Is Vegan the healthiest way to eat?
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
"Hi Gary, Firstly good luck at the WC, I admire your tenacity and positivity- as well as your strength and fitness. 2ndly we were visiting kiwi friends in Oz- she has had years of auto immune & bowel issues and has been on serious drug programme with the Australian health System (which seems to be streets ahead of NZ’s). XXX- has completed a PHD in health science or something similar so is fully aware of what was happening to her body. Her weight was alarming- down to 43kg at one stage! She did a lot of research and as a last resort after years of pain and suffering slowly dropped her medication. She changed her diet completely (but has always been a healthy eater, non drinker etc). Part of the process was a fasting diet for 7 days!!- (and on-going every 4 months or so) Then returning to a Vegan diet. Fast forward 1-2 years she is healthy, has heaps of energy and lives a normal life!
A very good story- but what is even more amazing is she told us about a couple she met (you might of them anyway, Alan Murray and Janette Murray-Wakelin. BTW Janette told me she’s from Lower Hutt!). After being diagnosed with breast cancer she gave up medication, turned vegan, and was clear after 6 months, then firstly ran a marathon a day around NZ- 50 days! Then 6 or so years later ran around Oz- 366 consecutive marathons- surviving on fruit and vegetables! An amazing story. If you haven’t seen the DVD (for me it was inspiring) I can loan you mine when you’re back- if you’re interested. https://rawveganpath.com/running-raw-around-australia/ Very inspiring. Go hard Gary and say hi to Alofa"
(Name supplied but withheld and permission to publish obtained)
This email raises the question about whether a vegan diet is the holy grail for health and longevity? I think not and say the same about other diets such as the Paleo and Keto diets. All have their merits but none are the Holy Grail. Actually, I have made fun of the Paleo Diet in the past: http://blog.garymoller.com/2013/04/bone-broth-one-of-wholefoods-nutrient.html
Health and longevity comes not from extreme diets of any form but from some proven basics including:
Home or locally grown/raised foods that are prepared from their basic, raw ingredients.
Regular, moderate exercise such as walking and digging the garden.
Strong family and community ties.
Okinawa Centenarian Research Study
I've been following this study of the Centenarians of Okinawa for the best part of 40 years. We can learn a lot about what it takes to have a long, productive and satisfying life. The formula is actually quite simple and does not include dietary extremes. Nor does it include medication.
You can read about the Centenarian Study here:
Dietary guidelines that are based on the Okinawa lifestyle can be found here:
Rather than go to extremes, I ask people to consider what their ancestors ate over the Millennia and to do their best to replicate this and to include some daily exercise that conditions the entire body (digging and walking, when combined, are pretty much spot-on). I, for example, am aware of my Scottish and Danish ancestry, whereas my partner, Alofa, has her Samoan ancestry to consider. Our shared daily foods when at home take both backgrounds into account.
When it comes to determining how much of anything to eat this is highly influenced by one's daily activity. I'm presently participating in intense mountain bike racing of less than two hours which requires extremes of endurance and power. The biggest race of my life happens in just a few weeks from now. So, I'm doing hours and hours of hard training right now. There will be no time for any fasting over the next few weeks.
My diet must be rich in protein and dense with micro-nutrients, while supplying the right amount and composition of energy. This will assist my recovery before the next hard training session.
A diet, like keto, that is chronically low in carbohydrates may compromise the ability of an athlete to generate sustained power, thus limiting top-end performance. A diet that is low in fat and protein, like vegan, may compromise power and strength. Both diets may be fine for long, slow endurance, but is this way of eating "healthy?
The raw vegan movement has an enthusiastic following. Is it healthy? I do not recommend it because human beings do not have the enzymes or digestive tract structure for extracting all of the nutrients from many raw foods. Since the invention of cooking food many thousands of years ago we have lost the ability to digest raw foods the way cows and gorillas do.
Gut issues, including nutrient deficiencies, are very common among vegans, especially if going completely raw, which is hardly surprising. Especially if one is exercising a lot she must eat huge amounts of vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruit to get both the energy and the nutrients to be healthy and this is a burden on the gut. Fruit is a wonderful food for bugs like Candida. In the letter above it is not clear whether the woman with the gut issues was returning to a vegan diet or commencing this way of eating for the first time.
Nutritionally, the rule of thumb for food preparation is 30% raw - 70% cooked.
Do extraordinary feats of endurance equate to "Good Health"?
"Surviving on fruit and vegetables". "Surviving" may be the key word here. I'd prefer people to be "thriving".
I do not like to watch ultra-running. Too many of the participants simply look terrible. It is like being in the midst of a concentration camp. I find it upsetting.
The performances of the elite marathon runners are something to admire and behold, but is it "healthy" and what is the cost to the athlete decades later in life?
