Healthy Eating

LV healthy nutrientschart

A bottom line that is so important, we put it at the top: Every single nutrient the human body needs to live happily and healthily is available in a plant-based vegan form.  There is no health-related reason to consume animal products.

Living vegan is one of the healthiest decisions you can make.  Reducing your intake of saturated fat, animal hormones, and cholesterol found in animal products and increasing your intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other whole plant-based foods will reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other diet-related diseases.

The American Dietetic Association calls a well-planned vegan diet “healthful and nutritionally adequate… for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes” and adds that it “may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

Food Groups Made Easy

In the U.S., we are surrounded by an overwhelming amount of colorful food packaging and advertisements urging us to eat things that may not be in our best interest, or in the best interests of those with whom we share the planet. With so many choices, what do we eat?  And how do we stay healthy? 

Eating a “well-planned” and balanced diet doesn’t mean you have to become a nutrition expert. You don’t have to keep a food journal or “design” your meals.  It just means that, as with any new way of eating, it may take a little know-how and a little practice.  

powerplate2Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM.org) created this handy "Power Plate" tool to help fill your plate the healthy, vegan way. Explore to find more about each food category along with healthy recipes.

Find other specific product suggestions and recipes in All About Food.

 

 

Common Questions

Much of the information you’ll find below may be explored in more depth on the following websites run by credentialed health professionals with expertise in vegan health and nutrition:
NutritionFacts.org with Michael Greger, MD
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
Brenda Davis, RD (Registered Dietician)
TheVeganRD.com (Ginny Messina, RD)
Jack Norris, RD
There is also a growing list of links and health resources in Helpful Resources

+ Overcoming cravings for animal products.

Cravings can feel overwhelming, but food urges can be overcome with will power, with time, and by replacing animal-food with vegan fixes (see Make the Switch).  Don’t worry -- you may battle cravings for animal products for a while, but our experience and studies have shown that with time as many of the addictive animal substances will have cleared your system, cravings will lessen… and you’ll feel like a whole new (vegan) person.

Some think, “I crave animal products, so I must NEED animal products,” or “My body is trying to tell me something,” or, “I must NEED more protein, calcium, (fill in the blank) because I crave animal products.”  But the truth is, people can get plenty of protein and calcium in plant-based foods without the dangerous side effects and inherent suffering caused by consuming animal products. 

These cravings have little or nothing to do with your body’s needs.  Cravings for cigarettes, candy, or coffee don’t occur because nicotine, sugar, or caffeine are healthy or because your body needs any of these things. Your brain simply wants them. The same cravings occur for animal products – the fat, flavor, textures, and even the emotions we relate to foods “call” and tempt us.

To learn more about the addictive qualities of animal products, read this interesting synopsis of the book Breaking the Food Seduction by Neal Barnard, MD.

“Cheese is an especially interesting case. In our own research studies at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, we’ve noticed that participants moving to a vegetarian diet have a harder time giving up cheese than almost any other food. In fact, cheese’s popularity may have less to do with its meltability and mouth-feel and more to do with its addictive qualities.  Several scientific teams have shown that the principal protein in cheese, casein, breaks apart during digestion to produce abundant amounts of morphine-like compounds called casomorphins. Biologically, these opiates appear to be responsible for part of the mother-infant bond that occurs during nursing.” – PCRM.org

+ Being a vegan athlete.

Can athletes live vegan?  YES!  Plant-based foods, beyond being healthy, can help you excel as an athlete.

