What to Know Before Going Vegan
By: Dave Asprey
Not many people know this, but I spent years experimenting with different ways of eating before creating the Bulletproof Diet. One of these was a raw vegan diet. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work for me. In fact, it was harmful and it took a long time for my body to bounce back. Going vegan wrecked my skin, my weight, and my hormones for a long time.
I wasn’t a mac and nut cheese vegan – I was well educated. It still made me sick, as it has for countless others. It’s a story I hear over and over. Many people (including myself) felt amazing at first. Then the health issues started popping up. At that point, the damage was done and it took me years to rehab my gut and get my hormones back on track.
Sometimes you have to find things out for yourself like I did. If you’re considering a vegan diet, read this first. There are things you need to know.
Going vegan, the first three months
When you first go vegan like I did, you can expect about three months of feeling amazing, partly because you are eating less crap (if you’re transitioning from a standard American diet), but also because you’re likely increasing your omega-6 fatty acid intake.
More omega-6s up-regulate thyroid function as your body struggles to deal with it. By then, you will be convinced that the diet is perfect, but it’s important to keep listening to your body. After a couple of years as a vegan, I experienced:
- Bad teeth
- Bad skin
- Hormone imbalance
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Brain fog
Yes, there are a small minority of people who won’t experience symptoms like this after a couple of years as a vegan. But they are a small minority.
Is going vegetarian better than going vegan?
You could make a much stronger argument for being vegetarian, especially if you go to the trouble of figuring out which plant chemicals cause problems for your biology so you can avoid them. Vegetarians can eat egg yolks and butter which are vital for some key nutrients, but they still miss out on collagen.
Another common problem new vegetarians run into is replacing meat protein with a lot of grains and beans. That sends your lectin load through the roof. A vegetarian who eats and ton of grains and legumes will feel a lot worse than a vegetarian who focuses on eating actual vegetables with low lectin starches and healthy fats.
Yes, you can always find cases demonstrating that this is not required for everyone. It’s just what works for the vast majority of people.
Less meat, or zero meat?
If you go the vegan route, you will miss out on vital saturated fats that form hormones and healthy cell membranes. It takes about two years to form new cell membranes throughout the body according to a study I came across while writing my last book.
There is a clear argument for reducing protein, especially animal protein. Too much protein causes inflammation.
If you eliminate animal protein, you miss out on collagen. The Bulletproof Diet is a low-protein diet, with an emphasis on collagen because it has amino acids that help you use the excessive amino acids found in muscle proteins. If you go the Paleo route with its high protein recommendations, you will raise mTOR (a cell regulator) too much which can increase cancer risk and inflammation.
It’s the animal fat that is important, as long as it is not contaminated and as long as the animal ate a natural diet. Sometimes, large-scale farms feed animals with unhealthy seed oils, and it dramatically changes the fatty acid profile. Grass-fed is where it’s at.
Plants aren’t perfect
There is also the issue that plants really don’t want you to eat them or their babies. Since they can’t run away, they defend themselves with chemicals like oxalates and lectins. Some animals can handle them, others get sick and weak.
There are four classes of plant toxins that are accounted for in the Bulletproof Diet roadmap. Depending on your DNA, and probably your gut flora, some of those plant chemicals can stop your mitochondria from working well.
It’s a highly individual thing. Those same plant chemicals might not affect your friends the same way.
That is why there are suspect foods on the Bulletproof Diet roadmap, and it is your job to identify which suspects are guilty for you so that you can eat foods that are biologically compatible with you for the rest of your life. That leads to a longer life and a higher quality of life.
Is being vegan better for the environment?
Then there is the ecological argument that a vegan diet is better for the environment.
Yes, factory farms (not smaller-scale grass-fed farms) burn through resources and produce tons and tons of toxic waste. But, large-scale monocropping, especially corn and soy, causes major problems, too. In order to grow low-calorie yield grains and transport them long distances to feed vegans, you have to destroy huge amounts of native habitat.
And you still need animal poop to make healthy soil. No one talks about this, but when you don’t have animal poop, you have to mine sources of nitrogen and we are rapidly running out of this resource. Artificial fertilizers throw off the soil’s ecosystem and you end up with unbalanced microbes, flooding, and erosion problems.
