Category Archives: Health

Vegan and pregnant?

Be reassured! Research shows that veg diets are not only safe during pregnancy, but they have significant health advantages over meat-centered ones.

First, let us reassure you of the safety. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association) says it clearly: “Well-designed vegetarian diets, that may include fortified foods or supplements, meet current nutrient recommendations and are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.” This statement confirms a large amount of experience from vegetarians and vegans the world over. In fact, vegetarian, especially vegan, mothers have more high-birth-weight and fewer low-birth-weight babies than non vegetarian mothers.

Regarding the health advantages, vegan mothers have a risk of preeclampsia 300 times lower than mothers following a diet with foods derived from animals. Women who follow a vegan diet also have a lower risk of excessive gestational weight gain, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension and gall stone disease. Vegan pregnant women have a lower-than-average rate of cesarean delivery, less postpartum depression, and lower neonatal and maternal mortality.

Let’s also remember that moms with 9 months of pregnancy and perhaps several more of lactation also have longer term health needs of their own. By following a vegetarian diet, she will be reducing her risk of a number of ordinary diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer just to name a few.

The most important supplement for veg moms is vitamin B12. However, a good general prenatal vitamin source is a nutritional insurance policy for those who have a busy lifestyle and can’t always eat the food they ideally need. Although pregnant women have better conversion rates of omega 3 fatty acids to DHA than others, it’s still important to have a good supply of omega 3’s in the diet. Fish are not the best source of Omega 3’s, due to the mercury and other pollutants, not to mention the saturated fat and cholesterol they contain. Good sources include flax and chia seeds, along with walnuts, soy products and  canola oil. Plant based sources of DHA supplements are now available.

As with all other health concerns, it is very important to consult your doctor. You may want to show them this professional level information on veg diets and pregnancy.

The fats you need

The term essential fatty acids (EFA) refers to those polyunsaturated fatty acids that you have to get from your food because they cannot be synthesized in the body but are necessary for health. There are two families of EFA, omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 EFA’s are used to produce other fats that support eye and brain health and development. Omega-6 fatty acids lower harmful LDL cholesterol, boost HDL, and help keep blood sugar in check by improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin. 

The good news is that a plant based diet has plenty of sources for both, so there’s no need to eat fish to get your omega-3 oils. For instance, flaxseed oil, walnuts, soybean oil and canola oil are good sources of omega-3s.  Safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, avocados and almonds are all good sources of omega-6s.

While there is a theory that omega-3 fatty acids are better for our health than omega-6 fatty acids, this is not supported by the latest evidence. Some people have incorrectly thought that the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is important. However the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is basically the “good divided by the good,” so it is of no value in evaluating diet quality or predicting disease. In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, for example, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids wasn’t linked with risk of heart disease because both of these were beneficial.

In a science advisory by the American Heart Association, nine independent researchers from around the country found that data from dozens of studies support the cardiovascular benefits of consuming omega-6 fatty acids. We need our omega-6s, which fortunately are abundant in a plant-based diet. Rather than cutting down on beneficial omega-6s, people would be better served by simply increasing their intake of omega-3 if they are concerned, by adding a handful of walnuts to their diet for example. We need our omega-3s and it’s very important that we get some, but be careful of all the hype…

What about Eskimos? Don’t they have lower rates of heart disease because of all the omega-3 they get from a large consumption of fish? Nope, Greenland Eskimos and the Canadian and Alaskan Inuit have heart disease just as often as the non-Eskimo populations.

What about fish oil supplements? High quality scientific studies have found that even long term, high dose consumption of fish oil supplements did not reduce the risk of heart disease, and recent studies show they may do some harm by increasing the risk of atrial fibrillation which increases the risk of getting a stroke.

So yes, we need both omega-3s and omega-6s, but there is no defined RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for Omega 3 or Omega 6 oils. However, on average, most adults who consume 17g of omega-6s and 1.6g of omega-3s per day, with nonpregnant women consuming a little less, show no signs of deficiency. Remember that all oils and fats contains 9 Calories per gram so don’t overdo it.

See our professional level information on essential fatty acids, including adequate intake and food source tables.

