Guest Blogger: Saving the World One Bite at a Time! – Let Them Eat Kale: Vegan Nutrition 101

26 Sep

Please welcome back Rachael, author of the blog Saving the World One Bite at a Time! Here’s a bit about Rachael, Rubber Cowgirl is named for her boots!  Six years ago, she read Skinny Bitch and decided to go Vegan.  Her life has never been the same!  Her health improved, her jeans got a lot smaller, she learned how to cook and how to grow a garden.  Going vegan is the most delicious way to secure your own health and protect our planet, so eat your greens! Follow Rachael on her blog, and Twitter. Welcome Rachael!

Let them eat Kale!
(If I were Queen, I would have my subjects eat a healthy diet.)
Thanks to the accessibility of recent films such as Forks Over Knives and the endorsement of celebrities like actress Alicia Silverstone and President Bill Clinton, plant-based eating is gaining popularity.  More and more people are becoming curious about the impact of diet on personal health and the world at large.
For a long time, I’ve been the only vegan that many of my friends and family know.  Having consistently advocated the health benefits of plant-based eating, I suddenly find myself their resident expert on the subject.  As you can imagine, I’m more than happy to answer any of their questions – and glad I did my research!
The first questions I get are usually about nutrition.  If you don’t eat meat, where do you get your protein and iron?  No milk?  Where does your calcium come from?  Do you suffer from a B12 deficiency?  Anemia?  What about those good fats that are only in fish?  For the veg-curious and all the newbies out there, I provide the following breakdown.
Gorillas eat plants.
Protein
Protein is easy.  All plants have protein.  Elephants eat plants.  Gorillas eat plants (and the incidental insect).  Gorillas don’t eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, cheeseburgers for lunch and fried chicken for dinner.  If they did, they’d be going extinct from heart disease rather than loss of habitat and poaching.
I don’t suggest worrying about protein; a newborn baby gets all the nutrients it needs from its mother’s milk – only 8% of its dietary intake is protein, and that baby is growing at an incredible rate.  If 8% is optimal for developing infants, the adult recommendation should certainly be less.  Eating a colorful plant-based diet with lots of variety will provide more than adequate amounts of protein for your daily needs.
Protein-rich Plant Food
Nuts, seeds and whole grains are all rich in protein.  Add some cashews or peanuts to a stir fry.  Sprinkle sesame or sunflower seeds in your salads.  Try some peanut butter on sprouted-grain toast with a glass of almond or hemp milk for breakfast.  Rice comes in many varieties – golden, rose, basmati, forbidden, wild; try out some different grains like millet, barley, buckwheat or oats, or mix up a signature blend.  Quinoa alone is a complete protein with over 8g per serving!  Legumes like lentils, soybeans and chickpeas are packed with protein.  Sample some hummus for snacks or make some delicious Chana Masala for dinner.  Soy products include tofu, tempeh, miso, milk and other dairy substitutes.  Berries have the highest protein content of any fruit.
Iron
In Latin, ferrum.  One of my favorite elements.  I was born in a town called Iron River.  The fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust, iron should be easy to find.  All dark green leafy vegetables have iron; there’s parsley, spinach, kale, swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, broccoli and collard greens, to name a few.  Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, so squirt a little lemon juice on your kale or add a kiwi to your green smoothie.
Clockwise from left: dried coconut, mixed rice, pumpkin seeds, red and white quinoa, sunflower seeds, buckwheat groats, green lentils, red lentils, French lentils; Center: madadamia nuts, chickpeas
All those protein-rich seeds and legumes mentioned above have iron, too.  Soy products, chickpeas (hummus), cashews, pine nuts, coconut, sesame seeds (Sesame oil! Gomashio! Tahini!) and blackstrap molasses have loads of iron.  Even baked potatoes have iron – try topping one with a drizzle of tahini and some minced fresh parsley.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include ridged or brittle fingernails and restless leg syndrome.  I used to get that jiggly-leg thing all the time before going vegan, but back then I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to my diet.  I must not be anaemic now, because my legs are restful and my fingernails are smooth and strong.  I also love me some beans-n-greens!  Ingesting too much iron can be more harmful than too little; excess iron in the bloodstream leads to the creation of free radicals, which can harm your DNA, so please be careful with supplements.  In my opinion, it’s best to get all your nutrients from your food.
Don’t you worry about iron!  Just eat your spinach, baby.

