Boston Veggie

Let’s talk nutrition
September 23, 2009, 8:04 pm
Filed under: Vegan tips

In a previous post, I mentioned that vegans can get all the nutrition they need and than some just from the food they eat. While many of my readers are vegetarians (hey guys!), I know some of you aren’t, so I want to take a moment to explain vegan nutrition.

First of all, protein. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me “Well how do you get your protein?” I’d have paid off my college loans by now. I understand the confusion because I used to be an omnivore who believed in the holy trinity of protein, protein and no carbs, but protein is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. In fact, most Americans consume too much protein. Way too much.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that is published every five years by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, “At the 2,000-calorie level, vegetarians could choose about 1.5 ounces of nuts and 2/3 cup legumes instead of 5.5 ounces of meat, poultry, and/or fish. ½ ounce of nuts, or ¼ cup of legumes is considered equivalent to 1 ounce of meat, poultry, or fish.” According to the same source, if you do eat meat, you should only eat 6 ounces a day. That is about the size of a deck of cards. Now, if you eat meat, think about how much you’ve eaten today. Probably more than a deck of cards. My favorite vegetarian sources of protein come from beans, whole wheat breads and pastas, nuts, soy or almond milk, peanut butter, quinoa, and lentils. As you can see, it is effortless to get sufficient quantities of protein as a vegan.

Someone once had the nerve to say to me “Well you need to eat cholesterol and fat.” And that person was absolutely right, we need fat just like we need everything else. But we need the cholesterol and mono and polyunsaturated fat that comes from avocados and nuts, not the fat and cholesterol that comes from cheese and meat.

Now that we’ve settled the protein debauchle, there are some things vegans and vegetarians do need to be conscious of. Omega-3’s are essential to heart and overall health. They are the # 1 weapon we have in preventing heart disease; no medicine can even come close to what these fatty acids can do. Aside from preventing heart disease, flax seeds can prevent breast and prostate cancer, alleviate the symptoms of diabetes, and help overall digestion and regulation. Meat eaters get their omega-3’s from salmon and tuna. But even as omnivores, how often do you really eat salmon or tuna? Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and milled flax seeds (brown and gold) are some of the best sources of Omega-3’s. In fact, flax seeds contain more omega-3’s than anything else on this planet. Anything. So even carnivores should consider incorporating milled flax seeds into their diet (they have to be milled because if you eat them whole, your body won’t be able to digest them). They don’t have much flavor, and just a table spoon a few times a week is enough to keep you going. I like to slip them into various meals, like oatmeal and baked goods, but you can put them in almost anything without detection.

There is one thing that vegetables can’t provide, and that is B12. It is the only thing a vegetable based diet can’t provide. If you want the quick and simple solution, take B12 supplements a few times a week. However, there are products out there fortified with B12. Milk, bread, and even some juices are fortified with B12. I used to take B12 supplements until I realized how much stuff I ate that was fortified with B12. Also, after eating meat for 20 years, it would take 4-5 years before I would even begin experiencing a Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Now to everything else. Here is a list of the various nutrients humans need to live, and ways those nutrients can be obtained:

Calcium: almonds, brazil nuts, seeds, soybeans, kale, collard greens, broccoli, kelp, and molasses.

Folic Acid: Leafy green vegetables, carrots, artichokes, fruit, cantaloupe, avocados, apricots, beans, lentils, soybeans, garbanzos, barley, and whole wheat.

Iron: nuts, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, whole grains, oatmeal, asparagus, molasses, broccoli, spinach, bok choy, peas, swiss chard, and green beans.

Magnesium: Nuts, seeds, sunflower seeds, green vegetables, and soybeans.

Potassium: bananas, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, tomatoes, watercress, avocados, potatoes, and whole grains.

B vitamins (other than 12): whole wheat, oatmeal, whole grains, brown rice, beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, bananas and vegetables.

Vitamin C: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, green peppers, spinach, watercress, potatoes, grapefruits, and oranges.

Vitamin D: all you need to get sufficient Vitamin D is get direct sun exposure for 10 minutes a day on your skin.

Vitamin E: whole grains, whole wheat, nuts, leafy greens and sunflower seeds.

Zinc: whole grains, pumpkin seads, seasame seeds and soy beans.

I used to carry around this list with me all day and check to make sure I’d eaten enough iron or zinc or vitamins. But eventually I realized I was meeting these quotas without even really trying. So today, I just make sure to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains and I know I’m getting everything I need without the saturated fat and cholestoral that comes with meat.


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