Archive for the ‘Nutrition and supplements’ Category

postheadericon Vegan diets – what’s good about them?

No matter where we look these days, vegan diets (also called plant based diets) are everywhere. Bill Clinton is on one. The Rev. Al Sharpton credits his 70+ pound weight loss to a vegetarian diet, and he has since gone vegan. Raw food and vegan celebrities are everywhere. While some continue to push paleo-style and other meat-based variants, the evidence is mounting almost daily (at least it seems that way) that a plant based diet is better for overall health and can be quite beneficial for athletes as well. Just ask triathlete Brendon Brazier, bodybuilder Robert Cheeke, and tennis champion Venus Williams, who says a raw vegan diet helps her manage the symptoms of an auto immune disorder (1).

So for any well-meaning omnivores in your life who say they are healthier because they still “eat a little meat,” you can tell them that their “healthier” choice puts them at higher risk for heart disease (2) and cancers of the colon (3) breast (4), and prostate (5). Obesity, which is now an epidemic and an official disease as designated by the American Medical Association, is also a higher risk for meat eaters (6), and diabetes (7), the cause of many associated and serious problems, is more likely to occur in meat eaters as well. And speaking of serious problems, since heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in the U.S., some doctors, such as those at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic, have recommended “40 top foods” for heart health. Of those, 38 are vegan foods (8). And unfortunately, since the two foods on the list that are not vegan (salmon and tuna) are plagued with PCB’s and dioxin (9) as well as high levels of mercury in tuna (10), those doesn’t necessarily seem to be great choices either, especially when good sources of protein as well as omega 3 fatty acids are available through plant foods.

Actually, whether for general health or for athletic performance, a vegan diet is cleaner, healthier, and comes with fewer impurities, pathogens, parasites, contaminants, and unhealthy byproducts than a meat based diet. And the only thing that can’t be obtained through a strict vegan diet, vitamin B-12, can easily be obtained through a supplement.

So the next time meat eaters try to tell you their meat diets are better for health than vegan diets, you will know that you have seen a lot of evidence to the contrary.

(1) Venus Williams
(2) heart disease
(3) colon cancer
(4) breast cancer
(5) prostate cancer
(6) obesity
(7) diabetes
(8) Cleveland Clinic 40 top foods
(9) salmon
(10) tuna

postheadericon Do this one thing to get what you want in restaurants

Many of us who are 1) trying to follow a healthy diet 2) are vegetarian or vegan 3) have food allergies 4) have other food related concerns- are often flummoxed and frustrated when it comes to eating out. As a health-oriented vegan with a gluten allergy, I feel your pain. Seeing plate after plate of hot, filling meals coming out of the kitchen and wondering if I am going to have to settle for a cold salad yet AGAIN (not that I dislike salad – it’s just that I don’t necessarily ALWAYS want one in a restaurant as my meal) got me to thinking about my previous dining out strategy.

In the past, I would gravitate to the salad section of the menu or maybe the appetizers. And if it was one of those wonderful places with a dedicated vegetarian or vegan section on the menu (rare), I would go to that. But otherwise, I would try and piece together a meal with a salad and maybe an appetizer if I could find one.

Now I do things differently in one way. It seems like a small thing, and many of you may already be doing it. But when I started doing this one thing, it made a real difference in my enjoyment of eating out and getting filling, diet-appropriate food. Ready? I now make a point of reading the ENTIRE MENU. I know, right? All that suspense for that?? It’s a tiny, tiny act, after all. And it’s not necessarily one I enjoy, especially when many of the meat based dishes can be quite descriptive in how the meat is cooked. But many clues are hiding in some of those descriptions that can tell you what you really need to know: what ingredients are in the kitchen. There might be an asparagus topping, a vegan sauce, black beans for burritos, or a side dish that is not listed anywhere else on the menu. In fact, a whole variety of sides and ingredients that could be incorporated into a meal for you are often hiding there in the “meat” dishes section of the menu.

pinto-beans-textureAnd although I don’t live near too many vegetarian or vegan restaurants, I have had very good experiences with the strategy of composing my own meal and asking the server to have it prepared. I almost never get told that something can’t be done or that they are unwilling (in fact, I can’t think of any times in recent memory). So now instead of scanning the salad and appetizer section and doing my best, I take the time and read the whole menu, looking for the ingredients I can use to make up my own dish.

