Monday, 20 March 2017

What every vegan needs to know to optimize their diet

source: 22 days nutrition
You may be wondering and asking if plant based diets are really healthy for everyone and if they offer all the nutrients one needs to function optimally. We know, there is not an issue to get sufficient protein intake for vegans, but you may be asking what about the specific vitamins and minerals one needs.

Truth is, the properly planned vegan diets are nutritionally adequate for all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation and provide proven health benefits, preventing certain diseases, according The American Dietetic Association and dietitians of Canada. It is important to note, that one must be careful and mindful of eating the variety of foods as poorly planned vegan diet can be insufficient of vitamins, like B12, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, iodine and omega3.

It must be stated, that even non-vegan diets can lack above mentioned nutrients. Generally, both vegan and non-vegans are low in vitamin D. But, the fact is, that vegans can thrive on properly administered diets. Plant eaters have lower stroke incidents as well as lower risk of mortality from stroke and heart disease. You are going to feel certainly much better if you stop consuming corpses and milk, meant by nature for newborn calves and not for humans. This does not mean that you will be 100% disease free, because not all illnesses are diet related. People can have conditions that stemmed from pre-vegan years, they do not eat varied plant based diet or are leading unhealthy lifestyles in other aspects of their lives. But for majority, people feel better after stopping consuming flesh, milk and eggs.

There are world record-breaking and champion vegan athletes as well as vegan body-builders who thrive on the plant based diet. There can be risks for vegans, if they do not watch their diet closely and especially if they engage in eating of vegan junk foods. In spite of these factors, I would never suggest for anyone to be a non-vegan.

Some important vitamins and minerals needed in a vegan diet:

Vitamin K2
Vitamin K is normally found in leafy green vegetables and is important for forming blood clots. New studies now show that K2 is especially important for boosting bone density and preventing cancer.
K2 is difficult to find in plant foods. It has been known to be critical for healthy heart and skeletal system. It also helps to remove calcium out of your arteries and deliver it to your bones and teeth where it belongs. We convert K1 into K2 in our bodies. Some may not be convinced it is enough though. For vegans over 50, a supplement is recommended. The only vegan sources of K2 are: saurkraut, plant kefir, kimchi, kombucha and natto (fermented soybeans). These are also possible sources for B12.

Vitamin D
Sunshine vitamin is normally produced when exposed to sunlight on the skin. If vegans do not get regular sun exposure, they should eat fortified foods or supplement with either vegan version of D3 or D2 which is naturally vegan. To get vitamin D naturally from the sun is a great way to ensure to be sufficient. To do this properly, you need to expose at least 50% of the skin to the sun daily or couple of times a week, during a specific times. Best time for getting and absorbing vitamin D is during the midday when sun is 50% over the horizon. Light skin needs about 20 minutes and dark skin may  need even 1,5hrs of the exposure without the use of sunscreen. These products completely block vitamin D from being absorbed and chemicals in them may cause cancer.

Vitamin A
Preformed active type of vitamin A is found only in animal foods. Plant foods however are abundant  in vitamin A precursors. These are as important as animal sources, so there is no special RDA recommendation just for vitamin A derived from animals. To meet requirements, vegans must ensure to get adequate amounts of carotenoids and beta-carotene rich foods, from carrots, carrot juice, squash, pumpkin and sweet potato. Vitamin A in smaller amounts is also found in spinach, kale, broccoli, mango and cantaloupes.

Vitamin B12
This vitamin is produced by microorganisms and animals get it from soil while eating their food. B12 is also produced in the small intestines of animals and humans. As we cannot get this vitamin from plant sources, it is best to eat fortified foods or to supplement, especially for those over 50 for better absorption of this vitamin. Some foods may contain B12 as I mentioned above, such as saurkraut, plant kefir, kimchi and natto and some mushrooms. Blue green algae like spirulina and chlorella has B12 analogues. Some may argue that vegan diets are not natural because of B12 need for supplementation but deficiency in this vitamin is not an issue just for vegans but for animal eaters alike.

