The internet is abound with promises of what will happen when you try a plant-based diet. Of course, some rumors are more true than others, which is why knowing the actual science of what happens to your body when you stop eating meat, dairy, and eggs is so important. Having gone vegan myself two years ago now — and having experienced numerous health and emotional benefits as a result — I was wondering which changes have actually been backed up by science, mostly so that I can tell friends and family members giving a vegan diet a try what they might be able to expect.
I spoke with Dr. Michael Klaper, an internationally recognized authority on the links between diet and health, as well as Dr. Thomas M. Campbell, medical director of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and clinical director of the University of Rochester Program for Nutrition in Medicine, to find out more. Of course, if you’re thinking about trying a vegan diet yourself, first consult a medical health professional.
They both told me the changes a person will notice in the first few weeks of a vegan diet can vary significantly, based on their medical conditions and genetic predispositions. “But in general, within a couple weeks of eating a healthy whole-food, plant-based diet, it would be typical that people may enjoy improved insulin sensitivity (their insulin works better)… and their cholesterol levels may decline,” Dr. Campbell said. “Anecdotally, some people describe improved bowel movements, improved sleep, energy, and skin quality. All of that happens within days to a couple weeks.”
Here’s what else science knows about how your body changes in the first weeks and months you stop eating animal products.
Your Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, And Risk Of Heart Disease Could Begin To Drop
Decades of scientific study have linked dietary cholesterol and saturated fat to cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat is present in all meat and fish, while a vegan diet is devoid of any cholesterol and is low in saturated fat — so it makes perfect sense that studies have consistently shown that when people switch to a plant-based diet, their cholesterol levels drop and their risk of heart disease goes down.
Dr. Klaper said that within just a few weeks on a plant-based diet, “elevated cholesterol levels begin to decline, and blood vessel walls become healthier and more compliant as cruciferous vegetable intake increases nitric oxide in arterial walls, all of which reduces the risk for heart attacks and strokes.”
Your blood itself also begins to change quickly. “Without heavy saturated animal fats, blood is less viscous and thus easier to pump at lower pressures. As a result, elevated blood pressures classically begin to decline and efficiency of the heart pump often increases,” Dr. Klaper says.
If You Have Diabetes, You May Notice Changes In As Little As 24 Hours
It seems unbelievable, but “a person with uncontrolled diabetes, on insulin, can see demonstrable improvements in medication usage and efficacy in 24 hours,” Dr. Klaper said.
The American Diabetes Association confirms that a vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with Type-2 diabetes, even reversing the disease altogether in certain patients. According to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, people who eat high amounts of animal protein, on the other hand, are 22 percent more likely to develop diabetes. Type-2 diabetes runs in my family, so I’m happy to know my plant-based diet is helping prevent my developing it one day (even if I still can’t convince my uncle and dad to try it).