Micro & Macro Nutrients

One of the first questions I get when I tell someone I am vegan is if I take a bunch of vitamins. The truth is no, I don’t take any vitamins. A lot of vegan do use supplements, but I am horrible about remembering to take medication and vitamins, so I have opted out of it. Not to mention, I would much rather get my micro and macro nutrients from natural sources. My doctor is aware of my dietary choices and my blood work looks great, so I am currently not worried about it.

Protein is a huge concern for people when learning about a vegan lifestyle. I have heard a million times “what about protein?”, but what people don’t realize is there are ton of non-meat protein sources. Here are some helpful tips for including protein-rich foods in your daily life.

  • Almonds, peanuts, cashews and other nuts are famous for being protein-packed. You can make cheese and mayo spreads from cashews. You can make almond butter and peanut butter to spread on your toast or eat with fruit. I love to make our own trail mix with cashews, almonds, dried cranberries, dried coconut, and pumpkin seeds for a protein-filled snack.
  • Chickpeas are ones of my favorite foods. I eat them almost every day and they are so versatile. They can be seasoned and baked for an on-the-go snack or added to your salad. Regular cooked chickpeas are even great for salads. I love hummus. It’s one of my staple lunch foods. You can make your own or buy some already made and there are dozens of different flavor options. You can choose from crushed red pepper, garlic, original, artichoke, jalapeno lemon, dill, or any other flavor that you prefer. I usually pack hummus with some baby carrots and celery for part of my lunch at work. We also love to eat hummus with corn tortillas. You should definitely try it sometime!
  • Tofu is another great protein option. We don’t eat much tofu because I worry about too much soy intake, but a lot of vegetarians and vegans enjoy tofu in their recipes. A lot of Indian inspired dishes include tofu. It takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with, so when we do use tofu, we like to add a lot of spices. It is even an option for some cheese alternatives such as the ricotta in lasagna.
  • I’m sure this comes as a no-brainer for you, but beans are a great protein source too. Beans and rice are an awesome budget-friendly meal. We love vegan chili and it is packed with beans and warms up great as leftovers. A lot of vegan brownie recipes call for black beans too. I am not a baker, so I haven’t tried my hand at making brownies, but I think it’s a great idea.

Iron deficiency (anemia) is a concern that I personally have. Women are at a higher risk for anemia than men, but vegetarian and vegans alike are concerned with the decrease in iron-rich foods. Meat products are a large component of iron in people’s diets, so being vegan means being in-the-know about alternatives.

  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and spinach are great sources of iron. Broccoli is great raw or steamed. Kale and spinach are incredibly versatile ingredients. They can be eaten in salads, wraps, and sandwiches. I like to massage my kale before eating it raw because it mellows out the flavor and texture, but my husband loves the strong taste. They are also great cooked in soups because they wilt and coordinate well with many flavors. Because of the vitamin K substance in dark green leafy vegetables, I suggest consulting your doctor if you take the medication Coumadin (Warfarin) before increasing your consumption of these foods. If you are taking Coumadin, the vitamin K could decrease the medication’s effectiveness.
  • Soy products such as tofu and tempeh are packed with iron too!
  • Pumpkin, sesame, hemp, and flax seeds are great sources of iron. Pumpkin seeds can be bought in bulk and added to trail mix. You can also season and bake fresh pumpkin seeds. Any of these can be added to salads for a bit of extra crunch or, if you make your own bread, you can add sesame and/or flax seeds to your loaf.
  • A physician I used to work with told me that coconut palm sugar is an ingredient she uses when she becomes anemic. I started using it in moderation instead of regular white sugar and I haven’t even noticed a difference in taste.

Vitamin D is a micro-nutrient that people in the northeast (vegans and non-vegans alike) struggle to consume enough of. Companies have actually resorted to fortifying some foods with vitamin D (such as cereals and dairy products). Living in an area that doesn’t see much sunshine can increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency because our skin is made to create the vitamin from the sun’s exposure. This is a large contributor to seasonal depression.

  • Mushrooms are an easy-additive for vitamin D intake. We add mushrooms to many of our favorite foods including salads, sandwiches, sauces, pizzas, soups and anything else that we can sneak it into. Mushrooms have a lot of medicinal properties and some studies suggest that the consumption of mushrooms on a daily basis can decrease a person’s risk for cancer.
  • Just like cow’s milk, some almond and soy milks are fortified with vitamin D. We prefer unsweetened original almond milk, but you should use what you think tastes best.
  • If you have the opportunity to enjoy sunlight, it’s the best (and cheapest) way to increase your vitamin D intake. Being outside with exposed skin allows your body to create vitamin D intrinsically.
  •  Oh, tofu has vitamin D too!

