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How Do You Get Your Protein? February 19, 2010

Filed under: becoming vegan,vegan health — sharonsweets @ 6:37 pm
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I am writing this post for many people. For the high school students who want to be vegetarian but whose parents are giving them a hard time, for anyone who is (usually unnecessarily) worried about protein, and of course for those who are asked every time someone finds out they’re vegan, “But how do you get your protein?”. I classify protein into the following categories:

-Beans. So many varieties of beans, dried, soaked and cooked, canned and fresh. Edamame, refried, bean dip, falafel, bean burgers, the list of bean products goes on and on.

-Nuts & Seeds & their Butters. The old standby, peanut butter, sunflower butter, almond butter, tahini (ground sesame seeds), straight munching nuts, nuts used in recipes, like cashew,  pecan, walnuts, pignoli, brazil, hazelnuts.

-Whole Grains. There’s one magic grain that is a complete protein. It’s quinoa. Rinse it to remove the bitter resin and cook with water or broth, plus seasonings. Brown rice, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, and many others. whole grain bread, pasta, cereal.

-Substitutes. For new vegans and those living with nonvegans, this tends to be a large part of the diet. Vegan burgers, chicken, ground “meat”, hot dogs, ribs, sausage, cheeses, nuggets, etc. Usually made from soy or wheat gluten,   I’m also including soymilk in here, because unlike rice, almond, or most other nondairy milk, soymilk has a good amount of protein if you drink several glasses a day.

-Other. My favorite “Other” is nutritional yeast flakes. There are also other “others” like protein powders sourced from hemp, soy, pea protein, a combination, or more. Sprinkle protein powder right on hot or cold cereal, mix into drinks, or sprinkle over whole wheat pasta, bread, or other grains.

Any way you look at it, vegans are getting plenty of protein, and really a lot more than they need to be healthy.

Much, much more about this in the near future!!




Three Very Important Letters for Your Brain February 12, 2010

Filed under: vegan health,Vegan Kids — sharonsweets @ 7:03 pm
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It’s usually pretty straightforward to get all your nutrients from a vegan diet. If you do it right, that is. But there’s one pesky–albeit critical–supplement that you need to really plan for, and you can’t get it by accident as a vegan.  Docosahexaenoic acid, aka DHA, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is absolutely essential for a healthy brain.*

A deficiency of DHA is linked to unpleasant, though now common, ailments such as:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Learning problems
  • Depression
  • Alzheimer’s

Low levels of DHA are also linked to an increased risk of heart disease and general cognitive decline.

The only vegan source of DHA is algae oil. Fish get their DHA from algae, and nonvegans usually get their DHA through eating fatty fish. If you’re vegan, you must take supplemental take algae oil on a regular basis.

For kids, for those pregnant or lactating, or for people who suffer from depression, a daily DHA supplement is nonnegotiable. People who have brain related diseases (such as MS), cancer patients, or those with cardiovascular disease need to take DHA because it has been shown to inhibit progression of these diseases.

Flax seed or oil, as well as walnuts and other nuts and seeds are excellent sources of ALA, another omega-3 fatty acid, but do not contain DHA. Your body can convert ALA to DHA. This is why DHA is not an essential fatty acid. However, in many people this conversion does not work well. This is often the case for people who eat many omega-6 fatty acids (in nuts, seeds, sunflower oil, meat etc.) or people who eat an unhealthy diet. ALA is very important in supporting many body functions.

There are many foods currently being supplemented with algae DHA, such as soymilks, baby formula, and supplement powders, such as Omega to Go powder packets. There are vegan capsules with DHA or oil droppers. DHA is even being added to dairy and eggs now, because factory farming has eliminated the typically large amount of the substance that used to occur naturally.

*When seeing DHA, you may also see EPA, Eicosapentaenoic acid, which is a precursor to DHA, and shares its beneficial properties.





My Secret Mommy Weapon

Filed under: Recipes & Food Ideas,Vegan Kids — sharonsweets @ 2:14 pm
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I don’t know of one mom who doesn’t try to get her kids to eat more veggies. Or any at all. Mine are better than most, but my older one (who’s in kindergarten now), would be happy with only broccoli and seaweed on his plate in the veggie department. The toddler will eat anything that crosses his path, so I don’t worry about him. And they both LOVE getting vitamins and supplements (as long as they are sweetened).

But to make my life easier, I like to squeeze as many veggies and supplements into one serving as possible. So I break out my blender and give them what, over many years, I have been able to convince them is a very special treat. We call it the “Special Drink.” My formula, which really isn’t so much of a true formula, is as follows:

–Liquid. Choose one or more: nondairy milk, juice, water.

–Veggies. Organic if possible, choose two or more: carrots, celery, frozen spinach, salad greens, kale.

–Fruit. Banana, fresh or frozen, plus any of these: fresh or frozen berries, apple, melon, kiwi, citrus, avocado, etc.

–Extras & supplements. Choose any amount of these: nondairy yogurt, probiotics, green powder, hemp protein, nut or seed butter, flax oil, algae oil for DHA, blackstrap molasses for iron and calcium, multivitamin, vitamin C.

–Sweetener. You didn’t really think your kids were going to eat the shake without this, were you? Yes, the banana adds some sweetness, but you will have to thin the shake with water if you put in too much stuff, and you have to sweeten it. I usually add agave nectar and/or maple syrup. You can also try brown rice syrup or a good-tasting stevia.

Make one of these for your kids (and yourself) daily, and your kids will be so healthy and full of veggies and good stuff, they won’t even know what hit them!





