This blog is part of the All About Fad Diets blog series. They’re not really fads, but more like lifestyles.
The million-dollar question is, are almonds vegan?
“Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” The Vegan Society.
We can all benefit from adding more vegetables into our diet.
But if we are not careful, our health can decline if we don’t include a small amount of animal products in our diet to supplement an assortment of plant foods.
Almonds Are Not Vegan
This is a bold statement, based on opinion. But it is something to ponder.
Vegans often don’t eat honey. Should they be eating almonds?
Many fruit and vegetables can be pollinated without bees, but almonds require pollination from bees. No bees, no almonds.
80% of the world’s almonds are grown in Central Valley, California. Commercial pollination of almond trees takes 22 days every February. This is an impossible task for local bees to complete. The ratio of bees to trees is out of proportion. To get the job done, bees are imported from around the country.
It is reported that one million beehives are loaded onto trucks and brought to California. That is around 40 million honeybees (40 honeybees per beehive). This is half of the honeybees in the USA, transported to California for the almond season. Many bees die in the process.
Not to mention the amount of water needed to grow almonds. One single almond requires over 4 litres of water! Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews and pistachios are some of the most water-intensive crops to produce.
The Strongest Animals in the World Are Vegan
Elephants, rhinos, hippos, horses, and deer are vegan (herbivores). But humans are not like these animals. Our genetic make-up and digestive systems are completely different. Some animals thrive being herbivores (only plants), some animals thrive being carnivores (only animals), but humans have evolved as omnivores (plants and animals). Chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary relatives, are omnivores too.
Randomised Double Blind Placebo Controlled Studies (a.k.a. evidence)
The best evidence is our teeth. We have the biting incisors and canines like carnivores, and chewing molars like herbivores. Animals (and humans) with diverse teeth are omnivores.
We have protease enzymes (like carnivores) to break down proteins, and enzymes (like herbivores) to break down sugars found in fruit. This combination of enzymes points to humans being omnivores.
Vitamin B12 is a human requirement and only found in animal products. The insignificant amounts found in plant foods are not sufficient long-term. Therefore, vegans must supplement in vitamin B12.
Fruit and Vege
More likely* to live longer. However, for many people value quality over quantity. Would you rather live a slightly shorter life enjoying meat or a slightly longer life depriving yourself of bacon? (Vegans, don’t take offence!)
*Note ‘more likely’ because we are assuming that the person is eating a relatively healthy diet. An important point to realise is that a healthy-eating meat eater is probably healthier than an unhealthy-eating vegan.
Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Vegan diets have been shown in research to decrease blood pressure and high cholesterol. Plant-based diets are usually higher in potassium-rich fruit and vegetables which help to lower blood pressure.
However, in general, the average vegan is healthier than the average meat-eater because they are more conscious about their health. Hence why they made the diet change in the first place. If we compare healthy vegans and healthy meat-eaters (who also eat a rainbow of fruit and veggies, don’t drink alcohol or smoke, and care for their health), it may be a photo finish. The research isn’t undertaken on an even playing field.
Lower Risk of Cancer
The Cancer Society state eating large quantities of red (and processed) meats can increase the risk of some cancers, particularly bowel cancer. Despite iron being an essential nutrient, when broken down haem iron (animal-based iron) damages nearby cells, enabling cancer to develop more easily. Additionally, cooking meat at very high temperatures and burning/charring meats creates heterocyclic-amines which can cause stomach cancer.
The Cancer Society recommends a moderate consumption of less than 500g of red meat per week – a 65-100g serving no more than 3-4 times a week.
Most Junk Food Isn’t Vegan
If you’re at a party you’re not going to be able to eat the party food. Some ‘vegan’ foods are junk, but a vegan diet reduces the amount of junk food the average person eats (because you won’t be able to eat the cakes at shared morning tea!).
If you eat vegan, you have to check everything that comes in a packet (if your food comes in a packet).
There are many important nutrients that are difficult to obtain in a vegan diet.
