Is the Vegan Diet Right for You?
Maybe you’re thinking about becoming vegan. Whether it’s for ethical, environmental, religious, dietary, or health reasons, starting a vegan diet can be a great way to stand up for what you believe in and get healthy in the process.
The Risks Of The Vegan Diet For Some People
Unfortunately, being on a vegan diet isn’t feasible for everyone, particularly those with certain genes. According to a new study by the DNA Company, less than 20% of people have the optimal gene that allows them to process plant-based foods. That means more than 80% of people may struggle with a vegan diet.
Aside from that, there are additional risks inherent in a vegan diet. If you find out you have the optimal gene to be vegan, go ahead with your dietary plans while keeping these other dangers in mind. If you don’t have the vegan gene, you may need to find another diet that better suits your needs.
The Vegan Gene
Because vegans don’t eat any animal products, the vegan diet consists primarily of plant-based foods. Sounds healthy, right? Yes…unless you don’t have the genetic makeup to properly process these foods.
The gene that determines your body’s ability to break down plant-based foods is called the FUT2 gene. This gene corresponds to the fucosyltransferase enzyme, which is an important part of your digestive system.
Your FUT2 gene allows you to metabolize certain food groups, such as plant-based foods. If you have the optimal version of this gene (like 20% of the population), you shouldn’t have a problem digesting plant-based foods.
Sadly, the vast majority of people have the average or suboptimal version of this gene, which makes a vegan diet really hard on their bodies. When your body can’t break down plant-based foods properly, eating high amounts of them can lead to serious issues such as inflammation in your gut lining, Crohn’s disease, and even psoriasis.
Not everyone has the right genes for coping with a vegan diet. It’s essential to test your genes before undertaking such a serious life change to make sure your body is equipped to handle it.
Other Risks Of Being Vegan
Aside from not having enough of the enzyme that helps your body metabolize plant-based foods, there are several other potential issues you can encounter while on a vegan diet. They mainly relate to the fact that vegans don’t receive any protein or other important nutrients from animal products.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Because meat, fish, and animal products are some of the best sources of vitamin B12, vegans are already at a disadvantage when it comes to getting enough vitamin B12. That’s compounded by the fact that many people have genetic problems absorbing vitamin B12. As a result, a vegan diet can significantly increase your risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
The same FUT2 gene that was mentioned earlier is also the gene that determines how well your body can absorb vitamin B12. The MTR and MTRR genes are also related to vitamin B12 intake. A suboptimal version of any of these genes makes it incredibly difficult for your body to get the vitamin B12 it needs, even if you’re not on a vegan diet.
In order to get sufficient vitamin B12, vegans need to prioritize the right kind of supplements so the form of B12 they take is the right one for them, based upon DNA and how it handles various forms of B12. They also need to become aware of sources of vitamin B12 they can incorporate into their diet. These include fortified cereal and fortified nutritional yeast.
Due to the lack of iron in the vegan diet, those who follow it are more prone to anemia. That’s not to say that vegans don’t get any iron. Rather, the type of iron they get (non-heme iron from plant-based foods) is not as easily absorbed by the body.
Those who are committed to the vegan diet should consider taking iron supplements so they don’t become anemic. Unfortunately, iron supplements commonly have the side effect of constipation. Women of childbearing age are especially susceptible to anemia and should be particularly careful.
Type 2 Diabetes
Understandably, carbohydrates tend to be a huge part of the vegan diet. For some people, eating too many carbs is a recipe for type 2 diabetes. This is because of their genetic makeup.
The TCF7L2 gene determines how well your body responds to insulin, which in turn affects how your blood sugar levels are addressed. Certain variations such as the T allele can put you at higher risk of insulin resistance and developing type 2 diabetes.
The AMY1 gene relates to salivary amylase, an enzyme found in your saliva that breaks down starches. If you have the A/T or T/T genotype of the AMY1 gene, your body is able to break down starches into usable sugars. This is great, unless you have the T allele variation of the TCF7L2 gene. In that case, you’re at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes when on a high-carb diet.
Those who wish to become vegan should consider undergoing genetic testing to see if they can tolerate a high-carbohydrate diet. If they can’t, they should seek advice to find ways to implement a vegan diet without relying too heavily on starchy or higher glycemic carbs.
Alternative Diets To Try
If you’re interested in starting a diet that helps you lose weight or to help you maintain your weight and improve health, there are several alternatives to the vegan diet that incorporate a lot of plant based food and might be a better choice for you, particularly if you don’t have the vegan gene. In fact, these diets may be more effective overall at helping you lose weight and protecting your gut health.
Of course, if you have decided to become vegan for religious, environmental, or ethical reasons, you may choose to continue your path. If possible, switch to being vegetarian in order to have more sources of animal protein from eggs and possibly fish.
Here are some healthy, balanced diets you might want to try.
The Mediterranean diet
With numerous studies behind it, the Mediterranean diet is often recommended by experts because it allows you to lose weight while also making you more healthy overall, even reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. This diet emphasizes plant-based foods, healthy fats, fish, and seafood.
Many people choose the Mediterranean diet because it allows for delicious meals, small amounts of dairy, and even a daily glass of wine. Processed foods and added sugars are off the table, but at least you don’t have to limit your portion sizes.
The Paleo Diet/Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The Paleo diet focuses on lean meats, fish, and eggs, lots of vegetables, nuts, seeds and plant based fats. It is a lower carb diet ideal for those whose genetics predispose them to blood sugar issues and eliminates legumes for gut health reasons. It is meant to reflect the diet of humans during the Paleolithic era, more than 2 million years ago. Thus, the Paleo diet is somewhat adaptable to your own needs.
The foundation of this diet is a lack of processed foods, refined grains, and legumes. Research has shown the Paleo diet to be effective in helping short-term weight loss. If you decide to start this diet, make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D.
This is often the food plan I point many clients towards after they have completed my weight loss program as a lifestyle due to its anti-inflammatory components and is compatible with many DNA profiles.
The Keto Diet
This diet is all the rage over the past few years. It incorporates high fat from oils, animal protein and some nuts/seeds, avocados but keeps carbohydrate intake at a very low level including minimal fruit and avoiding some starchy vegetables.
This diet can be effective for weight loss but for some people this diet would be a terrible choice in the short and long term based upon their DNA. There are genes that impact the body’s ability to break down and use fat from the diet. If your body is inefficient at utilizing fat due to your DNA then keto is not the diet for you.
Are you wondering whether you’re genetically equipped to handle a vegan diet or want to know what diets would be best for you?
The best way to find out is by decoding your genes through my DNA testing. You’ll discover whether you have the vegan gene as well as 37 other custom reports surrounding sleep, diet, nutrition, hormones, fitness, cardiovascular health, immunity, and behavior.
Each DNA report includes your genetic tendencies as well as practical steps you can take to optimize your health and wellness. Take the guesswork out of choosing the right diet and exercise regime for you. You are a unique individual, and you deserve health strategies that reflect your unique genome.
Get started today by booking a short assessment call with me to learn more about DNA testing.