Need some nutritional knowledge or answers to quandaries, queries or questions? Drop a line, email or fax to VVF’s veggie health experts.
- I get bloating and wind when I eat beans – any suggestions? Answer
- Does a vegan diet contain all the amino acids for protein that I need? Answer
- Is too much animal protein really a bad thing? Or does it just grow more muscle? Answer
- Will eating meat protein make me grow bigger muscles? Answer
- I’ve heard that even as a veggie I should eat some oily fish to provide me with all the beneficial types of fat my body needs. Is this true? Answer
- Does oily fish boost brain power? Answer
- Does fish really contain pollutants such as mercury? Answer
Cod Liver Oil Alternatives
- Can you recommend a veggie substitute for cod liver oil – something to help grease my mum’s old bones (her words!) a bit better and keep them moving! Answer
Soya and Meat Substitutes
- People at school have asked me if soya milk is a good food (I think they mean is it as good as cows’ milk). Please help. Answer
- Me and my family eat lots of Quorn. Is this a healthy food? Answer
- I’ve heard that soya is very good for you but also that it contains hormones! What’s the truth? Answer
- A teacher at school joked about men growing breasts if they drink soya milk or eat soya. True? Answer
- I have just become a vegetarian but my mother is insisting I should eat meat. She says it’s essential for someone of my age and sex (I’m a 15-year-old girl). Is she right? Answer
- My little brother won’t eat fruit and veg though my mum tried everything, from dipping them in chocolate to hiding them under his chips! Is there no hope? Answer
Veggie on a Budget
- I don’t want to eat meat for ethical reasons and I’m convinced that it’s probably not that healthy but can I afford to be a vegetarian on a limited income? Answer
- I would love to go veggie but I’m worried about what to eat in case I start piling on the pounds. Any tips? Answer
- What do you think about food combining for health? Is it necessary? Answer
- I want to go veggie but have really heavy periods. I’ve been told I need to eat red meat to get enough iron. Is this true? Answer
- My vegetarian daughter is trying to lure me away from fried breakfasts and bacon butties for my heart’s sake. But I’m 59 and I’d guess that the damage is already done – so what’s the point? Answer
- I’d love to go vegan but where do I start? If I took all the meat, fish and dairy out of my cupboards I’d be like Old Mother Hubbard! Answer
- I’m prone to constipation – any tips? Answer
- I’ve been vegan for 2 years and think I eat well! But should I take supplements in case I’m missing something? Answer
- What are the sources of vitamin B12? Answer
- Are we are designed to eat meat or be vegetarian? Answer
I get bloating and wind when I eat beans – any suggestions?
Flatulence (wind) is caused by bacteria in the colon feeding on carbohydrates called ogilosaccharides, which produce methane and sulphur. Pfooar…!
High-fibre diets may cause wind but are brilliant for health, producing softer stools, protecting against colon cancer and possibly stroke and heart disease, too – not to mention relief from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Oh, and oligosaccharides also help control cholesterol levels. Powerful stuff!
Beans contain lots of oligosaccharides – as do cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, onions, garlic, leeks and some seeds. Soaking gets rid of most oligosaccharides so long as you discard the water before cooking.
Cooking the beans longer until you can mash them softens the starch and fibres and helps digestion. Start with small amounts, perhaps three times a week, and gradually increase the quantity.
Sweeter beans such as adzuki, black-eyed peas, lentils and mung beans are probably the easiest to digest and cooking beans with a bay leaf, cumin or kombu also reduces gas.
Other foods which cause wind are beer, white wine, fruit juices, eggs and meat. Impaired digestion (eg in Crohn’s disease and IBS) can also cause excess wind.
A good, plant-only vegan diet can adequately provide all the amino acids our body needs. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein required for growth and repair of all body cells and they come in two varieties –essential and non-essential. For an adult, there are eight essential amino acids which have to be included in the diet as our bodies are incapable of making them and 12 other non-essential ones – those made in the body.
