June 16, 2012

40 Vegan Foods: Their Scientifically-Proven Health Benefits, interesting facts, especially for vegans

Apples – Apples are very high in pectin, a soluble fiber. Because it is a gel-forming fiber, pectin can lower cholesterol levels as well as improve the intestinal muscle’s ability to push waste through the gastrointestinal tract.

Avocado – Avocados have 35% more potassium than bananas. They are rich in B vitamins, as well as vitamin E and vitamin K.  Although many people think avocados are high in cholesterol, which is simply not true, there are preliminary studies showing that they might in fact lower cholesterol blood levels.

Beetroot/Beets - Beetroot is a rich source of potent antioxidants, magnesium, sodium, potassium and vitamin C, and betaine, which is important for cardiovascular health. The nitrate found in beetroot juice has been shown to have effects upon cardiovascular health and lowering blood pressure.

Blueberries - contain mechanisms that inhibit cancer cell development. Some blueberry species contain in their skins significant levels of resveratrol; thought to be an anti-aging phytochemical. Reports showed consumption of blueberries (and other berries) may alleviate the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions of aging. Research has shown that blueberries may help prevent urinary tract infections, as well as lower cholesterol, and may help blood pressure. Other studies found that supplementing diets with blueberries may held memory and symptoms of depression.

Brazil Nuts – are perhaps the richest dietary source of selenium (deficient in a lot of soils); one ounce can contain as much as 10 times the adult U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances, therefore only a few nuts at a time is necessary. Other reasons to consume only small amounts of Brazil nuts at a time are because they are largely saturated fat, and because Brazil nuts have one of the highest concentrations of phytic acid  which can prevent absorption of some nutrients, mainly iron, and because Brazil nuts contain small amounts of radium. Although the amount of radium, a radioactive element, is very small, and most of it is not retained by the body, this is 1,000 times higher than in other foods. Their high radium might be due to the very extensive root system of the tree. 

Broccoli - is very high in vitamin C -  a 3.5 oz. serving has 107% of our daily recommended requirement. Broccoli has potent anti-cancer properties, though the benefits are greatly reduced if the vegetable is boiled. Steaming on high heat will retain the green color and nutrient value the best. Broccoli is also an excellent source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Broccoli has the highest levels of carotenoids in the brassica family. It is particularly rich in lutein and also provides a modest amount of beta-carotene. A 100 gram serving (3.5 oz.) has 97% of our daily Vitamin K requirements. Broccoli sprouts are not as beneficial as the full grown plant.

Chia Seeds – are one of the few vegan foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically α-linolenic acid (ALA). Add them to your fruit bowl and squeeze orange juice on them, let it sit, to form a “health gel”. Mix around with the fruit and eat. Don’t be surprised if you have a “full-feeling” as chia seeds absorb a lot of water.

Chocolate - Cocoa or dark chocolate may positively affect the circulatory system.  According to research, limited amounts of dark chocolate appear to help prevent heart disease. Research has shown the polyphenols in chocolate inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol. On the other hand, chocolate absorbs lead from the environment during production, and there is a slight concern of mild lead poisoning for some types of chocolate. Cocoa solids contain alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, which have physiological effects on the body. It has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Some research found that chocolate, eaten in moderation, can lower blood pressure. The presence of theobromine renders chocolate toxic to some animals, especially dogs and cats. Because of child slavery in the cocoa bean industry, only fair-trade chocolate should be consumed. Only consume and purchase non-dairy, organic, fair-trade chocolate. Here is a list of companies that don’t source their cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast of Africa where child slavery exists:  http://gentleworld.org/fair-trade-chocolate-a-myth/#List of Chocolate Companies that Do Not Source for the Ivory Coast

Coconut – Young coconut juice has estrogen-like characteristics. Young coconuts have been found to reduce histopathological changes in the brain that are induced by hormonal imbalance; a possible implication to postmenopausal women. Coconut meat is relatively high in minerals such as iron, phosphorus and zinc. Coconut water from young coconuts contains sugar, dietary fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Collard Greens – Collards are good sources of vitamin C and soluble fiber, and contain multiple nutrients with potent anticancer properties, and there are only 46 calories in a quarter pound of cooked collards. Per 100 grams (3.5 oz.) serving, collards greens have 72% of our daily recommended requirements of Vitamin A, and 31% of our recommended daily requirements of Vitamin C, and a whopping 593% of our recommended daily requirements of Vitamin K, and 21% of our daily recommended requirements of calcium.

