Myth: it’s not possible to be vegan and stay healthy or fit.
Truth: vegan bodybuilders and athletes are now in the thousands. Not that I’m into bodybuilding; but the point is they’re getting sufficient protein and calories from an entirely-plant-based diet. (In fact in the West we tend to eat 50% more protein on average than we need, according to a study by the Vegan Society.)
In fact, you may well be healthier on a good vegan diet. There is much evidence to suggest that meat and dairy are implicated in heart disease, and cancer, among other illnesses such as diabetes. (A GP friend tells me that beef is the commonest cause of bowel cancer.)
There is reason to link the consumption of dairy with breast cancer, or higher rates of mortality in cases of already-present breast cancer, in women. As always, there are contradictory studies, but it’s worth noting.
Perhaps this is not a surprise: we are drinking milk or eating milk products from the breasts, the mammary glands, of another mammal, intended for its baby, not for humans; that milk will also contain all the antibiotics and hormones routinely given to dairy cattle in the milk industry (unless the farm is organic).
Plus there are the naturally-occurring hormones.’The hormone oestrogen stimulates breast cell growth, including the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer cells… Many researchers believe that dairy products eaten in the United States and other Western countries have high levels of oestrogen and progesterone in them because most of the milk is produced by pregnant cows.’ (http://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/20130327)
There may be an increased rate of prostate cancer in men who consume large quantities of dairy. For both diseases, see: http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/ask/ask-the-expert-dairy-products
Here are some sources of vegan protein; many of them perhaps surprising. It’s a good idea to incorporate at least one protein into every meal, and you can also snack on protein foods like toasted seeds and nuts between meals, or sprinkle them on meals.
Mixing and matching is good, to include all the amino acids necessary for health.
It used to be thought that for a ‘complete’ protein you needed to combine plant-based sources – eg rice and beans – at one meal; this doesn’t seem to be the case, although it’s still worth bearing in mind. You can overdo protein, and it will go to waste in the body, so little and often is a good basis for health.
- all dried beans (not just soya, which may not be as healthful as people used to think, especially if you have thyroid issues)
- green beans
- pulses such as lentils
- nuts (all nuts, though almonds are particularly good)
- nut milks and butters, inc peanut butter
- seeds, especially sprouted; seed butters
- oats (and other grains)
- brown rice
- wholewheat flour
- potatoes in their skins (NB organic, as pesticides etc collect in their skins)
- broccoli (Sherry Colb in Do you Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger? tells us that broccoli has approximately twice as much protein per calorie as a steak. You would however need to eat a lot of it!)
- hemp seed/hemp milk
- (quinoa) I’ve put this in brackets as although it’s high in protein, since it’s commonly grown at the time of writing in South America the food miles are too high for me
- wholewheat couscous
- millet (it is possible to make this tasty!)
- avocado (bit of a superfood; high in calories though)
And here’s a very good link to an article on protein by a vegan doctor: http://freefromharm.org/health-nutrition/vegan-doctor-addresses-protein-question/
This article on protein sources for vegans is worth a look:
B12 is an issue for lacto-vegetarians and vegans alike. We need it. I rely heavily on yeast extracts: Marmite, or in my case the Meridian one (nicer, and cheaper); and also nutritional yeast flakes with added B12. The Marigold Engevita one (check you’ve bought the one with B12; both have all the other B vitamins) has added zinc. (Our soil in the UK is short on both zinc and selenium, generally, btw.)
I’m not keen on supplements, but sometimes they’re useful; mineral supplements just as much as vitamins.
Peas, green, and chickpeas (and hummus)
Wholegrain brown rice
Nuts, especially almonds
Other dark green veg
Potatoes in their skins
Grape juice, red wine
Cocoa and dark chocolate
People dropping animal products often worry about calcium intake. It’s by no means only meat and dairy products that give us calcium, an essential mineral in the body. The PETA website cites one of a few research papers that conclude that in fact vegans are no more likely to suffer from osteoporosis than meat-and-dairy-eaters; in fact, slightly less likely. http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/calcium-and-strong-bones
For the whole PETA article, including sources of calcium, see:
This webpage will tell you why you really don’t need milk: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/5-ridiculous-myths-about-cows-milk/
This is another comprehensive listing of sources of vegan calcium:
And btw, magnesium is at least as essential, we’re often a little deficient in it, and it’s frequently overlooked.
More coming soon – please come back