“Rendering the Unfamiliar Familiar”-A quick Nutritional Guide for Vegan Newcomers

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Veganism challenges us to relearn and remodel everything we have been thought about nutrition and diet from early childhood; that dairy maybe isn’t a great idea for reasons both dietary and non-dietary related; that we needn’t eat meat to meet our daily dietary requirements; and most pointedly that what we put in our mouth not only has profound implications for our own health and well-being but also that of our environment and the animals that therein dwell. Thus, unlike the conventional meat and dairy filled diets advocated by those within the health industry, the vegan diet transcends individual health concerns to address the greater issues of justice for all and environmental awareness. Moreover, it is our duty to inform society about the requirements for a healthy vegan diet; to encourage individuals to make a fair attempt at eating a well-balanced plant-based diet rather than a half-hearted one, an approach which will inevitably set them up for failure. Although it is common for individuals to assert the belief that being vegan isn’t easy or that it requires a lot of work and thought I would argue that this is primarily due to the fact that we as a society have been programmed to perceive diet in an extremely one-dimensional manner; that the only ones we are impacting on through our food choices is the man in the mirror; also that there is only one food pyramid from which we can successfully meet our daily dietary requirements.

We have been raised with a single frame of mind and veganism challenges this. It offers us the task of reassessing our dietary needs, debunking the food myths we have been raised to unquestioningly accept such as the notion of dairy being synonymous with calcium or that we will stunt our growth if we don’t eat meat. Nutritionists and health researchers have imposed upon those social institutions and media outlets which permeate our towns and cities an image of health which seemed anything but optional to our young naïve intellects as children. Thousands of health researchers have invested their time into exploring the potential of the conventional meat and dairy filled western diet, the lens of the meat eater always informing their conclusions. Thus, as vegans we must fill the gap in the public knowledge, the question marks surrounding the pant based alternatives, showing society that veganism is not hard but merely unfamiliar; that the billions of dollars invested in promoting animal products does not render them the only food choice for a healthy lifestyle. We must compensate for the deficits in the social understanding of what it means to achieve a healthy balanced plant-based diet; that just as there are certain requirements for the average animal consumer, so there are many dietary requirements which must be prioritised for the typical plant eater; that just as there are many poor vegan diets that there is probably just as many animal consumers eating poor diets with insufficient amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.

Thus, as much as I love witnessing the fiery compassion becoming ignited within individuals on discovering the horrific injustices endured by billions of animals on an annual basis I would nonetheless implore that such individuals avoid jumping into the world of the vegan on the fuel of passion alone; turning a blind eye to the dietary needs of the plant-based diet merely will merely set the individual up for failure, an outcome which means that all their compassion amounted to nothing. We must remind ourselves of this deficit in the social understanding of the vegan diet; that the knowledge and information is out there but that a little searching is necessary; there are hundreds of online resources for those thinking about going vegan and I cannot overstate  the importance taking the time to investigate such resources before diving into the vegan universe. No matter how good your intentions are, animals cannot be rescued, you cannot be rescued without those essential nutrients to keep you afloat.

Tips for a Healthy Vegan Diet

1. Do Your Research!!

2. Monitor your daily food Intake

The chronometer app  is especially helpful as it allows you to track your daily food intake, thus enabling you to become aware of what nutrients you require more of and what you can improve on in terms of your vitamin and mineral intake.

 

3. Be Adventurous in your Food Choices

4. Educate Others on Veganism

This is a particularly difficult one for many as it can be extremely challenging to avoid coming across as “that preachy vegan” everybody avoids inviting to their dinner parties. Compelling an individual to challenge their values and actions can be a daunting task and can often lead to a sense of emotional vulnerability on their behalf, or worse a complete shutdown; merely mentioning that one is vegan can provoke a sustained silence in a large room as there dawns an uncomfortable flicker of subliminal awareness in the wrongdoing the majority of humanity has unquestioningly committed themselves to.

This moral schizophrenia which permeates the very marrow of society is not easily shaken, but even planting the seed of question within the minds of others, even offering the slightest challenge to those uncontested dominant ideologies can have an impact.
As a vegan, it is easy to delve fearlessly into the specifics of the agri-industry and all its acts of barbarism as it doesn’t challenge our actions but to non-vegans, but such a task would most likely send your average non-vegan running for cover, as their deep-seated values are put under siege. Miniscule steps are thus usually the best mode of action. I perceive education and behaviour change as a sort of art form, an intricate science which requires a degree of astuteness and care on behalf of the educator. Note that you are not only attempting to change the person’s behaviour but also more critically their attitudes and beliefs about animals. The latter is usually the easy part because most people will already agree with the precedent of veganism, that it is morally wrong to inflict suffering on animals for reasons of pleasure, habit or convenience. The challenge comes with revealing and changing the contradictions within their behaviour, in other words, their consumption of animal products. Please see the following clip of Gary Francione discussing these ideas: Gary L. Francione – How to Get People to Think about Veganism.

