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The Vegan Self-Experiment Part I: Baseline, Motivation, and Prescription

The Vegan Self-Experiment I

What am I doing?

I’m going nearly vegan for 25 days. The exceptions: I will use either whey protein or BCAAs 3x per week after weightlifting, as I think it will be important for maintaining muscle mass as my protein and calorie intake is likely to fall on a vegan diet. I also refuse to suffice with the vegan omega-3 sources of ALA and SDA. I’ll take krill oil for some of the good stuff: phospholipid omega 3s with an astaxanthin bonus.
 

Why am I doing this?

I’m a curious person. I’m very curious about the fact that there are a ton of vegans out there who swear they feel infinitely better (morally or physically? :P) not eating meat. I’m curious that vegans fare so well in some aspects of epidemiological health studies (such as in blood pressure [1], and ischemic heart disease [5], but the data on mortality is mixed [6], [4], [5]), despite some of the obvious (but avoidable) pitfalls. I’m curious how I will feel and what will happen to my biology on a vegan diet.
I have attempted to resolve some of the competing health claims between vegans and omnivores via research. But there’s so much bias on both sides of this issue, most of the research is epidemiological in nature with enormous potential for confounding, and it’s always more informative to simply get your own personal data. So a self-experiment makes a lot of sense. I will continue to read about veganism and health during this month.
 

Why I almost didn’t do this

To navigate between the twin demons of excess carbs and omega-6 fats on a vegan diet is tricky. If something has to give, it will be the carbs, as when you eat lots of omega-6s, they incorporate themselves into the cell membranes of the tissues throughout your body, and can take years to get rid of.
I also place some weight on the paleo school of thought that humans are evolutionarily adapted to eat meat. Of course evolution does not strongly select for survival beyond reproductive years, so being evolutionarily adapted to a diet carries little weight of evidence that such a diet would be optimal for lifespan or healthspan. But the rigorous research done by Dave Asprey and the Jaminets also reaches the conclusion that clean (not CAFO) meat from animals raised on their natural diets is healthful.
I favor the higher androgens [3] (or not?[2]) that come from eating animal foods. I suspect that they raise quality of life. I’m also into strength training, even though I’m a total ectomorph and take forever to make progress unless I really force feed myself, which I did last year about this time. I’m loath to give that progress back (but would be happy to donate the fat I gained back :D), which is a possibility on a low-protein, probably lower-calorie vegan diet. This is the main reason I’m refusing to relinquish whey/BCAAs.
Vegans also seem to accumulate certain health problems and nutrient deficiencies at an alarming rate. I will attempt to avoid these through supplementation, with B vitamins, K2, and creatine looking to be the most important to add to my existing regime. But I don’t think that deficiencies are such a big concern over such a short time period anyway. It’s more of a longer-term issue to be aware of.
Dave Asprey mentions several criqitues of veganism in his interview with Joe Rogan (transcript), namely: high triglycerides from high fructose consumption, suboptimal mental and physical performance, and that all but one of the anti-aging doctors he knows refuse vegan clients due to their inability to help them age more slowly. He alludes to poor homocysteine and CRP biomarkers in vegans.
I have become a convert to the school of thought that if you want to live a long time, then it’s a very good idea to make your omega-6 fat intake very low. This can be challenging on a vegan diet; you can’t do it while eating many seeds and nuts, except for macadamias. For the full reasons why I believe that omega-6 is so important to avoid, see the tour de force that is the PUFA chapter of the Perfect Health Diet.
I’d rather not do a very high carb diet, but my above condition of limiting omega-6 makes a high-fat vegan diet difficult, unless I want to be eating olive oil, coconut, and macadamia products for >1/2 my calories (I don’t). They may approach half though, we shall see. At least elevation of triglyceride levels due to high carb diets can be modulated by sticking to lower glycemic carbs. Postprandial glucose elevation can be modulated via the biohack of concomitantly consuming vinegar, cinnamon, fat, and fiber to massively lower the PPG AUC from carbs.
 

