Can You Get Sick from Being Vegan? – How to Be a Healthy Vegan

Salad

If you want to be a healthy vegan, you need to learn how to balance a diet that tends to be low in mineral content.

There is no question that most people would be better off not consuming any conventionally produced animal meats, eggs or diary. From the feed animals are given, to antibiotics and hormones, and the inhumane way in which they are raised and slaughtered, there are a myriad of reasons to become vegan based on health and moral concerns.

However, many vegans I have known personally, or know of, ended up becoming seriously ill after decades of swearing by their eating style.

Take the famous example of the Vegan Blonde, now the Balanced Blonde, who had her period stop, among other health problems, as a consequence of eating a strictly vegan diet. She tells the story of buying some salmon in a Macrobiotics store in hiding, and eating it in secret, and getting her period back the next day.

Ailments that I have seen in my long term vegan and vegetarian friends include: osteoporosis before the age of 50; degenerative arthritis of the spine; muscular weakness, and multiple sudden dental problems.

However, I also have known people who have been vegan for many years and are very healthy and strong. The difference? Sugar control and greens.

Sugar leeches minerals from the body, starting with the muscles, and eventually teeth and bones. When you take out the foods that most highly contribute minerals to a nutritional plan, you also need to take out foods at the other end of the spectrum, so that your diet does not become unbalanced. This means saying goodbye, forever, to refined sweets, and seriously controlling all sugars, including those coming from fruit.

In other words, the only long term healthy vegans I have met have restricted sugars to the point that they only consume water melon and cantaloupe once per week during the heat of summer, and cooked apples, pears or apricots in the winter, also no more frequently than once a week.

They also considerably increased their consumption of dark, sturdy leafy greens: mustard greens, collard greens, bok choy, and turnip greens, which are high in their mineral content.

My successful vegan friends also removed from their diets any foods remotely related to the night shade plant, including potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant.

Our family does consume some animal protein, raised humanely and with organic feed, or harvested responsibly from the ocean. We do this, because we want to enjoy occasional treats and tropical fruits.

However, because we have had so many friends who are or were vegan or vegetarian, when we wrote the book How to Eat, we included the vegetarian and the vegan food pyramids, excluding all the foods that would create imbalance in them.

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Why You Shouldn’t Always Grocery Shop at the Same Place

Did you know that there are over fifty varieties of carrots? How many have you tried? Two, maybe three?

There are more than 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide, although only nine are popular in the United States. When it comes to tomatoes, we are talking over 10,000 varieties.

Every variety of a plant is a little different, and the chemical composition of the food that the plant yields is also a little different. One variety may have more of a particular nutrient, such as a vitamin or mineral, than the next variety.  Even the same variety of a plant will have a different composition based on what soil it was planted in. Some soil may be richer in organic content, while another one may have more concentration of minerals.

The greater the variety of foods you eat, the more different nutrients you are exposed to. This is a good thing.

Produce Department

Always shopping at the same grocery store limits our exposure to nutrients, while potentially exposing us to the same chemicals.

 

Avoiding Toxins

If you can avoid or minimize exposure to pesticides and herbicides by consuming only organically grown foods, that is great, but if you are not there yet, consider the following.

Different pesticides and herbicides are used in conventionally grown produce, according to the country, the weather, and the altitude of the place where a crop has been planted.

The human body was designed to deal with a certain amount of toxins. Parts of the body naturally release toxins from the body: urine, feces, hair, sweat.

The body can deal with small amounts of toxins, but if we feed it too much of any given toxin, the body may not be able to expel all of it, leading to accumulation. By eating a wide variety of foods, foods that are different from each other and grown in different places, you minimize the chances of being exposed to the same chemical over and over again.

Choosing Stores

If you always buy the same foods in the same store, you limit the number of nutrients that your family eats, while continuing to consume the same pesticides and herbicides contained in foods, and giving them a chance to accumulate in your tissues and organs.

No matter how much you love a store, it is a good idea to not always but all your foods from that one store.

In the city where we live we are lucky to have a local food coop, where we do a large percentage of our grocery shopping, but we also get organic foods at Costco, Earth Fare, Trader Joe’s. Now there is a Whole Foods in town, so we are going to check it out too.

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Three Facts About GMOs that No One Can Ignore

GMOs are not the same as hybridization (which only combines species that are genetically able to breed). For more information on the differences you can read this article.

Genetically modified organisms could never have occurred in nature. Here scientists are inserting genes, not just from different varieties of the same plant, but from completely different species, including the adding of genes from animals into plants.

