Here's a quick tip for those of you who get too busy or otherwise forget to eat -
Assuming you are not trying to not eat, many of my clients have found this tip helpful once we figured out that remembering to take the time to eat (or remembering to prep food) was the problem.
Set alarms on your phone.
I know, it sounds simple; but you have your phone on you all the time, right?
Set alarms at times that make sense in your schedule for meal/snack times, or a time to prep tomorrow’s food. Most cell phones have the ability to label what the alarm is for, so use that feature as a visual reminder!
“Lunch time” or remember to eat” or “make lunch for tomorrow” are great visual cues to go along with the audio component of the alarm (or vibration, if that’s your preference).
If you stick to a consistent schedule your body should start to get used to eating at regular times, and eventually you can delete the alarms and let your body remind you.
If you are struggling to remember to eat or prep food, give it a try!
Let me know how this works for you in the comments.
In this beautiful letter to herself a woman, whom I had the privilege to work with, wrote her personal reasons for wanting to recover. I was so moved by this statement of self love and respect I asked if she would please share in hopes that it would inspire others.
You don’t have to have this eloquent of a “why” statement, but I do encourage you to write out why YOU want to recover. What will you be able to do that you can’t while staying in your disorder? Read it every day. If you feel bold, please share in the comments, perhaps it will inspire someone else.
“People say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, which is why we recommend it daily.” -Zig Ziglar
I want my desires back. I want my sense of belonging back, my right to belong. I want my voice back -- my own voice that listens to my desires from a place of giving my body freedom to just be, to just be comforted, to just be heard, to come out of my own shadows, to regain self-trust and self-approval, to recognize that while my body may expand or contract, it is an injustice when I fall short of being a safe confidante to my body.
It is similar to living a lie, to gaslighting my body into believing that it is wholly wrong.
Overriding my body, judging my body, slandering my body, muting those voices within my body is almost akin to perpetrating a crime against all of me. In some ways, it also adds up to me becoming my own judge and jury and, so-to-speak, to being my own executioner.
That all shapes up to me becoming a threat to my own being, a threat to my own survival. It poses a form of self-harm. Self-harm be gone.
I want to be in conversation with my body -- to mind my body by mining for the gold within its contours, between the layers of my skin, in my jiggly, squishy or soft rolls.
Otherwise, I am and may forever be constrained by cultural chatter that breeds fear of food and fear of self.
Otherwise, I am confused by mixed signals, and I easily misunderstand my own self, my own wisdom, my own nature.
Otherwise, eating enters a state of chaos and confusion.
Otherwise, I live by dictates of “should I?” or “should I not?”
Otherwise, I omit all questions about my desires and about my deeply personal choices for food and in life.
I want the memories I have of meals to be soothing memories, and I want to be able to connect food and meals to comforting thoughts -- not to feelings of restraint or to lost opportunities for self-connection. I don’t want to be my own troll, posting critical messages in my mind concerning food.
In the end, I want to rethink my life, rethink the words I speak to myself, rethink the actions I take around current meals and meals that I am planning. I want to arrive at my table open and curious.
I want to readily pull up a seat at the table and honestly be all I am. All I am, meaning welcoming my whole self -- knowing my vulnerabilities, subtleties, and nuances and sitting with and helping myself to meet my truest desires. All I am, meaning that I fill my plate in tandem with becoming a more fulfilled self.
In the end, I no longer want to forsake myself. I want to feel that I deserve a place setting and a place at my own table -- and in the communal table of the larger world.
Check out this podcast episode I was interviewed in!
Episode 35 of "Ignite Her Fire"
Key takeaways: All foods fit in a healthy lifestyle, and you don't have to be hospitalized/look "sick" to get help with your eating, Registered Dietitians are different than "nutritionists" or "health coaches," sugar is not evil, keto is not a good diet plan, we need to STOP talking about our bodies!, a little about my acting...and I'm sorry you have to hear me sing (and yes, I know the lyrics are out of order).
http://www.igniteherfire.com/ or on itunes
A podcast full of stories of badass women living life on their own terms.
Thanks to Sabrina and Shawna for hosting me!
Want to learn more? Sign up for my monthly newsletter for free nutrition/health info, and body positive messaging!
The concept of choreographing meals is one that I came up with when working with a client.
As a dancer, I like to bring art and creativity to my work with eating disorders. Here is a fun way of looking at food if you are stuck in a food rut.
