Food for Thought: Surprising Twins Health Findings of Vegans v Omnivores in Netflix’s You Are What You Eat

By Alliance President Terry Gips

Netflix began 2024 by premiering another powerful, informative and funny documentary with its four-part series, You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment. It is based on a first-of-its-kind 8-week Stanford University study of 22 sets of identical twins to determine the health effects of two types of diets: healthy omnivore and healthy vegan. You follow the trials and tribulations of 4 sets of twins as they make dietary and lifestyle changes, moving from skepticism and struggle to poignant life-lessons and remarkable breakthroughs everyone can relate to.

Learn from top researchers, chefs, business leaders and NYC Mayor Eric Adams and US Sen. Cory Booker, both vegan. My 12-year-old organic vegan son and I were riveted by the experiences of the engaging, diverse twins. We constantly learned new facts, which surprised me as an organic vegetarian for 52 years and organic vegan for 30. Spoiler alert: In just 8 weeks, the twins on the vegan diet had a 10% to 15% drop in LDL cholesterol, a 25% drop in insulin, and a 3% drop in body weight, according to lead Stanford scientist Christopher Gardner.

The Surprising Trade-Off of Working with Netflix to Popularize Science

The series was unusual in that it took what is often complex, difficult to understand scientific research and not only made it fully accessible, but reached a massive audience. This was a wonderful upside of collaborating with Netflix. However, as Gardner pointed out, it did come with some surprising costs:

The challenge with the Netflix opportunity was how little control I had. For example, Netflix wanted something in the documentary about exercise and to measure the participants for fat and lean mass, which is done with a very expensive DEXA scan. I pointed out that we didn’t have room in the budget for it with 44 participants. So, they said they would do it separately on the side with just eight participants of the study…it’s not part of the study so when people ask for the data, I don’t even have it, but people think I do because of the way it was presented on the show.”

“They also didn’t tell us about the part in which they are measuring for sexual arousal. That was not a part of the study we designed and conducted. I don’t think that was an appropriate topic and only found out about that after the screening,” Gardner added.

Spoiler Alert: What Researchers Found about Dietary Impacts on Sexual Arousal and Body Fat

The DEXA scan found that twins on the plant-based diet had less visceral fat, the problematic, health-threatening fat that accumulates around organs, one article points out. 

And sexual arousal?

As Salon reports on the series, “A plant-based diet may promote better sexual health for women. To assess the diet’s impact on women’s sexual health, a thermograph was used to measure genital arousal in two of the female twins featured, Carolyn and Rosalyn. Temperature changes in each participant’s genitals were recorded while they watched their choice of pornography. The final results found that Pam and Carolyn, who both followed the plant-based diets, had increased genital arousal. Pam experienced a 371% increase in her arousal compared to her sister, who experienced a 288% hike. Carolyn experienced an astounding 383% increase, while her sister Rosalyn experienced a 212% hike.”

Yes, I did have my son leave the room for this part of the video.

More Spoiler Alerts: Body Inflammation, Gut Health and Biological Aging

I wish they provided a readily available transcript of the show to capture the continual flow of gems. I had hoped to list more of them but the best I could find were in a helpful piece in Salon:

  1. “A plant-based diet may decrease unhealthy levels of inflammation of the body. Researchers studied the presence of trimethylamine N-oxide, simply known as TMAO, a substance that is produced by the body after meat consumption. TMAO is said to increase unhealthy levels of inflammation and is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Expectedly, omnivores had higher levels of TMAO compared to their vegan counterparts. Pam and Wendy’s results revealed that Pam’s TMAO plummeted 350% and remained low while Wendy’s increased 160%.”
  2. “Those who followed a plant-based diet had higher levels of healthy gut bacteria. A healthy microbiome – the collection of all the bacteria, fungi and viruses that naturally reside in our bodies – leads to better metabolism, a stronger immune system and better overall health. Researchers looked at several groups of bacteria, like bifidobacterium, which helps prevent infection and produces vitamins and other vital chemicals. Bifidobacterium increased in twins who followed a vegan diet and remained level in twins who followed an omnivore diet.”
  3. Those who followed a plant-based diet are considered biologically younger. Researchers differentiated between biological age and chronological age in their study. Biological age refers to how old your cells and tissues are, while chronological age is the number of years you’ve been alive. Biological age was determined based on the lengths of each twin’s telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of DNA strands. Lengths of telomeres decrease as we age, so longer telomeres signify better health and a younger biological age.”

    “At the beginning of the study, each twin had telomeres that were the same length. After eight weeks, however, the vegan twins had longer telomeres compared to their omnivorous twins, whose telomeres remained unchanged. That means the vegan twins were considered biologically younger than their omnivore twins. One result that most surprised researchers was that they found such a shift in only two months. It was previously thought that lifestyle changes would most likely take at least six months to make a difference in expected length of life.

Reversing Diabetes and Addressing the Impacts of Poverty by Switching from SAD to Plant-Based

All-in-all, I think it’s more than worth it to spend four hours watching this excellent series, whether or not you’re a vegan or never desiring to be one. The researchers kept emphasizing that there are significant benefits for health and well-being just by switching from SAD (the Standard American Diet) to simply increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables while reducing red and processed meat. They also take you inside numerous exercise and lifestyle hacks to make you feel great.

It was impressive to hear the NYC Mayor tell his personal story of how he struggled and couldn’t find a solution to his debilitating diabetes and was able to completely reverse it with a plant-based diet. It was equally impactful to hear US Senator Cory Booker emphasize the need for encouraging plant-based for addressing the significant health challenges of people of color and low-income populations. It gave me a lot of hope to hear how he’s passed legislation to do that and seeks to do even more.

While I may have shared some of the biggest spoiler alerts, there are plenty more to be found in each episode of this four-part series. It clearly makes the case that you are what you eat. We’d love to know what you think:

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