As more restaurants become vegan/food allergy/medical diet aware, the cooperation I have experienced will hopefully only increase at restaurants everywhere. So happy menu reading and happy dining!

postheadericon Arsenic in rice – what you can do to reduce your risk

Rice – a staple grain for thousands of years all over the world, a good source of fiber and nutrients, and allergies to it are rare in western countries. Not to mention that for gluten free individuals such as myself, it is a go-to grain. Pretty good news all around, right? So the recent data report released by the FDA about arsenic levels in rice products is quite concerning.

Why is there arsenic in our rice? Elemental arsenic is common in the environment, so a tiny amount would be expected to be found in a variety of plant and soil samples. Arsenic is also an ingredient in pesticides, particularly those that were used on cotton crops in the south. In addition, rice grows particularly well in water flooded areas, so it is more efficient at taking up arsenic and storing it, thereby passing it along to those of us who consume it. So what are rice-lovers to do?

Not consuming rice at all is, of course, an obvious way to avoid the arsenic in it, but for many of us who depend on rice and rice products, we may not want to take that step. Fortunately, there are a few other options.

1. Alternating rice with other grains can reduce exposure, and fortunately, even for gluten free individuals, there are other good grains out there, such as quinoa, amaranth, and teff, just to name a few. For gluten consumers, the options are even more varied.
2. Look at where the rice is grown. Rice grown in California tends to have lower levels than rice grown in the Southeastern U.S., and rice grown in India (such as basmati rice) also has lower levels.
3. Rinse rice well before cooking, and cook it in a lot of water. This can significantly lower the amount of arsenic. No Meat Athlete has detailed instructions on preparing and cooking rice to reduce arsenic levels.
4. Watch the supplemental foods, too. If you are vegan and use rice milk, consider almond, soy, or hemp substitutes. If you snack frequently on rice chips (as I do), consider potato or corn (preferably non-GMO) based snacks. If you are gluten free and bake a lot, look for potato or other non-gluten based flours sometimes instead of always using rice flour.

No doubt more testing will be done and further recommendations made. Until then, use your best judgement as to how much rice you and your family consume. And keep checking the FDA consumer update page for more information Personally, I am not giving up rice. But I will probably be alternating more with other grains and rinsing, rinsing, rinsing!

postheadericon Food poisoning season is here

Of course, it’s always here in the sense that food borne illness can occur at any time and in any place. But in summertime, we tend to hear more about it, when hot summer days make it more difficult to purchase and enjoy food in a safe temperature zone. Some foods, such as chicken and beef, have a higher risk of being contaminated with bacteria that can cause illness. But even vegetarians and vegans are not living risk free. We have all heard about tainted spinach, tomatoes, and sprouts over the last few years, and with intensive agricultural practices not likely to go away anytime soon, contamination of produce from nearby animal farms is always possible.

So what can we do? Turns out, one of the most important things we can do is also the most obvious and easiest. Wash produce – WELL. Quick rinses do not get the job done most of the time, and soaking does nothing but perhaps spread bacteria around where it wasn’t before. The best thing to do with produce is to wash it really well under running water. I like to use the produce cleaner that you can buy at almost any grocery store. It’s main purpose is to remove pesticide residue, but I like to think it helps to remove some of the grime and bacteria, too.

And what about the “prewashed” greens and salads? Some say rinse, some say don’t. A 2010 study done by Consumer Reports found significant levels of bacteria in a number of samples tested. Personally, I like to give a good rinse under running water, but if the greens are organic, I will skip the produce cleanser. But I still give it a good rinse, I don’t care how many times the package says it was washed. Even if there are no illness-causing bacteria lurking, my instincts want to avoid any possibility – plus it helps my mind avoid the “yuck factor” – just in case anything is hiding.