A while back I posted about the body positivity I see in the drag queen community.
Due to a good friend who stage manages the local drag shows, I have had the fantastic opportunity to help out with a few events recently and have had a blast hanging out with the queens in the dressing room.
And, girl, can they teach us all a thing or two about body acceptance!
For those that don’t know, a drag queen is (typically a man, but can be female/non-binary) who dresses up in women’s clothes (usually gowns and over-the-top makeup, complete with huge false eyelashes), typically for purposes of entertainment (ex: drag show).
As I watch these queens get ready I noticed several things that I think us unconfident biological females can take away from the experience:
1. Curves. Many of the queens actually add padding to accentuate curves. They add hips and breast, and it is not in jest. They genuinely think this is beautiful. How many of us have tried to hide our feminine form? To starve or run-off the curves? The queens would be appalled. Takeaway: rock the curves you were given.
2. They take up space. Even when getting ready the world is their stage. The tables, floor, and every surface is “theirs,” they don’t try to contain their fabulousness. It almost seems a point of pride to have more space and to drive out another queen (though the locals here tend to get along well and help each other, too). Takeaway: It is ok to take up space!
3. They are unapologetic in how they present. Queens don’t shuffle-along with heads hung low trying to disappear, they f-ing shine! A queen sashays in her stilettos, head up, shoulders back, checking that her lipstick is on-point. She does not apologize for being there, being the center of attention, or walking in front of you. Takeaway: Hold your head up proud, walk confidently, and as Coco Chanel said, “if you are sad add more lipstick and attack!”
Today I want you to think of one way you can live a little more like a drag queen (and I am not saying you need to load on the makeup if that is not you!). How can you stand confidently in a room? What will it take to look up instead of at your feet? What clothes make you feel fabulous in your current body? Wear them!
You are fabulous darling!
This review was written for my college class "Psychology of Eating," 2016.
Elizabeth Parker, MS, RD
About the author
Dr. Brian Wansink, who has been called the “Sherlock Homes of eating behavior,”1 founded the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in 1997. He was born in Iowa in 1960, and at the time of publication of this book (2007), he has created and lead over 250 studies in consumer behavior. Wansink has a PhD in Consumer Behavior from Stanford University, and has since taught marketing and consumer behavior at both Dartmouth and Cornell Universities. He is the recipient of numerous accolades including, “Humorous Ig Nobel Prize”, and was named “ABC World News Person of the Week” in January 20081. Current work includes, Executive Director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, promoter of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University, and most notably author of “Mindless Eating,” and Slim By Design.”1
Mindless Eating aims to share with the American population exactly what is influencing our food choices and eating habits through explaining research on consumer behavior. Dr. Wansink and his team of researchers have completed hundreds of studies on why people eat what they eat, and what influences how much we eat. Using easy-to-read, and entertaining anecdotes of his studies, Wansink share tips and strategies for “mindlessly” changing our food environment to promote better health and weight loss, without deprivation.
Chapter-By-Chapter Synopsis and Main Messages of Mindless Eating2
Chapter 1, The Mindless Margin: Wansink’s studies showed that we have a “mindless margin”2 of approximately 100 Calories more or less from our calorie needs that we do not really notice, and can lead to weight loss or gain. To make this easier, Wansink suggests serving yourself 20% less of most foods (food that you want to cut back on), and 20% more fruits and veggies than you normally would have.
Chapter 2, The Forgotten Food: Seeing evidence of how much you are eating in real time (for instance, leaving the bones from chicken wings you have eaten on your plate, or wrappers from candies in front of you) you are far more likely to eat less than if there was no evidence of what you ate. Since we eat with our eyes first, having large volumes of food (regardless of calorie density) works. Our stomach really has only three settings: starving/ could eat more/ stuffed; so we use external cues to stop eating instead of relying on hunger.
Chapter 3, Surveying the Tablescape: The size of food packages (how we buy or store food) has a direct influence on how much people eat. The larger the container the larger the serving size. This directly impacts the waistline. We drink more from short, wide, beverage glasses, and eat more from larger diameter plates or bowls, and more from larger serving scoops. This chapter also discusses why restriction-diets, such as Atkins and grapefruit diets, work through limiting variety of food options, making dieting “mindless” through “sensory specific satiety.” More options = more consumption.