What Can Vegan Do For YOU? February 2, 2010

Filed under: vegan health — sharonsweets @ 9:23 pm
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Eating a vegan diet is not only about sacrifice for animals and the environment, though that is enough reason for most people to go vegan and stick with it. Here’s a list of some not-so-subtle things that eating a vegan diet can do to enhance YOUR life. If you’re on the fence, this will speak to your selfish sensibilities. You can eat a delicious balanced vegan diet and receive these benefits and more!

-Have a Healthy Heart. Eating vegan means you are not eating unhealthy cholesterol and saturated fats. You’re not clogging up your arteries. You’re lowering your blood pressure. You’re eating a lot of heart-healthy foods daily. If you have high cholesterol or blood pressure already, this is nonnegotiable. Go vegan NOW!! You’ll get results!

-Lose Weight. No, this isn’t an automatic thing. There are overweight vegans. You have to eat a healthy balanced diet and then you will lose weight because you are eating much healthier food, without the saturated fat of heavy animal products. I lost twenty pounds by switching from a vegetarian diet full of cheese and ice cream to a vegan diet that still includes plenty of treats.

-Reduce Your Risk of Many Diseases. Eating plenty of fiber and a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, while eliminating the unhealthy animal products is a great way to increase your protection against diseases such as colon and other types of cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and more. Risk of prostate, colon and breast cancer can be dramatically reduced by replacing meat and diary products fresh fruits and vegetables. Plenty of leafy greens, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes can help prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. A gluten-free vegan diet can relieve suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. A healthy vegan diet can help prevent osteoporosis as well.

-You’ll Get PLENTY of Protein. You will be asked “How do you get your protein?” on a daily basis, but relax, because you will have all you need and more. Protein from plant based sources–soy, wheat protein, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, and beans–are more easily assimilated by your body so you need less. Besides, estimates of how much protein people need have been vastly inflated. With protein, more (than the RDA) is not necessarily better. There do not appear to be health advantages to consuming a high protein diet, and diets that are high in protein may even increase the risk of osteoporosis and kidney disease. Soybeans, quinoa (a grain), and spinach are high-quality protein sources.

-Get More “Glow” and Energy. You will benefit from the direct energy within healthful, mostly natural foods, rather than funneling it through a dead animal or animal excretions and associated toxins, and that energy will go directly to you. You’ll feel energetic and look radiant!

-Feel Clean. There’s just this clean, clear, happy karma feeling you get when you know you’re eating pure foods that are not derived from the death or abuse of another creature.

-Explore What Turns You On (In a Culinary Sense). What better way to kickstart a new passion for food than by exploring all the new options you’ll have? Don’t look at it as restriction, because I have never met a carnivore who eats the variety that any of us vegans do. There’s a virtually limitless of new foods available to the vegan to try.

-You don’t have to give up chewy, meaty food. The new vegan meats mimic any kind you’re used to, and every one that comes out gets closer and closer to the taste of real meat, so much that many vegans can’t even bear to eat them!

-You don’t have to give up dessert! Just pick up a copy of Sweet Utopia: Simply Stunning Vegan Desserts and you can enjoy easy-to-make, indulgent desserts that have no cholesterol and are a whole lot healthier for you.

-For the ladies–Have a Healthy Pregnancy. I had two marvelous, easy and healthy pregnancies that I attribute to eating a vegan diet. And yes, I still caved in to all my vegan cravings. But the base diet is so healthy and well-rounded that you will get the nutrients you need to grow another life in abundant health.

So, you can be a little self-centered and enjoy a vegan diet today!!





The Dilemma: Soy vs. Rice Milk August 26, 2009

Filed under: Recipes & Food Ideas,vegan health — sharonsweets @ 3:12 pm
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I always go back and forth on this. My kids drink a TON of nondairy milk. And I use it a lot in cereal, recipes, etc. Both kinds of milk are accessible and comparable in price, though soymilk is much easier to get at the supermarket, Target, etc. Even Walmart carries Silk! Target now carries all varieties of Silk, and their own brand, Archer Farms, even has a new line. Theirs is also fortified with calcium, B12, D2 (the vegan sourced vitamin D), and it is organic and delicious. My son resists rice milk and won’t drink plain soymilk unless I spike it with chocolate syrup. He loves vanilla flavored milk, though (or because) it contains extra sugar. I always have a tinge of guild giving my kids nondairy milk, which is so important nutritionally, when I know they are also getting plenty of sugar along with it. The sugar makes the milk palatable, and kids always want something sweet. Whether you raise them on unsweetened milk or not, as soon as they can inform you that they prefer the sugared variety, they will.

Rice milk comes in different varieties. Some store brands sell a milk that is only brown rice syrup (a sweetener) with water and fortification. A good brand will be based on real brown rice, not just syrup.

Soy milk contains more protein and healthy fat than rice milk. It has a thicker mouth feel, which some people prefer over rice milk. It is more like animal-based milk than the thinner rice milk. There are so many other varieties of milk out there now too, like almond, oat, other grain or nut, and hemp. Hemp milk is also thicker, extremely healthy, but is expensive. The other varieties tend to run more money than soy or milk too.

When I buy soymilk, I am sure to only buy organic. Nonorganic soymilk could come from genetically modified soybeans or heavily-sprayed soybean crop, and you don’t want that.

Soy is active hormonally, and this concerns people. Do we want to potentially influence the hormonal development of our kids or ourselves? Is there enough of these estrogen-like substances in our nondairy milk to actually do so?

The decisions are very difficult to make, especially with evidence from studies pointing to the beneficial effects of soybean products on disease-resistance and healthier hearts. But with so many vegan products based on soy, it is something to keep in mind.

So for now, I will buy both types of milk and switch off for my kids.