Vegetarianism (avoiding animal products) is about dieting and lifestyle. For most, only the dieting part of it is of interest. Whereas vegetarians avoid meat, some include dairies and eggs. Some others, like vegans, avoid them all. But all of them are asked questions about their diet, as myths are perpetuated against their beliefs. Here are some answers to common questions.
What’s wrong with meat and dairies?
Meat, dairies (and all the processed meals that contain them) make the primary diet of many countries, including the US. Those countries have a staggering death rate of heart diseases, cancers and strokes, plus common diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis (bone disease), etc. Countries on a different diet barely suffer from those diseases , and studies have excluded race as a difference.
The Western diet depicts meat as a key source of proteins and milk as the ultimate source of calcium. Studies have long shown that there are many – and especially healthier and safer – sources for all the nutrients we need, including proteins and calcium. In fact, people following a plant-based diet are healthier and outlive people on other diets by several years.
If several athletes (even Olympians) train, compete and win following a plant-based diet, it’s a pretty strong indication that the same diet is also going to work for all of us. And studies abound to confirm that.
What leads us into a different thinking is the multi-billion-dollar food industry that literally brainwashes us into believing all sorts of myths for the purpose of getting our dollars. A simple example: a calf needs his mother’s milk for 6 months; after that, it never takes a drop of it, yet it grows strong and healthy, with huge bones, by eating plants. Not by drinking milk nor eating his/her siblings. In fact, no animal do. Why do we? Read on to find why we do not need those products at all and are better off staying away from them.
Where do you get your proteins from?
We get all the proteins we need from plant foods: whole grains, soy products, legumes, vegetables (yes, they contain proteins e.g. kale) and nuts. Additional food such as soy milk and tofu provide additional proteins. Additionally, experts agree that we need far fewer proteins (between 30g and 80g per day) than it is commonly believed and that is easily met by consuming a plant-based diet.
Plant proteins are incomplete!
Our body needs 20 amino acids. Of these 20, our body can synthesize (fabricate) 12, but we must consume the 8 others (via proteins). When we consume food, the body breaks down proteins into individual amino acids, and reassembles them as needed into new proteins. As long as we eat a diet that contains those 8 amino acids, the body operates normally (studies have shown that amino acid deficiencies are felt within days and quite severely). Eating a plant-based diet with a minimal diversity will easily provide those 8 amino acids. Additionally, some plant food, such as quinoa and potatoes, contain all of them.
Where do you get your calcium from?
Calcium comes from the soil into plants. The calcium found in cow milk comes from the plants cows eat. By bypassing the cow and eating plants, we get all the calcium we need. If cows, giraffes and countless other animals get enough calcium (and proteins) to grow huge healthy bones by eating plants, so can we.
Calcium is commonly found in kale, collard greens, fortified orange juice, soybeans, (fortified) soy milk, broccoli, oranges, and many other food. It’s so abundant that getting enough of it is rarely an issue. The issue is to retain it, as it gets drained from our bones when we consume animal proteins; meat and dairy turn into acids when digested and must be neutralized, which is done by taking calcium from the bones, weakening them. By eliminating meat and dairy and consuming a plant-based diet, we consume plenty of calcium and can retain it.
What about vitamins and minerals, like iron and B12?
There are two vitamins that we don’t get from plants: D and B12. Vitamin D can be obtained through moderate skin exposure to the sun. Vitamin B12 only comes from animal tissues and is not found in plants. However, it is added to many plant-based products, such as soy milk. Consuming those usually provide enough of it. For those not consuming them, B12 supplements will provide enough.
Iron is found in spinach, cereals, soybeans (and derived products such as tofu), pumpkin seeds, beans and lentils. By eating plenty of those food, you will get sufficient iron plus a bunch of other nutrients.
Calcium supplements often interfere with iron absorption (another reason to get calcium from the sun and food that provide it, instead of using supplements).
