novel? Beyond the starch discussion which you and I already agree on?

  16. @Bryce – Right now I am just enjoying the vegan vs keto videos for their entertainment value.

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