Sun And Young Corn Stalks
Whether you think that tomatoes containing tuna fish genes is an abomination or a great idea, there are some facts about GMO (Genetically Modified) products that you cannot ignore:

  1. GMOs have not been around long enough for us to really know about their long term effects. While GMO opposers have not been able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that these GMOs are harmful, GMO defenders cannot prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that GMOs are safe. What it comes down to, is whether you trust science so much that you will happily enter yourself and your family into a public health experiment, or if you would rather err on the side of caution, and eat foods that have not been genetically modified.
  2. Some GMOs have genes modified so that they produce their own pesticides. Their defenders say that by placing the pesticide inside of the crop, there is less need to spray pesticides on the plant, reducing overall environmental impact. This is fine, if you do not mind eating pesticides. For your reference, on this page you can find a list of the most common active ingredients in pesticides. http://npic.orst.edu/ingred/specchem.html  The list includes arsenic (a poison used to murder many notable historic figures), sulfury fluoride (a toxic gas), and malathion (a substance linked to liver cancer). I encourage you to click on each of the items on the list and find out what they are and what their effects in the body are.A better alternative is to opt for a pesticide-free diet and only consume organic produce.
  3. Some GMOs have had their genes modified to be resistant to herbicides. This way, farmers can spray herbicides a lot more liberally on their crops, confident that the only plants remaining will be the GMOs. It follows that by eating these products you will likely be exposed to even larger amounts of herbicides that from eating regular conventional versions of the crop, because with the latter, farmers would have to regulate the amount of herbicide used to avoid killing their crops. By choosing GMOs you may be exposing yourself and your family to increased amounts of herbicides.A better alternative is to opt for a herbicide-free diet and only consume organic produce.

We cannot forget the ethical and moral issues that come from the dependency that GMOs create on farmers, who are not allowed to save seeds for the next year, but are forced to buy them every year. We cannot ignore the lawsuits brought about by the makers of GMOs on farmers who never planted their seeds, but had bees cross pollinate their crops with the crops of their neighbors, who were using GMOs.

GMOs, peticides and herbicides are manufactured by the same companies. These companies claim to have science on their side, and when challenged, put down their detractors, saying that they oppose progress and science. Their message: if you believe in science then you should be applauding GMOs.

Do you agree?

We all make decisions for ourselves and our families based on our beliefs, education, and experience, and we all will deal with the consequences of those decisions. I trust the decisions you make for yourself and your family lead to a happy, healthy and long life.

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Why Washing Produce Does NOT Eliminate Pesticides

Lately I keep hearing people who are concerned about pesticides and herbicides in their foods say that they buy conventional produce, but wash it really well before eating or cooking.

They do this based on the belief that pesticides and herbicides mainly stay on the skin of fruits and vegetables, and that the thicker the skin, the clearer of toxic chemicals the fruit or vegetable will be.

Farm Store

While it is true that fruits and vegetables with thinner skins would allow more of the chemicals in when sprayed directly, in most cases these chemicals are found in the pulp of produce.

The Dirty Dozen list published by the Environmental Working Group is based on the concentration of chemical toxins found in the whole fruit or vegetable, not just on the skin. This list reports every year which are the 12 most polluted items of produce, and also the 15 less contaminated items of produce.

Once a pesticide or herbicide is sprayed on a plant, whatever is not immediately absorbed by the plant ends up in the soil, either at that time, or later on, when it rains or the plant is watered. Eventually, these toxins sink into the soil and are absorbed by the roots of the plant in question, which is why they can be found inside the pulp of the fruit or vegetable.

Washing conventionally grown fruits vegetables may help reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides found on the skin, but cannot possibly eliminate the chemicals inside them.

Buying organic produce is the only way to stay away from pesticides and herbicides in your food.

I see buying organic foods as a way to respect and help protect farmers. I do not want to buy cheaper foods if this means endangering the health of our family and the health of the agricultural workers that have to handle these toxic chemicals. Organic foods are worth the investment.

Stay away from the items listed in the Dirty Dozen. If you cannot afford to buy these organic, do not consume them. If you cannot afford to buy all organic produce, then buy the conventional versions of the Clean 15.

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“Good” Bodies Put On Fat

A few years ago, during an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show, she had her own personal fitness trainer on stage answering questions from the audience. A woman in her mid twenties asked what she was doing wrong or what she could do different, because in spite of working out vigorously every day and watching her food intake, she could not lose those last five pounds.

