Animal Writes
From 22 June 2003 Issue

Optimum Vegan Nutrition
By Greg Lawson - [email protected] 

A diet based on plant foods has been proven to be the best way to protect your health, and a vegan diet is already a major step ahead of the Standard American Diet (SAD, so sad). Most vegetarians are more knowledgeable and more careful about what they eat than average consumers, but if you want the ultimate in good nutrition you have to follow a few guidelines. It's our responsibility to maintain our good health in order to be an example for others, and to have long lives so that we can fight for the animals all those extra years.

Try to avoid processed foods and instead, eat a variety of fresh, preferably organic vegetables and fruits. Most canned foods and prepared frozen meals have too much fat, salt and all kinds of additives. They are more expensive than fresh produce and even organic foods. This is because you are paying for the processing, the glass, the metal and the advertising. I have to admit, to save time I buy two canned products, beans and tomato sauce, ok and sometimes salsa, ok, and chips.

Include different kinds of grains and beans in your meals especially soybean products. Processed soy products and fortified cereals are the only time-savers worth the money. Soy burgers, tofu, tempeh and textured vegetable protein I will leave to the major companies to make for me. However, I do make my own soymilk for only pennies a quart with a nifty soymilk machine ( and I make my own frozen soymilk and nut milk desserts with a Cuisinart ice cream maker.

Hmm, for a moment there I sounded like Martha Stewart, and that's not a good thing. Let me assure you, the only stocks I deal in are vegetable stocks.

Make sure you get adequate amounts of certain key nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B-12 and vitamin D. These vitamins and minerals are sometimes lacking in a vegetarian diet. You can get these from fortified cereals, soy products and certain vegetables. B-12 is a vitamin completely lacking in a plant based diet unless you eat fortified foods, nutritional yeast or take a B-12 supplement. B-12 is a micronutrient, which means the daily amount needed is measured in micrograms as opposed to other vitamins measured in milligrams, and most of us are able to produce this vitamin in our digestive systems and store it for months. It is still Really something to be concerned about for optimum health. Please take a vegetarian formula B-12 supplement.

For those of us living in a sunny climate, vitamin D isn't that much of a concern. We can make our own with just a little exposure to sunlight. Iron and zinc are easy to obtain in a vegan diet which includes nuts, seeds, grains and beans.

This brings us to the mineral calcium.
The dairy industry has convinced us that cow's milk is needed to obtain calcium and that calcium is necessary for strong bones. But in fact, the calcium from broccoli, kale and other green leafy vegetables is more easily absorbed and doesn't come with the hormones, pesticides and other chemicals found in dairy products. Many studies, including the Harvard Nurses Study, one of the largest studies of diet and disease, which tracked the eating habits of thousands of nurses for over a decade, found that those people who used dairy products had more bone fractures than those who did not. 

The reason for this is that bone strength depends on a variety of factors and not just calcium intake. The sulfur bearing amino acids of animal products cause our systems to become more acidic, causing the body to leech calcium from the bones to neutralize the pH factor. Ah, the power of cheesy advertising.

Good Nutrition in a Nutshell
Most of us think that a very low fat diet is what we need for good health, but this is not true. Be sure to include the good fats of nuts, seeds, avocados, and a dash of olive oil in moderation as part of a healthy diet. These foods provide vitamin E among other nutrients and monounsaturated fat, the good kind.

In recent years the importance of essential fatty acids, especially omega-3, has become clear. Omega-3 keeps our blood thin, preventing platelets from clogging up our arteries as plaque. Omega-3 fatty acids also lower triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol and studies indicate they may help relieve the symptoms and possibly even prevent rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Alzheimer's disease.

I know some vegetarians who have been persuaded to go back to eating aquatic creatures to obtain fish oil, which is high in omega-3. This is quite unfortunate, not only for the fish, but also for the humans who are also taking in PCBs, dioxin, mercury, other pollutants and heavy metal poisons. Please don't kill fish unnecessarily, they want to hold onto their lives as much as you do. The fish get their omega-3 from algae. We could too, but if you are not that fond of pond scum there is an easy alternative.

Flax seed is a terrific source of omega-3 fatty acids. Whole flax seed are not easily digested and need to be ground in a coffee bean grinder, in a blender with water or purchased already ground. Flax can spoil relatively fast and so it needs to be kept in the freezer. Some studies have shown that ground flax is a better source of omega-3 than flax seed oil for health reasons, so go with the ground seeds as a regular part of a healthy diet. Ground flax seed can be added to baked goods such as muffins and cakes, added to bean/nut loafs or sprinkled into casseroles and other dishes. Try to include a tablespoon or two of ground flax seed or flax seed meal in your daily diet plan.

Omega-3 Spectrum Spread is a much better choice than either butter or margarine to spread on a muffin or an ear of corn. Omega-3 Spectrum Spread contains no trans-fats which are worse than saturated fats, and it delivers a healthy dose of omega-3. But don't use Spectrum Spread as your main source of omega-3; use ground flax seeds and think of Spectrum Spread as an occasional augmentation.