Protein is found in most plant foods such as nuts, seeds, grains and legumes – peas, all types of beans and lentils, etc. Simply eating a normal variety of foods throughout the day guarantees that all amino acids are provided. There is no need to combine different plant proteins at each meal as the body has an amino acid ‘pool’ which collects all the different types. Having said that, combining tends to happen naturally with meals such as beans on toast. Beans are a rich source of the amino acid lysine but not so rich in methionine. Bread – like most cereals – is rich in methionine but not so rich in lysine. And that’s how it works. Outdated research failed to assess the true protein value of plant foods. Newer analyses show them to be of extremely high quality. Soya is a good example and is nutritionally equivalent to meat as it contains all eight essential amino acids. It comes in the form of soya milk, tofu (bean curd), burgers, sausages, mince and other meat substitutes. Going vegan is one of the healthiest moves you can make. Don’t be afraid to educate your GP about meat-free diets. VVF can provide all the information you need in the form of guides and factsheets. Pass them on!
Excess animal protein is linked with kidney disease, osteoporosis, cancers, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (heart disease and strokes) – and getting too much is usually a result of eating too many animal products.
Animal products, even lean-looking meats, are often associated with large amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol – artery-clogging substances which are a main cause of heart disease, kidney failure and stroke as well as many cancers. But putting these aside, there is strong evidence to suggest it is excess animal protein itself which plays a part in all of these diseases.
There is a compelling case that animal proteins – independent of other associated nutrients – increase the risk for cancer, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes. This was particularly evident in the China Study – one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever undertaken to examine the relationship between diet and disease. Huge differences were seen in disease rates based on the amount of plant foods participants ate compared to animal foods. And no, it won’t just make you grow more muscle! Contrary to popular opinion you don’t build muscle by eating more protein. SeeWill eating meat protein make me grow bigger muscles?
Fully referenced information
Protein is needed for repair of body tissues and cell growth and is made up of many smaller units - building blocks - called amino acids. Contrary to popular opinion you don’t build muscle by eating more protein. The belief that eating animal muscle - ie meat (and lots of unhealthy fats to boot) - means you automatically build human muscle simply isn’t true.
Muscles develop by being used not by eating greater amounts of another animals’ flesh - you use them or lose them. Look at gorillas - they are without doubt the most muscular of all the primates and their impressive physique comes from regular physical activity and a plant-only diet!
Most foods contain some protein. Particularly good sources of protein in vegetarian diets include soya products (like tofu (soya bean curd), veggie burgers and soya milk), beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and cereals (eg wholegrain bread, pasta and brown rice).
Although athletes need some extra protein this is normally covered by the increased food intake, not by increasing protein foods specifically. By eating more calories - mainly complex carbohydrates - and keeping dietary protein near 15% of your total energy intake any extra protein needed will be supplied by this increase in amount of food eaten.
I’ve heard that even as a veggie I should eat some oily fish to provide me with all the beneficial types of fat my body needs. Is this true?
No, it is not true. Plants can provide all the healthy types of polyunsaturated fat that we need. Rich sources of essential fatty acids – also known as omega-3 and omega-6 fats – include seeds, nuts, legumes – including the oils made from them – and there are lesser amounts in green, leafy vegetables. Omega-6 fats are widely distributed in plant and manufactured foods and most people get more than enough. Omega-3 fats aren’t so common but there are ample plant sources that are rich in them. These include linseeds (flax) which are an exceptionally rich source, rapeseed oil and walnuts.
When you eat omega-3 fats they are converted by the body into what are called long-chain fatty acids and they play a major role in the development and functioning of the brain, nervous system and cell membranes. They also help regulate blood pressure and are involved in the body’s immune and inflammatory responses. Obtaining omega-3 from plants and letting the body do the conversion means that the resulting EPA and DHA is fresher than that found, ready-made in oily fish such as salmon and sardines. Oily fish, of course, obtain their pre-formed EPA/DHA from plant sources – microalgae!
We need about 100-300mg of EPA each day and one tablespoon of linseed oil – of which 50 per cent is omega-3 fat – supplies approximately 200mg, the same as one large capsule of fish oil. A handful of mixed, unsalted nuts and seeds each day – walnuts, brazils, hazelnuts, almonds, linseeds, sunflower and sesame seeds – can also do the trick. Linseed oil makes a good dressing for salads and other cold foods but isn’t suitable for cooking as heat destroys the beneficial fats. A healthy alternative is olive oil.
Does oily fish boost brain power?
We've had it drummed into us for years that fish oils help boost brain power and protect heart health, but is it true? Much of the fish oil frenzy that has gripped the nation is due to some very clever marketing.
There is actually no evidence that fish oils are essential for cognitive ability in children or adults. If this were true, vegetarians all around the world would be failing at school – they are not. In fact, in 2006, the vegetarian team won the BBC’s Test the nation IQ battle!
