vegetarian

"But what do you eat?"

I have been a vegetarian (lately an "aquatarian" as I occasionally eat fish and seafood) since I was in my early teens and there really was no end to people telling me I would not grow properly.
I did though, and there is much evidence that cutting down on meat is one of the best thing we can do for our health.

However, there seems to be a lot of concern regarding protein and a vegetarian diet and in this post I will attempt to break this down – into amino acids (pun intended).

Amino acids (“aminoes”) are organic compounds that consist of at least one amino group (-NH2) and one carboxyl group (-COOH).
In our human bodies we make use of 20 amino acids to build proteins and these aminoes are therefore named proteinogens. There exists about additional 500 amino acids overall which do not form proteins, but they form other things such as sugars.

We need all of the proteinogens and we can synthesise some in the body while others must be supplied by our diet.
The ones we cannot make ourselves are named essential amino acids and they are called isoleucine, histidine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine, which makes a total of nine essential amino acids.

When essential amino acids were first classified it was thought that histidine was indispensable only during infancy, but it has later been reclassified as an essential amino acid as it is essential throughout the entire lifespan.

For children one additional amino acid is categorised as essential.
It is called arginine and is referred to as a semi-essential amino acid as it can be synthesised in the body, but is crucial for body growth and the body cannot synthesise enough on its own during a growth-period. 

A healthy human body can produce the remaining proteinogens itself. They are alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamine, glutamic acid, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine.

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Lack of sufficient amino acids can lead to a number of health hazards and as the body is unable to store amino acids it is important to have them in the diet.
If there are not enough amino acids available the body will begin to break down muscle tissue in order to access amino acids there to use them elsewhere.
This is why muscle waste is the first sign of lack of aminoes. 

As proteins supports functions such as hormone production, cell-to-cell communication and immune health, these are other areas in which lack of protein will show.

There is an ongoing debate on whether or not it is safe to eat a vegetarian/vegan diet because of the “protein argument”: that one cannot get sufficient protein/sufficient range of amino acids through a plant based diet alone.
Some even say it is irresponsible not to feed children meat.


There is much research to contradict this.

A study conducted by the American Dietetic Society and Dieticians of Canada concluded that “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.
Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat (although saturated fat, as we know, is not necessarily a bad thing), cholesterol and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fibre, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals.
Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.” (1)

Another study conducted on children eating a plant-based diet in India (2) concluded that
"The adequacy of plant-based diets in developed and developing countries as sources of protein and amino acids for human subjects of all ages is examined. Protein quantity is shown not to be an issue. (…)  Inadequate amino acid supply is not an issue with most cereal-based diets.” (3)

In other words we do not need to aim for one amino-acid “hit” in every meal, but we may sample amino acids from various plant based sources throughout the day.
Take for instance the amino acid lysine, which comes up time and time gain as an amino acid vegetarians “are sure to be deficient of”. 
Tofu, tempeh and lentils all contain a lot of lysine.
Quinoa, amaranth, pistachios and pumpkin seeds are also decent sources of lysine.

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Sometimes the argument is that there are aminoes found in meat exclusively, but this is simply not true.
There is a dipeptide (a molecule consisting of two amino acids joined by a peptide bond) called carnosine which is only found in animal flesh as it is synthesised in animal tissues.
Carnosine consists of histidine, one of the essential amino acids, and an amino acid called beta-Alanine.
Some research (4) has shown that carnosine in the diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, but the studies on this are still in infancy (the earliest one was conducted in 2007) and today carnosine is not considered essential for optimum health.


When you eat a protein-rich food the body breaks the protein down to single amino acids. Then the amino acids are transported throughout the body and assimilated by the cells who pick aminoes out of this “pool” to create new proteins to build the body.

Think of it as a lego set that comes in the shape of a truck (the original protein), but can be disassembled into individual lego bricks (amino acids), mixed with lego bricks from other lego sets (other proteins) to build an entirely new lego construction from the mix of pieces, such as a lego house (muscle tissue), lego tractor (blood cells) or lego lion (hormones).
(Maybe not an easier explanation, but a more fun one)
Therefore, it is important to mix and match your protein intake so as to get a wide a range of different amino acids to choose from as possible. This is the problem with getting one’s protein from meat exclusively: the amino acid source is not very varied.

