10 Big Fat Lies About Fat

10 Big Fat Lies About Fat

Drowning in junk foodIs Animal Fat your Friend?

Have you read that eating lots of fat – especially animal fat – is good for you? That it’s only sugar or refined carbohydrates that put on weight and fat is your friend? Some bloggers and ‘gurus’ consider the term ‘low-fat’ as an anathema; totally wrong. It’s low-fat, high-sugar foods, they say, that really make us fat and sick. Some online marketers not only claim that fat doesn’t make us fat, but neither does overeating! I think it’s high time these and other big fat lies were called out…

10 Big Lies About Fat

1.      Bad, refined carbs are full of sugar, not fat! Truth: foods such as cakes, doughnuts, cookies, etc. are typically not only full of refined flour and sugar, but fat – and often animal fat as well, such as butter, eggs, and dairy. No one is saying that highly refined, high-fat high-sugar foods such as these are good for you, or that they have any place in a healthy diet. But don’t focus solely on the sugar without acknowledging the fat content.

2.      Fat Fills You Up! Truth: if the ‘fat fills you up’ concept were true, then most people would only want half a Big Mac, or a small fries instead of a large serve. In fact, the opposite is true. Fatty, salty (and sweet) foods are addictive, and people who like them tend to eat way too many calories at a sitting. Have you ever seen a ‘low-fat’ burger or pizza joint? Or a bunch of skinny people loading up on McDonalds, Pizza Hut or KFC? Fats are calorie dense but without fibre, which does help fill you up without adding extra unwanted calories.

3.      People are eating less fat and more carbs, but still getting fat! Truth: In Australia, for example, Bureau of Statistics data shows Australians are eating less fruit and vegetables than ever before, with teenagers the most likely group of people ditching fruit ‘n’ veg for fast (fatty) food. Also in Australia, people are eating 30 percent less grains than they did 3 or 4 years ago, despite increasing obesity rates. Rather than eat less fat, people are eating more fatty fast food than ever before.

According to the Australian Cancer Council, “Fast food consumption in Australia has increased dramatically in recent years, with the average household spending 28% of its food budget on fast food and eating out.

The Dietitians Association of Australia notes that fast or take away food is high in saturated fat, salt and energy (calories), and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals. They advise that “frequent consumption of foods that are high in energy, salt and saturated fat can put you at higher risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure”

Australians are consuming between 36-41% of their energy from discretionary foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, sodium and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals. This is NOT a low-fat diet. This is a recipe for a dietary disaster!

4.      You need cholesterol and saturated animal fat in your diet! Truth: You don’t need saturated fat, cholesterol or trans-fat in your diet – period! Contrary to what some bloggers, marketers and self-styled ‘gurus’ might tell you, there is no dietary requirement for these weight-gaining, heart-clogging fats – not even the vegetable oils which, although a healthier option, do have some saturated fat in their composition. The most common sources of these nasty fats are animal products and commercially baked goods. Avoid these fats, as I do, and you’ll be much better off.

5.      Eating more fat actually helps you lose fat! Truth: There are far more calories, or energy in fats, as there are in carbohydrates or protein. One gram of fat gives you nine calories of energy, which is over twice that (four calories) provided by carbohydrates or protein. Currently 34 per cent of Americans are obese, and another 34 per cent are overweight. In Australia, 3 in 5 people (63%) are overweight or obese, and the numbers are growing along with our bellies. Excess weight, especially obesity, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, some musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers. When advising on the type of diet to avoid weight gain and reduce risk of heart disease and cancer, nutrition experts such as T. Colin Campbell  and Dr Dean Ornish recommend a dietary fat intake no greater than 10-15%. Fat is calorie-dense, and all too easy to consume in the form of butter/margarine, fried foods, oils, lard, and the fat inherent in meat, eggs and dairy products. If you want to immediately reduce your calorie load to help you lose weight, lose the fat!

“In a strictly controlled metabolic study by Hall, et al. researchers showed that cutting calories from fat may help with weight loss more than cutting calories from carbohydrates. Even keeping all calories equal, the group with less fat intake lost more body fat.” – Thomas Campbell, MD.

