There is one constant at the start of every year: resolutions. A time-honored tradition that approximately 44 percent of Americans resolve to make year after year. And while eating healthier tops many New Year’s resolution lists, the likelihood of success is slim. According to U.S. News, approximately 80 percent of resolutions fail by the second week of February.
As if there weren’t enough pressure to maintain the “New Year, New You” food-related goals, music moguls Beyonce and Jay-Z recently challenged fans to go vegan.
“It’s awesome that celebrities are promoting healthy living, but everyone has to choose what works best for them and their lifestyle, and not just do what Beyoncé or a celebrity suggests,” said Lindsey Bevans, director of food and nutrition at Sky Ridge Medical Center, an HCA Healthcare affiliate in Lone Tree, Colorado.
“If someone is going to choose a diet, make sure it’s for the right reasons. The diet of their choosing needs to be sustainable and one where they can be successful,” she added.
HCA Healthcare tapped Bevans and Jessica LaFleur, bariatric program director at affiliate Portsmouth Regional Hospital in Portsmouth, N.H. – representing nutrition experts on both coasts – to weigh in on veganism, popular diets for 2019 and what food trends they would recommend for those with healthy eating aspirations.
What does it mean to be a vegan?
Jessica: A vegan is an individual who chooses not to consume dairy, eggs or any other products of animal origin including meats or fish.
Lindsey: Veganism is more of a lifestyle. Individuals who choose to go vegan make sure their food, clothes, beauty products or household goods are “animal-friendly.” In other words, vegans will avoid all animal products. It’s oftentimes an ethical choice, but people also decide on that lifestyle for healthy living.
What do vegans eat?
Jessica: Their diet consists mainly of grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Also, there are many vegan staples the food industry now offers such as nondairy yogurt, veggie burgers, tofu, vegan cheeses, vegan ice-cream, etc.
Lindsey: Becoming vegan is a movement, not just a moment like some of the fad diets that have come and gone through the years. The industry is definitely paying more attention and accommodating this lifestyle by having more options available at grocery stores and restaurants.
What’s the difference between being a vegan and a vegetarian?
Jessica: A vegan avoids all animal products. Vegetarians may consume dairy and eggs but refrain from beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish or animal products of any kind are called Lacto-ovo vegetarians. Those that choose to eat fish are considered pescatarian.
Lindsey: Vegans and vegetarians both can be healthy. Vegans need to be creative with their diet in order to eat sufficient protein (legumes, soy products, nuts, seeds, quinoa, chia, etc.), calcium, and iron, whereas vegetarians can get those nutrients from eggs and dairy.
What are the potential benefits of this type of lifestyle?
Jessica: It is very low in saturated fat and high in fiber and can provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Lindsey: There is research that shows a vegan lifestyle helps lower blood sugar, which, in turn, helps an individual’s kidneys function at an optimal level. There also have been signs that it lowers the risk of heart disease and arthritis. The bright colored fruits and vegetables act as antioxidants, which helps fight inflammation.
What are the risks?
Jessica: Meeting protein needs, long chain omega-3 fatty acids and B12 requirements are just some of the risks; however, it can be managed if the individual is paying close attention to their food sources. There are vegan supplements of omega-3 fats like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and fat-rich plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, and oils that may help individuals meet their nutritional needs. All vegans should also take a B12 supplement or consume foods that are fortified with B12.
Lindsey: Just because someone is a vegan doesn’t mean they are healthy. Processed foods like vegan burgers, cheese and ice cream available now in stores are all made in a lab. It’s delicious but oftentimes can have higher calories and fat. Vegans need to be aware of what they consume and avoid foods that provide little to no nutritional value simply because it reads “vegan”.
What are the popular food trends for 2019?
Jessica: The most popular diets that have been brought to my attention from patients and the press this year include: clean eating, Ketogenic (Keto) diet, and Paleo. All of which are fairly restrictive and eliminate several food groups. For the short term it may provide someone with a “kick start”; however it can be very difficult for individuals to stick to this over the long term and may be short-lived.
Lindsey: The two diets trends that are “hot” but not sustainable are the Keto diet, which forces the body to burn fat for fuel, and the restrictive Whole30, also known as an elimination diet. Both plans are quick fixes to shave off weight but are difficult to maintain for the long-term.
Which trends do you recommend?
Jessica: My philosophy has always been to consume a well-balanced diet focusing on at least three food groups per meal and measuring and tracking all foods. Tracking calories in=calories out will be a key component towards ensuring proper balance. With the use of technology, there are several food trackers that individuals can now use which will be helpful to maintain this balance. It is important to also consume all foods in moderation. Eliminating a favorite food will only be a set up for failure.
Lindsey: Everyone is different. Seek advice from a dietitian to set goals that are achievable and make your resolution a lifestyle change. That’s why going vegan is so popular. It’s not only food; it’s a new way of life. Also, find a buddy to have as a support system during your journey and hold each other accountable. Food should be fun. There are plenty of ways to enjoy food but balance is key.
Lindsey Bevans is director of food and nutrition at HealthONE’s Sky Ridge Medical Center, a member affiliate, while Jessica LaFleur serves as bariatric program director at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, a part of HCA’s Capital Division. Both Bevans and LaFleur are registered dietitians.