Vegan diets will deplete all essential nutrients and make you tired. Keto diets will clog your arteries and cause heart disease.
Vegan diets will make you live twice as long. Keto diets will prevent and even reverse Alzheimer’s disease.
Statements like the above are the common rhetoric you see promoting or dissing keto and vegan diets. Both points of view are incredibly short-sighted. The devil is in the details. To truly find which diet is best, you need to closely examine the details – all of them!
In today’s article, I’m going to do just that. A focused effort on the keto versus vegan debate. I’ll present the best arguments from both sides. By the end of this article, you’ll be empowered with information to choose which diet is best for you!
Maybe vegan or keto isn’t for you – and that’s ok
I say don’t limit yourself to vegan vs keto. Researchers will always struggle to find the perfect human diet. Regardless of what diet or nutrition plan you try, if you don’t feel good on it, try something else!
I guarantee someone out there has created a diet/nutrition plan for just about anything and everyone. I mean, there’s even the ketotarian diet – a plant-based way of eating keto. So, if you hate conflict and love aspects of both keto and vegan diets, go ketotarian.
Don’t feel painted into a corner. Your decision doesn’t have to be either keto or vegan. By the end of this article, you’ll be empowered with enough information on both keto and vegan diets to make up your own mind – even if that means that neither of these diet plans is for you.
Let’s get going!
Don’t change your diet based on Netflix documentaries
In 2017, a documentary called The Magic Pill arrived on Netflix. The keto diet was thrust into the spotlight. You could eat all the butter and bacon you wanted. And it was healthy!
In 2019, The Game Changers was released. Veganism was cool again. And the plant-based way of eating prevented every disease known to man.
I haven’t watched either of these documentaries. I probably never will. Though I’ve read a ton about each of them. Specifically on how biased each film was. The majority of those involved in both films (doctors, producers, narrators etc.) had glaring conflicts of interest. Both films chose to interview only those who support their own narrative.
This is the confirmation bias at work – you search for the information that supports your point of view and ignore the rest. It seems to be how most documentary films are made. While it may make for a more watchable film, it is not how you should be making decisions about your health.
Both of these films completely ignore the other side. You, dear reader, need to know about the other side. It’s the only way to make an informed decision. This is why you should never take nutritional advice from movies.
Let the movies inspire questions. Look deeper into your questions. Examine arguments against your preferred points of view. Look for the best arguments on both sides of the table. Then, make your decision.
Don’t change your diet based on Netflix documentaries. As you’ll soon learn, the data used by a lot of these studies is just plain wrong.
Why you need to be extremely critical of nutrition headlines
You can’t study nutrition like you study a drug.
Drugs are relatively easy to study. Step one, get three groups together. Group 1 gets to take the actual drug. Group 2 takes a placebo (a fake version of the drug). Group 3 gets no intervention – they carry on doing what they were doing.
Step 2, have the three groups do through a 60-day trial. Step 3, compare the results of the three groups. If Group 1 got better outcomes than groups 2 and 3, you’ve got a drug that works. It’s a relatively straightforward process.
Studying nutrition is nowhere near that easy. Nutritional studies are often known as epidemiological studies. Epidemiology is the study and analysis of the distribution of patterns of health and disease conditions in defined populations. (1)
If you were doing a nutritional epidemiological study, you’d get a large sample of the population – let’s say ten thousand people. And this is where it gets ridiculous… You ask your study participants how many times in the past year they consumed a particular food. Something along the lines of:
How often did you drink milk in the past year?
I don’t remember what I ate 3 days ago. Let alone what I ate over the past year. How could this information possibly be accurate? It’s based on a guess!
Yet this is how data is collected in the world of epidemiology. Take a look at the below image – that’s an actual example of a question from an epidemiological nutrition study. A study used to give you advice regarding which foods are healthy and which are unhealthy.
Researchers take the results of these surveys and look for patterns within the data. It is these types of studies that create dramatic news headlines like “red meat causes cancer” or “butter will give you a heart attack“. These headlines are spurred by the patterns researchers found in people’s food surveys.
Worth considering, when you get a large enough pool of data, you’re going to find connections. It’s inevitable. But a lot of these connections are nothing more than random chance. Check out a website called Spurious Correlations. There, you’ll find just how ridiculous patterns in data can be. A similar thing happens in nutrition studies. With enough data, you’ll find connections. But almost all of these connections occur by nothing more than random chance.
The conclusions drawn by epidemiological studies are incredibly inaccurate. So inaccurate that 80% of the conclusions they draw are later proven wrong or inaccurate in well-designed studies. (2) Epidemiological studies are so fraught with error, that many scientists are claiming this way of research is not at all scientific and should not be used. (3, 4)
The next time you see a study touting the health benefits of a vegan, keto, or any other sort of diet, remain skeptical. The proposed benefit was probably discovered using epidemiological evidence. It should not be considered factual.