For much more information about good nutrition, I highly recommend "Becoming Vegan" by Brenda Davis, R.D., and Vesanto Melina, R.D., one of the best books on vegan nutrition available. 

The 10 Must Include Foods

These foods should be consumed often, but don't neglect the other fruits, vegetables and grains. I have included this list because we tend to love packages of ten, it seems to make information easy to assimilate. The ten commandments, the ten ways to satisfy your lover, the top ten music videos, it's all because we have ten fingers, well, most of us do. ( My Uncle Ned, who was with Ringling Brothers Circus for a while, could play Chopin like nobody else, but that's another story. )

The following foods should be included in your diet on a regular basis, and you should choose non-GMO (non-genetically modified organisms) and organic forms of these vegetables whenever you can.

1. Soyfoods
The majority of studies have shown that soy decreases LDL, the bad form of cholesterol, while boosting HDL, the good form. This is the major reason why the Food and Drug Administration approved the following health claim to be used on packages of soy products...Including at least 25 grams of soy in your diet may reduce your risk of heart disease. Remember, the FDA is a very conservative organization, you should consider that word "may" to mean the same as the "may" word used on cigarette packages, "may" cause lung cancer.

The evidence also strongly suggests that soy products can prevent certain forms of cancer, reduce the symptoms of menopause and prevent the loss of bone mass which leads to osteoporosis. In a future article I will deal with the hype about the dangers of soy products. You might have heard some of the propaganda from the dairy industry that soy causes brain disorders, breast cancer and homosexuality; it's only more cheesy advertising to promote bovine mammary fluids and cow captivity.

The best forms of soy are tempeh and soy yogurt, which have been fermented and so are easiest to digest. Miso is also fermented and a good source of minerals and protein, however it is salty, so use this product sparingly. Tofu and soymilk are the next best forms of the bean. It's ok to occasionally include some of the more heavily processed forms of soy, such as soydogs, soyburgers and other meat analogs. They are certainly better than the alternatives and usually low or nonfat. Try to select the products with the least additives and don't make them the center of your diet.

2. Tomatoes
When raw, tomatoes offer a variety of nutrients including a healthy dose of vitamin C. When cooked, the antioxidant lycopene becomes more available. Lycopene reduces the risk of prostate cancer and cancers of the digestive system, so have some cherry tomatoes in your salad before your entree of pasta with marinara sauce.

3. Broccoli
Numerous studies have linked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and bok choy to a reduced risk of breast, colon and stomach cancers. A recent study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that a substance in broccoli called sulforaphane prevents stomach ulcers that can lead to stomach cancer. Broccoli is also a great source of vitamin C and calcium. Be sure not to overcook: Lightly steam or stir-fry these vegetables to retain the nutrients.

4. Kale and the other green leafys
Kale is a tasty member of the leafy greens food group and is a terrific source of calcium, beating dairy products by a mile in terms of bioavailability. The idea that dairy is the best source of calcium is very successful propaganda from the dairy industry and isn't supported by the scientific studies. Mustard greens, collard greens, broccoli and other dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of calcium and other minerals. Wear a green mustache not a white one.
Got Bilked? Milk does nobody good.

5. Nuts and Seeds
The vitamin E and monounsaturated fat in nuts and seeds make them an important addition to the diet. Choose unsalted nuts of course and eat a handful a day.

6. Garlic and onions
Make sure your homemade pasta sauce has plenty of garlic and onions. Both strengthen your immune system and make you less vulnerable to colds, bacterial infections, and other nastiness.

7. Berries
Blueberries, strawberries, cranberries and blackberries are good sources of antioxidants. Cranberries help protect against urinary tract infections and have other antibiotic properties. Blueberries help protect mental functioning from the effects of aging. I was going to say something else about blueberries, hmm, maybe I'll think of it later. Just eat lots of berries, trust me.

8. Carrots and other orange colored things, sweet potatoes, orange bell peppers.
The beta-carotene in these vegetables protects eye health and the immune system.

9. Bananas
The potassium in bananas prevents the loss of calcium from the body. A recent study by the University of California at San Francisco found that potassium rich foods help prevent osteoporosis by preventing the loss of calcium from the bones.

So, please allow me a quick recap about osteoporosis, because my mother suffers from it and she drank milk all her life. It's a terrible disease and I would like people to be able to avoid it. Salt and soda pop and the sulfur bearing amino acids in animal protein (including milk) leech calcium from your bones. Leave those food items behind. Eat lots of green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans and tofu for calcium. Eat bananas, melons and potatoes for potassium which helps you hold on to your calcium.

10. Tobbs
The Other Beans Besides Soy.... black, garbanzo, pinto, navy, lentils etc. Beans are great sources of minerals and protein. If you only need a few beans to top a salad, freeze remaining beans in a couple of baggies and use for future soups or salads.

Instead of the four or five food groups or that stupid food pyramid that was paid for by the meat and dairy industries, think of the seven food color groups, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.
To find your pot of gold, Eat a rainbow every day.

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