Do Vegans Need To Supplement With Vitamin D?

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Unlike the answer to ‘should vegans supplement with vitamin B12?’ (which is YES btw!), the answer to whether to supplement with vitamin D is not so obvious.

What vitamin D does

Vitamin D is vital for helping us to absorb calcium from the foods we eat, and helps protect us from cancer. It is also thought that it can help prevent us from getting depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets in children, and bone problem in adults (due to calcium not being adequately absorbed). It’s possible that depression is also a symptom of vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D sources

The main source of vitamin D for everyone is sunlight (aim to get 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your face, legs or arms every day between 10am-3pm. Go for the full 15 minutes if you have darker skin). It’s also found in fatty fish and eggs, but even omnivores don’t eat fatty fish and eggs every day, so, as with most deficiencies, vitamin D deficiency isn’t just a potential vegan problem, but a potential ‘everyone’ problem.

Depending on where we are in the world, or whether you work outside or not; we all have different exposure to sunlight. If you’re in southern California or some tropical paradise; or you are always outside during daylight hours – you’re likely getting enough. Those in more northerly regions or who aren’t often outside at prime sunlight times may not be.

What to do if you feel you are deficient

If you feel you MAY be deficient in Vitamin D, the first thing you should do is have your blood tested by a doctor.

If the test shows you ARE indeed low, then unless you can escape to sunnier climes pronto – supplementation is probably the way to go.

It used to be that Vitamin D3 was purely animal-based (from the lanolin in sheep’s wool), and vitamin D2 was plant-based (from yeast and fungi); but I hear that now it’s possible to get vegan vitamin D3 supplements, so either D2 or vegan D3 is what you’ll want to look for.

Some would argue that Vitamin D3 is more effective than vitamin D2. However, I had low levels of vitamin D which manifested each year as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I started taking 1000 IU of vitamin D2 (1 capsule daily), and I no longer suffer from this each winter, so I personally found it to be effective.

See what works best for you.

 

The Harmful Effects Of Sugar

Sugar from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Adam Engelhart, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Let’s talk the white stuff.

Uh…that’s sugar.

Not, like, flour.

Or snow.

Or dandruff.

Or any other white stuff.

Sugar.

Several foodstuffs constitute sugar; that’s to say, they act the same as sugar would once inside your body; but to keep it simple, I’m just gonna talk about plain ol’ sugar here. Sugar that is sugar before it goes in your body; sugar once inside.

Now I know YOU KNOW this post is not gonna be good news about sugar; but before sugar, the absolute best first thing you can do for yourself in terms of all aspects of your health is to stop eating animal products. This is the most important dietary change you can make.

I want to talk about sugar however, because it too has some extremely egregious health effects you need to be aware of.

 

Harmful effects of sugar

OK, so I’m pretty sure you know about the link between sugar and tooth decay. (My mouth wishes I’d known sooner).

And you probably have a good grasp on the whole ‘sugar spikes your blood’ dealie. We know that sugar causes energy rushes that soon turn to crashes – not the best way of achieving consistent, long-lasting energy.

So far so blah.

But one of the worst effects in my experience (because I and many others I know have lived through this), is that sugar is candida food.

If you don’t know, candida is a yeast that lives in your gut naturally. Due to various influences disrupting the balance of gut flora (antibiotics* being one, but there are MANY others), it can multiply and proliferate and cause a whole host of awful symptoms.

Sugar, which is candida food, helps this beast grow out of control.

 

Why is candida so bad? What’s the big deal?

Candida is linked to soooo many diseases and conditions.

You may be surprised to know that candida is even linked to mental health – YES, that’s mental health – the extent to which we are only just learning.

It is linked to depression, (here is one academic paper on this subject – there are others) autism, bi-polar disorder, and schizophrenia.

It is also linked to alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgiaCrohn’s disease, Celiac disease, oral and oesophageal cancers, endometriosis, and inability to lose weight.

There is also a connection between candida and cystic fibrosis, though this link needs to be investigated more.

It is linked to lots of cancers indirectly, as candida suppresses the immune system – an ideal situation for cancer to develop; but it is also thought to be linked to lots of cancers in a more direct way, though there isn’t enough scientific evidence as yet to prove the links conclusively.

There are many more diseases that candida is thought to be linked to, but there haven’t been enough studies carried out as yet to prove this without doubt.

There seems to be a lack of will to fund studies. Possibly this is because candida can be cured with cheap remedies and a change of diet. Therefore, it wouldn’t be accurate to think that just because there isn’t sufficient evidence, that there isn’t a link between a disease and candida.

Bottom line – Stop feeding the candida beast!

Don’t forget that sugar has addictive properties similar to those found in street drugs. It’s all the more surprising then (or is it?), that food manufacturers want to feed our addiction!

