Examine this!

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Diet pill rejected by the FDA this past Thursday showed some promise in clinical trials: read the article here.

Another reason to get more shut-eye

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Read about it on the Examiner here.

Dietary needs of vegetarians and vegans

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Talking last week with a group of girls from my house, I was discussing my plans to study nutrition in graduate school. Two of the three present shared that they as vegetarians were concerned about meeting their nutritional needs now that they had decided to forgo meat.

I was able to rattle off a few things, but realized that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to review the subject for their and my own benefit. After all, we just began our Digestive System and Nutrition unit in Anatomy & Physiology, so what could be a better time to review which macro- (protein, fats, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) vegetarians and vegans are at risk of coming up short on?

Using several different sources (the Vegetarian Resource Group, Nemours’ Kids’ Health site, the American Heart Association), I pulled together the following. Have a look at it, and share with the vegans and vegetarians in your life!

Macronutrients:

Protein- The biggest concern regarding the macronutrients, as you may well know, is whether vegetarians and vegans get enough and enough quality protein sources. Ample empirical research, however, suggests that vegetarian diets can easily provide sufficient dietary protein as long as a variety of plant protein sources are utilized.

The overarching category of proteins, composed as they are of 20 amino acid monomers, becomes a dietary concern when the vegetarian or vegan in question is not getting the essential amino acids, which cannot be synthesized in the body.  Dairy and egg products provide the eight essential amino acids, but the only vegan food sources that contain all eight are soy, hempseed, chia seed, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and, perhaps surprisingly, the lupin plant (yes, of Lupin Lady fame).

Fortunately enough for those vegans and vegetarians that can’t afford or don’t have easy access to such foods, the essential amino acids can also be obtained by eating a variety of complementary plant proteins. While the idea of protein “combining” as necessary over the course of a meal has been repudiated by the scientific community, it remains important for vegans and veg-heads to eat a wide variety of plant proteins in order to assure they are getting their requisite eight.

Micronutrients:

Iron- I discussed the importance of dietary iron a little in my piece on hemoglobin. Again, while iron in plant sources abounds, the mineral’s bioavailability is less than that of meat sources, and its absorption is hampered by a number of dietary components. Vegetarian foods that are rich in iron include black and kidney beans, lentils, oatmeal, soybeans, fortified breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, black-strap molasses and chickpeas. Interestingly enough, a 2009 position paper of the American Dietetic Association has argued that iron deficiencies among vegetarians and vegans is less prevalent than previously thought. A little planning, it seems, is all it takes to get adequate iron.

Vitamin B12- Plant foods are in general not significant sources of B12, which plays a vital role in nervous system functioning and in blood clotting. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can get their RDA of the vitamin from dairy products and eggs, while vegans may need to rely on fortified food sources.

Vitamin D- Vitamin D deficiencies seem no more likely in vegetarians and vegans than in the general population, but D-deficiency is a widespread issue among all segments of the general population. While this vitamin can be generated by the body with adequate sun exposure, getting enough “sunny D” is unlikely for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere. Vitamin D is necessary for proper absorption of calcium, and fortified products like milk, soy milk and cereal grains are good sources of the essential vitamin. Supplementation is also an option.

Calcium- Calcium intake in vegetarians is on par with that of non-veg-heads, but can be harder to achieve in vegans. Leafy greens can provide ample supplies of dietary calcium, although the absorption of calcium from spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens is inhibited to a degree by the oxalate ion.

Fatty acids- Omega 3 fatty acids in particular are essential to the human body for a number of reasons, specifically in aiding normal human growth. Omega 3s are also necessary for supporting dermal (skin) integrity, renal function and ensuring a healthy childbirth.

Plant-based sources of the fatty acid include soy, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil, hemp-, chia- and flaxseed, as well as purslane. Plant foods supply alpha-linolenic acid but not long-chain omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which can be found to a small extent in dairy products and eggs. As a result, vegetarians and especially vegans are often found to have lower levels of EPA and DHA than omnivores, and supplementation may be recommended.

That said, a well planned vegetarian or vegan diet has been endorsed by the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada as “healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provid[ing] health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Specifically, mortality from ischaemic heart disease has been found to be markedly lower in vegan and vegetarians, as well as risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, kidney diseases, osteoporosis and dementias. Vegans and vegetarians also exhibit lower rates of obesity and better cholesterol profiles.

Beyond that, this future dietitian does not believe that any one dietary philosophy (beyond the baby food diet and other such fad diets) is better than another, and I would encourage eaters to choose foods in a fashion that fits their lifestyle. While I for example could easily go without meat, I find the occasional turkey or ham sandwich to be too tasty to pass up. And while I believe in the importance of eating locally-sourced meats and dairy/egg products grown in a humane and sustainable manner, I am also a realist and make do for the time being with dining hall meats.

My take-home message? Eat in a way that is congruent with your moral beliefs, and don’t let any quack nutrition or medical professional convince you than any one diet is superior to another.

When glands are (maybe) to blame

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Read all about it on the Examiner.

Please note that having a BMI of greater than 25 (red alert according to many medical officials) does not inconvenience or even “bother” everyone; that is to say, many people are perfectly happy and healthy at a larger-than-socially-acceptable size. Just pointin’ out that being “of size” is oftentimes not a problem that merits “blaming.”