The so-called ‘scientific evidence’ for fish oils is constantly being pushed in the media; but the reality presents a very different picture with some studies showing that fish oils can actually have a harmful effect (increasing the risk of heart attacks in patients with heart disease). This is because of the pollutants found in all fish such as polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins and mercury.
Fish get their omega-3s from eating plants (algae), or other fish that got their omega-3 from plants. Cutting out fish helps us avoid these poisons. Plant-based omega-3 fats (from flaxseed, rapeseed, hempseed oil and walnuts and algal supplements if you need them) are safer, healthier and better for the environment. Better for the seas for sure.
For more info see Fish-free for Life
Does fish really contain pollutants such as mercury?
The UK government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) conservatively advises that pregnant and breastfeeding women should limit their consumption of oily fish to no more than two portions a week. They, along with children under 16, should avoid shark, marlin and swordfish entirely and limit the amount of tuna they eat due to contamination with potentially deadly pollutants.
There is overwhelming science highlighting the dangers of consuming deadly pollutants such as dioxins in herring, salmon, mackerel and, to a lesser degree, trout. What’s more, most of the world’s fish are contaminated with mercury – a neurotoxin which causes nerve damage, developmental delays and learning difficluties.
The FSA also advises that pregnant women: “shouldn’t take supplements containing cod liver oil, or other types of fish liver oil. This is because fish liver oil contains high levels of vitamin A, like liver and liver products such as liver pâtè. If you have too much vitamin A, levels could build up in your body and may harm an unborn baby.”
The stuff which seems to do the lubricating job is omega-3 fats. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, can help protect the heart, boost brain development and aid the eye’s retina and other organs, including the skin.
The argument often used against plant sources of omega-3 (ALA) is that it isn’t easily absorbed by the body whereas fish omega-3 oils are (DHA and EPA). In fact, the body is adequately equipped to convert ALA into both DHA and EPA – in other words, you can happily obtain your omega 3 from linseeds (flax), rapeseed oil, green leafy vegetables and walnuts.
In oil form, all you need is about a teaspoon of flaxseed oil a day. This oil must be keep cold (in your fridge) and away from light or the oil will degenerate. It can be used for salad dressings and poured over vegetables but isn’t suitable for cooking, which destroys the fats. A handful of mixed, unsalted nuts and seeds each day, such as walnuts, linseeds, brazils, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower and sesame seeds, can also do the trick.
People at school have asked me if soya milk is a good food (I think they mean is it as good as cows’ milk). Is it?
Soya foods have been a staple in China for over 4000 years and have been widely eaten in the West since the 1960s.
Soya (including soya milk) is an excellent source of high-quality protein, containing all the amino acids found in milk and meat. But unlike animal products, it is low in saturated fats, cholesterol free and rich in soluble fibre. It is also high in the essential omega-3 fats. A mass of evidence links soya to lower cholesterol levels and good heart health – so much so that the US Government allows these claims on food products.
Check the ingredients list on soya milk and you’ll find a typical carton has more calcium than cows’ milk. Provamel soya milk (Provamel Sweetened plus calcium and vitamins Soya Milk 250ml serving) contains 38 per cent of the recommended amount of calcium, vitamin B2 and D2 adults need daily. It also provides 125 per cent of vitamin B12.
Soya beans also contain high concentrations of several cancer-busting compounds. People in China and Japan eat a lot of soya and this helps lower their rates of breast and colon cancer. It also lowers their rates of menopausal symptoms.
Of course, there are good health reasons for not including cow’s milk or dairy in the diet. We’ve evolved to drink human milk but only until we are weaned and not beyond – and not the milk of a cow or any other species. Human milk is tailor-made for human babies – and cow’s milk is tailor-made for calves. A calf doubles its birth weight nearly four times faster than a human infant does and so the composition of human milk and cow’s milk is quite different.
If you want to understand more about diet and how it affects your health, look at our guides Nutrition in a Nutshell and Your Health in Your Hands.
I eat lots of Quorn. Is this a healthy food?
