Friday, January 18, 2008

Tips for Being a Healthy Vegan...

...And Vegetarian!

After being vegetarian for 6 or 7 years, I decided to scrap the dairy part altogether and follow a vegan diet. Unfortunately, I did it in a way that caused me to develop food sensitivities. I indeed eliminated all dairy and eggs, but simply increased my intake of breads, potatoes and soy products. So I developed sensitivities to, you guessed it, breads (wheat, oat, yeast), potatoes, and soy products.

I believe there are some simple staples in our diet that will lead to a healthy, balanced vegan body, including:

The most vital foods are dark, leafy greens, to be sure. Add multi-coloured vegetables, root vegetables, and antioxidant-rich berries and fruit, plus hearty whole grains and energy-packed beans and lentils, and you'll do excellently!

It's too easy to make breads a staple in any diet, but especially a vegan diet (how many times has my dinner been sliced bread with almond butter and bananas!). By not relying on breads, muffins, etc, you'll make room for more whole foods with more complex carbohydrates and nutrients.

White rice and pasta may feel like comfort food but these tend to be very refined. Opt for brown rice, non-wheat pasta (kamut, spelt, etc), and take the time to experiment with the many varieties of grains. Try quinoa (very high protein), millet, buckwheat, barley and others, often!

Beans are packed with protein, and there's lots available besides chickpeas and tofu. Adzuki beans have the highest protein of all and are easily digested and taste wonderful. Mung beans are delicious, nutritious and versatile... and of course there are all the great lentils! My favourites are French lentils and red lentils, plus chickpeas. I also want to include in this category seeds and nuts, which contain healthy fats and also lots of protein. Try avoiding peanuts, though, as they're are fungal, but go crazy with seeds like pumpkin seeds, sesame (high calcium!), flax and hemp seed (both high in Omegas!).

If we're used to a diet of cheese and bread and burgers and meat 'n' potatoes, then trying to simply replicate that within the vegan confines will lead to a mono-diet full of soy, fat and gluten. Rather than make a pizza using "ground beef" tofu and soy cheese, skip these and opt for grilled veggies, olives and walnuts on a whole grain homemade crust. Forget macaroni and "cheese", try kamut rotini with fresh pesto and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

Anything not already mentioned will of course not fall under the whole foods umbrella of healthy eating. That includes sugar, salt, coffee, tea, booze, oils, margarine -- if you can't clearly see what the plant looks like that this stuff came from, it's been refined and therefore should be really limited in our food repertoire. Also, opt for quick-frying or baking instead of deep-frying foods, and pressure-cooking is the best way to preserve vitamins and flavour in stews and soups. Include lots of fresh (raw) foods, which will have different nutrients than their cooked versions.

There's been much debate about whether you need to combine rice and beans for a "complete protein", but my understanding (with much help from my naturopath) is that veg diets tend to be severely deficient in protein. The best source is soy (vary it up with edamame beans, soy powder in baking and smoothies, tofu desserts and baked tofu, instead of immitation meats), followed closely by hemp hearts!

You need 5 grams of protein for every 10 pounds you weigh (ie. 75 g if you weigh 150 lbs). If you're trying to gain or lose weight, calculate based on your target weight. You get 15 grams of protein in: 1 cup of cooked beans, lentils or split peas; 5 Tbsp hemp hearts; 1/2 cup of peanuts;
3/4 cup walnuts or almonds; 1/2 cup soy beans and 1/2 block of tofu.
We need a lot of protein, so get it at every meal and every snack!

Although we may miss our starchy, fatty comfort food, switching to a whole foods vegan diet will simply feel better in our bodies and our spirits. It's an opportunity to embrace the incredible variety of nature's bounty, and to try recipes by cultures from around the world!


Anonymous said...

These are great, tips, thanks! I especially agree about the imitation meats. It's amazing how many people quickly rely on them to substitute proteins in their diet when in fact there's legumes, nuts, seeds, etc for all that.

A vegan diet really opens a person up to new foods, and variety is what we all need a little more of.

msklein121 said...