Cows get all the calcium they need from plants and grass they eat which is sometimes very limited. They need to sustain their large bodies and offspring alike. It is easy and possible to get enough calcium from plant sources such as: greens, kale, dried figs, tempeh, quinoa, sesame seeds, green soybeans, turnip, dandelion leaves, molasses, almonds and broccoli. Calcium can be found in some beans, kelp, wakame and hazelnuts, as well as in fortified foods but these are not ideal to consume.

Iodine is essential for the thyroid gland and for it to work properly vegans need to take the right amount in. Iodine intake itself is a problem both for vegans and non-vegans. Deficiency in this mineral can contribute to hair loss, can have negative impacts on IQ in children and learning. Iodine is present in table salt - which is not the best source as it is the salt stripped off all the minerals. Foods high in iodine are some seaweeds/sea vegetables like kelp, wakame, kombu, nori, then cranberries, Himalayan salt, baked potato with skin, green beans and bananas. It is easy to overdo on seaweed, so less is more here, as too much iodine is just as harmful as being deficient, especially in pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Omega' s - DPA/EPA
To reach the omega 3 requirements, it is recommended to include foods rich in ALA, such as chia seeds, kiwi fruit seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds. Oils from these seeds can be also consumed but whole food is always the better option. Omega' s in smaller quantities are also found in some green leafy vegetables, soybeans, kale, butternut and spinach. Walnuts are best for omega' s among the nuts.
Humans can convert ALA - which is the short chain fatty acid into a long one. According to studies, it is sufficient even in smaller quantities. A vegan algae-derived DHA/EPA supplement is possible to take if needed, especially for pregnant women and elderly. Take the supplement with caution due to possible raise in LDL, the bad cholesterol.

Vegans are generally not deficient in iron and on contrary meat eaters can be short of this important mineral. It is beneficial to take bigger amounts of vitamin C rich foods for iron to be absorbed better in the body. Iron can be found in leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, seeds, dried apricots and dried thyme. Plant sources are usually more beneficial than animal ones.

This mineral is generally found only in animal tissue and vegans have been found to have less of it.  Small amounts can be made in our bodies with the help of cysteine and methionine, found in soy.
Vegans do not supplement with taurine, they rely on what their body can make. They should eat diet with complete protein such as soy, hemp seeds, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth regularly to be able to synthesize taurine from amino acids in these foods. Taurine can be produced with the help of cysteine found in peppers, onion, garlic, broccoli, oats and brussel sprouts and B6 found in vegetables, nuts, grains with the help of methionine in brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and oats.

Carnitine is a non-essential amino acid and our body can synthesize it from other nutrients. Food sources for carnitine are those of animal origin. Best vegan food quite high in carnitine is tempeh, which is a cultured soy product. Other plant sources with much less amounts are avocado, whole wheat, asparagus, rice and peanut butter. There is not really a need for supplementation of carnitine.

Zinc and choline 
According to studies, vegan should not fall short of these nutrients, if they ensure they eat varied diet including foods containing zinc and choline.

"Despite the apparent lower bio availability of zinc, copper, manganese and selenium in vegetarian diets because of the high contents of phytic acid and/or dietary fiber and the low content of flesh foods in the diet, the trace element status of most adult vegetarians appears to be adequate."
Gibson R.S.1994

Properly administered plant based diet is super beneficial for one' s health and I would recommend it to all, especially to those with various health issues. It has been proved that plants prevent, heal and can even reverse several health conditions. It is very important to avoid sugary, processed sources and instead load on rainbow of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes. Eat a rainbow is a saying with a lot of truth, so ensure you eat sufficiently from each of these groups daily.

As Hippocrates himself said: "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" there is no coincidence that four of the six letters in health are HEAL, and there is no better way to a great health and healing than through eating a fresh wholesome produce that this earth gives us.

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