6.      Health nuts want to get rid of all fats! Truth: Your body needs some fats. Fat helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals like carotenoids. Fat is also a major source of energy, like carbohydrates and protein. The only fats you need are omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which cannot be made by your body, and so they must be supplied through your diet (source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine).  Omega-6 fats are derived from linoleic acid and are found in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower). You should eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids every day. Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids may take more planning to obtain than omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are used in the formation of cell walls and assist in improving circulation and oxygen uptake. For adequate omega-3 intake the recommended daily amounts are 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men over the age of 14. The principal omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can be found in many vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits. This is then converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenonic acid (DHA) by the body. This makes ALA the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, and the best source of ALA is ground flaxseeds. Fish oil, while a source of EPA and DHA omega-3s, can include unstable molecules that may oxidise and unleash dangerous free radicals.

7.      Eskimos ate loads of animal fat from fish, and they were healthier than us! Truth: According to a study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, diets high in fish do not promote a healthy heart, and may increase risk of heart disease. The diets and health of Eskimos and Inuits in Greenland and North America were analysed by researchers in a review of ten different studies. Researchers found that Eskimos in Greenland have similar rates of heart disease, an overall mortality rate twice as high, and a life expectancy 10 years shorter, compared with non-Eskimos. Compared with non-native populations, North American Inuits have similar if not higher rates of heart disease. The authors conclusion was that an “Eskimo diet” has previously been wrongly identified as heart healthy and that such a high-fat diet is better labelled dangerous.

8.      You need fish oil for Omega 3 Fats! Truth: Flaxseed (flax) is the richest source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) containing 50 – 60% omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans (powerful anti-oxidants), that researchers have found helpful in preventing heart disease, protecting against inflammatory disorders and certain cancers, and lowering your cholesterol. Flaxseeds add a mild, nutty flavour to a variety of foods and are an excellent source of fibre, high quality protein and potassium. Did you know that the omega 3 fatty acids obtained from fish that humans eat originally comes from the algae the fish eat? Extracting DHA and EPA omega 3 fatty acids from algae means you’re getting it straight from the source – clean and green.

There are several benefits by taking omega-3 supplements from a plant (algae) source, including:

  • You get all the benefits of fish oil omega-3, without concerns about impurities, contaminants, or of course diminishing fish stocks – this is a fully sustainable source of omega-3, and much more environmentally friendly.
  • It’s better for everyone, including vegans, vegetarians, pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Research indicates that pure algae-sourced omega-3 is more effectively absorbed by the body than fish oil.
  • The balance of DHA and EPA fatty acids is at least as good, if not better than fish oil in terms of health benefits, and superior to Flaxseed Oil.

9.       Cholesterol in foods like eggs don’t raise your blood cholesterol! Truth: As Dr Michael Greger from Nutrition Facts explains, despite dodgy research and false claims from the egg industry, the fact is cholesterol in eggs DOES increase both ‘bad’ LDL and ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

Furthermore, according to Dr Greger, “choline from eggs appears to increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and death,” and that “..consumption of eggs increases the susceptibility of LDL cholesterol to oxidation.”- another major risk factor for heart disease.

On his website Dr Greger has also explored carcinogenic chemicals and viruses in eggs, industrial pollutants, and salmonella. Eggs ARE the perfect food…for growing chicken fetuses.

10. Animal fats like ‘grass-fed butter’ are health foods! Truth: First of all, it’s nonsensical to say that refined, processed animal fats like butter can be fed grass – only living, breathing herbivores can! Grass-fed or not, saturated animal fats are not health foods – quite the opposite. Saturated fat, predominantly found in animal products, causes the liver to produce more cholesterol. Unsaturated fats do not have this effect.

“Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood.  High levels of blood cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.  Be aware, too, that many foods high in saturated fats are also high in cholesterol – which raises your blood cholesterol even higher.” – The American Heart Association

Good News on Fat

healthy plant foodsWhole plant foods are ideal for health and weight loss, according to Julieanna Hever, the Plant-Based dietitian, in her book ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition’. As Julieanna explains, whole plant foods are high in fibre and water content, which help to make you full without adding extra calories. They are also naturally nutrient-dense, including vitamins, minerals, complex carbs, protein, phytochemicals and antioxidants, yet low in energy density, or calories. The clear message is, if you want to eat foods to maximise your health and minimise your fat and calorie intake, choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes.

