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September 8, 2011

10 Superfoods ALL vegans should consume!


Walnuts – There are just a few good sources of essential omega 3 fatty acids in the vegan diet. The walnut is one of the most appealing and healthy of the choices. Walnuts have been called “brain-food” and it’s interesting that they even look like a brain. Their high concentration of omega-3 essential fat is just what is needed to keep your brain cells functioning properly. It is commonly known now that lack of omega-3 fats has conclusively been linked to depression. But studies also show that a lack of omega-3 fats is linked to learning disorders, behavioral problems, temper tantrums, and sleep disorders. Walnuts have been found to contain a bio-available form of ‘melatonin’; a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which induces and regulates sleep; and sleep is very important to healing. Studies have linked eating a handful of walnuts to a reduction in bone-loss. Studies also point out that our body turns the ALA (alpha linolenic acid) provided by walnuts into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which is a long-chain fatty acid. Vegan diets, typically, do NOT contain any DHA (another long-chain fatty acid). Some studies say that we can make EPA long-chain fatty acid from walnuts or flax, but not DHA, therefore some vegans will supplement with a vegan DHA from microalgae. There is little evidence of adverse health or cognitive effects due to DHA-deficiency in adult vegans, but vegan medical doctors strongly advise pregnant and lactating vegan mothers to supplement with DHA made from micro-algae. Walnuts are also a very good source of manganese and a good source of copper, two important and essential minerals. They also contain an antioxidant compound called ‘ellagic acid’, which helps in cancer protection. I’m off for a handful (that's all we need) of walnuts! 
Broccoli is a superfood from the Brassica family. It contains a high amount of potassium, as well as magnesium and calcium. The calcium and Vitamin K found in broccoli support bone health and osteoporosis prevention. Broccoli contains glucoraphanin which helps the skin to repair itself from sun damage. The body processes the glucoraphanin into an anti-cancer compound. The American Cancer Society recommends eating broccoli because it contains phytochemicals with their anti-cancer properties. One cup of broccoli bolsters the immune system with a large dose of beta-carotene. And the trace minerals such as zinc and selenium in the broccoli further help to strengthen the immune system. It’s a powerhouse of iron, protein, calcium, chromium, carbohydrates, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Vitamin B6 and folate are also found in this nutrient-dense food. Broccoli contains carotenoid lutein which helps fight against heart disease, hardening of the arteries, and stroke. The chromium is known to help regulate insulin and control diabetes. The best ways to eat broccoli are raw, lightly steamed, or boiled in soups so long as you consume the liquid. 
Avocado is becoming more popular and grown in many countries, globally. Sometimes it takes acquiring a taste for it if you have never eaten this creamy rich fruit, but then it becomes a staple in the diet of most vegans. The avocado’s dense nutrient composition includes vitamin K, Vitamin E, B vitamins especially vitamin B6 and folic acid, vitamin C, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and dietary fiber. Avocados have 60% more potassium than bananas. Many people think that because avocado has more fat than most other fruits and vegetables, it somehow contains cholesterol and/or bad fats that can raise cholesterol levels. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Avocados are high in beta-sitosterol, a compound that has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. Avocados do not contain any cholesterol. No plant foods contain cholesterol. As for the fat in avocado, it’s predominantly monounsaturated – a heart-friendly fat. Avocados can actually improve the cholesterol profile (i.e. reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol). The monounsaturated fatty acids of avocado have recently been shown to offer significant protection against breast cancer and have been shown to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer. Avocados have more of ‘carotenoid lutein’ than any other commonly consumed fruit. Lutein protects against macular degeneration and cataracts. A few slices of avocado in salad will not only add a rich, creamy flavor, but will greatly increase your body's ability to absorb the health-promoting carotenoids that vegetables provide. Research has found that certain nutrients are absorbed better when eaten with avocado. In one study, when participants ate a salad containing avocados, they absorbed five times the amount of carotenoids (a group of nutrients that includes lycopene and beta carotene) than those who didn't include avocados. An avocado a day can help keep the doctor away!
Note where it says "fortified"
Nutritional Yeast is a good-tasting nutty and cheesy flavored deactivated yeast, but not to be confused with the bitter tasting Brewer’s yeast. It is used as a delicious and healthful condiment. Because a vegan diet may be deficient in Vitamin B12, many vegans like to add nutritional yeast to the diet to help ensure getting B12. But it’s very important to remember that NOT ALL nutritional yeast contains B12. It has to be added in. There are a handful of brands that are fortified with B12. If you are purchasing nutritional yeast for its B12 content, it is best not to buy it from a bulk bin because you can’t be sure that the product is what it says because of “worker” mix-ups, and because B12 is light sensitive, and usually bulk bins are clear plastic. Vegans should fortify with a B12 sublingual supplement beyond the nutritional yeast. If you want to include nutritional yeast in the diet because of the added B12 booster, you need to purchase brands sold in canisters and read the label to be sure it says B12 in the list of ingredients  The vitamin B12 is produced separately (by bacteria) and then added to the yeast. Aside from being a great source of the B-Vitamin complex, nutritional yeast is a complete protein. It is low in fat and sodium, free of sugar, dairy and gluten. It is a good topping for popcorn (along with oil and sea salt), used to make vegan scrambled tofu, tofu cheesecake, cheesy sauces, etc. It is called ‘savoury yeast flakes’ in Australia, and goes by other names in other countries. Nutritional yeast is not a flattering name for this delicious tasting staple of a vegan diet.
Leafy dark greens – Dark green leafy vegetables are perhaps the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. They are a rich source of minerals; including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. They also contain vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins, especially folate. They also provide a variety of phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which protect our cells from damage, etc. Dark green leaves even contain small amounts of Omega-3 fats. Studies show that vegans are at more risk of fractures because of less calcium intake, but if they consume 525 mg of calcium per day, by eating high-calcium greens, they are are not at risk. Collards contain the most calcium. Vegan nutritionists recommend a daily dose of leafy dark greens. After steaming (on high heat to retain nutrients and color), or eating the leaves raw and finely chopped or in a green drink - adding oil such as organic canola, olive oil,  flax oil, or salad dressing, helps to better absorb the nutrients. Kale can be marinated, allowing the oil to soften the leaves and enhance the nutritional value. Arugula (Rocket) has a peppery taste and is rich in vitamins A, C, and calcium. Arugula has tender leaves, especially when young (also milder), and is enjoyed uncooked. Collard Greens have a mild flavor and are rich in vitamins A, C and K, folate, fiber, and calcium. Collard greens are not generally eaten raw. Steam them at a high temperature; add oil and nutritional yeast and salt/tamari - at the end of cooking.  Kale (curly leaf or Lacanato: dark green flat leaf) is rich in vitamins A, C and K. Eat raw (marinated and chopped finely) in a green drink, steamed or in a stir-fry. Bok Choy – high in Vitamin A and C, also in beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, Vitamin B-6, and dietary fiber. Eat raw or cooked. Mustard Greens have a spicy flavor and are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, folate, and calcium. Eat them raw or in stir-fry’s. Spinach is rich in vitamins A and K, folate, and iron. Members of the spinach family are high in oxalates, therefore eating it raw on a regular basis is not recommended. Chard is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, and iron. Chard is also an oxalate-rich plant; making it a less desirable. The oxalic acid binds with the calcium and reduces its absorption, therefore making chard (and spinach and beet greens) not good sources of calcium. If you don’t like leafy dark greens, I suggest you change your taste buds. Healthy vegans eat their greens!
Tahini is a ground sesame seed butter. It is rich in calcium, and a key ingredient in hummus. Tahini is a nutritional powerhouse, being high in vitamins E, F and T, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B15, biotin, and choline.  It is also a source of vitamin A. Tahini is also 20 percent complete protein. A serving (100 grams) of tahini contains at least one third of your necessary daily dose of calcium, and it is easy for the body to digest. Tahini is one of the highest sources of methionine, an essential amino acid, and also contains lecithin, which reduces the levels of fat in the blood and also protects against environmental toxins. Tahini is also high in minerals such as magnesium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus, as well as being a good source of calcium. Tahini may be made from hulled or unhulled sesame seeds. The tahini made with unhulled seeds is richer in vitamins and minerals but it is darker and has a stronger flavor, so it may not compliment some recipes. Raw food vegans use raw tahini. The reason tahini keeps very well and does not go rancid, even if it is not refrigerated after opening, is because sesame seeds contain natural preservatives, which stabilize it. Many vegans include tahini salad dressing as a staple in the diet. Simply blend tahini, water, and salty flavor. Optional; add lemon and seasonings of choice. Once mixed with water, the tahini dressing only lasts 2-3 days in the refrigerator. 
Blueberries - There are a wide variety of health supporting phytonutrients found in blueberries. Blueberries also contain lutein, which is important for healthy vision. In just one serving of these low calorie and low fat fruit, you can get 14 mg of Vitamin C – almost 25% of your daily requirement. Blueberries are high fiber and potassium, too. Researchers have found that blueberries rank #1 in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants neutralize free-radicals which lead to cancer and other age-related diseases. Anthocyanin is the pigment that makes blueberries blue, and blue you want them to be! Slightly reddish colour indicates that they are not fully ripened and will be less sweet. Researchers have identified a compound in blueberries that promotes urinary tract health. Another study found that blueberries may reduce the build up of “bad” cholesterol which contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke. Blueberries may help age-related mental capacity. Blueberries should be eaten when they are dry, firm, ripened to sweetness, and well-shaped as opposed to squishy. And remember, blueberries that are really blue are really, really good for you!
