A Vegan Approach to Nutrition- An Informed Choice
In the course of the last twenty years I have met and worked with a number of vegan clients. My role has been to ensure that whatever dietary choices a person makes, that they are getting adequate amounts of the essential nutrients to keep the body healthy. It is not my place to dictate to anyone about those choices, as I do understand the issues involved. However those choices should not be made without careful research and also informed decisions to ensure that health is not compromised.
Having followed a vegetarian lifestyle for a number of years, I do empathise with the moral issues that surround including animal products in your diet, but I feel that it is important to make sure that there is an understanding of the impact on your body of depriving it of one or other food group without adequate substitution.
There are varying degrees of veganism. At one end of the scale you can follow a diet that excludes any meat, fish, and poultry but does contain dairy and other products that have not been produced by causing the death of an animal including foods such as honey.
At the other end of the scale you would also exclude any processed foods that have included any animal product, by-product or derivative. This would include preservatives such as E120 Cochineal, E542 – Edible bone phosphate, E631 –Sodium 5-inosinate, E901 – Beeswax, E904 –Shellac. There are approximately 50 other preservatives that are animal product derived which can mean a very busy time in the supermarket checking labels.
I do of course have an opinion about diets in general and whilst I do try not to enforce this opinion on others I do like to offer a balanced approach to the subject.
This is my philosophy that I share with all my clients whatever their dietary preferences. It is quite simply that our bodies are over 100,000 years old and that genetic changes occur rarely, probably as far apart as 10,000 years. It is also my opinion that the last three hundred years of man’s evolution are the worst in the body’s history due to the inclusion of sugars, hydrogenated fats, industrially manufactured foods and my favourite, fad diets.
In addition to this, having worked with diverse nationalities during my work in nutrition, I have come to appreciate that there is an ancestral component to our diet. For example I worked with two sisters from South America who had lived in Ireland for over 25 years since their early 20’s. Both of them developed severe arthritis and came to me for weight loss to alleviate the strain on their joints. Both were on medication for the problem and were depressed and felt that they were far older than 45 and 47 years old.
When I interviewed them both, I asked about their diet before they came to Ireland and discovered that as they had lived in the country rather than city and that they had followed a very traditional diet for their region. Ground rooted vegetables, rice, wholegrain flour products, lots of vegetables, seasonal fruit and meat shot for the pot when available. There were also several varieties of fish in the river that was caught fresh and included regularly through the week and there was goat’s milk and cheese available all the time.
I am sure that you can guess the type of diet that I asked them to follow.
In fact after 6 weeks many of their arthritis symptoms disappeared and they lost weight and were able to come off their medication eventually. Their bodies were not 45 and 47 they were in fact 100,000 years old and they had been fed for thousands of years on the same foods found in their native environment. Their bodies were finely attuned to processing those foods and extracting the nutrients it needed to be healthy from this traditional diet. When they came to Ireland in their 20’s they suddenly switched fuel to a western and industrially manufactured diet. The result was poor health, weight gain, premature aging and eventually chronic disease.
I have encountered the same problem with children who have been adopted from abroad who develop health and behavioural problems that are often dietary related.
Certainly there are races of humans who because of environmental considerations have very different diets. The Inuit Indians for example used to obtain most of the nutrients they needed from eating blubber and seal meat without the benefit of any grains or fruit and vegetables. Since the introduction of a primarily western based diet early in the 20th century including alcohol, the Inuit people now suffer from all our western health problems, to a higher degree, because it has been a far greater shock to their systems.
In Japan it used to be that the traditional diet included a great deal of soy and menopause symptoms and breast cancer were extremely low. Now after 70 years of a western style diet, the rates of breast cancer amongst women and prostate cancer among men are up there with our own. They do however benefit from still using more natural food sources than we do such as rice, fish and of course my favourite green tea but even that is beginning to change with every new generation.
For me a decision to change to a vegan diet should be made with an understanding that diet still has to be a priority to maintain health. Simply because, some components that are excluded, have been part of modern man’s nutritional intake for many thousands of years depending on genetic background. Their removal from the diet can have serious health implications.