The truth is, fat is one of the macro-nutrients, and you do need some fat in your diet. It is the source of the fat, and the quantity that determines whether it supports good health or not. I recommend consuming (sparingly) whole plant food sources of fats, rather than refined fats and animal fats. This can be as easy as having avocado with tomato on whole wheat toast, ground flaxseeds or chia seeds on oatmeal porridge, or a handful of raw walnuts sprinkled on a green salad.

Tom Perry

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10 Myths about Meat and Milk Alternatives

10 Myths about Meat and Milk Alternatives

Meat and Milk Alternatives: Even Better Than the Real Thing

alpro soymilkIf you’re shopping for a quick, convenient, healthy meal for you and your family, do you consider (or prefer) alternatives to meat and/or dairy products? Vegetarian or vegan ‘meat’ or non-dairy milk sounds like a contradiction in terms – to some people.

I think in terms of health, environmental sustainability, animal welfare and, yes, taste, they are (to quote a U2 song), ‘even better than the real thing’.

If you are into, say, veggie hot dogs, soy cheese or almond milk, prepare for some backlash. There are a lot of negative attitudes about meat and dairy substitutes, and most of these attitudes are based on prejudice and misinformation. I thought it was time that some of these ‘myths’ were exposed and explored, to set the record straight!

10 Myths about Alternatives to Meat and Milk products

1. Only animal products are called ‘meat’ and ‘milk’Truth: vegetarian or vegan foods cannot escape some parallels with animal foods. The dictionary calls the edible kernel of a nut “nut meat”. Coconut milk is, well, coconut milk, as is coconut cream, and the edible layers of endosperm inside the coconut is called its ‘flesh’. Simply by using the words ‘meat’ or ‘milk’ in describing a vegetarian or vegan food in no way suggests some sort of sell out, or even anything necessarily ‘bad’. (Interestingly, and instructively, from the mid-1980s the animal food lobby in Australia successfully prevented soy milk using the word ‘milk’ for many, many years, and it could only be commercially referred to as ‘soy drink’).

2. Meat and milk alternatives are ‘new-age’ fad-foodsTruth: many alternative vegetarian protein foods have a very long, distinguished history. Wheat meat, or wheat gluten, or Seitan, was developed by Chinese Buddhist vegetarian monks from the 6th century (wheat meat, is a food made from gluten, the main protein of wheat. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving the sticky insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten – source: Wikipedia). Tempeh, a traditional protein food made from whole fermented soybeans, originated in Indonesia in the 12th or 13th century. Tofu, a food high in protein and iron was invented in China by the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds to make ‘bean curd’, i.e. Tofu. Interestingly, the word ‘curds’ in turn refers to a dairy product obtained by ‘curdling’ or coagulating cow’s milk with rennet or an acidic substance such as lemon juice or vinegar.

Wikipedia tells us that: ‘Plant milk has been consumed for centuries in various cultures, both as a regular drink (such as the Spanish horchata) and as a substitute for dairy milk’.  Like meat and other animal products, milk substitutes also don’t require animals to be exploited (e.g. multiple forced pregnancies and death of male ‘veal’ calves) to obtain the milk.

3. Meat and milk alternatives are highly processed junk foodTruth: some meat and dairy substitutes are highly processed, with loads of ingredients, while some, such as seitan or tempeh, or soy milk made from whole, non-GM soybeans, have minimal processing. Beans, for example, could be considered one of the healthiest foods, and a protein substitute for meat (soy beans have ‘complete protein’, equivalent to meat and eggs). I recommend reading food labels carefully and avoiding any products with a high-fat and high-sodium content.

While it is important to eat from a variety of whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, meat and dairy substitutes are generally much superior nutritionally to their animal counterparts. My family, including my four, strapping, healthy kids (vegetarian from birth) all enjoy meat and dairy alternatives, such as veggie burgers, nuggets or hot dogs, and soy milk (including soy formula as babies). They are high in protein, and often include such important nutrients for vegans/vegetarians as iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12. These are valid, nutritious foods, without the animal fat, cholesterol, lactose and protein that can contribute to heart disease, digestive problems and cancer.