Many world-class, professional athletes and recreational athletes have chosen to eat only plant-based foods to give themselves a competitive edge. There is a rapidly growing number of vegan athletes -- from professional football players and boxers, to ultimate fighters, climbers, runners, triathletes, arm wrestlers, tennis stars, and even bodybuilders. 

veganathletes3
Here’s a short list to inspire you (1-21 in photos above):
1.       Jim Morris (Mr. Universe, Mr. International, Mr. America and many more titles. Photo at age 75)
2.       Rob Bigwood (champion arm wrestler)
3.       Brendan Brazier (champion endurance athlete)
4.       Kenneth G. Williams (bodybuilder)
5.       Juliana Sproles (“world’s toughest woman” winner of “World’s Toughest Mudder” competition)
6.       Ed Bauer (trainer, bodybuilder, vegan nutrition coach)
7.       Lisa Koehn (trainer, bodybuilder, fitness and strength competitor)
8.       Derek Tresize (bodybuilder)
9.       Mac Danzig (professional mixed martial arts fighter)
10.   Patrik Baboumian (Germany’s “Strongest Man”)
11.   Robert Cheeke (bodybuilder, founder VeganBodybuilding.com)
12.   Jake Shields (professional mixed martial arts fighter)[
13.   Rich Roll (world-rated champion ultramarathoner)
14.   Amanda Reister (boxer, trainer, bodybuilder)
15.   Joel Kirkilis (bodybuilder, powerlifter)
16.   Billy Simmonds (Natural Mr. Universe)
17.   Jason Sager (cyclist)
18.   Carl Lewis (track and field star)
19.   Steph Davis (climber)
20.   Ryan Wilson (strongman competitor, owner of online store VeganEssentials.com)
21.   John Salley (professional NBA player)
Not pictured:

Molly Cameron (Cyclist)
Luke Cummo (mixed martial artist)
Bryan Danielson (professional wrestler)
Steph Davis (professional climber)
Jon Fitch (professional mixed martial arts fighter)
Bob Harper (personal trainer “Biggest Loser” television show)
Scott Jurek (Runner)
Mike Mahler (body-builder)
Adam Myerson (Cyclist)
Pat Neshek (Professional Major League Baseball Player)
Geoff Rowley (professional skateboarder)
Salim Stoudamire (Professional NBA Player)
Ed Templeton (Professional skateboarder)
Taryn Terrell (WWE Diva Tiffany)
Mike Tyson (boxer)
Venus Williams (Tennis player)
David Zabriskie (professional cyclist)

See more inspiring athletes at:
http://www.greatveganathletes.com/
http://www.veganbodybuilding.com/?page=bios
  
From teen athletes to bodybuilders and runners still going strong in their 70s, living vegan is a powerful way to go.  If you’re an amateur athlete or weekend warrior, going vegan is as simple as eliminating animal products and increasing your intake of plant-based foods.  If you’re a competitive athlete, training several times per day, you’ll want to keep your calorie intake up by eating more. For specific questions about training and nutrition at the level of competitive athlete, you might find this article from professional triathlete Brendan Brazier helpful http://www.vegkitchen.com/nutrition/vegan-athlete/

For even more answers, recommended websites, and sport-specific forums (like bodybuilding, nutrition, and/or personal trainers), check out our links in our helpful resources and links.

+ Eating plant-based foods to lose weight (or gain weight).

Do you want to lose weight?  Do you want to gain weight?  You can do either on a vegan diet.  Many people who switch to vegan foods lose weight because they are replacing fatty animal products with healthier plant-based foods.  A vegan ice cream cone will likely have less fat than a dairy-based ice cream cone and will have zero cholesterol (only animal products have cholesterol). A vegan burger compared to an animal flesh-based burger will have much less fat and no cholesterol.  That said, if you decide to eat a LOT of vegan ice cream and burgers, cookies, donuts, chips (all of which can be vegan), you may also gain weight.  As with any lifestyle, to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight, be sure to exercise and eat well. For more tips on losing weight or gaining muscle the vegan way, consider VeganBodybuilding.com. And see Helpful Resources for more links.

+ Getting plenty of protein.

Most people in the U.S. consume more protein than their bodies can use.  And consuming too much animal protein can be detrimental to your health.  Excess protein (common in a diet heavy in animal products) has been linked to osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and many kinds of cancer.

When we get our protein from plant-based foods we not only avoid purposefully hurting animals, we also avoid the massive amounts of animal fat and cholesterol in animal flesh, dairy, and eggs. 

