Friday, April 6, 2012

Vegan Starting Essentials

Trying out a vegetarian, vegan, or even simply a plant-based diet can be overwhelming.  If you've ever thought about making a healthy life style change by cleaning out your diet, then cutting out cholesterol laden foods like meat, and slimming down on processed foods is a great way to begin!
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Going vegan has some great benefits:
  • Most vegans are healthier people because they pay attention to what they eat and tend to make more nutritious decisions
  • You'll have less saturated fats in your diet, and more fiber for more fun in the bathroom
  • The factory farmed beef industry isn't getting your money
  • You'll be putting money back in your pocket!  Vegan food is cheap!
  • You'll cut your risk of cancer.  Pretty much every fruit and vegetable out there helps reduce your risk of cancer, and you'll be eating so many on a vegan diet
  • The environment will thank you!  Less water wasted on grazing cattle, less methane emitted from cow's, and more plant food to go around
There are so many more benefits of a whole foods diet, but lets move on!

There are four major nutrients that are a main concern to vegetarians and vegans.  They are:

Protein: 
This is probably what concerns people the most, but protein is actually very easy to get!  Most of us get more than enough on a daily basis.  In fact, it's almost impossible to be protein deficient without being caloric deficient, because most foods contain at least a little protein.

Now obviously, someone who consumes 2000 calories of Doritos everyday will probably be lacking protein, but I think that person has much bigger issues.

Speaking of calories, this is another thing to pay attention too.  A few months into my vegan diet, I had a couple weeks where I started to feel sluggish and tired.  Not the kind of tired where I needed caffeine, but the kind of tired you get from having your period.  After poking around the interwebs and obsessive over what nutrient is making me tired, someone suggested that I am probably not eating enough calories.  Ding ding ding!

To calculate how much you need on a daily basis, take your body weight, and multiple it by .45 and again by .66.  Lindsay has an excellent write up about protein over at Lindsay Loves Veggies.
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Calcium/Iron
Both calcium, which mainly comes from dairy products, and iron, which often comes from red meat, can be worrisome.  Calcium is important for strong bones, and iron is responsible for bringing oxygen to your blood, in a nutshell!.  Leafy greens are a great course of both these nutrients!  Calcium also comes from fortified OJ, tofu, sesame seeds, and many other plant foods.  Iron is found in lentils, beans, and other whole grains.  As long as you're eating healthily, these nutrients shouldn't be a problem.

B-12
B-12, which I'd never heard of until I became vegan, is hard to explain, but it basically helps formulate our cells.  The great thing is that your body needs a very tiny amount, and our bodies keep anywhere from six months to five year's worth of B12 stored in our bodies.   Vegan sources include nutritional yeast (a great substitute to parmesan cheese), soy milk, fortified cereals, and sometimes sea vegetables.

I got my blood tested recently- after two years on a vegan diet- and you can see that my levels are fine for protein, iron, calcium, and B-12.

When it comes with figuring out what to eat, it's fairly simple.  Just fill up half your plate with vegetables and fruit, add some whole grains, and end it with some protein source.  You don't necessarily have to make sure you're getting 100% of every vitamin and mineral everyday, because with a well balanced and nutritious diet, your body will balance itself out.  An easy idea to practice is to eat something from each color group each day.
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Sample Meal:

Breakfast
Oatmeal made with almond milk with blueberries, ground flax seed, and walnuts
Snack
Apple and peanut butter
Lunch
Salad with romaine lettuce, spinach, garbanzo beans, veggies, and basalmic vinegar with olive oil
Side of rice and beans
Snack
Carrot sticks and hummus
Dinner
Stir fry with brown rice, tofu or tempeh, and veggies

I'll leave you with one last piece of food for thought:  Carnivores, vegans, pescatarians, vegetarians, paleos (whatever they are called), etc, all need to worry about one main idea:  less processed foods, less chemicals!  Try making as much as your meals from scratch as possible, and read the ingredients for anything you buy pre-made.  If you can't pronounce any of the ingredients, than it's probably not real food.  I've found that all I've learned about food is fascinating, and I hope at least some others feel the same!

Click here for some recipe ideas!

1 comment:

  1. Love this! I've been vegetarian for a while and just recently realized I get enough protein without even trying! I always thought it was a big concern because that's what people always ask about.

    I also laughed at the line about fiber giving you more fun in the bathroom :)

    The trouble I have the most is that I struggle to eat all my fresh food before it goes bad. I'm a lazy and moody eater and I have a tendency to plan big and then eat a bunch of pasta instead of the salad I bought. Whoops.

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