Chapter 4, The Hidden Persuaders Around Us: We tend to eat more of what we premeditate or see before eating. If we know a food is there, we will think about it and be more likely to eat a larger amount than if we just happen upon the food. This can be helpful for choosing more healthy foods. Wansink suggests setting a bowl of fruit out where it is easily seen, and you will eat more fruit. Proximity to food is another trap for eating more. If food is easy to get to we will eat more than if the food is farther away/ harder to get to. Chapter 4 explains why bulk shopping causes weight gain - having more of the same food at your disposal means you eat more to get to “the right number”2 of items in the pantry. We can counteract this by “hiding the extras” of multi-packs in an opaque container, another room, or adding any level of difficulty. Some other tips from this chapter: Make a shopping list, and eat before you shop.
Chapter 5, Mindless Eating Scripts: We have “scripts” or habits when it comes to how and when we eat. These can be situational (like eating by the time on the clock), or influenced by others (taking more food until everyone at the table has finished). Watch how much and how fast your dining companions eat - we are easily swayed by them! Multitasking while eating (say, watching TV, reading, or driving) distracts us from our food and will lead to more mindless munching than if we were not multi-tasking. The longer the “distraction,” the more we eat. Another influencer in how fast we eat is ambiance. Lighting, music, sound level and other mood-settings influence our pace and consumption of food. Similarly, the scent of food can draw us in to purchase/eat food that we had not planned on eating. Temperature and time of year also influence our eating habits. When it is getting colder/is cold, we eat and drink more to stay warm. When it is warm we move more and drink more water to stay cool.
Chapter 6, The Name Game: We taste what we expect - based on visual cues such as colors and descriptions, how appetizing the food looks (or does not), presentation (including what it is served on), as well as our other senses. We also associate brand name with superiority.
Chapter 7, In The Mood For Comfort Food: A study done in favorite “comfort foods” showed a marked difference in male and female choices. Males choose more “hot meal” foods (like pasta) that evoked feeling of being taken care of, and females choose more “snacklike foods”2 like chocolate, not because they do not like the food the men mentioned, but because those foods made them think of the work of making the meal. Comfort foods tend to be associated with specific happy memories or traditions that supply positive emotions. In the same way, negative associations can cause dislike for foods. We also choose foods based on personality, as this chapter explains. Competition for food (knowing whether or not it will still be there later) influences our decision to “eat the best first, or save the best for last.”2 Youngest children or those from large families, thus set themselves up to eat the more calorically dense parts of the meal first (as opposed to veggies/ salad) and are more likely to gain weight.
Chapter 8, Nutritional Gatekeepers: Nutritional gatekeepers are the person(s) in the household that makes and buys most of the food - and they have the most influence over what we eat. Most often, those with “good cooks” in the house ate, and liked, more vegetables. This is due to veggies taking more work to prepare, and thus need a “cook.” Parents and caretakers influence children’s food preferences from very early on. Children are able to recognize facial expressions of love and disgust, and notice what the person making the face is eating. They use these associations to decide how they will feel about the food when offered it, and future behaviors around foods. Additionally, using creative names and associations for commonly disliked foods, increased children’s consumption when labeled “dinosaur trees,” as opposed to “broccoli.”
Chapter 9, Fast Food Fever: We are designed to seek out “safe foods” that have salt, sugar, and/or fat. It is no coincidence that restaurants, food companies, and even home chefs add these ingredients to food when they want diners to eat. Much of this chapter focuses on marketing and packaging done by food companies. Restaurants also use “health halos” to make us believe that, because they advertise healthy options, that all of their menu items are lower-calorie. By doing this the average diner is likely to add on sides, drinks, or dessert, because they thought they had eaten a “healthier” main dish. Low-fat options also have this health halo effect, and cause many to eat more calories than if they had been told it was the regular fat version. Another factor in how much we eat is the “serving” we are eating from. Where is the natural stopping point- with a single-serve package, or one “sleeve” of cookies? We are influenced by where there are built-in stopping points.
Chapter 10, Mindlessly Eating Better: Fighting an obesogenic culture is not about making huge changes, but eating “better” with do-able “mindless” strategies, laid out in chapter 10. Here Wansink gives strategies including, “food trade-offs,” “food policies,” and “the power of three [behavior changes].”2 These strategies are explained to help us break habits and, in an achievable way, mindlessly eat a little better.
