Throughout history vegetarian diets have been used to enhance human health. This way of eating, which is devoid of animal meat, can allow for improved digestion, better mental clarity, better energy, and many say it helps them maintain emotional and spiritual health. Vegetarian diets have long been a part of the yogic systems of India, and many people gravitate to them as a way to remain healthy and spiritually connected. Thanks to modern research and scientific understanding of food, there has been many breakthroughs that can help vegetarians to eat in a way that allows for them to get the most out of their diets. There are certain nutrients vegetarians (and vegans) must be mindful of, in order to ensure that they do not develop deficiencies that can lead to health problems down the road. In addition to this, there are certain diet trends that have made their way into vegetarian culture, while some of these diet trends are useful, they are not always a one size fits all, and what works well for one person, may not work so well for someone else. Let’s start with the nutrition aspect, what nutrients vegetarians should be mindful of in order to prevent deficiency.
Omega 3 fatty acids. These acids are extremely nourishing for the nervous system, they help make up the physical structure of the brain, help promote joint and eye health, and help to make up the cell walls of the body. A common misconception is that vegetarians can get these omegas 3’s from flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and so on. The type of omega 3 found in these foods is omega 3 ALA, which is not used effectively by the human body. Once consumed, this ALA mush be converted into Omega 3 DHA, and this conversion process is very ineffective. Many vegetarians turn to fish oils to supplement their omega 3’s, as fish oil contains the correct DHA version of the Omega 3 fatty acid. When choosing a fish oil, it is important to ensure that the fish oil is molecularly distilled, to ensure all contaminants from the ocean are removed. Wild caught small fish are the ideal source for fish oils. Krill oil is also an excellent alternative, and many sources claim it is much more usable and absorbable for the human body than fish oil. For those who are vegan, or for those who do not wish to consume fish products, there is also Algae oil, and this actually the original source of the omega 3 DHA, and it is from the algae that this fatty acid makes its way into the fish. Nutru Omega Zen 3 is a product that uses algae-based omega 3’s and is suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Without Omega 3’s in the body there may be an increased risk for cellular oxidative damage, memory and cognitive issues, cardiovascular issues, and more.
Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that vegans and vegetarians are commonly deficient in. This vitamin does not exist in the plant kingdom in a usable form, and as a result it is important to supplement with a methylated version of B12. Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, and kefir provide a natural source of B12 that the natural bacteria present in these fermented foods produce. Daily intake of fermented foods can supply not only probiotics to help with the immune system, gut, and cognition, but also provide varying amounts of B12. It is uncertain if fermented foods alone contain enough B12 to meet the recommended daily value of B12, so supplementation is still a good idea.
Vitamin D3 is another nutrient that vegans and vegetarians are commonly deficient in, although this is a common deficiency amongst most people. The reason is that the human body produces vitamin D3 in contact with sunshine. Due to our modern civilization where we spend little time letting our skin soak up the sun, many of us are deficient in this vitamin. Animal products, especially meats contain healthy amounts of vitamin D3, and since vegan and vegetarians do not consume these animal meats, they are at an increased risk for deficiency. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 is a great way to boost mood, immunity, hormone health, cognition and to lower the risk for certain diseases like cancer.
The health benefits of a vegetarian and vegan are numerous can help to lower the risk of developing a handful of chronic diseases. However, it is still possible to eat a vegan and vegetarian diet, and actually harm your health! Let’s look at what to avoid below so that optimal health can be achieved through the vegetarian and vegan diet!
Soy, corn and wheat – These foods are common in many vegan and vegetarian food products. If these crops are not organic, they are sprayed the herbicide roundup, which contains the chemical glyphosate. Glyphosate is responsible for a handful of health problems, including impaired GI health, cognition, and more. It is linked to autism and has been deemed a probable human carcinogen by the WHO. Most wheat, corn, and soy, if they are not organic are commonly sprayed with this chemical. This causes these crops to be extremely harmful, as the glyphosate is still present on the crop when it is consumed. In addition, corn and soy are commonly genetically modified using GMO laboratory technology involving artificial gene splicing. The health effects from this are still largely unknown, and this is because adequate testing on human with these GMO crops has never been documented. A good way to ensure your foods are free from glyphosate is to always opt for organic versions of these foods, and to limit them severely, as they are foods that commonly create distress and sensitives in many people.
