How do I get enough protein?
Almost all plant foods contain protein, making it difficult for someone following a plant-based diet to be protein deficient. As long as you are consuming enough calories you will be getting enough protein. Of course, some foods are more protein-rich than others. Some good sources are peas, beans, lentils, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, tofu and other soya products. Most of us eat more protein that we require. The problem today is that we get too much protein.
If you are still worried, ask yourself the questions – where do the cows and goats get their protein? How many people do you know who suffer from protein deficiency? We have been conditioned to think that we can get better or more proteins from animal products. Protein excesses cause diseases like osteoporosis, kidney stones, gout etc.
More food for thought: Protein is a food for growth and repair and the amount found in human milk is enough for a new-born. The human baby doubles its weight in six months and triples it in one year, after which the rate of growth decreases. Human milk contains 1.5 to 2.7% protein. Therefore if we get 3% of our calories coming from protein, we should have enough. The amount of protein in human milk is similar to the amount in fruit juice. Grains, nuts, and seeds provide much more protein than fruits do! Therefore it is unlikely that someone consuming enough calories is ever going to suffer from protein deficiency.
Since it is difficult not to get enough protein there’s no need to count how much protein you’re getting. However, if you need a guide, some nutritionists say that you should get 1g of protein for every kilogram you weigh.
How can I be sure I am getting complete proteins on a vegan diet?
In the early 1970’s, Frances Moore Lappe wrote a book called Diet for a Small Planet, in which she put forth her theory that in order to get the same amino acid combinations (complete proteins) in the vegetarian diet as in the meat-eater diet, one needs to combine different kinds of protein-containing foods in the same meal (for example, rice and beans).
Later, she retracted her statement, agreeing with other nutritionists with the theory (now known as fact), that our bodies are actually able to convert one kind of amino acid to another and that as long as we get a variety of whole, protein-containing plant foods in our diet, we will get all the protein we need. Hence, eating a variety of whole grains, nuts and seeds, vegetables and legumes throughout the week will provide us with all the protein we need to grow and thrive.
What about calcium and iron?
Contrary to popular opinion, milk is not the best source of calcium. Your calcium needs can easily be met by eating plant foods like sesame and sunflower seeds, almonds, beans, broccoli, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, soya milk and tofu. Calcium is a mineral, found in the soil. You can get it from plants just like the cow does.
Some good sources of iron include: leafy green vegetables, whole meal bread, dried figs and prunes, beans, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grains and nutritional yeast. Eating iron-rich foods with foods containing vitamin C will assist iron absorption, while drinking tea (which contains tannins) or eating foods containing calcium with iron-rich foods will have the opposite effect. Cooking in cast-irons pans also adds extra iron to your food. Nutritionally, a vegan diet has all of these items.
Is soy healthy or harmful?
Soy is a bean rich in protein. Soy is better than animal protein because it contains no cholesterol or fat, and contains fibre. A little soy will not cause harm, but eating too much protein is harmful. Eating meat or dairy is also an indirect consumption of soy—large amounts of soy, often GM-soy are fed to farm animals to make them grow fast. Genetically modified foods—not just soy, but corn, and various other vegetables—have been shown to be harmful to lab animals. It’s best to choose organic non-GM foods.
Soy and other beans can also be difficult to digest. If you cannot digest soy, remember that after weaning no milk is necessary. It’s not necessary for vegans to consume soy.
Why is vitamin B12 important and how can I make sure I’m getting enough?
B12 is the main nutrient you are likely to lack on a whole food plant based diet. Since this vitamin is stored, a lack could show up only after three years of switching. While eating plenty of fermented foods, eating organic, avoiding the use of antibiotics, alcohol and microwaves may help keep your B12 levels a bit higher, it is difficult to get enough B12 naturally in this modern world. Learn how to check your levels and supplement for B12.
Do I need to take vitamin supplements on a vegan diet?
As for other vitamins and nutrients, as long as you’re eating a wide variety of plant-based whole foods, you should be getting everything you need.
Are vitamins and fortified foods effective?
Getting vitamins and minerals from whole foods is much better than getting it through vitamins and fortified foods, because nature always puts nutrients in the right proportions. Too much of one nutrient (eg. Vit. C) may impede the absorption of another (eg. Vit. B). Similarly calcium supplements may diminish the absorption of iron. Also the whole is much more effective than a part. Lycopene is known to be an anti-carcinogen, but this is true not as a separate nutrient, but in the whole form, as a tomato. Sometimes taking supplements can cause a lot of problems, for example vitamin D is necessary for bone formation but too much vitamin D – 3 can actually mobilize calcium away from bones. Too much vitamin D is toxic and causes bone loss.
I have a calcium deficiency. Should I take a supplement?
There is no need to get calcium from supplements. What you probably have is a vitamin D3 deficiency. Anyway you can get plenty of calcium from green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and to avoid loss you should avoid acid yielding foods like tea, coffee, coke and other soft drinks, sugar, vinegar, alcohol and preserved and ready-made foods.