As we head into the vegan vs keto debate, keep all this in mind. Just because a study said vegan diets do this or keto diets do that, does not mean it to be true.
Vegan vs Keto – the caveats
What do you think would happen if you took an overweight, out-of-shape, pre-diabetic individual that primarily eats packaged or processed food and put him on a whole food vegan diet?
He’d feel better, that’s what.
He’d probably lose weight. His pre-diabetic condition would likely improve. He’d have more energy. Supporters of veganism would claim that the vegan diet can help you lose weight, reverse diabetes, and increase energy.
Not so fast…
What do you think would happen if you took an overweight, out-of-shape, pre-diabetic individual that primarily eats packaged or processed food and put him on a whole food keto diet?
He’d feel better, that’s what.
He’d probably lose weight. His pre-diabetic condition would likely improve. He’d have more energy. Supporters of keto diets would claim that the keto diet can help you lose weight, reverse diabetes, and increase energy.
What you see happening here is yet another big-time issue with nutrition studies. Most studies on veganism, paleo, Mediterranean, keto, etc. diets take unhealthy members of the population and put them on one of the proposed diets.
Lo and behold, those participating in the proposed diet feel better. But this is not because of the diet itself. It’s because your study participants are no longer eating chocolate bars, potato chips, and microwaved dinners.
If you replace chocolate bars, potato chips, and microwaved dinners with whole foods, you’re going to feel better. It doesn’t matter what diet you follow so long as you’re replacing processed food with real food. You’re going to reverse or improve your diabetes or high blood pressure or excess weight. But you experience those wonderful results regardless of which diet you chose to follow.
The issue is not vegan vs keto but processed food vs whole/real food. When you’re looking at any diet study, make sure you know what the participants were eating before the study started.
Even more bias in nutrition studies
If you aren’t questioning the validity of nutrition studies yet, this section will convince you. Another massive issue with studying vegan, keto, or any other diet is something known as the healthy user bias. The healthy user bias alone can completely sway the results of a nutrition study.
How many vegans smoke?
How many paleo dieters do CrossFit?
I can guarantee you there are far fewer smokers in the vegan population than in the general population. Similarly, I’d bet my house that paleo dieters exercise way more than the general population. These are just two examples of the healthy user bias.
This bias suggests that adherents to a particular diet are more likely to engage in many other health-promoting activities. For example, vegans or keto dieters are more likely to be of healthy weight, practice meditation/stress reduction, avoid smoking, exercise more, drink less, etc.
When you draw a conclusion from an epidemiological study, you neglect to include all the other health-promoting behaviors of your study participants.
Was it the vegan/keto diet that helped these people live longer?
Or, was it that they exercised, had lower stress levels, and avoided smoking?
You can’t know the answer to these questions because this variable is rarely controlled in epidemiological studies. Most studies completely neglect to control for this bias. When they do, the differences between vegan or keto diets shrink dramatically!
Ok, I hope I’ve done enough to help you begin questioning the sensational headlines published by the media. Now, let’s explore the evidence-based positives and negatives of vegan and keto diets!
Vegan vs Keto – the positives
Ok, let’s get into the weeds. Both keto and vegan have their strengths. In this section, we’ll discuss exactly what the strengths of each diet are.
1. Weight loss
The majority of the population is dealing with some form of blood sugar imbalance. Be it diabetes, pre-diabetes, or even low blood sugar. Keto diets are absolutely incredible at balancing blood sugar. By balancing blood sugar, you balance insulin. Reducing high levels of insulin is the key to weight loss. No diet reduces insulin better than the keto diet.
Insulin aside, keto diets help you feel full. When you reduce your calories, you feel hungry. In order to stick to a diet, you rely on willpower. But on keto, satiety is felt throughout the day. You get willpower out of the picture and calorie reduction becomes a breeze.
2. Blood sugar imbalances
Type 2 diabetes is an epidemic in modern societies. Depending on the study you read, it seems that 10% of the population has diabetes and another 30% of the population has pre-diabetes. (7) This means almost half of the population has blood sugar issues! (8)
If you want to balance your blood sugar and even reverse type 2 diabetes, go keto. I’ve found no better way of eating to help patients regulate their blood sugars. (9)
3. Brain health
Keto diets protect your brain. If you have a family history of cognitive decline, adopting a keto diet is in your best interest. New studies suggest keto diets can be useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. (8, 9)
Other studies have found keto diets to improve GABA levels which results in a decrease in brain fog. (10) If one of the worlds leading Alzeheimer’s researchers is describing cognitive decline as diabetes for the brain and recommending a keto diet, you’d be wise to pay attention! (11)
1. Improved gut health
Eating the super-high levels of fiber found in a vegan diet has been shown to be incredible for your gut health. A 2019 study found even a short-term vegan diet to improve numbers of beneficial gut microbes. (12)
Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS in the developed world. (13) IBS is a condition that is thought to be in part related to altered gut microbes. While the high fiber found in vegan diets may not be ideal for IBS, it’s certainly way better than eating the standard Canadian diet.