A food that falls under the category protein and contains all the essential amino acids is called a “complete protein”.
Meat is a complete protein, but there are many vegetarian complete proteins too: peanuts, tempeh, chick peas, buckwheat, quinoa, almonds, brown rice, butter beans, red lentils, amaranth, hemp seed, chia seed and spirulina, to mention a few.

As Christmas is approaching I am sure that other plant-based humans such as myself are bracing themselves for being questioned  at every Christmas family dinner when they refuse the traditionally meaty holiday dishes.
Hopefully this little bit of ammunition will make dinner party season feel a little less daunting – and make conversation at the table a lot more interesting!


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1:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12778049

2:  A digression: in India there have been whole societies living to ripe old ages, prospering and creating a unique and innovative culture while being entirely vegetarian for innumerable generations. How can we then say that meat is essential for life and growth?

3:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10466163

4:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17522447

Dieta: What's for lunch?

A dieta offers quite a few restrictions and making a tasty lunch, especially if one needs it to be quick and easy, can feel almost impossible.
I have one friend who basically ate rice and fruit for a week in order to stick to the requirements and could not handle the thought of another dieta because of the limits it imposed.
But fear not! There are many tricks up my sleeve and I will share each and every one of them.

Salads are a wonderful addition to any diet and when we are cleansing it is important to eat as much raw, fresh and untreated food as possible.
My regular salads usually incorporate fermented things such as fermented vegetables and vinegar, two things that are banned when following a dieta. I am also a big fan of mustard and maple syrup in dressings as well as vegetables baked with oil – things that have to go when I am cleansing. 
This is why I have created a few lifelines that will make virtually any leafy creation burst with flavour.


DIETA STYLE MAYO

As one is allowed (and benefit from!) good quality, cold pressed organic vegetable oils on the dieta we can make creamy mayonnaise to go with a kale salad or to make a healthy Waldorf.
The presence of fat is also vital for the uptake of the fat soluble vitamins  A, D, E and K and so a must in order for us to receive all the benefits of a brightly coloured salad!

My recommended oils are extra virgin olive oil in a combination with (untoasted!) sesame oil, macadamia nut oil, hazelnut oil or avocado oil.
EVOO on its own is a very powerful taste so I recommend mixing it 40/60 or 50/50 with another oil based on your taste preference.

PLEASE MAKE SURE that all oils are cold pressed, unrefined/unpasteurised and organic!
This means the oils will be more expensive, but ill health is more expensive than anything and these oils will also last for a long time when stored in a dark and cool environment. 

The recipe:

  • 1 egg yolk, preferably room temperature
  • As much oil as you want mayo: 100-200 ml
  • Big pinch finely chopped parsley/coriander/basil
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice

In a food processor or in a bowl using a hand mixer, whisk the egg yolk until it begins to firm up.
As it thickens, SLOWLY add the oil while the machine runs. Start with droplets and as the mixture continues to firm add oil in a steady thin stream. 
If the mixture begins to separate, stop adding oil and whisk until the mixture firms up.
When all the oil is added, whisk inn the herbs and the lemon juice.

Dieta friendly waldorf with  lentil sprouts, cavolo nero, red cabbage, apple and currants

Dieta friendly waldorf with  lentil sprouts, cavolo nero, red cabbage, apple and currants


Dieta style pesto

"Pesto" is the generic name given to all herby dressings and no combination is wrong. Here are some of my favourite combinations, but feel free to go off piste with this one.

  • EVOO + basil + pine nuts + lemon juice + nutritional yeast (in place of cheese) is the classic
  • Avocado oil + coriander + walnuts + lemon juice is another delicious option
  • EVOO + almonds + parsley + lemon juice with or without the nutritional yeast is equally delightful
Buckwheat, spinach, sweet potato, sprouts, dehydrated carrots and lots of other goodies topped with coriander pesto

Buckwheat, spinach, sweet potato, sprouts, dehydrated carrots and lots of other goodies topped with coriander pesto


citrus

This is not a recipe, just a reminder: citrus. It's delicious and will add a spark to any salad.

In addition to this, citrus fruit is calcium rich, antioxidant heavy, alkalising and helps promote both blood circulation and the uptake of iron so there are plenty of reasons to include more of these in your diet.

