Giving up meat, fish, dairy and other animal products in order to stay vegan can be hard for anyone, even Oscar-winning actresses.
For a few years, actress Anne Hathaway reportedly stayed vegan as she worked on roles like Catwoman and Fantine in “Les Miserables.” But this week she revealed she has reverted back to eating fish — something that the actress says made her brain feel like a “computer rebooting,” according to an interview in Tatler.
Hathaway is no stranger to extreme dieting. She reportedly once lived off two thin squares of dried oatmeal paste per day, according to previous interviews, and has performed cleanses to shed pounds for certain roles.
But the news she has given up veganism — at least temporarily for fish — has highlighted how difficult it can be for people to get enough nutrients while on a restrictive diet.
Jonathan Valdez, a registered dietitian nutritionist from New York City, knows all about transitioning from a vegan eating plan back to incorporating meat into his diet.
“I used to be a vegan for five years and went back to meat because of the simplicity of preparation and to increase variability in my diet. Also, to restore my low iron and vitamin B12 back to normal,” he told Healthline.
While personal beliefs may stop people from eating meat, the benefits of lean meat and poultry in a diet are well documented.
Valdez has clients who went back to eating lean meat and dairy products, which restored vitamin B-12, iron, vitamin D, choline, and calcium back to normal levels. It can be a challenge for vegans to ensure proper nutrient consumption.
Want to feel your best as a vegan or considering reintroducing meat? These nutrition professionals weighed in.
Veganism can be a challenge
Becoming a vegan and getting all the nutrients you need is not as easy as many people think. Vegans need to supplement their diet with calcium, vitamin D, iron, Vitamin B-12, zinc, and they need more protein — about 10 percent more than a carnivore, Kim Larson, RDN, a health and nutrition coach from Seattle, told Healthline.
Not knowing the details of Hathaway’s eating and fitness plans while she was vegan, Larson contends that she may not have been eating enough or getting enough iron into her diet. This could have caused her to feel fatigued, foggy, or lethargic.
Under-consuming plant protein sources coupled with a low calorie intake could mean her body was breaking down muscle. That, along with a rigorous fitness routine, could also be the culprit of extreme fatigue.
Not sure if you’re hitting all the nutritional marks you need with a vegan diet? Contact a dietitian or nutritionist to evaluate your food intake, Larson advised.
You can be pro-plant without being vegan
Research supports veganism in terms of lowering disease risk and weight, but other diets such as the Mediterranean-style eating plan have been linked to heart health benefits. Mediterranean eating includes eggs, fish, lean meat, and dairy.
Larson pointed out that plant-based eating — another popular eating plan with health advantages — differs from veganism and vegetarianism.
“It means filling half your plate with vegetables, the other half with whole grains and protein — whatever you enjoy and whatever helps you feel good,” she noted. “Meat delivers a plethora of important nutrients just like fish, eggs, soy, nuts, seeds, beans, high-protein grains do… along with protein.”
“We need to be more open to making our own food choices that align with our own values and optimal health. Not what a celebrity does,” Larson noted.
Veganism doesn’t guarantee good health
“The vegan and vegetarian trends are saturating the celeb community but we don’t have to be vegan to be healthy. It’s trendy, but not necessary for good health,” Larson said. Some research has shown that including lean meat and fish in our diets can increase nutrient intake so people who eat them have a better chance of getting everything their bodies need.
“Eating a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle isn’t necessarily a better eating pattern — and it’s certainly not for everyone — it’s just a different eating pattern,” she added.
Meat has benefits, too
“It’s been reported that Anne broke away from veganism by eating salmon,” Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian nutritionist from the New York City area, told Healthline. “This fatty fish contains many nutrients that Anne may have been lacking. For one, it’s a lean source of protein. It also provides omega-3 fatty acids, which are hugely beneficial for the body, including the brain,” she said.
Meat, especially red meat, is a great source for heme iron, which is the most bioavailable form of iron. This refers to the proportion of a nutrient that’s absorbed from the diet and then utilized for normal body functioning.
Vegans take in nonheme iron, which is a type of iron that the body doesn’t absorb as easily. There are ways, however, to increase absorption, such as pairing a source of vitamin C like lemon juice with a source of iron like spinach.
“In the body, iron plays many important and necessary roles, including creating the hemoglobin that transports oxygen throughout the body, as well as playing a role in the creation of some of the body’s hormones and connective tissues,” Gorin explained. “Getting too little iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia — and symptoms of anemia include fatigue, pale skin, irritability, low appetite, and feelings of lightheadedness.”
Vegans must be mindful of iron as well as protein intake to feel their best, Gorin noted.
“On a vegan diet, you may need to take certain supplements of nutrients that are harder to obtain on this type of diet. This might include vitamin B-12, because many of the good sources of this vitamin are animal-based,” Gorin said. People also may want to consider an EPA/DHA omega-3 supplement, which exist in vegan algae-based versions.
Being an ex-vegan is OK
It makes sense that Hathaway may have felt like eating fish to reset her body, according to Lyssie Lakatos and Tammy Lakatos Shames, registered dietitian nutritionists from New York City.
“When vegans reintroduce meat into their diet, they can feel stronger and more energetic if they were iron deficient,” they told Healthline.
A vegan going back on meat or poultry may initially feel full, constipated, or bloated when they begin eating meat, but introducing it in small portions can help with those symptoms. Continuing to eat plenty of vegetables and fiber can also help.
“Sometimes vegans feel better, stronger, and more energetic after they start eating meat. One reason for this is that vegan and vegetarian diets are often low in iron since the best and most absorbable sources of iron are animal products,” Lakatos and Lakatos Shames said.
When their clients have reintroduced meat into their diet, the nutritionists remind them to keep the majority of their diet plant-based in order to fight chronic disease.
“Meat is a rich source of protein and it also often comes with fat — and both of these take longer to digest and to make their way through the digestive tract than the typical higher fiber, carbohydrate foods that vegans eat,” they explained.
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