Appendix A: Description, advantages, and disadvantages of popular diets (including this book).
Appendix B: Quick tips for “dieting danger zones”2.
Frequently Asked Questions.
The intended audience for this book is anyone who eats. We make hundreds of food options every day, so there is no one who would not find at least a small tidbit of helpful knowledge from this book. The main aim of book is to educate consumers on simple ways to make eating smarter easier.
Commentary & Evaluation
I enjoyed reading the quick, to-the-point, research abstracts throughout the book. The use of psychology in the explanations of study findings was especially informative, for example, how males and females chose different types of comfort foods based on what made them feel “pampered”2. Each chapter made specific points and ended with strategies, influenced by the studies discussed, for the reader to use; this dispelled the myth that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or an adult new eating habits.
Overall the strengths of the book included: easy to read format; promotion of slow, steady weight loss by changing just 100 Calories per day or ~10 lbs per year; simple tips to be more mindful of what you are eating and potential for weight loss; and solid research that is referenced in other periodicals, including Rowland and Splane’s Psychology of Eating.3 One example is the description of “sensory specific satiety” 2,3 referenced in both books, as well as our idea of what a portion size is, based on what is placed in front of us.3
Weaknesses of the book included: 3,500 Calories = 1 lb. Other research proves this is not necessarily true. Authors Herrin and Larkin make a specific point to show that “3,500 Calories = 1 pound myth”4. These eating disorder experts explain that mathematically 3,500 Calories seems correct, but taking into account body processes for making muscle, bone, and other tissues, 3,500 Calories is only an approximation, and not a hard rule of weight loss or gain.
I would recommend this book for most people. Wansink’s tips are easy to follow, and his research study descriptions are eye-opening. As a Registered Dietitian, I have shared verbal synopsis of some of his research with clients I am counseling (for weight loss), that make them re-evaluate how they are choosing their food. Several clients have bought the book, themselves, and reported finding it fascinating and helpful in restructuring how they store and plate food. The only people I might not recommend this book to those suffering from anorexia nervosa. This is because the book is structured more for weight loss and maintenance, and eating more “healthy” foods, which could trigger someone who is restricting intake.
Hello my lovely readers,
I know post a lot of educational and technical stuff, and I bet you wonder (if you don’t know me in real life) what I am actually like. Honestly, I’m a normal (albeit, busy!) person. So here is a bit about me, and an action for you to take.
Probably my biggest passion is musical theatre. I have been on stage since I was 11 years old, and continue to find my happy place on stage especially when I am dancing. Last year, among my jobs I was in 4 musicals, and a short film. Acting, dancing & singing are my personal anti-depressants.
One of those musicals, Hairspray, was especially meaningful in regards to my practice (for those who think this musical is just “fluff” - look deeper!).
Here’s why it was so meaningful to me:
One major theme in this show is body acceptance. The main character, Tracy, and her mother, Edna, are very overweight. This causes bullying and rejection in their lives (anyone else been there?), but they learn that their clothing size does not determine how far they can dream. The learn how to love themselves as the amazing women they are and rise above the criticism to prove to everyone that size does not determine who you are or what you can achieve.
“I’ll eat some breakfast then change the world.” - Tracy, Hairspray
Another important theme in the show is racism. In addition to rejecting people of larger sizes, the (1960’s set-show) white characters reject the black characters and try to prevent integration on TV. This was supposed to be a historical context, but unfortunately our world is still proving the relevance of needing to learn to accept everyone for who they are.
It is never ok to judge someone by the color of their skin, the size of their body, or by other trivial means! Thankfully, the show has a happy ending (sorry, spoiler alert!) and by the end of the show everyone is singing and dancing together on television, proving that it takes all kinds. This is the kind of show I love, it sparks hope for the future.
If you haven't seen Hairspray - watch it for some inspiration (the movie version with Zach Efron is good).
So, obviously I don't act every day. And I often have people ask me (especially when they find out I am majorially self-employed) What are my typical days like?
Well, “typical” is a stretch, as I feel like no two days are the same, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Normally, a few days a week I go to a coffee shop for several hours and work on my business (including writing these emails), If not at a coffee shop, then my home office (but it is harder to work from home). I actually really enjoy this work, and often 4+ hours slide by before I even think to look at the clock. It takes a lot of work to keep up the website, write emails and blog posts (looking for guest bloggers - btw!), posting and responding on social media, coming up with video ideas/scripts, responding to client emails, answering journalist requests (check out the articles I have been quoted in HERE), and all of the tiny tasks of running a business.
