British Columbia

Is veganism healthy? This Vancouver office tried it for a month to find out

7 of 8 employees at AIM Medical Imaging Services completed the 30-day vegan challenge

Posted: February 11, 2020

Dr. Raj Attariwala looks at the results of an MRI scan on Jan. 6, 2019 in his Vancouver office. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

After a month of plant-based eating, it's finally time to order pizza.

This celebration requires cheese. Lots of cheese.

"It's been a hard month," Sean Jensen said between gigantic bites of pizza. "But this is delicious."

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This is the first non-vegan meal for Jensen and his co-workers who switched to a plant-based diet for the month of January to see if it would improve their overall health.

At the start of the challenge, each person tested their blood, body mass index, visceral fat and peripheral fat levels.

After 30 days of veganism, the group of seven — one person dropped out of the challenge — ran the same tests to see if they were any healthier.

Dr. Raj Attariwala, who runs the clinic, says he lost eight pounds but it was mostly muscle.

"I have to tighten my belt but I gained fat," he said. "I'm a skinnier, fatter guy than I was before."

Erica Ferreira and Sean Jensen eat pizza after completing a 30 day vegan challenge. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Testing veganism

The employees at AIM Medical Imaging have access to the company's Prenuvo full body MRI scans, which allow them to measure the benefits of their diets in great detail.

The team also had tests and analysis work done at the nearby medical clinic Preventum.

Everyone lost weight. Most people saw improvements in their blood tests and visceral fat levels went down modestly.

Attariwala says, however, everyone lost muscle except for one person who started an exercise program partway through the challenge.

"We see that we're thinner and think that we should be healthier, but the truth is we're not," he said.

"My body was basically sucking energy from my muscles instead of from my fat."

Dr. Raj Attariwala undergoes a medical test before he switches to a vegan diet for 30 days. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

The takeaway

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Most people found that meal planning was challenging and expensive. It was hard to find healthy sources of protein and it was difficult to stay away from foods that were high in carbohydrates.

AIM employee Erica Ferreira says the positive is she learned a great deal about planning meals.

"I'll definitely think about what's going in my body a little bit more from now on," she said. "It was a good experiment."

For Attariwala, who didn't make any changes to his fitness routine, the biggest takeaway from the experiment is the importance of working out.

"It's not just diet, it's exercise, too," he said.

"I'm going to try to eat less and move more."

After a month of eating plant-based foods, Sean Jensen and Dr. Raj Attariwala ordered pizza to celebrate. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Mmm, pizza

Around the lunchroom table at the pizza party, the discussion centres around how many foods appear to be vegan — such as breads or sauces — but actually contain eggs, honey or some other kind of product that comes from animals.

Jensen says he absent mindedly ordered a cappuccino during the challenge and didn't realize he was drinking dairy until he had finished his cup.

"You just have to be so careful," he said.

"When you're out and you think of a place where you can just pick something up quickly, what can you get that's not yam fries?"

Throughout the challenge, everyone also came to appreciate Vancouver's vegan restaurants and realized there are many delicious options.

Jensen isn't giving up meat, and he's certainly not quitting cheese, but he plans to scale back on both.

"I guess you can call me a vegetarian," he said.

"A vegetarian who eats meat."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jesse Johnston

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston