We are so grateful to have Robyn Chuter of Empower Total Health share her extensive knowledge on nutrition for vegans.
Robyn is a university-qualified health practitioner, with a Bachelor of Health Science (and the Dean's Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement) from the University of New England, a Bachelor of Health Science (Honours) with First Class Honours from Edith Cowan University and a Diploma of Naturopathy from the Australasian College of Natural Therapies.
For more information on Robyn and Empower Total Health click HERE
I was so lucky to be introduced to Robyn Chuter early in my journey developing our vegan meal range. Robyn’s knowledge and commitment regarding a holistic approach to health and wellbeing has been an inspiration and when I asked her to put together 5 vital tips for vegans – she kindly shared the following with us so that we could support plant-based choices in a way that encourages people to really evaluate and value what they consume.
When we are out and about in stores doing taste testings of our product – we meet lots of people both vegan and non-vegan who love to share their vegan journey stories with us. The most common thing they say is that when making the change – they ate HEAPS of cereal! It was one thing they were familiar with as being plant based but it is mostly high in sugar and highly processed – not a good long-term proposition!!
I know that Robyn and her family have enjoyed some of our products as an easy ‘go to’ that provides a broad range of the ‘must haves’ mentioned below in the tips. Let’s face it – some days we just need it to be easy!
Tip 1: Eat Real Food
Many vegans - both newbies and old pros – fall into the trap of relying on heavily processed vegan alternatives for their favourite ‘omni’ foods, such as faux meats, isolated soy-protein-based burgers, ‘not’ cream cheese & highly sweetened non-dairy ice cream. These are fine to eat as occasional treats but relying on these foods as staple items in your diet will undermine your health and vitality.
‘Fake’ foods and other heavily processed foods are high in salt, sugar, refined starches, inflammation-promoting omega 6 oils and trans fats. Most people who abandon a vegan diet do so because they feel their health has suffered. Don’t let this happen to you. Fill your plate with fresh, minimally processed foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts & seeds – every day. Watch your health and vitality soar!
Tip 2: Must have Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 in made by bacteria that lives in soil, water, and the intestines of animals. Our food and water supply are now so clean, vegans are at risk of developing B12 deficiency unless they take supplements or regularly use B12-fortified foods.
Deficiency can cause anaemia (causing fatigue, reduces exercise tolerance, pale appearance & heart palpitations) It can also cause nerve damage (sensations such as tingling, tickling, prickling, or burning of the skin). Other possible side effects are clumsiness, lightheadedness, impaired taste & smell; and eventually deterioration if the spinal cord & blood vessels are damaged from accumulation of a toxic substance called homocysteine. Additionally; babies born to vitamin B12-deficient mothers may suffer delayed development.
Sublingual sprays or lozenges offer better absorption of the notoriously difficult-to-absorb vitamin. Fortified savoury yeast flakes, also known as nutritional yeast, are also a good source.
TIP 3: Eat your Greens
The most common nutritional deficiency I see in vegans is not protein, iron or calcium, but Green Leafy Vegetable Deficiency! GLV’s have the highest nutrient-per-calorie density of any food you can eat, meaning you get more nutritional ‘bang’ for your calorie ‘buck’ when you centre your meals on GLV’s
GLVs are rich in B vitamins; vitamins E,C and K; iron, Calcium, magnesium, potassium; phytonutrients such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; as well as protein and fibre.
Many GLVs – especially those in the cruciferous or cabbage family – are also abundant in compounds called isothiocyanates, which fight cancer and help the immune system to more efficiently target foreign invaders, while preventing the ‘mistakes’ that lead to autoimmune disorders. It is important to eat a wide range of raw and cooked GLV’s every day!
Tip 4: Eat a rainbow every day
The beautiful colours of plant foods are not just a feast for our eyes; the indicate the presence of phytochemicals – substances that Plants make to protect them from the environmental assaults such as excessive ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, insect pests and fungal diseases.
What’s fascinating is that the human body has evolved to use the phytochemicals for its own functions, even though those are widely different from plants functions. Many phytochemicals act as antioxidants, protecting our cells from harmful free radicals; others protect our DNA from damage that could lead to cancer; others regulate our immune system, ensuring that it detects and eliminates harmful invaders and cancer cells while leaving our healthy cells alone; and others still play roles such as protecting our eyes from UV radiation, strengthening our blood vessels and blunting the cancer-causing effects of sex hormones such as oestrogen.
To maximise your intake of phytochemicals, ‘eat a rainbow’ of naturally coloured foods every day. Red tomatoes, Strawberries and kidney beans; orange papaya, sweet potato and of course oranges; yellow corn, squash and capsicums; green asparagus, kiwifruit and kale; blue blueberries; purple eggplant; black beans and rice; all these attractive and delicious foods nourish our senses and our bodies.
Tip 5: Eat legumes every day
Legumes – dried peas, beans and lentils are probably the most neglected food group, not just among Australian omnivores, but also among vegans. This is a complete tragedy since legumes offer a suite of health benefits unmatched by any other food group.
Legumes are high in fibre and resistant starch, which help us feel full. They promote growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut. which produce short chain fatty acids that increase our absorption of minerals, suppress our appetite and increase fat-burning in between meals. Legumes also restore insulin sensitivity, helping to prevent and reverse diabetes.
Compounds in legumes also modulate the effects of sex hormones, reducing the risk of breast and prostate cancer, reduce cholesterol levels and detoxify carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals).
The “food habits later in life” study found that eating legumes daily reduced the risk of elderly people dying from disease-related causes. Legumes were the only food group found to have a lifespan prolonging effect in this study.