Methods and procedure

A good self-experiment must pay heed to two sometimes competing principles:
  1. Isolation of an independent variable, to discover how changing it causes changes in your objective.
  2. Relevance and sustainability. If it’s not a realistic or sustainable lifestyle change, then it’s not what you should be testing.
I am testing removal of animal products as the independent variable. I will attempt to control for many but not all other factors. For example, I could feasibly attempt to control for protein consumption by e.g. supplementing with purified vegan protein sources. However, that is not a dietary pattern I would consider following for the long-term, so it’s not something that I want to control for. Furthermore, lowered IGF-1 from a lower protein diet may also be a main causative factor in the health benefits of veganism.
I will also not control for calories; this is not a weight-loss diet, and I will eat ad libitum, just as I was previously. I expect that I will generally consume fewer calories due to the lower caloric density of plant foods. This is perhaps another principle mechanism of the health-benefits of veganism.

Tools

Here are a few of the tools I’m using to help me measure the effects of this self-experiment
nutritiondata.com The most detailed nutrition measurement site that I’m aware of. Unfortunately, they don’t offer built-in day-upon-day tracking. But you can download the results to a spreadsheet and track manually. I use this upon major health evaluations to record the details of what my diet is like at that time.
MyFitnessPal Much less detailed nutritional information, but a proper tracking feature. I use this day-to-day when I want to track.
Withings WBS-01 Scale (courtesy of dacadoo) Approximates body fat via conductivity measurements across feet, and transfers info wirelessly.
Talking20 I’m a subscriber to their gold card DIY bloodwork service that delivers nice hormone, vitamin, and lipid panels.
GymGoal An iPhone app I use to track my workouts and body measurements. There’s a newer version which I haven’t tried.
Zeo Sleep Manager The only consumer-priced EEG sleep-tracking device. Unfortunately, Zeo is bust now.
Freestyle Lite Glucometer After reviewing the accuracy of many monitors, it turns out that one of the cheapest is one of the best.
Thermometer I’m sure you can find one of these.

Controls

Here are some potentially relevant aspects of my lifestyle that I will keep unchanged:
  • For most of the last year I have been following an intermittent fasting eating schedule where I generally eat only between 12 and 8pm, in 3 meals: lunch, post workout, and dinner. I will stick to the same meals and times.
  • I exercise every day: weightlifting 3x per week, about 1hr each, and light cardio 4x per week, usually jogging outside, occasionally some sprinting. I exercise in the mid afternoon, around 2-4pm.
  • I meditate nearly every morning for about 30 minutes.
  • Green tea (matcha) 2x per day.
  • Shades at night – I’ve been donning a pair of blue-filtering sunglasses 2 hours before bed each night to bring melatonin production closer to what it would be naturally.
  • I wake up naturally, without an alarm clock.
  • Supplements: total (dose x #per_day)
    Daily:
    • Vit D3 – 5000IU
    • Magnesium (Citrate) – 400mg
    • Vit C – 1g
    • Zn – 10mg
    • Grape seed extract – 100mg (2x50mg)
    • Creatine – 2.5g
    • Ginger 1.1g (2x550mg)
    • Fenugreek 1.2g (2x600mg)
    • Resveratrol 400mg (2x200mg)
    • ALCAR 800mg (2x400mg)
    • Alpha Lipoic Acid 400mg (2x200mg)
    • Curcumin – 1g (2x500mg)
    • Probiotic blend (2x)
    • Glucosamine 1g (2x500mg)
    • Chrondroitin-MSM unknown blend 1.7g total (2x850mg)
    • Bacopa monnieri 500mg
    • CoQ10 – 200mg (2x100mg)
    • Lithium (aspartate) 2.5mg
    Weekly:
    • Chromium (picolinate) – 200mcg
    • Silica (red algae) – 108mg
    • Ca – 200mg
    • Biotin – 1mg
    • Boron – 3mg
  • Stimulants – For the last month or so my stack schedule has been roughly:
    • Monday: 5g piracetam + cup of coffee + coconut + MCT oils in the morning, 40g Lindt 90% dark chocolate at lunch
    • Tuesday: 5g piracetam + 50-100mg modafinil, 40g Lindt at lunch
    • Wednesday: 5g piracetam + 60g Lindt at lunch
    • Thursday: 5g piracetam + cup of coffee + coconut + MCT in the morning, 40g Lindt at lunch
    • Friday: 5g piracetam + 50-100mg modafinil, 40g Lindt at lunch
    • Sat+Sun: 60g Lindt at lunch
    Note: dark chocolate has mild amounts ( ~ 1 mg/g for baking chocolate) of caffeine, and moderate amounts ( ~ 12 mg/g for baking chocolate) of theobromine, another methylxanthine. Theobromine’s stimulatory effects are quoted as anywhere from 5-15x less powerful per unit weight than caffeine, so the caffeine and theobromine in dark chocolate contribute about equally to it’s stimulatory effects.