 

How do I avoid sugar?

We KNOW there’s gonna be sugar in cookies and candy etc. But where are all the hidden sneaky places sugar can be found?

You’re not going to like this – it’s blinking everywhere!

It’s in:

Breads

Plant-based yoghurts (even plain ones!)

Chilli sauces (except Tabasco and Cholula, woohoo!)

Pasta sauces

Indian restaurant food

Chinese restaurant food

Cans of baked beans, refried beans etc

Plant milks (One popular brand I just looked at had sugar as the second ingredient – before the almonds even!!!)

Pickles

Soft beverages in bottles, cans or cartons (including most healthy-looking ones)

Cereals (including plain ones – Corn Flakes, Weetabix, All-Bran etc.)

 

You can very easily see how over the course of a day your sugar intake can creep up – and that’s without you even knowingly USING sugar.

It’s worth noting none of these foods NEED sugar to taste good, or as a preservative. It’s almost as if it’s in someone’s interest to keep us full of candida-fuelling sugar!!

 

What can you do?

Though the ideal solution is to completely eliminate sugar from every source, it’s very difficult seeing as how we clearly live in a sugar-saturated world.

The best thing you can do is just KNOW when you are eating something containing sugar. That way you can monitor your intake and make sure it is minimal.

Make your own food as much as possible of course; but when you DO buy pre-made products, just take an extra second to scan the ingredients list on the label. If you’re vegan you’ll be checking to see if there are animal products anyway, so just take an extra second to check for sugar. If the product contains sugar – pick a brand that doesn’t contain it.

It may be a pain in the butt initially, but you’ll quickly get to remember which products contain sugar and which don’t.

 

*I am not against antibiotics when they are truly needed; just against the over-prescription of them.

 

My Five Key Components To Successful Weight Loss

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I see so many people trying to lose weight (especially now it’s nearly summer and all the hideous ‘get your bikini bod so the menz on the beach don’t find you disgusting‘ ads are everywhere) and my heart goes out to them.

Seemingly each month a new diet trend comes out. Each frickin’ day there is this green smoothie weight loss challenge or that juicing weight loss challenge.

Even if people want to lose weight because THEY want to – rather than because society is pressuring them to; so much contradictory information is out there about weight loss it can be hard to know which route to take.

How is anyone meant to know what is effective and what’s not?  And even if it’s effective – is it healthy? Is it sustainable? Will the weight just pack all back on at the end of the challenge or will the weight loss last this time?

I personally couldn’t give a crap what someone looks like – but in terms of health, wellness and longevity; a weight that suits our frame is ideal.

I’ve been overweight – not massively so, but enough that I know what it is to feel heavy, unfit and lethargic. The joy I get now in moving my body and having it work optimally for me is priceless (I do handstands every day, and love hiking and climbing), and it’s worth it for me to maintain a healthy weight.

The good news is that this is easier than we’re led to believe.

I’ve already written about how a whole foods, plant-based diet is the healthiest and most sustainable way to lose weight. But, just to recap, this means 100% plant-based (no animal products); whole foods (no refined foods like sugar, white flour, white rice etc, but the whole versions); minimal added oils (because these are processed, extracted fats); and minimal processed foods.

To get an idea of what whole food, plant-based meals look like – I highly recommend the Forks Over Knives Recipe resource.

Exercise is also part of any weight loss plan obvs, but I’m gonna stick to talking about the food here, as that’s my bag.

 

Here are my FIVE KEY components for successful weight loss:

 

1. Enjoyment of your food

For the love of all that’s holy, you NEED to enjoy your meals…I was gonna say even if you’re losing weight, but you need to enjoy your food ESPECIALLY if you are losing weight. How else will your new habits be sustainable?

If you delight in your food you won’t feel deprived and like you’re being punished. If you see what you’re doing as a delicious permanent lifestyle shift rather than as a temporary diet, you’re more likely to be successful.

If you’re on a diet where you’re drinking shakes or smoothies instead of having meals; I mean, really? Even if the shake tastes ok, you really want one for every meal?

If you are used to eating refined or greasy foods, you may notice a difference in taste eating whole food plant-based – but you’ll lose NONE of the flavour. And, after a while your taste buds will adjust and PREFER the whole, lower fat food.

If you’ve made the change from omnivore to vegan, you’ve already experienced your taste buds acclimating to plant foods from animal foods – it’s the same thing here but you’re adjusting to whole foods.

Get cooking and get creative.

 

2. Satiety

If you are like me, you need to feel satisfied at the end of a meal. I like my stomach to KNOW it’s been fed, not in a ‘aaarrrrghhhh I feel so gross and bloated’ kind of a way; just in a warm, cosy, pleasantly satiated kind of a way. A green smoothie for dinner ain’t gonna cut it. Don’t kid yourself. Even if you do this for a few days, it’s not sustainable.

