In an almost hell-has-frozen-over moment, former president Bill Clinton — legendary for his love of hamburgers and fries — has become a vegan.
Hamburgers — and all meat — are out (along with dairy, eggs, and nearly all oil). Fruits, beans, and vegetables are in.
Clinton, who recently turned 65 and is slimmer than he's been in decades, told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he has more energy thanks to the diet — which was prompted by his struggles with heart disease.
But nutritionists — and failed vegans — warn that the vegan diet is no cinch to maintain.
"Our food environment is difficult to navigate if you're trying to eat healthfully," says Andrea Giancoli, a Los Angeles registered dietitian. In other words, Bill is going to be bombarded with ads for quadruple bacon cheeseburgers.
Giancoli, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, says it's especially tough for brand-new vegans, especially if they're not already eating a veggie-rich diet.
"For most people making this change, it's difficult," she says. "Especially if you start from eating burgers and fries every day. Sometimes when we go full-blown with things and don't know how to do it, we fail. If you're already eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, it'll less of a transition. It really all depends on your starting place and your motivation."
Amanda Castleman, a 36-year-old new media instructor from Seattle, says she went vegan for a short period of time, but had to go back to a vegetarian diet thanks to one deliciously creamy obstacle: cheese.
"Cheese is my weakness, so that was a very much a problem with the vegan diet," she says. "I had a great vegan cookbook which got me over the hurdle of things tasting bad, but there really was no replacement for cheese. I couldn't go all the way there permanently."
Giancoli — who was a vegan until she began eating fish for the omega3 fatty acids — says that applying a few vegan principles to any diet, even one that includes the occasional steak and slab of white cheddar, can still have benefits.
"Anytime you're moving away from an animal food diet to a plant-based diet, you're benefiting your health," she says. "People on plant-based diets have less heart disease, less obesity, less hypertension, less type 2 diabetes. It's a much more healthful way to go, it's just not what everyone is accustomed to."
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