Is the Vegan Diet Really Healthy for You? Stanford Medicine Researchers Remove All Variables to Say Yes

The vegan diet has been celebrated for its environmental benefits, but its health benefits have been a little fuzzy. Researchers use twin pairs to clear up the benefits of the diet.

healthy foods
A more plant forward diet brings hearty health benefits.

Alternative diets are all over the media these days. Perhaps one of the stricter mainstream alternative diets is veganism. The vegan diet cuts out all food products produced by animals, including byproducts. This includes eggs, cheese, milk, and yes, meat.

The diet has been adopted by only a small percentage of Americans not only because of its environmental benefits, but its health benefits. Environmentally, decreasing consumption of animal products reduces emissions and water pollution, and cuts land use.

How can they rule out variables?

This has been very difficult for scientists to answer. Dietary research can prove to be difficult as there are so many other factors that go into one’s health. Inherently, genetics, lifestyle, and upbringing all play into whether someone is healthy or not.

New research from Stanford Medicine sought to remove these differences by using pairs of twins in their study. 22 pairs were selected based on their preexisting health levels reaching a threshold. They then randomly picked one twin to be an omnivore and one to be a vegan for 8 weeks.

But is it really healthy?

The study found that the LDL-C levels, which are a main component in one’s cholesterol, decreased in the vegan twin. LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol, so this decrease is great for cardiovascular health.

At three points in the trial the researchers drew blood from their participants. They found that the average LDL levels in omnivores dropped 2.4mg/dL. Vegans, however, saw a drop of 15.2mg/dL by the end of the study.

Improved cardiovascular health was not the only benefit. Vegan participants dropped their fasting insulin levels by 20%, therefore reducing their risk for developing diabetes.

So yes, the health benefits of an entirely vegan diet are proven. Reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some weight loss were found.

It is not all or nothing to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet

While these benefits are enticing, a completely vegan diet is difficult to sustain. The restrictive diet requires heavy commitment to stick to all the time. However, you do not need to completely cut out animal products to see health benefits.

The researchers state “cardiovascular benefits can be achieved with modest reductions in animal foods and increases in healthy plant-based foods.” So, opting for a veggie patty in your burger in place of the beef patty could bring you visible benefits.

Sticking to an entirely vegan diet can be disheartening, the research found the vegans tended to be unsatisfied with their consumption. A more plant forward diet, rather than an entire dietary overhaul, may be ideal for bringing cardiovascular benefits while maintaining satisfaction in your diet.

News Reference

Landry, M. Ward, C. Cunanan, K. Et al. Cardiometabolic Effects of Omnivorous vs Vegan Diets in Identical Twins. JAMA Network (2023).