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Vegan January: is vegan really the game changer?

Vegan January: is vegan really the game changer?

This article has been automatically translated from German. While our little team is working hard to provide you the best quality and resources, our multilingual capacity is still limited. Don't judge us by the Google translation please and head over to the original version in German instead.   

Healthy eating - whether vegan, Mediterranean or ketogenic, regardless - is a controversial topic like religion or politics. Today more than ever. Either you no longer dare to make a clear statement or you try to convince each other of your own truth. Like in the Netflix film “ The Game Changers, ” with its key message: Those who consume no animal products and eat a purely plant-based diet set records in sports. So it has to be very healthy, right? Is it really like that? Of course not! We are happy to use the words of the great Obi Wan Kenobi: “Only a Sith knows nothing but extremes”! or a little less nerdy: Especially in nutrition and sport, everything is a spectrum. There is no clear right or wrong. You have to take into account different genetics, biology and forms and take the basic biological principles as the starting point for a reasonable discussion.

The following reasoning, for example, does not fulfill this: gladiators were mainly vegan, gladiators were the top athletes of antiquity, so vegan must be the best diet for top athletic performance. We say: Lanistas want profit, beans are cheaper than filet mignon - then as now, so gladiators get beans. Could be right? (Small swipe on “ The Game Changers ”)

Vegan + January = #Veganuary

In January I came across exciting foods: Dried watermelon slices called “tuna” on a blog, planted chicken at the Hiltl buffet and 50% reduced vegetable burger in the local Coop. Just look at the stock price of Beyond Meat (NASDAQ: BYND) and you can see the hype about the vegan diet (-68% since the peak in July 2019).

A vegan trend

In addition to the well-known non-alcoholic month, there is also Vegan January today , which was “institutionalized” in 2014 when the non-profit organization Veganuary launched its first online campaign “ to inspire and support people, in January and the rest of the year to try a purely plant-based diet . ” You can register on the homepage to receive a vegan starter kit to get started with the plant-based lifestyle and diet.

Today veganism is one of the fastest growing trends of the millennium. In the United States, veganism grew by 600% between 2014 and 2017. Reminder: In India, the meatless diet has been around since the 6th century BC. BC became mainstream.

Instagram #veganuary

According to the Veganuary , more than 200 new vegan products and menus were brought to the UK market in 2019 alone. More than a quarter of a million registered users worldwide took part in the #veganuary2019 campaign and thus tried a purely plant-based diet. Statistics for this year were not available at the time of writing, but typing “Vegan January 2020” on Google gave 806,000,000 results.

I did not participate this year, nor does AURUM trainer Tobias , a former vegan. Quite the contrary: After 10 years of vegetarianism and 10 infusions in a clinic, I prepared a pasture steak for dinner and watched the Netflix documentary “The Game Changers” for dessert.

The Game Changers AURUM Vegan Diet Vegan January
NETFLIX - The Game Changers

Vegan + sport = better athletic performance?

There are many things that are not right in this film. Improved athletic performance with a vegan diet is possible. It is an open question whether this is solely due to the absence of animal products. While the film was both praised and criticized by many, I would like to give you 3 arguments that the AURUM team discussed at lunch. We all agreed: “The Game Changers” is more about presenting a conviction with prominent examples than showing pure facts and science. In the end, it's a film by the same director that produced Avatar and Titanic. Do you remember who co-financed Top Gun? ;)

3 important aspects that every vegan and non-vegan athlete (and not athletes) should consider

1. The problem with comparing with the Standard American Diet (SAD)

This is a recurring problem, as in this film: A vegan or vegetarian diet is compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD), whereby the SAD is equated with a "meat-based" diet, as if the only difference between vegan and SAD in it there is no animal food. SAD mainly consists of:

  • Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, chips, cobbler and muesli bars)
  • Hefebrote
  • Chicken and chicken products
  • Soda, energy drinks and sports drinks
  • Pizza
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Noodles and pasta dishes
  • Mixed Mexican dishes
  • Beef and beef products (no matter what quality)
  • Divers dairy products

The documentary gives the impression that meat and animal products are the problem.

However, if you look at the list above, you will immediately see that it cannot be the only problem. Alone, if you reduce, eliminate or replace these foods (some of them are anything but a means of life!), You will improve your diet enormously! Adding more vegetables will improve them even more. This so-called “omitted-variable bias” is also called a vegan trap.