Blood oranges are in season now and are great in salads or juiced mixed with EVOO for a refreshing dressing. A squeeze of lime will brighten up any dish.

Raw broccoli and sprout salad with smashed avocado and lime, carrot cracker with parsley pesto on the side

Raw broccoli and sprout salad with smashed avocado and lime, carrot cracker with parsley pesto on the side


Guacamole

Guac is also something that is super easy to "dietafy" as all classic guac ingredients are healthy and dieta friendly. Simply omit the spice.

  • 1 Avocado, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, a handful of chives or 2 spring onions, finely chopped 
  • A splash of EVOO or avocado oil
  • A good squeeze of lime
  • Coriander or parsley, finely chopped (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together and mash with a fork.

Taco salad with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, red pepper, spring onions and guacamole

Taco salad with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, red pepper, spring onions and guacamole


hummus

That's right, it's perfectly possible to have hummus on a dieta to eat with crudités or raw crackers for a healthy snack or even packed lunch, as it travels well.
The shop-bought kind is often full of far too much low quality vegetable oil, salt and preservatives so it is best to make it at home in any case and it's very easy too. 

  • 400 ml cooked chic peas (canned is fine but home prepared is definitely better!)
  • 70 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 glove garlic 
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 3 tbsp warm water

Blend all the ingredients with a hand blender.

Feel free to add any of the following: 1/2 small roasted sweet potato; 1 roasted red pepper; 2 roasted medium carrots; 120 ml cooked peas; oil-free sun dried tomatoes; 1/2 avocado; a handful of basil, parsley or coriander.

Carrot and flax seed crackers, sun dried tomato hummus and radish sprouts

Carrot and flax seed crackers, sun dried tomato hummus and radish sprouts


I hope you have enjoyed these ideas and that they may have inspired you to venture out of plain jane salads, dieta or no dieta!

In my next and final dieta post I will look at snacks and desserts PLUS recommend some places in London that are helpful and accommodating to a restricted diet. In the meantime, happy cooking!

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My post on the dieta and recipes for hot dishes can be found here.
My post on gluten-free and dieta friendly vegetable bread alternatives can be found here.

The year's last, loveliest smile

"Autumn – the year’s last, loveliest smile"
William Cullen Bryant
 

My favourite season is here!

Time to tidy the wardrobe and pull all the cosy sweaters out from their hiding places, to kick leaves in the park and to sample the best vegetables nature has to offer.
At the farmer’s market the stalls are creaking under the weight of the loveliest things around: lingering summer flavours such as strawberries, courgette flowers, lettuce, curly leaf kale and cucumbers are mixing with pumpkins, apples, beets and carrots, the first winter vegetables of the season.
It is such a joy to follow nature as she dances on through the seasons.

In my last post I discussed the health benefits of raw honey and promised to share some autumnal treats with you after experimenting a little. Now is the time!

Using raw honey from The Local Honey Man I have made two autumn treats, although both are so healthy you could even have them for breakfast if you so wish. In fact, the tahini date balls are ideal before a workout!
So without much further ado, here are two recipes to take with you into the new season.


AUTUMN HONEY CAKE


As the initial excitement over the arrival of the winter squashes slowly fades into frustration over the course of the cold season (my man calls this state of mind “squashed out”), it is nice to have some recipes to hand that offer an alternative take on these colourful bubbleheads.

For this recipe I have used butternut squash, but it is perfectly okay to use pumpkins, hokkaido squash, or a mix of orange and green squashes – whatever you have on hand.
Butternut squash is one of the most powerful sources of the antioxidant betacarotene in the plant kingdom, which out bodies convert to vitamin A.
As betacarotene is fat soluble, a good source of healthy fat (coconut oil in this case) alongside any orange vegetable aids the body in the uptake of nutrients.

I used borage honey from the Local Honey Man in this recipe as it is sweet, but still with some flavour to it.
I also chose to decorate my cake with a pumpkin flower from the garden, but if you can’t find one the cake can also be decorated with chopped walnuts, desiccated coconut, seeds, bee pollen, honey swirls… Whatever takes your fancy!