In contrast, you can graze cattle on natural land that does not require habitat destruction or irrigation – basically land that is not well-suited for farming. If we eat a lot less meat, but higher quality meat, and we eat butter and eggs, our health and lifespan improve, we have more natural spaces, and everybody wins.
This will require distributed food production which is the real issue here. As I write this, my sheep are grazing 20 feet away from me. I grow all of my own food when I am at home, with a few exceptions like white rice.
You don’t have to grow your own food, but if everyone supported the small community farmer instead of big agribusiness, you would see a massive shift in the overall health of the environment and the people living in it.
Eat your vegetables, eat your fat
When I figured all of this out while I was researching and experimenting for the Bulletproof Diet, I lost 100 pounds of fat that I could not lose, but more importantly my inflammation markers all dropped. For the first time in my life I was free of muscle and joint pain that had always been there. Turns out, vegetables that are not compatible with my mitochondrial biology caused the aches and pains.
Few vegans seem to understand this, which is why even famous vegan athletes talk so much about muscle and joint pain.
It’s time to recognize that different fat and different proteins do different things to different people. There are basic rules that seem to work for everyone that are encoded in the Bulletproof Diet roadmap, and there are huge variations in the middle of the road map that require you to do your own homework.
What is perfectly clear is that a typical meal should consist of:
- A plate of vegetables – different types for different people
- High-quality undamaged fats including saturated fats
- Low to moderate amounts of protein
- Perhaps a small amount of low-toxin carbohydrate
What is also clear is something else that’s built into the roadmap – that regular fasting, both intermittent fasting and 24 hour or longer fasting, are required if you want to live a long time. There’s also the new concept of protein fasting that I introduced in the book which is a way to trigger autophagy without having to eat nothing at all. It also manipulates MTOR levels.
Yes, there are thousands of pieces of research that went into this. Including the 1300 references that were in my book on fertility that was a precursor to the Bulletproof Diet.
Meatless isn’t the same as harmless
Large-scale farming causes disruption and death, even if there are no animal products involved. Here are a few of the many ecological disruptions that our eating causes:
- If any of your food has palm oil in it (check your pantry, you’ll be surprised), you’re voting to destroy the land orangutans and people call home.
- Small animals and entire bee colonies take a devastating hit from sprays that are meant to control pests and weeds.
- If you eat anything made from corn, wheat, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds…anything that grows in a giant field and would take your average overalled farmer weeks to harvest, industrial combines do the harvesting for efficiency. Squirrels and bunnies scurry away from Farmer Joe, but can’t escape heavy machinery.
It’s not as obvious if you’re observing the farming process from a distance, but the human diet that causes the least overall harm to animals includes large ruminant herbivores – cattle.
Tips for going vegan
If you’re vegan for religious reasons or because you can’t stomach the idea of eating animals, all I ask is that you’re careful about it. Do your research about which nutrients you’ll miss out on. Watch your body for signs of struggle, even small signs. Something subtle like foggy thinking indicates a big problem.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Choose foods that will keep your blood sugar level. People generally do better on a lower carb vegan diet than on a regular vegan diet.
- Grab a list of high-lectin and high-oxalate foods, and pay attention to how you react when you eat them.
- Opt for real vegetables instead of falling into the common trap of becoming a grain-itarian. You’ll deplete your nutrients and wreck your biology that way.
- Until you know your way around plant proteins, work with a holistic nutritionist so you know you’re getting a full range of amino acids. Your nutritionist will also suggest supplements of vitamins and minerals that you can’t get from plants, like Vitamin B-12.
- Keep in mind that your body uses the animal form of some nutrients better than the plant form. You might need a higher dose or cofactors to help you absorb nutrients.
- Treat this as one of those times that you need to be painfully honest with yourself about how you feel, especially after the three-month mark.
- Processed food is terrible for you. Meat replacements are no exception. They’re full of garbage and inflammatory soy. Eat real vegetables.
Even better, eat small amounts of meat the Bulletproof way: eat low-carb, plant-based with a little meat. You’ll thrive on just a few ounces of animal protein a day, and you don’t have to eat meat every day.
Promise me you’ll re-evaluate often, and that you’ll be completely transparent with your functional medicine doctor about even the most subtle symptoms. The story about recovering from being vegan is one I hear again and again, and I’ve lived it myself. It’s a slow, unpleasant recovery, and I don’t want you to go through that.
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