So enjoy the bounty of the season and stay safe!

postheadericon Farmer’s market power picks 2013

For many of us across the country, this has been a long, cold, and snowy winter. What a pleasure it will be to see colorful, fresh, and locally grown produce! As you peruse the bounty at the local farmer’s market (or the local grocery or coop), here are some nutritional powerhouses to keep in mind for your basket:

Artichokes: Vitamins C and K, Folate, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese
Asparagus: Protein, Vitamins A, C, E, K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Phosphorus,Potassium, Copper and Manganese
Blueberries: Vitamins C, K and Manganese
Broccoli: Vitamins A, C, K, B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese
Carrots: Vitamins A, C, K and Potassium
Grapes: Vitamins C and K, phytosterols
Kale: Vitamins A, C, K, B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese
Mustard greens: Vitamins A, C, E, K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium,Copper and Manganese
Spinach: Protein, Vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese
Tomatoes: Vitamins A, C, K, Potassium and Manganese

Nutritional data source

postheadericon Nutrient highlight – Vitamin D

This is the first of what is going to be a regular feature of The Weightlifting Herbivore. We will periodically look at a different vitamin or mineral and learn about why it is important to people interested in strength training and overall health.
Seems like there has been a lot of talk lately about vitamin D and how many of us are not getting enough of it. What is vitamin D and why do we need it? While commonly referred to as a vitamin, vitamin D is actually a prohormone (a substance that can be converted into a hormone). It can be made by a variety of organisms after exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a number of conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and psoriatic arthritis, among others. Vitamin D is important for musculoskeletal functioning and for maintaining muscle and bone strength.

How much vitamin D do we need and where can we get it? There has been much debate about how much vitamin D we need, and many feel that the U.S. RDA of 600 IU or international units (800 IU for those 71 years of age and older) is too low. Multivitamins can contain as little as 30 IU or as much as 1000 IU or more. There are also separate vitamin D supplements. But, as with most things, we are often advised to discuss the RDA with our physician to determine the best dose for each of us. As for food sources, there are not many, and none of them are vegan (or even vegetarian except eggs for ovo-vegetarians). The best source seems to be a good vitamin D supplement.
sources: Vitamin D Council
Harvard School of Public Health
Speaking of supplements, vitamin D supplementation is a particularly tricky situation for vegans, because many of the sources of supplemental D are animal based (particularly lanolin). Sunlight exposure is ideal, but most of us do not live in climates where we can get the required amount of sunlight year round to satisfy the body’s need. So for those of us looking for vegan supplemental Vitamin D, here are some options:

Supreme Vegan D by VegLife, 2000 IU

Raw D3 by The Vitamin Code, 2000 IU

Vegan D3 in veggie softgels by Country Life, 5000 IU

Vegan Vitamin D by DEVA, 800 IU

postheadericon Six yummy beans to boost your protein

Beans are a staple food, not just for vegetarians and vegans, but for many people around the world. They are inexpensive (compared to many other protein sources), keep well in either dry or canned form, and are very versatile. They also have a good amount of protein and are quite filling. Here are six of my favorites:

Protein content is per half cup of cooked bean

Black beans: 7 grams
Good in: chili, bean burgers, on nachos

Black eyed peas: 8 grams
Good in: stew, served over grain dish

Cannellini (white beans): 10 grams
Good in: stew, chili, served over grain, sauteed with greens and garlic

Chickpeas: 7 grams
Good in: mashed as a sandwich filling with vegan mayo and spices, dry roasted as a snack

Edamame (soybeans): 11 grams
Good with just a pinch of salt/salt free shake or plain

Lentils: 9 grams
Good in: soup, served over grain dish, in chili

postheadericon Multivitamins for vegetarians that ARE vegetarian

I am always amused/annoyed when I see vitamins that are supposed to be formulated for vegans or vegetarians (meaning they include nutrients of special interest to vegans or vegetarians) but actually contain animal derived ingredients – such as lanolin or the gelatin based gel-caps. Or, when the item claims to have “100 vegetarian capsules” in the bottle, but when you read the ingredients, the vitamins themselves are animal derived. The CAPSULES may be vegetarian, but the ingredients aren’t! Makes me wonder if these companies are really thinking this through. Or perhaps they have an old fashioned understanding of vegetarianism (“you still eat chicken, though–right?”)
For anyone interested in good health, but particularly for people who are active and exercise vigorously, some good vitamins are important. We know that modern agricultural practices often result in our food being less nutrient dense than it may have been in the past (please see this article for more on that). Plus, the demands of modern life can be stressful. Add to that a physically demanding workout regimen, it’s no wonder that we may be in need of some extra help in the nutrient department.
I have tried a number of vegan vitamins over the years, and I still like to vary the brand from time to time. Here are some of my favorites:

