Some Updates and Happy Fourth of July!

I’m writing this post a little early because I know tomorrow I’ll be celebrating with family and friends.  It’s been over a month since I last posted and I completely forgot to post my June blog entry because June was a busy month for me.  June is a special month for Vitamin Valentine, because my first blog entry was in June of 2013.  When I first started writing VV, I mainly shared things that I was learning in my classes.  This summer is the first summer that I’m not taking any classes so I’ll be writing more personal things and continue to share my amazingly delicious and nutritious recipes.

So what else have I been doing instead of posting my usual entries?  Lately I’ve been going to the gym more often (yay!), but also not doing as much daily yoga as I would have liked (not so yay).  I probably only did yoga 2 times/week every week in June which may sound decent, but daily yoga and meditation really helps keep me grounded.  My goal for July is to get back to doing yoga on a daily basis.  To help me stay motivated, I bought a really funky planner that I’m loving right now. It’s called the Happy Planner.  It’s filled with inspirational quotes, places to track goals and to-do lists, and it’s super colorful which is always fun.

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My planner and one of my favorite breakfasts (a whole grain bagel, almond butter, and banana)

For the fourth of july, I’ll be spending the day outdoors and hopefully I can do some yoga on the beach.  I hope you have a great fourth of july 🙂

-Jess

What You Need to Know Before Going Vegan

Have you ever thought about going vegan? A vegan diet appeals to many people for different reasons, such as weight loss, religious beliefs, ethical concerns, or just improving the content of their diet in general. There’s no denying that a vegan diet which focuses on whole foods (rather than convenience foods) is a healthy one, but what do you need to know before you eliminate several food groups from your diet?

Fortunately for you, I have much experience on this subject because I became a vegan as a teen and learned so much about veganism and about nutrition in general. In fact, I would consider my experience as a vegan as one of the factors that led me to go back to school to study nutrition.

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One of the most helpful books on transitioning to a vegan diet.

First off, what is a vegan? A vegan is someone who does not consume any animal products whatsoever (so, that means no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and some also consider honey to be an animal product, although some vegans will consume honey).

What does a vegan eat?

A healthy vegan diet will consist of whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, and the occasional vegan treat. Whole grains can come in form of eating the actual whole grain (brown rice, barley, quinoa and so on) or consuming products made from 100% whole grains (whole grain pasta, whole or sprouted grain bread, etc.). Legumes (or beans) include garbanzo beans (also referred to as chickpeas), black beans, pinto beans, etc., and also soy. Soy can be made into many different products, including tofu, tempeh (fermented soy, which kind of tastes like mushrooms, in my opinion), soymilk, veggie burgers, soy cheese, soy yogurt, and the list goes on. Some concerns about soy include its phytoestrogen content, which some scientists postulate could mimic the role of estrogen in humans, although the verdict is still out. I’d recommend eating soy in moderation, due to the mixed research findings behind it. Vegetables and fruit are a staple in the vegan diet and can be consumed in any way imaginable. A vegan diet typically contains high amounts of vitamin C, fiber, and phytochemicals because of this.  Healthy fats in the vegan diet come from using plant oils, like olive and coconut oil. Nuts provide healthy fats along with some protein and fiber. Walnuts, in particular, contain the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential and not consumed nearly enough in a typical American diet.  Due to the lack of animal products, the vegan diet can lead to deficiencies in some nutrients, which leads me to discuss the next issue…

Protein Needs and B-12 Supplementation

Vegan sources of protein

Vegan sources of protein

Meat, eggs, and dairy contain the highest amount of bioavailable protein (protein that is most easily absorbed and used by the human body). Without animal products, protein consumption is usually less, but there are ways to achieve an adequate protein intake on a vegan diet. Protein needs vary by sex, age, weight, and activity level. A rough estimate for an average person, is 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, (to calculate your weight in kg, divide pounds by 2.2). Protein needs will be higher in athletes, people recovering from illness, and those who are trying to build muscle mass. Sources of vegan protein include beans, plant protein powders (soy protein, pea protein, hemp protein, and a few others), and nuts. One issue with vegan protein is that beans and nuts lack certain essential amino acids (Amino acids are the building blocks of protein).  One way to achieve a complete vegan protein is to combine beans/nuts with whole grains. This combination provides all the necessary amino acids. This is actually a common practice in many societies around the world (Latin American cuisine typically combines rice and beans in many dishes, for example).

