How To Be A Healthy Vegan – 11 Basic Tips

 

Science says eating 100% plant-based can be the most healthful diet there is – but of course it has to be done right. Coke and vegan marshmallows do not a healthy vegan make.

There are many tantalising, colourful new vegan products out there now, and ‘dirty’ vegan hipster joints are popping up in East London (what seems like) daily. And this is all good, and harmless to indulge in once in a while. But a new vegan could be forgiven for thinking that this is the stuff vegans eat ALL the time. And the worst thing in the world would be for a new vegan to partake of this kind of food only, and end up feeling so bad that they mistake the fact they are feeling gross to be due to a lack of meat. Or eggs. Or salmon.

Another reason some vegans turn back to meat is because they’ve been influenced by Youtube videos where (slightly crazy imo) people eat 50 mangoes for breakfast, 20 bananas for lunch etc and end up believing that buckets of fruit are the answer to all their health and wellness problems. When they don’t get the desired health outcome they expected from eating all the fruit all the time, they blame it on not eating animal products.

Firstly, none of the problems I’ve ever heard these ex-vegans complain of are because of a lack of animal products.

The one and only time you may NEED to eat meat is if there is no plant-food around anywhere; no chance of you coming across any in the next few days; you are already malnourished and semi-dead of starvation; and an unsuspecting animal walks by. In this scenario, go for it. Otherwise, there is no medical need to eat animal products.

Being a healthy vegan isn’t a mystery, but it’s not about guzzling a fuck-ton of fruit, or buying all the pretty new vegan products. And it’s a good idea to get a blood test done with your GP after a couple of months to check your levels of vitamins and minerals to see how you are going. Then, should you be deficient in any, you may well be able to make up the shortfall through diet.

I wonder who could help you do that?????

*coughs loudly*

**waves manically**

Oh……me?

*blushes demurely*

Well, since you asked, here is my nutritional therapy page ๐Ÿ˜€

But for right now – here are 11 helpful tips that should keep you on the straight and narrow health-wise:

1. Whole Foods. I was going to say ‘if its brown, gobble it down’ but that sounded a little…weird ๐Ÿ™‚ What I mean is, always choose the whole versions of grains. So – brown or black rice; wholewheat products over white wheat products (whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, whole wheat couscous etc); and try using more natural sugars over white sugar – agave and maple syrup are a better choice than white sugar and they don’t spike your blood at the same rate.

When you DO buy pre-made products, try and ensure they have minimal ingedients, and that you know what all the ingredients are – no unpronouncable chemical rubbish needed!

2. Watch your oil consumption. It’s very easy to overdo the oil, especially with all the tempting new junk food vegan places around. Even the better plant oils (olive, coconut etc) count as processed foods. Unless you have chronic disease it’s fine to include a little, but restaurant food very often contains a LOT.

Eat at home as much as possible and take your own lunch into work. Eating out occasionally is fine, it’s when you do it constantly that the excess oil can be harmful to digestion, weight maintenance and health in general. If you have to eat out a lot for whatever reason, try and space it out so you’re not doing it on consecutive nights, and eat oil-free meals the days in between.

3. Beans, grains, greens baby! It’s always gonna be your beans and whole grains that will give you the energy and fibre you need to maintain good basic health, with root veg like sweet and white potatoes making a regular appearance too for the same benefits. The greens are a great source of calcium. When you make a meal, try and incude ‘a bean, a green and a grain’ – or a root veg in place of the grain. So that can incude fabulous chilis, curries, pasta dishes, couscous, hearty salads – pretty much most dishes can contain these elements. I know it doesn’t sound as sexy as ‘Sloppy Joes’ or ‘Dirty mac n’ cheeze,’ but it’s not sexy having digestive issues from too much oil either, so… ๐Ÿ™‚

4. Eat the rainbow. The colour of each fruit and vegetable represent different nutrients, so try and eat a variety of coloured fruit and veg throughout your week. For example; red – tomatoes, red peppers, red apples; orange -carrots, sweet potatoes, canteloupe; green – um..greens :), kiwi, okra; purple – beetroot; yellow – bananas, yellow peppers.

