Ellen DeGeneres talks to guests about how she does it. Actress Alicia Silverstone wrote a book about how she does it. A slimmer Bill Clinton made news for talking about doing it, and all Chelsea's friends do it at least they did on her wedding day. Ed Begely, Jr., the 61-year-old activist and actor, has been doing it for longer than any of them.
They eat a vegan diet, as more and more Americans are doing, trend-watchers and cookbook publishers tell us. But what does that mean, exactly? Vegans, like vegetarians, never eat meat. But vegans are stricter, shunning not only meat, but fish and shellfish (which some vegetarians will eat), eggs, milk and other dairy products any food with an ingredient derived from an animal, from a cow down to an insect. (Insects?! Yes. For example, cochineal, a red food dye, has only recently been listed with other ingredients, but it's always been made from insects.)
Vegans and vegetarians have to take special care to get enough Vitamin B12 and protein, but like anyone, they can get all the nutrients they need from a varied diet, according to nutritionist Marion Nestle.
In line with health recommendations that emphasize vegetables, a vegan diet avoids some of the most obvious unhealthy foods, like ground beef and butter but also some surprising ones, like marshmallows and mayonnaise. "It's less about what 'foods' vegans can't eat and more about the ingredients," Michael Parrish Dudell, a blogger who often writes about vegan celebrities (notoriousMPD.com) and managing editor of The Domino Project, told The Daily Green. He should know; as of this month, he's been eating a vegan diet for 10 years.
Here's a look at some more of the foods avoided by Dudell and other vegans The Daily Green interviewed (including our Facebook friends):
1. Meat. Topping the list, of course, are all meats from hamburgers and pork chops to chicken wings and the Thanksgiving turkey.
2. Fish and shellfish. Whether it's a lowly shrimp, a fried fish stick or wild Alaskan salmon, it's not part of a vegan diet.
3. Dairy products. Off the vegan menu: everything from milk and yogurt to cheese and butter.
4. Eggs. That means mayonnaise, and anything else made with eggs (yes, most brownies and cakes, too!).
5. Honey. Bees are animals. Bees make honey. Vegans don't eat it.
6. White sugar. Some white sugar is processed with bone char, according to PETA.
7. Beer. Guinness is filtered using tiny amounts of gelatin derived from fish bladders. And it's not alone. While some beers are vegan, others are filtered using egg whites or sea shells, according to barnivore, a vegan beer and wine guide.
8. Bread. While many simple breads are a-ok, containing just four ingredients (flour, yeast, water and salt) many breads and baked goods are made with whey (a dairy product) or with butter, eggs or sugar.
9. Marshmallows. These and other foods, like gummy candies and Frosted Mini Wheats cereal, are made with gelatin a protein made from boiling skin, bones and other animal parts. Surprisingly, though, a lot of junk food qualifies as vegan, even if it is unhealthy.
10. Salad dressing. Salads are great for vegans, but not necessarily the dressing. Scan the ingredient list, and you'll often find lecithin, which helps keep oil and vinegar from separating, and can be derived from animal tissues, egg yolk (both no-no's for vegans) or soy (a-ok).
Photo: Michael Deuson/ Getty Images
What makes this level of detective work worth it? Whether it's because of animal rights, environmentalism (food derived from plants typically uses many fewer resources to produce than food derived from animals) or health, vegans stay committed. Dudell said he was raised on a meat and potatoes diet, but now he doesn't want to sacrifice his personal ethics for "temporary satisfaction."
"At 15 years old I weighed 258 pounds and was slowly killing myself," he said, adding: "Thanks to a vegetarian ex-girlfriend I learned how animal products affect not only our bodies, but the planet... Almost overnight I went vegan, and I've never looked back."
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