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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarian Books

Each issue the VIP birds endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book or books that contribute to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we review two books by registered dietitians who emphasize the power of a plant-based diet in promoting health.

Click here for a review of Plant-Powered for Life

Becoming Vegan Express Edition:
the Everyday Guide to Plant-based Nutrition

By Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD

Book Publishing Company, 2013
Paperback, $19.95

Veganism has arrived! As Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina point out in their latest book, "There is no denying it: vegan is on the radar of mainstream America. It has arrived because of the moguls and other pioneers who have defied the stereotypes and made vegan attractive to the masses." Prominent athletes, bodybuilders, models, movie stars, musicians, chefs, dietitians, and doctors proudly announce they have adopted this lifestyle.

In Becoming Vegan Express Edition, Davis and Melina continue to update their previous editions of Becoming Vegan to provide the latest information and research on the merits of a plant-based diet. In the opening chapter, Widening the Circle of Compassion, they emphasize both the cruelty of animal exploitation and the damage to the planet that results from society's reliance on factory farming.

In addition to recommending a vegan path, the authors provide "a few tips for further fine-tuning your planet-friendly habits."

  • Choose organic food
  • Opt for local, seasonal plant foods
  • Avoid products with excessive packaging
  • Reduce food waste
  • Compost your food scraps
  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation
  • BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)

Becoming Vegan Express Edition For many readers the heart of the book may be The Great Vegan Advantage. Here the dietitians focus on weight loss, reduction of disease risk, and reversal of existing chronic conditions. In this chapter the authors discuss the impact of a vegan diet on heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, gallstones, dementia, and other diseases.

They address the soy-breast cancer controversy by citing a number of studies that explain the positive effects of soy. They conclude, "The weight of evidence suggests that soy is protective against breast cancer, breast cancer occurrence, and death due to breast cancer, although some studies suggest that it doesn't affect risk either way. The strongest evidence exists for moderate intake (about two servings a day) of traditional soy foods, such as tofu and soy milk."

Because so many non-vegans assume that vegans won't get enough protein, Davis and Melina devote an entire chapter to this issue. Many vegans believe that protein is not an issue if people eat enough calories. The authors caution against this view by warning against not overeating junk food and not consuming enough legumes. They present charts revealing the amount of calories and proteins in fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, and oils and sweeteners. For comparison they also list some animal products.

In Fat Matters the authors present A Primer on Fat to emphasize its vital roles in the body in making hormones, absorbing phytochemicals and some vitamins, acting as a shock absorber for vital organs, and maintaining healthy hair, skin, and bones.

Along with a discussion of essential fatty acids, they present sources of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 types. They also explain the Pros and Cons of a High-Fat Diet and the Pros and Cons of a Very Low-Fat Diet and include charts showing how much of these nutrients are in select foods.

In The Two Faces of Carbohydrates the writers focus on the myths and realities surrounding carbs. They respond to low-carb diets by saying, "The only foods that are free of carbohydrates are meat, fish, poultry, and oil. While low-carb diets have been shown to be relatively successful in short-term weight loss, they fail over time."

They emphasize, "Carbs are the preferred food for the brain, red blood cells, and nervous system." The world's healthiest people eat high-carbohydrate diets, but those carbs are unrefined. Conversely, a diet with a large amount of refined carbs can be damaging to health. The healthiest people eat unrefined carbs or complex carbohydrates found in whole starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The complex carbohydrates provide the fiber the body needs.

Since carbs include sugar, the authors discuss the negative effects the sweetener has on the body. They cite the World Health Organization that suggests a maximum of 10% of calories from added sugar or no more 12 1/2 teaspoons a day in a 2000-calorie diet. Reading labels is important, but when there are 12 grams of sugar in an item, people should realize that means approximately┬ three level teaspoons. There are approximately 4.2 grams in a level teaspoon of sugar.

Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis

Vesanto Melina/Brenda Davis Davis and Melina devote an entire chapter to vegan vitamin needs and caution vegans to make sure they receive enough B12 and D. These are two vitamins that may not be achieved through diet. Presented here are charts showing Vitamins in Vegan Foods.

A healthy vegan needs to be cognizant about obtaining enough of the proper minerals. The dietitians offer Three Rules for Getting Enough Minerals.

  1. Eat whole plant foods. Minerals are found in all the different food groups, many are lost in the refining process.
  2. Get enough calories. If you're on a weigh-loss diet, take a multivitamin supplement.
  3. .
  4. Check food labels. Consider using some foods that are fortified with calcium, zinc, iron, and iodine.

The previous editions of Becoming Vegan did not have to deal with the Paleo Diet, but the authors found it necessary to address this new phenomenon. They conclude, "The new paleo diet is a very pale imitation of the diet of early humans. The focus tends to be on consuming large quantities of meat. If people want to move closer to the true Paleolithic diet, they might turn their attention to becoming vegan--it's as close to a true Paleolithic diet as modern-day people can achieve."

