The Journal of American Medicine reported in a 2012 survey that 78.6 million adults in the United States are obese, about a third of the population.
With fast food and obesity on the rise, many diets have become popular over the years like tapeworm, Atkins and paleo.
For Katie Lambeth, these diets aren’t even on her radar. She’s a vegan. She’s been one for three years and was a vegetarian for three years before that.
If you ask Lambeth, being a vegan isn’t about dieting or trying to lose weight. It’s a lifestyle choice, a way to be healthy while also standing up for her beliefs.
Lambeth, 24, became a vegetarian during her freshman year at the University of Richmond. With her brother, Michael Lambeth, she watched the film “Food Inc.”, a documentary about the meat industry in the United States and the growing popularity of fast food chains.
“We did a bunch of research on the meat industry and we decided we really didn’t agree with what they were doing,” Lambeth said. “At that point, we decided that we are going to be done eating meat. As our New Year’s resolution, we stopped eating meat.”
That was in 2010. Lambeth joined an environmental activism group called Green You Are at college. The group wasn’t radical in Lambeth’s opinion, but rather watched documentaries and sponsored events informing people on the meat industry.
The switch from vegetarian to vegan wasn’t an easy decision Lambeth said, but a switch made more out of necessity for her own health.
During her junior year, Lambeth decided to go on a six-month study abroad trip to Kenya. She stayed in the cities of Nairobi and Kismu, but decided to take a trip to Mombasa where she got E.Coli.
“I was in the hospital for three days,” Lambeth said. “I got a whole bunch of drugs in my system that basically killed all of the bacteria in my body that could digest things.”
As a result of the medication and no access to dairy products, Lambeth said the enzymes in her body didn’t grow back, so eating dairy constantly made her ill. Lambeth began to cut out dairy products like milk, cheese and eggs.
Janet Macon, a professor at Winona State and a registered dietician for 12 years, agreed with Lambeth and said a switch to veganism isn’t about a diet, but rather a lifestyle change.
Macon said most people, she has noticed, that have become vegan have made a change from an omnivorous diet because they want to move away from saturated fats and other fatty foods. Aside from the dietary needs, vegans also look to make an ecological impact.
Jennifer Holden, a registered dietician at HyVee in Winona for the past two years, said she can assist people looking to become a vegetarian or vegan.
“If they were looking to make a change to a vegetarian or vegan that’s a huge step,” Holden said. “That’s why it’s good to have a registered dietitian to help them so they don’t miss out on any key nutrients.”
Holden said the biggest nutrients people could miss, if they switched to a vegan diet, would be amino acids and B12 nutrients.
Holden said she recommends quinoa or edamame to help with those nutrients.
Lambeth said she is aware of nutrients that could potentially be lost, but it only takes a B12 supplement to replace the nutrients. Those that don’t want to take a pill, can eat nutritional yeast instead.
Holden said she thinks people in the Winona community are aware of what they’re putting into their body, with most people coming to her by choice, rather than a recommendation by their doctors.
Lambeth said she usually spends around $100 dollars on groceries every week or week-and-a-half. She said it all depends on where she goes, whether it’s Trader Joe’s or the Herbivorous Butcher Shop in Minneapolis where she lives.
On the other hand, Holden said she sees the diet as costly and a company like HyVee can’t keep vegan designated items on the shelves before they become expired.
“It tends to be more expensive items up front,” Holden said. “When it comes to the quinoa and the edamame those are filling foods. It’s a balancing beam between you’re paying more but you don’t have to eat as much.”
Veganism isn’t seen as a fad diet according to Lambeth, but rather something that is relatively new in the United States.
“Most of the U.S. is meat, potatoes, and scrambled eggs for breakfast,” Lambeth said. “That’s just what everyone is used to.”
Macon said doesn’t believe veganism is a cultural fad but said for college-aged students are willing to try something different like becoming a vegan or vegetarian.
“We do see rates of vegetarianism climb in late adolescence to their peak of about 15 percent of all college students aged 18-22,” Macon said. “Rates decline further into adulthood to about 10 percent, which is the national average.”
Macon also said it’s not “feasible” in a smaller market like Winona to constantly supply vegan based foods.
“The larger your market, the more you’ll have to support those types of markets,” Macon said. “Keep in mind, vegans living in a relatively small market can still meet their dietary needs with very basic products.”
Macon said she recommends fresh fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains, something that big chains like WalMart and Target will always carry.
Whether it’s a fad, hippy movement, or anything in between, Lambeth said she is happy and healthy and the flexibility of the lifestyle is important. Lambeth said she’s heard of 17 different kinds of vegetarian diets and has heard of extreme vegan diets like people who dumpster dive for their food.
Lambeth doesn’t have a problem with hunters either. She said the only thing she doesn’t want to see is “its head up on a wall for fun.”
“I think that hunting is totally fine, if you are, I don’t support hunting for sport,” Lambeth said. “I support it if it’s used for meat.”
Yet, Holden is skeptical of the validity and safety of the vegan diet.
“As a registered dietitian, I don’t recommend it,” Holden said. “Vegetarian can be done safely, but you really need to be aware of what you’re eating. You have to complement those areas that you miss.”
For Macon, it’s not always as simple as following the food pyramid.
“Keep in mind, people who are adopting this lifestyle are doing it for reasons beyond their own biological health,” Macon said. “It may be more about sending a message to the food industry or the environment. It’s not just about sticking to the food pyramid, it’s about supporting sustainable cultural change.”
If someone asked Lambeth how to become a vegan she would have one word for them: slowly.
“Go slowly and do your research,” Lambeth said. “Doing the personal research really helps finding out what your body needs.”