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Nutritional guidelines to ease the vegan/vegetarian transition.

B-complex vitamins. Many of the foods common to vegetarians provide ample amounts of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as selenium, soluble fiber, and others. When it comes to the spectrum of B vitamins, vegetables like bell peppers, spinach, green peas, yams, broccoli, and turnip greens are loaded with vitamin B6, while mushrooms, seeds, and broccoli pick up the B2 and B5 slack. (Meat, on the other hand, is loaded with protein and a full spectrum of B vitamins, including the ultra-important B12.) As a rule of thumb, all practicing vegans should consider supplementing their diet with B12 or a high potency (50-100 mg) B-complex formula to assure they receive a steady dose of B12, the one essential nutrient only found in animal products. Vegetarians who eat yogurt, milk, and eggs are not to worry, though they too may benefit from a B-complex formula. They're available everywhere.


Iron. This mineral is most important for women, especially younger women, as they require an ongoing supply to replenish the 15-20 mg that's lost during menstruation. Iron deficiency is extremely common among new vegetarians and manifests quickly. On the plus side, it's easy to spot. Telltale signs of iron deficiency are headaches, extreme fatigue, pale skin, cold hands and feet, restless legs, and inflammation of the tongue. Fortunately, there is a simple fix. If you prefer supplementation, try taking a 15-20 mg tablet each day with a morning meal. If you're avoiding pills, you can bolster the amount of iron in your diet with soybeans, molasses, kale, mustard greens, spinach, nuts, legumes, and potatoes; all are excellent sources of iron.

Protein. The body uses protein in more ways than most people can comprehend. Some of the most essential include the building, maintenance, and repair of muscle tissues; supporting the growth of healthy hair, skin, and nails; replenishing the body's glycogen reserves (a key source of energy); enhancing metabolic potential; regulating appetite; and many others. For those who don't eat eggs or fish or other animal products, acquiring a sufficient amount protein should not be a problem if you maintain a balanced vegetarian (and even vegan) diet accentuated by whole grains, beans, lentils, and legumes. To be doubly sure, you can also incorporate a vegetarian protein shake into your regimen.


Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Since the first studies of the remarkable health of the Inuit Eskimos in the 1970s, we've known that the fatty acids EPA and DHA play a significant role in human health, most notably in cardiovascular function. Four decades later, it's been all but proven that EFA has a direct and positive effect on everything from cognitive function and mood balance to healthy body weight and blood lipid levels. There has been--and likely will continue to be--an ongoing debate over proper dosages. To be on the safe side (as many tend to do), most manufacturers suggest taking 3,000 mg daily.


L-carnitine. Found almost exclusively in red meat, L-carnitine (a natural amino acid-like compound) plays one of the most important roles in the fat-burning process. Inside each cell there is a factory-like region called the mitochondria. In the simplest of terms, L-carnitine transfers fat (including stored fat, dietary fat, and arterial plaque) into the mitochondria, where it can easily be converted to usable energy. When carnitine is missing from the diet, it has been estimated that a person's metabolic prowess is reduced by as much as half. For vegans and vegetarians, L-carnitine supplements are highly recommended.

Calcium and vitamin D. Legendary for promoting healthy, rock-solid bones and teeth, this dynamic duo is responsible for so much more than simply structural integrity. Calcium is vital in regulating hormonal balance and assisting the body in absorbing magnesium, a key energy-unlocking electrolyte. One of the lesser known perks of calcium is that it expedites weight loss. While the exact mechanisms remain a mystery to researchers, it is now well known that calcium encourages the use of stored fat as a preferred energy source. Consequently, this is one of the main reasons why new vegetarians often struggle to shed excess weight following their transition to going V. On the other hand, dark leafy green are calcium rich, and vegans can reach for nondairy milk products that are fortified with calcium. Of course, sunshine is the best source of vitamin D.


Raw foods? Beyond vegan is a further extreme of eating only raw foods, and that can create some serious difficulties for some people. Why? Because it now seems that we humans took a giant evolutionary leap forward by cooking, which dramatically increases the efficiency of our digestion and the availability of many nutrients. The raw-food movement has produced some delicious meals. Going raw, however, increases your risk of becoming seriously undernourished.
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Publication:Spirituality & Health Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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