I feel that one of the best acts we can do is offer our own experiences up as a model by sharing our own narrative, without imposing anything upon the 3rd party but instead calmly offering our point of view in the nicest manner possible, although there are many approaches that are also just as effective. At all costs I implore you to avoid any disparaging remarks towards your non-vegan counterparts as that will only threaten their sense of free choice, sending them in the complete opposite direction to veganism. Allow them to feel as if they have made the choice for themselves, as it is important that they make part of the journey alone in order for their desire for change to be sincere and self-motivated. We can perhaps nudge them in the right direction by informing them of the facts but the ultimate decision is up to them and we have to respect that, as tough as that may be.  As much as I would love to scream my head off at society in all its ignorance and stubbornness, I nonetheless know that such an act would be counterproductive, exciting an immediate wall of resistance to change.  Knowledge and logic are the most powerful weapons we as vegans can use and we must use them with care and skill, like any good lawyer. Gary Francione teases out the question of talking about veganism in the following link which I found particularly useful:
Gary Francione on Talking about Veganism

 

5. Key Nutrients-A Brief Summary

  • Iron
    • Good sources include green leafy vegetables, beans, tofu, potatoes, blackstrap molasses…
    • Avoid drinking coffee or tea directly after meals as they inhibit iron absorption
      Consume with vitamin C rich foods to optimize absorption
      For more info on sources of iron, please see the following link:                              http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/iron.php#table11
  • Supplement B12
    • Go for pre-methylated supplements to ensure optimum absorption
    • Foods fortified with B12 such as nutritional yeasts and plant-based milks are also recommended
  • Protein

    • Pulses (beans, peas, lentils)-Eat with grains to get a complete protein
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Spirulina
    • Soya-A high biological value protein (contains all essential amino acids and is, therefore, easier to absorb). Choose organic, non-GMO soy product
    • See: http://nutritionstripped.com/10-plant-based-proteins-eating/ 
  •  Omega 3
  • Calcium
    • Try to include plenty of the following in your daily diet:
      • Chia seeds
      • Sesame seeds (soaked or sprouted)
      • Leafy greens-Bok Choy, spinach, broccoli, chard
      • Molasses (1 to 2 tablespoons)
      • Oranges
      • Figs
      • Tofu
      • Almonds (soaked)
      • Calcium-fortified foods such as plant milks and plant yogurts
    • Consume alongside vitamins C, K, D and magnesium-rich foods to enhance absorption
    • Approach calcium supplements with caution as they may have health implications over time such as increasing one’s risk of developing cardiovascular issues, or kidney stones if of poor quality (e.g calcium chloride) or if consumed over an extensive period. In order to avoid this
      • Choose calcium citrate based products with vitamins K, D and C to assist absorption.
      • Aim to take small amounts (100 to 250mg) at different times throughout the day and away from food.
      • If possible try to get at least half of your calcium RDA from food sources and the rest from supplements (e.g., two 250mg tablets, one in the morning and one in the evening).
  • Zinc
  • Phytates
    • In whole plant foods, calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium can become bound to phosphorous in compounds known as phytates. This binding process decreases the absorbability of these minerals.
    • The best way to deal with this issue is to ferment, soak, juice, blend and mill your seeds, pulses and grains where possible in order to reduce the phytate content.
      soakk and sprout
  • Oxalates
    • These are comprised of oxalic acid tightly bound to minerals (calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium) and inhibits their absorption.
    • Boiling and steaming high oxalate foods such as spinach and chard can greatly reduce the levels of oxalic acid present.
    • Also, individuals should aim to improve their gut health by consuming more foods rich in probiotics or good bacteria as this will further assist the individual’s ability to absorb minerals bound to oxalic acid. Good probiotic sources include water kefir, kombucha,  and cultured yoghurts.
    • Probiotic supplements are also extremely effective in restoring one’s gut, health, particularly after taking a dose of antibiotics, drugs which kill all of your gut bacteria, both good and bad.
    • For more information on oxalates please see: https://bodyecology.com/articles/boiling-your-vegetables-low-oxalate-solution-reduce-pain.php

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6. Be Kind to Yourself

Try to resist getting bogged down by the ill judgment of others. Seek comfort in the knowledge that you are leading an existence fueled by the greater good; that by choosing to commit to a plant-based diet you are making a substantial impact not only on your own wellbeing but also that of the billions of persons slaughtered annually for the sake of humanity’s pleasure and convenience. Know that through your commitment to veganism that you are paving the way for a more sustainable future, that your actions do have an impact and that you are not alone in the fight for justice.

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