Healthy Eating Tips Every Vegetarian Needs to Know

Healthy Eating Tips Every Vegetarian Needs to Know

Are Meatless Mondays intriguing?  Wondering what vegetarians eat and how vegans get protein?  Tasty, healthy, socially conscious plant-based meals can be part of any diet… and yet, this dietary approach is always prompting a lot of questions.  How about digging in a little with me as I share the healthy eating tips every vegetarian needs to know?

What is a vegetarian diet?

  • A vegetarian diet is one excluding meat, poultry and seafood.
  • A fully plant-based vegan diet is further excluding eggs and dairy.

Now, you might be thinking that vegetarian diets all include a lot of vegetables… right?  Unfortunately, not all do.  There are plenty of junk foods that are vegetarian and vegan.  Oreos, twinkies, potato chips, mashed potatoes, french fries, processed meat substitutes, etc are all junk food options.  Grains, nuts, and plant fats are also vegetarian and vegan.  Occasionally, those foods are okay, but a diet of those alone is lacking!  While we think that the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan” are health conscious, they do not necessarily mean “healthy.”

Well-planned, balanced, nutrient-dense vegetarian and vegan diets, on the other hand, focus on plant foods that are packed with nutrients.  This type of diet can be appropriate for people of all ages including infants, children, teens and pregnant and breastfeeding women, adults and seniors.

Are there health benefits?

Yes! First, vegetarians often have healthier body weight, lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure than non-vegetarians.  In addition, rates of heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes is also lower in plant-based eaters. These health benefits may result from higher intake of fiber and phytonutrients from fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, and nuts along with lower intakes of saturated fats.

Healthy Plant-Based Foods

Vegetables:

  • Veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  • Choosing vibrant colors, especially orange, red and dark green ensures that your diet will contain plenty of vital nutrients.
  • Broccoli, bok choy and collard greens provide calcium; Spinach, iron and bell peppers, Vitamin C.  The list goes on and on!
  • Fresh is best, frozen is fine.  Most frozen produce is flash frozen at the peak of freshness so you do not lose any nutrition AND you get the benefit of the best flavor!
  • For canned veg, be looking for brands that don’t add salt.  Choose BPA free cans to reduce exposure to those extra toxins.

 

Fruits:

  • Colorful, seasonal fruits supply fiber, phytonutrients and anti-oxidants that help your body fight free radicals and stay healthy.
  • Eat a wide variety of colorful fruits, including fresh, frozen and canned with no added sugar.
  • Berries are low glycemic, meaning they do not trigger a big spike in blood sugar when eaten in moderation.  Their fiber content is part of the secret that maintains blood sugar balance.

 

Grains:

  • Whole grains can be part of a healthy diet.
  • Quinoa and millet are high in protein and gluten-free.
  • Wild rice, buckwheat and gluten free oats are packed with fiber and nutrients.
  • Steer clear of refined flours, pasta and breads in favor of whole grain options.
  • Some people are sensitive to gluten, lectins and phytates.  These are natural components of most grains.  If you feel tired, bloated, achy or otherwise “off” after eating grains, this may be an issue for you.

 

Proteins:

  • It’s a myth that vegetarians have a hard time getting enough protein!
  • All plant foods are made up of amino acids, and amino acids are the building blocks of protein!
  • Just like gorillas can get their protein from grasses and plants, so too can you!
  • Beans, peas and lentils are packed with protein and have the added benefit of iron, zinc and fiber.
  • Nuts, seeds and soy products are also great choices.
  • My favorites, quinoa and hemp contain all the amino acids to make a complete protein!

Fats:

  • Healthy plant-based fats promote brain health and have cardiovascular benefits.
  • Fats are needed for fertility and to create easily passed stool too!
  • Coconut oil, avocado and avocado oil and olive oil can be part of a healthy diet.
  • Nuts and seeds are also sources of healthy fats.

 

Dairy:

  • Dairy milk, yogurt and cheese contain calcium but it is a form that the body cannot easily absorb.  On the other hand, non-dairy alternatives are fortified and don’t include the risks of hormones and animal by-products.
  • Nuts milks, hemp milk, oat milk, coconut milk and soymilk are all readily available.
  • Rice milk is another option.  However, it tends to be overly sweetened and is generally not an everyday choice.  All rice is a natural source of arsenic.  Some varieties contain more than others.  In general, rice should be an occasional food.

