Although a vegan diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, it is essential that plant-based eaters lead a healthy lifestyle, rather than simply giving up animal products.
In fact, vegetarians and vegans can have the same unhealthy habits like meat eaters: for example, giving preference to fast food, pre-packaged meals, while ignoring fruits and vegetables; eating too many sugary foods as a vegan is particularly common, too, and sometimes hard to resist.
Vegan and vegetarian adults in the US consume on average 4 to 6 times more sodium than necessary; again, this is not much more than carnivorous Americans. Sources of sodium in vegans are savory packaged soups, pretzels, crackers, roasted salted nuts. We cannot estimate precisely how much sodium is contained in restaurant menus.
What causes the excessive use of sodium? Foods rich in salt are a major cause of heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, the increase in sodium intake leads to a loss of calcium. This is why it is essential that you aim to keep your sodium intake at no more than ¾ teaspoons of sodium per day.
Vegans and vegetarians consume as much sugar as carnivores or almost 50 kg per year. The largest source of sugar is concentrated fructose corn syrup, which is most often used in sweetened sodas and juices. Obesity may lead to diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Eating sugary foods, we are automatically narrowing the place in our diet for fresh fruits and vegetables. So – the less sugar you eat, the better.
3. Whole grain flour and rice
White flour is a product that remains after the wheat has been processed so that the flakes containing the greatest proportion of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are being removed. Therefore, vegetarian or vegan foods made from white flour or white rice represent a pale copy of “energy powerhouses” such as wholemeal flour and brown rice. For an optimum vegan diet, eat whole wheat bread and brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, barley, and spelt.
4. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ fats
Not using animal fats is a step towards a healthier lifestyle. However, we should still be aware of large amounts of saturated fats from trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Saturated fats significantly increase the risk of heart disease. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, which has been proven to offer a plethora of health benefits, however, large amounts of any type of fat are not advisable. You can read about an illustrative case here. The healthiest fats come from olive oil, canola oil, and whole foods such as avocado, nuts and various seeds.
All processed products are high in sodium, sugar, fat, and usually have low concentration of whole grains. Many vegans enjoy soy meat substitutes like soy sausages, soy burgers, soy chicken and soy bacon. These products, although convenient and acceptable, should not become the basis of your vegan diet. Try to consume soy products that are subject to a lesser degree of processing, such as tempeh, Missoula, tofu, shoyu, tamari and soy milk.
6. Up your consumption of DLGV
The most powerful “weapons” in the vegetable “arsenal” are dark green leafy vegetables – DGLV. This group includes spinach, cabbage, leaf mustard, turnips, beet leaves and broccoli.
The majority of dark green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants, minerals and fiber. On the other hand, are low in calories, sugar, sodium and fat. Moreover, not-expensive. The volume of DGLV consumed by non-vegans is about ¼ cup per day. This is a totally inadequate amount, regardless of what other products people consume.
7. A good source of minerals such as calcium, iron, iodine and zinc
Minerals such as calcium, iron, iodine and zinc play a very important role in our body. They help bones stay healthy, prevent anemia, stimulate the thyroid gland, support the immune system, and promote development of the whole organism. These minerals are present in many foods. Cabbage, broccoli, tofu with calcium sulfate, soy milk enriched with calcium, as well as soya beans are an excellent source of calcium. Beans and green foods are a great source of iron for vegans.
Fruits and vegetables such as oranges, tomatoes and cantaloupe are rich in vitamin C and if you eat them together with foods containing iron, you are helping your body to absorb it better.
Products such as tea, coffee and dairy products interfere with iron absorption.
Good sources of zinc are beans, oats, wheat germ, nuts and soy foods. “Azuki” beans and pumpkin seeds supply the body with maximum amounts of this vital nutrient.
8. Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone formation, preventing cancer and easing calcium absorption in the body – especially when intakes of calcium is minimal. An adequate amount of vitamin D can be synthesized through everyday exposure of the hands and face to sunlight for about 15 minutes. Older people, people of color, and people who don’t have the chance to be exposed to the sun daily, need other sources of this vitamin. These are food products enriched with vitamin D or in the form of a dietary supplement.
9. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an important substance which is required by the human body only in small quantities. But if it is absent in your diet, problems may arise. Vitamin B12 is essential for babies, young children, pregnant and nursing women.
Vitamin B12 cannot be found naturally in plant-based foods, so vegetarians and vegans should make an effort to get this. Reliable non-animal sources of vitamin B12 are yeast, soy milk fortified with B12 and dietary supplements containing it.
It is well known that physical exercise is associated with a reduced risk of all sorts of diseases and it improves overall health. This also applies for vegetarians and vegans. Exercising regularly is directly related to bone density, which is important.
Good health requires three types of exercise: weightlifting, which increases bone density and muscle mass; cardiovascular activity – strengthening the heart and lowering blood pressure; and stretching / flexibility – improving coordination, reducing the risk of falls and bone fractures.
Thrive vegan-style by eating a balanced diet and following a moderate exercise program!
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