Old diet

Macros: My previous diet totals (details). The % figures are % of net calories.
  • “Calories”: 3951
  • Net Calories: 3815 (=cal – fiber(g) * 4)
  • “Carbohydrates”: 177g (NA)
    • Fiber: 34g (NA)
    • Net Carbohydrates: 143 (15%)
    • Starch: 78g (8%)
    • Sugars: 53.5g (5.6%)
      • Sucrose: 9.2g (1%)
      • Fructose: 6.9g (0.72%)
      • Net fructose: 10.5g (1.1%) (=fructose + 0.5*sucrose)
  • Fats: 277g (65%)
    • SAFA: 146g (34%)
    • MUFA: 59.4g (14%)
    • PUFA: 13.5g (3.2%)
      • n-6: 10.3g (2.4%) (This is pretty good)
      • n-3: 2.2g (0.51%)
      • Ratio of n-6/3: 4.7 (This is higher than I would like. Ideally 2-3)
  • Protein: 199g (21%)
    • Amino Acid Score: 115
Menu: I was eating what averaged out to a daily intake of something like this:
  • 4 eggs
  • Meats: 15g beef liver, 300g of beef heart or kidney, lamb leg, or chicken breast, 70g sockeye salmon.
  • 80g cheese, usually Gruyere
  • 120g grass-fed butter
  • 1.5 tbs coconut oil
  • 1 tbs MCT oil
  • 5 squares of Lindt 90% dark chocolate (does a body good!)
  • 2 moderate salads
    • Greens: spinach, chard, arugula, mache (a type of lettuce).
    • Veggies: carrots, celery, sweet peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage
    • Misc: Powdered rosemary, a lot of sauerkraut (with live cultures), a lot of olive oil.
  • About 800g combined of potatoes and sweet potatoes on weightlifting days (3x per week)
  • About 300g combined of potatoes and sweet potatoes on cardio days (4x per week)

Dietary change

I expect carbs to go up and protein and calories to go down on the vegan diet. I’m not sure about fat, we’ll see what my appetite is for extra coconut milk/oil and macadamia nuts. I expect the meals to go something like this:
Fasting quasi-breakfast (before) – Coconut oil + MCT oil 2-3tbs total (Enhances ketosis and mental performance without compromising the hormonal and autophagal benefits of fasting).
Fasting quasi-breakfast (vegan) – No change.
Lunch (before) – Salad and 40-60g Lindt 90% dark chocolate + supplements round 1. 50g butter, 150-200g beef heart or kidney, or lamb leg. Sometimes some cheese.
Lunch (vegan) Salad and 40-60g Lindt 90% dark chocolate + supplements round 1 (incl krill oil) as before. Beans with coconut milk, nuts – mostly macadamia to minimize n-6 intake, but probably some almonds and cashews also.
Post-lift (before) 25g whey+40g dextrose immediately, then 45m later: 700g potatoes/sweet potatoes, potatoes and sweet potatoes with vinegar and cinnamon to reduce PPG AUC a chicken breast, some beef liver, sometimes cottage cheese.
Post-lift (vegan) 8g BCAA or 25g whey + 50g (dry weight) white rice, then 45m later: followed by beans or quinoa with cinnamon and vinegar.
Post-cardio (before) 200g potatoes/sweet potatoes w/vinegar + cinnamon, 150g lean meat
Post-cardio (vegan) beans/quinoa w/vinegar + cinnamon.
Dinner (before) Salad + supplements round 2. 0-200g potatoes/sweet potatoes, 50g Gruyere 2 eggs, 50g butter, 150g meat.
Dinner (vegan) Salad + supplements round 2, as before. 1/4 avocado, 200g potatoes/sweet potatoes, coconut milk.

