Ginny Messina, MPH, RD is the co-author of the books Vegan for Life, Vegan for Her, and Never Too Late to Go Vegan. Prior to working on vegan advocacy, she was a nutrition instructor at Central Michigan University, where she taught principles of public health education to dietetics students. Messina was also the director of nutrition services in a medical center serving more than 50,000 patients, and has developed nutrition education materials for many organizations including the U.S. government’s national cholesterol program.
Today, she says her work “focuses on giving people the tools and knowledge they need to adopt a healthy vegan diet and to ensure that they will stay healthy and happy for the long term.”
Here are five unique healthy vegan eating secrets from Ginny Messina.
1. Begin with the basics
In our Western culture, we rely on animal foods for many of their nutrients, so “vegans don’t have a cultural or family habits to fall back on,” Messina says. Many of us did not grow up learning how to get calcium and protein from plants, so Messina recommends vegans learn the ABCs: “The fact is that a vegan diet is a foreign way of eating for most people and so we have to actually learn how to meet nutrient needs. It’s not hard; it’s just different. We do need to learn where to get calcium and iodine, and we have to work a little bit harder to ensure adequate intake of zinc and adequate absorption of both zinc and iron. We also need to ensure adequate vitamin D, although that’s an issue for everyone, vegan or not,” she says.
2. Eat vitamin C with iron-rich foods to help absorption
Though iron deficiency is common among people eating many different types of diets, Messina says when vegans develop it, it can be tempting to get discouraged and return to eating red meat. Stay on track by eating plenty of whole grains and legumes, along with good sources of vitamin C at meals (citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, leafy greens, cauliflower, and cabbage). Vitamin C dramatically improves iron absorption. And, the best way to cure a deficiency is with supplements, not meat.
3. Remember the rule of variety
Messina warns us not to get too caught up in food crazes and get into eating ruts. Eating many different types of produce is key. She says, “It’s just a good idea to remember the rule of variety when it comes to fruits and vegetables. You need calcium-rich choices, but you need ones that are rich in potassium as well. Although I usually eat cruciferous vegetables for dinner, I aim for the potassium-rich ones in my other meals. I almost always have a potassium-packed soup in my fridge, made with beans, spinach and tomatoes—three potassium superstars. It makes a great afternoon snack.”
4. Choose slow carbohydrates
When choosing whole foods for the vegan diet, Messina says, “All whole plant foods are good for you, but choosing foods with a low glycemic index most often can help prevent fluctuations in blood sugar if you’re susceptible to them. Choose sweet potatoes over white; breads made from grains that haven’t been ground into flour; oats, barley and quinoa instead of rice; and beans cooked from scratch rather than canned beans.”
5. Get your DHA from algae
Vegans can get adequate amounts of omega-3 fats without consuming fish oil. Messia says, “Vegans aren’t at higher risk for heart disease than people who eat fish. But many experts suggest erring on the side of a little insurance by supplementing, especially for those who suffer from depression. Vegans who want to include DHA and EPA in their diets can get it the same way fish do, which is from algae. In fact, from an environmental perspective, it makes sense for everyone to choose algae-derived supplements over fish oil.”
With these great tips, you’re sure to be the healthiest vegan around!
Image source: The Vegan RD Facebook