October 8, 2009

Top 10 Vegan Health Tips

While the typical vegan diet is much healthier than a typical diet that includes animal products, most vegetarians and vegans could improve their health even more by following the tips below.

Include a source of B12 in your diet.
B12 protects the nervous system. Without it, permanent damage can result. B12 can also lower homocystein levels, which is great news since elevated homocysteine levels may cause heart disease and strokes.

Vegetables are not reliable sources of B12. It is essential to include a B12 supplement in your diet or eat foods that are fortified with B12. Luckily, it’s easy to incorporate B12 into your diet.

Good sources of B12 include:

Consume More Omega 3’s, Less Omega 6’s
Most people consume too much fat, but few people get enough of the healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

Vegan sources of Omega 3’s fall into two main categories:

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – found in flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and a few other plants

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – found in algae

There is also an Omega 3 chain called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which we will not discuss since our bodies can efficiently convert ALA or DHA into EPA.

ALA

Flax seeds are one of the richest sources of ALA. For maximum absorbtion, flax seeds should be ground up in a blender or coffee grinder, then added to smoothies or sprinkled on top of other foods. Flax seeds are also rich in protein, potassium, magnesium, boron, and lignans, which may help prevent cancer.

You can also buy just the flax oil, but it can go rancid quickly, so the seeds are usually a better choice. The seeds also have additional nutritional properties not found in the oil.

DHA

Our bodies convert the ALA found in flax seeds into DHA. However, some people’s bodies may not efficiently convert the ALA to DHA. It can also be difficult for some people to consume enough ALA to achieve ideal DHA levels.

For these reasons, we recommend consuming both ALA (in the form of flax seeds, walnuts, etc.) and also a vegan DHA supplement (derived from algae).

Here are a few popular vegan DHA supplements:

Omega 6’s

While most vegetarians don’t consume enough of the Omega 3 fatty acids, they usually consume too much of the Omega 6 fatty acids. Consuming too many Omega 6’s interferes with your body’s ability to absorb the Omega 3’s. Therefore, limit your intake of corn, sunflower, safflower, and “vegetable” oils. It is best to limit the amount of oil you add to your foods, but if you do add oil, use olive or canola instead.

Eat your greens!
Dark leafy greens are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. They are loaded with vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients. Most greens are also an excellent source of calcium and other minerals. The problem is most people don’t know how to prepare them.

Check out these videos for preparation ideas:

With greens, don’t skimp on portion size. Think BIG. The more you eat, the better!

Calcium
Most people think of dairy as the best source of calcium. Dairy products are high in calcium, but they also carry their own set of health problems (not to mention animal cruelty).

Walter Willett [M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School] states the problem elegantly:

“If no one really knows the best daily calcium target, then why not play it safe and boost your calcium by drinking three glasses of milk a day? Here are five good reasons: lactose intolerance, saturated fat, extra calories, a possible increased risk of prostate cancer, and a possible increased risk of ovarian cancer.”

So if dairy is not the best choice for both health and ethical reasons, then what should we turn to? If you follow the previous tip, “Eat Your Greens!”, you should be doing a pretty good job on calcium intake.

Let’s take a look at some high calcium vegan foods:

Food Amount Calcium (mg)
Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp 400
Collard greens, cooked 1 cup 357
Tofu, processed with
calcium sulfate
4 ounces 200-330
Calcium-fortified orange juice 8 ounces 300
Soy or ricemilk, commercial,
calcium-fortified, plain
8 ounces 200-300
orange juice, fortified 1 cup 250
Commercial soy yogurt, plain 6 ounces 80-250
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 249
Tofu, processed with nigari 4 ounces 80-230
Tempeh 1 cup 215
Kale, cooked 1 cup 179
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 175
Okra, cooked 1 cup 172
Bok choy, cooked 1 cup 158
Mustard greens, cooked 1 cup 152
Tahini 2 Tbsp 128
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 94
Almonds 1/4 cup 89
Almond butter 2 Tbsp 86

If you have difficulty incorporating calcium-rich foods into your diet, you can also opt for a calcium supplement.

Vitamin D
Another factor for bone health is Vitamin D, which regulates calcium absorption. Vitamin D may also play a role in cancer prevention.

Americans get most of their vitamin D through sunshine and fortified foods. But many Americans spend so much time indoors that they don’t get enough sunlight for their bodies to produce enough Vitamin D.

This is particularly problematic for dark skinned individuals, whose bodies do not convert sunlight to vitamin D as efficiently as those with lighter skin. It is also more problematic during the Winter and in high latitude regions.

