Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Rethinking my food intake

I've been looking for something to inspire me to make better food choices and get myself back on track to improving my fitness level and appearance. I found this great article by vegan kettlebell instructor, Mike Mahler!

Making the Vegan Diet Work

The points I found most interesting:

Without enough fat in your diet, your skin will dry up, your energy will plummet, and you will look like death. Getting 20-40% or more of your calories from fat is a good way to go. Load up on healthy fats such as: Hempseed olive oil, almonds, walnuts, marine algae DHA, pecans, almond butter, and avocadoes. Also, many vegetarian diets are free of all saturated fats, which is great for the most part. However, some saturated fat is required for optimal health, so get some coconut oil or coconut milk in you diet as well.

I am almost certain I do not get enough healthy fats in my diet. I was just complaining to Derek the other day that I need to buy some lotion for my skin, and I have dry patches popping up along my hairline sometimes, too, and behind my ears. Now that I think about it, this has got worse since we ran out of coconut oil a few weeks ago. I must remember to order more!

Get over the myth that fat makes you fat. In reality excess calories and especially excess carbohydrates are the culprits for high body fat. You will find that your overall calorie consumption will be less when you load up on fat as fat provides a steady flow of energy and reduces hunger tremendously. People on low fat diets are always hungry which is why low fat diets rarely work. Again, I do very well on high fat (30-40% of diet) moderate carb and moderate protein (100-120 grams per day). This is what I have discovered after being a vegan for many years.

It is true that fat is a calorie dense food, but I think you would have to try really hard to get too much fat in a vegan diet. I'm pretty sure if I measured my actual fat intake, it would be very much lower than the average omnivore's, and certainly lower than Mike Mahler's. To a degree, it should be, because I am female, smaller, and don't train nearly as hard as he does. But it probably ought to be higher than it is, and I should definitely consider reducing my carb intake.

When putting together a vegan diet make sure you focus on real sources of food. Avoid relying on fake meat products, soy milk, rice milk etc. These packaged foods are loaded with sodium and sugar and are okay as transitional options rather than staples. Focus on real food such as nuts, beans, veggies, and some grains such as quinoa and oats. Vegans tend to follow low fat, low protein, and heavy carbohydrate diets, which is a big mistake. Only a small percentage of the population will feel optimal on such diets.

Oh, dear, here's where I am so guilty! We eat some sort of packaged vegan option every single day. That is so naughty. I really must make more of an effort in the kitchen and get away from that. Veggie sausages are tasty, but what good are they! And I've just sat here and sucked down a shake made from soy milk and a banana. I am so guilty of being a soy-dependent vegan!

Finally, there is growing evidence that soy can increase estrogen levels, block mineral absorption, and decrease thyroid function. Others argue that there are many health benefits of soy. Regardless, I would leave soy alone as contrary to widespread belief it is not a necessary part of the vegan diet so why take the risk? Wheat gluten is even worse and is the worst part of wheat. It is a highly allergic and inflammatory food so avoid it like the plague. Seitan is garbage and I do not recommend it at all. There is enough variety in real vegan food sources so leave the fake stuff alone.

Now I disagree with Mahler on the point regarding soy. Soy foods such as tofu (bean curd), yabu (tofu skin), dou jiang (fresh unsweetened soy milk), okara (the strained pulp from making soy milk), edamame (fresh baby soybeans) are all staple foods in China and Japan. I'm sure he must be referring to weird products like texturized vegetable protein, which is what veggie burgers and sausages are made of. We eat a lot of that, I know we shouldn't. So I must stop buying that stuff, much as I love to eat them.

As to wheat gluten, I had a brief love affair with seitan, but I just intuitively have always thought it couldn't be that good for you. And eating more than a bit of it does bad things to the digestion. *sigh* So good-bye to seitan as well.

Mahler offers this example of a good vegan meal:

An example of a high protein vegan meal that I have often is three servings of lentils (24 grams of protein) mixed with two servings of pistachios (14 grams of protein and 26 grams of healthy fat), add two cups of broccoli and two cups of mixed vegetables. I then add one tablespoon of olive oil to the mix and I am good to go.

That sounds really nice. I could certainly spice it up with some seasonings and garlic, etc. I must get away from all the rubbish I've been eating lately. I'm sure if I ate this well, I wouldn't be as tempted to nosh on junk.

I also found this really good website!

The World's Healthiest Foods

It provides nutrition breakdowns for 129 foods.

Lots to think about.


Anonymous said...

Great post Carla- I have been thinking a lot about all this stuff too. I kind of thought like you did about soy until I recently read an article about the pros and cons of soy. They said that it is really good for you but here in the states you can easily get too much because while in Japan they may eat tofu every day we often eat soy in every single food product, especially if you are eating prepackaged foods. I know its true for me so try and always drink almond, rice, hemp, or oat milk, limit my prepackaged food as much as possible and make more beans and seitan.

What do you think of seitan and wheat gluetan? Do you think it should be something to eat once in a while or not? I haven't learned very much about this.

Carla said...

Hi lazysmurf. I'm not in the States, but it's easy to get too much soy in the UK, too!

I am not that thrilled with seitan and am going to avoid it from now on. In fact, I have been wondering about going soy-free for a time and seeing what that's like. Is it weird that thinking of doing without tofu makes me feel sad?