Foods that fill you up (like whole grains and beans) will STOP you reaching for crap later, or stop you dreaming of crap. And who’s got time to dream of crap food all day long?

If you’re full of beans and grains – there just ain’t room for anything else! Your belly and your brain are content!

 

3. Stop counting stuff

I don’t believe food and its components should ever be counted (unless you have a condition where your doctor has recommended you count measurements of foods etc).

Some people think vegans are no fun – but don’t seem to question the funlessness of counting calories, ‘syns,’ fat content etc etc.

On a whole food, plant-based diet (and if you’re conservative with the ol’ added oils) NO COUNTING IS NEEDED.

 

4. Consistency in the day to day is key (rather than sporadic detoxes, crash diets, or ‘challenges’)

Forget the detox and the challenges. What’s the point of a detox or a challenge, only to go back to old habits and have to do another detox a few weeks or months down the line?

No one is suggesting you should never eat vegan junk food again as long as you live; but on a daily basis consistently choosing tasty, whole food dishes will stop you wanting the junk regularly.

Make the junk an occasional treat. Junk always tastes better if you feel it’s a cheeky treat 🙂

5. Preparation

If you’re a busy bee, prepare as much as you can in advance. It’s all about putting measures in place to prevent making less than great food choices.

Slow cookers are great for having a meal ready when you walk in the door; you can make extra soup and stews and freeze what you don’t eat for later in the week.

Even if you can’t prep a whole meal in advance you can chop veg once you’ve bought it and keep it in the veg box or freezer.

 

Five Tips For Maximising Your Energy Levels

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Do you feel like you have little energy and often feel fatigued?

Assuming there is no underlying problem (which, of course you’ll already have checked out at your doctors, right?), then this post can help you get back to being the perky, peppy, zestful YOU.

So, there’s not a list of energy foods for meat eaters and another for vegans – it’s all the same for everyone.

Meat eaters, this is for you because you may find that what you thought to be the best energy food actually isn’t.

And vegans – its ace that you’re vegan, but vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy and full of energy, so this is for you, too.

Let’s bust a few myths first shall we?

The best source of energy is CARBOHYDRATES.

Where are carbs NOT found?

Not in meat

Meat contains very little carbohydrate, so is NOT the best energy food. If anything, it can weigh you down and make you feel sluggish.

Our bodies have a hard time digesting it what with us not having the stomach acids to properly break it down, and what with it containing ZERO fibre, and what with us having really long intestines reminiscent of a herbivores. If our bodies are trying to digest meat, our energy is being used up for this.

However, because our bodies can digest plants easily without all the extra effort, when we eat plants we get energy from them.

Not in dairy products

The only carbohydrate in dairy is in the lactose. Only a very small percentage of the world’s population can digest lactose. If you can’t (which is most of us!) your body cannot utilise the carbohydrate in dairy for energy.

Not from green leafy veg

Now don’t get me wrong, green leafy veg are vital to our diets for lots of nutrients – but not to give us energy. They do not contain enough calories to be efficient energy givers.

Green leafy veg are the side to a dish, or a PART of a stew/soup/salad/stir-fry/curry/chilli/pasta dish. They are NOT the main event.

Not from nuts

Nuts are healthy fats and are another vital part of our diet for lots of reasons. A couple a day when we’re peckish can help BOOST our energy, but they should not be the main source of our energy – you’d have to eat too many, and they are too fatty to eat them in bigger quantities.

So how do we get a ton of energy?

Do these five things:

 

1. Get your carbs from THESE foods:

From unrefined, starch-based plant foods, namely:

  • Whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, wholewheat bread, wholewheat pasta, wholewheat couscous, oats, millet, corn, buckwheat/brown rice noodles, etc
  • Tubers and starchy veg – sweet potato, potato (all varieties), squashes (all varieties)
  • legumes (pulses in the UK) – chick peas, red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans, cannellini beans, peas, lentils (all varieties), black beans, pinto beans, fava (broad) beans etc

Fruits as dessert are fantastic, but should not be the main dish; regardless of what some YouTubers would have you believe.

 

2. Eat breakfast

Well duh! I hear you say, and you’d be right – but you’d be surprised how many people don’t.

A breakfast containing whole grains (oatmeal, wholewheat toast, wholewheat bagel, brown rice) will set you up for great energy all morning.

 

3. Limit sugar and caffeine

By sugar I mean actual sugar; and white refined carbs (white bread, buns, bagels etc; white pasta and white rice).

Though both sugar and caffeine give us energy in the short term, it’s not really worth it for the energy slump that ensues.