I've decided that the key to a long and healthy life is to play the Long Game. If I sense that an activity is doing more harm than good, I'll stop. For example, I ran my last of 13 marathons (PB: 2hrs 34 mins) at age of 29. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Today, my joints are in a better state of health than when I was in my 20's. I reckon I can still run a fast marathon but I won't. A fast 5 km will suffice.
Some of the most unhealthy people I have ever met are good endurance athletes. Some of the most healthy people I have ever met do little more exercise than some gardening and walking.
We should not make the mistake of equating feats of great endurance with good health. It is like comparing a Middle-Eastern donkey that labours away every day of its life with that of a thorough-bred stallion that spends most of its days cavorting with the fillies in the back paddock.
When working with athletes across a wide range of sports I can see that there is a generalised difference in their health, in their physical appearance and when nutritionally tested. This is a reflection of the general demands of the sport they are participating in:
On a par with competitive body-builders, the least healthy are very long distance runners, often emaciated in appearance, and testing shows they are usually running on empty, like our Middle-Eastern donkey.
Mountain bikers tend to be more muscular and healthy.
One of the healthiest sporting groups I can think of are kayak and waka paddlers who come across as being very well-muscled and glowing with good health.
You could say that as power goes up and duration goes down, eating improves in terms of nutrient density, and there is more fat and protein and less sugar, while there is less running of oneself into the dirt through excessive exercise.
As power goes up and distance/time decreases, measures and appearance of health tend to improve.
Does a vegan diet and fasting improve gut health?
I agree but with qualifications.
The worst diet for the gut is one that is high in processed foods, including preserved meats, and eating every few hours of waking. This is the kind of diet that has been promoted heavily in popular media, probably driven by the desire to sell more convenience foods such as snack bars. Endurance athletes are among the worst for this kind of eating.
Food colourings, flavourings, preservatives and emulsifiers that are found in processed foods have the potential to irritate and damage the gut. Read the food labels, look for additives and avoid them.
For example, emulsifiers, such as those found in your favourite yogurt, ice cream and protein snack bar may dissolve the mucus layer that protects your delicate gut lining.
Think about what this is doing to your children, many of whom are being almost exclusively raised on what is better described as "Party Food"!
Most medications, including those prescribed for gut issues end up damaging the gut over the long term.
When a person goes vegan and/or takes up fasting, it is hardly a surprise that they feel much better than before and most chronic, inflammation-driven health problems improve or resolve.
Fasting and going vegan for a short while is like hitting the Big Red Reset Button:
Fasting gives the organs of digestion a rest and the opportunity to repair damage such as ulcerations of the gut.
By default, a bland vegan diet eliminates processed foods and their associated chemicals, which is good.
Getting off drugs, including caffeine, alcohol and prescription meds lifts a huge, toxic burden off the liver.
Fasting deprives pathogens, like yeast, of their food. They go to sleep. These bugs love you to be snacking every few hours! When they are dormant this is the opportunity for your immune system to get the upper hand.
It is, therefore, hardly a surprise that fasting has been shown to reduce gut and systemic inflammation. Some studies do confirm that fasting reduces inflammation and, therefore the symptoms and progression of autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis: https://examine.com/nutrition/keto-and-fasting/
The resetting of the digestion is one of the first go-to measures for restoring good health. But I recommend moderation:
Fasting for no longer than 24 hours at a time.
No snack eating. Just two to three substantial and nutrient-dense meals per day and no snacking between unless doing extremes of physical activity.
Gradually reintroducing rich supplies of fresh fats and proteins from both animal and vegetable sources once the gut has settled.
Keeping as best one can to a diet that is relatively bland and preferably prepared from locally grown sources.
Is eating meat good or bad for you?
Some studies have claimed there is a link between meat and saturated fat consumption and diseases like bowell cancer and heart disease. This is misleading:
Was the meat from grain-fed, pro-inflammatory sources, or healthy, free-range and grass-fed sources?
There is a difference between fresh meat and fats and preserved ones, especially those, like ham, bacon, sausages and burger patties, that are soaked in nitrates - known carcinogens.
Burning meat, such as barbecuing, produces carcinogens.
People who cluster at the high end of meat and saturated fat consumption tend be the ones who frequent fast food outlets, smoke and drink large amounts of alcohol and sugary beverages and take over-the-counter and prescription medications.
I've linked two articles on this topic by Dr Ronald Hoffman in Additional Reading at the end of this article.
When it comes to all foods, including meat, eggs, all fats and oils, vegetables and more, the message is "Fresh" and "Moderation" in consumption. Vegetables are good for you but not when in excess.
Fresh free range, grass-fed meat is good for us nutritionally, along with eggs from happy hens. They are dense sources of many nutrients, many of which are difficult to get from vegetarian sources alone.