Supplement changes

I will add these supplements daily while eating vegan:
  • B12 (cobalamin) 600mcg
  • B2 (Riboflavin 5’ phosphate sodium) 850 mg
  • B3 (Niacinamide) – 10mg
  • B5 (Pantothenic acid (dexpanthenol)) – 15mg
  • B6 (pyridoxine HCl) – 1mg
  • K2 (MK4) – 1mg
  • Krill oil (1g oil = 90mg EPA and 150mg DHA, 1mg astaxanthin)
  • Creatine: was 2.5g—>5g now.
  • Taurine – 500mg
  • Selenium (Se-Methyl L-Selenocysteine) – 200mcg
  • Choline 400mg
  • Inositol – 400mg
  • Ca? I will be deficient but I’m not sure I want to supplement, since trials show supplementation (not consumption in whole foods) to be a promoter of coronary artery calcification. I’ll try to find somewhere that sells collard greens instead.

Uncontrollable potential confounders:

  • Spring: Today it seems to have abruptly transitioned from winter to spring in Zurich. I will undoubtedly be spending more time outside in the nicer weather, which improves my mood and probably circadian rhythms also. This could be a big confounder.
  • Travel: I have a 5 day trip during the experiment (anti-aging conference) where I won’t be eating my typical diet but will stick to vegan. Exercise will be a bit disrupted, but there will be more walking.

Data

I’m quantifying the following before/after and some throughout:
Weight and body fat, body girth measurements, strength, sleep as Zeo’s ZQ score, under-the-tongue temperature upon wake up, blood pressure, bloodwork using T20, fasting and PP BG.
I’ll also be paying subjective attention to: sleep restedness, physical and mental energy, libido, satiation.

Baseline Data

Front and Back

If I look skeptical, it’s cause I always have been regarding veganism.

 
All measurements were taken over the week leading up to the start of dietary change. “Mean” means the average value over that period. Spreads of two standard deviations are given where available.
 
Sides
 
Sex:Male
Age:30y young
Health status:Generally good, but sleep could be better (see ZQs below)
Height:189cm (6’2.5’’)
Weight:(just after waking up, post urination) 88kg±0.7kg (194lb±1.5lbs)
Body fat: (As measured via Withings WBS-01) 19.1%±0.8%
Sleep(as measured by Zeo) 74.85±8.7ZQ
Mean blood pressure(AM, fasted): 
  • Sys:113.8±3.6mmHG
  • Dia:62.3±2.4mmHG
Mean heart rate (AM, fasted) 62.8±1.3bpm
Mean body temperature at wakeup (under the tongue) 36.8±.34C (98.24±.61F)
Blood panels I will update with T20’s full panel when they send me the results.
Blood glucose
  • Mean 12hr fasting (shortly after waking): 93±2mg/dl (5.17±.11 mmol/L)
  • Postprandial:
    • 40g dextrose + 25g whey:
      10m134 mg/dl (7.44 mmol/L)
      26m114 mg/dl (6.33 mmol/L)
      41m90 mg/dl (5.00 mmol/L)
    • 700g mixed potato and sweet potato w/salt. Took 18m to eat, times are measured from start of eating.
      33m110 mg/dl (6.11 mmol/L)
      48m 106 mg/dl (5.89 mmol/L)
      64m 112 mg/dl (6.22 mmol/L)
      80m 112 mg/dl (6.22 mmol/L)
      101m 107 mg/dl (5.94 mmol/L)
      116m 95 mg/dl (5.28 mmol/L)
 