Getting enough protein on a vegan diet is easy – you don’t even have to try.  If you’re getting enough calories (besides empty calories like sugar, fat, or alcohol), you’re getting enough protein. Plant-based whole foods have plenty of protein.  In fact, calorie for calorie broccoli has more protein than beef (flesh from a cow).

You don’t have to eat veggie meats. You don’t need protein drinks. You don’t have to worry about combining foods at each meal to get “complete proteins.”  Simply eat a wide variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables to easily provide all the essential amino acids and nutrients your body needs.

+ Getting plenty of calcium for strong teeth and bones. Yes, you can dump dairy.

Growing evidence is showing that cows’ milk does not protect against osteoporosis. In fact, dairy has been singled out as the biggest dietary cause of osteoporosis. The acidic levels of animal products, including dairy, leeches calcium from teeth and bones.  Luckily, calcium is readily available in plant-based foods without the negative consequences of animal products.

Did you know many Almond Milks have 50% MORE calcium than dairy milk?
almondbreeze
 Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) provides a more detailed look at this question http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/calcium-and-strong-bones and includes sources for the information and studies cited: … Although many people think of calcium in the diet as good protection for their bones, this is not at all the whole story. In fact, in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk (cows’ milk) three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk (cows’ milk).

To protect your bones you do need calcium in your diet, but you also need to keep calcium in your bones. To get calcium:
[Cows get calcium from the plants they eat.  Vegans can go directly to the source and avoid the animal cruelty and killing (see Dairy Cows), exploitation, waste of resources, environmental destruction, cholesterol and fat.] The most healthful calcium sources are green leafy vegetables and legumes, or "greens and beans" for short. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and other greens are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other healthful nutrients…

Beans are… loaded with calcium. There is more than 100 milligrams of calcium in a plate of baked beans. If you prefer chickpeas, tofu, or other bean or bean products, you will find plenty of calcium there, as well... If you are looking for a very concentrated calcium source, calcium-fortified orange or apple juices contain 300 milligrams or more of calcium per cup in a highly absorbable form. Many people prefer calcium supplements, which are now widely available.

To keep calcium in your body:
Exercise, get vitamin D from the sun, reduce salt, and get your calcium from plants not from animal sourcesAnimal protein -- in fish, poultry, red meat, eggs, and dairy products -- tends to leach calcium from the bones and encourages its passage into the urine. Plant protein -- in beans, grains, and vegetables -- does not appear to have this effect.”







.

+ Taking multivitamins and other supplements.

Eating a well-balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need. If you’d like to supplement your diet for whatever reason, there are many vegan multivitamins, individual vitamins, and mineral supplements on the market.

It’s easy to be healthy and be vegan – in fact, it’s easier to be a healthy vegan than it is to be a healthy meat-eater. Consider this short article published in 2003 by Michael Greger, M.D.:

"Vegan Diets Deficient in Three Nutrients? Well, Meateaters are Deficient in Seven!"

The latest data on the dietary intakes of vegans was just published last month.[1] The diets of about 100 vegans were recorded for a week and were found deficient in calcium, iodine and vitamin B-12. Using the same standards, though, the standard American diet is deficient in 7 nutrients! The diet of your average American is not only also deficient in calcium and iodine, it's deficient in vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber, folate, and magnesium as well.[2]

Not only does the American public have over twice as many nutritional deficiencies in their diets, vegans were shown to have higher intakes of 16 out of the 19 nutrients studied, including calcium. The vegans were getting more than enough protein on average and three times more vitamin C, three times more vitamin E, three times more fiber. Vegans got twice the folate, twice the magnesium, twice the copper, twice the manganese.

And of course the vegans had twice the fruit and vegetable intake and half the saturated fat intake, meeting the new 2003 World Health Organization guidelines for fat intake and weight control.[3] Almost 2/3 of Americans are overweight.[4] In contrast, only 11% of the vegans were overweight. Almost one in three Americans are obese. [4] Zero of the vegans in this study were obese.

So when a meateater asks you "Where you get your B-12?" You can counter with "Where do you get your vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber, folate, and magnesium? And while you're at it, you can ask them how they keep their sodium, saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol intake under control (not to mention their weight).