A. There have been a number of newspaper articles about the risk of developing allergies as a result of eating Quorn. The Food Standards Agency, however, after looking at all the available evidence, believes Quorn is safe. The truth is, many foods can cause allergic reactions, particularly cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shellfish and peanuts. Compared to the numbers who suffer allergies from these foods, Quorn would seem to be very low risk. No one food should dominate your diet so if you do eat a lot of Quorn, try to include other sources of plant protein such as grains, nuts, seeds, peas, lentils and beans. Note that Quorn, a fungus-based ‘mycoprotein’, is bound with free range eggs and so is vegetarian but not vegan.
I’ve heard that soya is very good for you but also that it contains hormones! What’s the truth?
The supposedly guilty parties are compounds called isoflavones or phytoestrogens. These behave like the female oestrogen hormone but are extremely weak – between 1,000 and 10,000 times weaker. Far from upsetting your oestrogen levels, isoflavones normalise them.
There is far more reason to be worried about milk and dairy products. Two-thirds of UK cow’s milk comes from pregnant animals, when their hormone levels are high. Milk contains 35 different hormones and 11 growth factors as well. These hormones are many many times stronger than phytoestrogens and have been linked to cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate and colon.
Much of the research on soya is suspect. It involves not the whole soya bean but particular elements of it – isolates – and the tests are invariably carried out by feeding huge doses to animals, hundreds of times more than anyone would ever eat. There have been many more reports showing health advantages from soya, especially as part of a well-balanced, plant-based diet. Breast cancer has increased in the UK by 80 per cent since 1971 and affects one in nine women. We should be much more concerned about real oestrogen in dairy products and meat than phytoestrogen, a plant chemical that benefits human health and has been consumed safely by millions of people for thousands of years.
A teacher at school joked about men growing breasts if they drink soya milk or eat soya. True?
Millions of infants have been raised on soya formulas in the UK and particularly the US, where 20 to 25 per cent of all infants are raised on soya formula. Many are now in their 40s and there have been no ill effects. And the use of soya in China hasn’t affected fertility rates! Far more damaging to health are the high levels of oestrogen in cow’s milk. See the VVF’s White Lies report for further details. A scientific review of soya and soya-based infant formulas and hormone function in those who had soya formulas as infants, reported that growth was normal and no changes in timing of puberty or in infertility rates were reported. The author concluded that soya-based infant formulas continue to be a safe, nutritionally complete feeding option for most infants. Our factsheet, The Safety of Soya, examines the latest science on soya. We give you the facts on the wealth of health benefits and the supposed risks of the humble soya bean.
I have just become a vegetarian but my mother is insisting I should eat meat. She says it’s essential for someone of my age and sex (I’m a 15-year-old girl). Is she right?
No! – and what’s so great about meat anyway? It’s linked to a string of diseases, including some cancers, heart disease and lacks essential nutrients – fibre, calcium and complex carbohydrates. It’s desperately short on vital antioxidant vitamins that protect you against disease – vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E , being the main ones and found almost exclusively in fresh fruit and veg.
As for fear of iron deficiency (which is clearly on your mother’s mind), it’s no more likely to afflict a veggie than a meat eater. Having said that, it’s important for everyone to have iron-rich foods in their diet – green leafy veg, baked beans, dried fruit, cocoa and lentils are good sources. The other big concern is usually protein – bizarre since plant foods provide you all you need and it’s far less damaging than animal protein.
A good vegetarian diet is based around complex carbohydrates from whole foods such as wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice, potatoes and other starchy foods, with a good mix of fresh fruit and veg, grains and pulses and some seeds and nuts. It gives you more of all the nutrients you need and less of those you don’t.
If you want to know more, read our guides Nutrition in a Nutshell and Veggie Health for Kids.
My little brother won’t eat fruit and veg though my mum tried everything, from dipping them in chocolate to hiding them under his chips! Is there no hope?
There are many ways to encourage young children to take fruits and vegetables – the most important is to make sure that you and your family eat them yourself. Learning by example is the best way to foster lifelong healthy eating habits.
Studies have shown that it can take several encounters with a new food before children will like it – up to a dozen! – so rejecting a food once doesn’t mean a child always will. Wait a few days and re-introduce it. Your son is bound to have some favourite foods and one good technique is to serve these foods alongside new or rejected foods such as fruit and veg.
Preparing foods differently may also help to make them more palatable, as will making them look attractive. Different vegetables add various tastes and textures so a brightly-coloured stir-fry can be a good way of increasing vegetable consumption. Or instead of just an apple, try serving a fruit salad. If your brother isn’t hungry at mealtimes food rejection is easier so ensure he isn’t too full from snacks when you serve new foods.