Another issue with the vegan diet is the lack of B-12, which is only found in animal products. Vegans must supplement their diets with vitamin B-12 or else they will run into health problems, such as lack of energy, pernicious anemia, and nerve damage if the deficiency is long-term and extreme. In my own experience, I went a few months without B-12 supplementation and experienced a constant tingling sensation in my left arm and chest which was scary and forced me to become better educated about my diet as a vegan. Once I began supplementation, my health returned to normal but I can’t stress how important it is to supplement if you are a vegan!

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It's not necessary to have mega-doses of B-vitamins, but most supplements go above and beyond to ensure you're getting adequate amounts.

It’s not necessary to have mega-doses of B-vitamins, but most supplements go above and beyond to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts.

Calcium Concerns

In addition to making sure that you get adequate protein and vitamin B-12, Calcium can also be an issue in the vegan diet. Most Americans get their calcium through consuming dairy products. In the vegan diet, calcium can be found in fortified soymilk, almond milk, rice milk, or other imitation milks. Tofu, spinach, kale, and fortified orange juice are also good sources of Calcium. Most women, both vegan and not, don’t meet the RDA For calcium (around 1200 mg is needed), so if that is a concern for you, you can also take calcium supplements.

Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Hopefully the things to consider before becoming a vegan haven’t scared you off yet. Despite needing to plan a little more on the vegan diet, it still has many benefits such as

  • Vegans typically have lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and weigh less than meat-eaters
  • A diet based on whole grains, fruits, and veggies provides ample fiber and is rich in certain vitamins and minerals.
  • Higher consumption of vegetables and fruits is strongly associated with lower risk of cancer
  • Low-fat vegan/vegetarian diets are useful for people with heart disease and diabetes.
  • Lower consumption of saturated fats and little trans-fat intake is correlated with better heart health (saturated fats are highest in animal foods)
  • Increased fiber consumption leads to better digestive health (the less time your digested food is just sitting in your lower large intestine, the better).

Other benefits of a vegan diet can be found in the book “Becoming Vegan” by Brenda David and Vesanto Melina shown above.

My own take on the Vegan Diet and what you can learn from my experience

I became a vegan at the age of 15 and my reasons for doing so ranged from my love of animals to vanity. Looking back, I wish I was better educated about what makes up a healthy vegan diet instead of trying to do it on my own, especially at a young age where the desire to be thin can overtake any intention of good health. If you’re considering a vegan diet, do so because you genuinely want to live a healthier, more compassionate life, not because you want to lose weight and think veganism is the way to go. Truthfully, you may lose weight, but you shouldn’t make that your focus because it’s not sustainable and the goal of any diet should be overall health improvement. More health issues are created when we shift our focus towards immediate physical results rather than long-term health.  That being said, I do believe the vegan diet is a very healthy one when it is properly planned and supplemented with the necessary vitamins and minerals. Veganism can be fun and exciting because you constantly find new ways to reinvent favorite recipes. More restaurants are offering vegan options and stores are selling more meat-alternative products.

To be a vegan means that you have compassion for all living creatures and that you value your health, and that is something to proud of.

Lastly, for anyone who is seriously considering a vegan diet, this is a sample of what an adequately planned day could look like. This plan provides 2,200 calories (which is ideal for an active adult female looking to maintain their weight). The macronutrient breakdown is 49% carbs, 33% fat, and 18% protein.  Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron all exceed recommended values which just goes to show how easy it is to have a nutrient-dense vegan diet.

Breakfast:

Green Smoothie (1 cup spinach, 1 cup unsweetened fortified almond milk, ½ banana, 1 cup berries of your choice), ice (alternatively, you could use frozen berries and omit the ice).