Omega 6 fatty acids and unsaturated fats and oils – The Omega 6 are fatty acids found in nuts and seeds and are essential for human health. Too much of them can cause inflammation and can cause damage to the body. As a result, soaked nuts and seeds should still remain a healthy part of the Vegetarian and Vegan diet, but they should not make up the bulk of it. It is highly important that they are balanced with their omega 3 fatty acid counterparts. The omega 3 fatty acids can be found in fish, krill and algae oil.
Most vegan and vegetarian diets are low fat diets, and this because fats are not found in as great of abundance in the plant kingdom as they are in the animal kingdom. Dietary fat is extremely important, as it provides the building blocks for your cell membranes, which protect your cells from damage. Your body needs fat, and when the fat you consume comes from only unsaturated fats, or too many omega 6 fats, a few risks develop. These fats are either easily damaged in the case of unsaturated fats, or can cause damage in the case of omega 6 fats. Because your body uses these fats to make its cell membranes, these risky fats will make up the newly created cell membranes within the body. This can lead to weakened cell membranes, that will cause the cells to be weaker are more susceptible to damage, which can contribute to a myriad of health problem. Avoid most vegetable oils, with exception of organic olive oil. It is important the olive oil is not cooked with and that it is organic, as many olive oils on shelves are counterfeits, cut with other vegetable oils.
A simple solution to ensuring you are getting the right kinds of fats is to make sure Omega 3 fatty acids from fish, krill or algae are consumed, as well as healthy saturated fats, such as coconut oil, avocados, and avocado oil. These saturated fats are more resistant to damage and will build healthier cell membranes that are also able to resist stress and damage in the body. It is highly important for vegetations to also ensure that they are consuming cholesterol. Cholesterol is a natural compound that helps to make hormones in the body. If a person’s diet does not have cholesterol, they are increasing the odds of hormone dysfunction manifesting within their bodies. This can lead to negative emotions, mood swings, low energy, weight gain, and infertility. Healthy sources of vegetarian cholesterol are grass fed Ghee or butter as well as organic egg yolks.
Now that we have covered the basics of what to avoid, lets get into what to eat to ensure that the vegetarian diet provides adequate nutrition, energy and health!
It is highly important that vegetarian diet focuses on high fiber veggies! This will allow for the amazing vitamins and minerals needed for the body to function to enter the body via food. Some of the best veggies to consume are: Avocado, asparagus, bok choy, Brussel sprouts, celery, cucumber, olives, cabbage, kale, lettuce, spinach, and collard greens, broccoli, and cauliflower
Starches and grains should be limited on a vegetarian diet. Even though these are good sources of protein and fiber, they also contain many anti-nutrients in them, which can cause cognitive issues and digestive upset. They are also high in carbohydrates, which can lead to insulin and blood sugar issues, hormone issues, weight and metabolic issues, and more. Some of the best starches and grains to have are: sweet potato, yam, butternut squash, carrots, and white rice (as it is low in the heavy metal arsenic, whereas wild and brown rices are higher in this heavy metal)
Fruits are a great part of any diet, however to much fruit can cause blood sugar spikes, which can lead to cravings and energy crashes. Fruit ideally should be limited, and the following is a list of some of the healthiest fruits out there: fresh blueberries, blackberry’s, lemons, limes, raspberries, apples, and pomegranates. These ideally should be organic, as many fruits are heavily sprayed with pesticides. Buying organic fruits and vegetables will ensure that some of the more dangerous pesticides used in conventional faming are not present of the produce. Remember that eating fruit is always superior to drinking fruit juice, as the juice has lost many of its vitamins and minerals and has essentially been reduced to pure sugar.
Nuts and seeds are great sources of fat, protein and minerals, and some of the best ones to eat are: walnuts, almonds, pecans, coconut, hemp seeds, and cashews. These should be slightly limited, as they are high in omega 6 fatty acids, which can lead to an inflammatory response in the body if excess amounts are consumed.
Organic eggs, grass fed dairy, and organic nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein on a vegetarian diet. Beans (legumes) are commonly used as protein sources in vegetarian’s diets, and while there are many health benefits to legumes, they contain high amounts of anti-nutrients called lectins, which can cause inflammation. Legumes are definitely healthy, but just like with nuts and seeds, there consumption should be limited.
High quality oils and fats such us uncooked organic olive oil, grass fed ghee or butter, avocado, coconut oil, and sunflower lecithin will ensure that your appetite remains steady, cravings are at a minimal, and that you can feel fuller for longer; In addition to helping your nervous system and cell membranes.
Always feel free to experiment and see what works for you! Everything that is mentioned above is sound information that you can use to help you craft a better diet, better mind, and better body!
By Tyler Ellison / Vitamin Dept at Edge of the Woods
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