You can also disguise vegetables into meals that your brother does like. For instance finely chopped vegetables can be sneaked into soup. Both fruits and vegetables can also be blended to make juices. Over time children will then develop a taste for these flavours.
Also, get him involved in preparing the meals himself to help develop an interest in food as well as a life skill! Some parents find that letting children grow some of their own produce also helps them pick up tastes for foods otherwise rejected.
There’s always hope, you’ve just got to be a bit patient!
Contact us for free copies of the VVF’s Vegetarian Shop and Viva!’s Books for Life catalogues to find books about raising vegetarian and vegan children. For info on why a plant-based diet is perfect for young ones, read Veggie Health for Kids – a nutritional guide for parents.
I don’t want to eat meat for ethical reasons and I’m convinced that it’s probably not that healthy but can I afford to be a vegetarian on a limited income?
Buying veggie burgers, imitation chicken chunks, vegan ice cream, and mock cream cheese can get expensive but they’re not the healthiest foods any way. Instead, enjoy plant foods in their own right rather than trying to imitate meat dishes. Whole grains, the vast array of beans available and vegetables make up the most economical, nutritious, healthy and tasty diets that you can find!
There’s such a choice! Whole grains include barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, spelt and wheat while pulses include peas, all the beans and lentils, for example, are both cheap and very filling. Porridge oats make a wonderfully nutritious breakfast cooked with water, soya, rice or oat milk or fruit juice – with added seeds, fruit or nuts. Tofu (soya bean curd) is now widely available, cheap and versatile and is rich in protein and calcium.
Make no mistake, fruits and vegetables are vital to a good diet – fresh, dried, tinned or frozen. A glass of fruit juice counts as one of your recommended daily five plus portions of fruit and vegetables. For inspiration, look in your local library for some good vegetarian recipe books!
I would love to go veggie but I’m worried about what to eat in case I start piling on the pounds. Any tips?
A plant-based diet is actually a great way of controlling weight, even losing it if you need to. High-fibre foods such as vegetables, fruits, cereals, whole grains (brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread and wholemeal pasta) and legumes (soya products, lentils, peanuts, peas, and all types of beans) tend to keep weight off and are extremely healthy. Add to this a small amount of nuts and seeds each day and you’re likely to stay fit, healthy and slim.
The great thing about fibre, apart from its health benefits, is that tends to make you feel full and hence you’re likely to take in less calories - at meal times and between meals. Again, the guide Nutrition in a Nutshell contains sound advice on what you should be eating and how much of it. Official advice is for five portions of fruits and veg a day but there is strong evidence that if you eat more than this you’ll reap the benefits.
A great guide (with recipes) on losing weight in a healthy way is called the V-Plan Diet
What do you think about food combining for health? Is it necessary?
Food combining is associated with the Hay Diet and is offered as a way of solving digestion and absorption problems. It means not mixing starch (carbohydrates) and protein foods at the same meal, saving the body from having to produce two kinds of digestive enzymes at the same time. Carbohydrates are digested in the alkaline conditions of the mouth and small intestine whilst proteins need stomach acid.
What demolishes the Hay myth is that foods don’t consist of just carbohydrates or just protein but are a mix of both, plus fats – and that is what the body has evolved to cope with.
The main acid-forming foods are from animals – meat, fish, eggs and cheese. So, if digestion and absorption are problems, eat mostly alkaline-forming foods such as fruits and vegetables and pulses – soya beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils.
I want to go veggie but have really heavy periods. I’ve been told I need to eat red meat to get enough iron. Is this true?
In short – no! Most of the iron in all our diets, including meat eaters, comes not from meat but from plant sources – and iron deficiency is no more likely to afflict veggies than meat eaters. That said, everyone, especially menstruating women, should include iron-rich foods in their diet.
Iron, found in red blood cells, is vital for transporting oxygen around the body. The whole range of pulses – beans, peas and lentils – nuts, cocoa, seeds, wholegrains and dried fruits are all good sources. And many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron. A generous bowl of fortified breakfast cereal, two slices of wholegrain toast with half a can of baked beans, plus 200g of cooked lentils such as dhal, easily meets your daily iron needs of 14.8mg. Men need considerably less – just 8.7mg a day.