For the base:
140 grams walnuts
50 grams ground almonds (left overs from nut milk is fine!)
190 grams pitted dates
2 tbsp coconut oil
a pinch of sea salt

For the cake:
600 grams butternut squash
200 ml orange juice (fresh is of course best)
140 grams raw honey
180 ml coconut oil, melted and room temperature

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
Peel the squash, half it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, cut into cubes and roast for 30-40 minutes.
While the squash is roasting, blend all the base ingredients in a food processor or with a hand mixer to a crumble-like consistence that holds together in a pinch.
Line an 18 cm spring-form baking tin with baking paper, spoon the base mix into the form and press it down with your fingers, making sure that it is of even height all around.
Refrigerate the base.

Once the squash is roasted, leave it to cool before adding it to a blender with the rest of the cake-ingredients and blent until completely smooth.
Remove the cake tin from the fridge and pour the cake filling over the cake base.
This is the time to decorate the cake if you so wish.
Then place the whole thing back into the fridge to set: a couple of hours will do, but overnight is better.

To serve, open the spring form and either cut the paper around the cake base or, if you are brave, carefully transfer the cake from the baking paper to a serving plate with the help of spatulas.
 


FERMENTED HONEY ENERGY BALLS

 

I got to try something very special when I let visited the Local Honey Man, namely fermented honey!
As you may know if you have ever read anything on this blog at all, I am ever so slightly obsessed with fermented foods, so this honey was right up my alley. It is sweet yet fermented, bitter, malty, almost a little bit like honey-beer.

Energy balls, bliss balls, raw balls; you’ve probably had one somewhere lately.
These things are all the rage these days and as there are so many wonderful recipes out there this is the first time I have seen any reason to create a recipe myself.
Why add another one to the pile?
Firstly, because I wanted to create something special in honour of the fermented honey instead of having to make this unique flavour fit into an other recipe and secondly because I find many energy balls too sweet for my liking.

If you read my post about foods to eat before exercise, you may recall that the ideal thing to eat before a workout is a high carb snack that will replenish your glycogen storage (=energy) while at the same time not being too fibrous so that it will linger in your stomach and make you queasy.
Dates are ideal as they are taken up by the bloodstream quickly to give you a burst of energy before physical activity.

If you can’t find fermented honey, another more bitter honey such as chestnut honey will do the trick here. Or, if you like it sweeter, feel free to substitute with any regular (RAW!) honey you can find.

50 grams ground almonds (left overs from nut milk is fine!)
3 tsp tahini
2.5 tsp raw honey
50 grams pitted dates
small pinch of sea salt
sesame seeds

Mix all the ingredients except for the sesame seeds into a paste in a food processor or with a hand mixer.
Pinch off enough dough to make a roughly 3cm ball and roll it in the sesame seeds, refrigerate for minimum 1 hour and enjoy.
Makes approx. 10 balls.

Eat sleep run repeat

Both me and my man lead a very active lifestyle, he as a runner and a lifter of heavy things and me as a yoga-addict, and in addition to this we both choose cycling as our main method of transport around London (my bicycle especially gives a good workout as it weighs 22 kg all alone…).
We both eat a mainly plant-based diet with a small amount of dairy and eggs interspersed in between and we have both been subject to many a concerned, but of course well-meaning, speech about the dangers of exercising without eating enough meat.
This, in addition to the fact that Edward is currently training for a half-marathon, prompted me to look into plant based nutrition in relation to exercise.
What are the main food groups the body needs in order to regenerate after exercise? What foods best repair muscle? And are there any particular foods that give accessible energy before/after exercise?

Actually, eating a whole food plant based diet when exercising (of course not just when exercising, I should perhaps say EVEN WHEN exercising) comes with numerous benefits.
The antioxidants found in plants reduce the oxidative stress imposed on the body when exercising (which again leads to less inflammation of for instance stressed joints) and they help flush out lactic acid which makes your muscles sore.
Also, when eating a whole food diet there are no need for vitamin supplements as the macronutrients, minerals and vitamins naturally found in plant foods will keep the body happy, healthy and able to heal itself and regenerate quickly.

The food groups that are most important in relation to exercise are carbohydrates taken in combination with healthy fats (such as saturated fats, see my previous post) and protein.