The only vitamin or mineral found in animal foods e.g. meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Vegetarians may be able to get enough, but vegans cannot through diet alone. Trace amounts of vitamin B12 may be found in seaweed, fermented soy (e.g. miso, tempeh and natto), spirulina and nutritional yeast, however, these small quantities are not sufficient long-term.
There is a theory that vitamin B12 used to be present in plant foods in the form of tiny little insects on un-washed produce. However, we cannot rely on these insects as a source of vitamin B12 anymore due to pesticides.
Vitamin B12 is required for the synthesis of DNA and red blood cells. It is vital for the nervous system and it plays a role in heart health. Deficiency can result in anaemia due to its involvement in red blood cell formation.
Vitamin B12 is the only B vitamin that can be stored in the body, in the liver. Our vitamin B12 stores will last us for the most of 3-5 years until they exhaust. If vegans stick to their lifestyle for that long, and even people who eat limited animal products in their diet, symptoms may only become apparent after this amount of time. While enthusiasts may feel like they have a new lease on life in the short-term, consider supplementation to prevent chronic deficiency in the long-term.
A well-known deficiency in vegans. Animal sources of iron contain haem-iron, which is much more easily absorbed than non-haem iron found in plant sources. Iron is the main nutrient required for the production of red blood cells, which carry nutrients and oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency commonly results in anaemia. This is experienced by most vegans at some point.
Women lose up to 50mg of iron per month through menstruation! While men and non-menstruating women only lose around 1mg per day through sweating and shedding of skin cells.
Highly absorbable (haem) forms of iron include liver, red meat, chicken, and eggs. See below for plant sources.
Is difficult enough for meat-eater to obtain, let alone those on a vegan diet.
In order from highest to lowest, zinc is found in oysters, crab, pumpkin seeds, beef, lamb, mussels, chicken, prawns, chickpeas, and brown rice.
Is only found in animal sources including cod liver oil, liver, butter, cheddar cheese, parmesan, brie/camembert cheese, blue cheese, feta, eggs, and salmon. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that can be converted into vitamin A in the body. Although, consuming vitamin A in its active form improves utilisation.
Beta carotene is mostly found in orange and yellow fruit and vegetables. Sources include carrot, pumpkin, spinach, silverbeet, kale, rockmelon, apricot, mango, papaya, peas, broccoli, capsicum, peach, nectarine, and corn.
B Complex Vitamins
May be more difficult for vegans to obtain through diet.
B vitamins are found in a wide range of foods including vegetables, grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, and meat. However, animal sources are richer sources.
B vitamins are water-soluble, therefore, not stored in the body. It is important to consume them on a daily basis, similarly to vitamin C. B vitamins play the largest role in energy production and turning our food into usable energy. Many followers of a vegan diet suffer from low energy due to nutrient inadequacy.
Check out my Energiser Bunny Tonic.
Foods only contribute a small percentage to our total intake, however, dietary intake still adds up over time. Our significant source is the sun. Food sources include cod liver oil, salmon, eggs, butter, liver, cheddar cheese, brie, camembert, parmesan, blue cheese, feta, mushrooms, and cottage cheese.
Dairy products are the main source of calcium. If someone doesn’t eat dairy, they must put more effort into eating plant sources of calcium. In order from highest to lowest, dairy-free sources of calcium include sesame seeds, tahini, tofu, almond butter, soybeans, canned salmon with bones (if you’re pescitarian), almonds, molasses, dried figs, kale, tempeh, bok choy, broccoli, silverbeet, oranges, and cabbage.
Calcium is necessary for strong bones and teeth, and muscle contraction. Calcium deficiency is dangerous because the first sign of low bone density can be a bone fracture. You don’t want to find out when it’s too late!
An essential fatty acid that cannot be synthesised by the body. It is found in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in plant foods. This must be converted into the active forms (EPA and DHA) in the body. It is far more efficient consuming omega 3 in its active form, as it improves utilisation.
Plant sources of omega 3 are chia seeds, flaxseeds/linseeds, hempseeds, walnuts, pecans, and their oils i.e. flaxseed oil and hempseed oil.
