Posts Tagged ‘diet’

‘Vegan’ Celebrities and the vegan diet vs. veganism

I am hugely sceptical of celebrity vegan role models a lot of the time. Not because of the person themselves, but because of the way many vegans react to their diet change. That is exactly what it is for many of them – a diet change.

I’ve mentioned previously about Bill Clinton unwittingly becoming the spokesperson for veganism in America, and when he announced that he was following a vegan diet bar a bit of turkey on Thanksgiving many vegans reacted as though a lost gospel of the New Testament had been discovered proclaiming that Jesus Christ was a member of the Animal Liberation Front. I saw a ridiculous number of comments on the internet and heard a couple from friends in real life relating Clinton’s motives for eating vegan to the causes of animal rights and environmental protection.

I’m sorry, but Clinton is not a vegan. I’m sure he hasn’t ever thought twice about wearing leather, and if it weren’t for the health benefits of eating vegan he sure as hell would be eating meat now. Just because you eat vegan, doesn’t mean that you are vegan.

What Clinton is, however, is a fantastic advocate for the vegan diet. Veganism and a vegan diet are two very separate things. Veganism is a philosophy of minimising (and, if possible, abolishing) the use of animals in your life. The vegan diet is a way of eating that relies purely on plant-based foods.

For many, the vegan diet is a starting point. I’ve known people who have come to veganism for health and stayed for the ethics. Whether or not this will happen with Clinton, I don’t know. For others, it never progresses past the stage of being just a diet.

However, those who turn to the vegan diet for health reasons are still beneficially affecting the world. To them, limiting animal abuse and environmental damage may be side effects to the health benefits that they are obtaining, but they are definitely positive side effects.

Whilst I feel global veganism may never be reached due to a combination of apathy and ignorance, the health benefits of a meat-free diet are becoming more and more tantalising. Anyone who’s seen Breaking Bad may remember this scene from the first episode, stylishly put in a comic book format by Breaking Bad Comics:

Whilst this may just be a comic of a forgettable scene from Breaking Bad (which is totally awesome by the way! If you haven’t seen it then you should watch it after reading this!) it taps into the essence of what may actually have the world turning towards a vegan diet. We have to watch our cholesterol.

There is overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet will benefit cholesterol levels, despite Atkins, keto and paleo dieters claiming otherwise (there is little evidence to show their benefits, and the only person I’ve ever known to follow a high-protein, low-carb diet for a prolonged period has now sadly died due to bowel cancer – a disease commonly brought on by eating too much meat).

A diet that has proven to do this is an attractive one, as is one that, for most people, provides more energy, and boosts potential weightloss. With celebrities turning to a vegan diet faster than any other diet at the moment, the general public are following suit. I have read numerous times that the vegan diet isthe fastest growing diet at the moment (overtaking even vegetarianism) and it does not surprise me.

With advocates such as Clinton proclaiming the benefits of a vegan diet for health, more and more people are trying it out. For every person who goes vegan to lose weight, the demand for animal protein falls. As demand falls, less animals are utilised for meat and their products. And thus, there is a gain for veganism as a philosophy. If the world followed the vegan diet for health reasons alone, animal suffering would be minimalised.

For Morrissey, veganism is more than a dietary choice

It is, however, important for vegans to keep this in mind instead of seeing every celebrity who wants to shed a few pounds by following a plant-based diet as a hero. At times, the vegan community is at danger of becoming like PETA who seemingly lauds any celebrity as an animal rights activist simply because they said ‘I like my dog’.

There is also a danger of making the terms ‘veganism’ and ‘vegan diet’ interchangeable by describing everyone who follows a plant-based diet as a vegan.

There is a fine line between being glad for someone’s success on a vegan diet with the hope that it’ll persuade some other people to try it, and praising them as a fully blown vegan. In this regard, beliefs are everything.

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The importance of vegan fitness, and a little motivation

Veganism has again exploded into the mainstream public domain over recent weeks with Bill Clinton’s announcement that he is officially following a vegan diet for 364 days of the year. With support from his doctor, he has effectively reversed cardiac problems that he has been facing as well as dropping a couple of stone in weight. Thus, he has recently become a spokesperson for veganism, albeit somewhat unwittingly.

It seems like at the moment everyone is hanging off his every word on this issue. Many nutritionists are keen to dispute Clinton and his doctor’s claims that the diet is healthy and even heart-disease reversing. Vegans are relishing the fact that they’ve got a former President now backing their diet and ideas. The media and the public meanwhile seem just generally fascinated at the whole prospect – veganism is still not a mainstream diet by any means, and a high profile figure such as this abandoning animal products and espousing the health benefits is an interesting development.

What is at the centre of this fascination though? Is it as simple as the fact that a previous junk foodist has turned his life around? I’m sure this holds some degree of weight – the celebrity culture that we live in entails this. But there is undoubtedly an added degree of fascination over exactly how it has been done – by following a vegan diet. The very same diet that the mainstream media portrays as unhealthy, lacking in protein and various vitamins and minerals, and completely unnatural. Here’s a case of a vegan diet working wonders for someone on the road to heart disease and possibly an early grave.

Veganism gets a lot of bad press, we all know this. Not least though is in the area of health. Consistently, it seems to be believed that by denying meat and dairy one is also sacrificing their fitness. I have met people who have actually told me that they couldn’t be vegan because they play too much sport/lift weights/run marathons. Of all the bullshit excuses I’ve heard, this is pretty high on the bullshitometer, due to the fact that veganism will not impair their activity and may actually enhance it.