A diet higher in carbs on training days results in approximately the same amount of fat loss as a low carb diet, but on a low carb diet it is impossible to gain muscle and strength.
How can a high carb diet make you loose fat? Well, studies have shown that eating a low carb diet for extended periods of time will cause a decline in the hormones that are responsible for metabolism. For instance a hormone a hormone called “active T3”, a thyroid hormone that is vital for energy production, muscle gain and fat-burning (i.e. all the reasons you train) will decline when there is not enough readily available energy in the body – energy in the form of glucose derived from carbohydrates.
Another hormone that thrives in a carbohydrate-heavy post-workout environment is leptin, responsible for the production of the already mentioned T3 as well as neuropeptides, epinephrine and T4 which are all hormones that affect metabolism. The insulin spike (insulin is also a hormone) caused by eating large amounts of carbs will aid in shuttling nutrients to the muscles which is necessary for muscle gain and muscle recovery.

The best time to eat carbohydrates when exercising is right after training as this will help you gain or lose weight depending on what your body needs.
The carbohydrates help you negate the metabolic hormonal issues and keep your fat gains to a minimum as you put on lean mass. If you ingest carbohydrates right after a workout you replenish the body’s glycogen (glucose) stores which is what fuels the muscles during intense workouts. If it is not spent it will be stored as fat.
When you train you spend this stored glycogen which means that you afterwards should eat a sufficient amount of carbs to “charge your batteries”. When your batteries are charged, there is no need to continue to eat high carbohydrate meals throughout the day and your post-workout meal should be your carb-heaviest meal that day.

Chia is a good ally after working out: full of protein, bone minerals and healthy omega-3 fat

Chia is a good ally after working out: full of protein, bone minerals and healthy omega-3 fat

It is, as with every food group, important to make sure that you eat the best and healthiest source of carbohydrates.
Before exercise it is a good idea to avoid too fibrous carbohydrate foods as these stay in the stomach for longer and can make you feel a little queasy when exercising. Of course, high carb foods with low fibre are often processed foods such as white bread and white rice, but there are some wholesome alternatives too.
Bananas and dates are good options just before a workout.
Sweet potato is also a good idea as it is high in sugars, but with little fibre. Bake a couple on the day before training and eat them as they come or even add to a smoothie.
After the exercise, feel free to aim for heavier and more fibrous carbohydrates. Oats are wonderful as a morning meal after training as they are high in carbohydrates as well as fibre, iron and magnesium (I will look at minerals and exercise later in the assignment). If soaked overnight in almond milk, this gives an extra carbohydrate boost as well as protein and good fats.
Buckwheat is also a fibre rich carbohydrate alternative which even contains protein and at home we mill fresh buckwheat flour to make vegan soda bread as a post-workout meal.
Quinoa is a very versatile “pseudocereal” which can be made into a sweet or savoury meal depending on what you feel like. Quinoa, in addition to being high in protein is also very high in minerals.

Fiberous and versatile carbs: oats, quinoa and buckwheat

Fiberous and versatile carbs: oats, quinoa and buckwheat

So, protein.
After a workout, aiming for a protein carbohydrate ratio of 1:4 is ideal (I mean, approximately: It's not as if I weigh everything).
Protein is the material that your body uses to build and repair muscle fibres and is therefore a very important. How much you need depends on the intensity of your training: heavy weight lifters need more protein than long distance runners, for example. On a plant-based diet, this is the thing that people fret most about: “You’re vegan? But how do you get enough protein?!”

The answer is that although animal-derived protein is the most easily accessible protein for humans, there are many wonderful sources for plant based protein out there. It is also important to remember that carbohydrates, not protein, is the main food group that will keep you going during a run and if you eat a varied plant-based diet chances are that you are getting enough protein.
Also, meat is highly acidic and this forces the body to alkalise by drawing minerals out of the bones to reach a neutral PH. Osteoporosis is no joke for anybody, but it is especially important to maintain bone health running as you are repetitively forcing high impact on your joints.

Many gym heads are prone to over-consumption of protein as clever marketing makes protein out to be the one thing that will help you gain Popeye-biceps (see: protein shakes), but most people don’t know about the dangers that come with too much protein in the diet.
Eating more protein than you need can lead to weight gain, dehydration, stress on the kidneys and loss of bone minerals. If you eat too much protein it will be converted to sugar and fat and the increased blood sugar levels can lead to yeast overgrowth (such as candida albicans) and tumour growth – just look at how Max Gerson’s alternative cancer treatment is based on limiting protein intake.
When there is too much protein in the body, the kidneys work overtime to remove excess nitrogen waste from the bloodstream that is created when protein is processed in the body. This can lead to dehydration and kidney problems.

