Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Julieanna Hever Answers Our Three Most Popular Questions

Thanks to everyone who forwarded to me your list of ingredients in your favorite green smoothie. There's still lots of time to get yours in, so please e-mail them to me at healthygirlskitchen@gmail.com.

A few short weeks ago I asked everyone to submit their most pressing plant-based diet question. You all answered and we are lucky enough that Julieanna Hever, the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-based Nutrition has responded to our top three concerns.

(1) Children on a Plant-based diet.

Q: How can I make sure that my children are getting their nutritional and calorie needs met on a plant-based diet? Specifically, protein, fat, vitamin B12, iron, Omega 3s, vitamin D. Do children need supplements? Is it okay for children to eat meat or dairy on occasion?

A: By placing your children on a whole food, plant-based diet, you are providing them with a huge advantage over the typical Standard American Diet. Most kids eat between zero and very few whole plant foods and are therefore depriving themselves of essential nutrients, including antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that their bodies require for optimal growth and good long-term health. As long as you offer them whole foods, and not refined/processed products, as the majority of their calories, they will get all the protein, fat, and carbs their bodies require. If they do not consume any animal products, then supplement them with vitamin B12 from either fortified plant-based milks, nutritional yeast or a supplement. I give my kids a B12-fortified gum that I order online and they love, so it makes it easy. I recommend a plant-based diet, which means that a tiny bit of animal products technically may not be harmful. The issue with kids, however, is that they eat very little overall. Thus, every bite counts. I would rather your kids take in those calories from more beans, leafy greens, other veggies, fruit, and whole grains so they get the most nutritional bang for their caloric buck! But, as a Mom of little ones, I understand the challenges of every day life. Just provide these healthful options to your children and make them delicious so that it is easy for them to make the right choices as often as possible.

(2) Adults on a Plant-based diet.

Q: How do I know if I am getting enough of the right balance of nutrients? Vitamin B12, zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin D? Should I supplement? We had a lot of readers asking questions specific to calcium. How can they get it from food? If they should supplement, what is the best way?

A: As a society, we have become obsessed with nutrients, worrying we are getting enough of everything. The truth is there are probably thousands of compounds in foods that we have yet to discover...should we worry about those too? Ultimately, the problem with our diets today is that we are overfed and undernourished. We consume way too many refined foods, stripped of their naturally-occurring goodness. If we stick to eating close to nature, from whole plant foods, it is impossible to not achieve adequate nutrition.

The only micronutrient that is not available in plants is vitamin B12 (and that is because microorganisms make the vitamin and we wash it from our produce). So everyone who avoids animal products needs to fortify with B12 (as above either via fortified plant-based milk, nutritional yeast, or supplement). Also, we get vitamin D from the sun primarily. However, because so many factors come into play with vitamin D production and absorption (including variables such as latitude and weather of where you live, body fat, skin color, etc.), it is responsible for everyone (from herbivores to omnivores) to test their vitamin D levels and determine whether you are in normal range. The best way to increase your vitamin D production is regular sun exposure, during peak hours (10:00 am to 2:00 pm), for a few minutes, wearing no sunscreen (except on your face), with as little clothes as possible so as to not offend your neighbors.

In terms of calcium, this is a popular question because people equate calcium consumption with bone health, thanks to the brilliant marketing campaign of the dairy industry. First of all, bone metabolism is multi-factorial and requires many nutrients in addition to calcium, including vitamins D, K, and C, magnesium, protein, and omega 3 fatty acids. Exercise may be the most critical factor in optimizing bone health. I do not recommend supplementing calcium...instead find it in foods such as leafy greens (especially collard greens and kale), sesame seeds, tahini, dried figs, calcium-set tofu, almonds, and fortified plant milks. Most plant-based milks contain the exact amount of calcium as dairy milk...only the calcium in plant milk is not also packaged along with dairy’s undesirables like steroids, hormones, pesticides, herbicides, veterinary medicine residues, antibiotic residues, additives, and synthetic preservatives.

(3) The Protein Question

Q: What is the right amount of protein? How do I know if I am getting enough? What if, due to a medical condition, someone cannot eat beans or tofu?

A: According to the USDA’s Recommended Daily Allowance, adults require 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Children and pregnant and lactating women need slightly more. If you are eating enough calories, and those calories are coming from whole plant foods, then you are getting enough protein. In fact, if not consuming refined foods, it is impossible to notoverconsumption, which is taxing on the kidneys, and can help promote chronic disease development. Just because we need protein for optimal health does not mean that more is better."


Thanks Julieanna!

I do want to add my own personal thoughts and experiences on question number 2. Since I am not a doctor or professional nutritionist of any kind, I won't recommend that you do this, but here are my thoughts:

DON'T GUESS. Just have your doctor do the necessary blood tests once a year to tell you what you are deficient in. You may be surprised, or not. I have done this once a year for the past three years and I am currently supplementing with Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and iron. That may be the price I have to pay for otherwise exceptional health and low cholesterol. It's totally worth it. I'd rather do this than be overweight and develop heart disease and diabetes.