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Oprah’s fitness trainer cocked his head and looked at her like he was trying to divine something, and then said something like, “Something doesn’t fit in what you are saying… it is just physics.” By this he meant, he explained, that calories burned compared to calories consumed is a simple math calculation: if you burn more than you eat, the result is that you lose body fat. He had a look as if there was something this woman wasn’t sharing, like maybe how once or twice a week she hid in the restroom to eat chocolate.

Many people agree with this “simple math” of calories in versus calories out. “It is just physics.” Only the human body is not a warehouse that simply keeps inventory between merchandise in and merchandise out. Oprah’s trainer would have been much more on spot if he had said, “It is chemistry,” than stating that is was just physics.

The human body is complex, and in need of many different types of nutrients. Our bodies react differently to calories coming from different sources, but also react differently to high calorie foods depending on whether they are eaten on an empty stomach or after a full meal.

For example, 700 calories eaten out of a plate of fish, rice, beans and salad are seen by the body very differently from 700 calories that come from a chocolate bar. Why? Because the 700 calories from the chocolate bar come mainly from sugar, sugar gets assimilated by the organism very quickly, creating an excess in the blood. In order to control the excess sugar, the body produces insulin, and insulin is the substance that sends the message to the body to take the sugars out of the blood and store them as fat. Insulin peaks seem to be at least as important in the process of gaining fat as the amount of calories ingested.

A bar of chocolate eating after you just had a balanced meal will not produce as much of an insulin reaction as it would if you ate it on an empty stomach, because the other foods you ate would act as a buffer.

Sorry, Oprah’s trainer, it is not “just physics.”

A New Slant on Weight Gain

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Even more interesting than the insulin response process is a new outlook on weight gain and fat reduction, that is slowly growing among nutritionists and weight loss experts: the idea that when the body puts on fat this is actually a positive response of the organism to protect the organs, systems, and other tissues from excess toxins.

Indeed, modern nutritionists and weight loss experts are finding that when people embark in detoxing processes, even when weight loss is not a goal, it becomes easier for them to lose weight. They also have been baffled by people who are “doing everything right” in terms of activity and counting calories or points, who don’t seem to lose weight.

The theory is that in addition to sustaining basic bodily needs such as hormone balance and brain function, another function of fat is to address excessive toxins. When toxins are ingested in an amount that is too much for the body’s natural detoxing mechanisms to handle, a healthy body reacts by storing those toxins in fat cells.

That nauseous feeling that many people get when they are losing fat, they say, is related to toxins being temporarily released into the bloodstream as your body lets go of the fat.

Just Google “weight loss toxins” and you will get over 8 million hits.

According to these experts, for many people, even if they are exercising and burning more calories than what they are ingesting, their bodies will simply not let go of the fat for as long as they keep eating things like:

  • Aspartame, a neurotoxin, the main sweetener in diet sodas (by the way, did you know that two studies have linked drinking diet sodas to increased obesity?)
  • MSG, monosodium glutamate, a “flavor enhancer” also a neurotoxin.
  • High fructose corn syrup, a laboratory-made sweetener that concentrates the sugars in corn, and which is the main sweetener used for conventional sodas
  • Margarine, the “butter substitute”  that according to chemists is only a few percentage points away from being a plastic.

Basically, even if you work out and count calories, as long as you keep putting junk in your body, the body will hold on to the fat, and you should thank your body for doing this!

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Just Because It’s Good for You, It Doesn’t Mean You Can Stuff Yourself with It!

My husband Marco arrived at our house one day and found me rolling on the floor with intestinal cramps.

“What did you eat?” he asked.

“Nothing that could cause this,” I replied, “I just ate watermelon.”

“How much watermelon did you eat?”

“Only one.”

“Only one piece?”

“No, only one watermelon.”

watermelon

Come to find out, watermelons are high on magnesium, hence the cramps and the constant running to the bathroom.

I am telling you this true story of something that happened to me, because I had never heard anyone warn of the dangers of eating too much watermelon. Have you?  Then again, I had also never heard of anyone eating a whole watermelon by themselves.

Hey, we lived in Mississippi back then, and it was about a hundred degrees hot, with a hundred percent humidity, and there was no breeze at all. I felt like I had accidentally stepped into a steam room and could not find the door out. The window air conditioning of our apartment did little to cool anywhere beyond its three feet range! The watermelon was so cold and delicious…

I am not telling this to warn you about eating too much watermelon. I am sure most of you would know to stop long before I did!

I am sharing it with you because there is a lot of nonsense circulating on the internet about foods they are labeling as “superfoods,” so good, they say, you should have them every day, “have as much as you want.”

For example, I recently heard a famous person say that avocados are “so good for you” that he adds them to every single meal!