Let’s be realistic. Even though it’s possible to eliminate caffeine from our lives, we might not all want to do that – me included. I have two cups of green tea per day and my energy is great. But when I have more than that, it’s definitely negatively affected in the long run. Have one or two cups of whatever caffeinated beverage you love per day, maybe one if it’s coffee, or two if it’s tea (tea has less caffeine).

Similarly, with sugar, I’m not suggesting you eliminate all sugar from your diet, but rather:

Choose whole grains over refined white starches, and minimise actual white sugar as much as possible. Pay attention to where it could be lurking – ketchups, chilli sauces, relishes, shop bought pasta sauces etc. You may not think this is a big deal, but sugar adds up over the course of a day.

Try and buy products that don’t contain sugar. You have to practise label scanning, but you WILL find brands that don’t use sugar, and then you’ll remember them for next time.

Use agave and maple syrup to sweeten things. They are not a health food either, but they don’t spike your blood as much as sugar.

 

4. Exercise

It sounds like it wouldn’t work but it does. Sometime you gotta expend energy to GET energy! Ever laid in bed for longer than you should and just got tireder? Exactly!

If you do nothing else, a brisk half an hour walk every day is a great, easy inclusion into your daily routine. It’ll get the blood flowing round the body, increase your heart rate and (if you are following the other tips) set you up for great energy for the rest of the day.

 

5. Hydrate

Dehydration is such a common problem.

While water in and of itself doesn’t give you energy, dehydration can leave you feeling drained (Literally! Geddit?) and weary.

While you don’t necessarily need to rigidly drink eight glasses a day if you are eating a whole food, plant-based diet (as much of your food will have a high water content); listen to your body and drink water as soon as you feel thirsty. If your pee is almost clear with just a touch of colour – you’re good. If it’s darker, get your H2o on!

 

The Best Foods To Improve Your Moods

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Please note: This post is intended to give tips and advice for best emotional health through nutrition. If you have been diagnosed with depression, or feel you may be suffering with this or any other mental illness, please consult your medical practitioner, and follow their advice. Do not stop taking any medication without the supervision of a doctor.

 

Are you a moody SOB?

I’m not judging, it’s perhapsmaybepossible that I was once.

Ever thought that what we put in our body could play a part in this?

Don’t even think for one second that it can’t!

But because what we eat affects us this way, the GOOD news is that if we start yamming the right stuff into our faces – we can improve, and even stabilise our moods and emotions.

No more meltdowns. No more unexplainable freakouts. No more random ups and downs. Sound good?

Of course it is no surprise that the same diet that is best for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, is also best for emotional health.

A whole food, plant-based diet is already superior to a diet rich in animal products in terms of maintaining good mental and emotional health. It is more alkaline and anti-inflammatory, as opposed to acidic and inflammatory, and so promotes more vitality and overall health – which in turn affects mood. In fact, depression is thought to be a disease of inflammation. So if you’re vegan and eating healthily, you’re already on the right path to great mental and emotional health.

But, there are certain foods that are especially helpful in achieving a balanced state of being.

Here are 4 foods (and 2 vitamins) to include in your daily diet to avoid experiencing the woohoos and the blues in the space of five minutes:

 

1. Whole grains

(Whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, rye, quinoa, millet, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, whole spelt)

Most plant foods, not just whole grains, are rich in tryptophan, which your body needs to produce serotonin – a neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for us feeling wellbeing and happiness.

Whole grains, being unrefined carbohydrates, are an excellent source of tryptophan, and as such, they can serve to regulate serotonin levels, elevating them if they are too low.

The OTHER reason whole grains are at the top of my list is because they maintain steady blood sugar – which also serves to stabilise your moods.

Refined grains such as white flour act as sugar in the body and thus spike your blood and affect your moods negatively. Just think of when a child is given sugar – they become hyperactive and bounce off the walls until they crash and become cranky. We do this too if we eat white flour and white sugar. There may not be walls involved but we get the same wired feeling before we crash!

Whole wheat is an easy way to get your whole grains (as long as you are not celiac). Think whole wheat toast, whole wheat pasta and noodles, whole wheat bagels, whole wheat couscous etc.

 

2. Nuts and seeds

(ALL nuts and seeds are great, but especially flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts)

So many reasons why we need the ol’ nuts and seeds, but stable moods is an important one.

Nuts and seeds contain magnesium, which has been shown to alleviate depression and irritability.

They are also rich in zinc, which is crucial for mental health, and omega 3, which – HELLO! – is the brain nutrient!

A lack of adequate omega 3 can result in depression. Try adding 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds to your cereal or soup every day, or grabbing four walnut halves as a snack.

Nuts and seeds (like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds etc) have a high tryptophan to total protein ratio which as we’ve seen, boosts serotonin levels, and have thus been shown to be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder.