For example honey is one of those animal products that I find totally acceptable provided it comes from organic, free range bee sources. Man has been using honey not only for its incredible nutritional punch but also for its traditional healing powers since the earliest recorded times.
I like to think that there are synergistic foods that should be included in the diet. For example cows and goats that are cared for in adequate outside grazing and that have an abundance of milk, which is sufficient for both calf and human consumption, should be considered an acceptable food source, provided there is not an intolerance to lactose. As long as these animals have not been harmed or deprived in the sharing of their milk or wool, who are we to second guess the last 15,000 years or so that we have been farmers and cultivators?
Yes I agree that mass and forced farming methods and the killing and use of animals in testing human related products is unacceptable. This relates also to the majority of medications that we take that have all been tested on animals. It is our responsibility as the consumer to shop and eat responsibly and that applies to our diet too.
This is particularly important if young teenagers decide to remove all animal related products from their diets during their growth phase. Substitutions need to be included to ensure that their bodies continue to mature and develop as they should. For example those dietary decisions can impact fertility 10 or 15 years later.
If you are Eastern in origin then traditionally your body may be more suited to following an extreme Vegan diet. If you are Western in origin then it is important to research the foods that provide you with those nutrients from established and informed websites.
My feeling is that if following a particular diet demands that you take man made supplements to support your health, you need to rethink your strategy. Your body requires a complex cocktail of nutrients to be healthy, energetic and vital. It has evolved processes to extract those nutrients from a very varied food source.
My basis for any healthy diet is to limit sugars by excluding any industrially produced foods and to ‘Cook from Scratch’. This does not mean excluding ‘processed’ foods such as milk, cheese and frozen or some canned fruits and vegetables. Most food has had some form of processing to get to our table for health reasons and it is important to distinguish between those products and those that have been severely chemically enhanced!
If your diet is rich in whole grains on a daily basis then you should be obtaining sufficient B vitamins. However, B12 is primarily found in animal products and should be taken in supplementation form if you are Vegan.
Buy high quality supplements and I recommend buying from a pharmacy or recognised health food group such as Holland & Barrett in the UK and also online at Higher Nature. You will find similar in your country of origin.
Most of our nutrients work together or stimulate the production of other important enzymes or chemical processes in the body. If you are removing the main source of protein from the diet then it is important to make sure that this is being supplied from another source. We are protein and require protein to repair and protect us.
The body needs approximately 1gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Therefore a man who weighs 75 kilos would need a minimum 75 grams of protein per day depending on activity and lifestyle. We process animal and vegetable protein in a different way so I usually advise my clients to include an additional 25 grams per day.
For example for Breakfast – 1 cup of oats contains 6 gms of protein. 1 cup of soymilk 8 gms. Two slices of whole grain toast 5 gms . Two tbsp. Peanut Butter 8gms. Breakfast then will have supplied 26gms of your daily requirement.
Lunch Two slices of wholegrain toast 5gms. Tin of vegetarian baked beans 12gms. Total 17gms.
Dinner – 8 oz. tofu 16gms. Portion of broccoli 4gms along with other vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, 6oz cooked brown rice 5gms and 2 tbsp of chopped nuts 4gms. Total 29gms for the meal.
Snacks – Apart from fruit,nuts and seeds which should be eaten throughout the day. To obtain additional protein Glass of soy milk 7gms – wholegrain crackers 4 2gms and 2 tbsp peanut butter or soy cheese and yoghurts 8gms. Total 17- 25gms.
For the day this gives a total of 90 – 100gms – this can be adjusted for your body weight.
There are a number of Vegan foods that supply protein including the following which are in order of quantity of protein they contain.
Tempeh, Soybeans, Lentils, Black beans,
Kidney beans, Chickpeas, Pinto beans, Tofu,
Lima beans, Quinoa, Peas, Peanut butter,
Almonds, Soy Milk, Soy Yoghurt, Bulgur wheat,
Whole grain bread, Cashews, Brown rice, Spinach,
Here are some links for easy to make Vegan meals that have a high nutritional content.
I hope that you have found the posts interesting and useful.. Please feel free to share.. thanks Sally.
My Nutritional background
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
You can find all my books here with links to Amazon: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/
I hope you have found useful, as always I am happy to answer any questions. Sally