Saturday, May 28, 2011

Vegetarianism vs Veganism

It's interesting how passionate people can be about certain subjects. Religion and politics readily come to mind as being areas that people have strong feelings about. However,in recent years, the subject of diet,and more specifically vegetarianism, has often been a contentious issue.On a related note, I think we all recognize that a vegetarian diet is very popular among runners.In this article I am going to offer some comments on vegetarianism,diet and lifestyle. I'd also like to preface this by saying that I have read and studied about health and diet since the early 70's. I don't say this to set myself up as some kind of expert but to let you know that I am not a "Johnny come lately" to this subject.I would also say that I am primarily a vegetarian but do on occasion eat fish and will eat certain types of dairy.Now I will quickly add that I might not be a "true vegetarian" to the dietary purists out there, but, I believe I have a little bit different take on the whole subject of vegetarianism. When I first got into healthy eating,etc. many years ago,vegetarianism was just beginning to move from the sort of counterculture perception to mainstream acceptance. It didn't take long for the myths about vegetarianism and the risk of developing vitamin deficiencies to be dispelled and the diet to be adopted by millions of people. I should say that back then if you said the word vegetarian you were generally referring to a type of eating that included eggs and other types of dairy products, as well as for some people at least,fish. The reasons for people becoming vegetarian involved some or all of the following: they believed it was a more healthy way to eat, it was less expensive, it was a humane and animal "friendly" diet and definitely thought to be better for the enviroment. Fast forward to 2011 and vegetarianism is now more popular than ever but some changes have occurred. Vegetarianism has now morphed into an off-shoot called veganism. Veganism,as you probably know, is a vegetarian diet but one without any fish or dairy products. It is a popular and trendy way of eating advocated by celebrities in the entertainment and sports world, but as is often the case,that's not necessarily a good thing. Unfortunately,there are precautions that have to be taken when one adopts this diet because vitamin deficiencies can occur,most notably B-12. Proponents of veganism say this can be avoided by simply taking B-12 supplements. This however raises two questions. First,how healthy is a diet that says you may need supplementation? Secondly,not just any type of B-12 supplement will work. Writers who make a living promoting veganism will say their diet is the way to go if you want to live a long,healthy life. Other proponents will describe obscure groups or tribes of people living thousands of feet above sea level with pristine soil and water as being living proof that veganism works. How that applies to me living at sea level in the smog I don't know. The truth is,is that you can find no people out there where you can search back several generations and say,"yes,they have lived long,vigorous and healthy lives on what we call a vegan diet." A diet that has the possibility of creating a dietary deficiency should be avoided by anyone,especially an athlete who puts his and her body through periodic and varying degrees of stress. Again,in finding the ideal diet,shouldn't we see some evidence that gives proof to such a claim? Of course! Before I offer that proof, the one essential non-dietary aspect for a long,healthy life is being mentally and physically active. The logical question now is,where on earth do people live long healthy lives,where are there more centenarians than anywhere else? The answer is to look to the people of Okinawa and how they eat because that is where you will find the greatest concentration of aged and active people. For those who are unfamiliar with their diet,a little search on the Web will provide much useable and interesting information. Not surprisingly,Okinawans and people from other healthy cultures who have adopted a "western" diet have witnessed a decline in health and longevity. Hardly a surprise when 60% of the people in the U.S. are overweight and our fastest growing industry is healthcare. May we be as confident about our diet as we are about our training.

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