Got a nutrition question? Ask away!

As part of National Nutrition Month, we’re encouraging the public to submit questions to our talented and very knowledge nutrition educators throughout the month of March. 

You can do so in a variety of ways … 

(1) Check out this Facebook post and comment with your question.

(2) Hit us up on Twitter with a question … use #NNM17 and tag @foodlinkny.

(3) Email our Nutrition Education Manager, Alyssa, at avanvalkenburg@foodlinkny.org. 

One of our educators will field your question and give you a detailed response within days. Plus, we’ll compile some of the most interesting questions in a video Q&A, which we’ll share on our social media channels toward the end of the month. 

Want an example? Here’s one question that came in, and the answer provided by one of our Finger Lakes Eat Smart New York educators, Laura Held:

Q: What are the main health benefits of going vegan? Are there any major nutritional drawbacks?

A: Hello! Technically, veganism is actually an ethical philosophy, not just a diet. Being vegan, essentially, means to exclude any animal products from your life — as much as possible. So, for example, vegans do not purchase leather, wool, or silk goods, in addition to not eating meat, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, and anything else from an animal source. Veganism is a lifestyle choice for those who do not believe it is necessary for humans to utilize animals for human needs, and that as much as possible, one should avoid doing so. For more information on being vegan and the myriad choices that a vegan makes about what to purchase, wear, or eat, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veganism

That being said, there are many people these days who refer to themselves as vegan, who are following a vegan diet or close to a vegan diet, who may not follow the rest of the vegan lifestyle. And that is what our questioner was really asking about. The more appropriate terminology for this diet is to call it a “plant-based diet.” A plant-based diet could, for example, include honey and maybe gelatin, as the main point of a plant-based diet is to avoid meat, dairy, and eggs, and not necessarily (although it may!) avoiding substances that are derived from animals. There are numerous reasons why someone may choose to eat a plant-based diet. It may include the ethical reasons listed above. It also may include environmental considerations. And it likely includes concerns for one’s health.
 
A plant-based diet will be naturally low in saturated fat, as this unhealthy fat (which in excess is dangerous to our heart) is mostly found in animal products like meat and dairy. Therefore, this diet is considered extremely heart-healthy. As long as one is sensible with portion control and cooking methods (no trans fats!), and not consuming excess sodium or added sugars, a plant-based diet is extremely healthy. There are several research studies that have looked at this, and several renowned medical doctors, who currently work with patients who need to lose weight and get their biometrics in good order, who prescribe this diet to their patients. Two local examples are Dr. Ted Barnett, MD (Medical Director and CEO of Rochester Lifestyle Medicine) and Dr. Thomas Campbell, MD (Medical Director of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and co-founder and clinical director of the University of Rochester Program for Nutrition in Medicine). Dr. Campbell, along with his father, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, co-authored a ground-breaking study on the plant-based diet, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and The Startling Implications for Diet, Weight-Loss, and Long-Term Health. And in 2015, Dr. Thomas Campbell published The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Weight and Reverse Illness, Using the China Study’s Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet. To learn more about this book and diet, you can listen to Dr. Thomas Campbell’s July 2015appearance on “Connections with Evan Dawson.”  
 
Another influential contributor to the world of the plant-based diet is Dr. David Ludwig, MD, PhD, based at Harvard University. In 2016 he published Always Hungry?: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells and Lose Weight Permanently. Here is a short Q&A with him in The New York Times about his book and research.  
 
To eat a plant-based diet healthfully, one must make sure to get enough protein (examples: legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu/soy and soy products, some whole grains like quinoa), calcium (examples: fortified non-dairy equivalents like soy milk or almond milk, fortified orange juice, dark leafy greens, nutritional supplements), vitamin D (examples: fortified non-dairy equivalents like soy milk or almond milk, fortified orange juice, nutritional supplements), and iron (examples: dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, some whole grains). It is also important to get enough Omega-3 fatty acids(examples: flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, hemp seeds, seaweed).
 
Other than that, one must simply eat a well-balanced diet and one will get all of their nutritional needs met — except for one critical nutrient: B12. There is no naturally occurring B12 found in non-animal products. B12 is a critical nutrient for our brain function and formation of red blood cells. But this is easily remedied. B12 is fortified in breakfast cereals and other food products. There are a variety of nutritional supplements. And there is a product called “nutritional yeast” which can be used as a cheese-like flaky topping or can be utilized in cooking numerous foods to create a cheese-y quality. The required daily intake for B12 is quite minimal, but anyone on a plant-based diet should be sure to inform their doctor and have their B12 level tested as regularly as the doctor suggests in order to ensure that they are never too low on this critical nutrient. It is also recommended to have your vitamin D levels tested, especially if you live in Rochester, where we don’t have enough access to the sun to naturally boost our vitamin D levels.

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