You’re thinking isn’t cholesterol bad?
Over liver synthesises approximately 80% (1,000-1,400mg per day) of the cholesterol in our body and the remaining 20% (300mg is the RDI) comes from our diet. Our liver has an intelligent feedback mechanism which regulates our own body’s cholesterol production, in response to our dietary intake. In simpler terms, when we eat more cholesterol, our liver down-regulates its production, and vice versa.
Cholesterol is present in every cell in the body. It provides structure and stability to our cells. Most importantly, cholesterol is a precursor (raw material) to vitamin D, stress hormones and sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone). Low cholesterol can result in low vitamin D and sex hormones in the body. Low testosterone is more common in vegan males than omnivorous males.
The answer to the first question is… No, cholesterol is essential for life.
There is actually only one type of cholesterol, not good and bad cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) are the names of transporter vehicles. HDL is known as the good guy because he transports cholesterol from the blood back to the liver to be excreted out of the body. Oppositely, LDL is known as the bad guy because he transports cholesterol from the liver and deposits it in the arteries.
Made of ‘building blocks’ called amino acids. Amino acids in different combinations form all of the proteins in our body including muscles, bones, blood cells, skin, hair, and nails. Foods are either classified as complete or incomplete proteins.
All animal sources are complete proteins e.g. meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.
Plant sources are incomplete proteins. For this reason, variety is key for vegans. When plants are combined, they form complete proteins.
Traditional cuisines naturally have combined foods in this way for hundreds of years. It’s likely they instinctively knew about complete and incomplete proteins. A common combination is grains plus legumes e.g. Indians eat dahl and rice, and Mexicans eat kidney beans and corn.
Someone on a vegan diet must ensure to eat a variety of plant foods including grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, every day. They do not necessarily have to be eaten together in one meal, just over the period of one day.
Oreos are Good, Eggs are Bad
Junk food isn’t omitted on a vegan diet. Yes, Oreos are vegan! Many vegans overeat refined grains e.g. bread and sugar, and skimp on protein. While many omnivores consume a balanced diet with plentiful colourful vegetables with some animal foods alongside. A vegan diet can be healthier, but isn’t necessarily.
Being vegan is not an excuse to eat everything that is vegan. To eat a healthy vegan diet, stay away from labelled ‘vegan’, because that means it comes in a packet! The same goes for gluten and dairy-free foods.
Vegans may feel deprived missing out on food, which may result in binging on ‘allowed’ foods (like Oreos!). This can create a bad relationship with food. Using it as a reward to sticking to the ‘good’ foods and avoiding the ‘bad’ ones.
Recommendations for Staunch Vegans
In order from highest to lowest, plant sources of iron are soybeans, tofu, molasses, lentils, dried apricots, tempeh, kidney beans, spinach, silverbeet, and kale. More of these foods need to be eaten in comparison to red meat, as less iron is absorbed from plant foods.
Is molecularly similar to haemoglobin (red blood cells). They carry oxygen in our blood. Spirulina, chlorella and other green vegetables are rich in chlorophyll. Spirulina and chlorella can be taken in tablet or powder form. Spirulina supplementation is known to assist bringing haemoglobin levels back up to within the normal range.
Enhances iron absorption. Source of vitamin C in order from highest to lowest are camu camu (powder or supplement), acerola cherry (powder or supplement), guava, capsicum, blackcurrants, kale, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, orange, lemon, rockmelon, grapefruit, blackberries, and tomato. Vitamin C is water-soluble and destroyed by heat. Try to eat more vitamin C-rich foods raw than cooked.
A naturally occurring plant constituent found in grains, legumes, and to a lesser extent, nuts and seeds. This compound acts as an enzyme inhibitor to prevent the plant from germinating prematurely. Without phytates, these plants would start growing in our pantry before you’re ready to eat them!
