Saturday, August 29, 2009

Calcium in the vegan diet, Friday, August 28, 2009

By Devon Bruce, Tampa Vegetarian Examiner

Vegans are vegetarians who do not eat diary or eggs. Since vegans do not eat diary, it is common to believe that they are at risk for being calcium deficient. Calcium is an essential nutrient that aids in making stronger teeth and bones. While most of the calcium in our bodies is stored in these two places, it is also important in assisting with proper nerve and muscle functions.

Calcium prevents dangerous health conditions like osteoporosis, kidney stones, high blood pressure and colon cancer. Symptoms of a calcium deficiency include tingling in your hands and feet, bone fractures, and muscle pain. Most people get their recommended amount of calcium through milk and cheese. However, there are many ways to get calcium into a vegan diet:

Dark, Leafy Vegetables

Vegetables like spinach, turnip greens, and collard greens are packed with calcium. These kinds of vegetables are very versatile in a vegan diet because they can be a main course or a side dish. Options for serving these vegetables include adding to salads and soups. Also, make a wrap with other vegetables like avocado, onions and tomatoes.


Tofu is an excellent way to get calcium since there are two different ways it is eaten. The first is soft or silken tofu, which is used for smoothies, sauces, dressings, and desserts. The other type is regular or firm tofu, which is used for stir fries, sandwiches, and mixed with pasta.


Even though broccoli is a common vegetable, most people do not know that it has a good amount of calcium. Add it to stir fries, vegan omelets, soups, salads, casseroles, sauces, or as a side dish.

Fortified Rice, Almond, or Soy Milk

The best part about this example is that all of these fortified drinks are available at your local supermarket. This is an easy way to get more calcium into a diet because there are so many uses for it. Examples include smoothies, cereal, tea, coffee, sauces and vegan ice cream. In addition to these drinks, orange juice that is fortified with calcium is another option.

Calcium Supplements

Since most people do not get the recommended daily amount of calcium, supplements are available in most supermarkets and pharmacies. There are two main types of supplements: one with just calcium or calcium with vitamin D added. The recommended supplement is the latter because vitamin D helps absorb calcium in the stomach.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vegan 101: Can plant foods provide enough iron? - Friday, August 28, 2009

By Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, Seattle Vegan Examiner

It's a myth that vegan diets are low in iron. Studies show that vegans consume at least as much iron as omnivores and sometimes more. Vegans definitely have an advantage over lacto-ovo vegetarians when it comes to iron since dairy foods don’t contain this mineral. It’s true, however, that iron from plant foods isn't absorbed as well as from animal foods.

Most iron is found in hemoglobin, the blood component responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body. Much of the rest of it is stored in the liver, spleen and bone marrow as a form of iron called ferritin.

Vegans tend to have lower iron stores than omnivores, but there is actually no known advantage to having higher stores of iron. In fact, there is some evidence that the lower iron stores seen in those eating plant-based diets is associated with better glucose tolerance which could reduce risk for diabetes.If stores drop below what is normal, however, hemoglobin production is affected. Low hemoglobin values indicate iron deficiency.

Iron is lost through normal shedding of intestinal cells, perspiration and urine, and also via blood loss. Premenopausal women have higher iron needs than men because they have significant losses through menstruation.

Getting enough iron on a vegan diet

The type of iron in plant foods is sensitive to a number of factors that can either decrease absorption or boost it. For those eating a plant based diet, managing those factors is every bit as important as getting adequate iron.

Here are some ways to maximize iron absorption:

Avoid coffee and tea with meals since they contain compounds called tannins that inhibit iron absorption. (Some Indian spices - turmeric, coriander and tamarind - also contain tannins.)

If you use calcium supplements, take them between meals since high doses of calcium also interfere with iron absorption.

Eat more bread than crackers; leavening (by yeast) makes iron more absorbable.

Eat a good source of vitamin C with every meal and snack. Vitamin C is one of the best ways to increase iron absorption but it must be consumed at the same time as the iron-rich food.

Do vegans and vegetarians have higher iron requirements?

Because of lower bioavailability of iron from plant foods, the Food and Nutrition Board established separate iron RDAs for vegetarians and vegans. For pre-menopausal women, they suggested getting 33 milligrams per day compared to 18 for omnivore women - nearly twice as much. They recommended 14 milligrams for vegetarian men.