I see clients most days of the week, some days only 1, or up to 8 on fridays! I take dance classes, watch netflix with my dogs, clean the house/run errands, sleep in when I can, and eat pizza frequently (hubby recently got a pizza oven - we have been eating a lot of pizza!).
Why did I just tell you all of this?
To show you I am a person, just like you. I’m not a machine, or “wonder woman” as one client called me. I am a complex, passionate, (and lately tired) human being.
I am not defined by my body.
Neither are you.
Who are you without the labels others put on you? What are your passions and hobbies? What gets you fired-up? What would life be like if you didn’t use food as a crutch to hide behind?
Are you ready to re-define yourself?
Share who you really are on the Not Your Average Nutritionist facebook page or Instagram with the tag #MoreThanILook
I can not wait to hear who you are!!
In the words of another powerful musical (Newsies):
“Now is the time to seize the day,
Stare down the odds and seize the day,
Minute by minute that's how you win it,
We will find a way,
But let us seize the day.
Courage cannot erase our fear,
Courage is when we face our fear.
Tell those with power safe in their tower,
We will not obey!”
Love, Your complex Dietitian,
As a RD, I have gotten so many questions about the fad diet du jour: the "Keto" or "Ketogenic" diet. I finally decided to just write down the research in a reader-friendly version. Additional video on the history and use of the ketogenic diet at the bottom of this post. Here you go-
The ketogenic (or “keto”) diet is just another fad diet.
The Keto diet is an amped-up Atkin’s diet (that we all know now was/is terrible for your cardiovascular system, and not a sustainable way to keep weight off) where the majority of what you eat comes from fat, and carbohydrates are extremely limited (In contrast, a healthy diet should be a much more balanced macronutrient distribution of 20-35% protein, 45-65% carbohydrate, and only 10-35% fat). This skewed macronutrient distribution is actually very dangerous for the human body for several reasons -
#1, We use carbohydrate as fuel for our brain. Glucose is needed for cognitive function, and many people on the Ketogenic diet experience brain fog and difficulty focusing. Ketone bodies (specifically: beta-hydroxybutyrate (built up in blood serum), acetoacetate (found in urine), and acetone (responsible for that bad breath)), which are created when carbohydrates are not present, are not as effective (or healthy) for our brain. This may also cause metabolic acidosis which is characterized by a reduced pCO2 and/or lower pH (we need to stay in balance!).
#2, On a ketogenic diet, your intake of fruits and vegetables is extremely limited (if eaten at all) and we all know how important the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds in fruits/veggies are. On that note…
#3, The keto diet is extremely low in fiber! Fiber is not only protective against many gastrointestinal cancers, it is also a big factor in fullness and weight loss. Furthermore, constipation is very common on low-fiber diets like the Keto diet.
#4, Ketosis/ketoacidosis is what is happening in the body/brain on a chemical level – this is the body making fat into something the brain can use when carbohydrates are not available. It's a lot of work for the the body to produce, not as efficient as carbohydrate, and can be incredibly dangerous for diabetics. Additionally, we have some cells with few-to-no mitochondria. These cells are carbohydrate-dependant and must be fueled by glucose. These cells include certain cells with no mitochondria in our blood (erythrocytes), eyes (cornea, lens, and retina); cells with few mitochondria include renal medulla, testis, and leukocytes. (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11883-003-0038-6)
#5, “Keto breath.” Halitosis (bad breath) from (acetone) ketone bodies makes for an acetone-like smell on your breath that no amount of brushing/mouthwash can fix. Medical professionals look for (smell for?) this in malnourished patients.
#6, High blood lipids/cholesterol/blood pressure. It’s a high fat diet- you didn’t see this coming? The body can only break nutrients down at a certain rate, and high levels of fat in the diet may lead to high levels of blood lipids are responsible for blockages (atherosclerosis), and other cardiovascular complications up to death. While you can reverse the numbers, the plaque buildup in arteries is almost impossible to reverse. Not worth it! (note: some people do see lowered blood lipid profiles on this diet).