The iron found in meat (haem) and that found in plants (non-haem) are different. Haem iron is absorbed quickly and continues to be absorbed and stored whether your body needs it or not. With plant iron, your body takes only what it needs. This is important as high iron stores as a result of eating lots of meat raise the risk of some cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
Vitamin C, such as in a glass of fresh orange juice, helps you to absorb iron. As tannin-rich tea and coffee slow absorption, it’s best to avoid them at meal times.
Read our detailed iron fact sheet.
My vegetarian daughter is trying to lure me away from fried breakfasts and bacon butties for my heart’s sake. But I’m 59 and I’d guess that the damage is already done – so what’s the point?
It’s never too late! Not only can a diet based on plant foods help prevent heart disease, it can even reverse some of the damage that might have already been done.
Heart disease and strokes are the main cause of death in the UK so your daughter has every reason to be worried – and so have you. Go veggie and your blood pressure, cholesterol and even weight are likely to drop – which all help to reduce your risks. Eating less saturated animal fat reduces hardening of the arteries. Vegan diets are lower still in saturated fat and are completely cholesterol-free!
The top treats for your ticker are – a plant-based diet where unhealthy saturated fats and hydrogenated fats are ditched in favour of healthy, plant-based oils such as olive and rapeseed, lots of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and plant proteins, such as lentils, beans and soya. Take regular exercise, keep your weight down and don’t smoke.
You can still have a full English but with vegetarian sausages, mushrooms, baked beans, potato scones and grilled tomatoes (and try fried banana!) Grilled veggie rashers make a truly convincing ‘bacon’ butty.
There’s a really useful guide called Have a Heart.
I’d love to go vegan but where do I start? If I took all the meat, fish and dairy out of my cupboards I’d be like Old Mother Hubbard!
Whoa, making the decision to go vegan is a great step for humankind but can feel like a giant leap for you, so it’s often useful to go vegetarian first and change your diet gradually.
For starters (mains and pudding too!), check out the masses of different scrummy veggie foods available in the shops. As well as supermarkets, visit your local grocer and health food store as they usually have an even wider selection. Try whatever takes your fancy! A really healthy veggie diet will include fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, pasta and rice, nuts, seeds and pulses, ie all types of beans, soya products, lentils and peas.
Why not replace the mince in your shepherd’s pie with cooked lentils or that in your chilli with kidney beans? Or add tofu to your stir fry instead of chicken? Replace your Sunday joint with half a butternut squash roasted in olive oil? Mmm! Check out the VVF’s Vegetarian Shop catalogue for some ace cookery books to get your mouth-watering. Eating out couldn’t be easier either as pubs, restaurants and take-aways almost always have several vegetarian options plus vegan ones too.
Eventually you might want to try swapping your cow’s milk for soya, rice or oat milk or your usual choc with a bar of dark Green & Blacks but do it at your own pace. If you concentrate on making your vegetarian diet as healthy and as varied as possible, going totally animal-free will seem a piece of (vegan) cake!
We stock some super guides that can help wannabe veggies and vegans on their way. The L-Plate Vegetarian and the L-Plate Vegan are handy shopping guides. Martin Shaw Cooks Veggie is crammed with simple, animal-free recipes. Nutrition in a Nutshell explains how a veggie diet can easily supply all the vitamins and minerals the body needs. And send for our free How to Be Dairy-Free guide, with recipes and info on dairy alternatives. Take a look at www.viva.org.uk/guides
I’m prone to constipation – any tips?
Constipation is when you go to the loo less often or you strain when you do go –caused by stools being hard and small.
Straining can not only be painful but it can also cause bleeding or swollen veins in the anus known as haemorrhoids or piles. If you’re bleeding regularly or your constipation lasts more than two weeks, see your GP! Constipation can also produce stomach ache and cramps, bloating, nausea, headaches, a furred tongue, tiredness and depression.
Make sure you get enough fibre from vegetables, pulses and wholegrain cereals – there’s no fibre in animal products! Drink one to two litres of water a day and exercise regularly.
There’s a useful and very easy to read book – Dr. McDougall’s Digestive Tune-Up explaining how a low-fat, plant-based diet can prevent and cure constipation, piles, IBS and other chronic intestinal disorders. It’s in the VVF shop www.vegetarian.org.uk/shop
You could also up your calorie intake by adding high calorie foods such as seeds, avocado, houmous, nuts and nut butters (eg peanut butter), good quality oils and tahini
I’ve been vegan for 2 years and think I eat well! But should I take supplements in case I’m missing something?