Triumph Over Weight cautions vegans that a plant-based diet is not a guarantee for weight loss. The dietitians offer advice in the chapter, Getting Healthy.

  • Eat at least six serving of nonstarchy vegetables daily
  • Learn to love legumes
  • Go easy on grains
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit
  • Get fats from nuts, seed, and avocados
  • Make the most of herbs and spices
  • Limit processed and convenience foods
  • Minimize concentrated sweeteners and avoid artificial sweeteners
  • Limit fats and avoid partially hydrogenated oils
  • Avoid snacking
  • Rely on water
  • Let the sun shine in
  • Make exercise a priority
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Manage stress
  • Avoid addictive substances

Overcoming Underweight and From Pregnancy On: Nourishing Strong Children are two chapters that show how a vegan diet can be beneficial. Seniors receive attention in The Prime of Life: Vegan Nutrition for Seniors. The Fit Vegan stresses The Endless Benefits of Exercise and Getting Fit and Staying Fit.

The book concludes with The Vegan Food Guide that shows and discusses what should be on The Vegan Plate. Presented here are Menus for Every Taste. The Appendix includes Recommended Intakes of Vitamins and Minerals and Resources featuring books and websites.

Becoming Vegan: Express Edition is the quintessential guidebook for anyone contemplating or practicing veganism. It is everything a vegan needs to know about a healthful plant-based lifestyle. The voluminous charts provide a wealth of nutrition data and quantify the information in the book. Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina clearly demonstrate here why they are leaders in their field. They have assembled a massive amount of data from scientific studies and translated it into a book that is easily accessible to the general public. Anyone who owns a previous edition will benefit from the authors' updated research and information in this volume. For those new to this lifestyle, this is an excellent handbook packed with valuable nutritional information relative to all ages.

"… if you really, truly start loving plants--craving their flavors, textures, aromas, and colors--they will start loving you back," says registered dietitian nutritionist Sharon Palmer. Her newest book, Plant-Powered for Life, is her easy step-by-step guide helping lure readers "to fall under the spell of plants . . . " and gradually transition to a whole-foods plant-based lifestyle.

Plant-Powered for Life Sharon's enthusiasm for plant foods is contagious as she shares fascinating tidbits of their origins along with their amazing health benefits that have sustained humans from primitive ancestors to today's fitness gurus.

This diet expert feels it is imperative for people to recognize that today's Western diet of highly-processed, nutrition-deficient, fat-laden foods is the cause of many chronic diseases. She urges taking steps to turn away from the processed foods and embrace whole plant foods instead--fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Each chapter offers a concise, yet gentle nudge toward eating plant foods by offering nutrition information, setting goals, and giving helpful suggestions to guide the learning process. Two or three recipes in each chapter coordinate with the theme of that section, along with an attractive full-color photo of one of the dishes.

As example, Chapter 4, "Love your legumes for protein and beyond," describes beans as hearty staples high in protein and endowed with anthocyanins, the same plant chemicals found in blueberries and cranberries. The chapter also spotlights a color-splashed photo and recipe for French Lentil Salad with Cherry Tomatoes. Another recipe, Caribbean Calypso Beans, makes a delicious, spice-infused dish with its lively flavors of garlic, coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika.

Chapter 17, "Be globally inspired," suggests the reader look beyond familiar American foods and seek plant-based recipes from other cultures. Bringing a variety of flavors into everyday meals makes them so much more appealing. Featured are recipes for Swedish Pea Soup made with yellow split peas, and Pesto Trapanese with Whole Grain Penne, a 30-minute meal inspired by the author's visit to Sicily.

Sharon Palmer Tasty dishes like Korean Kimchi Hot Pot, Tuscan Kale Salad, Muhammara, and Curried Tofu Papaya Wraps have universal appeal and make it easy to ditch the meat.

Emphasizing the health aspects of each recipe is a nutritional analysis that also calls attention to "Star Nutrients" (vitamins and minerals) in addition to the percent of their daily value.

Helpful to the home cook and invaluable to anyone who is just becoming acquainted with the kitchen is the active preparation time and total prep time listed under the recipe title.

Completing the book is Sharon's suggestion for Further Reading and a Seasonal Recipe Guide, so no matter what season, she has tasty recipes for year-round enjoyment.

Plant Powered for Life can easily be THE ideal guide to usher anyone into a health-promoting lifestyle. Each of the 52 chapters offers simple steps of encouragement and focuses on building new habits with an appealing soft, friendly approach. Anyone wanting to put chronic illness behind and live a vibrant, energetic lifestyle will find this the perfect handbook to light the way.

Click here for past book reviews

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