How to Have a Healthy Vegan Diet!
by Belle McCaleb
The vegan diet is associated with health benefits such as less obesity, lower cholesterol & lower blood pressure. Vegans are at lower risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and probably osteoporosis. A good vegan diet is higher in dietary fibre, folic acid, magnesium, iron and protective phytochemicals and lower in dietary factors associated with chronic disease such as saturated fat. However, it is important to realise that the vegan diet tends to be lacking in certain nutrients and can lead to deficiencies in Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, iron and zinc. Amino acid (protein building block) imbalance is another risk. Although it is perfectly possible to get complete protein on a vegan diet one must have an understanding of the concept “complete protein” and how to achieve it in a vegan diet.
Animal sourced proteins are considered “complete” because they contain all 9 essential amino acids that the human body requires in the diet. Plant based proteins actually also contain all nine but they vary in concentration from plant to plant whereas in animal protein you get a good whack of all of them per serve whether it be fish, chicken, eggs, dairy or red meat. So in order to make your protein intake “complete” one needs to combine the various plant based proteins to ensure adequate levels of all the required amino acids. For example the amino acid lysine is low in grains but high in legumes. The amino acid methionine is low in legumes but high in grains. Therefore eating both grains and legumes in the same day or couple of days is a good idea so you get adequate levels of both. If you do not get enough lysine you may develop nausea, anemia, reproductive issues and if you have the virus, cold sore break outs! Luckily it’s not hard to get lysine from not only legumes but from seeds such as quinoa, amaranth, pistachio and pumpkin. The rule of thumb for adequate amino acid intake is a varied diet, combining as outlined and consider using more quinoa and soy as they have good quantities of all the required amino acids. If using soy please stick to traditional tofu and tempeh as opposed to a lot of processed soy isolate fake food.
Found in fermented soy, leafy greens and seaweed but according to the research B12 cannot be considered a reliable source of active B12. Here a supplement is recommended – while we keep looking for a good plant source.
The traditional vegan sources of calcium are green leafies, tahini and tofu. There are also now available green calcium supplements made of a sea plant called Lithothamnium calcareum.
Sun exposure is only the first step in Vitamin D production. It must be activated in both liver and kidney. About 40% of the Australian population are D deficient – possibly genetic, possibly the obsession with sunblock. At any rate get yours checked. If less than 100 consider supplementing as you would have to eat an enormous amount of food to get adequate Vitamin D from the diet alone. One source I read said 300 pounds of mushrooms would be required! There are vegan supplements available these days.
Omega 3 fatty acids
The best vegan sources are flaxseed, walnuts, soy, hemp and micro-algae supplements such as Spirulina and Dundiella salina. Sea buckthorn oil also contains some Omega 3. Note do not use pre-prepared LSA (linseed, soy and almond meal). Those oils go rancid quickly. Best to use straight organic flax, fresh grind and add cold to anything. Don’t heat it and store unground seeds in an airtight container in the fridge.
Although the zinc intake may be adequate, due to the mineral binding factors in many zinc containing foods (grains, seeds, beans, legumes, soy), it is best to soak (12 hours) and/or sprout grains, beans & legumes before use. Cooking with a pressure cooker can also assist with mineral absorption. White spots on your nails, frequent colds or flus, cold sore breakouts, acne and many other symptoms are associated with zinc deficiency so you may want to get tested if your are experiencing ill health.
Vegans often eat large amounts of iron containing green leafies but the iron in plants is not well absorbed. Luckily they often also eat large amounts of Vitamin C which assists with iron absorption. Still best to get blood iron studies done particularly if female and menstruating or if you are feeling run down and tired.
One last suggestion for your consideration
If you are a Vegan for health reasons as opposed to strongly committed to veganism for moral reasons then think about adding eggs from happy chooks. A bit of egg in the diet eliminates a lot of potential problems as it is an easy source of complete protein and contains many additional nutrients including B12. These days egg farming is far more humane with many certified organic/anti-biotic free/ cruelty free/ free-roaming happy chickens producing eggs. You could even get a couple of your own and recycle your veggie scraps into eggs with your chooks help!
Reference: Craig WJ, Health Effects of Vegan Diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2009
Belle McCaleb ND, RN, MSS-C, BSN, RYT, AYT is an Accredited Naturopath, Herbalist, Yoga Instructor & Yoga Therapist as well as a Registered Clinical Counsellor & Registered Nurse. She has specialised in women’s health since 1986 and holds advanced nursing qualifications in obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Belle is also passionate about holistic cancer support and keeping cancer patients well during medical treatment and beyond. She has worked extensively with cancer patients since 2003 and is the founder of the Cancer Support Alliance (www.cancersupportalliance.com.au). Belle is a certified therapist in Yoga of Heart (for cancer & cardiovascular disease) and Critical Alignment Yoga Therapy (for musculoskeletal issues). Belle’s counselling practice “Innersight Counselling & Psychotherapy” is informed by Integral Yoga Psychology & other mindfulness based approaches and blends clinical counselling skills with age-old techniques of yoga including breath-work, deep relaxation & meditation. This therapeutic approach provides you with practical tools for health, happiness and well-being. Belle’s specific counselling interests include chronic health issues, infertility, pregnancy loss, coping with cancer, loss, grief, bereavement, anxiety & depression. Her practice is located in St. Georges (Burnside). For more info see www.mccalebhealth.com.au or ring (08) 8379 0220.