When I was a little girl, growing up in South America, we were always warned not to eat too much avocado. My great grandfather introduced the small, dark, avocados to our region, and my family was partial to avocados, yet we would never have eaten them every day.

Other people praise the benefits of coconut and share articles on the dozens of different ways you could eat coconuts, to make sure you do not deprive yourself of any of its invaluable nutrients. One such recipe arrived in one of my friends’ inbox and she gave it a try. The coconut flour cookie she handed me had so much fat I felt I could not eat anything else for hours after that. Palm trees did not yield coconuts in the region where I grew up (too cold), but when we went to the Coastal area, where they were abundant, we knew not to abuse coconuts, because you could end with quite the stomach ache.

Take another example: mangoes. Mangoes are so high in vitamins A and C that some have also labeled them as superfoods. “Eat as much as you want!” Only mangoes are also very high in fructose, and fructose is processed by the liver, so if you eat too many mangoes, something I would find easy to do, you could be giving your liver a hard time. As a side note, I come from Ecuador, a country where the endemic mangoes are only in season for two months a year and are “to die for” – people tend to overeat. We were warned to have a glass of water in between mangoes to prevent them from “kicking the liver.”

I see families who buy into “superfoods” eat large amounts of the same foods over and over again, instead of focusing on eating a varied diet. They believe that as long as they include the foods labeled in this category, their nutritional needs are going to be filled.

A Varied Diet

In general terms the more variety of real foods you add to your meals, the more beneficial your nutritional plan.

These are some benefits of the varied diet:

  • It maximizes exposure to a wide variety of nutrients.
  • It minimizes the exposure to concentrations of the same toxins.
  • It adds more flavors to your menu.
  • It enriches your experience and your life, as you learn about other cultures.
  • It is fun!

However, beware of adding too many foods to a single meal. Preparing meals with lots of ingredients may sound like a quick way to take in lots of different nutrients, but it is harder for your digestive system to handle.

The idea here is to eat different foods on different days. One easy way to do this, is to not always shop in the same place. Choose one healthy grocery store to be your main store, but when available, also visit farmers’ markets and specialty stores, so that even if you are still getting staple foods such as organic broccoli, you get different varieties of broccoli, grown in soils with different nutritional compositions.

Too Much of a Good Thing

The story that started this article happened years ago, and since I have never heard or read anywhere anything about watermelons, other than that they are good for you. Yet watermelon when eaten in excess can be harmful. If you eat too much of it one day you give your intestines a hard time, but by the next day you should be fine. If you repeated this every day, you could harm your intestines and compromise your intestinal flora.

Some elements that are in fact nutrients for the body, when consumed excessively can create toxicity, examples are sodium, potassium and iron.

Remember, just because a food is good for you, it doesn’t mean you can eat as much of it as you want or as often as you want to.

“Mama, you rocked these carrots!” – How I got my kids to love veggies.

Our two boys each nursed for two years, but we started them on solids at about five months of age.

Their first foods were porridges made with cereal grains — barley, brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa. A few months later we started adding one blended vegetable at a time to their porridges.

Between eight and ten months of age, we started introducing finger foods. It was at that age that both boys (who are almost three years apart) started saying no to vegetables. If we pushed, they made gagging sounds and eventually would make themselves throw up.

Since we have always been aware of the importance of eating plenty of vegetables from an early age, I learned how to creatively hide veggies in other foods they liked. For example, when I made bread I used a cup of blended vegetable soup in the mix instead of water. When I made crepes, I blended raw carrots, spinach or celery along with the flour and water.

I got a box of Juice Plus capsules, pure dehydrated vegetables and fruit, from my friend Julie, and added them to every single meal I prepared, even to their home made juices or shakes. Check out Julie’s website here.

All these tricks helped, but it was still very important to us to teach our children to eat vegetables without having to enter into lunch or dinnertime wars. It was as important to us, that the meals we shared as a family were filled with conversation, laughter and enjoyment, and not with battles of wills. We knew that there was no point in trying to force them to eat their vegetables.

My husband and I met at a health food restaurant, where I took cooking lessons. At this restaurant I learned how to prepare vegetables in order to bring out the natural sugars they contain. I do not mean only sweet potatoes or sweet peas. In fact, most vegetables, when prepared only with minimal salt, turn out pretty sweet.

Carrots, celery, cabbage, and even onions can be sweet treats if you know the tricks. Preparing vegetables in this way helps control cravings for other sweets.

I set out to cook vegetables in their own vapors and juices to concentrate the flavors, and then proceeded to prepare flavorful blended soups for our family. I purposefully made the soups with only one vegetable at a time, so that the children would learn to differentiate between the distinctive flavors of each vegetable.

