In the past few years alone, a tremendous amount of information has emerged outlining the health benefits that can be achieved from a vegan/vegetarian diet. In fact, as Harvard Medical School points out, “studies are confirming the health benefits of meat-free eating. Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses.” (source)
The American Dietetic Association has also weighed in with a position paper on the subject, concluding that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Many athletes are also making the transition to veganism, including Kendrick Farris, the only American male weightlifter to compete in the Rio Olympics. You can read more about that here.
There is a lot of information out there on this topic, and I’d like you point you toward a couple of articles we’ve published before moving on with the rest of this article:
Below this paragraph is an article inspired by Michelle McMacken’s piece on veganism, “7 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Meat.” A bit more information has been added in, along with a few slightly different points. She’s an MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine.
Even Kim A. Williams, M.D., President of the American College of Cardiology, has adopted a vegan diet.
So, the next time somebody brings up nutrition, make sure they understand that it’s well established in scientific literature that our bodies can not only survive, but thrive on a vegan or vegetarian diet, and will see innumerable health benefits from doing so.
An another side note, an article by Rob Dunn written for Scientific American titled “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians” goes into great detail about this issue, from an evolutionary perspective, raising multiple points about how our guts might actually be evolved for eating just plants, with perhaps the occasional piece of meat here and there as a rare treat.
Dr. Heather Shenkman
Dr. Heather Shenkman is a vegan cardiologist in West Hills, California. In July of 2010 she completed Ironman Lake Placid, which was her first Ironman-level triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, 26.2 mile race). She also competed internationally at the Maccabiah Games in the summer of 2013 and earned a bronze medal for the United States as a Masters (adult) level triathlete. And in August of 2015, she completed Ironman Boulder.
Below, she offers her reasons for becoming vegan and her protocol for helping patients move toward this diet themselves:
I started exercising so that I wouldn’t be a hypocrite when I gave lifestyle advice to my patients. I had no idea it would become such a fulfilling, incredible part of my personal life. It was a happy surprise.
I encourage my patients to have healthy lifestyle habits and am tell them I would not ask them to do anything that I myself do not do. To help guide them in the right direction, I advise them to watch Forks Over Knives and frame a whole-food, plant-based diet as the healthiest choice. Since no other diet has been shown to reverse heart disease, I tell them that the closest they can come to this diet as possible is best for their heart.
I recognize that not every patient who walks in my office is going to walk out a vegan. In fact, most won’t. My goal as a cardiologist is to provide my patients with the best information on how to improve their heart health and reduce their risk of cardiovascular events. What they do with that information is up to them. When I start talking to patients about diet, a common reaction is: “I’ll never become a vegetarian!” I don’t expect most of my patients (who eat meat, butter, and cheese at every meal) to give it up all at once. Instead, I talk about how their diet and lifestyle habits have led them to their present disease. We agree that years of animal products, fast food, junk food, lack of exercise, and smoking have all contributed to their current state of health. We also agree that in order to do better, some of those habits need to change.
For more resistant patients, I start out with simple and easy steps like: Eat more fruits and vegetables; eat less meat and dairy; walk for a few minutes every day. A plant-based diet is ideal, but some people need to start small with attainable goals. At the next visit, we take it a few steps further. On the other hand, I have patients who take on lifestyle change with vigor. They adopt a plant-based diet and start exercising. And without much effort, excess weight seems to come off. They tend to feel better as well. Of those motivated patients, I have not seen a single one of them have a recurrent cardiac event—not one has needed another stent or another bypass surgery.
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