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.

 

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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 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 primary source of energy is CARBOHYDRATES.

Where are carbs NOT found?

Not in meat

Meat contains very little carbohydrate, so is NOT an energy food. If anything, it weighs you down and makes 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 you’re 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!

 

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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 šŸ™‚ )

(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 ā€œAssessment of the Psychotropic Properties of Probioticsā€ 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.

 

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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 šŸ˜‰

 

Sources used: PCRM, Dr Michael Greger

 

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Should Vegans Take A Multivitamin?

I Love Macro from Flickr via Wylio
Ā© 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

 

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How Do You Get Enough Zinc As A Vegan?

Zinc from Flickr via Wylio
Ā© 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, the Vegan Society say that even though whole grains ARE higher in phytate, their higher zinc levels make up for poor absorption, so there’s no need 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.

 

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Iron and A Vegan Diet. What Is The Truth?

026 Iron - Periodic Table of Elements from Flickr via Wylio
Ā© 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 ā€“ ADA, BMA, WHO, PCRM ā€“ 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.

 

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How Do Vegans Get Calcium?

020 Calcium - Periodic Table of Elements from Flickr via Wylio
Ā© 2015 Science Activism, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

 

The other day a potential client told me they’d be concerned about how they’d meet their calcium needs if they went vegan.

This made me realise I haven’t yet written a ‘calcium’ post. Yipes!

Since I live in a bit of a ‘vegan bubble’ – my partner is vegan, and I am now chatting to other vegans daily on Periscope (Oooh talking of which – why don’t you come join me there on www.periscope.tv/karencottenden), I often assume that people KNOW there are plenty of plant sources of calcium, but clearly I am being presumptuous in this assumption!

If you have the ‘where would I get my calcium from as a vegan?’ question, this post is for you.

Similar to the protein issue, you cannot be blamed for asking yourself this question and not immediately knowing the answer. We’ve all been led to believe a HYYUUUUGE load of crapola, and it’s hard to comprehend just how entrenched and pervasive those beliefs have become.

I had yet another wake-up call to this when I heard the question being asked of me the other day.

So, here’s the deal with calcium.

Firstly, you need to know that it’s hugely probable that we don’t need as much calcium as we’re told we do. There are major interests invested in keeping us all drinking cow’s milk. They’d have us believe that we need a ton of calcium and that this must come from milk – but this is not true.

Secondly, the calcium we DO need is obtainable elsewhere.

Where?

From exactly the same source lots of other animals get it – plants.

Getting calcium from plants instead of milk also ensures that we not getting the horrid saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones and antibiotics that are in cow’s milk.

Where do cows get their calcium? Hmmm, let’s think about that for a second…

Calcium is a mineral.

Minerals come from the ground.

Cows get the calcium (that is in their milk) from the grass that grows in the ground (except, these days they mostly eat feed crops that are supplemented with calcium!).

Where do you think the huge animals (elephants, giraffes etc) are getting their calcium from?

Not from cow’s milk that’s for damn sure!

If you eat a whole food, plant-based diet, then calcium – just like protein – is not something you need worry about.

We’re led to believe we should worry about it far more than we actually should.

I highly doubt you know someone who has suffered from calcium deficiency.

Dr John McDougall writes:

The relationship between people and plants works so well that there has never been a case of dietary calcium deficiency ever reported.

Yet I can bet you know someone who has suffered a disease of excess related to the other properties in cow’s milk (cholesterol, saturated fat, hormones); like diabetes, heart disease and prostate or breast cancer.

There is also a widespread belief STILL, that if you don’t drink milk for calcium you’ll risk getting osteoporosis when you’re older.

A study involvingĀ  77,761 women, monitored over 12 years, found that drinking three or more glasses of milk per day DID NOT protect them against hip or arm fractures. It actually showed that there were significantly higher fracture rates in the milk-drinking group than in those who drank little to no milk.

Then there is this study, from 1992, that shows that populations with the lowest calcium intakes had far fewer fractures than those with much higher intakes.

There is lots of evidence suggesting that dairy is harmful and actually contributes to osteoporosis rather than helping to prevent it.

The best osteoporosis-preventing foods are, in fact, whole grains, beans and legumes.

Worried that the calcium from plants might not be as well absorbed as the calcium in milk?

Don’t waste ya time a’ worryin’!

PCRM (Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine) says:

The calcium absorption from vegetables is as good or better than that of milk. Calcium absorption from milk is approximately 32 percent. Figures for broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, turnip greens, and kale range between 40-64 percent.

Thinking about taking calcium supplements to be sure? Don’t waste your $$$.

 

Honestly? If you’re eating a varied, whole food plant-based diet, you really don’t need to be worrying about calcium.

If you WANT to worry about it ‘cos that’s just who you are, then just ensure you’re getting enough leafy greens, beans and whole grains, and as an extra calcium bonus – have a couple of teaspoons of ground sesame seeds (high in calcium) on your oatmeal a couple of times a week, or enjoy tahini sauce over falafel or salad from time to time.

 

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How Do You Get Enough Protein As A Vegan? (Yes, I know! But It’s Still An Issue!)

ProteinĀ® from Flickr via Wylio
Ā© 2011 Ilias Bartolini, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

I’ve been blogging for almost two years on all things vegan and I’ve never yet written a post on protein.

Why?