Is it really healthy? I went vegan and felt sick and weak.
The key is a balanced diet. A meal consisting of French fries, a soda and candies can be vegetarian, but it’s toxic and very detrimental to health. The key is to eat enough of grains (e.g. whole wheat, corn, quinoa), legumes (e.g. beans, lentils), vegetables (especially dark leafy greens like kale or spinach), fruits and nuts (in modest quantity); this provides all the nutrients the body needs (although vitamin B12 supplements might be required as explained above). And surprisingly, you may end up eating more, yet you will be losing extra weight.
Another important factor is allergies. A significant proportion of the population has some food allergies. Gluten has been in the news lately. Many people are intolerant to it, but have never been diagnosed as such. Even very small doses of gluten can create all sorts of discomfort and prevent proper digestion and nutrient absorption, resulting is sickness and weakness. The situation can often be reversed by sticking to a gluten free diet.
How about eating when visiting friends, or in restaurants?
This is sometimes tricky because we naturally do not want to hurt our host, and certainly do want to get attention on our dietary restrictions. If people are encouraged to bring their own meal, then bring 2-3 plates of vegan food, for the host, guests and… yourself. Also you may first eat at home to lessen your appetite over there.
Restaurants are tricky because we just don’t know what’s in their food. Sticking to salad and plain rice usually does the trick. Avoid filling yourself with white bread or white rice, and those are made from depleted food items (so called enriched by the food industry).
How about healthy oils?
There are great deal of news about so-called healthy oils. Even little excess of oils (fats) causes blood vessels damages (leading to heart attacks, strokes, etc.), excess of weight, type 2 diabetes, and countless illnesses. Our body needs oils and fats, but in very small quantities. Most food contain trace of fat, and that’s just what our body needs.
There is not a single study that proves that consuming any type of oil can stop or reverse blood vessel damages. It can slow down the progression of such disease, but studies have shown that it’s the abstinence of added oils that stop and sometimes reverse the disease.
By eliminating extra oil (such as olive oil), and consuming nuts and seeds in moderation (no more than 1 oz or 30 g per day), levels of cholesterol sharply drop and result in significant healthier blood vessels over time. Studies confirm that. Don’t expect the food industry to endorse though.
But I sometimes crave for pizza and ice cream!
That’s because your taste bugs are still hooked to sugar and fats. History shows that humans are very bad at making food decision when all food are available in any quantity. We have sensitive taste buds to some food (e.g. salt) because we need them and they are hard to find in nature. Nowadays, people can easily eat 3-4 times the maximum recommendation of salt (sodium) intake on fast food. Our taste buds have just not adapted to the wide availability of food.
But the main reason to avoid those food is because they are exceedingly detrimental to your health. Ice cream and pizza contain a lot of fat, a source of countless disease. Ice cream naturally contains dairy, which contains casein, a protein known to accelerate cancer growth. Pizza are very poor sources of nutrients, so they bring calories and fat, but very little else to help your body grow and stay healthy.
Fortunately, after 2-3 weeks, your craving for fatty, salty and sweetened food will significantly decrease, and you will start to taste even more fruits, vegetables, etc.
Does it cost more to follow a vegan diet?
Organic food are costlier, but suppressing meat and dairy products evens it out. You will likely end up spending less, despite purchasing higher quality (organic) food items. Organic means that those food items do not contain pesticides and other toxins.
What is it in a vegetarian diet that I don’t already have?
A whole food, plant-based diet offers numerous advantages:
- Such a diet brings plenty of nutrients to feed your body to keep it energetic, healthy and disease-resistant, in ways that no other diet can provide.
- You will lose extra weight naturally without any hunger, and best of all, without counting any calories. You can eat basically as much as to fill you up, several times a day as needed, yet you will lose extra weight, provided you eat a healthy vegan diet
- By consuming more complex carbs and fibers, you will be able to go for hours without hunger and carry energy throughout the day.