It seems like everywhere you turn nowadays there is a new documentary or article delving into the meat and dairy industry – animal treatment, hormones, deforestation. This might have you thinking, is possible to lead a healthy, fit, energetic life free of eating animals? There is a lot of conflicting information out there, so I am here to clear the way for you to eat what you want, and not eat what you don’t want.
The first objection you will probably hear if you talk about going vegan is protein. But how much protein do you really need, and does it matter where this protein comes from?
The amount of protein that you need is a highly debated subject. When you get down to it, the amount that you need varies greatly depending on your activity level as well as your genetics.
A sedentary person needs about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This can increase to as high as 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight if you are consistently performing a body building workout. For endurance athletes, these numbers range from about 0.5 to 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Other factors, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding, may also increase your need for protein to closer to the higher levels.
So if you are an active 120 lb female, you will need approximately 60 to 96 grams of protein per day, depending on your activity level. You will want to consume closer to the higher level if you are trying to build muscle or exercising intensely, and closer to the lower level if you are just trying to maintain your weight or are not hitting the gym as frequently.
Not only is there no benefit to consuming extra protein, but those extra protein calories may end up being stored as fat.
You may have heard of something called a complete protein. A complete protein contains all nine of the essential amino acids, the amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own, in roughly equal parts.
You do not need to get all of these essential amino acids from one source at the same time during the day, but can instead collect them from a variety of foods throughout the day.
It is important to note, however, that there are a large number of vegan sources that are complete proteins, as well as a number of delicious food combinations that can provide a complete protein source in one single meal. These include:
- Chia Seeds
- Rice and Beans
- Hummus and Whole-Grain Pita
- Spinach Salad with Almonds
Protein also exists in small amounts in all of the foods that we eat, especially vegetables and grains. Sory, nuts and legumes are especially rich sources of plant-based proteins.
So now that we know protein is not a problem by any means, is there anything else you should be careful of when following a vegan diet?
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While protein is not a problem on a whole-plant based diet, there is one thing that you cannot get without supplementation if living a completely vegan lifestyle: omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids, the “good” fats, are a crucial part of our diet that is often lacking in the Western culture. Whether vegan or omnivore, you should be making an effort to consume more omega-3 fatty acids and fewer omega-6 fatty acids.
What is so important about Omega-3s? They play an important role in cognitive function and heart health, so to be mentally and physically at our best we need these healthy fats in our diet.
There are three important omega-3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). ALA is found in many foods, EPA mainly in fish and DHA in fish and seaweed.
Your body is capable of converting ALA into EPA and DHA, however the conversion of ALA is not efficient enough to produce optimal levels of DHA, thus you need to get this from your diet to not be deficient and suffer memory fog or cardiovascular problems.
How can you do this without fish?
Luckily there exist supplements that contain both EPA and DHA from seaweed that can fix this problem – think about it, seaweed is where the fish are getting these omega-3’s, so why not skip that middle man and go straight to the source?
A study conducted in 2014 of 46 vegans who had low levels of omega-3s found that daily supplementation of 172 mg DHA and 82 mg EPA for four months increased the percent of their red blood cell fatty acids from 2.3% to 3.25% for DHA and .6% or .8% for EPA.
So, taking a vegan seaweed supplement can help bring your omega-3 levels back up to where they ought to be!
On Going Vegan
Now that you know that there is very little in the way of your being a fit, capable vegan, what are some tips that you should keep in mind?
First, remember that with any diet you need to be cognisant of what you may be missing in regards to nutrients, vitamins and minerals. If you be sure to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains, you will be much better off than eating the same thing day in and day out. Think of eating as many colors as you can and you will be on the right track.
There is even evidence that a vegan lifestyle can not only be adequate, but often times healthier than the alternatives!
A 2014 study compared three large-scale studies of overall health of omnivores, vegetarians and vegans. It found that a vegetarian diet protects your cardiovascular health, cancer risk and is associated with living longer. A vegan diet offers not only these distinctions but also appears to offer protection from obesity, hypertension and type-2 diabetes. This kind of diet is also linked to decreased inflammation in the body.
Another study even found that sedentary, long-term raw vegans had many aspects of their health similar to that of endurance athletes, with reduced BMI, glucose, insulin, blood pressure and lipids, all suggesting benefits on blood pressure and lower cardiometabolic risk.
Many people also report feeling more energy and mental alertness after having gone vegan.
So don’t be afraid to give it a try. You can be strong, healthy, fit and environmentally conscious, all at the same time.