Vegan One Multiple by VegLife (vegan) [my current favorite]
pros: it has a good all around nutritional profile, one tablet, simple – just vitamins – no herbs or other ingredients
pro or con depending on your need: it is iron free

Solgar VM-75 by Solgar (vegetarian)
pros: there is an iron-free version and it is kosher for those who are on a kosher diet
cons: does require more than one capsule

Rainbow Light Multi for men and women by Rainbow Light (vegetarian)
pros: certified organic, includes digestive enzymes, contains 1000 IU’s of vitamin D
cons: four capsules to take

Rainbow Light Energizer One Multivitamin by Rainbow Light (vegan)
pros: one tablet, gluten free, includes digestive enzymes
cons: doesn’t have as much vitamin D (400 IU) as some

Vegetarian Support Multi by Country Life (vegan)
pros: vegan, kosher, and gluten free
cons: four capsules
other: contains iron (they do make iron free products however)

Raw One for (Women or Men) by Vitamin Code (vegan)
pros: raw, one capsule, includes probiotics, contains 1000 IU of vitamin D
cons: a bit more expensive than some other brands

Alive! Max Potency Multi by Nature’s Way (appears to be vegetarian by ingredient list but website does not specifically state it)
pros: digestive enzymes included, whole foods based
cons: three tables required

postheadericon My new favorite protein source

Getting enough protein is not a problem for anyone with access to adequate amounts of healthy food. But for muscle recovery, especially when performing high stress heavy lifting, a little extra help is appreciated. Easily assimilated (drinkable is my preference) protein consumed before and especially after a strength workout seems to be a mainstay habit of omnivores and herbivores who strength and power train.
I have sampled a variety of protein powders over the years. I used to regularly use Naturade’s soy meal replacement powder. I still have some and like it. But just to mix things up, I decided to try a different plant source, so I tried Growing Naturals rice protein powder. Each serving contains 24 grams of vegan protein, which is a good amount for me. It is soy and corn free for those with allergies, and it is made from organic rice. It comes in original, vanilla and chocolate. I usually take about 10 ounces of chocolate silk, a banana, a good scoop of peanut butter, and one serving of powder and blend it. Not only does it provide energy for a workout, it is a good recovery drink and can function as a meal replacement if necessary. I am usually good for at least a couple to a few hours without hunger after having a shake with this protein in it. It has a 96% correlation to whey protein, so for those who feel they cannot lift or recover without whey, this might be a good alternative.
Overall, an excellent product. They also have pea protein, which I have not tried yet. But based on my experience with the rice, I may very well give that a go soon!

postheadericon B-12 deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans

We have all seem numerous studies, recommendations, and warnings about vegetarians and vegans not getting enough B-12.  Vitamin B-12 is essential for many functions, including making red blood cells and nerves. A B-12 deficiency, besides being detrimental to health in general, could certainly affect a strength training or other exercise regimen. A recent study measured blood levels of B-12 in different populations, including the elderly, pregnant women, and vegetarians. The conclusion of the authors was that “…vegetarians develop B12 depletion or deficiency regardless of demographic characteristics, place of residency, age, or type of vegetarian diet.” Now, this is not really major news to vegetarians, especially vegans. Since B-12 is derived from animal sources, those of us that do not consume animal derived nutrients probably (hopefully) already know to supplement this vitamin. The difference for me, however, is the source. Much of the advice given to vegetarians from the mainstream medical community is from people who not only have little experience with nutritional science, but also have little to no familiarity with vegetarianism/veganism. And much of the “advice” is really encouragement to consume animal derived nutrients because we need them somehow. Thankfully, much of this thinking is falling by the wayside, but some misconceptions persist. The lead author of this study, however, is Dr. Roman Pawlak of the Nutrition Science Department at East Carolina University. He is not only a registered dietician but is also vegan and has authored several books on the subject, including In Defense of Vegetarianism. So if a study that he has conducted concludes that vegetarians need to be mindful of B-12 intake and get necessary supplements, I am likely to trust it.

This is important information, not only for long time vegetarians, who may already know about B-12, but for new vegetarians, who may assume that everything they need is in a healthy whole foods diet (thankfully, most of it is).  And people starting strength training routines are trying to absorb information about a variety of nutrients and supplements related specifically to strength training and muscle building. Hopefully, this study will highlight the need for vegetarians, as well as other at-risk populations, to make sure they are getting the B-12 they need.