Elimination Diets: Veganism
In Part One of our elimination diet series, we explored the ins and outs of the Paleo Diet. Now we're turning our attention to the vegan diet/lifestyle. First, we'll go through the basics and then explore how introducing more plant-based foods into your diet can be beneficial, through the story of standup paddler Kip Hoffman, owner of Iowa's Big River SUPtours and a PaddleFit certified coach. —Phil White
WHAT IS THE VEGAN DIET?
Veganism is more than a diet—it's a nutrition and lifestyle approach that eliminates the consumption and use of animal products. Among the many motivations for becoming vegan are improving health and wellness, avoiding cruelty to animals and reducing environmental impact.
WHAT DO YOU ELIMINATE?
Meat, fish, eggs, dairy and any other foods coming from an animal source.
Reduced inflammation and 'bad' cholesterol, leading to lower incidence of cancer, heart and lung disease, injury, obesity osteoporosis, and many other health conditions.
SOME CRITICS TAKE ISSUE WITH:
Vegans' typically low intake of vitamin B12—which helps the body generate red blood cells and regulate nervous system and brain function—and what skeptics view as inadequate protein intake.
Nine years ago, Kip Hoffman weighed 250 pounds, didn't work out and ate whatever he wanted. Then he saw Morgan Spurlock's seminal documentary, Super Size Me, and reality set in. He needed to lose weight, get moving, and cut out the junk food.
He cut out processed food and beverages, and then began to experiment with other dietary changes, becoming a vegetarian in 2006, albeit one who still ate seafood, eggs and dairy products. He noticed an immediate benefit, dropping 10 pounds in just a few weeks. Then, in 2008, Hoffman and his wife moved to San Diego, where he got into surfing and SUP. He had once craved fast food and refined carbs, but now had a new addiction: being on the water. With the switch to vegetarianism and the new outdoor lifestyle, Hoffman got down to a healthy 175 pounds, and had never felt better.
But, there was still work to do. As a child, Hoffman had been diagnosed with asthma and, even after eliminating meat, still occasionally felt out of breath. He was also often tired. After talking with a holistic wellness specialist, Hoffman realized that it may have been a misdiagnosis, and that he was in fact suffering from a dairy allergy. "I guess I'd just built up tolerance to dairy over time, and was pushing through the symptoms of an allergy because I felt so much better than I did before I ate right and worked out regularly," he said. To overcome this challenge, Hoffman cut out dairy and then, after seeing a documentary on the harm that the commercial fishing industry is doing to our oceans, eliminated fish, too. Eggs were next to go and suddenly, in mid-2011, Hoffman was a vegan. Here's what he had to say about his journey from eating anything, to vegetarianism, to veganism.
How has moving to a plant-based diet benefited your paddling and workouts?
It's hard to separate the impact of working out versus my vegan diet, but I certainly have more energy. It's not just my paddling that has improved, but also my performance in cycling, running, and the couple of Tough Mudders I've done. Once I cut out dairy, I stopped feeling weighed down and fatigued. And now that the resistance I'd built up to dairy has gone, I get a rash anytime I eat something that has milk or cheese in it, so that tells me I was right about having a dairy allergy.
You're competing at a high level in SUP and have done some significant distance paddles. What do you eat on race days?
I eat a lot of nut butter and always keep seeds of some kind with me. Fruit is great for instant energy. Pumpkin seeds are my go-to post-workout snack; I have several bags in my car for when I come off the water. For the 36-miler I did a while back, I ended up needing a lot less fuel than I thought I would—again, just nuts and fruit got me through.
One of the knocks on veganism is that people don't get enough protein. How do you respond to that?
I think the amount of protein we supposedly need is overstated, and think that by eating a varied, plant-based diet you can get enough. I have more upper and lower body muscle mass now than when I was still eating meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Quinoa is probably the top complete plant protein [meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids] for me, and you can mix corn, beans, rice and other foods to make a complete protein.
Jumping straight into veganism probably seems daunting for a lot of people. What advice do you have for someone that thinks they'd benefit, but isn't sure about going all in?
I think if you just suddenly cut out everything you're used to eating all at once your system is going to freak out. For me, it was helpful to cut out animal products progressively over a few years. I think anyone can benefit from reducing their intake of animal-sourced foods and ingredients, and by increasing the amount of plant-based foods. In the nutrition plan we have at our company, we give people a cheat day to eat what they want, and mentally, it has been helpful for me to occasionally humor someone if they've gone to a lot of trouble preparing a non-vegan meal, such as at Thanksgiving. You don't have to be crazy about it. Hardly anyone knows that my wife and I are vegans. We just do what we do, and it's fine for other people to do their thing.
What other pros do you see in veganism, outside of the health benefits?
One of my favorite places to paddle in Iowa gets a lot of run-off from several factory farms. It's not just cow manure, but also nitrogen and a lot of other harmful chemicals. By reducing our reliance on animal products, particularly factory-farmed meat and fish, we can help protect the places that paddlers and surfers love most.
Check back next week to see how another SUP athlete is benefiting from a gluten-free diet.