5. Love your kitchen. Dudes, there’s no easy way to say this and not sound like an authoritarian school head teacher. But you HAVE TO PRIORITISE SPENDING TIME IN THE KITCHEN. You want the health? Good. I want that for you too. Now GET YOUR ASS IN THE KITCH.

If there was a professional goal you desperately wanted, I don’t doubt you would do whatever it took to achieve that. I never understand why people don’t prioritise their health in the same way when health is so basic to happiness and wellbeing. Health, imo, should be a starting point, and everything else comes out of that. If you feel good, you’re gonna be so much more productive – and fun! ๐Ÿ™‚

If you make as many of your own meals as possible, YOU can control the oil that goes into your food, and make sure there is no pesky sugar or white flour added. God knows there are plenty of vegan cookbooks and recipe websites out there. Pick one, get a podcast up on the laptop to help you enjoy your kitchen time, and get cooking.

6. Pamper your guts. We now know that gut-health is key to overall health. Your guts contain 70-80 % of your immune system, and bad gut-health can be responsible for all sorts of issues such as leaky gut, IBS, and fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, and mental illnesses such as depression, bi-polar and even schizophrenia. Sugars and white, refined starches feed bad gut bacteria, so yet another reason to avoid or at least minimise consumption of them.

Eat a portion of fermented foods every day. Pick from sauerkraut, kimchi, soy/coconut yoghurt, miso, tempeh, or a drink like kombucha, vegan kefir, water with apple cider vinegar. This will help re-establish the good bacteria your gut needs to thrive. Me? I make my own kimchi, because I’m a hippie that knits her own sandals ๐Ÿ˜€ But seriously, it’s yummy. My recipe here.

If you have any of the health issues mentioned at the top of this paragraph, think about taking non-dairy probiotics.

7. Face the flax. Try and include 2 x tbspns ground flax seeds in you diet 6 days a week. There are SO many reasons why this is a good idea for overall health. Firstly; they provide masses of fibre. Secondly; they promote great gut health. Thirdly; they are thought to be cancer-protective. Fourthly; they are thought to soak up any heavy metals lingering in our bodies and help them to..er…exit the body ๐Ÿ™‚ Fifthly; they will help keep estrogen levels stable, again, by helping your body to excrete any excess. Sixthly; they are a great source of omega 3.

Sprinkle it on oatmeal, soups, stews, salads.

8. Vitamin 12. Supplement with this. No backtalk. Do it.

9. Hydrate! Well yeah, it’s obvious I know, but you’d be surprised how many people still don’t. Hydrate even more if you consume alcohol and/or coffee. Water and single herb teas are the ONLY liquids that count as water.

10. Sleep well. Another obvious one, and not really my remit, but I DO know it’s best to leave 3 hours between your last meal and going to bed. You wanna be resting in bed, not digesting.

11. Move it! Move it! Move it! Exercise is key. Pick whatever works for you and be CONSISTENT. If nothing more, then get out and walk briskly for half an hour every day – you get even more points if some of the walk has an upwards gradient.

Iodine – More Important Than I Knew

I need to preface this post by saying that if you have any health concerns at all, go to your GP. I present you my experiences in case they can be of help, but I am a nutritionist, not a doctor.

Recently, I had an iodine issue, and once I’d resolved it, I thought ‘I really should update and repost my article on iodine, so that anyone who needs to can benefit from what I just learned.’

So I searched my website and everything I’ve ever written EVER. Turns out I’ve never written a dedicated post about iodine! I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d written about every nutrient and health issue pertaining to veganism that existed.

Yet nope.

But now I know more than I previously did about iodine, it’s probably just as well.

So I’d previously thought iodine was mainly for thyroid health, and that we should try and eat sea vegetables whenever we got the opportunity, monitor our levels, and if we needed to, take a kelp supplement occasionally (as kelp is a great source of iodine), but that it was important not to overdo the kelp, as it could pack too much of a punch.

