"Where chicken soup used to cure the flu, now it gives you the flu" - Jay Leno. Amid the ongoing pandemic, the World Vegan day 2020 is being celebrated today. Researchers show that most of the pandemics or epidemics are of animal origin.
Alzheimer's, heart attack, cancer, depression, diabetes, inflammation and many more health conditions specially Dia-besity is a result of excess consumption of animal-based food and products.
I am not arguing if vegan should be the most preferred diet but modern science has claimed benefits of plant-based diet over non-plant-based diets. In the ancient world, animals were in the wild or raised in the farms with very fewer antibiotics and away from gestational crates. Milk produced were fresh and from grass-fed cows.
Hence, at some point, it can be argued that vegan is a good choice of lifestyle as long as it is well balanced. In this Q& A let's have a look whether veganism is a myth or a fact:
1. If you are a vegan, you lack protein
As a sports dietitian, I always get asked protein sources for vegans. People think vegans can't be athletes or vice versa. But this is certainly a myth. Proteins are absolutely essential nutrients and are critical to building and repairing muscle tissue and to maintain many functions in the body.
Proteins consist of twenty amino acids, eleven of which can be synthesized naturally by our bodies. The remaining are essential amino acids which must be ingested from foods we eat. So, our bodies require certain amino acids, not protein per se.
2. What are proteins sources for vegans?
Vegan sources of proteins are found in legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds. One doesn't have to rely on animal and animal products for this. Approx. 1 measured cup beans or legumes provides 14gm-15 gm Protein. Other protein-rich foods for vegans include daal- all varieties, soy, pulses- rajma, chickpeas, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, mung beans, black beans, quinoa, peanut butter, broccoli, oatmeal and many more.
3. Is nut milk better than cow's milk?
The quality of milk we get now is mostly A1 protein quality milk which may make people immunocompromised, unlike A-2 milk quality milk which we get from our desi cows. Our ancestors drank raw cow's milk, used ghee as a carrier for medications, used ghee and milk and its products for preparing desserts and meals.
But unfortunately, it is the quality which has been compromised, hence, shifted us towards a vegan diet and nut milk. Most nut milk can be prepared easily at home and stored in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Some of them are almonds, cashews, pistachios and coconut. They are low in fat and have packed with minerals. For people with allergies to cow's milk, nut milk is a good option too.
4. What are the iron intake guidelines for vegans?
Dietary iron is present in heme and non-heme forms, where heme variety is found in meat and dairy products but non-heme iron is found in animal sources of food like spinach, lentils, beans, pulses, dark green leafy vegetables etc. Studies show that the incidence of anaemia among vegetarians and vegans are no higher than that among the general population.
Guideline to absorb iron is consumed iron-rich foods with vitamin C like coriander, mint or oranges or lemon or any citrus fruits. Do not consume iron-rich foods with coffee, tea- tannins present in these foods will reduce the absorption of iron.
5. Do vegans need to supplement with vitamin B 12?
Most of the vitamin B12 is produced by the microbes in our environment. This is further absorbed and accumulated in animal and plants. With the use of fluorides in water, use of anti-bacteria's, much of them are killed. Vitamin B 12 helps to generate red blood cells in our body. So, deficiency of B12 can cause anaemia, lethargy, pins and needles feeling, tiredness etc to name a few.
Cashews, nutritional yeast, b12 fortified bowls of cereal and vegan milk, mushrooms, nori, seaweeds, Japanese fermented black tea, soybean, tempeh to name a few are rich sources of vitamin b12 in vegans. If one is unable to meet the requirements dietary, they can consume 50micrograms Vitamin b12 a day or 2000 micrograms a week as a supplement.
6. What should be omega 6: omega 1 ratio in an adult's diet?
One doesn't need to eat fish to meet the requirements for omega 3. Fishes get omega 3 from seaweeds and marine planktons. When we remove animal fat from our diet, we remove trans-fat and unhealthy fats from our diet, hence the ratio for omega 6 to omega 3 is low, which is 5:1 or 1:1.
A rise in Omega 6 in the body causes inflammation and results in heart issues, arthritis and many more health conditions. A typical diet shows a ratio as high as 25:1. Hence a vegan's diet is balanced in omega 6: omega 1 and rich sources of omega 3 are walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp oil or hemp seeds, extra virgin olive oil, wheat germs, flaxseed, dark green leafy vegetables, spirulina and algae to name a few.
7. If not ghee, what are the healthy vegan sources for fat?
Some healthy fats for vegans include almonds, almond milk, coconut oil, coconut, hemp oil and walnuts. Unfortunately, if you are following a vegan diet, ghee has to be excluded. Probably, this is the reason I am still a vegetarian as Ghee is liquid gold to me.
8. What are some other important nutrients for vegans to consider?
Some other important nutrients to consider on a vegan diet are Zinc and Calcium. A well-balanced diet of nuts and seeds, chickpeas and dips like hummus, tofu, quinoa are rich sources of zinc. Sesame seeds, almonds, green leafy vegetables are also rich sources of calcium.
9. Are vegans at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
Most population, in general, have vitamin D deficiency. To absorb Vitamin D, expose 20 minutes out in the sun every morning and evening. Also, consider some vitamin D supplement if you are unable to meet your requirements.
10. What gut-friendly foods should be included by vegans?
To improve your gut health, get some probiotics like kombucha, fermented rice water, coconut yoghurt or coconut kefir, kimchi, dhokla, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, sourdough bread etc. Evidence-based nutrition and modern science have suggested that a vegan diet or a plant-based diet provides numerous health benefits as long as they are balanced and free of chemicals and pesticides. Being a vegan, vegetarian or a meat-eater is a completely personal choice.
About the author: This is a guest article by Swati Bathwal, an accredited practising Dietitian Nutritionist and Public Health Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, an accredited Anthropometrist and a registered Yoga Teacher.