Vida Vegan Con: Vegan Nutrition

Hi Everyone! Here at the Nutrition Panel for Vida Vegan Con. Whether going vegan for health reasons or dealing with friends and family curious where you get your protein, vegans frequently deal with nutrition. Reading nutrition labels, necessary nutrients, how plant-based diets combat chronic disease, and what “superfoods” you should be eating…the panelists broached all of these topics from a vegan perspective.

Moderated by Grant Butler (writer for The Oregonian’s FOODday), oanelists consisted of Wendy Gabbe Day (cookbook author, vegan cooking instructor and coordinator for Northwest Veg), Bryanna Clark Grogan (teacher, cookbook author and moderator for VegSource), Gena Hamshaw (clinical nutritionist and blogger at Choosing Raw) and Ginny Messina, MPH, RD (dietician specializing in vegan nutrition),

Speakers shared their diverse backgrounds. Gena Hamshaw shared that she hadn’t eaten meat in a really long time. For her, it was a health choice having nothing to do with animal rights. When she went to a gastroenterologist, she/he told her to stop eating dairy right away. Through her blog Choosing Raw, she wanted to show that “you can eat raw without it turning into a religion.” Hamshaw is applying to medical school in 2013 “to bring my love of health and compassion to the medical community because I think it needs it.”

Wendy Gabbe Day was a vegetarian since birth. In addition to working at Northwest Veg, she’s into raw foods and now exploring macrobiotic foods.

A vegan for 23 years, Bryanna Clark became interested in veganism as she wanted to feed her children a healthy diet. She went through the whole grains diet in late 60s and early 70s, when only two reliable vegan cookbooks existed. She loves nutrition and cooking and tries to combine the two.

Ginny  Messina started in dietetics 30 years ago, working in public health with migrant workers in Michigan. She became a vegetarian after reading about factory farms and animal rights. After she began working for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), she became a vegan. Her work,

“focuses on ensuring vegans have the best information to meet their nutritional needs…I try to counter and correct mistaken ideas of a vegan diet. Many people just don’t’ understand and have old-fashioned ideas, some of these ideas are a backlash against veganism and animal rights. It’s important to stand firm in science. Vegan diets are safe. They are the only ethical choice.”

Q: Tips for vegan/vegetarians?

One thing my response is to tell people they’re crazy and getting too much protein. But it’s better to engage people in a discussion. It’s important to talk to people in their own language.

Q: What’s a common mistake vegans make?

Panelists said that people assume everything at Whole Foods is healthy. Another panelist said that she’s concerned that vegans’ diets can become too restrictive. “If you don’t have a gluten intolerance, eat gluten, it’s not evil… As a vegan, there’s a lot you’re not eating, you don’t need to eat less.” They also said eating sweets in moderation is okay too.

Q: Some say food is like a religion, no one wants to be told what to eat. How do you walk that line without becoming a zealot?

Panelists said that you’re not going to change anyone and that they don’t tell friends or family what to eat. They just cook good food.

One panelist said,

“There’s so many things you can do for animals. You can leaflet…I’m a nutritionist so I talk about nutrition. That’s how we tell the world, veganism is healthy. I think we all advocate through our blogs in different ways.”

When one panelist first started blogging, she didn’t write about animal rights even though it mattered to her. She eventually wrote about dieting issues. She said, “You can inspire people to address their own hardships and struggles.”

Q: Raw vs. cooked? Some people see raw as a panacea and others don’t buy it.

Speakers discussed eating whole food and incorporating raw food into your diet. While there are benefits to eating raw food, there are many benefits of eating cooked food too. People expect it to be a magic pill. But a lot of people do fantastic after eating it.

One panelist was concerned that when vegans restrict their diets too much, they may “take away pleasure” from eating.

It’s really important to eat raw fruits and vegetables b/c of certain compounds in them. But it’s also important to eat cooked ones for the compounds when they’re cooked. There’s no science that eating just raw is better nutritionally…To me, veganism is about animal justice and not use animal products or wear animal products. I don’t want to get sidetracked with other issues. But I love people who eat raw food diets.

My raw and veganism are not the same thing. One is the way I like to eat food. One is my worldview. I’m much more interested in people living a compassionate lifestyle and eating vegan. I don’t like when people say you need to approach veganism through raw food.

One panelist advised,

“My advice is don’t ever dehydrate anything. Eat raw soups and salad, make your side dishes raw. Make your own salad dressing. You’ll probably digest them better if you don’t sprout them so cook them. The trick is don’t buy a cookbook that tells you need to spend two days dehydrating things. You don’t.”

Q: Everyone is demonizing sugar. Are sugar and corn syrup and other sweeteners the devils they’re proclaimed to be?

They all agreed that sugar in moderation is fine.

Q: How does a vegan diet affect nutrition and matters of chronic health that AIDS and diabetes?

Whole grown, fairly low on glycemic index. Moderation.We don’t give up sweets but we don’t eat them very often. I use organic sugar.

One speaker said that numerous evidence shows that plant-based diets along with moderation of alcohol and sweets, can reverse chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease. But she said that no evidence exists yet that shows whether a 100% vegan as opposed to a mostly vegan diet will affect your health. She said,

“Clients will ask can I have a piece of chicken once a week and I say nutritionally, yes you can, but ethically, vegan is the best.”

Q: Shopping…where does organic really matter?

The dirty dozen list is the best place to start. All the panelists agreed that if you can afford organic, purchase it. But one panelist said,

“If you can’t, you can’t. It’s about what you CAN do. Take the worst offenders and go from there.”

They also said that despite what some people think, you don’t need to buy organic in order to go vegan. Another speaker warned that many people think that by buying organic meat is treated humanely. Sadly, most organic meat comes from factory farms.

Q: What are the things as shoppers that really matter in looking at labels?

Ingredient list, simplicity in foods and looking at the allergen list were all recommended.

Q: What are the supplements we need to pay attention to?

All agreed on the necessity of Vitamin B12. One speaker answered:

“Vitamin B12, no controversy, no question, there’s other way around it. You need this. The other supplements aren’t that different from what omnivores need. Once we hit age 50, everyone needs B12. Vitamin D, iodine – omnivores get it because milk is contaminated with it from cleaning solutions – and DHA omega chain.”

I found it fascinating that regardless of diet, everyone eventually needs B12. Last year, I discovered that I was B12 deficient. While I’m healthy now, at first I worried…would I still be able to eat vegan?? But thankfully, I could.

Q: What foods are you obsessed with?

Speakers shared their obsessions with veggies (naturally!); hemp (declared tasty and a complete source of protein); grains like quinoa, amaranth, and farro; and scrambled tofu.

Read all my posts on Vida Vegan Con 2011 and follow my tweets at #VidaVeganCon.

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