Vegan Eating and Vitality
Going vegan or switching to a more plant based diet is so popular right now. But if you are looking to ditch the meat make sure your diet is healthy and provides all the key nutrients you need to energise the body. Nutritionist and author of GO LEAN VEGAN provides some top tips on vegan eating.
Whatever diet you choose you eat your body runs off what you feed it. So, if you are looking to boost your energy levels make sure you nourishing your body with the best foods possible.
Focus on unprocessed foods
Focusing on a nutrient dense diet that limits processed foods and replaces them with nutrient-rich ones instead is important for everyone, not only vegans. So, ditch the fake foods and highly processed foods which are often low in key nutrients and switch to whole foods instead. Choose in-season fruits and vegetables for maximum nutrition and flavour. Unprocessed whole foods are typically lower in sugar and higher in fibre helping to balance blood sugar levels to power your energy throughout the day.
Watch the Caffeine
While there is nothing wrong with the odd cup of coffee or tea don’t rely on your daily fix to keep you going through the day. While it may pick you up in the short term it is not long lasting and can disrupt blood sugar levels leaving you with a slump later on. Green tea is a great alternative. Similar to coffee, green tea contains caffeine, which can increase energy levels. However, green tea also contains a compound called L-theanine. L-theanine can moderate the effects of caffeine, such as anxiety and the jitters, and it produces a smoother boost of energy. Research has shown that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine in green tea can increase focus, alertness and mental concentration.
Get Your Protein
There are nine essential amino acids that have to come from food since we can’t make them. Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are considered to be complete sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively. In contrast most plant protein sources, such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are considered to be incomplete, as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. For example, beans are considered low in the amino acid methionine. There are a few plant foods considered as complete proteins – these include soy, spirulina, quinoa and amaranth. So, to ensure you obtain all the essential amino acids try and ensure you consume a variety of plant foods daily. Aim for around 3-4 servings of protein rich foods each day and include protein in your snacks if you need to snack. Protein rich food will provide you with a steady and sustained source of energy because it does not cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin when it is digested.
Top up Your Energy Nutrients
Studies show that vegans are at a higher risk of having inadequate blood levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc.
Iron and zinc are absorbed less well from plant foods than animal products. This is partly due to the presence of phytates which binds to minerals making them less absorbable. Fermented foods e.g. tempeh increase mineral availability so include these if possible, in your diet. Add vitamin C rich vegetables and fruits (citrus fruits, red peppers, leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, berries) at every meal to enhance absorption of iron. Cook in an iron pan especially when you are cooking with more acidic foods like tomatoes as this can improve your intake of iron. Soaking and toasting nuts and seeds, beans and grains can reduce effects of phytates aiding absorption of minerals. If you are taking supplements avoid taking calcium and iron supplements together as they can interfere with absorption.
Useful zinc rich foods for vegans include tahini, Dark chocolate and raw cacao, Soybeans, tempeh, tofu, Pumpkin seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, Canned beans and quinoa.
Iron rich foods include leafy greens, sea vegetables (e.g. dulse, nori, wakame), prunes, lentils, beans, soybeans, cashews, dark chocolate, almonds.
Another important nutrient for is B12. Vitamin B12 works together with folic acid to produce red blood cells and help iron work better in the body. Optimal levels of red blood cells and iron in the blood can reduce fatigue and increase energy. Vitamin B12 is also important for protein metabolism and a healthy nervous system. Vegans need to consume B12-fortified foods and / or take a vitamin B12 supplement. B12-fortified foods commonly include plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.
Iodine is an important mineral for metabolism and supports optimal thyroid function. Sea vegetables are one of the best iodine rich plant foods so try and include these 1-2 times during the week. One of the easiest ways is to soak a handful and add to soups, stews or toss into salads.
Don’t skimp on Fats
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) particularly Omega-3 fats can be low if you’re not eating oily fish. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which is a common cause of fatigue. To ensure you don’t miss out include a daily serving of Omega-3 rich foods like flax seeds, chia seeds or walnuts. Another option is to use omega 3 rich oils which can be drizzled over vegetables and salads or added to dips and spreads. Fats are not only essential for our cell health, brain health, hormone function, skin health etc but can help satisfy our appetite making the useful for weight loss. Other sources of healthy fats include avocado, olives, nuts and seeds.
Opt for slow carbs
With vegan diets there can be a temptation to fill up on starches like pasta, rice and breads but these will play havoc with blood sugar levels and may contribute to weight gain. Focus on slower releasing carbs – for example choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes, try red rice, wild rice, quinoa, teff or starchy vegetables like carrots, beetroot and parsnips. Thanks to their fibre content, such foods have a lower glycemic index. This means it could help regulate blood sugar levels and help you maintain steady energy levels throughout the day. Many of these foods also provide plenty of B vitamins, magnesium and manganese, which all help in the breakdown of nutrients to produce energy.
Watch Your Eating Patterns
If you’re always feeling tired and sluggish, it might be worth taking a look at your eating patterns. Erratic meal patterns and regularly skipping meals not only may mean you miss out on key nutrients but can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels which can leave you feeling tired. Don’t drastically reduce the amount of food you are eating either even if you are trying to lose weight. Extreme dietary restrictions can result in a lack of both calories and essential nutrients, such as iron, which can negatively affect your energy levels. Remember to drink water through the day. Water represents up to 60% of your body weight and is involved in many cellular functions, including energy production. Not drinking enough water may leave you feeling sluggish and tired.
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