Red Lentils are included here because they are an unprocessed, whole food, source of protein that cooks in just 10-20 minutes. Lentils are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated. Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found at archaeological sites in the Middle East. Small red lentils don’t need to be pre-soaked and will turn golden when cooked; best used in stews, soups and dal. They are easily found in grocery stores or organically-grown from health food stores. They are a dietary fiber all-star and that fiber helps in cholesterol lowering, managing blood sugar disorders, and preventing digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis. International studies have shown that legumes are associated with a significant lower risk of heart disease. Lentils have a considerable amount of folate, which helps to lower levels of homocystiene. (Elevated homocysteine levels can occur if vegans don’t supplement with B12 – thereby taking away from the otherwise heart-healthiness of a vegan diet, because raised homocystiene levels lead to heart disease.) Magnesium, readily found in lentils, is also beneficial to cardiovascular health. If you want to keep your heart healthy – eat lentils. Lentils are a good vegan source of iron. People who suffer from gout or kidney stones, however, should limit their intake of lentils because they are high in purines, which can break down to form uric acid, and these disorders are uric-acid related. Lentils are also an excellent source of phosphorus, copper, and potassium, and molybdenum. Lentils are rich in many additional vitamins and minerals. A one cup serving meets 40% of your daily recommended value of protein with only 230 calories. Lentils are one of the highest sources of antioxidants found in winter growing legumes. 
Carrots – have the highest vegan source of Vitamin A. It comes in the form of beta carotene, a well-known antioxidant. The more orange the carrot, the more beta carotene in it, and therefore the more health benefits. Carrots are also a top source of lycopene; a cancer-fighting phytonutrient. The carotenes in carrots are shown to be linked to a huge decrease in prostate, colon, cervix, larynx, esophageal, bladder, and breast cancer. Carrots also have a good amount of vitamin C, vitamin K, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, manganese, molybdenum, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, phosphorous, magnesium, and folate. Purchase organic carrots because, being a root vegetable, they absorb pesticide residue. Luckily they are one of the cheapest organic vegetables to source. Try to source carrots that are freshly picked that still have their tops, like from a local farmer’s market. Enjoy carrots raw, juiced, and cooked. Steamed/boiled carrots (and many other vegetables) supply more antioxidants (such as carotenoids and ferulic acid) to the body than they do when eaten raw. 
Sunshine nourishes by providing an essential source of Vitamin D (“the sunshine vitamin” which is actually a hormone) and is otherwise virtually impossible to source in a vegan diet. Most people get their vitamin D through synthesizing it from exposure to sunlight. Non-vegans get their vitamin D from either eating animals, often from supplementation, or from the sun. If vegans do not spend time in the sun, they MUST supplement with D2 (the vegan version; ergocalciferol; usually obtained from yeast - as opposed to D3; cholecalciferol; which is almost always derived from animals; usually from sheep's wool. However, a couple vegan D3 supplements have recently been marketed.) Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium to build strong bones and to help older adults from developing brittle bones. Deficiency results in bone diseases such as Rickets and Osteoporosis (which leads to increased risk of fracture). The elderly need more sunlight exposure, at least 30 minutes per day, dark skinned people need about 20 minutes per day, and light skinned people need about 10-15 minutes a day of midday sun (or longer if getting mild sun) (and without sunscreen) – and these are low estimates. New research says we need more time in the sun and about 1 in 7 people are Vitamin-D deficient. Although you don’t want to burn, some sun exposure is a boost to your health. Your body needs the sunshine vitamin to absorb calcium. The sun benefits our health by raising core body temperature, which facilitates increased cell function and higher energy, which in turn increases our detoxification and purification systems. Sunlight also stimulates the pineal gland. The pineal gland secretes melatonin (a powerful antioxidant), controls blood sugar, sleeping, and controls the pituitary gland. Sunlight is vital to our ability to sleep. Melatonin, which is synthesized by the pineal gland in the brain, is light-sensitive. I have no worries of being Vitamin D deficient because I'm a sun-lover!

3 comments:

vegobsessionchick said...

I love your blog!!!

The Joker said...

What about that prince of peas: the chickpea.
Plus, there are people with nut allergies, so perhaps you should nix that one.

Lesley Given said...

Love your list, Butterflies Kats. We can, of course, all add our own particular favourites - I love almonds and tofu - but I think there's lots of healthy deliciousness on yours!