Iodine is in other plant food too, but the levels aren’t reliable because it depends how much iodine was in the soil the plants were grown in – and we know our soil is pretty depleted of nutrients these days.

Thus, vegans are definitely at risk for iodine deficiency, in fact this study shows that they can be quite worryingly so. Do not mistake this to mean it’s better to eat animal products, because it’s not, for a multitude of reasons.

Anyway, I followed my own advice faithfully, and took kelp supplements occasionally, or whenever I became aware that I wasn’t really eating much seaweed.

Until I didn’t. Until I ran out of kelp supplements and firstly forgot to buy more, then kept putting it off for no reason other than I thought it wasn’t a priority. I probably went for a good three months without taking any – and to be honest, I hadn’t been that great at taking them on a regular basis even when I had some. I felt fine and didn’t think it was a priority.

Then I started getting the following symptoms (to any men reading this – don’t stop, this post will apply to you too very shortly!); breast tenderness throughout the whole cycle as opposed to just before a period, and a dry skin rash near my temple which was…well…weird.

Now it’s true that you can have weird cycle things happen as you get older, but I felt like these symptoms were specific, and could not be explained away that glibly. So I did my research like a good little health freak, and eventually I had the thought ‘ah, iodine, I wonder if that could have had an impact?’

It turns out it had more of an impact than I could have known with my previous knowledge.

Obviously there’s a whole juicy scientific explanation but in a nutshell, iodine has a really huge influence on our estrogen levels. If you are prone to estrogen dominance as many people are (I am, it’s in the genes), then an iodine deficiency will mean estrogen can get out of control. So despite the fact that I was doing everything to keep my levels balanced (including flax in my daily diet, exercising, eating whole, plant foods etc), I was still getting those symptoms of estrogen dominance.

I quickly bought some kelp supplements and started taking them. Within a few weeks, everything was back to normal, and the dry skin weirdness vanished almost immediately. I wish I’d discovered this earlier, but it took the breast and skin thing to make me take notice.

Further reading revealed that iodine is super important for fertility in both women AND men. I’m definitely not trying to get pregnant but you might be. Men – you need adequate iodine levels for optimal semen quality.

An iodine deficiency can also be responsible for irregular or anovulatory periods, fibroids and fibrocystic breasts.

The other thing is that conventional doctors, and even the plant-based doctors, will tell you you need a very small amount of iodine daily – 130-150mcg, and that to take any more is excessive.

However, people that specialise in reproductive health say that larger amounts can be needed. It is believed that people can take up to 1100 mcg daily safely.

There is also so much that even doctors don’t yet understand about the way iodine works in our body, and even prestigious vegan websites aren’t even giving clear information. For example, The Vegan Society website gives some facts on iodine, and their advice is ‘every vegan needs a reliable source of iodine in their diet’ and ‘in the UK, the recommended daily iodine intake is 140mcg.’ What is that saying? Take a supplement? Don’t take one?

What am I saying?

I’m not saying everybody should rush out and buy a shit-ton of kelp.

I’m saying that I’ve discovered that iodine is more key to basic health, especially reproductive health in both men and women than I’d previously been taught.

I’m saying know your body. If you get any symptoms like the ones I was experiencing, go to the doctors and get a blood test to check your iodine levels. Those symptoms could have other causes, but then you’d want to go to the doctors in any case, and it does no harm to get a blood test while you’re there. If your iodine levels are low, supplement. Start by taking the recommended daily amount, and have another test after a few weeks to see if your levels have improved.

If you have a thyroid issue, you WILL need to take extra care supplementing with iodine so definitely inform your doctor and get their opinion first.

I’ve learned that sometimes the available information about some nutrients just isn’t set in stone, even amongst medical people. Even amongst eminent plant-based medical people. Sometimes we have to be the CEO of our own health, know our bodies, and research all we can. Iodine is one of those nutrients where it’s worth doing this.