References:
[1] Results from the German Vegan Study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 57(August 2003):947.
[2] USDA. Food and Nutrient Intakes by Individuals in the United States, by Region, 1994-96.
[3] World Health Organization Technical Report Series 916. Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. 2003.
[4] Centers for Disease Control.

+ Getting enough vitamin B-12.

B-12 is necessary for the health and maintenance of red blood cells and nerve function.  While getting enough B-12 is important, getting enough is not only a “vegan issue,” it is a general health issue for everyone. Modern agriculture which includes intensive use of land and often the use of agrichemicals, methodical washing of fruits and vegetables, and the sterilization and treatment of drinking water has resulted in a depleted dietary intake of vitamins, minerals, and even helpful bacteria like those that create B-12.

People can avoid animal cruelty, and help stop the degradation and further depletion of agricultural soil simply by eating B-12-fortified foods like breakfast cereals, breads, dairy-free milks, nutritional yeast, and more.  Most leading vegan medical doctors and nutritionists recommend that everyone choose a plant-based vitamin B-12 supplement. 

More about B-12:

Where does B-12 come from? B-12 is not produced by plants and it is not produced by animals; it is produced by microorganisms (bacteria). “All of the Vitamin B-12 in the world ultimately comes from bacteria.  Neither plants nor animals can synthesize it.  But plants collect with B-12 when they come in contact with soil bacteria that produce it.  Animal foods are rich in B-12 only because animals eat foods that are contaminated with it or because bacteria living in an animal's intestines make it” (p. 102, The Vegetarian Way: Total Health for You and Your Family (1996), Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, & Mark Messina, PhD.

What happened to all the naturally-occurring B-12?  Why is B-12 supplementation recommended to vegans and non-vegans? B-12 used to be more readily available in our everyday fruits, vegetables, and even in our drinking water.  Studies of some natural sources of drinking water have found B-12 levels adequate for the recommended daily allowance indicating that before industrialization and sterilization, drinking water was a source of vitamin B-12.  This is part of the answer to those thinking we must eat animal products to get back to “natural sources” of B-12.  Now even the food and pastureland of farmed animals have become so depleted that farmed animals are being fed and injected with B-12 to overcome their own deficiencies. Animal agribusiness often feeds and injects farmed animals with B-12 and then promotes the consumption of animal products to get B-12.  You can skip the cruelty and go straight to the source.

From Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM.org), Overall, vegan diets provide better nutrition than any other kind of diet—with plenty of protein, calcium, and iron, and an abundance of vitamins and minerals—without the problems posed by animal fat and cholesterol. But it’s essential to include a source of vitamin B-12. And it couldn’t be easier to do.”

+ Plenty of iron (answering questions about anemia)?

Iron is important for maintaining healthy hemoglobin which is responsible for carrying oxygen in your blood.  Iron is readily available in whole plant-based foods like beans and dark green leafy vegetables as well as in fortified foods like breakfast cereals. 

Anemia is a common health issue for young women and children, but the rate of anemia is no higher in vegans than in those who eat animal products.

If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency or anemia, increase your intake of iron-rich vegan foods and iron-fortified foods.  Absorption of iron is as important as your intake of iron. Eating foods containing vitamin C along with iron rich plant-based foods will increase iron absorption.

+ Gaining energy, feeling less tired.

“I’m tired” is the number one complaint doctors in the U.S. hear from their patients.  It’s also the number one thing many of us hear around the water cooler at work, from our friends, or even from complete strangers when we ask, “How’s it going?” “I’m tired,” they slump.

Being tired is not a vegan issue.  In fact, many vegans claim a remarkable and unexpected increase in energy after switching to a vegan diet.

When “I’m tired” is uttered by a person who eats animal products, that person and his/her healthcare professionals will probably scramble to consider other lifestyle issues – not getting enough sleep, dehydration, allergies, eating junk foods, not exercising, mold or chemicals in the home or office, etc. 

