NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD, and Brenda Davis
• Vegetarians enjoy impressive health advantages, including greater longevity and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, cataracts and gallstones. Yet being vegetarian does not guarantee a healthful diet. After all, potato chips, cola and many other fat, salt and sugar-laden foods are vegetarian. Below are four stumbling blocks and how to avoid them.
1. Switching from meat and potatoes to pasta and bagels
Some new vegetarians blunder in switching from meat and potatoes to pasta and bagels. While pasta and bagels and other refined carbohydrates are familiar and tasty, they are no bargain, nutritionally. As dietary staples, they contribute to one’s being overweight, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and gastro-intestinal disorders. “Carbohydrates” are not the problem – the lowest rates of chronic disease in the world are in areas with high carbohydrate intakes from whole plant foods. Vegetables, legumes, grains, fruits, nuts and seeds come packaged with protectors: fibre, phytochemicals, phytosterols, vitamins, minerals and essential fats. A wise choice is replacing meat and potatoes with beans, greens and other whole plant foods.
2. Replacing meat with dairy and eggs
Some swap meat for chicken – and fish for cheese and eggs. Entrees include pizza, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches and omelettes. Nutrition challenges include excess fat and insufficient iron. Dairy products are poor sources of iron and inhibit iron absorption. To build iron-rich blood, vegetarians should replace meat with beans, peas and lentils. Other good iron sources are nuts and seeds (especially pine nuts and pumpkin seeds) dried fruits, blackstrap molasses and mushrooms and grains (especially quinoa, amaranth and iron-fortified grains). To boost iron absorption, eat vitamin C-rich foods.
3. Assuming all nutrients will be provided by nature
Needed nutrients are available in nature, but our lifestyle choices (such as choosing cleanliness over bacterial contamination) can make it a challenge to acquire vitamin B12 – an essential nutrient produced mainly by bacteria. B12 is present in animal products that are contaminated with B12-producing bacteria. Clean plant foods are not reliable sources of B12 unless they are fortified. Seaweed, fermented foods and organic vegetables are not reliable sources of vitamin B12. Reliable B12 sources include supplements and fortified foods. (Check labels on cereals, non-dairy beverages and meat substitutes.) After 50, one’s ability to cleave B12 in animal products from bound protein can be impaired. For sufficient vitamin B12, choose one of the following: A) Twice daily: at least 3 mcg in fortified foods. B) Daily: 10 mcg or more of supplemental B12. C) Twice weekly: 1,000-2,000 mcg B12.
4. Getting sufficient omega-3 fatty acids
The best plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil, chia seeds, canola oil, walnuts, dark leafy greens and wheat germ. Fish get their long chain omega 3’s from microalgae. A vegan source is cultured microalgae (look for DHA in veggie caps). Pregnant and lactating women and people with hypertension or type 2 diabetes may well be advised to consider these direct sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina are BC dietitians and co-authors of the very new Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition (2014), written for dietitians, physicians and health professionals and of the award-winning Becoming Vegan: Express Edition. See www.becomingvegan.ca.
October 26: Meet Vesanto at Choices Market, 2-3:30 PM, 2615 W. 16th Ave. (near MacDonald) through the floral shop. See www.choicesmarket.com