If you aren’t getting a lot of sunlight, you should make sure to take a vitamin D supplement, or include vitamin D fortified foods in your diet. Many soymilks such as Silk are fortified with Vitamin D.

If you want to make sure your Vitamin D is not animal derived, choose D2 instead of D3.

Some Vegan Vitamin D Supplements:

Pay Attention to Iodine (particularly if you live in the UK)
Iodine is needed for healthy thyroid function which regulates metabolism. Both too much or too little iodine can result in abnormal thyroid metabolism.

Iodine is sometimes found in plant foods, but it is an inconsistent source. The amount of iodine in the plant foods varies greatly depending on the soil it was grown in.

The most reliable vegan sources of iodine are:

Vegans in the United States can get the iodine they need by consuming one-fourth teaspoon of iodized salt per day. Nursing mothers may want to consume three-fourths of a teaspoon, due to greater iodine needs. Note that the salt found in processed foods is frequently not iodized, so we’re talking about adding iodized table salt (read the label to make sure it has the word “iodized”). If you want to limit your salt intake (which is not a bad idea), consider taking an iodine supplement instead.

In the United Kingdom, most of the salt is not iodized. Not only that, but much of the soil in the UK has low levels of iodine. As a result, iodine deficiency is much more common among vegans in the UK.

Vegans in the UK, or in any other country where iodized salt is not regularly consumed, should be extra careful to include an iodine supplement, or consume seaweed at least several times per week.

Check out the UK Vegan’s Society’s page on iodine for more information.

Include beans or lentils in your diet.
Some vegetarians tend to ignore the Beans/Lentils/Legumes food group. While it is possible to construct a healthy vegetarian diet without beans or lentils, most vegetarians could benefit from the protein, iron, folate, fiber, and minerals found in these nutritional powerhouses.

This food group is particularly important for women, who are at a higher risk of anemia.

Check out these videos for some preparation ideas:

Choose whole foods over processed foods.
Foods in their most natural form are usually more nutritious than processed foods. This is particularly true with the case of grains.

Refined grains go through a milling process that strips the food of much of its fiber and nutrients. Some of these nutrients are added back, but even after the enrichment process, the end products has just a fraction of it’s original nutritional value.

Whole grains, on the other hand, are grains that haven’t gone through this process, and still contain their nutritous bran and germ.

Examples of whole grains
(more nutritious)
Examples of refined grains
(less nutritious)
  • oatmeal
  • whole wheat bread
  • whole wheat pasta
  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • barley
  • white bread
  • white rice
  • pretzels
  • most bagels
  • most pasta

Scientists are now learning that many plants have naturally occuring chemical compounds in them which can improve human health and prevent disease. These beneficial plant chemicals are referred to as phytochemicals or “phytonutrients”.

Foods that are rich in these phytonutrients are sometimes called “superfoods” because of their strong potential for disease prevention.

Often times, the phytonutrient can actually be seen in the pigment of these fruits and vegetables. Therefore, it is a good idea to choose brightly colored foods, as these foods tend to be higher in phytonutrients. In other words, eat the rainbow.

Examples of phytonutrient-rich foods:

  • Lutein and zeaxanthin in spinach may prevent macular degeneration and cataracts
  • Sulforaphane in broccoli may prevent cancer
  • Anthocyanins in blueberries have anti-inflammatory properties
  • Lycopene, found in many red fruits such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon, may protect against prostate cancer
  • Beta-carotene in foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and kale may prevent liver cancer and lung cancer
Exercise!
Be sure to exercise at least 3 times a week.

Get inspired by vegan athletes such as:

And for resources on vegan sports training, check out:

Be a Happy Vegan!
Don’t underestimate the power your attitude has on both your mental and physical health.

Sometimes, it can be frustrating to be a vegan in a non-vegan world, but maintaining a positive attitude is essential for both ourselves and the lives of animals.

Photos courtesy of: digiyesica, gogakuhei, rogersmith, chenjackTop

This post was stolen from ChooseVeg.com, an excellent veg. resource!

April 10, 2007

More Information


VEGAN

DAIRY
CLOTHING
HEALTH/NUTRITION

RAW FOOD

MISCELLANEOUS

COMPANION ANIMALS

BOOKS


The China Study : The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health

MOVIES

MAGAZINES

MUSIC

DOWNLOAD

Why Vegan.pdf
Why Vegan?.pdf

Eating the Earth.pdf
Eating the Earth.pdf (Veganism=Environmentalism)

Vegan.pdf
Vegan – the new ethics of eating.pdf


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