Eating for Energy and a Vegan Diet
Over the years I have received lots of inquiries regarding how to ‘properly’ adopt a vegan diet. Many new vegans take out the meat but don’t add in the appropriate whole foods to create a balanced diet, below are my 8 top tips to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need:
- The first key is to eat a whole foods diet, this is a diet of nutrient-dense foods that will keep you full and energized. It includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, eaten simply or combined to make breads, cereals, muffins, sandwiches and soups.
- Fruits are cleansing and healing with an abundance of vitamins and minerals and even most sour or acidic tasting fruits are alkaline-forming and are a nice balance to acid-forming grains, meats and dairy
- Vegetables are rich in complex carbohydrates making them a great source of energy. Almost all vegetables are alkaline-forming
- The richest source of essential minerals are sea vegetables such as nori, dulse, arame, wakame and kombu. They feature all the trace minerals necessary for human function and are rich in amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
- Whole grains are an excellent source of energy and digest more slowly than processed grains, this allows for sustained energy and added fibre, so you feel full longer.
- Before you cook grains such as brown rice, make sure to soak them overnight with a tbsp of apple cider vinegar, doing this makes the grains easier to digest so more nutrients can be absorbed
- Legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils grow in a pod. They are nature’s power foods rich in protein, iron, calcium and b vitamins. Except for lentils which do not need to be soaked, legumes are best soaked for 12 hours with apple cider vinegar before you cook them, change the soak water before cooking
- Nuts have a higher content of complete protein than all other plants, with the exception of soybeans, Nuts nourish the brain, nerves and skin, raw nuts are also the best source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. It is also best to soak nuts and seeds for a few hours before you eat them, rinse well and drain and dry on a paper towel and store in the fridge for a few days
Protein, Iron and Calcium in a Vegan Diet
Protein– substitute meat with legumes and do not make the mistake of simply replacing meat with soy-based products. Soy is best eaten as a condiment, not as a meal staple, no more than once or twice per week; it should be organic and fermented such as tempeh and miso.
To obtain enough protein in the diet you just need to eat a variety of healthy protein sources throughout the day, such as legumes, grains (particularly quinoa) nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables and sea vegetables. You do not need to combine complementary protein sources at each meal as was once believed; the body can combine, store and use amino acids, however for optimal absorption check the combinations at the end of this post.
Iron– Even though meat is high in iron, many meat-eaters are anemic. More iron, therefore, is not always the answer. There are many ways to ensure adequate iron absorption, one is to take vitamin C with meals, which increases iron absorption by 2-3 times. Good vegetarian sources of iron are whole grains, beans and legumes (you must soak them to release the phytic acid that can inhibit the iron absorption), green leafy veggies, dried fruit, pumpkin and sesame seeds and organic blackstrap molasses.
B12– to ensure adequate B12 intake people eating a vegan diet should take a supplement and should be taken with food.
Calcium – According to Michael Murray author of the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, dairy consumption may be linked to conditions such as cancer, asthma, obesity and osteoporosis. One cup of cow’s milk has 297 mg of calcium, as you can see below there are many non-dairy calcium sources. Colin Campbell author of the China Study has also linked the protein in dairy to development of many cancers.
Non-Dairy sources of calcium: Food source = 1 cup, Calcium content in mg
- Almonds, 380mg
- Broccoli boiled 75mg
- Carrots boiled, 48mg
- Collard greens, cooked 357mg
- Kale cooked, 94mg
- Kelp raw, 336mg
- Kidney beans boiled, 50mg
- Sesame seeds, 1,400mg
- Spinach cooked, 245mg
- Swiss chard, 102mg
Putting it together
The examples below provide suggestions for incorporating complete protein combinations with tips to ensure maximum iron absorption
1) Protein source – Grains & Legumes + a Vitamin C source for maximum iron absorption
- Whole grain bread and baked beans + green salad
- Whole-grain crackers and lentil soup + carrot sticks
- Brown rice and tempeh + tomato sauce
- Quinoa and vegetarian chilli + green salad
- Pita and hummus + lettuce and tomatoes
- Whole-grain cereal and rice milk + blueberries
- Veggie burger and whole wheat bun + sprouts and pickles
2) Protein source – Grains & Nuts or Seeds + a Vitamin C source for maximum iron absorption
- Whole grain bagel and nut butter + apple
- Whole grain bread and tahini + banana
- Muesli and nuts + fresh fruit
3) Protein source – Legumes & Nuts or Seeds + a Vitamin C source for maximum iron absorption
- Black bean dip with sesame seeds + raw veggies
- Vegetable stir-fry with almonds With raw veggies + green salad
Follow the above examples and you will have energy to burn!