 

3. Probiotic food (Gut food, if you will 🙂 )

(Sauerkraut, kimchi, non-dairy yoghurts, Ethiopian injera bread, apple cider vinegar, probiotic capsules)

We now know that just as gut health is massively linked to our immune system; it is also linked to mental health.

It is vital, more than ever thanks to deleterious elements that kill off our good gut bacteria such as antibiotics, chlorine in water, and hidden sugars (that feed bad gut bacteria); that we consistently replenish the good bacteria in our guts.

It’s a good idea, as well as incorporating some of the above foods into your diet, and especially if you’ve taken antibiotics for long periods of time (for acne, for example), to take a daily non-dairy probiotic.

A study entitled “Assessment of the Psychotropic Properties of Probiotics” found that one month of probiotics appeared to significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and hostility.

 

4. Beans and greens

(Black-eyed peas, red/white kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, cannellini beans, butter beans, haricot beans, fava beans etc – dark leafy greens; kale, collards, bok choy, broccoli, spinach etc)

Lots of depression sufferers have been found to be low in folic acid. Beans and greens are your best way to get this stuff!

Think bean chillies, bean stews or bean curries (on brown rice with steamed greens on the side – WAY to get three mood foods in one meal!); soups containing beans and veg, salads full of beans and spinach, couscous with beans, or you know what? The great British culinary delight that is beans on (whole wheat) toast!

 

5. Take your vitamin B12!

It’s been known for decades that poor mental health is often associated with low levels of folic acid (eat your beans – see above!) and vitamin B12.

You need to be taking vitamin B12 anyway if you’re eating plant-based (and possibly even if you’re not), so ideally you’re doing this already.

 

6. Take vitamin D supplements if you need to

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression, especially in areas of the world that don’t get a great deal of sunlight, so get your levels checked at the docs, and supplement if you need to – either with plant-based vitamin D2, or vegan vitamin D3.

 

‘What’s The Point In Restricting Yourself? You Have To Die Of Something Anyway’

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I hope with this post I’m giving you help in responding to this comment when you hear it.

Or that I’m responding to YOU if you if this comment is aligned with your sentiments.

This one always drives me crazy because it feels so short-sighted.

Which comment am I talking about?

This one. I hear it often when talking about the health benefits of a whole food, vegan diet:

‘..What’s the point in restricting yourself? You have to die of something anyway.’

Uh…well, this is true I guess (not the part about restricting yourself – I’ve written lots on how a plant-based diet is actually the opposite of restrictive), but, and I know it’s a cliche, it’s not about the years in your life, it’s about the life in your years.

Whether we die at 40, 90 or 110, isn’t it better that we lived as many of those days as possible in vibrant health?

Yes we all have to die of something, but how about that ‘something’ just being your heart stopping at the end of a long, well-lived, fully enjoyed life; where you’ve been independent, fit and capable, and a contributing member of society right up until the absolute end? What if you were pain, discomfort and niggle-free right up to the last minute? What if you kept every single one of your faculties and marbles; your spring in your step and your memory right up until that final second?

What if you also never lost your passion, purpose and zest for life EVER; and food tasted good, autumn smelled like heaven, and music made you get up and dance until your last day on this earth?

Doesn’t this sound better than getting to the point where you feel so crap you don’t really want to go on, but the doctors keep giving you pills to keep you alive, because it’s unethical to do otherwise?

Doesn’t it sound better than being immobile and not having a life outside of four walls, or of living somewhere you’re not happy, because it’s the only place they can take care of your needs, and having to rely on other people to do everything for you? Or worse, having to depend on family members to take care of your personal hygiene?

What if you contract dementia and can’t even recognise and be grateful to the family members who are tending to your needs? (Yes, a plant-based diet can help stave of dementia, too)

And how awful if, due to a sedentary lifestyle where you’re not seeing the sun from one day to the next, you become depressed? Nothing is less fun than living life under a big black cloud – it’s not living in fact. It’s existing.

How different this all could be.

A whole food, vegan lifestyle gives you the best chance at an entirely different scenario.

One where your family and friends would have to worry about you very little, how you’d not be a drain on society but a gift and an example to it – but also, just how much more time you’d have to be in the moment enjoying your damn self and all the people around you?

Why waste time and money suffering and being ill if it’s at all avoidable?

Life is too short (even if it’s long!) and time with others; food; music; sex; nature; art etc is way too fun to lose any time to unnecessary sickliness.

I leave you with the words of romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who wrote an essay called ‘A Vindication of a Natural Diet’

On a natural system of diet [a plant-based diet], old age would be our last and our only malady; the term of our existence would be protracted; we should enjoy life, and no longer preclude others from the enjoyment of it. All sensational delights would be infinitely more exquisite and perfect. The very sense of being would then be a continued pleasure, such as we now feel it in some few and favoured moments of our youth.