Preventing glioma – a brain cancer you do not want to get!

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While this might be OK as a general principle for some diseases, it doesn’t go far enough for others. When it comes to cancer, great progress has been made in treating some cancers but not all, and glioma, a form of brain cancer, is one of them. In this case an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. It’s more like a ton. There is usually no early detection for glioma and by the time the disease is detected it’s likely to already be at an advanced stage. The 5-year survival rate is only 5%.

While doctors are working hard to find effective treatments for glioma, they have already discovered ways to reduce the risk of getting it. It turns out that, just as with several other forms of cancer, a plant-based diet is powerful medicine when it comes to preventing glioma. Studies show that following a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of glioma by 71%. That’s pretty good for any disease, but for a cancer with only a 5% survival rate that’s saying quite a lot.

What is it about a plant-based diet that gives it this power to reduce the risk of glioma? Besides not containing animal foods, which can bioconcentrate carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals such as some pesticides and industrial pollutants, plant foods contain biological super-heroes. These super-heroes, technically called phytonutrients, have many health-promoting properties. There’s more to nutrition than just vitamins and minerals. Phytonutrients can helps cells from becoming malignant in the first place. For cells already cancerous they inhibit their growth and spread. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect. This is important since glioma usually entails quite a bit of inflammation.

While these benefits of reduced carcinogens, phytonutrients and reduced inflammation help prevent several other cancers as well, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer, the lack of effective treatment for glioma makes it all the more imperative to switch to a plant-based diet at the earliest possible time, preferably from birth!

A professional level article about glioma which we have recently written, has just been published in a medical journal.

Diet, ADD and ADHD

A plant-based diet reduces the risk of ADD and ADHD and improves attention and focus in students.

Many parents are concerned about the challenges their kids face in maintaining attention and focus these days.  Some kids simply need more time to be physically active or more activities that keep them engaged, while others may have a diagnosable disorder such as ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) and might be prescribed medications.  Whatever the level of concern, and whatever the contributing factors that may be causing this, it turns out that a plant-based diet can help.  

A recent study looked at children around 9-10 years old, comparing their level of attention inhibition (their ability to resist distracting stimuli while performing challenging tasks) to the nature of the foods they ate in a particular 7-day period.  The researchers found that the ability of the children to resist distracting stimuli was related to how closely their diet matched a largely plant-based diet. 

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Beans, Beans, Beans

Legumes (a family of foods that includes beans, peas and lentils, plus foods made from them such as soy products) are among the most versatile kinds of plant foods, but they don’t always get the attention they deserve. At restaurants you may find them in a garbanzo bean curry, falafel, a tofu stir-fry or a black bean burrito, for example. At summer picnics, three-bean salad or baked beans are often favorite options.

They are an important part of a plant-based diet. Because of their nutritional composition, these economical foods have the potential to improve the diet quality and long term health of those who consume beans regularly. The same goes for other legumes such lentils and peas. It seems that one of the things people living in blue zones (regions known for the longevity of the people who live there) have in common is that beans form a regular part of their diet.   Their health benefits derive from direct attributes, such as their low saturated fat content and high content of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients, substances only found in plant foods that act to help prevent cancer and many other diseases.  

The vitamin profile of beans  includes vitamin C, and seven out of the eight B-vitamins – thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, and folate—but not vitamin B-12. Additionally, the mineral composition is quite notable, with amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, selenium, iron, zinc, and potassium. Beans are a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. On average, beans provide 7 or more grams of total dietary fiber per ½-cup serving. Dietary fiber intake contributes to feelings of fullness or satiety and helps maintain functioning of the digestive system.  

Beans are also a good source of protein. Just half a cup of black beans provides 8 grams of protein. It’s important to remember that there’s no need to combine beans with grains to meet all your protein needs. A variety of plant foods over the course of a day or two will do just fine. Unlike animal foods, beans are low in saturated fats and have no cholesterol.  If you worry about gas, introduce beans into your diet in small quantities and start with lentils. This will allow your gut bacteria to gradually adapt to the new foods in your diet, and so they’re less likely to cause a problem.