Veganism is better. Is it really?

The film's message is clear (and misleading): Refraining from animal products helps to achieve better athletic performance. In other words, a correlation between pure plant nutrition and better performance is presented as causality. However, there is a lack of essential scientific data.

Bryant Jennings, an American boxer who stopped eating meat in 2013 and went vegan in 2015, says in the film:

I grew up without knowing half of these other vegetables. I only discovered the asparagus five years ago.

So we do not know whether the elimination of meat and other animal products or the introduction of various vegetables in quantities and supposedly more conscious selection of their quality contributed to this.

The control group did not consist of selective meat eaters who consumed pasture beef and turkey once a week, but the impression was created that meat consumption was generally poor. Actually, a misleading parallel has been drawn that eating meat is just as unhealthy as smoking cigarettes. So it's a proven fact.

It continues: Bryant has changed the diet for health reasons:

I just thought that a healthy and clean diet was much better (…) lots of peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal, quinoa, avocado, lots of fruits and vegetables. I make my own burgers based on chickpeas, black beans, lentils, quinoa, linseed, chia seeds ...

In other words, Bryant switched from fast food to whole foods, which is a nutritional concept that prefers fresh and untreated foods as well as whole grains. The fact is that practically every diet - from the alkaline diet to The Biggest Loser Diet - is better from a health perspective than the SAD.

Health conscious vs. unconscious of health

If people consciously choose to switch from a SAD to a vegan diet, they are not simply switching from a bad SAD to a plant-based SAD. As Peter Attia writes , many aspects of the diet and lifestyle change most of the time: You eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, less refined carbohydrates, sugar and saturated fatty acids. They move more and may place more emphasis on local production, stress management and social support. During the transition period, they can quit smoking, give up or reduce alcohol consumption, and focus more on good sleep.

The thing is, the decision to go vegan is closely related to lifestyle and attitude, which is a healthy lifestyle. And a healthy lifestyle extends well beyond a diet. Here we describe the close connection and how you can achieve it effectively for your own wellness with few changes .  

Healthy eating

“Healthy” does not necessarily have to bear the “vegan”, “vegetarian”, “Mediterranean”, “low carb” or “ketogenic” label. On the contrary: moving away from a diet full of finished, processed products to restricting one of the following aspects can already mean a “healthy diet”:

  • Product + quality: what you eat
  • Time: when to eat
  • Amount: How much to eat.

And if these are adjusted to personal health, biology, habits and goals, then we speak of what is really healthy (different from person to person!) And not hip, hype or trend. We write more about nutrition in the AURUM 6 Minute Guide to Wellbeing ( download here for free ).  

2. The problem of presenting an ideology as scientific evidence

The way the movie outplayed the benefits of veganism, not the diet itself, is the problem. In other words: As a former vegetarian who has not eaten meat or fish for environmentally friendly and ethical reasons, I am not against a plant-based diet. But on the contrary! But I am against misleading information and against downplaying or omitting important information.  

"The Game Changers" features several studies and articles (see a full list of studies at the end of this post) that flash on the screen and “(…) overwhelming scientific evidence of a link between animal foods and many of the most common deadly diseases ”Point out. All of these studies are epidemiological observational studies or meta-analyzes of observational studies and have many limitations, such as the aspect of “health-conscious vs. of a health-unconscious person, ”and the additional variables that these aspects bring (but which are not taken into account).

In the film, a group of firefighters are switched to a plant-based diet for a week. Successes such as lower cholesterol are celebrated. What about insulin?

As Peter Attia points out, health-conscious people differ from health-unconscious people in many ways: they may eat less red meat, smoke less, exercise, have additional medical care, eat fruits, vegetables, herbs, take supplements, and don't drink coca -Cola. The list is practically endless. And there is no study that takes all of these aspects into account and distinguishes between them.

