vegans are not extraterrestrials from a planet orbiting Vega,
although many might consider their dietary habits to be
completely alien. Plant-only eaters represent a mere 2 percent
of the population; another 5 percent describe themselves as
contrast, Americans are noted for their penchant for
overconsumption of such animal-based foods as meat, eggs and
dairy along with high sugar intake. More than two-thirds of
Americans are overweight or obese, more than a third having
diabetes or metabolic syndrome. A poor diet is a risk factor
for type 2 diabetes, which carries with it a number of serious
and life-threatening complications. Family history, low
activity and excess body weight also increase a personís
chance of getting the disease.
"vegan" term can connote an animal-rights ethic and
environmental activism, but the common denominator among all
vegans is avoidance of all animal-based foodstuff.
might sound crazy to some, a diet completely devoid of steaks,
eggs, cheese and ice cream, has an ally: science.
are no guarantees, but evidence continues blooming that a
daily diet based on whole plant foods can prevent or reverse
many of the chronic health problems plaguing America ó
hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and type 2
diabetes. Thereís further evidence that a plant-based diet
also can help prevent or fight cancer, autoimmune diseases and
arthritis, among many other common conditions.
science prefers discussing a whole-plant-food diet, rather
than a vegan one, to eliminate connotations of animal-rights
or environmental ideology. But thereís little debate that
diets limited to vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, spices and
herbs are healthful. They increase fiber intake thatís
lacking in the large majority of American diets, while
providing a wide range of antioxidants, minerals and other
nutrients, which build the immune system, reduce inflammation
and improve metabolism and gastrointestinal health. The diet
also reduces or eliminates the intake of processed foods,
empty calories and carcinogens.
Up to 50
vegans responded to a Post-Gazette Facebook request, many
advocating animal rights. But many also said they experienced
notable health benefits as a welcome side effect, including
dramatic weight loss. The diet also helped individuals to
reverse osteoarthritis, autoimmune disorders, colitis or Crohnís
disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer and bring sugar levels
back to normal for those with type 2 diabetes. Others say
their plant-based diets increase their energy levels,
eliminate allergies and improve their skin, including
will never not be a vegan," said Ellie Gordon, 28, of
Squirrel Hill, a vegetarian at age 11 and a vegan for seven
years. "There have been so many scientific studies and
research connecting longevity and alleviation of a whole
plethora of health problems with a plant-based diet. There is
a whole lot of research to support it even if people donít
care about it."
about sufficient protein and amino acids are common complaints
against the vegan diet. Several plant foods, including soy and
hemp seeds, are complete proteins, containing all the
essential amino acids. Eating a variety of protein-based
vegetables ó including leafy greens, nuts, seeds and beans
ó throughout the day can, in combination, provide the needed
amino acids. In a study published in 1999 in the journal
Medical Hypotheses, researcher Mark F. McCarty explained how
vegetable protein reduces the risk of cancer, cardiovascular
disease and obesity. His work in the field is often cited in
discussions of the benefits of vegetable protein. McCarty is
also co-founder of a mail-order nutritional supplements
company, NutriGuard Research.
Jurek, one of Americaís most notable ultramarathoners,
became vegan in 1999 because of poor nutrition affecting him
and others he knew. German strongman Patrik Baboumian, who
holds world weight-lifting records, also is vegan. They say
their success proves that the vegan diet is good for muscles
listen to those self-proclaimed nutrition gurus and the
supplement industry trying to tell you that you need meat,
eggs and dairy to get enough protein," Baboumian told
. "There are plenty of plant-based protein sources, and
your body is going to thank you for stopping feeding it with
dead-food. Go vegan and feel the power."
Spitz Cohan, who directs JFILM, The Pittsburgh Jewish Film
Forum, had been vegetarian for three years when she was
diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, which
required her to undergo eight rounds of chemotherapy, rather
than the traditional four, along with radiation therapy. She
and her husband, Jeffrey Cohan, who directs Jewish Vegetarians
of North America, became fully vegan during her treatment.
benefit of her diet and exercise regimen that included power
yoga was maintenance of energy levels during chemo. The couple
climbed the steepest side of Acadia National Parkís highest
mountain in Maine during her treatments, she said. The diet
and exercise regimen seemed to work. In follow-up tests, her
radiologist told her there were no signs of cancer, not even a
shadow of the former tumor. It was the most complete response
to treatment her doctor had seen, Spitz Cohan said.
vegan diet "was absolutely essential" to her good
outcome with breast cancer, she said. "Itís been four
years," she said. "I canít say Iím out of the
woods or that it will not come back. But I know Iím doing
everything in my power to lead a healthy lifestyle, and it
feels good. I donít feel Iím denying myself anything or
restricting my life. I love the food. The food is
Americans believe the more protein the better. But a study
published in March in Cell Metabolism found that "a low
protein diet during middle age likely is beneficial to
prevention of cancer, overall mortality and possibly even
diabetes," and "a diet in which plant-based
nutrients represent the majority of food intake is likely to
maximize health benefits in all age groups."
