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Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons shares secrets of being a 'happy' vegan

He's a hip hop star-maker, a fashion mogul and a devout yogi. And for nearly 17 years, Russell Simmons has also been something else: a vegan
/ Source: TODAY

He’s a hip hop star-maker, a fashion mogul and a devout yogi. And for nearly 17 years, Russell Simmons has also been something else: a vegan.

Simmons, who was an early convert to the diet trend just as it was catching on, sat down with TODAY's Al Roker recently to discuss his eating style. Roker asked what led Simmons, 57, to go vegan long before it became trendy.

“Well, it started with my yoga practice and you know, the practice of non-harming, ‘ahimsa,’” he told Roker. “So I became a vegan because [of] compassion [for] the animals.”

“The vegan diet was being discussed around me all the time, so finally,” Simmons said, “I just made the choice.”

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Being vegan, which is not eating any food that comes from an animal, is the subject of Simmons’ book, “The Happy Vegan,” due out this fall. Vegans are vegetarians in the strictest sense — no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs or even things like gelatin and honey.

Experts say veganism has its health rewards.

Make an easy, summery vegan quinoa salad with summer squash, scallions and almonds

“One of the biggest advantages of the vegan diet is that it is low in saturated fat,” NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar said on TODAY. “It's also high in fiber. That's a very heart-healthy diet.

“So for people who are looking to control their cholesterol, and high blood pressure, and certain cardiovascular risk factors, this could be the diet for you,” she added.

Being a vegan has helped Simmons drop some weight and feel good.

“The first thing I did was lose 20 pounds and I haven't put that back on,” Simmons said. “Do I feel better than I felt 15, 17 years ago? Yeah I think so. I think I'm in pretty good shape.”

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Other bold-faced names like Ellen DeGeneres, Gwyneth Paltrow and Carrie Underwood have all reportedly embraced the vegan way. Even Mike Tyson knocked the meat out of his diet.

But, there are caveats. Azar notes that “certain vitamins such as B12 are only found in animal sources, so they need to be supplemented.”

Only 2 percent of Americans eat vegan, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. To prove that a vegan meal could satisfy a carnivore like Roker, he and Simmons met up for dinner at one of Simmons’ favorite vegan spots in New York City, Red Bamboo.

After a vegan dinner followed by vegan cake and ice cream, the pair was stuffed.

“That's insane,” Roker said. “Wow!”

“I'm done,” Simmons said. “There are fat vegans. No reason you can't be a fat vegan.” contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.