The key to great health and performance is using scientific nutrition testing to develop a tailored personal nutrition plan
One of the sad realities of modern life is how lacking our food is in trace nutrients and how contaminated our environment is with toxins like mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic. I have been using the Interclinical Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis for more than 15 years now to determine an individual's nutritional status. I've now tested several thousand people and am getting pretty good at it!
(Disclosure: Along with my partner, Alofa, we own and operate Interclinical NZ)
One conclusion I have come to is that we can no longer get all of our essential nutrients from food alone, be it vegan, paleo, organic or anything else it may be called. The simple fact of the matter is that food alone won't do it for us nowadays because it is depleted of nutrients. This is where careful, targeted supplementation with nutrients comes in. The Interclinical testing takes out most of the guessing about what we have in excess and in deficiency. The testing also gives us a measure of our exposure to toxic elements such a mercury. We need to know this because these toxins directly interfere or block the bio availability of a huge number of nutrients.
My own journey seeking good health
I always smugly thought I was fit and healthy but this smugness was rocked to its core during my 40's when the stresses following he 1987 Share Market Crash and a bad marriage began to take their toll on my health. I had an episode during a cross-country race that was the same that my father, Gordon, suffered several times and my peak heart rate during an exercise stress test was 109 beats per minute (I was consulting a cardiologist for an irregular heart beat and exhaustion). My father died suddenly of a heart attack in his early 70's and I was heading down the same path!
As my cholesterol climbed and other measures of health declined, I progressively decreased my salt, fat and protein while, by default, carbs went up. My health did not improve. My sporting life was over, I was tired, I'd wake in the morning stiff and exhausted. I had pea soup brain fog and my ability to handle stress seemed like it was zero. Everything hurt. I shed a few tears on my 50th birthday and sold our business that year for a bargain. I was too exhausted to go to work. I had always planned to live to be 100 years old but that was now a ridiculous idea what with the miserable way I felt at 50! I went home to care for the children while Alofa went back to work. I needed to rest as best I could. I began part-time study in sports medicine, rehabilitation and also in natural health therapies. The natural health studies were eye-opening and I began to realise that much of what I had learned about health and nutrition was wrong.
The big breakthrough in my health came when a fellow health professional introduced me to the Interclinical Laboratories Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA). I was initially very sceptical but decided to get into it and see what eventuates. Well, it has taken years of almost obsessive attention to improving my nutrition status but I'm now in great health.
One of the sad realities is that about 70% of the health advice we are following today will eventually be shown to be either partially or fully wrong - however, on average, it takes about 17 years for health advice and practices to change. Think about this: about 70% of the health advice that we are getting right now could be wrong! But how do we know what is possibly wrong? This is where HTMA testing comes in. This test helps us determine why, for example, our cholesterol is rising no matter what we do diet-wise, whether we need more or less salt, or more or less calcium. Does everyone need more magnesium? Perhaps this person needs more manganese instead, or more chromium - or both? The testing takes out a lot of the guessing about what to do.
One of the sad realities is that about 70% of the health advice we are following today will eventually be shown to be either partially or fully wrong
I had a fabulous celebration on my 60th birthday and the idea of becoming an age group world champion began to glow hot in my mind. That idea is, of course, now a reality. Last year, at 65 years I won my category in the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. 15 years ago the thought of doing what I am today would have been a sign of insanity.
As an example of this nutrient testing, here is my latest HTMA:
What this shows about me is:
My nutritional needs are dynamic and never the same from one year to the next, always changing with time due to ageing, changes in stress and exercise patterns, illness, injuries, and toxic exposures.
Magnesium and potassium have decreased while calcium has increased. This may indicate a small reduction in thyroid function. Action: increase magnesium and co-factors.
Sodium has decreased but is still elevated. Potassium has decreased. This is a healthy response for an over-exercising athlete like myself and indicates I have healthy and strong adrenals that are responding as they should to stress. Action: increase/ maintain adrenal support.
Low copper and zinc despite deliberate supplementing with copper and zinc over several months. Copper is essential, along with zinc for many essential enzymes including those for tissue repair, collagen formation, adrenal and thyroid function. Endurance athlete are especially vulnerable to depletion of these nutrients. Action: increase supplementation of copper, zinc and co-factors.
Phosphorus has decreased far too much. Phosphorus is essential for energy, strong bones, gene replication and many other functions. The main source of phosphorus is protein and mine is more than adequate. Antagonists include magnesium and calcium, so these might be a factor. A deficiency of zinc may reduce the uptake of phosphorus. Action: maintain current protein intake but increase zinc and co-factors.