Their recommendations weren’t based on studies of actual vegetarian populations, though. Rather they used a test diet that was designed to reduced iron absorption; it was high in factors that inhibit iron absorption and low in vitamin C. In essence, it was kind of a worst case scenario. And it is not at all the way most vegans eat.

There is no reason to think that vegans who pay attention to maximizing iron absorption actually need those very high iron intakes. In addition, there is evidence that vegetarians adapt to lower iron intakes over time. Most vegan and vegetarian women don’t consume 33 milligrams of iron per day and are not iron deficient as a result.

Those who eat a variety of plant foods and include good sources of vitamin C with meals can be assured that their iron needs will be met. Good sources of vitamin C include melons, citrus fruits, pineapple, strawberries, kiwifruit, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. Include some of these foods at every meal!

Here are some of the best sources of iron (measured in milligrams of iron):

1/2 cup firm tofu - 6.6
1/2 cup soybeans - 4.4
1 tbsp blackstrap molasses - 3.5
1/2 cup lentils - 3.3
1/2 cup spinach - 3.2
2 tbsp tahini - 2.7
1/2 cup kidney beans - 2.6
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds - 2.5
1/2 cup chickpeas - 2.4
1/2 cup Swiss chard - 2.0
1/4 cup dried apricots - 1.5

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where do vegans and vegetarians get their protein? - Tuesday, August 25, 2009

By Lindsay Nixon, Manhattan Vegan Examiner

The most common question any vegan or vegetarian receives is "but where do you get your protein?" The terms "protein" and "carbohydrate" became buzz words roughly a decade ago when Atkins, a popular fad diet centered around eating an abundance of protein and few carbohydrates, became popular. Prior to the popularity of Atkins, most dieters or individuals did not pay much attention to their protein or carbohydrate consumption. Now, dietary protein and carbohydrates are the forethought on every mind, particularly when it comes to vegetarian diets.

What is protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient needed by the body in order to function properly. Protein's primary function is to build and repair muscles but it also keeps the immune system functioning properly and is involved with the synthesis of hormones and enzymes. Protein may also be used as an energy source when there has been insufficient carbohydrate consumption. This occurs during the Atkins diet. Since the Atkins diet is deficient in carbohydrates, the body is forced to use protein for energy.

Protein is made up of 20 building blocks, known as amino acids. Amino acids are classified as essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are not created in the body and therefore must be consumed through dietary protein.

How much protein do we need?

There are two ways to calculate total protein needs. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.4g of protein for every pound of healthy weight (or approximately 0.8g per every kilogram of weight). For example, a man who weighs 150 pounds needs approximately 60g of protein per day (150 x. 0.4 = 60).

Alternatively, protein can be calculated based on total caloric intake. Generally, 15 percent of total caloric consumption must come from protein. For example, on a 2,000 calorie diet, 300 calories must come from protein. To determine the number of grams needed, divide the resulting number of calories by 4. Thus, on a 2,000 calorie diet, 75 grams of protein must be consumed.

As seen from these figures, the body actually needs very little protein to function properly.

What are protein sources?

Protein is commonly associated with meat, eggs and dairy products but these foods are not the only sources of protein nor are they necessarily the best sources for protein. Protein is found in every food. Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes all contain protein. It is impossible to become protein deficient eating a well-balanced vegan diet, largely due to the fact the body needs very little protein to perform. For example, one cup of black beans contains 15.2 grams of protein (roughly 30.5% of the daily value for protein), plus approximately 74.8% of the daily value for fiber. The total calories for a cup of black beans is only 227 calories and there is virtually no fat. Similarly, 100 calories of spinach contains more protein than 100 calories of steak. Like black beans, spinach also delivers a boost of fiber, anti-cancerous properties and iron for only a small amount of calories and no fat. Steak on the other hand, which not only provides less protein and no fiber, it also contains fat and harmful cholesterol.

Another powerhouse protein food is quinoa, a grain. Quinoa is not only high in protein, but it is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. Vegans and vegetarians concerned with protein intake should incorporate this healthy grain into their meals. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorous and is well-endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair.