Cranberry - Concentrate Capsules (in veg caps) and Juice – aids in the prevention of E. Coli bacteria from attaching to the inner walls of bladder and urethra. 300 mL of cranberry juice per day has potential to benefit against urinary tract infections. Cranberries are a natural probiotic that supports healthy natural bacteria while killing off bacteria that cause infection, in the gastrointestinal tract. Raw cranberries are tart. Cranberries top the charts for antioxidant activity.

Dandelion - Dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and K, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese, as well as beta carotene. Fresh dandelion herb provides over 300% of the daily-recommended intake of vitamin-A. Dandelion is probably the richest herbal sources of vitamin K; providing 741% of daily recommended intake. Dandelion is used medicinally, especially as a diuretic. The toothed, serrated leaf is the variety that is used.

Figs (dried) - are one of the highest plant sources of calcium. Figs have a laxative effect and contain many antioxidants. In one study, two medium size figs produced a significant increase in plasma antioxidant capacity.

Flax seeds - contain high levels of dietary fiber as well as lignans, an abundance of micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids (an alternative source than fish, since vegans don’t consume fish). One of the main components of flax is lignan, which has plant estrogen as well as antioxidants (flax contains up to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods contain). Flax seeds may lower cholesterol levels, especially in women. Flax seeds come in two basic varieties: brown and golden. Most types have similar nutritional characteristics and equal numbers of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Excessive consumption of flax seeds with inadequate water can cause bowel obstruction. Whole flax seeds are chemically stable. Ground flaxseed can go rancid at room temperature in as little as one week.

Goji Berries/Wolfberries, contain many nutrients and phytochemicals including 11 essential and 22 trace dietary minerals, 18 amino acids, 6 essential vitamins (Calcium, Potassium, Iron, Zinc, Selenium, Riboflavin-Vitamn B2, and Vitamin C, 5 unsaturated fatty acids, including the essential fatty acids, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, which converts to long chain fatty acid DHA; important for vegans), phytosterols, 5 carotenoids, including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, lutein, lycopene and cryptoxanthin, a xanthophyll, numerous phenolic pigments (phenols) associated with antioxidant properties. 100 grams of dried berries contain 100% of the Daily Recommended Intake of Iron, and 91 % of the daily recommended intake of Selenium. Polysaccharides are a major constituent of wolfberries, representing up to 31% of pulp weight; offering antioxidant activity. What this interprets to is that they are a superfood for vegans. It is important to source organic Goji berries because they are heavily sprayed with fungicides.

Grapes - Grape phytochemicals such as resveratrol (a polyphenol antioxidant), have been positively linked to inhibiting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, viral infections and mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease. Resveratrol is found in wide amounts among grape varieties, primarily in their skins and seeds which, in Muscatine grapes, have about one hundred times higher concentration than pulp. Fresh grape skin contains about 50-100 micrograms of resveratrol per gram.

Hempseed - Hempseed's amino acid profile is close to "complete”. The proportions of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid in one tablespoon per day of hemp oil, easily provides human daily requirements for essential fatty acids; which are greatly important to human health. Hemp seed contains a large dietary supplement of omega-3, higher even than walnuts. Vegans convert omega 3 into long-chain fatty acids like DHA and EPA. New research is finding the importance of vegans consuming omega 3 foods. Hemp is also the only plant oil that is rich in vitamin D – and Vitamin D is rarely found in vegan foods.

Kale – Kale does contain some calcium, but is higher in other nutrients. According to USDA recommendations for adults, 100 grams of kale (without salt) contains large amounts of Vitamin A, and has 76% of the U.S. recommended daily dose of beta-carotene, 49% of the recommended dose of Vitamin C, a whopping 778% of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin K (good for bone health), and 20% of the recommended daily dose of Manganese. Kale contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Boiling decreases the level of sulforaphane, however, steaming does not. Kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. 