 

There are so many foods that are nutrient dense and contain one or more of the above listed items. A lot of people utilize tools and apps such as “MyFitnessPal” to track their micro and macro-nutrients. I personally have decided to eat intuitively instead of tracking, but you should find what works best for you. With any diet or lifestyle change, it may get a good idea to have a conversation with your doctor beforehand. He/She will be able to guide you in the best health-conscious direction for your body’s specific needs.

Knowledge is power.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

My (Never-Ending) Journey to Health

Health is a funny thing. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it is always changing for me personally. What does “health” mean to you? For some it means disease free. For others it means exercising regularly.

 

When I was younger health was determined solely by the number on the scale or the number on my clothing. I was never happy with the numbers I saw, regardless of how much they decreased. I wasn’t eating much and I wasn’t happy.

 

Later on in my life health had transformed to mean eating foods that I thought were healthy and exercising for hours a day. I stressed myself out so much about food. It was to the point where I would break into tears while out to dinner with family if there was cheese and croutons on my salad. I would never miss a day of exercise because the guilt wouldn’t let me sleep. I was miserable.

 

I couldn’t maintain that lifestyle while juggling work, nursing school and other responsibilities. So I decided to give up completely and had the mindset that if I can’t do things right, I might as well not do them at all. I gained about twenty pounds that year. My clothes didn’t fit anymore and I had zero energy. I told myself that I was getting older and this is just how it is – that I would have to choose between a healthy body or a successful life. I thought that I couldn’t have both.

 

A few months after graduating nursing school, I became pregnant. I was sick right from the get-go and if I wasn’t eating, I was vomiting. So I justified eating junk food constantly. And I told myself because I felt dizzy and tired, I couldn’t exercise. At that point I didn’t have a job – that’s a story for another time – and my self-esteem was pretty pathetic. I was gaining weight rapidly, but told myself it was okay because I was pregnant.

 

I was about ten weeks along when I lost the pregnancy and fell into a depression. I continued to eat due to stress, sadness, and hatred toward myself. I obviously continued to gain weight. It got to the point where I was up another thirty pounds over the one year after losing the pregnancy.

 

Within about two years I had gained fifty pounds. I was terrified to see anyone that might recognize me because I knew I had let myself go. I would try these all-or-nothing diets to try to lose weight, but I always would end up gaining any weight back that I lost. Binge-eating became a part of the crazy dieting experience. No-carb would make me crave bread. Low-sugar would make me crave sweets. Diet foods would make me bloat or crave bad foods even more. All I wanted was to lose weight.

 

Fast forward to about four months ago. I had joint pain, fatigue, back pain, painful periods, depression, increase in anxiety, dizziness, increase in hunger… I went to my doctor and he ordered blood work. I was convinced that something was wrong with my thyroid or that my hormone levels were out of whack. When the results came in and everything was within normal limits, I was devastated. This meant that it was my habits that were causing me distress, not that my body had a disease. My doctor sat me down and told me that I needed to start eating healthier and exercising. He, very politely, told me that there was no excuse for me to not exercise and that I needed to start taking control of my body. I went home feeling ashamed.

 

I started doing a lot of research about lifestyle changes. I was educating myself about other cultures and I was learning a lot about the meat industry and effects of meat on the human body in particular. My husband and I decided that we wanted to try being ovo-lacto vegetarians for two months and see how we felt. That lasted about three and a half months until I decided that I wanted to cut out eggs too. At this point I had lost about twenty-five pounds. The only dairy I was eating was cheese and one night, after eating ice cream for the first time in awhile, I had severe abdominal pain that lasted for hours. I became terrified to eat dairy products, so I decided to cut them out too. I wondered – “When people ask me what my diet is, what label do I give it?” Because at this point a lot of people were asking me about vegetarianism and what I “can’t eat.” The differences between my vegetarianism without dairy and vegan were minuscule. I decided that I would just go vegan. I planned to try it for two months and see how I feel. A week into being a vegan I realized that I was just eating a bunch of junk vegan foods that would satiate my cravings instead of changing my taste buds and my brain’s idea of food. So I did more research and we decided to eat a whole food plant-based diet. (Don’t worry, I will explain what that means in my next post). I have now lost thirty-five pounds total and have the more energy than I have had in the past two to three years. I have started implementing exercise into my routine without the guilt of missing a day. I am eating intuitively and allowing myself to eat until I am full. No more counting calories or prohibiting carbohydrates.

 

I am hoping that this new meaning of health will allow me to live my best and longest life. I hope that as I share my journey and the things that have helped me along the way, you too can get a new lease on life.

 

Love Always,

Elizabeth