#7, Following this diet is often a form of disordered eating or may lead to an eating disorder (just as with any restrictive diet). Cutting out whole food groups is not healthy. We need all 3 macronutrients in appropriate proportions (majority coming from carbohydrates) to have a healthy body. Our body needs a variety of foods for best health. The reason this diet “works” for weight loss is that it restricts the types of foods that people tend to over-do-it-on like chips, candy, pastries, etc. Any diet that cuts out your favorite foods will cause weight loss, but at what cost (physically and mentally?)
#8, Not all fats are created equal. Most people starting a Keto diet are not differentiating between saturated (solid at room temp, and not something we want in large quantities) and unsaturated fats (liquid at room temp, and “healthier”). Getting this wrong also increases complications from the diet. Additionally, many people who followed a diet high in medium-chain-triglycerides (MCT) experienced undesirable digestive issues.
#9, It may mess with your thyroid and other hormones – lowering your metabolism (isn’t the point of this diet weight loss? That’s counter-intuitive…), energy, and fertility. Every time we lower our metabolism through dieting it lowers the “set-point” of our metabolism, making it harder and harder to lose weight. This is an adaptive response for mammals in famine, but not what the average person wants nowadays.
Who it the Keto diet appropriate for?
The only population that the ketogenic diet is scientifically proven to be beneficial (and safe) for is a select group of people with epilepsy (seizure disorders). This is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The Keto diet especially sucks for athletes (and people working out to lose weight)
Since our preferred fuel source is glucose (carbohydrate) from either blood glucose or glycogen (fancy term for carbohydrate stores in the liver and muscle cells), running exclusively on fat slows athletic performance as the body works much harder to break down fat (dietary and adipose storage).
Additionally, the lower protein intake and change in hormones in the body with a keto diet lower the ability to build and maintain muscle mass. If “mirror muscles” like biceps are not motivating enough to keep you off it- remember that our organs like the heart are also muscle tissue that would be broken down by this diet, causing organ damage or failure.
It’ll get you, mentally and emotionally
Ketogenic diets cause headaches, brain fog, and often irritability and obsession with food. This type of diet will very likely make you think about food an unnecessarily large amount of time, and make it difficult to be social (not being able to eat at the same places as your friends; oh, and that bad breath!).
You may feel more depressed (especially if you are already prone to depression and/or taking antidepressants) as serotonin (the “happy” neurochemical) is produced from carbohydrates. If you take an SSRI know that this class of medications work directly on serotonin that is present, and the diet requires a minimum about of carbohydrate (as we learned from the works of Ancel Keys in his starvation study) to allow the SSRI medication to work.
So, what’s the verdict?
In case you didn’t get it from the above – the Keto diet sucks. Not only is it a fad-diet (aka – not suitable for long-term weight loss/lifestyle), it can be very dangerous.
If you need help figuring out what to eat, contact a Registered Dietitian. In the meantime, if you do need some structure, balanced eating like the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet is a better way to go.
For a YouTube video with more information on this diet: click the image below
Don’t give up the foods you love. There is room for all foods in a healthy diet. We just need to keep proportions and variety in mind to fuel our body optimally.
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NYAN is growing fast, and I would love to share RD business knowledge/ED counseling knowledge in exchange for some help.
Looking for people to:
-Write blog posts
-Create social media posts/graphics
-Do research for articles/videos
-Help come up with ideas for YouTube educational videos
-EXPERIENCED COPYWRITER for sales pages (this can be a paid contract position)
-Other things I haven't thought of??? I'd love your creative ideas!
Ideally, upper level nutrition or psychology students; but the most important part is personality and philosophy that mesh with the business. More details (click button)
I can't wait to meet you!
I am thrilled to have this guest post about vegan nutrition!
Many of my eating disorder clients have adopted a vegan diet, for better or worse, and are not meeting their nutritional needs. Vegan and vegetarian diets are very healthy when done correctly, but if the whole purpose is to cut more things out in the name of restriction, then malnutrition is almost certain.
If you are vegan, or contemplating starting a vegan or vegetarian diet, read-on to learn about plant-based sources of certain nutrients that are often hard to get when animals are off the table.
The Vegan Diet - A Guide to Nutritional Needs
By: Emily Baird
Emily is a 1st year nutrition student at Cal Poly who plans to become a registered dietitian. She has been vegan for 2 years, and plans to incorporate that into her career.