Kelp – is a natural source of iodine, as well as plants that are grown on iodine-rich soil. Iodine is a nutritional concern for vegans, especially those who don’t consume iodized salt. Therefore, iodine supplementation or eating kelp is advised.

Kiwi fruit – is rich in Vitamin C; having 112% of the recommended daily levels (U.S.) in a 100 gram serving. It’s also a good source of Vitamin K and Vitamin B6 (helps reduce homocystiene which benefits the cardiovascular system, and aids nervous system). The kiwifruit seed oil contains on average 62% alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids found in the numerous edible seeds of kiwi fruit have potential properties of a natural blood thinner. A study performed at the University of Oslo in Norway reported consuming two to three kiwifruit daily for 28 days significantly reduced platelet aggregation and blood triglyceride levels (similar to popular mainstream aspirin therapy), potentially reducing the risk of blood clots.

Lentils - With nearly a third of their calories from protein, lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, (after soybeans and hemp). Red lentils contain a lower concentration of fiber than green lentils. On the negative side, lentils contain trypsin inhibitors and relatively high phytate content. Trypsin is an enzyme involved in digestion, and phytates reduce the bioavailability of dietary minerals. The phytates can be reduced by soaking the lentils in warm water overnight before cooking. Lentils are a good source of iron.

Mango – Mango fruit is rich in pre-biotic dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and poly-phenolic flavonoid antioxidant compounds. Most people don’t eat the skins, but the skins are nutrient dense, as well.

Molasses - Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the daily value of each of those nutrients. Unfortunately, molasses is a byproduct of the sugar cane industry; a polluting, unhealthy, and sometimes not vegan industry. (In the U.S. – perhaps half the refineries filter sugar through bone char, though not that molasses itself is.) Purchase organic blackstrap molasses.

Nutritional Yeast - is deactivated yeast sold as a food product. It's sold in the form of flakes or as a yellow powder, and can be found in the bulk aisle of most natural food stores. It is popular with vegans as an ingredient in recipes or as a condiment. It is a source of protein and vitamins, especially the B-complex vitamins, and is a complete protein. Nutritional yeast has a strong cheesy flavor. It is often used by vegans to make cheese alternatives or as a topping for popcorn. In Australia it is called "savoury yeast flakes." Nutritional yeast is produced by culturing yeast in a nutrient medium for several days, deactivated with heat, and then harvested. Because nutritional yeast is often used by vegans, who usually need to supplement their diets with vitamin B12, there has been confusion about the source of the B12 in nutritional yeast. Yeast cannot produce B12, which is only naturally produced by bacteria. Some brands of nutritional yeast, though not all, are fortified with vitamin B12. When fortified, the vitamin B12 is produced separately (commonly cyanocobalamin) and then added to the yeast. Nutritional yeast should not be relied upon as a source of B12 unless it is fortified.

Oats - Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces low-density lipoprotein LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol levels. One bowl a day can lower LDL cholesterol by 10%, according to studies. Vegans, since they don’t consume any food containing cholesterol, usually don’t have high cholesterol. However, some vegans do because we make our own in our bodies.

Parsley – Apigenin; a chemical found in great quantities in parsley, has been found to have potent anticancer activity. It works by inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels that feed a tumor. Parsley seed extract is a diuretic. Parsley is a powerful antioxidant. Two tablespoons of parsley contain 16% of the RDA of Vitamin C and over 12% of the RDA of Vitamin A – two powerful antioxidants that also help the immune system. When consumed regularly, parsley is an effective anti-inflammatory. The folate (or Vitamin B9) found in parsley helps to convert homocysteine into harmless molecules; thereby helping to ward off cardiovascular disease.

Peanuts - are a legume that has as much as 30 essential nutrients and antioxidants. Because they are on lists of plants with high pesticide-residues, they should only be eaten when organically-grown. Peanuts are a significant source of resveratrol; a compound studied for potential anti-aging effects and associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and cancer risk. Peanuts are also a food source of antioxidant: coenzymeQ10.