Imagine a clinical experiment for colon cancer patients. One group is randomized and receives no treatment ("control group"). The other group receives first-class treatment in the oncological department of Johns Hopkins Hospital as well as daily massages, daily hypnosis, daily animal therapy and a special low-carb diet etc. (cancer cells need sugar) ("treatment group"). A year later, the treatment group survived the control group. But how can we know exactly what led to survival? Was it one of the many treatments, all or the interaction of all? Was it treatment in the world's best cancer clinic? The placebo effect of it? The animals? We cannot read that from this experiment. The only way to make sure that treatment works is to

Joe Rogan offers an exciting discussion on ideology and science in The Game Changers in his multi-hour podcast conversation with the producer / protagonist and the critic , a renowned doctor.

3. The problem of not addressing the dark side of a plant-based diet

First of all, I think it's important to mention that the vegan lifestyle has clear health benefits. The decision for a vegan diet is usually made for one or more of the following reasons or wishes:

  1. To protect the environment
  2. To avoid animal suffering
  3. To improve health

According to PETA , one month of veganism can save resources from over 100 animals, 145 cubic meters of water and 900 square meters of forest. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, cattle breeding in Brazil alone contributes 18% to global greenhouse gas emissions and thus to climate change. Soy is a good animal feed because it contains a lot of protein. To make room for the soybean fields, the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed.

To stay with Brazil: in 2009 soy grew on an area the size of Great Britain (almost 22 million hectares). Soy is not planted in Germany, 80% of animal feed is imported. The demand and consumption of meat is growing. Choosing a vegan lifestyle could therefore help reduce the use of grain as feed and thus be used for other purposes, including humanitarian aid to countries with food shortages.

At AURUM, however, we are particularly interested in No. 3: health

Vegan is often equated with "healthy". Just like “organic” or “ecologically produced”, but these labels should be viewed critically. Vegan burgers, vegan pizzas, vegan sweets etc. are marketed as vegan AND healthy, but vegan nutrition can also be unhealthy and inflammable. There are 3 important “downsides” to consider:

  1. Inflammation caused by increased consumption of "simple" carbohydrates. If predominantly white flour products are consumed, the number of intestinal bacteria that promote inflammation increases. Among other things, this can increase the risk of obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. Many finished products contain trans fats to make them last longer. Artificial trans fats have no positive effects: they have a negative effect on the cholesterol level, since they increase the “bad” LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein) in the blood and lower the “good” HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein). Whole grain products While they are complex carbohydrates that contain minerals and satiating fiber, they also contain lectins. Lectins are included in most foods for protection - but especially in plant foods such as legumes, whole grains, and some vegetables and fruits, and they "don't want to be eaten." If they find their way to the human body, they have an inflammatory effect. Soy has a high content of phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that prevents the absorption of iron, zinc, calcium, manganese and magnesium.
  2. Lack of vitamins, minerals and amino acids: Yes, the required protein can be obtained from alternatives such as soy, but it does not give you essential elements such as choline and creatine . One of the most well-known challenges for vegans is the adequate supply of vitamin B12 , which is found in animal products such as eggs and meat. Likewise iron : the form that is most easily absorbed by the body (the trace element heme iron) is only found in animal proteins. Other common shortcomings are D3, Omega-3, Selenium, Folate and Iodine. In the winter months when the sun is weaker, people who do not do without animal products have almost 40% more vitamin D3 in their blood than vegans . Of course, most of these deficiencies can be compensated for with dietary supplements.
  3. Increased desire: It is often the case that the inevitably increased consumption of carbohydrates leads to “cravings”. This is related to the insulin sensitivity, which you can read about in the article Fit or Fat .

The German Nutrition Society stated in 2016 that vegan nutrition is not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and adolescents, which was confirmed by a research review in 2018. In Belgium it can lead to a prison sentence if the children are vegan (Crazy!).


"What about protein?" is the most asked question by people who want to stop eating meat. But if someone wants to gain weight, he needs more protein: meat, shakes, etc. are not vegan. Lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts provide a lot of protein, but can overwhelm the body. Our tip just pay attention to flatulence and don't take it for granted. If the body is regularly overwhelmed with digestion, this can lead to chronic inflammation. You don't notice this until there is a reaction in the body. Yes, meat products, dairy products and gluten are also - and especially refined sugars! - inflammatory. But that's not what the film speaks of.

Fresh, rich in nutrients, wild, sustainable, local

You don't have to be vegan to be healthier or more productive, and you shouldn't be chasing a trend: whether vegan or paleo, with every lifestyle you have to make sure you get enough energy and listen to your own body. The real game changer is a conscious diet. Because if you eat more consciously, you eat more fresh, wild, sustainable and local food.

