Thursday, 4 September 2014

At the heart of veganism

Everybody wants a celebrity body and we are always trying to find out the secret to their diet. Who doesn’t want to look as amazing as Lea Michele? There’s a reason why some A-list celebrities always look so healthy and it’s not just because of their personal trainers. A vegan diet is the key to many of Hollywood’s’ stars weight loss, even Beyoncé and Jay Z recently jumped on the bandwagon and went on a vegan challenge. With studies showing that a low-carb vegan diet leads to more weight loss, it’s no wonder so many people are following the diet. But is it really good for your health?

Kamil and Ewelina Obrebski have been vegan for 15 and 10 years respectively for ethical reasons and find that the social aspect of eating out is very difficult and restricting. They were frustrated with the lack of restaurants that offer wholly vegan meals, so much so that they decided to open their own vegan lounge, Mad Cucumber. It is the only 100% vegan bistro in Bournemouth and has a nice ‘green’ feel to it, filled with funny portraits of vegetables and lots of delicious looking food, it has a welcoming and happy atmosphere which is due to its devoted owners. Kamil found that it was so difficult to eat out in a restaurant that they gave up trying. “Even if you specify that you want a vegan salad or something like that, it might have chicken in there by mistake but it has happened a few times,” he says.

Both Kamil and Ewelina didn’t feel any different after turning vegan, they maintained the same weight as before and didn’t notice any health benefits. “Whenever I had something to eat, prior to the vegan change, I felt that sometimes the meals were pretty heavy and then you don’t want to do anything and you feel half asleep,” he explains. A vegan diet can be good for your health depending on the individual, it can be beneficial for some, however, not everyone will lose weight or feel lighter.

Vegan diets are gaining popularity in the news with many celebrities following them and crediting their weight loss to it, with the support of stars like Jared Leto, Olivia Wilde, Lea Michele, Brad Pitt and Alicia Silverstone, it’s no wonder it has gained such interest. Last year Beyoncé and Jay-Z embarked on a 22 day vegan challenge and lost a combined weight of 110 pounds.

Vegan challenges allow you test the waters to see if you want to commit to that diet or if it has any benefits for you. The 21-day Vegan Kickstart is for anyone wanting to explore the health benefits of a vegan diet. It is a free program that people can use from the privacy and comfort of their own home. They have nutrition webcasts, cooking demonstrations, three week menus, grocery lists and a community forum. It originated in the U.S. and is now international, it has had over 330,000 users and will be celebrating its fourth anniversary this year.

Jill Eckart is the nutrition program manager at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and oversees the management of the 21-Day Kickstart programs. Jill explains there are a whole host of benefits that you are going to get when eating a vegan diet that science is telling us. “Our Kickstart participants tell us that they feel better, lighter, have more energy, they start to lose weight, usually people lose about a pound a week on this diet,” she says.

There is growing scientific evidence that veganism is a smarter way of living. Studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans do better in terms of their risk for chronic disease. Veganism can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer which is strongly linked to red and processed meat. It is also one of the best diets to combat obesity and demonstrates lower risk factors associated with cardiac disease.

But is a vegan diet healthier than diets which include meat or dairy? Those who begin a vegan diet must take into account that they will lack essential nutrients which one would normally get from meat or dairy. Individuals can be at risk of not getting enough calcium, vitamin D, protein, Vitamin B12, zinc and iron in their diets. Jo Travers, who is a nutritionist at The London Nutritionist believes it’s harder to get all the nutrients you need from a vegan diet and have to make an effort to get them elsewhere. “You must know how to combine different sources of plant protein in order to get the complete range of amino acids (meat and animal proteins such as eggs and dairy tend to have them all). Without the complete range, the body won't be able to make new proteins such as hormones and enzymes,” she explains. Eating a healthy balanced diet is good for a person’s health and if done properly this can be achieved from a vegan diet. However, Jo emphasizes that it is not safe to feed an infant the diet as it is too high in fibre and won't provide enough energy.

The increasing evidence of studies are telling people that eating lots of fruit and vegetables and less fatty foods is better for a persons’ health, so is a vegan diet better than a vegetarian one? Both diets tend to be high in fibre and low in saturated fat. In comparison to vegans, vegetarians don’t need to take any B12 or amino supplements since they eat dairy products, however, vegan diets minimizes the risk of food allergies and intolerance from allergens like shellfish, eggs and dairy. Veronika Powell works as a campaigner for Viva! and Viva! Health, and thinks that a vegan diet is better than a vegetarian one because it cuts out dairy. “Most of the world’s population is lactose intolerant to some degree and even though we have been told we need milk, for many people it doesn’t just cause digestive problems but it contributes to acne,” she expands.

The appeal of being vegan is slowly increasing, especially with celebrities flaunting their weight loss from the diet, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Some people see no health benefits or change whatsoever, as each individual is different and will react differently. Despite that it can help in the prevention of many diseases and if done properly by maintaining a healthy well balanced diet there will be no risks.
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