Knowing that there was a vegetable in the soup, the boys originally resisted, but soon learned to love the taste. I had noticed that the biggest issues they had were with the textures, rather than the flavor of foods.

Over time they got so used to the blended vegetable soups that they complained if I served a lunch or dinner that did not include soup.

One day we were out and about all day and had lunch and dinner out. As we were driving home that night, the boys asked if I would please make them some veggie soup when we got home, so that they could have it before bedtime.

These days, when I ask them to pick the menu for a special occasion lunch or dinner, including their own birthdays, the list always starts with veggie soup.

Once we had established that they loved vegetables in their soup, I started adding small pieces of the vegetables that they liked most in dishes that they were particularly fond of, like spaghetti or rissotto. As time went by those pieces increased in size to become chunks. The boys didn’t even think to complain.

Nowadays we get comments like the one in the headline: “Mama, you rocked these carrots!” and they get second servings.

🙂

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5 Reasons You May NOT Want to Juice

Many people tell us that they are committed to eat better and for that reason they have invested in a juicer. There seems to be this agreement, promoted by the clever marketing of juicing devices, that there is no better way to get large amounts of nutrients into the body than taking them in the liquid form.

We do not recommend juicing, except to create treats, and treats are not to be eaten every day, with every meal.

Here are some reasons:

1. Juicing Skips the First Part of Digestion

The human stomach was designed to digest foods after they have been pre-processed in the mouth. Chewing is important, not just because it breaks up foods in small pieces (which you could argue juicing does even better) but because the saliva that is excreted during mastication has enzymes and ferments that start digesting the food while in the mouth. Juicing makes the stomach work harder. Most juicing processes, also extract only the juice and throw away the pulp, with all the fiber that would benefit your gut.

2. Too Much Sugar!

Vegetables, in their raw form are often bitter. This means that when you juice them you may end up with a very unsavory drink. People who create tasty combinations for juicing, more often than not compensate for the bad taste by adding fruit. Fruits have a lot of sugar in the form of fructose, and sometimes glucose. Often times the amount of sugar they add per serving is more than would be recommended for them in the whole day!

3. Chemical Changes

When foods are broken up and mixed with water, fast chemical changes happen. If you ever blended a banana with water or milk, and did not drink it right away you probably noticed that the drink became progressively darker as time passed and that the flavor changed, first becoming slightly sweeter and, if left longer, somewhat bitter.

If you ever blended lemons or lime with water and accidentally left a seed in there, you may have noticed that your lemonade came out bitter, and that the longer you let it sit, it became even more bitter, to the point that it was better not to drink it.

All foods, when they are blended react with the water, as well as with other foods that were put in the juicing mix.

Current advice to do all your juicing for the day in the morning and then saving it in jars to have during the rest of the day is, for this reason, a very bad idea.

4. Too Many Foods Together

Much of the nutritional advice given in the United States focuses on the amounts of nutrients. Because people want to concentrate nutrients, it seems like a really good idea to add as many different types of veggies and fruit to a juice so as to get more nutrient in a short period of time. This may sound sensible, but in reality you are making the stomach work extra hard. By eating too many foods at a time through juicing you may be forcing the stomach to produce more gastric juices than if you were chewing and eating simpler foods.

5. Bad Food Combinations

The desire to consume as many nutrients as possible in one drink, leads people to add diverse vegetables and fruits to their juices, often experimenting and changing recipes. Few people take the time to look at the different ingredients they are adding to their juice and finding out whether they combine well together, or whether they should be eaten together at all.

Is There a Smart Way to Juice?

You can enjoy juicing as long as you don’t overdo it, and follow some simple rules:

  • Juice only fruits and the vegetables that you would eat raw anyway. For example, you would eat carrots or celery raw, but you probably would not try to eat collard greens or cabbage in the raw, so it would be OK to juice carrots or celery, but it would not be OK to juice collard greens or cabbage.
  • When juicing fruits, do one or two at a time, never more than three at a time. Ideally, juice only one fruit at a time. If the fruit is sour, you may add half a banana to help with the taste.
  • Unless you are using a proven recipe from a trusted source, when juicing vegetables, juice only one at a time, to prevent undesirable taste or chemical combinations.
  • Drink your juice right away. Make only the amount you are able to drink at that time, and do not save any to drink later.
  • Juice only when the weather is warm. Juicing in the summer can be refreshing, but juicing in the winter can make you feel colder.
  • Drink no more than 12 ounces of juice at a time, and drink your juice slowly, swishing it some in the mouth to promote the production of saliva.

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