4. True vegetarians or vegans shouldn’t eat or want meat or milk alternativesTruth: I didn’t give up meat because I didn’t like the taste or texture (although even if it was cruelty-free now, I couldn’t stomach it after 35 years abstinence). I gave it up because I didn’t want to eat dead animals. Much later I discovered the delights of such fare as tofu, falafel, tempeh and lentils, almond milk and oat milk, but having come from a small country town, at first I could only relate to protein foods that could easily replace the meat I grew up eating. I simply could not have made the transition to vegetarian then later vegan without meat and dairy substitutes, and they are still a valid way of people making, and maintaining that transition.

5. Meat and milk alternatives are fake foodTruth: many people incorrectly refer to meat or dairy alternatives as ‘mock’, or ‘fake’. I purposefully do not use terms like ‘mock’ or ‘faux’ or ‘fake’ meat, or ‘mock’ or ‘fake’ milk for soy or other non-dairy milk. These are derogatory terms that cater to non-veggos’ prejudice against anything that is different to what they consume. Just as a fake bank note cannot be used (legally), and a fake plastic steak cannot be eaten, the word ‘fake’ implies that something is counterfeit, or not useful in the same way as the original. The word ‘mock’ also has negative connotations, meaning ‘to attack or treat with ridicule, contempt, or derision’. The fact is, most, if not all the criticism of animal-free alternatives are based on misinformation and propaganda – convenient myths to defend the meat, milk and animal product industry.

6. Only hippies, hard-core vegans or ‘health-nuts’ are into meat and milk substitutesTruth: the meat-substitute industry is big, and growing bigger. An online article noted that even the meat industry is looking to jump on the bandwagon (surely the ultimate case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’?!). This article noted that one-third of Americans are choosing to leave meat off their plate more frequently, and that over the past 10 years, the annual per capita red meat consumption in the US fell 15% to 101 pounds. Research referred to in the article values the global meat substitute market at $3.4 billion in 2014, with an annual growth rate of 7.5%, reaching $5.81 billion by 2022. It is estimated that meat substitutes or alternative proteins could make up one-third of the entire meat market by 2050.

A recent news item here in Australia indicated that so-called ‘alternative milks’ are continuing to rise in popularity.

Ms Lauren Magner, an analyst from IBISWorld, said in this article that due to the rise of the alternative milk market (in particular soy and almond milk) the industry is now worth about $150 million. The same article noted that US consumers are turning away from traditional dairy products ‘in droves’.

“This figure has been growing quite quickly over the past five years as the popularity of alternative milks has grown, and we have expected 6 per cent per annum growth over the past five years,” she said.

A global market analyst Mintel study recently found that while sales of alternative milks in the US rose by 9 per cent in 2015; dairy milk sales decreased by 7 per cent, costing the US industry $17.8 billion in lost sales.

7. Meat alternatives taste like cardboard or dog food – Truth: In another online article, titled Fake Meat So Good It Will Freak You Out, one of the founders of Twitter, Biz Stone, a vegan of over ten years and potential investor in ‘Beyond Meat’, commented on the vision of Beyond Meat’s founder Ethan Brown:

“My first reaction was, if I was given this in a restaurant, I’d get the waiter to come over and ask if he’d accidentally given us real chicken. It has a plumpness to it, what they call a ‘mouthfeel,’ like a kind of fattiness.

“I’d rate Beyond Meat as being 90 to 95 percent as realistic as chicken, but in every other way, it’s superior. It requires far less energy to produce, it’s got no saturated fats, no antibiotics, and no animals are harmed in the process.”

I accept that taste is a subjective, personal and cultural aspect of human experience, and that some people, even including some non-meat eaters, don’t like the taste of certain meat alternatives. That’s perfectly understandable and normal. However, now it’s fair to say that there is a large enough range of meat substitutes, ranging from traditional foods like tofu to gourmet vegan sausages, to suit most palates.

In terms of taste, texture, and type, meat substitutes have come a long, long way from basic ‘TVP’ mince (Textured or texturized vegetable protein (TVP), also known as textured soy protein (TSP), soy meat, or soya chunks is a defatted soy flour product, a by-product of extracting soybean oil. It is often used as a meat analogue or meat extender. It is quick to cook, with a protein content far greater than meat – source: Wikipedia).