To make sure that your protein intake is healthy it is important to balance your amino acids and this is a good example why meat based protein isn’t the best option.
Varied plant based protein sources ensures that you get a range of amino acids to choose from.
Avocados, for instance, contain 18 amino acids and are also a great source of healthy fats.
Chia seeds are great as they are incredible versatile in making jams, in porridge or on their own as a pudding. In addition to their high protein content they are also full of minerals.
Seeds in general, especially when sprouted, are perfect protein filled additions to the diet.
Pulses such as chic peas, black beans and lentils offer carbohydrates as well as plenty of protein in one neat package and can be added to any kind of dish, from salads to tortillas to soups.
Superfoods such as spirulina and wheatgrass are excellent sources of easily accessible protein. Spirulina, an algae that is sold in powdered form, contains loads of protein that is even more accessible to the body than that of meat and a lot easier to digest. Wheatgrass also contains plenty of protein and both of these foods are high in minerals.

Fresh wheatgrass

Fresh wheatgrass

As for minerals, bone health is key when exercising a lot and calcium is the number one bone mineral. It is found in dairy products, sure, but it is also found in high quantities in chia seeds, tofu and nuts and their milk, for instance my favourite nut milk almond milk.

Although sodium is listed as the bad-boy of minerals, we do need that too.
Many people get far too much sodium in their diet as this is the main component of common table salt (which nobody should ever eat, by the way), but it is found in good salts like my favourite himalayan pink salt too.
However if you are on a low-salt or salt free diet or cleanse, you need to make sure that you get sodium from somewhere as you will lose a lot of sodium when you sweat. There are sodium sports drinks to be found, but I prefer to look to natural “supplements” instead. Raw beetroot, carrots, celery and chard all contain a fair amount of sodium, as does cooked spinach and sweet potato, so if you sweat a lot (like me – yay!) and are on a low-salt diet you may want to take extra care with your sodium intake, for instance by juicing or eating raw salads.

Finally, magnesium is a trick to have up one’s sleeve when exercising.
Magnesium plays a part in muscle contraction and endurance performance as it is essential for delivering oxygen to the muscles as well as releasing muscle tension and reduce muscle cramping. Kale, spinach and other dark leafy greens are high in magnesium content, as is tofu, oats and brown/wild rice.
As you see, many of the foods overlap in nutritional benefits as rice and oats are great carbohydrate sources, tofu is excellent protein and dark greens contain a variety of minerals.

Almonds, a source of both carbs and protein

Almonds, a source of both carbs and protein

Lastly, healthy fats are extremely important in a balanced diet and as the body fat content consist of 97% saturated fats this is the main fat that should be going into the diet so that the body can rebuild itself properly.
Saturated fats are the building blocks of hormones which control metabolism; the lining of the lungs is 100% saturated fatty acids; saturated fat is required by the bones for them to incorporate calcium; white blood cells function better with sufficient saturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids provide the main building blocks from which anti-inflammatory chemicals are made in the body – key to reduce muscle soreness, inflammation and to aid muscle recovery.
Vegan sources of saturated fatty acids include nuts and coconut oil and one can also add raw butter and eggs from free-range (REAL free range) hens.

Yoga on!

Yoga on!

Happy workout and happy replenishing, dear people!

 

Why a healthy diet is a great idea

Coming down for my hotel breakfast on Sunday morning I couldn’t help but notice the cover of the Sunday Times magazine on the neighbouring table.  “THE CLEAN EATING MYTH – Why a “healthy” diet is bad for you” was the shocking headline. Shocking irresponsible some might say. I feel the article demands a response because a lot of “health food myths” are called into question by the use of carefully chosen words or simply by ignoring plain facts. At a time where many people could do with a better diet, I think it is wrong to the point of even being immoral for a national newspaper such as The Times to claim that healthy eating is bad for you.


