Venus and Serena Williams Go Vegan in 2012

BlogHer Original Post

As part of a New Year's resolution, celebrity athlete Venus Williams is switching to a raw vegan food diet to help improve her health. In a show of solidarity, her sister Serena is joining Venus for her own health and to provide moral support.

After dropping out of the U.S. Open last summer, the seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams revealed she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an incurable disease of the immune system. The disease has impacted her health and career and with the help of her sister she is now exploring holistic ways to treat her symptoms. Sjogren's affects the body's moisture-producing glands, and in severe cases can lead to arthritis and joint pain.

(Venus & Serena Williams Image: © El Tiempo/GDA/ZUMAPRESS.com

Venus says that she had visited doctors for years trying to determine if there was a medical cause for her symptoms.

'I would go to the doctor and start crying. I couldn't help it. I just want a chance to play on the same field as other people, I want to feel normal, but as frightening as the diagnosis was, it was also a relief.'

After her diagnosis, Venus, a former steak lover, changed her diet to raw vegan dishes which should help ease the inflammation on her joints. At Serena's recommendation Venus is also seeking holistic alternatives like yoga and massage.

A raw food vegan diet consists of unprocessed, raw plant foods that have not been cooked. Heating the foods (above 104 degrees) kills the natural enzymes and can leave toxins behind. Raw food advocates argue that raw or living foods have natural enzymes that are critical in building proteins and rebuilding the body.

Resolving to improve health and fitness levels in the new year (or anytime) is an admirable goal. With the William sisters using their collective star power to promote a healthy diet, they will not only help the African-American community, who looks up to them as role models, but also help promote the general heath of all women.

The green celebrity already is known for her support of those suffering from auto-immune and other complex diseases. Venus supports the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Famous faces such as Natalie Portman, Alicia Silverstone, Olivia Wilde, Pamela Anderson, and Chelsea Clinton are also vegetarians. The news that the Williams sisters have joined the list will no doubt help draw more attention to the growing health food movement.

I have been a vegetarian for more than 30 years and although I don't make the list of celeb practitioners, I can attest to many of the health benefits. My two daughters, both competitive athletes, are also vegetarian (and have been since birth).

The Williams' sisters announcement begs the question: can vegetarians perform as well as their carnivorous counterparts? The fact is, a vegetarian diet provides athletes with all the protein, complex carbohydrates, and other nutrients they need to get stronger and faster—without the artery-clogging cholesterol and saturated fats found in animal products. PETA helpfully outlines a winning formula for vegetarian athletes.

A number of superstar athletes rose to the top of the sports world--without any help from meat. Tennis superstar Martina Navratilova one of the greatest players of the 20th century, has been a vegetarian most of her career. And women's sports advocate Billie Jean King, famous for her Battle of the Sexes match in which she defeated former men's Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs, is also a longtime vegetarian.

Legendary boxer now turned actor/TV host Mike Tysonis a recently converted vegan (yes, it's true) and a host of former and current NFL players, including Joe Namath, Desmond Howard, Ricky Williams and Tony Gonzalez are also vegetarians.

Track stars Carl Lewis and Ed Moses became great Olympians while on a vegan diet. In fact Lewis adopted veganism to prepare for the World Championships in 1991, where he says he ran the best meet of his life. There are a number of online slideshows (here and here) depicting these, and other veggie-loving athletes.

So cheers to Venus for adopting a raw foods diet. And bravo to Serena for supporting her sister's lifestyle change.

Are you a vegan or vegetarian athlete who has seen your health or performance improve after eliminating meat from your diet? Would love to hear from you.

@jschonb
dare to dream
Also online at prettytough.com and womentalksports.com

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