Vitamin B12 and Pro-Biotics
B12 is synthesized by neither plants nor animals; it is a product of certain micro-organisms and is found in fermented food.  B12 is required in the smallest amount of any nutrient – just ten tiny micrograms per day are enough; even fewer if B12 is supplied on a daily basis.  VeganHealth.org advises, “If relying on fortified foods, check the labels carefully to make sure you are getting enough B12. For example, if a fortified plant milk contains 1 microgram of B12 per serving then consuming three servings a day will provide adequate vitamin B12.  Others may find the use of B12 supplements more convenient and economical.”  If you choose to take a supplement, read the label to make sure it is dairy- and gelatin-free.
Nutritional yeast (those flaky yellow sprinkles with a cheesy/nutty flavor) is often fortified with B12 and is also full of protein.  Spirulina (astronaut food!) and other algae and sea vegetables have lots of important minerals and vitamins, including B12.  Try adding a scoop of spirulina powder to a green smoothie.  Kombucha is a fizzy, tangy fermented beverage dating back thousands of years; fortified with a full complement of B vitamins it provides an energy boost along with antioxidants and all kinds of probiotics for your digestive tract.  In fact, probiotics are generally found in fermented foods – pickled vegetables, like sauerkraut, and soy products like miso and tempeh; live cultures are also added to soy and coconut yogurts.
Vitamin B12 and Probiotics
Calcium
If you’ve been relying on dairy products as a source of calcium, please reconsider.  Although dairy products are high in calcium, their high protein content can actually deplete calcium reserves.  Your body draws calcium from the bones to neutralize the pH of your blood if it becomes too acidic; meat and dairy are acid-forming when consumed.  Because of their low phosphorous content and alkaline nature, calcium from plant sources is much more readily utilized by the body.
So which plant foods have calcium?  You guessed it – beans and dark, leafy greens.  Almonds, oranges, kelp, blackstrap molasses and sesame are also rich in calcium.  Don’t forget your 15 minutes of sunshine – Vitamin D aids calcium absorption.  To get those D vitamins activated, you need magnesium.  Found in greens like collards and spinach, other magnesium-rich foods include okra, artichokes, dates, papaya, pumpkins and sweet potatoes.  If you want strong, healthy bones, try some almond milk and chopped dates in your breakfast cereal, or a yummy tofu and arugula salad with tahini dressing for lunch.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These poly-unsaturated fatty acids are considered ‘essential’ because our bodies do not synthesize them, yet they are vital for normal metabolism.  Plant sources of Omega-3 abound – 1/4 cup of walnuts has a higher concentration of Omega-3 than 4 ounces of salmon.  Let the little fishes swim!  Instead of squishing them up into ‘fish oil’ try some extra-virgin olive, sunflower, pumpkin or hemp oil; beans and winter squash also have Omega-3 in small amounts.  The highest Omega-3 concentration of all is found in flax seeds, and sea algae has high levels of Omega-3 DHA.
Flaxseed has other health benefits as well; its antioxidant-producing lignans might even help prevent cancer.  Ground flaxseed makes a great egg replacer; if you’re baking, “For one egg, simply mix 1 Tbsp flaxseed meal with 3 Tbsp water in a small bowl and let sit for two minutes.  Add to a recipe as you would an egg.”  For a good dose of Omega-3 fatty acids, add some ground flaxseed to pancakes for your next Sunday brunch or try using it in a batter for veggie tempura.
Synopsis
Plants are good for you!  If you eat a wide variety of fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, mushrooms, vegetables from land and sea, and something fermented, you will get all the nutrients your body requires.  Try everything that’s in season.  Include as many different colors in each meal as you can.  Do your own research – satisfy your curiosity.
Here’s some recommended reading to get you started:
Diet for a New America by John Robbins
Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Many thanks + kisses to Gear for the delicious lunch he made me while I was writing today:
Sweet yellow onion, Yukon gold and Japanese sweet potatoes sautéed in lime-infused extra-virgin olive oil with fresh rosemary, sea salt + curry powder, served with fresh cherry tomatoes and steamed arugula.  Healthy, colorful and delicious!
Here’s wishing you Good Health and a Healthy Appetite!
xo
RubberCowgirl
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2 Responses to “Guest Blogger: Saving the World One Bite at a Time! – Let Them Eat Kale: Vegan Nutrition 101”

  1. Herbifit September 26, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Excellent post! Always great to see someone challenging all those misconceptions out there about veganism and nutrition. I take on a couple of my favourite bugbears here http://herbifit.wordpress.com/fitness-and-nutrition/
    I think I am going to have to print this out and hand it to anyone who asks me “where do you get your…”
    Thanks
    Mark
    http://herbifit.wordpress.com

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