8. Meat and milk alternatives don’t have the variety of the ‘real’ thingTruth: the US and UK have a huge range of substitutes for beef, chicken, sausages, hotdogs, burgers, milk, cheese and convenience meals, including Beyond Meat, Gardein, Impossible Foods, Goodlife, Redwoods, Linda McCartney Foods and many more.

Here in Melbourne, Australia, we have access to a huge variety of meat alternatives, many of which are vegan (check labels – there is often egg-white used as binders in these products, for example). These include Sanitarium’s ‘Veggie Delights‘ range; Fry’s Vegetarian ‘meats’ range; Quorn’s veggie meat selection (all Quorn foods contain mycoprotein as an ingredient, which is derived from the Fusarium venenatum fungus and is grown by fermentation. The fungi culture is dried and mixed with egg albumen, which acts as a binder, and then is adjusted in texture and pressed into various forms – Quorn now has a vegan range); Zoglo’s Vegetarian Choice range and Vegan Perfection’s imported veggie meat substitute products. Importantly, many of these products are available in your local supermarket, and some in certain health food stores.

When I first gave up cow’s milk there were no plant milks or dairy substitutes in the local supermarket. Now, more and more people are choosing dairy alternatives for their smoothies, baking, or cream in their coffee.  It’s as now as easy as grabbing some almond, soy, rice, oat or coconut milk and you’re good to go. Other non-dairy alternatives such as vegan cheese have also come along way, with a plethora of quality varieties now widely used and available.

9. Meat and milk alternatives are too expensiveTruth: meat substitutes can range from incredibly cheap, such as beans, lentils and falafels, to higher-priced speciality foods, including gourmet meat and cheese analogues. It depends on a number of factors, including whether the products are imported or made locally, and how big the market is for the product.

I remember when I first went vegan in the early 1980s, soymilk – only available from some health food stores – was over $3.00 a litre – way out of my student price range! Now, well over 30 years later, I can get regular soymilk for a little over a dollar (Australian) per litre in my local supermarket. Meat, on the other hand, has gone way up in price since I ate meat in the ‘70s; except for chicken. Prime cuts of meat, particularly red meat, are not cheap, and in many cases far more expensive than the less processed whole-food plant protein sources such as beans, nuts and grains.

10. Meat and milk alternatives are for wimps who can’t handle the ‘real thing’Truth: there are plenty of super-fit and strong athletes, including some male athletes, who only consume vegan protein foods. For example, Patrik Baboumian, an Armenian-German with 50-cm biceps is one of the strongest men in the world, holding world records in log-lifting and dead-lifting (in September 20, 2015 Patrik officially beat his own world record by completing the ‘yoke walk’ with 560kg!). Patrik went vegetarian in 2005, then vegan in 2011. Patrik’s main protein sources are: soy-milk, soy-protein-powder, tofu, nuts and beans. He famously stated in 2013:

“Almost two years after becoming vegan I am stronger than ever before and I am still improving day by day. Don’t listen to those self-proclaimed nutrition gurus and the supplement industry trying to tell you that you need meat, eggs and dairy to get enough protein. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources and your body is going to thank you for stopping feeding it with dead-food. Go vegan and feel the power!”

David Carter is a huge US NFL defensive lineman, now known as the ‘300 pound vegan’. David needs a lot of (non-animal) protein for his size and his sport, which comes from many different sources, including rice and beans (which together make complete protein); whole grains like millet, quinoa, and couscous; supplements like spirulina and hemp protein; and nuts, which give him one of his favorite ingredients, cashew cheese made with nutritional yeast. Says David of his diet:

“People ask me if I want to get a steak and I tell them I actually don’t eat that, or any meat or dairy. They’re usually thinking, ‘Wait, you’re supposed to be small and weak.’ But of course they can’t say that when they’re looking at me.”

The truth is, plant food and drinks rich in protein that are vegan/vegetarian substitutes for meat and dairy products are abundant and hugely diverse. They can include more natural foods like beans, rice and nuts, and also more processed foods like veggie mince, protein supplements and plant milk and cheeses.

I would love to hear about your favourite meat and dairy alternatives, and how you incorporate them into your recipes and everyday meals. Let me know in the comments, or send me an email!