You only have to type in ‘vegans are’ on Google, and amongst ‘stupid,’ ‘retarded,’ and ‘idiots’ it suggests ‘not healthy.’

A badly planned vegan diet is not healthy. But what about a badly planned omnivore diet? Haven’t really seen obesity, heart attacks and diabetes plague the former. Sure, there’s anemia, but that’s not too difficult to overcome. Besides, someone who is playing sports or following any kind of fitness regime should be regulating their diet heavily anyway. No one gets healthy and fit without monitoring what they’re taking in on a daily basis.

Now, I’m sure that at some point in the near future I’ll probably write up a list of vegan athletes, or at least write about a few of my inspirations. But for now I just want to write briefly about what fitness means to me as a vegan. I am a keen runner and weightlifter. I’ve never been one for teamsports really, but I love sports where I can set my own goals and tackle them, and I am committed to doing so. However, at no point have I ever felt hampered by my diet.

I ate meat for years, and was very overweight. I turned vegetarian and shed most of that. Yet since turning vegan my progress has been hugely boosted. I no longer feel sluggish and bloated from dairy products, and I’m avoiding cholesterol entirely. People are often surprised to find out that I am vegan. And this is important to me.

As veganism is still a diet that is widely unpopular in mainstream culture, every single vegan is an advert for the diet. Most people only know one or two vegans, if any. If you are that one vegan, they’ll probably look at you and judge veganism based on you.

It is your duty to prove the vegan stereotype wrong. The stereotype shouldn’t be of a skinny, preachy hippie. Prove that veganism is better than that. To me, this is a real motivation to maintain my fitness. If I am vegan, yet can outrun and outlift the majority of my peers then they will realise that something is working. If I am vegan, yet my body is in better shape than those panicking about their next meat-based protein fix then I am doing my bit to smash that stereotype which veganism has acquired.

Every vegan out there is responsible for the stereotype that develops with it. If you are that one vegan that someone knows, surprise them. Prove what veganism can be.

The importance of vitamin B12

When going vegan people often bring up the difficulties of watching your calcium intake, your protein intake, and your iron intake. Whilst a decent calcium and protein intake is easy to maintain (I get more calcium and protein than most omnivores), iron is something that should be watched. But ensuring you get enough iron isn’t too hard. The only real threat of deficiency in a vegan diet is vitamin B12. B12 comes from bacteria – no foods naturally contain it – it isn’t intrinsically in meat and animal products. It is essentially created by bacteria. Bacteria obviously thrive in animal products and meat, creating vitamin B12. I have heard some reports of ensuring B12 can be obtained by eating unwashed vegetables, but I wouldn’t call this a reliable (or necessarily a safe) source of B12.

So why is B12 important? And are vegans destined for deficiency?

B12 assists ensuring an effective working nervous system, and works to help with red blood cells. As you can imagine from this, a sign of deficiency is anaemia, so couple B12 deficiency with iron deficiency and you have a double whammy of anaemia. One of the other main benefits of B12 in the diet is that it helps to release energy from food. So, B12 is definitely important, but what are the risks of being deficient in it? Well, as mentioned, anaemia is a key problem in B12 deficiency. A more serious lack of B12 can result in pregnancy difficulties, heart problems, and/or damage to the nervous system. Some doctors have listed B12 deficiency as a cause of ME.

This is probably sounding pretty worrying, but don’t let this put you off veganism. The good news is that it’s very easy to stay on top of B12. The body needs an exceptionally tiny amount of the vitamin to stay healthy, and even if you’re not getting that then signs of deficiency will only start to rear their head after around 5-6 years as your body holds onto a huge supply of B12, storing it as though it were fuel for a car. This means there’s plenty of time to ensure you are back on track with your intake of the vitamin. As for where you’ll find it in a vegan diet, that’s also easy.

Most soy milk/plant milks are fortified to contain extra calcium and B12, as is a lot of tofu, so you’ll easily be getting enough from just a standard vegan diet probably. Often meat substitutes are fortified with B12. On top of this, many cereals are fortified with it. Another great source (if you can stomach it) is yeast extract, such as Marmite and Vegemite. If you’re taking a multivitamin pill, that’s also likely to have B12 in it.

What I’m trying to highlight is that B12 should be noted as important but it should not be a worry.

It has actually been highlighted that obtaining B12 from fortified foods makes it both more absorbable and obtainable that maintaining B12 levels from animal products. The US Institute of Medicine actually states “because 10 to 30 percent of older people may be unable to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12, it is advisable for those older than 50 years to meet their RDA mainly by consuming foods fortified with vitamin B12 or a vitamin B12-containing supplement,” making it clear that fortified foods are more efficient. Indeed, it has been said that a well monitored vegan diet is far less at risk of B12 deficiency than the average omnivore.

Hopefully, from this you can see that B12 should not be too much of a worry. It is just important to highlight it, and ensure that you avoid any claims that B12 can be consumed through unwashed vegetables. Whilst this may be true, there is nothing wrong with being careful about what you eat. This also doesn’t mean a vegan diet is unnatural – what is natural about killing more animals every five days than the number of people who’ve died in every recorded war and genocide in human history (click the link, it’s a pretty interesting article).

I hope this has been of some use, and I apologise if I got anyone worried at first about their health. If you need any more info on B12, check the sites below:

Excellent Vegan Society page on B12

Vegetarian Resource Group page on B12

In-depth look at B12, although beware her advice about not cleaning vegetables…

Love it or hate it, it's a good source of B12

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