Cooked soybeans also rank 10th on the World's Healthiest Foods Containing Protein List beating out eggs including egg whites, all dairy and most meats. In the nutritional community, soybeans are regarded as equal in protein quality to animal foods. One cup of soybean provides approximately 57.2% of the daily value for protein for less than 300 calories and with only 2.2 grams of saturated fats. Studies have also shown that soy helps reduce cholesterol levels while consumption of animal proteins makes cholesterol levels rise. Soy is also rich in iron, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. Soy can also be found in a variety of forms such as soy milk, soy yogurt, soy cheese, soy ice cream, tempeh, meat substitutes, miso, soy protein powder and tofu. Mustard greens, artichokes, corn, lentils, nuts, seeds, meat substitutes, hot cereals and other beans are also excellent sources of dietary protein.

Can athletes be vegan?

Another myth is that athletes and body builders cannot be vegan. This is simply untrue. Consider the following current professional vegan and vegetarian athletes: Prince Fielder (MLB), Tony Gonzalez (NFL), Mac Danzig (Martial Arts), Pat Neshek (MLB), Scott Jurek (Ultra marathoner), Brendan Brazier (Iron man), Kenneth Williams (Body Builder), Christine Vardaros (Cyclist). Other vegan and vegetarian athletes include: Peter Brock, Carl Lewis, Salim Stoudamire, Ricky Williams, Ed Templeton, Bill Pearl (former Mr. Universe) and many more Olympians, world record holders and top athletes.

Brendan Brazier also developed Vega, a fitness and supplement line committed to sustainability and wellness through a vegan diet. Vegan athletes can also supplement with soy, brown rice and hemp protein powders.

Is too much protein harmful?

According to U.S. RDA calculations, the average person in America consumes 100 to 120 grams of protein per day with the majority of it coming from animal sources. Considering an individual on a 2,000 calorie diet only needs 75 grams of protein, the average American is consuming an excess of 25 to 45 grams of protein per day.

An excess of protein, particularly animal protein, is exceptionally harmful to the body. The China Study examined the relationship between the consumption of animal products and diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, obesity and other degenerative diseases. The authors of the study concluded that based on long-term scientific studies, diets high in animal proteins from both meat and dairy are strongly linked to heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. The authors recommended a whole food, vegan diet as a means to minimize and/or reverse the development of chronic diseases.

Excess protein, especially coupled with America's sedentary lifestyle, is also taxing on the kidneys. Animal proteins are inherently stressful on the kidney's, but overages will cause kidney's to underperfom. When the kidney's are not operating optimally, the risk for premature aging or developing kidney stones sharply increases. Bone health is also effected by excessive protein consumption. Excess protein consumption causes calcium to be leached from the bones which may cause osteoporosis, acid reflux, obesity, plaque build-up in the arteries, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, arthritis and/or bad breath.

Get it Local: Elm Health has a wide assortment of dry grains, beans and lentils including hard-to-find varieties such as raw groats, buckwheat and millet.

For more info: visit for healthy and delicious protein-packed vegan recipes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"... a little tired of ribs, but..."

The Rotarians were at it again last weekend, serving up body parts of tortured little animals as part of Ribfest in St. Catharines (see complete story below).

What kills me, aside from people killing animals for fun, are comments from individuals like the lady quoted at Ribfest, who say they are bored or tired of eating this or that animal. How many times have you heard someone say after Thanksgiving or Christmas, "Awh, turkey again!" They just want a little variety when it comes to eating somebody else's flesh.

What they haven't considered - or don't care about - is that the boring food they are getting sick of used to be a living, breathing animal, forced to live in misery and filth before he or she was hauled off to the abbatoir to be butchered and dismembered so other people could get tired of eating him or her.

I'm also reminded of all the animals that are discarded by grocery stores: animals that are slaughtered, carved and cut up and then put on display at the deli counter, just to be "DISCOUNTED FOR QUICK SALE" and, if not sold by the end of the day, thrown out with all the other garbage. What a waste of life!

Anyways, I think I'm going to send the Rotarians a letter, along with a Compassionate Choices booklet, with the hope that they will at least think about the suffering they are causing, and let them know that there are many other ways to raise money that do not involve the taking of another's life, no matter how tasty those others may be.