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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise

Ask the Vegan Athlete

Ask Vegan Athlete Brendan Brazier

Brendan Brazier is a professional triathlete from North Vancouver, and the 2003, 50 km Ultra Marathon National Champion. A successful vegan ironman, Brendan contributes to our magazine with a feature called Ask the Vegan Athlete. In each issue Brendan answers questions posed by readers and offers advice to other athletes who choose to eat a plant-based diet.

Brendan is the author of Thrive: a Guide to Optimal Health and Performance Through Plant-Based Whole Foods. His website addresses concerns of vegetarian athletes, provides a forum for vegan athletes, and includes his schedule of activities.

For more info visit his website at http: //www.brendanbrazier.com

What are the advantages of eating a plant-based raw food diet?

As a society, we are inundated with an abundance of nutrient-deficient foods. Eaten primarily for convenience, processed and refined foods have resulted in an overall decline in health and elevated medical costs. Processed foods are usually high in refined carbohydrates and calories, yet we have to consume so much more of them to "fill up" because of their absence of usable nutrients. Due to our insatiable desire for quick, convenient energy on the go, our streets are crammed with coffee, donut, and fast food establishments. This solves the convenience problem and does provide a short-term energy solution through stimulation. However, it offers nothing to curb the payment the body will inevitably endure if this route is regularly taken. Consumption of stimulating, nutrient-deficient food can only occur for so long before the body becomes either exhausted or sick. Where the body goes, the mind is sure to follow.

Raw food for optimal absorption
Without efficient absorption and assimilation, even healthy whole foods will have limited nutritional value. Fortunately, the way to ensure you are getting maximum return on your eating (ie. most energy value out of your food) is actually simpler than you might think. As a general rule, the less that has been done to your food the better its return will be. Here is where raw, plant-based whole foods really shine.

The cooking and processing of food can destroy enzymes needed for efficient digestion. Before the body can make use of processed food, it must produce enzymes, which creates more work and therefore more stress. Enzymes in food that are destroyed during processing have to be generated by the body to compensate for the unnatural food's shortcomings in order for it to be digested.

There is evidence to suggest that consuming cooked, processed foods for many years may actually exhaust the body's enzyme-producing glands, resulting in poor digestion and assimilation of food later in life. This is one possibility for rapid signs of aging and disease; food is no longer nourishing the body the way it once did simply because it's not being digested properly anymore.

Raw food for "cost-free" energy
For long-term health and vitality it is important to understand the difference between energy obtained from stimulation versus energy derived from proper nourishment. Brendan Brazier

As a general rule, the more processed a food is, the more of a stimulating effect it will have on the nervous system. In contrast, the more natural and whole a food is--raw and sprouted being the ultimate--the less stimulating and more nourishing it will be.

Whole, raw foods provide "cost-free" energy--that is, sustainable energy that does not have to be "stoked" regularly with processed carbohydrates, refined sugars or caffeine in order to last. Ironically, many so-called "energy foods" are the biggest energy draining culprits. While convenient, many energy bars on the market offer little more nutritionally than candy bars. Like shopping with a credit card, stimulating the adrenal glands may provide you with more energy in the short term, but you will likely pay for it (with interest) in the future. Conversely, enzymatically alive, whole raw foods provide "cost-free" sustainable energy and vitality, not quick bouts of stimulation. "Cost-free" energy producing foods are:

  • whole - unprocessed and unrefined (ie. nothing added, nothing taken away)
  • raw and rich in naturally occurring enzymes
  • alkaline or alkaline-forming
  • high in natural vitamins and minerals
  • best in sprouted form
Sprouted food for maximum net energy gain
I believe sprouted foods offer unparalleled net energy yield over all other foods. Enzymatically alive and nutrient packed, sprouts are one of the most complete and nutritional of all foods tested. Rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, phytonutrients and enzymes, their nutritional value was discovered by the Chinese thousands of years ago. Recently, in North America, numerous scientific studies are confirming the benefits of sprouts in a healthy diet. Sprouted mung beans, wheat grass and sprouted flax seeds are among my personal favorite sprouted foods.

Because sprouts are essentially a "pre-digested" food, they have a higher biological efficiency value than whole seeds. Less food is required, yet more nutrients reach the blood and cells. The process of sprouting substantially increases vitamins, minerals and protein while decreasing calories and carbohydrate content. This increase in protein availability is key as it indicates the enhanced nutritional value of a food when sprouted. The protein from sprouted foods is the most easily digestible of all proteins available in foods. The sprouting process does much of the energy conversion for the body; one less step in the digestive process therefore results in a greater net gain. Contrast this to consuming cooked, processed, isolated proteins that the body must break down before they can be recognized and utilized, resulting in a significant loss in efficacy.

As described in my book THRIVE, the net gain of food is a term given to the energy we are left with from food once digestion and assimilation have taken place. As a rule, cooked, refined and processed foods yield the lowest net gain. Unprocessed, whole food sources offer a superior return. When raw, they are even better. Taken one step further, whole, raw, sprouted foods provide the absolute greatest net energy gain possible through nourishment, not stimulation.

Click here for Ask the Vegan Athlete Index

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