Tom Perry

 

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My Journey To Plant-Based Veganism

My Journey To Plant-Based Veganism

Going Veg in the Awesome 80’s

It’s fair to say that 1982 was a big year. Michael Jackson released the biggest-selling album of all time, Thriller; Britain overcame Argentina in the Falklands War; and the space shuttle Columbia made its first mission. It was also a big year for me. I left home at 17. Then later that year I turned 18, and decided to go on a vegetarian diet.

I decided to go vegetarian (then later vegan) because I didn’t want to support unnecessary animal death and cruelty. I grew up in a small country town, and had plenty of exposure to the realities of animal exploitation.

“As I learned about the consequences of my food choices and as I recognized that I didn’t have to eat animals, and that eating animals caused the animals to suffer, it caused an enormous footprint on our planet, and it wasn’t healthy, it made since to go vegan. And, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I think most people who’ve decided to go vegan share a similar experience. It’s very empowering.” ― Gene BaurFarm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food

March for animals banner

With my banner for ‘March For Animals’, Washington DC 1990

We kept around 12 chickens (chooks) in our back yard. When they stopped laying eggs, my brother would chop their heads off with an axe. I’d watch in horrified fascination as their headless corpse ran around the yard for a few seconds, spraying blood everywhere.

Another time, as children we visited a sheep farm where we were encouraged to witness a sheep slaughter. The farmer pulled the terrified sheep’s head back, and drew a sharp blade across its throat, causing an arc of blood to spurt out as its legs kicked and its life slowly drained away.

It was these memories (and plenty more like them) that made me, as a young adult, re-think the way we treat animals, and want to avoid supporting their mistreatment and slaughter. Several visits to abattoirs and factory farms later on (after I became vegan), and witnessing further incidences of brutality against animals only reinforced this resolve.

At first, in my veggie transition, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Having grown up in the country, playing (Aussie Rules) footy and eating plenty of lamb chops and beef mince, the only foods I could relate to were meat analogues.

Living in Australia in 1982 you could easily buy leg-warmers to go with your ‘Jane Fonda’s Workout’ exercise video, but there was no tofu or refrigerated soy-milk in the supermarkets, let alone all the other convenience foods around today, such as vegan pies, meat-free mince, veggie nuggets, bacon, schnitzels, and soy ice-cream.

vegan hot dogs

Sanitarium Vegan Hot Dogs

Sanitarium health food company was my saviour, and my diet regularly alternated between the likes of Nutmeat, Rediburger (no longer available) and Vegelinks (small vegetarian frankfurters now superseded by veggie hot dogs). I believe my early ‘80s record of 13 Vegelinks eaten consecutively in bread with tomato sauce still stands!

Back then, even in the local animal rights community that I later became involved with, veganism was not mainstream – in fact, most people hadn’t even heard of it! If vegetarianism was still on the fringe at that time, being vegan was like being from another planet! It was certainly not ‘cool’ to be vegan, and being naturally shy I avoided explaining my veganism to most people I met.

Straying from the Vegan Path

As a young man I focused on campaigning for animal rights, and I didn’t really care that much about my diet, just that it was vegan. Initially I saw veganism as a ‘penance’, a personal sacrifice for ‘the animals’. Shove whatever you like in your gob (whether you particularly like it or not), as long the ingredient list doesn’t include any animal products.

Many years later I drifted back into occasional lacto-ovo vegetarianism, often grazing on junk food, and I neglected my health.

My ‘come-uppance’ came a few years ago when I experienced very high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, weight gain and blocked arteries. I began researching all the benefits of a plant-based diet, and vastly improved my health with a whole-food vegan diet. I lost weight, and my cholesterol levels plummeted from 430 mg/11.1 mmol to 120 mg/3.1 mmol.

Since then, unfortunately, my cholesterol and blood pressure have since risen to dangerous levels again after I went off my medications for several months, before coming down to safer levels. Now I have resumed taking cholesterol and blood pressure medications, as per my doctor’s advice. The lesson here is that even if you think you don’t need prescribed medications, it’s always important to check with your doctor and get blood tests to be sure. Don’t leave your health up to chance or wishful thinking!

My problem is that I have a genetic disorder – ‘hypercholesterolaemia’ – which means that LDL cholesterol is not well absorbed into my cells, and remains circulating in my blood. As the Australian state of Victoria government Better Health Channel website advises, “there is no cure for familial hypercholesterolaemia”. I am also male and over 50, which puts me into an even greater high-risk category. Ouch!