 

Beautiful, Healthy Plant-based Meal and Snack Ideas

A healthy vegetarian or vegan eating style depends on variety. Here are some ideas to get you started.

 

Breakfast

  • Spread mashed avocado on a slice of whole-grain or gluten free bread and top with sprouts and hemp seeds for a balance of protein, fat and fiber!
  • Spread almond butter on a whole-grain toasted bagel and top with thin apple slices.
  • Soaking ½ cup gluten free oats overnight in 1 cup non-dairy milk and topping with nuts and fresh fruit or dried cranberries in the morning makes for a quick breakfast
  • Whole-grain toaster waffle topped with blueberries and tahini

 

Lunch

  • Veg burger or falafel with non-dairy cheese, mushrooms, tomato, lettuce and pickles on a whole-grain bun
  • Salad: leafy greens, cut-up vegetables, beans or tofu, fruit, nuts, hemp seeds
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread with carrot and celery sticks
  • Avocado roll with seaweed salad and miso soup

 

Dinner

  • Start with chili made with beans, lentils and quinoa. Then, top with shredded non-dairy cheese and add a side of cornbread and salad
  • Whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce plus vegetables (mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and onions) and a gorgeous green salad
  • Pizza with or without cheese, topped with your favorite vegetables and arugula
  • Tacos or burritos filled with beans, corn, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, cilantro and avocado
  • Vegetable stir-fry with quinoa
  • Butternut squash soup with a mixed salad and whole grain flatbread
  • Use baked russet or sweet potato as a base.  Then, top with sautéed mushrooms, broccoli and melted Daiya cheese and chives.  Or, try hempseeds, avocado, minced parsley and pine nuts.

 

Snacks

  • Hummus with pita wedges, celery sticks, bell pepper strips and carrots
  • Prepare and keep sliced veggies and fruits in the fridge for quick snacking and meal prep.
  • Top a bagel with nut butter
  • Coconut Yogurt layered with crunchy granola, hemp seeds and sliced fruit
  • Enjoy a cup of vegetable soup and whole grain crackers
  • Mashed avocado topped with crushed red pepper and a pinch of salt

 

What is your dietary approach?  Is plant-based eating something you would try?  Sharing is caring… do you have any other healthy eating tips every vegetarian needs to know?

Want a copy of these tips in a handy pdf? Click here for instant access –> Healthy Eating Tips for vegetarians

Why Your Body Poops Easier When You’re at Home

Why your body poops easier when you’re at home

Poop.  Every body does it.  From Kindergarten, we dive into books like Everybody Poops.  We are told that it is normal, natural and nothing to fear.  Yet, as we age, poop talk becomes taboo.  And the act of pooping feels taboo.  We shy away from pooping at work, when we are out at restaurants or even at friends’ homes.  Ever wonder why your body poops easier when you are at home?  Let’s look to the latest on how gut health (and poop) relates to our circumstance and location.

Why your body poops easier when you're at home

You may already know that a healthy gut is linked to everything from mental health to stronger immunity.  Society is comfortable with why we poop.  But the when and how we poop remain fringe topics. After today, I hope we can change that.

German doctor and author Giulia Enders, wrote Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ.  She gave a TED Talk in 2017 and described why she believes “bowels are quite charming.” Enders discussed a conversation she had with a roommate about bathroom habits and what she discovered about our anatomy that makes it so much easier to poop when you are in your own home.

Click to Read This Related Article: Herbs that Improve Digestion

The Tale of Your Brain and Two Sphincters

Basically, this is a tale of the brain and two sphincters!  We have two sphincters that control our bowels. The one we are familiar with is the outer sphincter, which we can control.  The inner one, Enders described as having more of a mind of its own. That inner sphincter opens a little bit and releases just enough gas or solid for the sensory cells near the anus to determine what happens next.

“There are sensory cells that analyze what has been delivered,” Enders explained, “and this is the moment when our brain knows, ‘Oh, I have to go to the toilet.'”

Once your brain gets the signal, it begins checking your surroundings and circumstances before deciding if now is a good time to release what is being held back by the internal sphincter. Finally, the outer sphincter and brain coordinate with the nervous cells to push poop back if you are not in a place where you feel comfortable using the toilet.