What is the relationship between kidney disease and protein intake?
Acid yielding high protein foods leech calcium and magnesium from the bones to maintain the body pH. These get deposited in the kidneys in the form of stones. Bacteria that cause urinary tract infection, multiply freely in an acid medium. Consuming alkaline foods, like fruit help make the urine alkaline. This prevents bacterial growth. Urinary tract infections can usually be controlled by consuming a largely fresh fruit and juice based diet for a few days, as this will serve to make the urine more alkaline.
Do you need spirulina for optimum health?
No. Spirulina is high in protein and chlorophyll. (The molecule of chlorophyll is similar to that hemoglobin with the iron replaced by magnesium.) However, it is possible to get all this from other foods as well. Green leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds also can provide them. Whether spirulina provides B12 is controversial. Different sources have different views.
Do people who consume a lot of extra virgin olive oil, like in the Mediterranean, have better health?
Fat from different sources is still fat, even though extra virgin olive oil might be slightly better for you. Many people have noted that Mediterranean people have less heart disease than others and attributed it to the olive oil in their diet. The reason that people from Mediterranean regions had (in the past) less heart attacks than Northern European nations is because they ate less meat and more fresh fruits and vegetables not because they use olive oil. Now, though most with globalization there is not much difference in the amounts of meat eaten in different parts of Europe.
One more thing about oils: cold-pressed oils are the best oils to cook with. This is because cold-pressed oils are not cooked; when you cook oils they can become carcinogenic. If your heart health is suffering, or if you have diabetes, it is best to cut all oils out of your diet. Otherwise simply try to eat a minimal amount of cooked oil and only use a little cold-pressed oil (on your salads, for example).
Don’t coconuts have too much fat?
Coconuts are a complete food. Coconut oil or coconut milk is less healthy, being refined products with some or all of the fibre removed. Nature is wise enough to make fatty foods like coconut full of fibre or very sweet foods like sugarcane full of fibre. This high fibre content naturally limits our intake of them. For example you are unlikely to get through more than one mature coconut in a day or a stalk of sugarcane. However if you have just the refined products then it’s a lot easier to consume the milk from more than one coconut or sugar from more than a stalk of sugarcane. This is dangerous. Fibre naturally slows down the absorption of food giving us lasting energy and not being a toxic shock for the cells in our body.
If oils are bad for health, why do they say we need natural oils?
Too much oil is bad for one. The reason natural oils are good for us is that in nature, oils are found in whole vegan foods accompanied by fiber. Fiber provides a natural mechanism for slowing down the intake of oils so that we are not likely to get too much at once. We feel full quickly and stop eating the oil-containing food. On the other hand, refined oils come with no fiber; so its easy to consume too much. This excess oil is stored as fat in the body. For example, nuts and seeds and coconuts contain natural oils, but when one consumes these as whole foods, one also consumes fiber. You would have to eat a lot of nuts, for example, to get the equivalent of one tablespoon of oil, but only a few French fries to get the same amount. Excess fats contribute to diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and heart disease.
How many nuts should I eat?
We should eat as nature designed us to eat. Nature packs nuts in hard shells so we cannot eat too much. Without tools if you were to sit under a tree and crack open the nuts with a stone how many would you eat? Probably not more than 10 almonds or 10 walnuts at a time. So this is approximately what we should eat. Peanuts are technically not nuts and its a little bit different because they are easier to shell. We can often answer questions like these for ourselves if we were to think about what Nature’s plan is.
What happens when bean seeds are sprouted?
When bean seeds are sprouted, enzymes are activated which cause beans to grow. These enzymes can help in human digestion also. Soaking and sprouting beans provides a way to eat legumes (dried beans and peas), for those who are attempting to eat a raw diet.
My cholesterol levels went up after I started a whole plant based diet!
Remember that only animals produce cholesterol. Therefore if you are really on a whole plant based diet you have zero intake of cholesterol. So the cholesterol has risen because of one of several reasons
- You have stopped the cholesterol medications that you were taking. This should not be a reason to restart the cholesterol medication. Cholesterol medications hardly improve health and do raise blood sugar levels and have other side effects. The decision to restart cholesterol medications must be carefully weighed if you are on a whole plant based diet.
- You had accumulated a lot of cholesterol in your arteries in the past. This does not show in the blood report because it’s not in the blood but lining your arteries. As your blood becomes thin, it starts dissolving this cholesterol and the serum cholesterol goes up. This is good for you because arteries are becoming wider and blood pressure would have reduced.
- You have a lot of stress. Stress raises cholesterol.
- You have hypothyroid and are not taking medications for it.
It is best to weigh all the pros and cons carefully. Its important to note that medicines do not cure diseases. But they may help control or avoid serious repercussions.