Despite my age, gender, family history of heart disease and current reliance on statin medications I am still convinced that – more than ever – my healthy whole-food vegan diet, as well as regular exercise and not smoking are highly protective measures.

Expanding My Vegan Horizons

lentil stew

Lentil Stew

Later in my plant-based journey I was introduced to the delights of tofu, tempeh and chickpeas, but I (and my kids) still consume meat alternatives. They are easy to prepare, tasty, and an excellent source of key nutrients such as protein, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12 and iron.

Since my experience with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, however, I now favour eating more whole, or less processed foods: beans, lentils, quinoa, tempeh, and occasionally raw nuts for my protein requirements. I also focus on consuming large quantities of the very healthiest foods: fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as legumes and whole grains.

These days, a healthy plant-based way of eating has almost become trendy. Many world-renowned celebrities, including actors, directors, models, athletes and performers follow and promote the vegan diet and lifestyle (some part-time, some full-time) to help them lose weight, experience greater vitality, and live more ethically. Veganism is finally coming into the mainstream, with a plethora of books, articles, films, courses and online information extolling and demonstrating the many virtues of a healthy plant-based diet.

Alicia SilverstoneIt seems that hardly a week goes by without another media report of some gorgeous specimen – usually female – displaying their toned, age-defying body and raving about the virtues of a healthy vegan diet regime. Even world-beating male athletes, typically the epitome of meat-loving masculinity, are singing the praises of plant-based nutrition to help them maintain their prowess and improve recovery time.

How about you? Have you gone vegan or vegetarian, or are you interested in finding out what it takes? Whether you’re ready to make a big change and swear off animal products altogether; or you’re only able to make small steps towards transitioning to a plant-based diet, it’s important to start taking positive action — today!

Going plant-based vegan is not about attaining the ‘perfect’ diet (even if such a thing exists), nor a quest for ultimate ethical and nutritional purity. I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect you to be! It’s about doing your best to avoid animal products that support cruel and inhumane practices and contribute to environmental devastation, and to focus primarily on foods that promote maximum health and vitality. Not to mention the fact that going vegan is – believe it or not – great fun, and makes you feel awesome about yourself and what you’re doing to help others.

As a result of my life experiences and education, my attitude to being vegan has totally changed now. It’s no longer a sacrifice – quite the contrary. I love living and eating as a vegan. Being vegan is not only the most ethical, potentially healthiest diets, but it exposes you to a whole new world of natural food colours, textures and flavours that leaves stodgy meat and animal products for dead – literally!

Glossary of Vegan Foods

To help you get started, I have listed here definitions of the terms vegetarian and vegan, and a glossary of some common vegan/vegetarian foods in alphabetical order:

What is a ‘vegetarian’?

[A] A vegetarian does not eat the flesh of an animal, which includes chicken, fish and crustaceans. Vegetarians may or may not consume dairy and/or eggs (lacto–ovo vegetarian), or other animal by–products such as honey.

[Q] What is a ‘vegan’?

[A] A vegan does not eat animal flesh or animal by–products, including dairy, eggs, animal fats, and honey.

[Q] What are some common vegan/vegetarian foods?

[A] Here is a list of some vegan/vegetarian foods in alphabetical order:

Agar Agar — is a vegetarian gelatine substitute made from sea vegetables. It’s sold in powder, flakes or bars. It has no real taste, and can be used to make jelly; as a thickener for soups, in fruit preserves, ice cream, and other desserts.

Almond Milk – is a plant-milk with a creamy texture and nutty taste. It contains neither cholesterol nor lactose. Commercial almond milk comes in sweetened, unsweetened, plain, vanilla and chocolate flavors, and is usually enriched with vitamins. It can also be made at home using a blender, almonds and water.

Barley – Barley is a healthy high–fiber, high-protein whole grain with many health benefits. Barley has a chewy quality and mild taste when cooked, and can be used in soups and stews.

Buckwheat – Buckwheat is not a cereal or grass, nor is it related to wheat, but to sorrels, knotweeds, and rhubarb. Has a strong, earthy flavour that works best mixed with other, mellower grains. Can be used in pancakes or noodles.