Eating fresh food - as we wrote in the AURUM 6 Minute Guide to Wellbeing ( download here for free ) - also means distinguishing between food and food! Say: Just eat something or pay attention to micro- and macronutrients when eating.

Fresh often means “vegan,” but it doesn't have to be declared vegan right away. Nuts, apples, salads - everything is vegan and occurs in other, non-vegan diets ... Eat consciously and pay less attention to calories, but more to nutrients and fiber, that ultimately leads to the goal. So the approach should be to eat more of the "good". Be selective. Filter. Not labeling. Reduce the foods that you feel are negatively affecting your health. Especially those that contain little nutrients and a lot of refined sugar. And so you will feel both healthier and more powerful.

The end credits

As mentioned at the beginning, one must observe the basic principles of a healthy diet:

  1. High quality, pay attention to organic quality. (Tip: frozen organic vegetables are of high quality!) When it comes to meat, choose grass fed from our beautiful Switzerland (label: Weidebeef) from the orange M. Not the yellow M!
  2. In bulk and not in bulk - huh ?: Should a small piece of pasture beef 2 times a week is healthy - sausage and meat products not every day! So are the replacement products. When was the last time you ate 2 kilos of almonds? Absurd right? But that's exactly what happens when you take a whole glass of almond! It makes sense that this is not healthy in the long run.
  3. Let the body go hungry. Hunger is good, give your body enough time to digest until you get hungry.
  4. Vegetables should make up 3/4 of your plate, protein sources only 1/4.
  5. Diversity instead of simplicity. Try to cover all of the green, yellow, red, orange, etc. in your vegetables.
  6. Efficiency is what matters. Anti-nutrients in all foods should be avoided. Long digestion times due to fiber are good, but not due to anti-nutrients! Whole grain bread, for example, usually takes a long time because of the anti-nutrients .

In this sense: Dear Netflix, great responsibility comes from great strength! - Spiderman


Your Egle


Veganuary, https://de.veganuary.com

The Game Changers, https://gamechangersmovie.com

AURUM 6 Minute Guide to Wellbeing

BBC, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200127-how-a-vegan-diet-could-affect-your-intelligence

MAP, https://www.peta.org.au/news/how-many-animals-saved-vegan-2016

Unleashed, http://www.unleashed.org.au/change_the_world/life_saving_counter

Peter Attia, https://peterattiamd.com/191027/

US News, https://health.usnews.com/wellness/best-diet/search

Joe Rogan, https://www.joerogan.com/

Adventure rainforest, https://www.abventure-regenwald.de/bedrohungen/fleisch-soja

FAO, http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e00.htm

Europe PMS, https://europepmc.org/article/med/7956998

Cambridge University Press, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/plasma-concentrations-of-25hydroxyvitamin-d-in-meat-eaters-fish-eaters-vegetarians-and-vegans-results-from-the-epicoxford-study/13C1A2796ADA3A318D4F3B7C105D9D9C

The Plant Paradox, by Stegen R. Gundry, http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e00.htm

Soy protein, phytate, and iron absorption in humans, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1503071

Studies :

1990 New York Times headline: “Major Study Links Animal Fat to Cancer of Colon”; online headline: “Animal Fat is Tied to Colon Cancer”

Related 1990 study: “Relation of Meat, Fat, and Fiber Intake to the Risk of Colon Cancer in a Prospective Study among Women”

1995 New York Times headline: “Health Cost of Meat Diet Is Billions, Study Says”

Related 1995 study: “The medical costs attributable to meat consumption”

1998 study: “Dietary risk factors for colon cancer in a low-risk population”

1999 study: “The Oxford Vegetarian Study: an overview”

2001 study: “A prospective study on intake of animal products and risk of prostate cancer”

2009 study: “Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people”

2010 study: “Dietary protein and risk of ischemic heart disease in middle-aged men”

2013 study: “Egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes: a meta-analysis”

2014 study: “Low Protein Intake is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population”

2014 study: “Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies”

2015 New York Times headline: “Report Links Risks of Some Cancers to Consumption of Processed or Red Meat”; online headline: “Meat Is Linked to Higher Cancer Risk, W.H.O. Report Finds”

Related 2018 study: “IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat”

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