Happy 2013! There is nothing like a brand new year to inspire health-related resolutions. And while it’s tempting to resolve to make all kinds of big changes, sometimes a few little tweaks here and there are all we vegans really need. Here are ten ideas for vegans—mostly easy ways to fine-tune your diet and lifestyle. One of two of them might help to make your new year a little bit healthier.
1. Give some attention to calcium. It’s simple enough to get enough calcium from plant foods, but many vegans fall short because they just aren’t paying attention. Make sure you are consuming at least three cups per day of some combination of calcium-set tofu, fortified plant milks or juices, or calcium-rich leafy greens like kale or collards.
2. Lose the “supplements are bad” mindset. Take appropriate supplements of vitamin B12 (about 25 micrograms per day) and vitamin D (about 600 IUs per day). If you don’t regularly eat sea veggies or iodized salt, take a supplement of iodine, too. I’ll leave the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA up to you. (I take them, though.)
3. Embrace beans. Vegans consume less protein than omnivores, which is fine—we usually get enough and that’s all that matters. Unfortunately, protein has developed a little bit of a bad reputation among some health conscious vegans, as though eating more protein is actually bad for you. It isn’t. Protein is good for your muscles and bones, and it can also be very satisfying and satiating. Soyfoods are especially protein-rich, and they also help to fight cancer and are good for your skin. But all beans are wonderful foods—healthful little packages that combine protein with fiber and the kind of carbs that boost good bacteria in your gut. No other foods can make that claim.
4. Eat whole fruits and vegetables. A little juice is okay, but forget about those juice fasts and cleanses. They’re a scam. They do not improve your nutrition, your digestion or help to “detoxify” your body. (There is, in fact, no such thing as a “detox” diet.)
5. Eat raw and cooked vegetables. Phytochemicals in cruciferous veggies (the ones in the cabbage family) work best to reduce disease risk when these foods are consumed raw. The ones in tomatoes and carrots work best when these foods are cooked. You don’t need to micromanage this—it’s fine to eat some raw carrots and some cooked kale. Just know that neither all raw nor all cooked is the way to go with vegetables.
6. Eat healthy fats. Include a serving or two of nuts in your daily menu. Choose a daily source of essential omega-3 fats—walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, or canola oil. Use vegetable oils with a light hand, and choose extra-virgin olive oil most of the time.
7. Make use of acidic marinades in your cooking—those made from lemon or lime juice, tomatoes, or vinegar. In baked and roasted foods, they help to inhibit formation of compounds—called AGEs—that may raise risk for chronic disease. Acidic ingredients also lower the glycemic index of carb-rich foods, producing more gradual and gentle fluctuations in blood glucose levels.
8. If you drink, choose red wine most of the time. There isn’t a whole lot of research on which types of alcohol are better (or less bad, depending on how you look at it) than others, but red wine provides resveratrol, a compound that may reduce chronic disease risk. It’s also the beverage of choice in traditional healthful Mediterranean diets. If you drink, you might as well choose what healthy people drink.
9. Enjoy fun food fearlessly. You aren’t going to be healthy if you live on vegan cookies and potato chips. But you won’t be unhealthy if you eat these foods some of the time. It’s how you eat most of the time that counts. So build your diet around healthy whole plant foods, but don’t be afraid to enjoy some treats.
10. Choose foods for health rather than weight reduction. Don’t let the new year be a reason to starve yourself to get down to some weight that you’ve never been able to maintain in the past. Instead, eat (mostly) whole plant foods, and find an exercise program that you enjoy. Honor hunger and satiety signals—eating when you are physically hungry and stopping when you are full. If you are exercising, eating a healthy diet, and truly paying attention to hunger, your weight is probably where it belongs.
I love this! Number 8 especially. 🙂
Everybody needs to read this rational, accessible advice–especially 9, 10 and the anti-fasting/cleansing remark. It’s about making “healthy” choices, not “skinny” choices. So well said!
Thanks for the great post. These are great tips to keep in mind for the new year!
I have been a vegan for over twenty years when recently had to tweak my diet by eating small cans of tuna or salmon with my tea. I take a medication called Clozapine which is a drug of last resort for serious mental illness. A side effect is reduction in bone marrow and white blood cells. I recently was very sick and had to decide between eating fish to boost my immunity or come off the Clozapine which was not a nice option!
This is great! I especially like #10. Last year I lost six pounds without even trying because I focused on healthy eating and walking everyday. Thanks for the sound information.
As always, thank you for your words of wisdom!
Question about juicing. While I don’t do juice fasts or cleanses I do like veggie juices. Do they have any significant benefit or is too much of the “good stuff” removed? One of the reasons I drink juices is that I don’t always eat as many veggies as I should and so I try to drink veggie juices to compensate.
Debbie, I don’t have any particular problem with vegetable juices. They can be a good way to consume more veggies, but they don’t replace whole vegetables–which means it’s fine to drink them as long as you are also including whole vegetables in your diet, too. My main point was that juices don’t have any of the particular benefits that are always being touted. But they are not inherently bad.
