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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Going Veggie - Part 1

Today’s entry is in response to a comment added to my last post. Aaron wrote, “Great article I would like to here more stuff about the vegan way of life.”

Thanks Aaron! Here’s the 411:

First, you’re not alone. Interest in veganism is rising. Currently though, it’s estimated that just 1-2% of Americans follow a vegan diet. That means they never eat anything that comes from an animal, including meat, fish, poultry, pork, eggs, milk, and cheese, or the by-products of any of these. Most vegans also avoid honey.

If you ask 10 vegans why they eat this way, you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Some go vegan for religious purposes, some for animal rights, others for environmental reasons (fun fact: more than a third of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the U.S. go toward animal-based food production, and if just 10,000 people up gave up beef once a week, 400 million gals of water would be saved each year), and still others for better health (fun fact: a vegan diet is cholesterol free because dietary cholesterol is only found in animal-based foods, and vegan diets are low in saturated fat because there are only a few plant-based foods that are high in saturated fat – coconut, palm, and cocoa butter).

Vegetarianism (eating dairy and eggs but avoiding meat, fish, and poultry) is much more common than veganism, and semi-vegetarianism is exploding. In fact, an entirely new word was invented to describe people who aren’t quite vegetarian, but not quite omnivores either. A flexitarian is a person who is flexible about the degree to which they follow a vegetarian diet. So, a flexitarian might eat entirely vegetarian at home, but eat meat, poultry, or fish when traveling, on holidays, or when out to dinner.

In any case, more and more eating establishments now offer veggie-based options such as veggie burgers and soy milk. The National Restaurant Association reports that 8 out of 10 restaurants in the United States with table service offer vegetarian entrees and veggie options can be found in sports stadiums in San Francisco, Oakland, Denver, Toronto, Philadelphia, Houston, Milwaukee, St. Petersburg, and Miami.

So, the big question is: are vegan or vegetarian diets healthier? If they’re done right, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. Several studies have found that vegetarians and even semi-vegetarians weigh less than true omnivores. And according to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians have lower rates of death from heart disease; lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.

But overall, vegetarianism, and veganism in particular seems foreign to many Americans. When I give presentations on this topic, I’m constantly asked, “What do vegans eat?’ “How do vegans get protein or calcium…” and “Isn’t it dangerous to not eat any animal foods?” Come back tomorrow for my responses!

Have a great day, but before I go, one more fun fact:

Famous vegans include Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, actor Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Gladiator, etc.), politician Dennis Kucinich, and entrepreneur Russell Simmons.
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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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