Strength

I’m interested if my strength will decline, stay the same, or if I will still be able to make progress on this diet. Some top sets just before starting:
Pullups (neutral grip) 14 controlled bodyweight reps (no kipping).
Dumbell Bench Press 8x32kg (70.5lbs)
Bi-lateral Dumbell Standing Press 7x24kg (53lbs)
Bi-lateral Dumbell Curl 7x24kg (53lbs)
I can’t compare any leg lifts at the moment, as I’m recovering from a knee injury.

Body Girth Measurements

Neck 39.5 cm (15.6 in)
Forearm
  • Left 30.5 cm (12.0 in)
  • Right 31 cm (12.2 in)
Bicep
  • Left 32 cm (12.6 in)
  • Right 31.5 cm (12.4 in)
Chest 106 cm (41.7 in)
Waist 85 cm (33.5 in)
Abdomen 84 cm (33.1 in)
Hips (around widest part of buttocks) 102 cm (40.2 in)
Thigh
  • Left 59.5 cm (23.4 in)
  • Right 59.5 cm (23.4 in)
Calf
  • Left 38 cm (15.0 in)
  • Right 38 cm (15.0 in)
Wrist
  • Left 17.3 cm (6.81 in)
  • Right 17.5 cm (6.89 in)
What are your thoughts and experiences on veganism? Let us know any info or tips you have.

 
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase through them then you help support Biohack Yourself. You will always get the same or lower price as compared to the retailer’s default price.

References

[1] Paul N Appleby, Gwyneth K Davey, Timothy J Key. Hypertension and blood pressure among meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans in EPIC—Oxford. Public Health Nutrition, 5(05):645—654, 2002.

[2] Winston J. Craig. Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5):1627S—1633S, 2009. URL http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1627S.

[3] P. Hill, E. L. Wynder, L. Garbaczewski, H. Garnes, A. R. P. Walker. Diet and Urinary Steroids in Black and White North American Men and Black South African Men. Cancer Research, 39(12):5101—5105, 1979. URL http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/39/12/5101.

[4] T J Key, G E Fraser, M Thorogood, P N Appleby, V Beral, G Reeves, M L Burr, J Chang-Claude, R Frentzel-Beyme, J W Kuzma, J Mann, K McPherson. Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 70(3 Suppl):516S—524S, 1999. PMID: 10479225.

[5] Timothy J. Key, Paul N. Appleby, Elizabeth A. Spencer, Ruth C. Travis, Andrew W. Roddam, Naomi E. Allen. Mortality in British vegetarians: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Oxford). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5):1613S—1619S, 2009. URL http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1613S.

[6] Pramil N. Singh, Joan Sabaté, Gary E. Fraser. Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans?. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78(3):526S—532S, 2003. URL http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/526S.

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • Eddieooo 2013/04/21, 19:41

    This is Very cool self experimentation!

    When you have a moment I’d be interested in the manufacturer and source of your key supplements including whey protein or BCAAs. There is so much snake oil out their it’s always good to compare notes. I use many of the same supplements. I have followed a non-meat diet for many years although I do eat seafood. A couple of years ago I was knocked off my bike during an event. This caused numerous injuries and multiple operations which in turn certainly changed some of my key body chemistry. Modern western medicine simply doesn’t work for my needs so I have become a dedicated biohacker. I’m based in Sydney where are you based. I’ve also signed up for Talking20. I use a garmin watch and hrm. I do a lot of my bio analysis with a Tanita bc-1500 http://www.tanita.com/en/bc-1500/ its a cool device with nice wireless connectivity to my PC.

    Good luck with the new diet!