 

How Do You Get Omega 3 As A Vegan?

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So, you’ve probably heard of omegas 3 & 6, and that you need them to be healthy.

You actually need a pretty even amount of both these beauties:

Omega 6 is inflammatory – which sounds bad, but it helps clot the blood soooo….useful if you have a wound you need healing for example. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and an anti-coagulant, so it thins the blood. They compete with each other for the same enzymes in the body, and too much omega 6 can inhibit omega 3 – hence the need for an equal-ish amount of each.

MANY people’s ratios are way skewed however, sometimes by as much as 30:1 (i.e. too much omega 6 to too little omega 3). You need to know that this is NOT a vegan problem, this is a universal problem.

As a plant-based superstar (or plant-based superstar wannabe!) you’re most likely getting plenty of Omega 6 through veg, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds, so it’s really omega 3 we want to make sure we get enough of, to balance out the ol’ 6.

It’s sometimes easy to get too much omega 6 through added oils; like safflower, sunflower, cottonseed or corn oil; so ideally stay away from these or use VERY sparingly.

We need omega 3 for basic cell function. And according to PCRM, adequate intake of omega 3 can mean a reduced chance of strokes and heart disease; reduction of menstrual pain and joint pain, relief from ulcerative colitis symptoms, and there is evidence to show it can also mean reduced breast cancer risk.

A deficiency of this nutrient can lead to health consequences that include kidney and liver abnormalities, dry skin or decreased immune function.

Omega 3 comes in three forms.

The main one is ALA (alpha linolenic acid) and this is the only ESSENTIAL omega 3, so this is the one you want to make sure you are getting.

Your body cleverly converts the ALA into the two other forms of omega 3; EFA and DHA.

We’ve all been sold the bill o’ goods that the best sources of EFA and DHA are fish and fish oils, but this is not true. The best sources are our own bodies! Yay for our bodies!

In any case, the fish themselves do not make EFA and DHA in their bodies; they obtain it from the algae and seaweed they consume.

Even though EFA and DHA are not essential nutrients – there is no RDA (recommended daily amount) prescribed for them – it’s possible you may need to up your levels if you are pregnant or elderly. But – you can do like the fish and eat sea vegetables (fancy phrase for seaweed; try nori or wakame for example), or take supplements made from algae. Aim for 250mg of DHA/day. You’ll also be avoiding the yucky contaminants found in fish this way!

So, how to get the main dude, the ALA?

Oh Em Gee this is soooo easy.

ALA can be found pretty abundantly in plant sources. Flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, black beans, red kidney beans, winter squash and edamame are all great sources.

One easy way – the way that I do it in fact – is to have two tablespoons of ground flax seeds on my oatmeal most mornings. There are a gazillion other great reasons for having flax seeds, but ALA is one of the main ones.

You could have two or three meals a week (stews or soups or casseroles or chillis) with red kidney beans or black beans in; and grab three or four walnut halves a few times a week.

But is it HARDER for vegans than for omnivores to get adequate omega 3?

What? You haven’t already surmised the answer to this question?

Though plants contain little fat, they contain enough to help the conversion process in our bodies of ALA to EFA and DHA. The ingestion of higher fat levels (like those found in a meat and dairy rich diet) make this process more difficult. SO, to have great levels of these three forms of omega 3; an overall low fat whole foods, plant-based diet is optimal.

Well…but of course 😉

 

Sources used: PCRM, Dr Michael Greger

 

Should Vegans Take A Multivitamin?

I Love Macro from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Matt Reinbold, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

It’s tempting to automatically take a multivitamin when we go vegan.

We’ve made big changes to our diet; changes that most people don’t understand – changes that most doctors don’t understand.

We get asked questions about what our new protein, calcium and iron sources are going to be; where our vitamin B12 is going to come from; and what about vitamins D and K?

It can be enough to scare the bejesus out of you!

Isn’t it ironic that the omnivores that ask us these questions often aren’t the pictures of health themselves? And how are they so sure that they have all the correct levels of vitamins and minerals?

One thing you need to know as a vegan is that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are not just a potential problem for vegans. Nope, not even a vitamin B12 deficiency is this.

But it’s still vegans that most people believe are more susceptible to malnutrition, and no-one would blame you for feeling fearful after hearing these beliefs vocalised ad nauseum.

I’ve personally been told that it’s impossible to live without eggs; and that not eating protein from meat will make me weak.

Well, here I am all strong and living and s**t.

But after so much fear-mongering it seems logical, doesn’t it, to invest in a multivitamin to cover all bases?

So what SHOULD you do?

