Thursday, May 13, 2021

Beyond Meat Plant Protein Vs. Animal Protein

The Study

Plant based meat substitutes are popping up everywhere these days. You can even get a plant based Whopper at Burger King! Are they any better for you than red meat? This study wanted to find out. In a crossover design, 36 subjects consumed 2 or more servings of Beyond Meat plant protein or animal meat each day for separate 8 week periods. A number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease were taken before and after each 8 week intervention. 

The results were interesting. After the Beyond Meat intervention, body weight was significantly lower (around 2 pounds in 8 weeks) and LDL cholesterol was significantly lower (around 10 mg/dl). There was no difference in other measures, including blood pressure, insulin level, glucose level, HDL cholesterol and triglyceride level. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2020; 112:1188-99.  

Take Home Message

The Beyond Meat vegetable protein had a nice impact on weight and LDL cholesterol in this trial. The fact that it is higher in fiber and lower in saturated fat explains these results. I’m surprised that it did not show more benefit, to be honest. The red meat chosen in this intervention was 80% fat, which is a lot of extra saturated fat. If they had chosen lean or very lean red meat, you may not have seen much of a difference in LDL cholesterol. 

There is no doubt that vegetable protein is a great protein choice. However, there is no reason to become a vegetarian, as chicken, turkey and seafood are excellent protein choices. Red meat should be an occasional treat (once a week max) and be sure to include vegetable proteins like beans, nuts, lentils and protein rich whole grains, such as quinoa, as often as possible.

Late Night Eating And Weight Loss

The Study

Does eating food late at night make it harder to lose weight? This cross-sectional study was designed to shed light on this hypothesis. Over 3,000 subjects from a weight loss program in Spain had the midpoint of the time between breakfast and dinner calculated. The group was divided into early eaters and late night eaters. The results were fascinating:

-For starters, there were no significant differences between late and early eaters in energy intake or physical activity.

=Late night eaters had a higher BMI, body fat and waist circumference than early eaters.

-Late night eater’s rate of weight loss was 80 grams less per week compared to the early eaters. This difference was statistically significant and added up to over 3 pounds less weight lost during the 5 month intervention.

-Late night eaters had higher triglycerides and lower insulin sensitivity when compared to early eaters. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2021 113:154-61.

Take Home Message

I have been telling my clients for years to stop eating after 8:00 PM if they are trying to lose weight. While I have found this to be anecdotally important, there is not a ton of research to back this up. This study, although a weaker form of research (cross-sectional studies lack temporality and cannot determine causation) does provide some evidence that there may be something to this. Some potential mechanisms include:

-Late eating simply adds extra calories.

-Our metabolism may slow down at night, so more of what we eat is converted to fat.

-The thermic effect of food is lower at night.

-Late night snacking is generally of poor nutritional quality. High glycemic carbs like chips and cookies promote weight gain through their impact on your blood sugar.

Either way, it is a good idea to stop eating by 8:00 PM if weight loss is your goal.


Book Review: The Pegan Diet

Next up for review is The Pegan Diet by Dr. Mark Hyman. Dr. Hyman is a medical doctor who is the Head of Strategy and Innovation at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. 


This book lays out 21 principles to improve your health. Dr. Hyman promotes a Pegan diet, which is a combination of Paleo and Vegan diet. The principles are quite thorough and focus on what one should eat and what one should avoid in order to attain peak health. The book is 253 pages. It is very well written. The author has a motivating style of writing and I enjoyed reading this book.

5 Things I Really Liked About The Pegan Diet

1) I really like that this book recommends the reader to strictly limit refined carbohydrates like bread, white rice, pasta and sugar. I strongly believe that a stable blood sugar is the path to weight loss and greater health. Avoiding these foods will make it much easier to maintain a stable blood sugar.

2) I really like the emphasis on the environmental impact of the foods we eat. This is an evolving field of nutrition research that is really important. I know that a lot of my professors at Harvard Nutrition are really locking into this idea in recent years.

3) This book spends a lot of time on the importance of sleep. I also think this is huge, especially during the stressful times that we find ourselves in with the Covid-19 pandemic. When you are sleeping well, just about every aspect of your physical and mental health will improve. 

4) The book has a lot of great cooking tips and healthy recipes. The author has a passion for cooking healthy foods and it shows. I also appreciated the emphasis on cooking most of your meals at home. It really is the only way to improve your diet in the long run.

5) I really appreciated the section on what to feed your children. Instilling healthy eating habits in your kids at a young age is of critical importance.

4 Things I Didn’t Agree With in The Pegan Diet

1) I don’t agree with his recommendation of beef as a protein source. While a burger or steak now and again is fine, I don’t recommend red meat to my clients as a go to protein. It has been shown to have a negative impact on risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and all-cause mortality in the research literature (References 1-3). In my opinion, the focus should be on lean animal protein sources such as chicken and turkey, low fat dairy, seafood and vegetable sources of protein such as beans and lentils.

2) Similarly, certain fats recommended in this book are not the best. Butter, coconut oil, tallow and palm oil are really high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol and risk of heart disease and all-cause mortality (References 4-5). It is far better to focus on unsaturated sources of fat such as avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds. These have a positive impact on serum cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease.

3) Although this book says to avoid sugar, there is a fair amount of it in several of the recipes. While I am sure Dr. Hyman preaches moderation of sugar intake, I have found that complete avoidance of sugar to be easier than having it now and again. For people addicted to sugar (which is the majority of those trying to lose weight), having it now and again does not seem to work. I have had much better luck with total avoidance and occasional sugar free treats. This helps my clients and readers of my books stay on course over the long term.

4) I feel like the book is just a little bit under-referenced. As an epidemiologist, I’d like to see most any nutrition and health claim backed up with a study or 2 that we can look up. While 35 references are provided, I think this could have been a bit more comprehensive.

Is The Pegan Diet Worth Reading?

Absolutely! This book gets a lot right. If you follow the principles in this book you will improve your health for sure. It is a well written book and totally worth reading. I would just be a little pickier on some of the proteins and fats recommended, but otherwise this is all really sound advice.


1) Bernstein AM, et al. Major dietary protein sources and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Circulation 2010; 122: 876-83.

2) Pan A, et al. Red meat consumption and mortality: Results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Archives of Internal Medicine 2012; 172:555-63.

3) Pan A, et al. Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of U.S. adults and an updated meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011; 94:1088-96.

4) Wang, DD et al. Association of specific dietary fats with total and cause specific mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine 2016; 176:1134-45.

5) Hu FB, et al. Dietary fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease in women. New England Journal of Medicine 1997; 337:1491-99.