Eating plants, nutrients to watch
This is the biggie.
B12 is found almost exclusively in animal products, therefore strict vegans need to find adequate alternative sources.
B12 deficiency can manifest in anemia and neurologic disease — including weakness, tingling of hands and feet, loss of balance and even dementia. Unfortunately, B12 deficiency can go unnoticed for a long period of time, especially in people who eat lots of plants, because the high levels of folate in their diet may mask the signs.
The only reliable sources of vitamin B12 for vegans are foods fortified with this nutrient — which includes nutritional yeast grown on a B12-rich medium — and supplements.
All adults age 50 or older — meat eaters included — should eat foods fortified with vitamin B-12, such as fortified cereals, or take a multivitamin that contains B-12 or a separate B-12 supplement.
So which is better, the supplement or the B12 added to food?
Supplements of vitamin B12 usually present as cyanocobalamin, a form that the body readily converts to the active forms, or methylcobalamin — which is already active. There doesn't seem to be much of a difference between these two types of forms as far as absorption.
However, absorption of vitamin B12 from a dietary supplements is limited by the capacity of intrinsic factor, a special substance secreted by the stomach that enables the body to absorb vitamin B12. Studies show that only about 10 mcg of a 500 mcg oral supplement is actually absorbed in healthy people.
So you can meet your needs by eating several meals with small amounts of supplemental vitamin B12 — the typical, more physiological way omnivores get their B12.
Or you can get your vitamin B12 all at once, by taking a supplement pill several times a week. Since only a small amount is absorbed you'll need a much larger dose, most of which will wash out.
Ayala's Magic Spice is a great addition if you're on the non-supplement-pill option. It's a delicious way to add B12 a little at a time (each teaspoon has about 20% of daily need), maximizing absorption by spreading it through your meals.
Mind you, The Institute of Medicine [Food and Nutrition Board], in setting the US recommended intakes for B12, advises all adults age 50 or older should eat foods fortified with vitamin B-12, or take a B-12 supplement, because the incidence of B12 deficiency is 10-30 percent in older adults, so if you're vegan you're just starting this healthy habit earlier.
There's plenty of iron in plants. Dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale), dried beans and peas, lentils, whole grains, tahini, soy products and dried fruit are good sources of iron. The iron in plants is nonheme iron; unlike the heme iron, typical of meat, nonheme iron's absorption is affected by other foods we eat. Some nutrients — like calcium, phthalates and the polyphenols in coffee and tea — somewhat inhibit its absorption.
That's why it's recommended that vegetarians and vegans almost double their recommended daily intake.
On the other hand, nonheme iron absorption is aided by other nutrients, such as vitamin C. Therefore combinations of iron containing foods with vitamin C sources — such as beans with citrusy lime, or spinach with tomatoes — is a winning combination.
Ayala's Magic Spice adds a good amount of iron to your dishes (each teaspoon has about 6% of daily need), and with the small amount vitamin C it's extra nutritious.
Of you're a plant-centered eater, vegetarian or vegan, the first question you're probably asked is "Where do you get your protein?"
Despite common belief, plants pack sufficient protein — nuts, seeds, soy products, legumes and whole grains are great sources, but many vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and artichoke also have some and it all adds up.
A debunked belief stated that on plant-centered diet, one has to watch protein carefully, as animal protein is a complete protein — it contains all 9 essential amino acids — and most plant sources of protein do not contain complete protein. It turns out, that although we do need all these essential amino acids we don't need them all in the same meal, and since plant foods have a wide variety of amino acid profiles you get the full complement with little effort throughout the day.
Still some plant-centered eaters seek complete protein in every meal.
Ayala's Magic Spice adds complete protein to your dishes (each teaspoon has about 4% of daily need.)
Much like iron, zinc from plant sources isn't as easily absorbed as that from animal sources. thus, vegetarians and vegans might need a little bit more of a daily allowance zinc. Good sources include whole grains, soy products, nuts, and cheese for those who eat it.
Add zinc to your dishes with Ayala's Magic Spice (each teaspoon has about 4% of daily need.)
Other nutrients of concern, in a nutshell
Omega-3 fatty acids
These heart-healthy essential fats are abundant in fish and eggs, but there are excellent plant-based sources: nuts (especially walnuts), canola and soy oils, ground flax seeds, soybeans. make sure to include a good source of this important nutrients in your diet.
Milk and dairy foods have the highest content of calcium, and vegetarians who eat dairy don't differ from meat eaters in calcium intake. Vegans tend to have lower intakes of calcium, however there are plenty of plant based sources of calcium, including dark green vegetables (kale, broccoli, collard greens), sesame seeds, almonds and dry beans.
Vitamin D is produced by our skin in response to sun exposure. It appears in foods only if has been added to it; it's typically added to cow's milk, and some other soy or rice milks. If vitamin D is a concern, plant derived vitamin D supplements are available; consult with your doctor.
Plant-based diets: anything missing?
Plant-centered diets are not only healthful and nutritionally adequate, they have also been shown to prevent and treat many diseases, and people who practice them are among the longest lived and most vibrant people on this planet.
Having said that, there are many types of plant-centered diets, from strict vegans, who eat no animal products, to lacto-ovo-vegetarians, who — besides grains, fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts and legumes — also eat some dairy products and eggs. And then there are traditional societies that eat lots of plants — they are the central ingredient in their diet — but also eat animal products. The classic Mediterranean diet is such a practice.
There's no doubt that eating mostly plants is the way to go. Michael Pollan said it well: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. And from this pithy and wonderful piece of advice you can also glean that it's quite possible to eat horribly while vegan, after all, Doritos and soda are perfectly animal-product free.
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