I very much lean towards the advice of the doctors that have been teaching (and living) a plant-based diet for decades. They base their decisions on independent, non-reductionist, peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

These guys – Dr John McDougall, Dr Tom Campbell (son of Dr T Colin Campbell), Dr Michael Greger, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr Neal Barnard all say taking a multivitamin is unnecessary (in every single link you’ll find each doctor saying this somewhere). They advise that taking a multivitamin can distract from us trying to eat a healthy whole food, plant-based diet; and that it’s best to get all our nutrients in dietary form – excluding vitamin B12 of course, for which we need to supplement.

Dr Greger in particular points out all the studies that have been done on multivitamins; some show that they’re beneficial; some show that they are harmful. Ultimately, the most comprehensive studies show that they don’t make any difference, and that they’re a huge waste of money.

All this said….

Dr Barnard says in one article that a multivitamin can play a role if you know you are not eating enough whole plant food. And both he and Dr Esselstyn say that you MAY need to supplement with vitamin D, for example if you live somewhere that doesn’t have much sunshine – as sunshine is the best source of vitamin D for vegans.

What do I do?

I do not take a multivitamin, but as I’ve said before, I DO supplement with vitamin D, and sometimes with zinc and iodine, because through one thing and another (long-ass story), I’ve learned that my body needs help with these nutrients, seemingly regardless of my healthy diet.

The best advice, if you feel you may be short on any nutrients, is to go to your doctor and have a comprehensive blood test for all vitamins and minerals. These tests can tell you if you are low or deficient in any particular nutrient.

It’s important to identify this exactly. If, for example, you are feeling fatigued – there could be any one of several reasons for this. So it would not be prudent to assume you have an iron deficiency and take iron supplements, as iron can be harmful in excess. Thus, I urge you to get your blood tested and not self-diagnose.

Once you’ve been tested; should you be found to be low in any nutrient, firstly try and improve your levels with diet. This will always be the best way to regain optimal nutrient levels.

Should this not work sufficiently – and I know that for me, I need help with vitamin D (not much sun here), and zinc in the winter (immune system compromised over the years), THEN it may be worth supplementing with small doses of whatever it is you need.

Conclusion

It seems from everything I’ve learned with my studies; from my experience; and from researching the advice of the plant-based doctors, that the best advice is this:

  • You do NOT automatically need a multivitamin just because you are vegan. This could lead to overload of certain nutrients that are harmful in excess; or just be a plain waste of money
  • If you feel you may have a deficiency, or if you know you are not eating a varied plant-based diet, have your blood levels checked at the doctors
  • If you ARE low in anything, try and eat foods that contain this nutrient, and the ones that help absorption of it. I can help with this!
  • If this still doesn’t work, supplement with low levels of just the SPECIFIC nutrient(s) you are lacking

 

How Do You Get Enough Zinc As A Vegan?

Zinc from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 fdecomite, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

A reader emailed me in the week asking how vegans get enough zinc.

It’s a great question. We tend to focus on nutrients that uninformed journalists have scared us into thinking we won’t get enough of on a plant-based diet; like protein, calcium and iron.

Zinc doesn’t often figure in this list.

So let’s do zinc; right here, right now!

Zinc is a highly important nutrient; vital for healthy growth during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy; for a healthy immune system; for nerve development and for wound healing.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency include frequent infections, skin sores, loss of hair and problems with sense of taste and smell.

White spots on fingernails are also thought by many to be a sign of mild zinc deficiency, but though I can find this information on several MD websites, I can’t find science to back this up and there are differing opinions on this.

In any case, you don’t want a zinc deficiency, no sir.

The good news is there is no science that suggests that vegans do not get enough zinc.

According to the Vegan Society, vegans of all ages generally have a dietary intake of zinc which is similar to or greater than that of non-vegans.

If a vegan IS deficient in zinc this is more likely to be because they are restricting their caloric intake (i.e. as with an eating disorder) rather than because a plant-based diet is naturally deficient in zinc.

The recommended daily amount is 8 – 11mg. The higher end of this scale is for sexually active males, as zinc is lost through semen expulsion.

It has been suggested by the Institute of Medicine that vegans who have high intakes of whole grains might need more zinc than recommended. It’s true that the phytic acid found in whole grains can bind to minerals like zinc and make them less bioavailable to the body, but there is no solid science to show that this is a problem that causes zinc deficiency in vegans.

In fact, Dr Michael Greger says that even though whole grains ARE high in phytates, phytates have other health benefits, so we don’t want to avoid them. He says there are two simple solutions to combat any negative effect they may have on zinc absorption. Either 1) Eat bigger portions of whole grains (brown rice for example), to ensure more zinc intake, or 2) make sure you eat alliums (onion or garlic – or both!) with the brown rice, as these aid mineral absorption. This is easily done if you’re making a curry or chili for example, as onion and garlic would both be default ingredients, and you can serve it over brown rice. We certainly do NOT want to avoid whole grains bcause of the phytates and to miss out on the other great nutrients in whole grains.