If you’re a clued-up vegan, the only thing you’re likely to be missing is a string of preventable diseases! Heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers are all less common in vegans.
Fuel up on a wide range of fruit and veg, wholegrains (think brown rice, wholemeal pasta, brown bread, barley, oats…), pulses (peas, all types of beans and lentils), small amounts of nuts and seeds and their oils (eg flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp and rapeseed oil) and a daily source of vitamin B12 (see Sources of vitamin B12), such as fortified soya milk or breakfast cereal. Get your iodine from sea vegetables, kelp tablets, iodised salt or Vecon yeast extract two or three times a week.
Tofu, nuts, seeds and fortified non-dairy milks all provide calcium and spending time outdoors will up your levels of vitamin D, produced from sunlight on your skin. If this is your diet, supplements should be unnecessary. If you do take them, choose a multivitamin and mineral tablet which provides no more than 100 per cent of your recommended daily intake (RDA).
Nutrition in a Nutshell explains how a veggie diet supplies all the vitamins and minerals you need and includes a guide to food portion sizes.
What are the sources of vitamin B12?
We need vitamin B12 to make nerves and red blood cells. It also helps us obtain energy from our food. It’s often said that animals are the only source of B12 in food, and strictly speaking (excluding unfortified food) that’s true.
But B12 is actually produced by bacteria that live in the soil and animals get their B12 by eating food (plants) that has these bacteria on it, B12 is then taken up into their flesh (or milk).
We don’t have to eat animals to get B12; we can get it from the same place that animals do. No, not from eating grass – vitamin B12 can be (and already is) made in giant vats full of bacteria and then used to fortify foods such as cereals and soya milk and to produce vitamin supplements.
Obviously if you do not eat foods such as soya milk or breakfast cereals daily containing B12 then you must take a vitamin B12 supplement! They are very widely available and cheap.
This type of B12 is easier to absorb in the body than B12 from meat. So much so that the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in the US recommends that all adults (whatever their diet) over 50 get their B12 from vitamin supplements or fortified foods.
We can all get all the B12 we need (and a better kind of B12) from a well-balanced plant-based diet. We don’t need animals in the loop.
For detailed info see B12 and the Vegan Diet
Does a vegan diet contain all the amino acids for protein that I need?
We need protein for normal growth and repair of tissues and for protection against infection. Protein is made up of small ‘building blocks’ called amino acids. We get these from food and our bodies use them to build enzymes, muscle and connective tissue (amongst other things).
A well-balanced plant-based diet will provide all the amino acids you need. Especially good sources include soya products (soya beans, tofu, soya milk and veggie mince) and quinoa which quickly cooks and is often used like rice. Pulses (peas, beans and lentils), nuts and seeds and wholegrain foods (wholemeal pasta, brown rice and wholemeal bread) all provide an excellent source.
Here’s that thought again. Where do herbivores get their protein from? Gorillas, elephants, hippos, rhinos? Plants really do have it all!
A well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet supplies all the protein you need, whether you are a growing child or a senior! For more info see Nutrition in a Nutshell. Or detailed info here.
Are we are designed to eat meat or be vegetarian?
You have probably read that humans are omnivores (they eat everything!). It’s true, many people choose to eat meat, but the way our bodies are made suggests that we have evolved eating a plant based diet, full of fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables.
Carnivorous animals (lions, dogs, wolves, cats, crocodiles etc) are built for short bursts of extreme energy, with strong jaws, sharp teeth and claws. Their jaws can only move open and shut and are designed for tearing and crushing. They don’t hang around chewing food; they tear off chunks of meat and ‘wolf’ it down whole! Their stomachs are more acidic for bone and flesh digestion and their short intestines allow them to quickly expel the putrefying bacteria from rotting flesh.
Herbivores (rabbits, elephants, horses and sheep etc) eat grass and other plants and frugivores eat almost exclusively plants but are not grass eaters (gorillas, chimpanzees etc). The breakdown of these foods starts in the mouth with digestive enzymes; carnivores don’t do this. Herbivores can chew from side-to-side and have much longer digestive systems to allow sufficient time and space for absorption of nutrients. Sound familiar?
We are able to eat meat for sure, but carnivores are clearly designed for the job. We are designed to thrive on plant based diets – just like the other great apes.
There’s a great guide on this topic – Wheat-eaters or Meat-eaters?