study authors had found an association between high-protein
diets ó "a significant portion" associated with
animal-based protein ó and deaths from cancer and other
causes. So although the study also found that those 65 and
older should get moderate- to high-protein intake, it says
their focus should be "preferably mostly plant-based
consumption to allow the maintenance of a healthy weight and
protection from frailty."
noncontroversial statement in food science is that people
should eat more fruits and vegetables.
diet wonít agree with that," said Michael Greger,
physician and director of public health and animal agriculture
at the Humane Society of the United States. Also founder of
NutritionFacts.org, he reviews 12,000 health studies a year to
keep track of nutrition science. "It not only can prevent
but it also can reverse heart disease, type 2 diabetes and
hypertension. Overwhelmingly it is the diet most associated
with chronic-disease prevention and reversal of most of the
diseases plaguing the Western world."
average, he said, vegans are 36 pounds lighter than omnivores
and feature the lowest rates of cataracts, hypertension,
diabetes and obesity. The Adventist Health Studies from 1958
to the present and involving 96,000 people (including 4,000
vegans and 20,000 vegetarians) are cited as providing the
clearest evidence of health advantages from plant-based foods.
study, Dr. Greger said, has shown that vegans have the best
health outcomes, followed by vegetarians. Health benefits
progressively recede with increased percentages of
animal-based foods. Publicity about plant-based health
advantages is working. Meat consumption has dropped 12 percent
in the past five years.
while all vegan diets eliminate meat and dairy, not all vegan
diets are healthy. "Potato chips, Oreos and Twinkies are
all vegan," Dr. Greger said, explaining why nutrition
scientists emphasize a whole-plant-food diet rather than a
Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American
Dietetic Association) says appropriately planned vegetarian or
vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may
provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of
certain diseases. It also said such diets can meet current
recommendations for all nutrients, including protein, B-12 and
various minerals that previously raised concern about
vegetable-based diets. But the association advises people to
assess the adequacy of plant-based diets and seek help from
nutrition professionals about specific nutrients, food
purchasing and preparation, to make dietary modifications that
meet individual needs.
March article, The Atlantic magazine recruited David Katz of
the Yale University prevention research center to analyze many
diets, including the vegan, Mediterranean and Paleolithic
diets, to determine the healthiest. None was declared the
winner. The Mediterranean diet features high consumption of
vegetables and olive oil with moderate protein consumption.
The Paleolithic or caveman diet tries to emulate what our
ancestors ate ó meats, non-starch vegetables but no grains
or processed foods from modern agriculture.
whole-plant-food diet won by default. Dr. Katz concludes that
"among the salient points of proven health benefits the
researchers note, nutritionally replete plant-based diets are
supported by a wide array of favorable health outcomes,
including fewer cancers and less heart disease. These diets
ideally included not just fruits and vegetables, but whole
grains, nuts and seeds."
Robert Conti was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which
eventually caused him numbness in his shoulders and the
near-shutdown of his bowels and urinary tract. During a
hospital stay, he recovered bowel and urinary function by
adopting a steamed-vegetable diet.
released from the hospital, he enrolled in the John McDougall
course at what is now known as the McDougall Wellness Center
in Santa Rosa, Calif., which advocates a dietary foundation of
starch-based foods ó potatoes, corn and rice ó with whole
vegetables and no oils. The diet is 100 percent vegan.
following months, Mr. Conti, now 56, of Scott, regained
movement and sensation, with added help from exercise. Today
he said he has no signs of multiple sclerosis ó his doctor
could no longer detect plaque on his spinal cord. That and his
lack of symptoms convinced his doctor to change his diagnoses
to atypical multiple sclerosis, Conti said.
the diet, he said, "I think I would be using a wheelchair
for mobility and eventually require communication aids."
STORY CAN END HERE)
by the healing powers of a plant-based diet, Rebecca Gilbert,
42, of Shadyside began her popular website, YummyPlants.com,
which now serves as "a portal into the vegan
lifestyle." She also has a large Facebook and Twitter
12, Vegan Pittsburgh will sponsor a free event from 4 to 7
p.m. at the Stephen Foster Community Center in Lawrenceville
to launch her book, "Itís Easy to Start Eating Vegan."
Local restaurants will provide vegan food.
Gilbertí?s own health success with the lifestyle explains
15, the native of Chippewa, Beaver County, became so
interested in competitive ice skating that she moved to Lake
Placid, N.Y., to train at the Olympic Training Center. The
excellent jumper, capable of doing triple jumps, never quite
reached Olympic caliber but continued skating throughout high
school and during her years at the University of Pennsylvania.
After graduation, she received an invitation to participate in
Disneyís "Beauty and the Beast" European tour.
in her knee forced her to skip the tour. She underwent
cortisone treatments, electrical stimulation and surgery to
release pressure against her kneecap. No longer able to skate,
she returned to school, earned an MBA degree and went to work.
But in time she came across a Scandinavian study that
concluded that a vegan diet had succeeded in eliminating knee
very next day I went vegan," Ms. Gilbert said. "Five
weeks later, I was back on the ice. Itís a real testament of
how veganism helped to heal me."