A Guest Post: Vegan & Vegetarian Maintenance
For many years while at college and later when I moved to New York City, I was a strict vegetarian. It never dawned on me then to meet my daily requirements for maintaining optimal health through what I was eating. I was young and quite naive. Now that I'm much older and no longer a vegetarian (hopefully a little wiser!), I do keep a mindful watch on what I eat, making sure I consume the vital nutrients and vitamins essential to wellness. Don't think that just because I post delicious cakes, cookies & desserts, that that's all I consume and live off of. No no! I do indulge every once in a while on these things, but in order to keep up my energy and well-being, I adhere to a diet that's rich in vitamins, minerals and vital nutrients.
With more and more of us consuming less meat these days, having a 'meatless' day during the week can be a great thing. I know friends who are vegetarian and those who are vegan, but you don't need to be either one to benefit from the great information below.
A dear reader of the blog who happens to write health, fitness & nutrition articles was thoughtful enough to share her knowledge with us. Jennifer is a firm believer in mixing diet, exercise and knowledge of our bodies in order to lead a healthy lifestyle. She's not alone. I'm also one who thinks that the more knowledge we have at our disposal when it comes to diet & exercise, the better the choices we can make in our daily lives.
I hope this information serves you well.
I hope this information serves you well.
Author: Jennifer Elkin
How to Avoid Common Vegetarian and Vegan Deficiencies
Following a vegetarian or vegan diet can certainly lead to good health, as people who do so are not only more likely to have a healthy body weight, but their risk of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes is significantly reduced. However, in order to reap these and other health benefits, it’s important to pay close attention to what you include in your diet. While fruit and vegetables are packed with certain vitamins and minerals, you won’t do yourself any favors if you concentrate mainly on eating these; your body requires a wide range of nutrients to remain in good health. Here we take a look at some of the most common nutritional deficiencies encountered by vegetarians and vegans and how they can be avoided.
Not only is protein needed for the maintenance and repair of all our body tissues, but it essential for the production of hormones, antibodies and enzymes, which we couldn’t be without. Vegetarians who include dairy produce and eggs are unlikely to face a problem obtaining adequate protein from their diet. However, if animal produce is largely or completely excluded, protein becomes more of an issue, but it is still feasible to obtain sufficient from a vegan diet. Plant sources of protein include peas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Soya beans and their derivatives such as tofu and milk substitutes are ideal for inclusion in the diet, as like animal proteins, soya protein is complete, so contains all the essentials amino acids – those that the body is unable to produce itself. However, even if vegans don’t include soya protein in their diet, as long as they include protein-rich plant foods with each meal and include a variety every day, they can still obtain an adequate supply of all the amino acids their body needs. Although it is always best to take a food first approach, looking to your diet to supply all your nutritional needs, anyone with a poor appetite or who has increased protein requirements such as athletes may require assistance from a protein supplements; vegetarians may wish to try one based on Whey Protein, while a Soya Protein supplement would be more appropriate for vegans.
This B vitamin is essential for DNA synthesis (needed to support cell division to replace damaged and worn out tissues), healthy nerves and red blood cells; a type of anemia can develop if the body does not obtain sufficient vitamin B12 and is a classic sign of deficiency. More recently it has also come to light that a poor intake of this and other B vitamins is another risk factor for heart disease; yet another reason to make sure you consume adequate. While animal produce including eggs and dairy foods are rich in vitamin B12, it is present in only very small quantities in plant foods and even when a varied vegan diet is eaten, consuming only natural sources of the vitamin would not be sufficient. However, the good news is that a number of foods suitable for vegans have the vitamin added to them; good examples include breakfast cereals, various brands of soy, rice and oat milk and yeast extracts, so include these foods daily.
Best known for its role in the transport of oxygen around the body, not eating enough iron-rich foods can lead to iron deficiency anemia; not only do you feel extremely tired with this, but breathlessness and reduced mental function may also occur. Anyone who avoids meat is at high risk of iron deficiency, as other forms of iron are not so well absorbed by the body; this is further hampered by the fact that substances known as phytates present in plant foods bind to iron, limiting its uptake. However, the iron from pulses, nuts, green vegetables, dried fruit, whole grains and fortified breakfast cereals can be better absorbed if a source of vitamin C is included at mealtimes; a glass of orange juice, a tomato, a serving of peas or a handful of berries would all do the trick. Another way to help the body take up iron from plant sources is to avoid drinking tea or coffee with meals; ideally don’t have these within an hour of eating.
This mineral is important for a strong immune system to fight off infections and also to aid wound healing. However, it also plays a crucial role in protein synthesis, which your body is busy with around the clock to keep everything in working order. Although increased susceptibility to infections is commonly seen when insufficient zinc is taken in the diet, reduced fertility and poor appetite (thought to be due to reduced taste and smell) are other signs. While meat and fish are the best sources of zinc, useful amounts are found in eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, oats, nuts and pulses; some breakfast cereals also have added zinc, so check the label. As with plant sources of iron, more has to be eaten to compensate for the fact that it is less well absorbed by the body; soaking beans and grains before cooking can help to make the zinc more available to the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The benefits of these essential fatty acids are well appreciated. They help to lower blood pressure, make the blood less sticky, promote healthy levels of blood fats and encourage the heart to beat normally, all reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, they may also have a positive impact on mental function, so may ward off dementia, as well as reducing inflammation, providing help with conditions such as arthritis. Oily fish might be a well known source of omega-3 fatty acids, but green leafy vegetables, rapeseed, flaxseed and walnut oil are other dietary sources. While the omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources are not as efficiently used by the body, those from algae are more like those found in oily fish and represent a good alternative; supplements of algae-derived omega-3 are available to purchase.
Even though a number of deficiencies are more likely when following a vegetarian or vegan diet, they are not inevitable. Familiarizing yourself with the nutrients you are most likely to fall short of can allow you to plan your diet to maximize your intake of those foods which make the greatest contribution of these to a vegetarian or vegan diet.