Pros and Cons of Going Totally Vegan
Posted May 26, 2012
Several high-profile public figures have made headlines recently about their
decision to go vegan, spurring increased interest and debate about this
plant-based diet plan.
Among them are Ellen DeGeneres, the Emmy award-winning comedian and her
wife, actress Portia de Rossi, who have purged their diets of all animal
products, including milk and eggs.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton recently spoke with DeGeneres on her
talk-variety show about his decision to adopt a vegan diet, too. Other famous
vegans include: Carrie Underwood, Ted Danson, Mike Tyson, Alec Baldwin, Alicia
Silverstone and Lea Michele.
Vegetarian vs. Vegan
According to a 2011 poll by The Vegetarian Resource Group, approximately
5 percent of adults in the U.S. say they are vegetarian, which means they
never eat meat, fish, seafood or poultry.
About half of those vegetarians also are vegan, which means they also do
not consume any animal products or by-products, according to the VRG.
In addition to staying away from flesh foods, dairy and eggs, vegans
avoid fur, leather, wool, down and cosmetics or chemical products tested on
animals for a variety of reasons, including those related to animal rights,
the environment and health, according to Vegan Action, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to educating the public about the benefits of a vegan
With the vegan lifestyle getting increased attention, we spoke to nine
local experts and asked them to explain the pros and cons of this diet and
lifestyle choice and how to make the change safely.
Benefits of vegan diet
Local dietitians said when done right, going vegan comes with numerous
Less fat, more fruits and veggies: Ellen Thompson, a registered, licensed
dietitian in Ohio who is based out of Springfield and works throughout the
Miami Valley, said vegans are removing saturated fats from their diet and are
likely to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Decreased health risks: The vitamins and minerals in fruits and
vegetables may lead to a decreased risk for certain types of cancer, said
Carla Metzler, a registered, licensed dietitian who works at Fort Hamilton
A vegan diet may prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes
and obesity, according to both Joan Wire, a registered, licensed dietitian in
Ohio who runs a counseling business called Real Well and who works out of
LaDeSpa in Oakwood, and Kathryn Hines, a registered, licensed dietitian in
Ohio who works at Springfield Regional Medical Center.
Going vegan also may reduce the risk of high blood pressure,
constipation, breast cancer, colon cancer, diverticular disease, gallstones,
irritable bowel syndrome and appendicitis, said Mara Lamb, a registered,
licensed dietitian who owns her own practice called Nutrition Therapy Clinic
Lower BMI: Vegans tend to have a lower body mass index and a lower amount
of LDL cholesterol in their bodies, which clogs arteries, said Carol Nartker,
a diabetes nutrition educator and a registered, licensed dietitian in Ohio who
works at the Diabetes Wellness Center of Atrium Medical Center in Middletown.
In fact, "Forks over Knives," a 2011 documentary, has recently drawn
attention for examining the claim that most, and perhaps all, degenerative
diseases can be controlled or eliminated by rejecting animal-based and
processed foods, said Rich Cohen, a registered dietitian, licensed dietitian
in Ohio, who works at Kettering Weight Loss Solutions within the Kettering
"Our food supply is not very natural," Cohen said. " ... The vegan diet
seems to be offering perhaps some kind of a nutritional medicine approach,
particularly with people with cardiovascular disease."
Allergy, sinus relief? Wire also said individuals who turn to a vegan
diet may realize allergy symptoms and sinus problems are reduced or eliminated
once they stop consuming dairy.
Downsides of going vegan
On the other hand, there are potential negative health effects associated
with going vegan, dietitians said.
Risk of deficiencies: According to Thompson, if a vegan is not careful,
he or she may develop nutritional deficiencies due to a lack of dairy and meat
products in their diet.
Some dietitians are concerned that vegans do not receive an adequate
amount of amino acids, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Calcium, protein and iron,
Dr. Andrew Dyer, an associate clinician at Back to Health Center in
Dayton, said protein deficiencies can lead to fatigue, a lack of energy and an
inability to complete daily tasks, he said.
Additionally, those participating in exercise and athletics may have a
difficult time healing and repairing post workout without getting enough
protein in their diet, he said.
A lack of Vitamin B12 in a diet may lead to anemia, Nartker said.
Bone health: In addition, a lack of calcium may put a person at risk for
developing a fragile bone structure, according to Metzler.
"Chronic nutritional deficiencies can affect the quality of one's life,
how they feel, how they function from day to day," Nartker said.
What vegans should, should not eat
Vegans should avoid overly processed foods and choose whole foods, which
are closer to "what Mother Nature intended" for people to consume, Wire
Vegans must minimize their intake of "junk food," which includes sweets
and snacks high in fat, Lamb said.
Acclimating to new tastes typically takes about three weeks, she said.
Importance of planning
Careful planning is key to ensuring a person adopts a long-term, healthy
vegan diet, Thompson said. It's also important that vegans remember that a
healthy lifestyle means they get enough exercise and sleep, too, she said.
"It's not what you do once in a while," Thompson said. "It's what you do
Start by doing research.
"Don't go in cold turkey," Wire said. " ... You could miss out on getting
the right types of protein."
Thompson said vegans should speak to a dietitian in order to make sure
they are following a healthy diet plan.
New vegans should change their diet slowly, and should see a doctor if
they have health issues such as diabetes, she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact this reporter at
(937) 225-2122 or Jacqueline.Boyle@coxinc.com.
©2012 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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