Every year more and more people are making the transition to a vegan diet, and for good reason! The vegan diet can have so many health benefits for our bodies including disease prevention, weight management, and protection against cancers. But with being vegan, also comes the common questions about: “How do vegans get enough protein?” “How are they getting any B12 in their diet?” “How to vegans get calcium if they don’t drink cow’s milk?”. And although these are valid questions, a well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and carbohydrates is all a vegan needs to fulfill their nutritional requirements.
Iron is an important component of the red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, as hemoglobin. Think of it like the engine to a car; the engine provides the car with the power it needs to make it move. Similarly iron allows hemoglobin to have the needed strength to get oxygen where it needs to go. Without it, the body cannot make hemoglobin, which means organs and tissues won’t get the oxygen they need.
There are two types of iron - heme and non-heme. “Non-heme” iron is found only in plants foods and is harder for the body to absorb than “heme” iron which is only found in meat products, so we need to eat more plant-based iron to truly get the same amount as if we were eating meat.
Many plant foods are naturally high in iron, but there are also many packaged foods that are now being fortified with iron. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is between 8 - 18 mg (depending on age and gender, up to 27 mg during pregnancy). Be sure to include a source of vitamin C with your iron for better absorption.
VEGAN SOURCES OF IRON
1 cup soybeans: 8.8 mg
2 tbsp flax seeds: 4.1 mg
½ cup cooked lentils: 3.3 mg
½ cup fortified total whole grain cereals: 8 mg
(For a complete list click here)
Calcium is responsible for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. When the body isn’t supplied with sufficient amounts, it increases the risk of developing disorders like - osteoporosis, hypercalcemia, kidney disease, and even alzheimer's. Calcium can be included either by nutrient dense foods or by incorporating calcium fortified foods. Most breakfast cereals, milks, breads, and juices contain added calcium, but be sure to read the nutrition label to be sure. The RDA is around 1000 - 1300 mg. Vitamin D intake is essential to adequate calcium absorption.
VEGAN SOURCES OF CALCIUM
100 g calcium set tofu: 350 mg
¾ cup calcium fortified plant milk: 240 mg
⅓ cup cooked kale: 110 mg
¼ cup dried figs: 95 mg
(For a complete list click here)
Zinc is essential for the body’s immune system to function properly. It also works in cell division, cell growth, the breakdown of carbohydrates, and wound healing. Although it is so important for our bodies, not much is actually needed; the RDA for zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. Even though plant sources of zinc are not absorbed as easily as animal sources, vegans were shown to only have a slightly lower amount of zinc.
VEGAN SOURCES OF ZINC
Tofurky italian sausage: 9 mg
½ cup hummus: 2.3 mg
1 tbsp nutritional yeast: 2 mg
¼ cup roasted pumpkin seeds: 2.3 mg
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Your body must have vitamin D in order to properly absorb calcium in the body. Vitamin D is not typically a problem for vegans during the summer months, but those living in colder climate may be at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. The RDA is 600 - 800 IU. Just about 10 to 20 minutes (depending on skin tone) in the sun per day will provide the body with sufficient levels. But those living closer to the northern hemisphere, may need to include more vitamin D rich foods in their diet.
VEGAN SOURCES OF VITAMIN D
1 cup portabella mushrooms: 634 IU
1 serving instant oatmeal: 180 IU
1 cup fortified soymilk: 120 IU
1 cup fortified orange juice: 100 IU
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SHOULD I BE INCLUDING SUPPLEMENTS?
Eating a healthy variety of plants and grains will ensure that the body gets sufficient levels of nutrients. The exception to that is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is not as easily accessible through plant based foods, so it can be important to include a supplement in your diet. If you are overwhelmed by what kind of B12 supplement to choose, check out this article. Nutritional yeast is an example of a vegan food that does naturally contain B12. It is usually used as a cheese replacement or topping, and can supply 2.4 mcg per 3 tbsp (which is the RDA).
A well-balanced, plant based diet will supply the body with all the nutrients that it needs to thrive. There are many people who question the vegan diet and believe that vegans are lacking essential nutrients, but with the right knowledge of nutritional needs, a vegan diet can be very beneficial.
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Libby is a non-diet Registered Dietitian focusing on eating disorder treatment and prevention. She approaches health from the inclusive standpoint that any "body" can focus on health regardless of size. She is a ally in diversity.
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it is not a substitute for medical or mental health advice or treatment.