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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Words from Other Birds

From time to time Vegetarians in Paradise presents informative articles by guest contributors on subjects of interest to vegetarians and vegans. This month we introduce Dr. Jay Lavine, a savvy, vegan ophthalmologist who resides in Arizona. His article touts the many benefits of whole grains, especially whole wheat. Dr. Jay has his own web site focused on vegetarian nutrition as a preventive to many health problems.


by Jay B. Lavine, M.D.

You've made the transition to a vegetarian diet, and regardless of your reasons, you know it will be good for your health. Contrary to popular opinion among the meat-eating public, a vegetarian diet does not put you at high risk for nutritional deficiency. In fact, vegetarians tend to get much more of many important minerals and vitamins, such as magnesium and vitamins C and E. But a vegetarian diet does represent a change, and as with any change, you have to learn the ropes to avoid entanglement. So let's see how to make your diet as healthy as possible.

First, eat enough food. Vegetarian foods tend to be bulkier than animal products, so you have to consume a much greater volume of food than you did as a meat eater in order to consume the same number of calories. Don't be afraid to eat between "meals" either: a grazing type of diet is associated with a number of health benefits. As long as you consume enough whole foods and avoid "junk" foods like candy and potato chips, you should obtain plenty of protein. Remember that all whole vegetarian foods contain protein. Every one contains all of the essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. "Complete protein" is a myth, and there is no need for food combining.

One of the most important steps you can take to optimize your diet is to choose whole grains and avoid refined cereal grains and rice. Most people realize that there is much more fiber in whole grains. But compared with white flour, whole wheat flour has 30% more protein (you could just about meet your daily protein requirements by consuming a pound of whole wheat).

Many minerals are lost in the refining process, but iron is the only one replaced. Whole wheat flour has 6 times as much magnesium, a mineral that may help prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and kidney stones! There is 4 times as much zinc, a mineral required for a strong immune system. Similarly, there is more copper, manganese, calcium, and other minerals in whole wheat than in refined flour.

How about vitamins? Whole wheat contains the full spectrum of vitamin E: alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol, and even a little of the tocotrienols. Supplements usually provide only the alpha form, but there is evidence that some of the other forms are better antioxidants. Unfortunately, 95% of the vitamin E is lost when flour is refined. White flour is enriched with several of the B-vitamins, but not with vitamin B6, which can help prevent heart disease. Whole wheat flour contains 8 times as much vitamin B6.

Do you know what gives whole wheat its golden-brown color? It's a carotenoid (carotene-like substance) called lutein, a strong antioxidant that may prevent macular degeneration, the primary cause of poor vision in the elderly. Finally, there are also important phytochemicals in wheat that are lost in the refining process.

Dr. Jay Lavine's web site can be accessed at: http://members.aol.com/sauromalus/vegnutr.htm

He will be back next month with more information about Optimizing Your Vegetarian Diet.

Click here for past Words from Other Birds Articles

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