 

Control, Coordination and Communication

The control and coordination involved in the process is something that gave Enders a deeper respect for her body and digestive process.  If we reframe the feeling of needing to poop from being something embarrassing to being a biological cue, then we may be able to tap into that same respect.  By tuning into that feeling, Enders thinks of the inner sphincter as “putting a suggestion on her daily agenda.”

What would happen if we begin being more respectful of that smart sphincter’s suggestion?  While we have the option of putting that suggestion on hold, we also have the option of listening to our body and responding promptly.

In her book, Enders notes that waiting to poop when you have the urge can mess with the communication between the two sphincters.  Always delaying or denying yourself the ability to poop when the urge hits is what can create the disconnect.  There is no harm in occasionally holding off until you can reach a convenient bathroom!

 

Respecting Cues

That said, I talk with clients every day about poop, digestion, and nutrition.  Most people do not have any issues respecting their body’s hunger and thirst cues, sex drive, feelings of sleepiness, need to urinate or need to vomit.  While some of those cues are more pleasant than others, it makes me wonder why we have made poo so taboo.  After all, we teach our toddlers that Everybody Poops.  Even though we now know why your body poops easier when you’re at home, it doesn’t mean that pooping away from home has to be a challenge!  We need not be so wrapped up in embarrassment about something so universal, simple, and healthy!

 

As your Functional Nutritionist and Holistic Health Coach, I would much rather you pop into the public bathroom, work toilet or a friend’s guest bathroom and poop when you need to, than hold out and create a belly ache or constipation.  Embrace your inner 2-year-old, poop when you need to!  When you walk out of the bathroom, do it with a smile and the knowledge that your body is amazing and your bowels are major players in your health and well-being.  If more of us normalize normal bowel habits then the days of blaming farts on the dog and feeling embarrassed about this basic, critical bodily function will be long gone.  Wanna join me in a #pooprevolution?

 

Here’s the thing… I know it is not always practical or possible to poop when the urge hits.  I also know that withholding and delaying bowel emptying can result in all kinds of distress.  If you are struggling with digestive challenges, click my email at the top of the page and reach out.  Depending on your exact circumstances, we can either work out a plan together or partner with a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist, like my colleague at the NH Health & Wellness Center, Falguni Vashi PT, DPT, PRPC.  Do NOT let bowel and pelvic issues wreck your life.  We can help.  

 

The Deal with Vitamin D, Health and Immunity

The Deal with Vitamin D, Health and Immunity

 

Vitamin D is an overachieving, jack of all trades, hands-into-everything Casanova. D’s relationship with your body is complicated, but full of love.

So, what is the deal with Vitamin D, health and immunity?  To understand that, let’s look at what Vitamin D actually is!  “Vitamin” D is not actually a vitamin at all, but rather, a fat-soluble hormone that directs processes in the body rather than just supporting them.

 

6 Reasons You Can’t Live Without Vitamin D:

  1. Proper levels of vitamin D are needed for your cells to use the thyroid hormone.
  2. It helps cells form correctly and cleans up any misbehavers.
  3. Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium.
  4. It regulates insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity and balances blood sugar.
  5. Vitamin D is critical to the success and function of your immune system.
  6. Therapeutic doses of vitamin D are helpful in managing chronic pain and depression.

 

Get the picture? Vitamin D is an inside operator. The big deal about the big D is, without it, you risk your body tanking in a variety of ways. We are talking about increased risk of autoimmune disease, colon and breast cancer, depression, and chronic pain.

 

The Bad News: 

 

According to this article, in 2014 an estimated 50% of all people worldwide are deficient in Vitamin D. Almost 70% of adults in the U.S. were deficient. Whoa!

What is more troubling now is that reports show that 80% of the people who are ending up hospitalized with moderate to severe cases of Covid19 are Vitamin D deficient!

 

When many people lack enough of the stuff that directly modulates almost every single cell in the body, we have a global health problem.

 

For my friends with thyroid concerns, it is important to note that inadequate Vitamin D may be impacting thyroid hormone production. People suffering from autoimmune thyroid conditions, such as Hashimoto’s or Graves’ Disease should get their Vitamin D status evaluated.  Vitamin D deficiency is also a major factor in thyroid cancer.

