The British twins Ross and Hugo Turner, better known on Instagram as The Turner Twins, rose to fame for their adventures and multiple expeditions to the most remote and inaccessible places on the planet. Their last challenge, more homemade, but very revealing: they decided to compare the vegan diet with the omnivorous one.
Genetically identical and in very similar physical conditions, they were perfect for this experiment that they carried out together with researchers from King’s College: for 12 weeks one of them would follow a strictly vegan diet and the other an omnivorous diet, with similar calories. In parallel, both would carry out a physical training plan and would be monitored basic health metrics such as weight, cholesterol, and muscle mass.
When they finished they discovered that Hugo, who had opted for the vegan diet, had lost weight and his body fat index dropped considerably, losing four kilos of weight. Hugo said his energy levels grew and he felt significantly more active during his lunchtime gym sessions, compared to his typical routine.
His brother Ross, who had been eating an omnivorous diet, slightly increased his body fat, but the main weight gain was due to increased muscle mass, of which he gained about 4.5 kilos. Ross ate in a balanced way in terms of macronutrients, with chicken, fish, red meat, vegetables, dairy and cereals. His cholesterol levels were stable.
“We wanted to eliminate bias and opinion, to bring it to the genetic level (…) We are genetically identical and we can compare ourselves in extreme environments,” Ross explained.
Before starting the vegan diet, Hugo weighed about 84 kilos and had 13% body fat. After about a month of stopping animal products, the twin lost almost two kilos (although he regained some during the rest of the process). When they finished they discovered that Hugo, who had opted for the vegan diet, had lost weight
By the end of the experiment, he weighed 82 kilos, while his body fat decreased to 12%. His cholesterol levels also dropped. “By eating a vegan diet, you have to compensate, so I was eating foods that I was really not used to,” he explained.
Hugo also noticed improvements in his condition. “On a vegan diet my mental focus was much better, I did not have the low energy in the afternoon and I felt a little more loaded,” he acknowledged. However, he also noticed that his libido dropped sharply. “I lost it, I really don’t know what happened,” he said, warning that his experience may not be the same for everyone.
This diet also caused major changes in Hugo’s gut microbiome, as his usual animal protein was switched to foods such as tofu, tempeh (fermented soybeans) and jackfruit.
At the beginning of the experiment, Ross had about 13% body fat and gained 4.5 kilos of muscle. That raised his overall percentage slightly to 15%, and his final weight to 85 kilos. Similarly, their cholesterol levels remained constant throughout the 12 weeks of the experiment.
Regarding his diet, the twin described consuming a variety of chicken, fish, red meat, vegetables, and dairy. Before, I only ate toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and some protein for dinner.
Ross, who has been eating an omnivorous diet, increased his body fat. But to their surprise, the twins saw a decrease in their microbial diversity or the number of different species of bacteria present in the gut. This is related to a lower ability to recover against some types of chronic diseases.
Ross, for his part, said meat eaters tend to be reluctant to try vegan foods, and he hopes this experiment will encourage them to diversify their eating habits. This is considering that many substitutes, such as soy burgers, are similar in taste and texture.
Very different results
At the end of 12 weeks, Hugo and Ross’s results weren’t that different, even with very different diets. As conclusion, the Turner twins explained that the optimal diet is based on a mixture of foods of plant and animal origin.
However, these findings cannot be extrapolated to the entire population because they are high-performance athletes, with very strict training routines and diets, in which a simple change can lead to better or worse sports performance.
The brothers recognized that a 12-week period is not long enough to conduct a dietary study. If they could do it again, they would do it for six months to a year to get better data.
“Having a vegan diet has benefits and also eating meat. I don’t think either of them outperforms the other here,” Hugo assured. “We will do a combination of both, having meat-free days and adding more vegan foods to our diet, eating better quality meat and less. We’ve had the best of both worlds,”Ross concluded.