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Health Watch: The benefits and drawbacks of a vegan diet 

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The vegan stereotype is shifting. Once the image of crunchy granola hippies and tree hugging environmentalists, now associations with glamorous and beautiful celebrities like Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow. Hollywood has been on the vegan bandwagon for years, and now Americans are too.

Vegetarian diets exclude all meat including poultry and fish. Vegan diets exclude all animal products and rely only on plant-based food sources.

Thirteen percent of Americans identify as being either vegetarian (6 percent) or vegan (7 percent), according to a 2013 Public Policy Polling survey. Since 2008, that percentage has dramatically increased. According to a 2008 study published by the Vegetarian Times, more than 3 percent of U.S. adults, or about 7 million people, followed a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent, or 1 million, of those were vegans.

The huge jump in percentage of vegetarians and vegans between 2008 and 2013 are representative of society’s overall trend towards a more plant-based diet. It has become part of mainstream nutrition.

But for one Elon senior, veganism is not just a trend. It is her way of life. She became vegetarian six years ago for ethical reasons and then made the shift to veganism two years later. Hollister said that veggies make up the majority of her diet.

“I eat so much vegetables,” Hollister said. “Like so many vegetables. It’s almost like, it’s not a game, but it’s fun to see how much I can pack into a meal.”

Just veggies? Hollister said she is asked all of the time how she gets enough protein in her diet.

“There’s so many options,” she laughed. “Yeah, there’s a ton. I eat a lot of rice, beans and lentils. I’ve just more recently been getting into fancier vegan protein supplements, and I’ve been taking a pea protein with my morning smoothies.”

Heather Colleran, the sports dietitian at Elon, said that vegans and vegetarians can surely get all of the right nutrients through a plant-based diet, as long as they are eating a well balanced diet. 

“That would include vitamin fortified breads and cereals for carbohydrates, legumes like beans and lentils for proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables,” she said.

For Hollister transitioning to a vegan lifestyle took some practice at first. 

“Honestly, it took about a year to feel good about the choices I was making.”

Now, Hollister said she feels great and is able to get all of the right nutrients.

Several studies show that veganism improves body weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure offering reasons as to why it has become so popular and heavily endorsed by several celebrities and health gurus.

“It is a trend, very much so,” Colleran said. “So again, we can now term veganism as more of a fad diet than an actual lifestyle.” 

But for Hollister, veganism was always far more than just a trendy diet. She even noticed an improvement in her athletic abilities as a runner when she switched to veganism.

“Once I cut dairy out I noticed I felt fresher,” she said. “I didn’t feel this weird weight when I was running so my PR instantly improved. It was a very like real result.”

Hollister said she feels great almost all of the time and is healthy at every doctor’s check up. She also said it’s important to practice a vegan diet the right way. Colleran agreed.

“If you are thinking about doing veganism or vegetarianism please talk to a registered dietitian,” Colleran said. “We are here to make sure that that diet is balanced because you can create nutrient deficiencies very quickly.”

Some of those deficiencies include iron and b12, which Hollister said she makes up for by taking vitamin supplements.

About the author: Sky Cowans

Sky Cowans is a senior broadcast journalism major. She is currently an evening news anchor for ELN. Originally from Beverly, Massachusetts, Sky is passionate about health and fitness. She is also a group exercise instructor for Elon Campus Recreation and enjoys teaching power yoga. Last fall, Sky lived in Copenhagen Denmark for four months where she studied cross-cultural communications. She also serves as a Global Ambassador for Elon. Sky hopes to pursue a career in either broadcast news or health and wellness journalism.

10 Responses to Health Watch: The benefits and drawbacks of a vegan diet

  1. avatar

    True, there is no such thing as a protein deficiency in the western world. An orange has 8% protein. Of course, it has very little calories and that’s the point - it is CALORIES that count. And it is very hard to be calorie deficient in the western world - which is why protein deficiency is only found in rare cases where people starve themselves of CALORIES due to eating disorders.

  2. avatar
    Jim Savarese

    There are no disadvantages to a starch based whole food plant based diet. drmcdougall.com There is no need for protein supplements or any other supplement aside from B-12. Base your meals on starch (potatoes, rice, corn, pasta, whole grain breads), add some fruits and vegetables and eliminate animal products and oils

  3. avatar

    I’ve been vegan for 25 years. I have low blood pressure, low cholesterol, no osteoporosis, no vitamin deficiencies. It’s not rocket science-just eat a variety of healthy foods. That’s what everyone should do, vegan or not.

  4. avatar
    David Ulrich

    While it is true that an unbalanced diet can cause nutritional deficiencies. A meat based diet by definition is an unbalanced diet. Replacing healthy plant foods with meat, deficient in everything but protein and loaded with unhealthy Fats, Cholesterol, Heim Iron, environmental toxins and acidic sulfur containing aminos, is a sure recipe for declining health. Choose a well balanced plant based diet and let the Doctor sell his pills to some other poor soul.

  5. avatar

    Like any meal, one must be mindful that it’s balanced with an array of nutrients. You do your research and learn how to give your body the best fuel it can get. Then, you reap the benefits!

  6. avatar

    I went vegan for ethical reasons, but the health benefits are great perks! I never worry about my blood pressure or cholesterol levels. I even lost weight when I went vegan. I also feel good because vegan foods require fewer resources and cause fewer greenhouse gasses. Going vegan was the best decision I ever made, -veggies, mock meats and other vegan foods taste great, too, so I don’t miss a thing.

  7. avatar

    This is an incredibly badly written, ass-backward, disorganized article. And your grammar sucks, too.

    “So again, we can now term veganism as more of a fad diet than an actual lifestyle.”

    You total idiot, it’s the other way around.

    I’m not going to waste more time on this. You’re majoring in this work, consider putting people out of their misery and choose massage therapy or something.

  8. avatar
    Andy Taylor

    I’ve always found losing weight to be something of a struggle. I decided a few years ago that I wanted to make a positive change in my life to get healthier and slim down, so I started trying every weight loss program I could find. I’ve found a few that work and plenty that don’t, but I’ve reviewed the best one here if you’re interested: http://www.fatweightlossreviews.com/weight-loss/reviewing-the-fat-loss-factor-weight-loss-program/

  9. avatar

    Totally follow this as every diet has it’s pros and cons.

  10. avatar
    Paul Deeb

    You don’t need to worry about protein as a vegan. It’s in everything even white rice. There is on such thing as a protein deficiency.

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