Got other concerns? Check out Julieanna's book:

Have you had your blood tested lately? Are you supplementing with anything right now? What has your experience been?


Meridith said...

Wow - how refreshing to read some straight-forward answers to these common concerns. I have raised my 3 year old daughter on a plant-based diet since birth and I think the hardest part is other people meddling in what we're doing! We supplement with a B12 spray and eat flax seed with our oatmeal.

Dawn said...

Wendy--thanks so much for that post. confirmed many things I "thought" I was on track with and clarified a few others. I agree with you about having your doctor test for deficiencies--I think that's a good idea no matter what a person eats. A few months ago I talked with my doctor about my eating plan and had tests. I am now supplementing Vitamin D. Thanks again--Dawn

Anonymous said...

I still have doubts regarding the protein question. According to the information given, I need about 60 grams of protein per day. I've been tracking my daily diet on Fitday, and find I'm getting about 35 - 40 grams a day. (I eat a Dr. Fuhrman-type diet.)

That worries me.

Meridith said...

Dr. John McDougall recommends that you get about 5% of your daily calories from protein. So, let's say you eat 2,000 calories per day, that would be 100 calories. There are 4 calories in 1 gram of protein, so that brings you down to about 25 grams of protein per day. This makes sense to me and I stopped worrying about protein after reading that. If you are eating enough whole foods to feel satisfied, then protein will never be an issue.

Anonymous said...

In response to Anonymous, I wanted to share this quote from Dr. Fuhrman's book, "Eat to Live", in regards to how much protein we need. Dr. F. wrote, "Today the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is .8 gm/kg body weight, or about 44 grams for a 120 pound woman and 55 grams for a 150 pound male. This is a recommended amount, not a minimum requirement. The assumption is that about .5 mg/kg is needed, and then a large safety factor was built into the RDA to almost double the minimum requirement determined by nitrogen-balance studies." Dr. F. continues, "...the World Health Organization recommends only 5 percent of calories from protein. In fact, as little as 2.5 percent of calories from protein may be all that is necessary for normal people. Regardless of the many opinions on adequate or optimal protein intake, most plant foods, except fruit, supply at least 10 percent of caloreis from protein, with green vegetables averaging about 50 percent."


babsbeau said...

The last couple of years I had been experiencing some sever exhaustion. It would come on quickly and was so debilitating that I would sometime have to leave work. Even making the long drive home was challenging and sometimes I had to pull over and nap for 10-15 minutes.

Then I had my blood tested and it turned out I was extremely low on Vitamin D. I purchased some concentrated drops and now add it to my morning smoothy. I cannot believe the difference it had made. Two thumbs up for blood tests.

Jen said...

I log my food everyday with a program called caloriecount, which gives me an analysis of some nutrients. Protein is never a problem (I do add a scoop of protein powder to morning smoothies), but calcium and iron repeatedly show low, despite eating leafy greens, almonds and sesame daily. Unsulfered blackstrap molasses is a good food source of calcium & iron. One TBSP has 20% of both. It's good added to smoothies with apple and oatmeal, but if my counts are low at the end of the day, I'll eat it from a spoon.

Is there any difference between fortifying yourself with a pill supplement versus drinking plant milks that have had vitamins added at the processing plant?

Meridith said...

Jen - what is your daily goal for calcium intake? I can't even decide how much I really need in a day.

Ellani said...

For people who are very fair and who are predisposed to skin cancer, even a few minutes of exposure without sunscreeen can be very dangerous (especially in the UV intense hours between 10 and 2).
Basal cell cancer can be triggered very easily from repeated exposure. Even a few minutes of direct exposure at noon can be very problematic.
Taking a vitamin D supplement is much more recommendable than risking skin cancer. And for those of us who live in areas where there is little or no sun in the winter, a supplement is extremely necessary.

Anonymous said...

First Anonymous here...Thanks for the replies to my protein question. I went back and looked at my Fitday entries and realized that I'm only getting around 1100 calories a day. Duh. I think I need to eat a little more and stop worrying about protein.

Anonymous said...

I was looking forward to reading this post, specifically because of this part of question number 3: "What if, due to a medical condition, someone cannot eat beans or tofu?"
After reading the answer, I'm still not clear on this point.
Is there any way to get a further response? I am relatively new to veganism, and about to veer off of it, because my partner and I are having so much trouble making it work as a permanent lifestyle.
Thanks so much for any further help you can provide. The question is pivotal for us, and when I googled and found it being asked here, I was excited, because I haven't been able to find a discussion -- and an answer -- anywhere.

Thanks much,


Healthy Girl said...

Jaye-I would ask Julieanna Hever to be your friend on Facebook. She will likely say yes. Then you can send her a direct message and ask her your specific health concerns. Other amazing resources are Dr. Fuhrman's website, drfuhrman.com where they have an ask the doctor function and this question may have been asked and answered already. If not, you can ask it. Also, www.nutritionfacts.org might provide some information. Let us know what you find out. I'm very interested.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Healthy Girl. I'm just now reading your response. I will see what I can do. :-)

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