Because SO many excellent vegan educators have written on it before me, and I genuinely thought we were past that. I thought there was enough info out there with the truth on how much and what sort of protein we actually need and how we’ve all been led to believe a shedload of garbage concerning this.

I was wrong. The protein issue is still coming up frequently.

I’m still seeing comments under vegan articles like ‘we need animal protein or we get weak and tired,’ or ‘I’ve never seen a vegan that didn’t look pale and sickly.’ Never mind the fact that there are plenty of healthy and strong vegans out there (including these ultra-strong guys); the oft-spouted ‘pale and sickly vegan’ shizzle comes from the belief, as erroneous as it is deeply entrenched, that we need a certain amount and certain sort of protein (i.e. meat) for strength.

Admittedly, I DO live in a bit of a vegan bubble, and I reckon I underestimated just how profoundly ingrained the whole ‘YOU NEED PROTEIN FROM MEAT OR YOU WILL DIE’ thing was.

My bad.

If you are a new vegan and wondering where you’ll get your protein, or more likely, if you are coming up against this question from concerned friends and family, this is for you.

 

What’s the deal with ‘complete’ and incomplete protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient and we need it, this much is true.

It is composed of amino acids that are essentially building blocks for every function in our bodies

There are 20 amino acids, 8 of which are essential to our bodies – i.e., they cannot be synthesised.

Some people may tell you that meat is a ‘complete’ protein (i.e. contains all the necessary amino acids), and that plant protein isn’t, and think they’ve won the protein argument.

It is true that plant food doesn’t always contain all the amino acids, but it’s also a fact that we don’t need to eat complete proteins.

We can eat foods that contain the amino acids separately, and our bodies are clever enough to put the pieces together themselves. Rice and beans combined, for example, are an excellent way to get the full complement of amino acids, (lots of world cultures have known this forever, think of chana masala and rice in India, or rice and beans in Cuba); beans and wholewheat works great too – think beans on toast, or wholewheat pasta dishes that contain beans. See? It’s as simple as that. And the steamed broccoli you have on the side? Well that actually contains more protein per calorie than beef!

However, please don’t think you need to pay lots of attention to food combining in order to get enough protein, you really don’t. Eat whole, plant-based foods and you’ll easily be getting enough – without the health risks associated with animal protein!

 

How much protein do we need?

Just remember, it serves the meat and dairy industries well to have us believe that we need as much protein as possible.

We actually need about 10% of our daily calories to come from protein, a little more if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or an athlete.

Considering that around 11% of the calories in brown rice come from protein, 40% of the calories in leafy greens come from protein, and 5% of the calories in a banana come from protein, it’s not difficult to reach your daily protein needs.

It’s actually harder to NOT reach them than it is to reach them!

 

How best to get that protein?

It also serves the meat and dairy industries to have us believe that there is only protein in animal products.

Some people even know there is protein in plant foods (food scientists and dieticians for example) yet they still believe (thanks to meat and dairy industry advertising) that animal products are the BEST source of protein.

Just look at the food plate the United States Department of Agriculture and the US government (who subsidise the meat industry) use for dietary recommendations to the public.

myplate_green

 

This plate graphic does not represent the fact that there is plenteous and sufficient protein for us in vegetables, grains and fruit without needing the meat. To be fair, in the text on the USDA website they do include nuts and seeds as protein, but many people don’t read the information on the website. They just focus on this graphic and think that ‘protein’ means meat – which was very possibly the intention.

This graphic does little but perpetuate the idea that protein = meat and meat only.

Those with interests in livestock agriculture have, quite frighteningly, well and truly achieved making this belief mainstream.

As we’ve seen above, protein is in all whole foods.

Getting enough protein on a vegan diet is NO PROBLEM AT ALL!!!!

As well as the brown rice, bananas and greens mentioned above, other protein superstars are beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh.

Just eat a variety of whole foods and you’ll be good.

 

Look, I really need convincing – is there any chance at all of becoming protein deficient on a vegan diet?

Anyone heard of kwashiorkor?

Kwashi-WHAA..?

Exactly.

Yet you’ve surely heard of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. This is because these are diseases of excess – which are the majority of diseases we suffer from in the western world.

Kwashiorkor is the medical term for protein deficiency. You haven’t heard of it ‘cos it doesn’t happen where you are. It is a disease of ‘lack’ as opposed to ‘excess.’ It can happen to emaciated children in parts of Africa, or in singular cases of seriously neglected children here, but that’s it.

I can bet you don’t know anyone who’s had it.

Yet there are millions of vegetarians and vegans NOT suffering from kwashiorkor. There are all the HUGE herbivores – cows, gorillas, elephants, horses etc – all NOT suffering from kwashiorkor.

To the people who say ‘well, I was vegetarian but I felt weak and tired all the time so I had to go back to eating meat and the first time I bit into a steak I burst into tears of joy as I could feel the strength returning to my body’ – if you were feeling weak as a vegetarian or vegan, this was NOT a protein issue, but something else; very likely an iron issue. Possibly not enough energy-giving complex-carbohydrates were consumed; or maybe it was the fact that they just weren’t eating enough nutrient-dense food. If you just take the meat out of your diet and don’t replace it with nutrient-dense whole foods, you may have energy or strength problems, but this won’t be because of lack of protein.

 

Are there any dangers in consuming too much protein?

Li’l bit!

Too much protein is highly detrimental to us. Excess protein (specifically animal protein) is linked to osteoporosis, heart disease, cancers, and kidney disease.

 

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