The main objective of the article is to tackle the very real problem of orthorexia nervosa, an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, derived from the Greek orthos (correct) and orexis (appetite).  The author Katie Glass interviews several women who have become anorexic following orthorexia, including a woman who ended up living exclusively on organic melons and weighing only 38 kilos.  
Orthorexia is of course a real problem. Being overly concerned with what you eat to the point of counting grams of carbohydrates and protein per meal is more the realm of elite athletes. In fact, obsessive behaviour in general is unhealthy, but this does not mean that aiming to eat better is bad for you.

One of the dangers of “clean eating”, according to the article, is that it is apparently impossible to get enough protein, iron and calcium if your diet does not include animal products.  
A graph headed The Protein Problem aims to highlight the advantages of animal over vegetal protein.  To do this it shows how an average British woman between 19 and 24 has to drink no less than 14.5 litres of almond milk per day to get her recommended 54 grams of protein, compared to consuming only 251 grams of chicken breast.
There are obvious problems with this graph!  We all know that there are many vegan sources of protein, only one of which is almond milk. If you eat a balanced diet that includes many different plant sources you will sample protein from different meals as you go through the day. No-one aims for one protein “hit” per day! It is also worth noting that the graph did not list high protein pulses such as chick peas and black beans which are the staple ingredients in any vegan diet.
Furthermore, getting your protein from animal sources alone would make for an unbalanced amino acid intake. Varied plant based protein sources ensure that you get a range of amino acids to choose from as well as additional benefits from a plant based protein intake such as a variety of minerals and vitamins.

Of course protein is important, but studies show(*) that eating too much of it may be just as dangerous as not getting enough as it may lead to weight gain, dehydration and stress on the kidneys which have to work overtime to remove excess nitrogen waste from the bloodstream that is created when protein is processed in the body. Excess protein in the body is converted to sugar and fat and the increased blood sugar levels can lead to yeast overgrowth (such as candida albicans) and tumour growth.
People who have an especially meat heavy diet are likely get too much protein every day so I think it’s no bad thing that the people are becoming more open to reduced meat, or meat-free diets these days.

Another problem with the “clean eating fad” according to Glass and nutritionist Jo Travers is that without animal protein, vegans are most likely to be deficient in minerals such as calcium and iron. “You have to concentrate a lot harder to achieve and maintain a good bone density” on a vegan diet states Travers and herein lies the key. Concentrate. This does not have to mean “obsess over”, but simply “be mindful of”. Eating a little bit better does of course take some thinking, but it is neither dangerous nor rocket science.

Glass even has a go at organic foods in her article: “(…) we’re accustomed to ricocheting between fad diets, eschewing toxins and going gluten-free as we eat organic and order soya lattes”.
If you eat a diet that focuses on plants and that is organic, many beneficial minerals will be waiting for you in your food. Organic food is key here as commercially farmed soil is depleted of minerals and produces foods that are much less nutritious and mineral heavy than produce from organically farmed soil.
Calcium is found in greens (and more so in organic greens) such as broccoli, collards, kale, beetroot greens as well as in chia seeds, a food attacked in the article as being just another fad, but it is full of both calcium and Omega 3 – both nutrients that “clean eaters” are sure to be lacking in, according to Travers. Iron is found in almost any dark leafy green vegetable as well as in many grains (quinoa, oats, brown rice), soy products, seeds and nuts – all foods that are found in a common vegan diet. Again it is important to note that produce from organic soil is likely to contain much more iron than its non-organic counterparts.
Add to the equation that animal proteins, especially meat, are very acidic foods and a too acidic environment forces the body to alkalise by drawing minerals out of the bones to reach a neutral PH. This means that the consumption of excessive animal protein too can lead to mineral deficiencies.

Another part of the article launches an attack of so called superfoods like for instance quinoa: “Since the beginning of time, people have been seeking out single foods that can save us, and this can lead to dangerous misconceptions. Take quinoa – often hailed as a protein-rich, calorie-light superfood. You’d actually have to eat more than 1.3 kg to hit your daily protein intake.”
Well, in my diet, I make sure I get enough protein from varied sources throughout the day including from quinoa.
But quinoa, alongside many other “superfoods” such as for instance spirulina, wheatgrass, maca and chia seeds, contains many important minerals that are crucial for the body and, as Glass herself states, that are particularly important for vegans to get enough of.
Spirulina is an algae very high in accessible protein and iron, wheatgrass contains 92 of the 102 minerals found in the body including plenty of iron, maca boasts 20 amino acids and a variety of minerals, chia is high in calcium and omega 3. Quinoa, too, contains iron.
The article contradicts itself by expressing a concern over nutrient deficiencies in vegans while at the same time advising against foods that may prevent said deficiencies.
While I do not believe that individually any of these foods will “save us” I do believe that supplementing ones diet with these foods, in particular a plant based diet, helps ensure optimum health.