Soak and sprout/activate grains, legumes, nuts and seeds where possible to increase mineral absorption. Different plant foods require different amounts of time to soak and sprout/activate. Soaking in a splash of apple cider vinegar or a pinch of salt in the water is known to further assist drawing out phytates.
Some foods are better to sprout and some are better to activate e.g. sprout legumes (chickpeas to make raw hummus) and activate nuts (‘activated almonds’). Grains and legumes are more commonly sprouted, whereas, nuts and seeds are usually activated.
Occur naturally in tea, coffee, and chocolate. This plant constituent hinders iron absorption. One study showed that coffee decreases iron absorption by 34% and tea decreases iron absorption by 64%! Drink/eat tannin-rich foods at least an hour separately from iron-rich foods to maximise absorption.
May bind to iron and inhibit its absorption, when taken excessively. Limit bran, psyllium husk and fibrous flours, when eating iron-rich foods.
From menstruation. Women of menstruating age are at greater risk of anaemia. Other conditions involving blood loss include accidents or inflammatory bowel disease (blood in stools).
Recommended are vitamin B12, iron (for menstruating women), zinc, algae oil (omega 3), and possibly protein powder. Vitamin B12, iron and zinc can be obtained from a good quality multivitamin/mineral (not all multis contain iron so check the bottle). Vitamin D is strongly recommended to everyone living in NZ in winter, as we are too far away from the sun to get a sufficient amount. Other supplements may be required depending on the individual.
“Don’t be a pastatarian” Mark Sisson, The Primal Blueprint. These are the vegans who survive on pasta, rice, bread, cereal, crackers, and packet foods (a.k.a. carbs). If you eat a vegan diet, eat real food first and foremost (before Oreos!).
“Mum and Dad, I’m Vegan” Says Every Second Teenage Girl
Veganism is not a healthy or even efficient way to lose weight, but it is often the first proclamation someone (usually a female) will make to begin attempting. You will probably eat less calories just because there are less food options. Most junk food isn’t vegan and eating and eating out is more difficult.
A vegan diet features more carbs and less protein. Animal foods are naturally rich sources of protein and fat. Protein and fat are satiating and stabilise blood sugar levels. A vegan diet may result in fluctuating blood sugar levels, creating a blood sugar rollercoaster of either feeling stuffed or starving. There is not much time feeling normal in-between. But when the time comes (it will come quickly) you will not feel hungry, but hangry! When your meals are less filling, you are more likely to snack between meals. Snacks are not always healthy. Especially when you are hangry, you will grab the most convenient option.
Make sure you (or your daughter) are choosing a vegan lifestyle for the right reasons e.g. sustainability or animal rights. Not because your friends are on the bandwagon, influencers on Instagram are being paid to promote it, or it’s the latest diet with Kylie Jenner’s face on the front.
This way of eating can provide the best of both worlds. It is a cross between Paleo and vegan. Pegan followers eat a plant-based diet to reap the benefits of plant foods, plus include animal products like eggs, seafood and meats as essential condiments. They use animal foods as supplemental foods, which provide nutrients that humans require but cannot be found solely in plants. Converting from veganism to vegetarianism is a step in the right direction. Variety is key for all diets.
Think twice before you (or your teenage daughter) go vegan. It is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Weigh up the pros and cons. Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.
To Wrap It Up
The purpose of this series of blogs isn’t to choose a diet to follow. It’s to inform you of the pros, cons and my recommendations, if you do choose to (or already) follow one of these diet trends.
I personally pick and choose what I like, and more importantly what suits my body, from each diet to create my own personalised diet. My motto is “Realigning Nutrition with Intuition”. Try N=1 Self Experimentation.
Intuition is now totally disassociated from Nutrition. We don’t eat what or when we feel like eating. We eat what and when we are told we should be eating. Realigning Nutrition with Intuition means being in-tune with your body and rediscovering what diet/lifestyle is most suited to you. As I trained as a Naturopath and Holistic Nutritionist, I am not about strict plans. That is for you to decide for yourself.
There is no one-size-fits-all baseball cap when it comes to diets.
Your Nutrition Mentor,