Why not get a decent blender and make a habit of making your own veggie/fruit/frozen berry smoothies? Quick and very tasty. If you work out add some nuts and/or plant based protein powder.
“6. Eat healthy fats. Include a serving or two of nuts in your daily menu. Choose a daily source of essential omega-3 fats—walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, or canola oil. Use vegetable oils with a light hand, and choose extra-virgin olive oil most of the time.”
I’m not sure how that should be interpreted. Isn’t canola oil a vegetable oil? Then doesn’t the two last sentences pull in different directions?
It’s good to use mostly olive oil, but if you want to use a small amount of canola oil to meet omega-3 needs, that’s okay. There are other times when a person might want to use canola or some other oil instead of olive oil, too–if, for example, you don’t want the olive flavor in a food or need an oil with a higher smoke point for higher-temperature cooking. So, the idea is to use olive oil when you can, but other oils are okay when they are useful for cooking or meeting nutrient needs. Let me know if that doesn’t make sense!
Thanks. A quick follow up: I regularly eat some walnuts and take a omega-3 supplement so I don’t think I need canola for omega-3 reasons. I have until now used olive and canola oils interchangeably without much though – I’ve basically used whichever was closest to hand and in stock at home (though only canola for stir fry woking). But when I rechecked my copy of Vegan for Life I see that you there (p58) mention protective compounds in olive but not canola. Is that why olive is preferable or is there some other reason?
Right–it’s because olive oil (the extra virgin kind) has phytochemicals associated with disease reduction. But, as long as you aren’t using tons of oil (and you shouldn’t be!) and are eating a generally healthy vegan diet, it’s find to use these two interchangeably.
What about rice bran oil?http://www.livestrong.com/article/424742-rice-bran-oil-vs-olive-oil/
Thank you for the entire post, and I especially appreciate the omega 3 reminder. I’m going to buy some walnuts to add to salads. Happy 2013 and much more!
I notice that VeganHealth site boosts the B12 recommendation to 25 – 100ug http://www.veganhealth.org/b12/rec which would have made me think that 25ug was possibly at the low end; I’m presuming that the higher levels are because of poor absorption rates.
Extra light olive oil has a higher smoke point than extra virgin olive oil so is more suitable for higher temperature cooking. http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/50/Smoke-Points-of-Various-Fats
I think that’s just meant to be a safe range of B12. 25 ug should be enough and you should try to avoid levels that are well above 100 ug per day.
And that’s interesting about the smoke point of light olive oil. I had no idea!
Why should you try to avoid levels that are well above 100 ug per day?
Just because is so far above what you would need–and it’s best to avoid high doses of vitamins that are beyond needs. There is no evidence of toxicity with high doses of B12, though, so it’s really just a precaution.
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Hi, Ginny. I think you will find that there is no real support for the “red wine” thing. Moderate drinking is clearly beneficial to your health, via cardiovascular protective effects, but there is no apparent difference among sources of the alcohol. Anti-alcohol activists in “public health” do not like this inconvenient fact, so have promoted the notion that it is only red wine — not the drink of choice of most of the proletariat who they are trying to manipulate — is the only beneficial choice. But there is nothing to back this. (I am sure you know better than I that the quantities of resveritrols in wine are orders of magnitude below what has been shown to be beneficial.)
There is perhaps (perhaps!) a bit of an argument that undiluted spirits, due to the contact with concentrated alcohol, pose a risk for oral cancer — though probably less than sexual activity does, and it is still a rare disease.
Traditional healthy diets contain wine because the climate that makes those diets easy happens to be better for making wine than grain-based alcohol, not because they had some magic knowledge of what is healthiest. You, of course, understand this, but it sometimes seems like that is what Med-Diet-philes seem to think.
Thanks, Carl. I know that any type of alcohol will raise HDLs–and maybe have other benefits–but kind of thought the phytochemicals in red wine and dark beer could give some additional benefits. But then again, I guess a Bloody Mary would be just as good. 🙂
Yeah. A bloody mary, screwdriver, etc should dwarf any benefit from the residual fruit micronutrients in wine. Personally, I will stick with beer — because of the protein and nutritive yeast residue, of course. (Are vegans still into yeast, or is that totally yesteryear? I don’t keep up with the fad diets.)
Thanks very much for this.
When you say to take a supplement of iodine if you do not eat sea veggies, how much do you recommend per day? I seem to recall at some point on your blog you mentioned 90 micrograms per day. Is that correct?
You indicate that you take omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. What are the daily amounts and kind you recommend?
Laurie, the RDA for iodine is 150 micrograms per day, but, even if you don’t eat any sea veggies or use iodized salt, you’re going to get some from other foods. So around 75 to 150 micrograms just 3 or 4 times per week should be plenty.
regarding juice fast, I would think if one is eating very healthy and incorporating veggie juices and smoothies daily then a juice fast wouldn’t be needed.
Loved this post!
What’s your view on the use of coconut oil when cooking at higher temperatures? As I understand it, the kind of saturated fat in coconut oil is burned easily as energy rather than being unhealthily stored.