1 slice of sprouted grain bread with 1 tbsp. peanut butter topped with the remaining banana

B-Vitamin Complex or  B-12 Supplement (take with food)

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Lunch:

Veggie burger with spinach and salsa in a whole wheat wrap, kale salad consisting of chopped kale, cherry tomatoes, and baby carrots, 2 tbsp. cilantro dressing (or dressing of your choice).

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Snack:

Apple and Protein Bar (Clif Builder bar provides the most vegan protein out of all the vegan protein bars I’ve looked at).

Dinner:

Falafel (chickpeas, onions, and spices ground, molded, and sautéed in olive oil) over ¾ cup bulgar (a type of whole grain) or quinoa with veggies of your choice, 2 tbsp. tahini sauce,  ½ a whole wheat pita with 2 tbsp. hummus

Post Workout Snack:

1 cup soymilk with a scoop of vegan protein powder

Recommended Reading:

For more information on veganism, I encourage you to read the book, “Becoming Vegan” by Brenda Davis, R.D., and Vesanto Melina, R.D. If you need ideas of recipes, the picture below shows some of my favorite cookbooks and recipe sources.

Obviously, they've been used many times (pretend you don't see the grimy book edges).

Clockwise LR- The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas, VegNews Magazine, Fresh & Fast Vegan Pleasures by Amanda Grant, Vegan With A Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

-Jess

How Do You Eat?

We all know how to ingest food, but how does your style of eating influence your health and every day life? Some of you may be asking yourselves, “Style of eating? What is that?”.  Your style of eating can be defined by how you choose the foods you eat. For instance, some people choose to eat whatever is convenient due to their busy schedule, others may plan ahead their meals for the day or week, and others may be more in touch with their bodies and eat what they like, while still focusing on having an overall healthy diet.

I first became aware of “eating styles” when I read the book “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (both Registered Dietitians). The authors describe several different eating styles, with a focus on how repetitive dieting, stress, and emotions can have a huge effect on how we eat and use food for other reasons besides hunger. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves stressed out about what/how to eat, or to anyone who finds the concept of mindful/intuitive eating interesting (I use the words mindful and intuitive interchangeably, as do the authors of “Intuitive Eating”).

Books on mindful eating approaches

Books on mindful eating approaches

What is mindful eating, you ask? Mindful eating (to me, at least) means being in touch with your body, determining your hunger and satiety signals before and after eating, respectively, and paying close attention to your food and eating experience in the present. Mindful eating makes sense for so many people, from chronic dieters who are fed up with calorie counting, to emotional eaters whose comfort lies at the bottom of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Mindful eating has been shown to be very effective in preventing binge eating, which is more common than you think (Binge Eating Disorder affects 2.8% of the U.S. population). Being present (on a mental, emotional, and physical level) while eating also makes food more enjoyable because you’re focusing on the sensual experience of food (taste, texture, smell, which may go unnoticed if you’re in a binge or too focused on the macronutrients of your meal).

While mindful eating is a beneficial practice, it’s still important to consume a healthy diet, and sometimes focusing too much on the pleasurable sensations of eating can lead one to make unhealthy choices (because delicious food is sometimes not the healthiest). Many dietitians/nutritionists advise their clients to have a loose plan of what they’ll eat in advance to avoid being overwhelmed with unhealthy choices when hungry. I know when I’m in a rush or stressed with life in general, I don’t make the healthiest food decisions and this leaves me feeling guilty and physically tired. It’s also incredibly difficult to be a mindful/intuitive eater when you’re used to eating a certain way, therefore taking small steps is a great way to achieve balance between health and pleasure.

How do you find a balance between health and pleasure when it comes to eating? For further information on Mindful Eating approaches, take a look at the links below or pick up a copy of “Intuitive Eating” (Evelyn Tribole, Elyse Resch).

http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/01/11/profile.hawks/

Click to access 7Mindful.pdf

-Jess