Bulgur (or Bulghur) — whole wheat that has been pre–cooked and dried. Common in the Middle East, and used to make the popular salad tabouli.

Cannellini Beans — small white beans which have a creamy consistency when cooked. Can be used to produce pate, in soups or for sandwich spreads.

Chickpeas — otherwise known as Garbanzo Beans, this legume is useful in salads, curries, casseroles and burgers, and is a good source of fiber and protein. Also used to make falafel and hommus.

Couscous — a quick cooking food made from steamed, dried durum wheat.

Egg replacer — commercial, egg–free powdered egg replacer for use as an egg substitute in baked products.

Falafel — Middle Eastern chickpea croquettes or balls flavored with spices, fried, and served with salad (often tabouli) in pita bread, usually with a tahini or hommus sauce.

Flaxseeds (Linseeds) — tiny brown seeds, sometimes added to cereals. Excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.

Hommus/Hummus — a Middle Eastern dip or sandwich spread made from pureed chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon.

Kidney Beans — available in red or white. The red variety is traditional in chilli dishes.

Lentils — a high-protein edible pulse of the legume family. Lentils are used frequently in the cuisines of India, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries. Lentils are available in brown, red and yellow varieties.

Lima Beans — used as a fresh green bean or a dried tan-coloured bean. Dried, they are sometimes called butter beans. Used in soups and stews.

Millet — a tiny, round, yellowish grain widely used in Asia and Africa. Often served as a simple grain dish tossed with chopped onions and herbs.

Navy Beans — small, roundish tan-colored beans frequently used in soups or baked beans. Most commercial baked beans use navy beans.

Pinto Beans — pale beige or pinkish beans with dark brown speckles. Used in chilli and spicy bean stews or to make re–fried beans.

Quinoa — called the Mother Grain by the Incas, this high-protein grain was a staple in the diet of that civilisation. Not a true grain, but related to spinach and beets. It has a fluffy, creamy, slightly crunchy texture and a somewhat nutty flavor when cooked.

Rice — a cereal grain that comes in many varieties, such as brown rice, the whole rice kernel with a nutty, chewy texture. White rice has the bran and germ removed so is more tender than brown rice and cooks more quickly. Other varieties include jasmine rice, basmati rice, and wild rice, which is not really a rice at all but belongs to a completely different family of grasses.

Rice Milk — a mildly sweet rice–based beverage used to replace cow’s or soy milk.

Rice Syrup — a sweet syrup made from rice, similar to honey in colour and consistency.

Seitan — a meat substitute made from gluten (wheat protein) and sometimes called ‘wheat meat’.

Soy milk — the rich liquid expressed from soaked soybeans. Sold in powdered or liquid form. Used as a cow’s milk substitute. Some brands may be fortified with vitamin B12 or calcium, or may be low-fat.

Tabouli — a Middle Eastern salad made from bulgur, tomato and parsley and flavoured with lemon and mint.

Tahini — a thick, oily spread made from pureed sesame seeds. Good source of calcium.

Tamari — soy sauce made in the traditional way, which requires long periods of fermentation and aging. Has a much richer taste than regular soy sauce.

Tempeh — a traditional Indonesian product made from fermented soy beans pressed into a solid cake. Can be fried, marinated and grilled, or used in stir-fries and casseroles.

Textured or texturized vegetable protein (TVP), also known as textured soy protein (TSP), soy meat, or soya meat is a defatted soy flour product; a by-product of extracting soybean oil. It is often used as a meat analogue or meat extender. It is quick to cook, with a protein content equal to that of meat.

Tofu (bean curd) — a mild-tasting, porous products made by curdling soy milk and pressing the curds into a solid block. Nutritious and versatile, excellent for absorbing other flavours. Available in ‘soft’ form (best for dips and desserts) and ‘hard’ form (best for stir–fries, burgers, scrambled tofu and ricotta cheese substitute).

Veggie Burger – a hamburger-style patty that does not contain meat. The patty of a veggie burger may be made, for example, from vegetables, textured vegetable protein (soy meat), legumes, nuts, mushrooms, or wheat (avoid those made with dairy products or eggs).

Have you tried any of these foods, and do you use them regularly in your cooking or diet?

This list is far from exhaustive. If you have any common vegan foods to add, please leave a comment below!

Tom Perry

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