2. High levels of antioxidants
Eating nothing but fruits and veggies will seriously increase your antioxidant levels. Remember, antioxidants are found in fresh fruits and veggies! High levels of antioxidants have been shown to improve cancer and heart disease. (14)
If all you’re eating is fruits and veggies, your antioxidant levels are going to be way higher than any other diet out there. Vegan diets are miles ahead of everything else for antioxidant content.
3. Reduced cardiovascular risk
Compared to omnivorous diets, vegan diets have been shown to be incredibly helpful at lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease. (15) Plant-based diets are thought to do this by lowering your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.
Yet another benefit of vegan diets lies in their ability to reduce TMAO levels. (16) TMAO can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes. TMAO is produced when your gut bacteria digest animal-based proteins. It is thought that the microbiome of vegans offers a protective effect on TMAO levels.
Vegan vs Keto – the negatives
Now that you know the strengths of both keto and vegan diets, it’s time to look at the downside risks for each way of eating!
1. Dirty keto
Just like any way of eating, it is possible to make keto unhealthy. Yes processed, cheese-stuffed hotdogs cooked in margarine are keto. No, that meal is not in any way healthy.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of eating processed keto foods and thinking you’re eating healthy. You’re not. Don’t fall for the dirty keto trap!
2. High levels of saturated fat intake
Saturated fat’s link to heart disease is starting to be questioned. But for now, I think it’s wise to follow the guidelines for saturated fat intake. (17) Keto dieters can find themselves gorging on saturated fat. This has the potential to increase the risk of heart disease.
If you’re going keto, keep an eye on your cholesterol levels. If you find your LDL cholesterol increases, be sure to check out your LDL sub particle number. You need to know if your elevated LDL levels have the potential to increase your cardiovascular risk. (18)
1. Dirty vegan
Yes, tofurkey is vegan. No, it’s not healthy. Refined or processed foods are not what you should be consuming – vegan or not. You’re not going to feel better or reverse any disease eating tofurkey sandwiches with veganaise.
If you’re going to adopt a vegan diet, focus on real food. If your food rots, it’s real.
2. Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies
A recent study comparing vitamin B12 levels in vegans and omnivores found that 92 percent of vegans and 77 percent of vegetarians were deficient in vitamin B12, compared to just 11 percent of omnivores. (19) If you’re planning on going vegan, be sure you’re supplementing vitamin B12!
Vegan diets have been shown to have lower amounts of iron and calcium. (20, 21, 22) Also worth mentioning, Vegetarians have 30 percent lower levels of EPA and DHA than omnivores. while vegans have 50 percent lower EPA and nearly 60 percent lower DHA when compared to omnivores. (23, 24)
Vegan vs Keto – what should you do?
I know, humans love to be on a team. Just look at how passionately some people support their favorite sports clubs. Similarly, supporters of vegan and keto diets like to go up against the opposing team.
I’m of the mind that you don’t have to do that. The crux of the issue with modern society is not vegan vs keto diets. It’s whole foods vs processed foods. Whether your plate contains meat or not is not the real issue. Instead, consider sustainability.
What way of eating can you maintain for many years?
30-day challenges are not helpful. Any of us can tough out a restricted way of eating for thirty days. But thirty days is not any sort of permanent solution. You need your nutrition plan to last a lifetime. Therefore, gravitate towards a way of eating that pleases both your palate and your well-being.
Forget vegan vs keto – do this one thing
I’m certain that those living thousands of years ago did not ensure their dinner plates contained balanced ratios of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Nor did they ascribe to diet camps. No, they ate whatever they could get their hands on. Food was hard to come by in the paleolithic era.
Depending on where and when your ancestors inhabited the globe, their diets likely ranged from completely carnivorous to nearly vegan. What they ate was predicated on what they killed or which fruits or veggies were in season. I think you’d be wise to adopt a similar way of eating.
Eat vegan for a few days or a couple of weeks. Then, eat carnivore. Then omnivore. Go into ketosis for some time. Fast regularly. Then eat carbs and leave ketosis. Fast some more. This randomness and variability in eating is health-promoting. Honestly, I think that’s the way we all should be eating.
So, forget the nutritional ideologies. Focus on eating real food in random quantities at random times. Fast as often as you can. Keep your body guessing. This is how you promote health.
Let the vegan and keto folk fill up the forums, chatrooms, and social media sites with their rhetoric. While you focus your efforts on ditching the debate and eating real food at random times.
And if you really want to know how your body tolerates certain foods, be sure to check out my eCourse! I’ll show you a formula to determine exactly which foods work for your body.
Now, I want to hear from you!
Tell me about your experiences with vegan and keto diets.
How have either nutrition plans changed your health?
Leave your answers in the comments section below!