If you prefer to sink your teeth into a savory soy burger instead of a succulent steak, your body may be missing out on some vital nutrients. Although animal-free diets are often heart-healthy, they may also put you at risk for certain deficiencies. Here are some tips for eating healthy the vegan way.
One major perk to a plant-heavy diet: Studies show that diets rich in plant foods may help prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity. However, many vegans risk deficiency in key nutrients such as protein, calcium, B12, iron, and vitamin D. Pregnant women should take extra care to ensure adequate intake of these nutrients.
Power Up With Protein
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, a critical component of tissue growth and repair. Since only animal proteins provide all the essential amino acids our bodies need, vegans must pair their proteins to get the required amounts.
Tasty protein pals:
• Whole grain pasta tossed with almonds and peas
• Vegetable bean soup with crispy whole grain crackers
• Brown rice with kidney beans
• More protein-punched options: tofu, seitan, veggie burgers, soy, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, brown rice and whole grains, textured vegetable protein.
Get Clever With Calcium
The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium, helps us with bone formation and nerve conduction. When you keep a vegan diet, you miss out on calcium from dairy products, but there are other ways to get the nerve and bone benefits.
Non-dairy calcium sources: stock up on kale, oranges, sesame seeds, white beans, dill, tofu, flaxseeds, turnip greens, broccoli, dandelion greens, almonds, basil, seaweed, figs, hazelnuts, lentils, chickpeas, and Swiss chard, as well as calcium-fortified cereals with nut milk.
Beware Of B12 Deficiency
If you are newly vegan, your body has the ability to store B12 for several years. However, once your tank hits empty, you will need to replenish your supply. Plant-based B12 from algae, tempeh, and brewer’s yeast is not as readily bio-available as animal-based forms of B12, which means your body is not as able to absorb this vitamin when it comes from plants. In addition, over-consumption of soy can decrease B12 absorption. Therefore, the best way to ensure that you won’t be plagued with anemia is to take B12 supplements and eat plenty of fortified foods. To be on the safe side, have your B12 levels tested regularly to make sure your levels remain constant.
Boost your B12: Nutritional yeast is the best food source for B12, although miso and some seaweeds contain a minimal amount as well.
As it transports oxygen throughout your body, iron helps maintain healthy red blood cells. For those of you who love animals too much to eat them, you may opt for vegan sources of iron. Word to the wise: plant-based iron requires vitamin C for better absorption so enjoy a healthy dose of lemon juice on that kale! Also, keep in mind that coffee, soy, bran, and tea contain phytates that prevent iron absorption and should be consumed at least three hours before a meal.
Pump iron: Try eating lentils, artichokes, dried fruit, iron-enriched cereals, chickpeas, and hummus.
Don’t D-prive Yourself
Dairy and seafood contain high amounts of the essential vitamin D. If, however, a tuna melt isn’t on the menu for you tonight, consider taking a daily supplement. This hormone works with calcium and magnesium to ensure bone formations, and also boosts your immune system. Although the new daily guidelines set the standard as 600 IU, your body might require more. Test your blood for adequate vitamin D levels to keep your bones and immune system strong!
More D-lightful choices: Another way to get your daily D dose is to put your shades on and let the sun shine! Our body creates the active form of D3 when the sun’s rays are absorbed by our skin. Be careful not to burn, and seek the shade as soon as your skin starts to turn rosy.
I often recommend the Liquid Whole Food Vitamin supplement for my vegan and vegetarian patients. It is made with organic ingredients, is highly absorbable, and contains your daily dose of different vitamins like Vitamin C, B12, and D.
I hope that these suggestions will help you to maintain a vegan diet plan while still receiving all the necessary nutrients to keep your body strong and healthy for years to come!
May you Live Long, Live Strong, and Live Happy!
Dr. Mao Shing Ni, best known as Dr. Mao, is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine and board certified anti-aging expert. He has appeared on Dr. Oz, the Doctors and EXTRA. Dr. Mao practices acupuncture, nutrition and Chinese medicine with his associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica and Newport Beach. Dr. Mao and his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni founded Tao of Wellness over 25 years ago. In addition, he is the cofounder and Chancellor of Yo San University in Venice/Marina del Rey. To subscribe to a free newsletter please visit www.taoofwellness.com. To make an appointment for evaluation and treatment please call 310. 917.2200 or you can email Dr. Mao at [email protected]
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