ABC: President Bill Clinton. 65, Slim, Fit and Vegan! Vegan vs Vegetarian.

Nuts and SeedsAug 23, 2011 – For those of us considering a healthy switch to a vegetarian diet, our own President Bill Clinton may offer some inspiration in nudging us in that direction.  ABC’s Ron Claiborne recently reported on World New’s Tonight with Diane Sawyer, that President Bill Clinton not only turned 65 on his August 19, 2011 birthday, but he is also now a Vegan.  Ron reminded us of how the President was known for his love of burgers and fast food.  But a 2004 triple bypass heart surgery made him think seriously about changing his eating habits.

He was even more motivated with the goal of losing 20 pounds for his daughter, Chelsea’s wedding. He explained to Barbara Walters,  “For several months I essentially quit eating animal products including dairy. I’m mostly eat vegetables, fruits and whole grain bread. I just feel better doing it.”  And as reported by Ron Claiborne, he has been adhereing to the Vegan Diet for more than a year now.

Cardiologist, Dr. Dean Ornish, Preventive Medicine Research Institute, worked with Clinton to teach him how to eat more healthy. The doctor said moderate changes were not enough to reverse or prevent the heart disease. So Clinton began following more of a plant-based diet.  Cornish explained that studies have shown that plant based diets can actually reverse the progression of heart disease.  Within a month they have found that the blood flow to the heart can improve.

Before making that switch to vegetarianism, consider your diet options.
There are several types of vegetarians, all of which eat plant based diets of foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. However, some vegetarians include and/or exclude foods that will impact your nutritional needs.

  • Vegan – eats no dairy, no eggs, no animal products at all.
  • Lacto – eats dairy, but no eggs and no fish, meat or poultry
  • Ovo – eats eggs, but no other dairy and no fish, meat or poultry. Excluding dairy is based on ethical concerns of  industry practices involving treatment of cows and their milk production.
  • Ovo-lacto eats dairy and eggs, but no fish, meat or poultry.
  • Pescetarian – eats fish, dairy and eggs, but no meat or poultry. Some consider this category more of a transition to vegetarianism.

Since vegetarians’ diet may be restrictive on some level, extra planning may be necessary to ensure you consume healthy quantities of essential nutrients.

You may want to use a free online nutrient calculator such as The RightTrak.com to make sure you are getting your essential nutrients met.  The RightTrak.com will calculate your Recommended Daily Allowances(RDA) for over 30 nutrients. You can select a variety of foods and The RightTrak will add up the nutrient values of your selected foods.  The RightTrak will turn Green if those allowances are met or Red if those allowances are not met.

Here are some nutrients of concern for vegetarian diets.

  • Protein – essential for growth and maintenance. Complete Protein needs can be met by plants sources by combining a variety of foods to get to right balance of Essential Amino Acids. Eat a variety of vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and grains.  The RightTrak.com can calculate the Essential Amino Acids in your food choices to make sure you meet your Complete Protein needs.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – important for heart, brain, eye, joint, skin health and development, as well as important for anti-inflammatory and disease provention. Plants based sources of  Omega 3s do not always convert sufficiently to usable types of Omega 3s and diets that do not include fish will also be low of this important nutrient. You may have to consider Omega 3 fortified foods and supplements.
  • Vitamin B12 – needed to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This important nutrient is found almost exclusively in animal products. Consider fortified foods, brewer’s yeast and vitamin supplements. The RightTrak.com provides a Nutrient Search of the best food sources in over 7500 foods.
  • Vitamin D – important for bone health and disease prevention.  It helps us absorb calcium. Best sources are sunlight, fish oils, and vitamin supplements.
  • Calcium essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. Low fat milk and dairy products are the richest food sources. Dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens and kale are also good sources. You may need to consider fortified soy products and supplements to meet your calcium deficit. The RightTrak.com can calculate the calcium in foods that you select from their 7500 food database.
  • Iron – essential component of red blood cells. Deficiencies can cause anemia, developmental delays in infants and in adults can cause fatigue, memory and mental disfunction. Plants sources include dried beans, peas, lentils, dried fruit, dark leafy greens and whole grains. However, iron from plants sources is not readily absorbed by the body, therefore vegetarians may need to consume sufficiently more iron than non-vegetarians, sometimes double according to the level of animal product restrictions.  Vitamin C helps iron absorption so include Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus, tomatoes, and strawberries with your iron intake.
  • Iodine – component of thyroid hormones which regulates our metabolism, and our key organs (brain, heart, kidneys, etc). Certain common vegetarian stables such as soy products, sweet potatoes and brocoli may contribute to an iodine deficiency by their very nature.  Consider taking 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt to provide a significant amount of iodine in your diet.
  • Zinc – important for cell division and protein formation. Plant sources are not readily aborbed by the body. However, cheese is a good option if you eat dairy products. Plant food sources include legumes, nuts, soy products, and wheat germ.

Resources:
USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov
National Institutes of Health-MedlinePlus
Mayo Clinic
American Heart Association

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