So add beans to your salads, use soy products such as tofu and tempeh regularly, enjoy chilis, curries, soups and stews with plenty of beans in them, and you’ll get an amazing boost to your nutrition. You can cook dried beans in bulk at home and store them in portion sized containers in the freezer, or you can buy canned beans for convenience. Lentils don’t need pre-cooking, which makes them more versatile.

To learn more about cooking with beans, see the online cooking series – Cooking with Amanda – Lentils and Beans.

Reduce your risk of gum disease and oral disease

We’re not saying you don’t have to brush your teeth, but the latest research shows that a plant-based diet is good for your health even before you swallow your food. Recent studies show that a vegetarian diet lowers your risk for gum disease, more technically known as periodontitis. This results in a lower risk of bleeding gums, gingivitis, and tooth loss. A plant-based diet also reduces the risk of painful aphthous ulcers also known as canker sores. This condition affects approximately 20% of the general population.  

A plant-based diet reduces inflammation and that can extend to your gums. It also provides phytonutrients which are substances present in plant foods, in addition to vitamins and minerals, that have health promoting properties including reducing inflammation. In addition to being anti-inflammatory, many phytonutrients are good antioxidants which can help prevent cancer and other diseases.

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When antibiotics stop working

This one actually scares me.  What if you had an infection and the antibiotic the doctor gave you to fight the bacteria didn’t work? This is known as antibiotic resistance and worldwide it’s resulting in more deaths than HIV and malaria combined. Closer to home, three million antibiotic resistant infections occur every year. What’s causing this growing problem? It’s farm animals, although it’s really not their fault, it’s the way they are raised.

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Mushroom protein builds muscle

A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that protein from mushrooms can be just as effective as animal protein at supporting muscle building during resistance training. This fascinating study, carried out by researchers at the University of Exeter in Great Britain, was split into two phases. 

In the first phase, 16 healthy young adults completed a three-day diet where their protein was derived either omnivorous or exclusively vegan (predominantly from mycoprotein developed by the Quorn brand) sources.  They took detailed measures of metabolism during this phase.

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Lupus can be treated with a plant-based diet

A plant-based diet can help treat Lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE for short, affects up to 322,000 adults in the United States, the vast majority of whom are women. It’s an autoimmune disease, but unlike other autoimmune diseases it targets a variety of organs and can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Genetic predisposition, environmental factors and hormones interplay in SLE disease development and activity. Lupus definitely comes under the heading of a difficult-to-treat disease.

The symptoms of lupus are bad enough, but there are also some diseases that often come along with it. In one study, people with SLE were found to have a two to three times the risk of heart attack and stroke. Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in SLE patients. One reason is that atherosclerosis is accelerated in SLE patients. Their arteries lay down plaque faster than others, so they develop cardiovascular disease faster. Over half of people with SLE have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and are obese. Complicating matters even more is that people with SLE are more likely to have prediabetes and chronic kidney disease. The medications used to treat SLE can have very significant side effects which can cause even more problems. People with lupus have a lot of problems going on at once, especially during a flare up.

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Sperm counts decline drastically

Men are producing a lot less sperm. There has been a drastic drop in the number of sperm produced by men in recent years, and it’s getting worse.

Overall, there is a significant worldwide decline of more than 50% in sperm counts in the past 46 years, a decline that has accelerated in recent years. Sperm count declines among men in America and Canada have accelerated in the last five years, and this reflects a crisis related to our modern environment and lifestyle, including diet, with broad implications for the survival of the human species.

Eating a big fat steak may not be so manly after all! A 2017 study found that red and processed meat like steak, bacon, and cold cuts lowers sperm count and mobility. Another study found that high-fat dairy products like whole milk, ice cream, and cheese were associated with lower sperm mobility and abnormal shape.

Researchers, who studied men ages 18 to 20, found that those who followed a vegetarian diet had higher sperm counts — 25.6 million more per ejaculate, to be exact.

Switching to a healthy vegan diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains while young could help prevent fertility issues later in life. Men on a Western diet had lower levels of the chemical inhibin-B, which may signal damage to sperm-producing Sertoli cells.

The message is clear: a plant-based diet helps men produce more and healthier sperm.  It also helps with other aspects of men’s health such as testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction.

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