Manganese and chromium have decreased but still within the Reference Range. Manganese and chromium help with energy production and many other functions within the body. Manganese, along with copper and zinc help produce and maintain strong cartilage, ligaments and other connective tissues. Endurance athletes tend to deplete these minerals. Action: maintain high intakes of these minerals and their co-factors.
Molybdenum remains very low. Molybdenum is important for cell and body detoxification and is closely linked with copper and zinc. Action: increase molybdenum along with zinc, copper and co-factors.
The results are good news all round - It has taken a very long time but I am now officially a Clean Machine:
Arsenic has dropped significantly.
Mercury has also declined.
While I'm very happy with my latest test results, I still have plenty of work to do and this is despite all of my attention to diet and supplementation. I've done an enormous amount of extreme physical activity and I have also suffered some serious damage in recent times and this must have been at a cost physiologically as well as structurally (https://www.garymoller.com/post/2019/03/29/im-not-at-it-anymore ).
These things, along with ageing, do take their toll but it appears I am holding my own very well. It also indicates that there is still more potential to be tapped into, in terms of health and performance (copper, zinc, phosphorus, molybdenum and phosphorus for starters).
When I was a marathon runner in my 20's my weight was 60-61 kg - down to 57 Kg at one unhealthy point. I am now a very lean 64-65 Kg which is very pleasing because lean weight tends to decline with age. As with all other measures of health and performance (excluding hair!), things, including lean weight, have been improving over recent years.
What I am eating while in Canada preparing for the Masters Mountain Bike World Championships
Sadly, it is all about compromise while in a foreign country. But I am reassured that it is what we have been eating for the last decade that counts and not for a few weeks. It has been difficult to find fresh foods. The eggs are anaemic-looking, it is assumed that the meat is not from grass-fed sources. The milk tastes over-processed and the bran flakes are basically a whole lot of sugar.
As well, I'm taking some supplements based on my latest hair tissue mineral analysis.
I am exercising to the extreme and I do not recommend it. While doing so, I am constantly monitoring my health, including joints and muscles and adjusting my exercise, diet and supplements accordingly. I am constantly looking for the slightest signs of things going wrong and taking correction action.
I must be doing something right: all of my measures of health and performance are on the improve and I was not in good health during my 40's and early 50's, then things changed for the better:
Other than the occasional catastrophic accident (two in the last 5 years), I have had little need for medical care. My need for physical therapy over the last 30 years, due to overuse, has been zero.
The key is to carefully get the balance between wear and repair. It is essential that the ledger is always in favour of the repair side of the see-saw. As we get older our ability to repair and strengthen after physical exertion declines. This usually means less exercise and more rest as we get older.
Currently, I am going in the other direction:
Able to train longer, harder and more often than ever.
Increases in lean weight.
Hair tissue report is positive overall.
My performance in competition is improving.
The more you stress your body, the more you must invest in your health care. You can go out and smash yourself anyway you like and survive it - go do a Forrest Gump and run across America without stopping, but how will your health be ten years later? Will your knees still be working? How are your hips? How's the heart?
Being healthy and staying that way is about playing the "Long Game".
My final recommendations for you are these:
Hit the reset button if you feel you might benefit from doing so, but do not do extremes.
Practice intermittent fasting perhaps for 12-24 hours once a week.
Avoid snacking between main meals.
Choose a wide variety of fresh foods that begin as raw and are mostly from local sources.
70% cooked and 30% raw.
Exercise the entire body and not to the extreme like I am doing.
Test yourself with the Interclinical Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis annually to determine your nutritional and health status and act accordingly.
Most of the chronic ill health that is plaguing the Developed World today is preventable and curable by nutrition and lifestyle interventions. Most of what we consider to be the inevitable decrements and diseases of ageing are, in fact, mostly driven by nutrient deficiencies and imbalances, toxicities and are lifestyle related. There are no drugs, no magic bullets - there are no pills to prevent or cure any of these ageing, nutrition, toxin and lifestyle related ailments. The "cure" comes from within you - not from without!
The weak case against saturated fatshttps://drhoffman.com/article/the-weak-case-against-saturated-fats/
Is the Paleo Diet unhealthy? https://drhoffman.com/article/study-highlights-perils-of-the-paleo-diet-but-does-it-hold-up-to-scrutiny/
Paleo Diet and Bone Broth Recipe: http://blog.garymoller.com/2013/04/bone-broth-one-of-wholefoods-nutrient.html
Okinawa Centenarian Research Study Findings: https://orcls.org/ocs
Are Leafy Greens Damaging your Thyroid? https://www.garymoller.com/post/2016/09/12/are-leafy-greens-oxalates-damaging-your-thyroid
Fasting to reduce inflammation: https://examine.com/nutrition/keto-and-fasting/
Crdiovascular Disease Reversed: http://blog.garymoller.com/2011/06/cardiovascular-disease-arteriosclerosis.html