Hey Fran - Thanks for the tips! I just recently went vegan, even though I've avoided dairy and eggs for a while. I definitely feel a lot better eating a ton of vegetables! It's true about leaving room for them. My soul feels lighter too : )

The Hungry Monkey said...

Hi Fran,

I'm a beginning fan of your blog.
Hope going full vegan will do well for you.
Vegan diets aren't meant for everyone though. Personally, my health got worse when I tried going vegan.
Started getting anemic and lost a lot of weight.
My doctor was worried for my health and nutrition.
I haven't taken meat yet but moderate amounts of egg, dairy and fish. I appear to be getting better.

Hope you have a better experience than I mine!

p.s you may be interested in the blood-type diet

Claudia Davila (Fran) said...

Thanks, Romina! Yeah, trying a new way of eating definitely encourages thinking differently about a diet we may have been "on autopilot" with our whole lives!

Glad to hear it's working for you, msklein! Vegetables are our friends :-)

Hi, hungry monkey! I've learned that I cannot recommend one way of doing things to everyone and expect happy results all around. After seeing my naturopath, she also declared I was dangerously low on protein and my blood sugar was leading me towards hypoglycemia. We need to see what our bodies need, and feed off of nature as thoughtfully and compassionately as we can.

patty said...

Thanks for the great post!

Many moons ago, I was a vegetarian (vegan at times) for a good 7 years, and ate too much starch and sugar - as well not enough protein other than soy. This diet resulted in all sorts of trouble... Your tips are great for vegans, and anyone wanting to eat a more nutritious balanced (and varied!) diet. Soaking/sprouting beans and seeds is another great way to boost nutrition + makes these foods easier to digest.

Happy healthy eating everyone :-)

differentghosts said...

I'd like to add split moong dal (split mung beans) to the good bean choices list, simply because they're my favorite and people I know don't seem to ever eat them.

Claudia Davila (Fran) said...

Thanks Patty, I have a sprouting article/recipe I plan on posting soon! And absolutely, whole mung beans and split mung dahl are wonderfully nutritious, and ayurvedically healing for all types -- everyone should try it :-)

Hippie Girl said...

I just stumbled across your blog and i'm very happy to have found it!!

Amy said...

Thanks for this beautiful blog.

I just want to say that the whole protein combination is a diet myth debunked in the '70s. Adults do not need very much protein, any extra protein we take is simply expelled, and the notion that vegetarians are deficient in protein is simply not true (unless you're the donut-and-fries type). However, rice and beans are healthy and yummy, so I'm sure the combo will stay popular.
Keep up the good work!

J said...

Hi everyone, great blog I just discovered it..As a (mostly) raw foodist vata, I have struggled w/alot of the issues you bring up, and have come to a pretty good balance lately. I wanted to mention something very important that I've learned in the past 3 years ~ about protein sources. Some of us have body types that function better on more protein, some don't need as much. I happen to be one that feels grounded with protein. I have found what works for me is chlorella and/or spirulina, which are some of the highest protein foods on the planet. From 1 Tablespoon on chlorella, you get a whopping 12 grams of protein, that is easily assimilated by your body. I would recommend reading Gabriel Cousen's books Conscious Eating, Spiritual Nutrition, and Rainbow Green Live Food Cuisine for more in-depth explanations of this type of nutrition. I trust his work b/c it is so thorougly researched. Just thought I would comment; feel free to ask any questions.

Mrsmaltz said...

Been vegetarian for over 20 years, hoping to fully transition to vegan, thanks for the advice!!

Dr.Avinash Saini said...

In the health community there’s often disagreement about whether or not to include meat within the diet. Some sources cite vegetarian or vegan diets as key for health, while some note that some people avoid well on these diets over long periods of time. But, it’s reasonable to visualize that a fair number of individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets............

steve said...

Hi all , good on you for all the great comments , I've been on a vegan diet for 24 years , and am happy and healthy. vitamin b12 can be a concern and I advise taking a b12 suppliment just to make sure . Yes its no use being a junk food vegan , eating lots of fruit and veges , grain , pulses and seeds and nuts ,theres so much to enjoy without animals suffering . Happy travels .

anubhav tiwari said...

Good and Informative blog, Thanks for sharing..
Health & Wellness