You may wonder how to sift through all the competing facts and fiction to find out exactly how nutritious a vegan diet is. Some sources say that it is low in protein, others say it lacks important vitamins and minerals. Who do you listen to, your doctor? A nutritionist? The health food store vitamin expert? I was fortunate to have an eye-opening experience while working on my graduate degree that taught me more than I had expected about exactly what lay at the core of my eating habits. You can easily do the same…
I took a nutrition course in college 4 years ago. It was an interesting class taught by an instructor who was a registered dietitian. At one point, she asked the class to keep a food journal for three days. The assignment was to enter what we ate and drank into a particular website that would provide a complete dietary analysis of everything we had consumed during the three-day period. This website was really something; it not only provided caloric information, but listed carbohydrate, fat and protein counts along with detailed vitamin and nutritional values of each food. At first, I thought how tedious it was going to be to write down everything I ate, especially considering that I do a lot of grazing. Then came the unintentional challenge from the instructor: “Do not worry about how well you will do on this exercise. I have been teaching this class for 7 years and the only person whose diet fell within the acceptable range was a vegan, but she worked VERY hard to stick to her diet.” My ears perked up. I decided it would be interesting to see how it came out for me without making any extra effort.
Over the next 3 days, I did not waver from my usual diet and wrote EVERYTHING down, including vegan pizza piled with vegan cheese, pasta, vegan cookies, wine, salad dressings, bagels with margarine, and chocolate soy. I made sure I did not make any effort to eat better than I normally would. After all, I had nothing to prove; no one in the class knew I ate a vegan diet. I was just pretty curious.
After the end of the 3 day period, we showed up to class to get the results of our journal entries. I was very surprised to find that my diet landed fully within the healthy dietary range except for vitamin B12, which I knew had been included in my diet even though the website didn’t acknowledge it.
When the instructor went over the computer printout of my food journal, I told her that I stuck to a plant-based diet. I went on to explain that I really hadn’t expected it to come out so favorably since I hadn’t eaten particularly well over the 3 day period. When she pointed out the one problem area that showed I was lacking vitamin B12, I explained that I served my family nutritional yeast flakes as they are a great source of B12 and that I had not found it listed in the website’s program. Unfortunately, she became quite irritated over the computer’s results of my diet and did not mention it again. It must be discouraging for most health professionals to learn that their costly medical degree was riddled with nutritional misinformation. Hopefully, one day soon, health professionals will be trained to focus more on the benefits of eating a cruelty-free, less-polluting and healthier diet.
If you would like to see how you are doing nutritionally speaking, here is the clever nutritional website that has a pretty decent program and is free:
United States Dept. of Agriculture New Release http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2010/12/0673.xml
Image courtesy of USDA
© Jill Powers and The Feel Good Vegan 2010.