 

The Good News:

 

That same 2010 study showing the link between Vitamin D deficiency and thyroid cancer also found that Vitamin D is protective of thyroid cells, and is actually preventing cells from becoming cancerous. 

 

Plenty of vitamin D is a sunbeam away!  Bikini and speedo clad bodies exposed to enough UVB sun rays just to pink you up a bit can manufacture enough Vitamin D to reach an equivalent of 25,000 IU. Incredibly, your body is a Vitamin D factory not only when exposed to enough sun, but also the Vitamin D that you make lasts at least twice as long as supplemented Vitamin D in your bloodstream… But there is a trick to it!

 

How Do You “Make” Vitamin D?

 

Want to be the best D-maker you can be? Of course, you do! There are a few things you need to know. When UVB rays hit the surface of your skin, your skin begins converting a cholesterol derivative into vitamin D3. The problem is that the D3 formed on your skin does not immediately make it to your bloodstream. The absorption process takes up to 48 hours and requires that you do not scrub or soap it off (you are thinking about stinking, I know).

 

Healthy Action Steps:

  1. Start by getting your blood level of 25-hydroxy so you have a baseline number established.
  2. Next, begin trying to catch some rays every day.  10-15 minutes may be all you need.  Make the best decision based on your location and your personal risk for melanoma.
  3. Post sunning, in the shower, wash pits and private bits. Just rinsing off the rest will do.
  4. Finally, re-checking your levels in a few months and seeing if you are making a difference.

 

How Much Do You Need?

 

The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 IU daily for adults through age 70 and 800 IU daily thereafter. Intake does not really do much for you if you do not know your blood level though, so ask your doctor for that 25-hydroxy test. Blood levels about 30 ng/mL are considered adequate. However, for people with chronic illness and autoimmune disease and for COVID-19 protection, many integrative doctors recommend blood levels of 60-80 ng/ml.

 

Supplementing

Talk to your doctor about a good starting amount for supplementation if your numbers are not in range with sun exposure or if you can’t sunbathe because of a history of skin cancer or if you’re at high risk for melanoma.

  • A good Vitamin D supplement will be oil-based Vitamin D3.
  • You can choose liquid drops or capsules.
  • Re-check your levels every other month to avoid toxicity.
  • 500 mcg Vitamin K2, in the form of MK4 or MK7, has been shown to enhance the absorption of Vitamin D and helps prevent any calcium liberated by Vitamin D supplementation from being deposited in muscle tissue rather than in bones or teeth.  Note: do NOT supplement K2 if you are on a blood thinner or if you have Factor V Leiden.
  • If you cannot get your level to raise above 30 with adequate supplementation, consider getting tested for a defect on the VDR gene that could be prohibiting your body from absorbing Vitamin D.

 

Food Sources of Vitamin D and K2

graphic depicting Vitamin D sources

sunlight, raw milk, cod liver oil, salmon, caviar, sardines, mushrooms, eggs, mackerel, tuna

One of the few great sources of Vitamin D as far as food goes is mushrooms. Here are some other ideas:

  1. Adding a handful of ‘shrooms to a beautiful miso broth or sautéing them in a stir-fry with other veggies!
  2. Making a tall glass of your favorite juice or smoothie and go enjoy it while lounging in the sun under a gorgeous blue sky.
  3. Tapping in to Vitamin D in eggs to make omelets or scrambles.
  4. Enjoying a Caesar dressing made with sardine instead of anchovy (if you eat fish).

 

A vitamin K rich diet includes lots of cabbage, kale, spinach, Swiss Chard, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, wheat bran and sauerkraut.  Eating these foods with a little healthy fat, like that from olive oil, coconut oil or avocado will help boost absorption.  Like K2 supplementation, be cautious of a major increase in K-rich foods if you have clotting issues.

Conclusion

Do you feel like you have a better understanding of the Deal with Vitamin D Health and Immunity?

Are you struggling to get your Vitamin D status into the healthy range?

Are you more concerned that your Vitamin D level is low now that Covid 19 is such a huge factor in world health?

If you want to dig in more deeply and get personalized support, let’s get you on the schedule.  Email sarah@yourholistichealthcoach.com and we can get started!

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