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Farro Beet Salad

Andrea Bricco Photography

The Governors Ball following the 85th Oscars ceremony  features vegan and vegetarian-inspired dishes such as the farro, apple, beet and spiced walnut salad.

Celebrity vegans on the rise: Dietitians say it’s not a fad

by Emily Wasserman
Feb 21, 2013

Produced by Emily Wasserman/MEDILL. Photos by Andrea Bricco

What stars will be eating after the Oscars. Vegetarian and vegan foods add dash to the Governors Ball. Click on the arrows icon at right to play the slideshow full screen.    

Diet trends seem to be the norm in Hollywood. Whether it’s losing weight like Natalie Portman did for her role as a prima ballerina in "Black Swan," or shedding extra pounds for an awards ceremony, celebrities often set the trend.

However, vegan lifestyles may stand as the exception to the crash diet rule. Celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Alicia Silverstone and Kristin Bell have touted the benefits of a vegan lifestyle for social and environmental reasons.

The menu for the Governors Ball, the official post-Oscars party, features a variety of vegan and vegetarian fare such as vegan pizza with pesto and grilled vegetables, Japanese baby peach salad and edamame guacamole.

With more and more celebrities adopting vegan diets, the question remains: Is veganism simply a passing fad?

Roberta Jenero, registered dietitian, said she hopes the vegan diet trend “will stay around for awhile,” as it steers individuals toward consuming more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

She said celebrities in particular might transition to veganism because of its emphasis on healthy, power-packed foods.

“People who want to age gracefully and feel vital gravitate toward this way of eating,” Jenero said. “When you’re in Hollywood and you’re in the limelight, you want to look your best and feel your best.”

Tanya Zuckerbrot, celebrity dietitian and author of “The Miracle Carb Diet” said the vegan diet might be a trend, but that often it’s based in personal morals and health considerations. A growing awareness of green grass emissions and animal cruelty could motivate individuals to choose a vegan lifestyle.

“Aside from the moral aspect that many people consider when choosing to give up all animal proteins is that there is a tendency to think that being a vegan means being healthier and losing weight,” Zuckerbrot said.

Studies have shown that individuals who follow a vegan diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) on average, said registered dietitian Carolyn Tampe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a normal adult BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 24.9. Vegans on average have a BMI of 23.6.

“For the general population, the average BMI is 28.8, so the average person is in the U.S. is overweight,” said Tampe. “Vegans tend to have a lower BMI, so they have a lower body weight.”

However, Zuckerbrot warned against using a vegan diet as a weight-loss mechanism.

“Switching to a vegan diet in order to lose weight is a pretty extreme and unnecessary way to lose weight,” Zuckerbrot said. “Incorporating lean proteins, high fiber foods, fruits and vegetables is a much easier and far more sustainable way to lose weight and keep it off.”

A vegan diet incorporates whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. It differs from a vegetarian diet as it excludes all animal products, including dairy and eggs.

Cutting out meat and dairy from one’s diet may lead to vitamin deficiencies, said Megan McCrory, assistant professor of nutrition science at Purdue University. Vitamin B12 in particular provides key nutrients, but is mostly found in animal products.

Individuals who don't use supplements or fortified cereals to obtain the missing vitamin could be at risk for developing certain types of anemia, McCrory said.

“It can lead to fatigue, and reduced performance physically and cognitively,” she said. “That’s when it gets really severe.”

The best way to safeguard against nutritional deficiencies is to consult a dietitian before switching to a vegan diet, Tampe said.

“If you’re new to veganism, you need to educate yourself and make sure you’re getting all your nutrients,” she said. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there about vegan nutrition, so you need to educate yourself with reliable sources.”