Pineapple – Raw pineapple is an excellent source of manganese (76% of the daily recommended dose - in a one cup serving) and vitamin C (131% daily value per cup serving). Only purchase organic or grow your own, though, because of unethical growing in commercial pineapple production. In Costa Rica, where pineapple production is highly industrialized, growers typically use 20 kg of pesticides per hectare in each growing cycle, a process that may affect soil quality and biodiversity. The pesticides have the potential to affect workers' health and can contaminate local drinking water supplies. Many of these chemicals have potential to be carcinogens, may be related to birth defects, and workers are paid a low wage.

Potatoes – The cooking method used can significantly impact the nutrient availability of the potato. Steaming on high heat is the best for nutrient retention. Potatoes have a good amount of Vitamin C and are a source of iron, which work synergistically for absorption. Potatoes are a good source of potassium (though a yam is a much better source), and high in Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6, found in potatoes, reduces levels of a molecule called homocysteine. High homocysteine levels are associated with a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Vitmain B6 is also needed for a healthy nervous system and a balanced mood. 

Prunes –  and their juice contain mild laxatives and thus are a common home remedy for constipation. Prunes also have high antioxidant content.

Pumpkin Seeds – are a good source of protein, as well as zinc, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, copper and potassium. A quarter cup or 25 grams offers about 20% of the recommended daily dose of iron.

Purslane – is considered an invasive weed, but it's eaten as a leaf vegetable in many parts of the world. Particularly of interest to vegans, purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable plant. Research states that Purslane has 0.01 mg/g of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). This is an extraordinary amount of EPA for a land-based vegetable source. EPA is a long-chain Omega-3 fatty acid found mostly in fish and some algae. Purslane also contains vitamins; mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, and some vitamin B and carotenoids, as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Also present are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments with powerful antioxidant properties. About one cup of fresh purslane leaves contain 300 to 400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid. A half-cup of purslane leaves contains as much as 910 mg of oxalate, a compound implicated in the formation of kidney stones, however, spinach and chard also can contain high concentrations of oxalates, therefore it's reasonable not to consume too much of them.

Quinoa – The protein content of quinoa is very high at 18% and it’s a complete source of protein. It’s also a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, high in magnesium and iron, and a significant source of calcium. Quinoa is gluten-free and easy to digest. It’s a staple for vegans.

Soybean – Raw soybeans are toxic to humans and therefore soybeans must be cooked with wet heat to destroy the trypsin inhibitors. Many consider soybeans to be a complete protein, containing significant amounts of all the essential amino acids, therefore a good replacement for those who choose not to consume animal products. Soybeans can produce at least twice as much protein per acre than any other major vegetable or grain crop besides hemp, five to 10 times more protein per acre than land used for grazing animals to make milk, and up to 15 times more protein per acre than land used for animal flesh production. A lot of soybeans are grown to feed “cattle”. Do not purchase genetically-modified soy products, and only purchase organically-grown soy. In a 100 gram serving, soybeans contain 121% of our daily requirement of iron, and 101% of our daily requirement of phosphorus. Consumption of soy may also reduce the risk of colon cancer. Several large population studies have shown that consumption of soy foods is associated with a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men, is significantly associated with decreased risk of death and recurrence of breast cancer among women, and may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women. However, some people are allergic to soy. There are concerns with processed soy, like soy isolates. Tempeh is a whole soy product and has shown to improve memory in humans, while tofu, (a processed soy product), did not. Because of many unanswered scientific questions about soy consumption, moderate consumption is advised.

Sunflower Seeds – are a source of linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid), some amino acids (especially tryptophan), Vitamin E, some of the B Vitamins, and minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, selenium, calcium, and zinc. They are also rich in cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. They are a healthy snack and best eaten raw. They can be sprouted and added to salads. A 100 gram serving contains 199% of our daily recommended requirement of Vitamin B1, 135% of our daily recommended requirement of Vitamin B5, 230% of our daily recommended requirement of Vitamin E, 100% of our daily requirement of magnesium, 96% of our daily recommended requirement of manganese, 100% of our daily recommended requirement of phosphorus, and 52% of our daily recommended requirement of iron.

Sweet Potato – Although the soft, orange sweet potato is often mislabeled a yam in parts of North America, the sweet potato is botanically very distinct from a genuine yam. It goes by other names in other countries, as well. In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value. According to these criteria, sweet potatoes earned 184 points, which was 100 points over the next on the list, the common potato. Sweet potato is an excellent source of Vitamin A.