But unfortunately, when someone living vegan complains of being tired they are, first and foremost, met with questions about nutrition: “Are you getting enough protein? Are you getting enough iron?”  Or, sometimes, even without any tests, the consumption of animal products is immediately recommended.

Of course this is unreasonable, but it’s a product of generations of misinformation and social pressure to consume animal products. 

Remember and repeat: “Every single nutrient your body needs for a happy, healthy life is available in plant-based sources.”  It is possible to live vegan and be running at full steam. 

If you’re tired, seek a vegan solution.  Animal products are not the answer to any of the following:
·         Are you getting enough sleep?  Or, in some cases, too much sleep?
·         Are you eating enough calories?  If you recently went vegan, you may be consuming far fewer calories because you’ve eliminated many high-calorie foods. Calories = energy.  Fuel your body with whole foods to keep it running.  Go easy on empty calories for quick energy fixes (like sugar and caffeine).
·         Do you have food allergies? Consider common food sensitivities like processed foods, sugar, wheat, and especially dairy if you’re vegetarian and not yet vegan.
·         Are you getting enough exercise? Exercise increases endorphins, relieves stress, and gets blood to the brain.  Even moderate exercise should help your energy level and mood.
·         Are you exposed to mold or chemicals (in your home or office)?
·         Are you on medications that might be causing fatigue?  Talk with your doctor.
·         Are you getting enough vitamins?  A healthy, balanced diet with enough calories should provide you with plenty of vital nutrients.  But if you’re not eating so well, consider a multivitamin and/or nutritional supplements.  Shortages of the following nutrients can all contribute to fatigue: zinc, vitamin E, magnesium, vitamins B2, B6, and B-12, and iron (all plentifully available in plant-based foods).
·         Are you stressed out?  Take time for you.  Even mini-breaks, stretching, time alone – anything to give your adrenal glands a break can leave you refreshed and rebuild your energy stores.

+ Fiber and beans and gas, OH MY!

30dayveganchallenge
From The 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (2011, pages 267-268):

“Because there is no fiber in meat, dairy, eggs, or any animal product, many people are eating a very low-fiber diet.  When you initially increase your intake of plant foods – and thus fiber – you may experience some discomfort.  However, once your body adjusts, it’s not really a problem for most people.  In the beginning, if you feel you need to take in fewer high-giver foods, you can still do so without adding animal products back into your diet.  There are lower-fiber plant foods you can try, such as white rice instead of brown, bagels, pastas, crackers, tofu, nondairy yogurt, tomato sauce, pizza, fruit juices (with no pulp), applesauce, and bananas.  As you get more comfortable – and you will – you can continue adding more fiber-rich foods into your diet…

Discomforting Beans
It’s the sugar molecules – called oligosaccharides – in beans that people have a hard time digesting, resulting in gas, cramping , or bloating, Rather than avoiding eating these incredibly healthy legumes, there are a number of things you can do if beans are giving you trouble.

·         Gradually increase your intake of beans. Counterintuitive though it may seem, the more you body becomes adjusted to these oligosaccharides, the easier it is for it to digest them.  Throw a few on a salad or into a soup. And slowly begin to eat more concentrated bean dishes.
·         If you cook beans from scratch, do not cook the beans in the same water you soaked them in.  Also, try adding a piece of kombu seaweed in the beans while they’re cooking, or add a little white vinegar to the beans just after they’re cooked.
·         People tend to do better with lentils than with the larger beans.  Give that a try and see if it helps.
·         A vegan [enzyme supplement] called Bean-zyme is available in health food stores, large natural grocery stores, and online.

+ I have allergies to (or I don’t like) soy, wheat, or other foods.

While some people LOVE tofu and wheat-based veggie meats, others can take them or leave them.  Our taste buds vary and our tastes change over time.  Explore to find the plant-based foods you love. 

Regarding food allergies, you can easily live vegan without consuming soy, wheat, peanuts, etc.  There’s a big world of food and a cornucopia of recipe and product ideas.  See our recipes and Make the Switch tool for specific ideas.

For other health-related Links, visit our helpful resources.