    • Winslow Strong 2013/04/22, 21:16

      Hi Eddieooo,

      Sorry to hear about your accident, but it sounds like you haven’t rolled over just bc of it, which is great.

      For sources of supplements, I use consumerlab.com and try to buy from the ones that they have tested and approved. My choices are somewhat more limited here in Europe than compared to the US though, so I don’t always have my pick.

      For whey I stick to Solgar, as they scored the best of those tested by consumer reports awhile back for heavy metal contamination. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/july/food/protein-drinks/whats-in-your-protein-drink/index.htm

      For BCAA, I use NOW, mainly for cheapness.

      That Tanita looks cool. I’m still accumulating toys, and don’t have anything that fancy yet.

      Stay in touch, it sounds like you have a lot of experience biohacking.

  • eddieooo 2013/04/22, 13:11

    Hey Winlsow,

    As discussed I think sharing supplement information can be valuable. Something I didn’t see on your list is Benfotiamine which, I think, is an incredibly powerful relative of the vitamin Thiamine (B1) that appears to have a therapeutic role in pain reduction and diabetic complications (neuropathies and nephropathies); confers bioavailable Vitamin B1 after oral ingestion.

    Examine is a great source of supplement evaluation and assessment.

    http://examine.com/supplements/Benfotiamine/

    I use the LifeExtensior brand for Benfotiamine to increase the activity of a normally low-active enzyme (transketolase) which aids the pathology of diabetic microvasculature damage (damage to small arteries; which is tied to retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy).

    Best

    E.

    • Winslow Strong 2013/04/22, 21:18

      Thanks for the tip, I hadn’t heard of that one. Yes, examine is great, and is one of the first places I go to read about supplements. Maybe after suppversity :)

  • Eddieooo 2013/04/23, 03:59

    Good feedback! We should compare notes on our talking20 results. I head back to Australia on Wednesday. And you are correct the choices of supplements in the USA are infinity greater than anything I can get out of Australia!

  • JK 2013/05/01, 04:56

    Luv luv ur blog! I’ve been on a high raw diet for the most part vegan. You’re approach is much more balanced and your starting off with a very healthy base. I’m very curious how it all goes and evolve.

    I do lots of green juices and mix it up with coconut milk from raw coconut butter. I stick to vege juice and no tropical sweet fruits. I add sea greens n micro algae. This should help with getting high quality nutrients n phytonutrients and MCT from coconut without resorting to nut milks which have a high PUFA profile.
    I cycle various superfoods and other potent plant based adaptogens such as maca.

    I forward to your next post.

    Cheerios:)

    J.

    • Winslow Strong 2013/05/03, 09:03

      Hi JK,

      That sounds pretty solid. I definitely think eating some of these foods is a good idea no matter what diet one is eating. What’s debatable is that given one is eating these foods, then is it better or worse to consume some animal products? I’m not finding much research on this (i.e. research on vegan vs a high quality control diet that is high in plant foods). Self-experiments are great for discovering effects that emerge in the short term, but for longer-term things like mortality risk, they only reveal that through biomarker changes, which are questionably causal.

  • hermes chang 2015/07/18, 14:52

    To get DHA and EPA from a vegan source (rather than fish oil), get algae-based omega 3, which has the added benefit of having zero risk of mercury poisoning because the algae is grown on land under controlled conditions.

    Instead of whey, there are many vegan protein powders available that mix multiple plants together to form a balanced amino acid profile, e.g. from Sunwarrior, Vega, or PlantFusion.

  • Gabe 2015/11/09, 03:37

    You can get vegan EPA/DHA in algae oil, which is pretty widely available at health-conscious supermarkets these days.

  • Peter Dove 2016/06/15, 01:29

    I’ve been thinking a bit about cutting out all animal products for both ethical reasons concerning animal cruelty, and also regarding the degredation of the planet now for some time.

    Unfortunately at the moment I have to get a lot of protein in my diet, and I think that limits my options a bit and I need all the meat. But inspiring to see you giving this a shot mate.

    Where are you at now with your diet?

    Peter

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