Vegan lifestyle is choice of Mayo doctor

Posted Dec. 21, 2012, at 2:02 p.m.
Bill Pearson, Piscataquis Observer  Dr. Robert Lodato has embraced the vegan lifestyle for nearly two decades. Medical reports have shown people are less likely to contract heart disease, diabetes, become overweight and generally live healthier lives. Lodato grows most of his own food and prepares his own meals with the assistance of various vegan cookbooks and websites devoted to the lifestyle.
Bill Pearson, Piscataquis Observer | BDN
Bill Pearson, Piscataquis Observer Dr. Robert Lodato has embraced the vegan lifestyle for nearly two decades. Medical reports have shown people are less likely to contract heart disease, diabetes, become overweight and generally live healthier lives. Lodato grows most of his own food and prepares his own meals with the assistance of various vegan cookbooks and websites devoted to the lifestyle.

CHARLESTON, Maine — The fifth century philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras may be best known for his theorem, but he is also credited with being the world’s first-known vegetarian. He led a group that was well known in ancient times for not eating meat, fish or fowl. His followers, known as “Pythagoreans,” didn’t consume animal meat for ethical reasons and religious objections.

The Pythagoreans believed in the idea of metempsychosis, which is the transmigration of a person’s soul into the bodies of other animals. Those who abstained from eating meat were considered to have adopted the “Pythagorean diet” in ancient times. The term “vegetarian” was later adopted in the 19th century for those who didn’t consume meat for ethical or health reasons.

Among those who promoted the vegetarian practice in more modern times were doctors who discovered the healthy aspect of a diet consisting mostly of beans and grains. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, of Battle Creek, Mich., was among the earliest in the medical field in the 1880s to promote vegetarianism. His family later formed a whole grain cereal company in 1906 that culminated with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes becoming a breakfast staple.

Today, doctors and nutritionists continue to promote a vegetarian diet in order to reduce heart disease and other health ailments. Vegetarians in the U.S. account for 9 million people, or 4 percent of the population, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group. In 2011, 3 percent of Americans were counted as being vegetarians.

Dr. Robert Lodato of Charleston is an internal medicine physician who adheres to the vegan-vegetarian lifestyle. He began his vegan diet — which is absent of any animal products — in 1998. Those who eat vegan won’t consume beef, chicken or fish or any food containing animal products, such as milk or cheese.

Lodato cites the latest position paper of the American Dietetic Association, from 2009, which states that a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet is healthy for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.

The ADA paper concluded that a vegetarian diet resulted in significantly fewer deaths from heart disease, as well as lower rates of obesity, hypertension, cancer and diabetes, than a nonvegetarian diet. Lodato notes that this is a strong support for those advocating a more plant-based diet for better health.

Lodato became interested in vegetarianism in his 20s, after reading “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappe. The book promoted a combination of beans and grains to provide a person with all the necessary daily protein.

It introduced him to the vegan diet, but he didn’t fully embrace it until after he attended a weeklong conference in Johnstown, Pa., in 1998.

“I tried that for a while, but it wasn’t until I attended the Vegetarian Summerfest Conference that it became permanent,” Lodato said. “Summerfest is a full week of lectures, social activities, and gourmet vegan meals. It is a great way to introduce yourself into a new way of eating.”

Lodato recently conducted a forum at Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft about the healthy benefits a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle can produce. Nearly 40 people attended the one-hour presentation about the pros and cons of a healthier diet and stayed for another hour of discussion afterwards.

“We had a good turnout and may do more in the future,” Lodato said. “There seems to be a great deal of interest locally. A group of us are planning to teach an adult class beginning in March about vegan cooking.”

When Lodato decided to become a vegan, he discovered various recipes through cookbooks and friends. The doctor recommends “The Vegan Deli” by Joanne Stepaniak and the website vrg.org as two excellent sources for vegan recipes.

“I think the ‘Vegan Deli’ is one of the best. Deli dishes tend to be tasty and easy to make,” he said.

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