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Adding life to one’s years, too

/ 12:10 AM August 08, 2015

Commenting on our column (“Be vegan, live longer,” 7/25/15), David Ulrich from Wayne State University, Michigan, writes that today, we already know what’s really a healthy diet and that if we truly care for our health and want to live a long, healthy life, we should try our best to adhere to it.

“A low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet has been shown by population studies as well as controlled (clinical) trials to be the best diet for health and longevity,” he says.

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Ulrich shares additional information about healthy living populations like the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), a Christian religious group which has integrated healthy lifestyle practices into its religious doctrines.

“The Adventist community in Loma Linda (in California) was (included) in the ‘Blue Zones Study’ which found that among long-(living) populations, the Adventists live the longest healthy lives. The second longest living group are the Okinawans who traditionally get around 8 percent of calories mostly from fish,” Ulrich says.

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He adds that other health-conscious populations with a relatively longer life span consumed less than 10 percent of their total daily calories from animal food “but did not live quite as long (as the Adventists or the Okinawans).”

Prevailing concern

Rolando Fortes of San Pedro, Laguna, asks about the prevailing concern that vegans, particularly those with special nutritional needs, may become deficient in some nutrients and vitamins since a pure vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry or fish. The key is being aware of one’s nutritional needs depending on one’s condition (diabetic; with heart, liver or kidney disease; pregnant or breast-feeding; elderly, etc.) and carefully planning a diet that meets these special requirements. A well-planned diet can definitely meet all the needs of all vegans with specific medical conditions. One may seek the assistance of a dietician or nutritionist for this.

Pure vegans don’t eat dairy products or drink milk, so getting enough calcium is one concern. Equally good sources are soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu and dark green vegetables, including broccoli, turnip and collard greens. We also have calcium-enriched and -fortified juices and cereals in the market.

Iodine is another important nutrient vegans could be deficient of, making them at risk to goiter (thyroid enlargement). This should not be a problem since even just one-fourth teaspoon of iodized salt daily can already provide for one’s iodine requirement.

To get enough iron so that one does not become anemic, a vegan should get the nutrient from rich sources like dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables and dried fruits. It’s true that iron isn’t as easily absorbed from plant sources, so a vegan’s intake of iron should be doubled as that of nonvegans’. To enhance the body’s absorption of iron, vitamin C-rich food can also help. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, etc., together with iron-containing sources, should give one all the iron he/she needs.

Incorporating deep-sea fish in a vegetarian diet is an excellent idea, which I highly recommend, but for those who follow a pure vegan diet, becoming deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which is an important nutrient for heart and brain health, is a concern. Alternative sources of essential fatty acids would be canola oil, soy oil, nuts, ground flaxseed and soybeans. However, plant-based omega-3 is not efficiently converted to the types used by human tissues, so one may have to take fortified products or dietary supplements together with one’s regular diet.

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If one is a lacto-ovo-vegetarian (eats eggs and dairy products), meeting one’s protein needs shouldn’t be a problem. For pure vegans, good alternative sources include soy products, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains. These can also supply one with one’s zinc requirement.

In short, all of one’s nutrient requirements can be provided by alternative plant sources, supplemented by manufactured food preparations fortified with these essential nutrients.

A big challenge

If one has been carnivorous, shifting to a vegetarian type of diet can indeed be a big challenge and may require a lot of effort at the start. Sliding back after a few days or weeks is a usual problem. But my vegan friends, who have been diligently at it for years already, can never imagine themselves going back to meat-eating ever again.

The shift to vegetarianism can be done gradually. Each week, one can make a conscious effort to increase the number of meatless meals one eats and enjoys eating. If one does not enjoy the food, it’s likely one will not sustain eating it for a long time. One can be creative enough to add whatever spices that can make the meatless meals palatable and enjoyable.

One can start with whatever favorite meals one has, for example by gradually leaving out the meat ingredients and using vegetarian substitutes in pastas, tofu rather than chicken in fajitas, and black beans instead of ground beef in various food preparations.

One can also try the so-called vege-meat products—food which look like and taste almost like meat but are actually made from vegetable sources. In short, they’re fake meats.

There are various websites sharing a lot of vegetarian menus which one can try preparing at home. There are now also a lot of restaurants serving delectable vegetarian cuisine. One can take home a portion of the dishes one likes and try cooking them.

Healthy eating, of course, is just part of the healthy lifestyle regimen doctors recommend. Having enough water (not necessarily alkaline water), sunshine, exercise, sleep, and rest and relaxation, and avoiding tobacco products and excessive alcohol intake complete one’s regimen for a therapeutic lifestyle change that can add years to one’s life, and hopefully, add life to one’s years as well.

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TAGS: column, Diet, health and science, longevity, Rafael Castillo, vegetarian
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