Tue, Nov-26-19, 03:29
It's time to call out unscientific vegan propaganda
It's time to call out unscientific vegan propaganda
Salad doesn't make men better in the sack
About 15 years ago there was a wonderful spoof school science programme on BBC2 called Look Around You, which would devise ever sillier experiments. But who needs old-fashioned satire when you can watch the Netflix programme, the Game-Changers, which purports to show how a vegan diet can improve athletic performance?
Most outrageously of all it claims that that a vegan diet can boost a man’s erection by 500 per cent. Wow, pass me another carrot patty. Or maybe not. It turns out that the ‘experiment’ claiming to show this involved, er, three college athletes over, er, two days. On the first evening they were fed burritos made from beef, pork and chicken. They then had the strength of their erection measured during the night. The following evening they were fed vegan burritos and were again measured in the night.
So in other words these men had been “vegan” for precisely 24 hours. But if you don’t want to believe that experiment, the series goes on to show endless muscly men, filmed eating green leaves and fruit juice, and who claim that their performance has been improved through eating a diet of nothing but plants.
Comparing these ripped specimens with the skinny, anaemic figures one sees poking around Waitrose’s vegan cabinet, it is hard not to ask: is there an unseen ingredient? Did these vegan body-builders really get to be the size they are by eating overflowing bowls of lettuce or is there some other parallel diet involved: one consisting of large quantities of pills, potions and other nutritional supplements? If you are going to get your nutrients from carefully-measured doses of vitamins and minerals then it doesn’t really matter what you eat – you could get away with a diet of cardboard.
The Netflix show is based on the personal epiphany of its co-producer Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says he feels much better on a vegan diet. But given that he says he built his body-building career on vast quantities of meat and 10-15 eggs a day that is not altogether surprising. It is a wonder he is still alive. You know there is a happy medium out there, Arnie: where you eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables but also a bit of meat, fish and dairy to spare you having to gulp down supplements of Vitamin B12, omega fatty acids and all the other stuff that is going to cause vegans problems if they go without.
It isn’t just Netflix, though. Type ‘vegan diet’ and ‘health benefits’ into Google and you are presented with all kinds of claims: going vegan can reduce your chances of heart disease, cancer and so on.
Even the respectable-looking stuff has something unsatisfactory about it. A study of nurses at George Mason University in Virginia claiming that 74 percent of participants had lowered their cholesterol 21 days into a vegan diet, and that 30 percent claimed they had more energy, turns out also to have a somewhat small sample size: just 19 nurses. In other words, that ’74 percent’ was 14 out of 19 nurses. And where was the control group? If you want to do such an experiment properly you would feed two groups with disguised food -- half of them would eat purely vegan and half of whom would eat some hidden meat.
Vegans like to quote the Adventist Mortality Study, an epidemiological study which has been following the health of 96,000 Adventists in California, and which claims that a vegetarian diet has reduced the risk of colon cancer by 50 percent and overall cancer risk by half. Vegetarian Adventists apparent live between 1.5 and 2.4 years longer than non-vegetarian ones.
But then the same study claims Adventist men live on average 7.7 years longer than California’s non-Adventist men – so what else is going on? Are they sure it is going meat-free which makes them cling on longer – or the hope of living to see the second coming?
Given the history of even reputable epidemiological studies to tell us one thing one minute and then the opposite the next – such as blaming heart disease alternately on saturated fat and sugar – I think I will take all this stuff with a very large pinch of, well, obviously not salt, but some kind of fortifying mineral. Then I’ll go on eating a balanced diet – even though, alas, it doesn’t make for great TV series.
My nails crumbled away when I went vegan and my skin broke out - now I’m ‘veganesque’
When I first went back to eating fish – a salmon salad – after a year spent being a strict vegan, I noticed the effect quite fast.
I felt more alert and aware, as though someone had woken me up. My experience replicated that of actor Anne Hathaway, who said she felt like her brain had “rebooted” when she returned to eating fish after some years eschewing all meat and fish for a plant-based diet.
Nor are we recovering vegans alone. Ellen DeGeneres has added fish and eggs into her formerly strict diet. Tim Shieff, a vegan YouTuber and influencer, has admitted adding meat back on to his plate as a tonic for symptoms such as “digestion issues… fatigue, brain fog, depression, lack of recovery, lack of energy, yawning all the time”, and “waking up stiff”.
And the new BMJ report warning that vegans may be risking serious nutritional deficiency and storing up a litany of health problems could be a wake-up call for the estimated 600,000 Britons who, according to the Vegan Society, now follow a plant-only diet.
I gave up fish, dairy and eggs in a moment of desperation. Having suffered merciless irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for years, I wanted to see if being vegan could end the unpredictable but regular bouts of spasms. Having already experimented with anti-spasmodic drugs, hypnotherapy, peppermint pills and so much more, this was about the only thing I hadn’t tried.
So I played around with various “milks” made of almonds, hazelnuts and cashews until I found Oatly (made from oats), which suited my tastebuds. I liked its sour cream substitute, too.
My grocery basket filled up with marinated tofu and quarter-pound vegan burgers from the Linda McCartney’s range, and sacks of kale and spinach.
And I tapped into a vegan network online where you learn what treat foods you can eat: salt-and-vinegar Pringles, Bourbon biscuits and Fry’s chocolate creams, since you ask.
My family were, for the most part, content. I swapped the macaroni cheese, Spanish omelettes and creamy fish pies for Thai green curries with cashews, Mexican three-bean chillis and pasta with aubergines and courgettes.
At first, I lost weight. And I noticed my IBS was improving. But my skin was not happy, with regular breakouts, and my nails crumbled away. I added in a vitamin B spray and ate vegan calcium tablets and kept going.
Around the time the boredom kicked in – Christmas, somewhat inevitably – I realised I wasn’t losing weight any more and indeed, the pounds were creeping back on. This seemed like the breaking of an unwritten contract that if you restrict your diet in such a draconian way, you can sneakily diet without having to think about it.
I looked at my overall eating habits and realised I was becoming hugely bread and peanut butter-reliant. Calories, it seems, don’t care if you are vegan or not.
Now I’m ‘veganesque’. The meat-free family meals we enjoyed – the chillis and curries – are still on the menu. I’ve probably upped my fruit and veg intake to seven or eight portions a day with ease.
But I no longer have to pretend that vegan “cheeses” are edible. Sorry, they’re not. Pass the comté.