Garden of Vegan

Garden of Vegan
During my own vegan experiment, I adopted the same strategy. When I wasn’t sure if a restaurant would have much food I could eat, I’d fill up ahead of time on a thick, creamy smoothie of soy milk, peanut butter, frozen banana, and soy protein powder. I also began carrying emergency food, such as nuts and dried fruit, in my bag.

The key to being (and remaining) a happy vegan is to have a variety of delicious options. After all, you aren’t going to stick with it if your diet consists only of plain whole grains, tofu, and steamed veggies.

Linda Hegrenes, 43, an administrative assistant in Snohomish, Wash., found it surprisingly easy to make satisfying meals when she became a vegan last year. “I spend more time cooking than I used to, but it’s all fresh, like salads with black beans or lentil stew or butternut squash soup. I bring manicotti stuffed with tofu, spinach, garlic, and onions to our church potlucks— and it’s popular.”

Overweight and prediabetic before going vegan, Hegrenes says she has lost 38 pounds, seen a steep drop in her cholesterol and triglyceride levels, stopped taking pills for acid reflux, and no longer suffers from constipation or sleep apnea.

I didn’t fare quite as well as Hegrenes while I ate vegan. I was never hungry, but I was never entirely satisfied, either. I ate plenty of nuts, beans, and soy yogurt and likely got enough protein, but I missed chewy protein sources, like turkey. I unwittingly compensated by indulging in vegan junk food, like dairy-free cookies, which probably explains why I didn’t lose any weight.

I confess: I only lasted 10 days as a vegan. My diet came to an abrupt halt when my in-laws came to town and treated me and my husband to dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant. All I really wanted was the prawn salad with Gorgonzola dressing and the wild Alaskan salmon with dill pesto.

Even so, my vegan experiment did instill some good habits that I plan to keep: I now consider soy milk a staple, and I add extra beans and veggies to my salads. I still enjoy my turkey sandwiches, but I plan to bring my vegan noodle kugel to next year’s Rosh Hashanah. I have to say, it’s pretty darn good.

NUTRIENT GUIDE
Many nutritionists suggest vegans take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to make sure they get all the nutrients they need. For more info on vegan nutrition, visit vrg.org/nutrition.

• Protein: Soy products, like tofu, are the best way to get the recommended 0.4 grams of protein per pound of weight (20 percent more if you exercise regularly). Whole grains, beans, and veggies don’t have all the amino acids you need to break down proteins, so you can’t get as many nutrients from them. If you don’t eat much soy, adjust your protein intake slightly upward.
• Iron: The iron in fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts isn’t as well absorbed as the iron in meat, so the DRI (Dietary Reference Intakes) for iron is higher for vegans than for omnivores—33 milligrams a day for premenopausal women; 14 mg for men and postmenopausal women. Top iron sources include soybeans (9.9 mg per cup), lentils (14.5 mg per cup), tofu (6.6 mg per four ounces), and spinach (6.4 mg per cup cooked). To increase its absorption, combine iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes and orange juice.
• Vitamin B12: You can’t get this vitamin through plant foods, so you have to eat fortified foods, such as soy milk and breakfast cereal, or take a supplement (any kind that has a USP—United States Pharmacopeia—seal is fine). Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia and irreversible nerve damage, so it’s crucial to get enough of this vitamin.
• Calcium and vitamin D : Darkgreen leafy veggies, like collards and kale, are the best nondairy sources of calcium. To consume the recommended 1,000 mg of calcium daily (1,200 mg if you’re 51 or older), you may also want to include calcium-fortified tofu and orange juice. As for vitamin D, if you get less than 15 minutes of sunlight a day, take a vitamin D supplement.
• Omega-3 fatty acids: The best nonanimal-derived sources are flaxseeds and walnuts, but research suggests the plant-based omega-3 fat linolenic acid is not readily converted to DHA, the key omega-3 found in fish that promotes fetal brain development. Whether vegans need omega-3 supplements is controversial, but many experts recommend pregnant vegans take a DHA supplement made from microalgae.