Vegans vs. Non-Vegans: Who Is Healthier?

Explore more about vegan vs. non-vegan diets and delve into their health differences. Understand the role of diet in areas like cardiovascular health and blood sugar levels.

Inside Tracker icon
By Staff Writer
Lucia Gcingca
Edited by Lucia Gcingca

Published March 6, 2024.

A man and woman sitting at a table with food - Are vegans healthier?

We've been taught what a general, baseline healthy diet is: lots of plants, sweet treats rarely, healthy fats and fiber, and a few other buzzwords. But the question remains: where do animal products fit into the puzzle? Does meat and cheese belong in what we consider a "healthy" diet, or are vegans actually healthier??

We compared blood results from InsideTracker's vegan and non-vegan users to see who's really healthier. Here are a few areas that show distinct differences between the two groups.

Vegan vs non-vegan debate: Where vegans take the crown

Cardiovascular health

InsideTracker users who identify as vegan (reported never or rarely eating animal products) have considerably lower LDL cholesterol than those who do not (reported consuming animal products once a month or more). This checks out—a summary of multiple trials found that vegetarian diets have lower LDL levels than meat-based diets.[1]

In a more general sense, massive studies of thousands of people agree that vegan diets are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than omnivorous ones. [2-5]

If you’re concerned with your heart health or have trouble controlling your cholesterol levels, consider reducing your animal product intake. Start with one meatless day per week!

» Uncover key nutrients for vegetarians, vegans, and raw vegans

a bar chart showing the LDL of vegans versus non - vegans

Blood sugar levels

While the difference doesn’t appear to be huge in the chart below, vegan InsideTracker users do have significantly lower blood glucose levels than non-vegans. The same pattern has been found in multiple studies (the same goes for hemoglobin A1c, too!). [1, 6]

» Check out expert tips for improving your health

A bar chart showing the average levels of vegans and non - vegans

This might not seem intuitive initially—glucose is a carbohydrate, and animal products mostly contain fat and protein, so where’s the overlap? The specific type of iron found in animal foods (more on that in a minute) may interrupt glucose metabolism. [7]

Consider reducing red meat intake if your A1c or glucose levels are above optimal.

» Discover how you measure health and wellness

Where meat-eaters have a leg up

Vegan vs non-vegan debate: Sex hormones

Men who follow a vegan diet have significantly higher Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) than those who eat meat. This relationship holds true for women, too; vegan women have significantly higher levels than their meat-eating ones.

SHBG safely transports sex hormones throughout the bloodstream and regulates their levels within the body. SHBG levels tend to increase parallel with testosterone levels, given that it regulates sex hormone levels. Additionally, SHBG prevents sex hormones from being cleared from the bloodstream, acting as a pool of reserved hormones that can be tapped into when levels become low.

Since SHBG binds testosterone, high levels may create a pretense of low testosterone levels. However, given the information above, SHBG prevents bound testosterone from leaving the body. Testosterone metabolism is complex, and levels can be unoptimized for various reasons. However, high SHBG is not the sole culprit.

a bar chart showing the average levels of vegans and non - vegans

These patterns do appear to hold true for InsideTracker users—vegans have both lower testosterone and higher SHBG levels than non-vegan users. If you follow a vegan diet but are willing to experiment, try supplementing your diet with animal products and monitor your blood levels of SHBG and testosterone over time for any changes.

Watch your protein intake!

Monitor your protein intake and ensure you're hitting your daily needs (which depend on sex, age, and activity level). Good plant-based sources of protein include tofu, lentils, and pumpkin seeds.

» Are you getting your greens? See how easy it is to eat green and healthy

Vegan vs non-vegan debate: Iron status

People who eat animal products with high concentrations of heme iron (the form of iron found in animal sources), like meat and seafood, have significantly higher levels of hemoglobin and hematocrit than those who exclusively get their iron from plant sources.[13] This is because heme iron is perfectly structured for our bodies to absorb and use, directly influencing our red blood cell and iron biomarkers. 

On the other hand, non-heme iron (the form found in plant sources) is in a more difficult structure for our bodies to absorb. This often results in lower iron stores and levels.

» Getting enough Vitamin B12? See this critical consideration for vegetarians

A bar chart showing the percentage of ferritin levels in vegans versus non - vegans:

In fact, vegan InsideTracker users have significantly lower levels of ferritin than those who eat animal products regularly. If you’re vegan and your iron markers, particularly ferritin, are low, consume your iron-rich meals with a squeeze of citrus—vitamin C makes non-heme iron more bioavailable.

Since ferritin is a marker of long-term iron status, it’s slow to respond to any changes we make in our diet—be sure to re-test at least three months after your initial results to track changes over time.

The vegan and non-vegan debate: What we've learned

Of course, it must be acknowledged that plenty of factors (differences in physical activity, other lifestyle habits, etc.) may inherently differ between vegans and non-vegans, contributing to the differences we see between InsideTracker groups. But when considered alongside the numerous studies with similar findings, it seems the science does, in fact, add up.

When making decisions about how you eat, there are countless factors to consider (price, environmental impact, accessibility, etc), of which health is just one. Both herbivores and omnivores can be exceptionally healthy, and you don't necessarily have to compromise on the diet pattern that makes sense for you and your values.

Ultimately, understanding how your body responds to your diet at the blood level is the only way to know if your eating habits promote good health.