Another fad that angers Glass is the gluten-free trend. Yes, it is a trend and yes it can become a little bit much, even for me.
The reason that we should continue to happily eat gluten, according to Glass, is that only 1-5% of the population suffers from coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, so it can’t be that bad.
I don’t disagree with this, but the reason I personally avoid gluten is more complex.
My biggest issue with gluten products is that they are often made from flour and in particular wheat flour.
The problem with flour in general is that this is a food that is harvested and processed into flour while exposing the food to heat and oxygen which depletes the flour of nutrients. Then the flour is left in storage for some time before again being processed into a flour based product such as pasta or bread, again using heat. Finally, the finished product is often heated up again at home, leaving us with a “dead” food empty of nutrients.
Over-consumption of one thing, whether it is wheat or kale, is no good –  did you know that kale is deadly in large amounts? – and most people eat wheat in one form or another several times per day, every day. There are many nutrient dense alternatives to plain old wheat flour such as buckwheat flour (easy to mill in a blender at home), coconut flour and ground nuts and these flours are tastier, too!
I would not recommend avoiding gluten at all costs. For instance, I would rather eat a gluten-containing three day aged sourdough from my local bakery than a processed long-shelf-life gluten-free bread containing rice flour, potato flour and tapioca starch, all empty carbohydrates much like wheat flour. Again, healthy eating just requires a little bit of thinking instead of blind faith. It also requires you to spend more money.

Glass interviews food blogger Bisma Whayeh, a whistleblower on the clean eating myth, and addresses how expensive it can be to eat “clean” This is something I agree with as I spend a lot of my money on food. However, while spirulina is expensive by the pound, a tablespoon every now and then will get you a long way. Wheatgrass can be bought expensively in powdered form, but is easy and inexpensive to grown at home (as outlined here) and brewing kombucha, a health boosting fermented tea, at home is great value.
I use my local farmer’s market every week, ensuring that I get the freshest and most nutrient dense produce available. Farmer’s markets are also a much cheaper alternative for organic vegetable shopping than for instance Whole Foods or other health food shops and the money I save I use to buy more pricey foods such as chia seeds and coconut oil.
I will admit that I spend a substantial percentage of my income on food, but this only seems strange because we live in a time where a regular household will spend less than 10% of their monthly income on food, because today processed food and meat is cheaper than fresh vegetable ingredients. I choose to eat well rather than saving up for a flat screen TV or purchasing a new pair of jeans and to me this is the logical order of things.

I can absolutely see how the clean eating trend can feel unattainable and alienating and perhaps this is why Katie Glass has decided to attack the health food trend so ferociously. I understand that not everybody has the time or money to make wheatgrass juice and ferment kimchi at home and I don’t think this is necessary for being a successful human being – I am lucky to be able to do this and while I am in a period of my life when have the extra time on my hands to eat like this, I choose to lead by example.
I also think it is okay to go “off-piste” sometimes and I am also a big fan of the 80/20 rule that the Hemsley and Hemsley sisters promote: if you eat very well 80 percent of the time, you can afford to eat whatever you wish for the remaining 20 as your body will be strong enough to handle a bit of deep fried food every now and again (did anybody say courgette fritters?).

What I do believe is that in a time when diseases such as cancer, allergies, arthritis, diabetes and osteoporosis to mention a few, are on the rise and affecting a huge part of the population, there can’t be anything wrong with trying to manage one’s own health by eating better.
Health is a complex problem that does not have just one solution and today most people walk the thin line between being healthy and sick and often falter. Being “not sick” isn’t good enough: in order to avoid one of these new plagues we need to be much further onto the healthy side of that line and promoting a healthier lifestyle to the public is one way of doing this.

 

*One of many, but this article is my favourite as it clearly outlines the problem