Even though plant foods are not high in zinc, there are lots that contain zinc. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh are all great sources.

If you want to pro-actively increase your intake of zinc then add toasted nuts and seeds to salads, or grab a small handful as a snack; and make sure to eat leavened (risen) bread over flatbreads.

Should you take a zinc supplement?

Probably, no.

However –

Disclaimer:

I do take a zinc supplement (30mg per day) in the winter, or at times when I feel like I might be coming down with a cold.

This is because my immune system was decimated as a young’n’! (I had lots of antibiotics as an infant, and took them for years as a teen to combat acne, which pretty much destroyed my health and immune responses).

Taking a supplement when I need to works for me. I live in London and am often on cramped public transport in the winter, standing underneath people that are sneezing on my head.

Yes, my head.

In order to avoid catching infections I take supplementary zinc but you very probably don’t have to because your medical history and your lifestyle may be different.

I’ve also found, in the past that if I have white flecks on my nails, a daily zinc supplement takes care of these (but as I’ve already mentioned, I cannot find the science to support this).

If you feel you may have a zinc deficiency, please consult your doctor and have your blood tested for zinc levels before deciding to supplement.

Iron and A Vegan Diet. What Is The Truth?

026 Iron - Periodic Table of Elements from Flickr via Wylio
© 2015 Science Activism, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

A few days ago I saw an ‘article’ in Harpers Bazaar entitled ‘5 Reasons Not To Go Vegan’ in which a ‘nutritionist’ explained how hard it was to get enough iron on a vegan diet, and that meat is a much better source of iron.

She went on to explain how, as a vegan, it can also be hard to get enough protein and other nutrients that, in fact, AREN’T AT ALL hard to obtain from plant food.

I was surprised this article was allowed to be published – and why didn’t they ask ME to be the resident nutritionist? I tell the truth that I learned from peer-reviewed science, rather than regurgitate old information that I haven’t once questioned. GRRRR!!

Funnily enough, that article has since been deleted – I’m guessing people must have complained. I’d have complained myself if I wasn’t jaded from seeing too many of these types of ‘articles’ with their dodgy ‘nutritionists.’

Just to prove it WAS there – here it was! Just check out that dumb old URL…

Here’s what’s what on iron:

We need iron. It’s well known that iron deficiency can lead to anaemia. Symptoms of iron deficiency and anaemia include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, and palpitations (though if you suffer from any of these symptoms, don’t automatically assume you have an iron deficiency. These symptoms are compatible with lots of conditions, so go see your doctor and find out what’s up).

Many people who go back to meat-eating from being vegan say they felt tired and weak and feel it’s because they weren’t getting enough iron, believing that ALL the iron is in the red meat.

The sad truth is that many doctors still recommend upping red meat intake to those that are low in iron – I’ve even heard this within the last year.

Unfortunately, most have so little nutritional education, they advise their patients to eat food that is carcinogenic and full of saturated fat, cholesterol and antibiotics rather than study modern science on how BEST to acquire sufficient iron levels from food safely.

So what IS the truth?

The confusion arises because iron from meat (haem iron) IS more quickly absorbed in the human body than iron from plants (non-haem iron). THIS is why the medical profession will often prescribe red meat or liver to patients low in iron, thinking that this will be a quick cure.

Because haem iron is known to be more quickly absorbed, people think that haem iron is better for us, period.

BUT…

…This is NOWHERE NEAR the full picture.

That haem iron is more quickly absorbed is not a good thing. It is absorbed by the body quickly WHETHER WE NEED IT OR NOT. It is not a balanced way for the body to receive iron and can result in iron overload. This increases risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease.

Non-haem iron from plant food is slower to be absorbed by the body but is absorbed as our bodies need it (isn’t this clever?)

All the main health advisory bodies – ADA, BMA, WHO, PCRM – concur that iron deficiency anaemia is no more common in vegetarians than it is amongst meat eaters.

And in the UK in 2002; a study of 33,883 meat-eaters, 18,840 vegetarians and 2,956 vegans found that vegans were found to have the highest daily intake of iron.

As we’ve seen, iron overload is just as dangerous as iron deficiency – but we stand far less chance of over-dosing on iron on a plant-based diet.

Great plant-food sources of iron are whole grains, green leafy veg, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds; and vitamin C-rich fruit and veg help us absorb the iron, but really, if you’re eating a varied whole food, plant-based diet, you don’t need to stress over it.

It’s actually hard to NOT get enough iron on a whole food, plant-based diet.

Just in case you come across an article with information on veganism or plant-based health and you are not sure of it’s credibility; or it seems to contradict information you believed to be true, here is a handy guide to help you navigate conflicting information.