Tempeh - Tempeh has the highest vegan source of the amino acid Carnitine; not easily found in a vegan diet. Half cup of tempeh contains 19.35 mg of carnitine. Avocados also contain carnitine, but much less. In living cells, carnitine is required for the transport of fatty acids. In the course of human aging, carnitine concentration in cells diminishes, affecting fatty acid metabolism in various tissues. Particularly adversely affected are bones. Postmenopausal women and elderly people are more affected and would help themselves by ensuring they are consuming carnitine. Also carnitine has a substantial antioxidant action. Carnitine supplementation is primarily used for heart-related conditions. Some studies show that oral carnitine reduces fat mass and increases muscle mass. Tempeh is a whole-foods soy product, making it preferable.

Tomatoes - The richest source of lycopene in the diet is tomato and tomato derived products. Lycopene; a carotene, is one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. Lycopene has been shown to improve the skin's ability to protect against harmful UV rays.  A study done by researchers at Manchester and Newcastle universities revealed that tomato can protect against sunburn and help keeping skin looking youthful.

Walnuts – Walnuts contain melatonin which helps to induce sleep. Eating a small handful of walnuts might help people suffering from insomnia. The amount of melatonin produced by the human body decreases after the age of 40. Eating a handful of walnuts triples the blood levels of melatonin. Raw walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) short-chain fatty acids, which is important for vegans to consume and not found in abundance in the vegan diet. Compared to other nuts, walnuts (especially in their raw form) contain the highest total level of antioxidants, including both free antioxidants and antioxidants bound to fiber.

Watermelon – Watermelon is 92% water by weight, mildly diuretic and contains large amounts of beta carotene. There are nutrients in the rind, as well. I have many times lived on watermelon for weeks at a time and I highly recommend this cleanse for those who can find a suitable environment conducive to fasting; warm, relaxing, sunny, and serene.


Andrea - Butterflyist said...

What an amazing resource and wealth of information this is! I am quite nutritionally obsessed at the moment, I've become a nutrition nerd in fact, so this is perfect for me. Never knew that about brazil nuts containing radium! I will eat fewer.

Madeliaette said...

Nothing in this list that i would not eat/do not eat -,except beetroot!

vegangsterARNP said...

As usual, you have great posts... thank you for all your hard work. If people are eating swiss chard, please don't over eat for the oxalic acid. Thank you.

Tamyra Vegan said...

Great read!! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the fact

I was just wondering is there any way to cook soy beans that you would recommend and is edamame considered healthy too even though they are young soys?

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

I would think steaming on high heat soy beans whole off the plant would be healthy. Tempeh is the healthiest form of soy - from my reading. Soy isolates and processed soy is the least desirable. Tofu is processed, oh but so yummy.

Achim Stößer said...

Hm, chocolate and coconut ... cocoa butter, coconut oil and palm oil are as unhealthy (for the consumers) as animal corpse fats (and may increase the risk of heart attacks). So I'd be careful about that. I have noticed an enormous rise of recipes calling for coconut oil etc. recently. This may or may not be a strategy used by the animal exploitation industry to diminish the health side effects for those who consume vegan foods.

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

In response to Achim is talks about dark chocolate eaten in moderation and about coconut meat, especially young cooconut meat and water. Nothing at all about coconut oil. (which is saturated fat)

Nancy Horyza said...

Coconut oil is beneficial. I started giving to my dogs years ago. One w skin problem/ lack of a full coat. The oil get rid of bad bacteria. Also mouth are teeming w bacteria. Off the top of my head i can't remember the other benefits. I use raw cashews & or coconut oil in my cooking plus canned coconut milk. In moderation. Compared to what non-vegans eat in excess, hopefully us vegans are sensible. In the midwest cheese & or bacon seem to be in most salads & casserole. I use mostly grains beans & lots of veggies. Saturated fat less, more for holidays as a treat. I will enjoy my treats!!!!!!!!i don't see cacoa on your list. I have heard it's good for us & many vegans use it. Any comment? Great list.new vegans have it soooooo easy today w the internet. I'm older & yrs ago all we had were books- ha ha!