With the excitement of the new year and new resolutions, you told me you are enjoying a change with your meals. More vegan meals, less processed foods, more vegetables, whatever it may be. A vegan diet can mean a lot of things and without the proper knowledge, may seem as a restrictive and potentially nutrient-poor choice. Obviously, once you are well-versed in a nutritionally-sound vegan framework, it is a healthy choice.
While I usually keep it on the low-down, my long-term readers know I am a physician. I am board-certified in my specialty in two countries. This year marks my 14th year of schooling after high school. Suffice it to say, I have an analytical frame of mind which is routed in science and evidence-based medicine. I may be a doctor but am I a registered dietician? No.
I do not pretend to be anything I am not. Instead of focusing on studies and nutritional benefits here, I prefer to share my joy for good, healthy food. Wading through the mounds of pseudo-science (and real science) is an onerous task even for those working in the industry. As this is a hobby blog, it is more fun for me to lead by example, sharing my recipe successes. Thankfully there are others who have made it their mission to share scientifically sound nutritional advice for people who have adopted a vegan lifestyle. Consider reading the latest books to connect with the most current available vegan-centric knowledge.
Around this time last year, I shared my recommendation for Vegan For Life, a book routed in the science of living a healthy vegan lifestyle. If you have read that book already, my new recommendations may not necessarily share new information with you. They are a bit more in-depth, though. However, an annual nutrition refresher may be just what you need, no matter which book you read.
The chapters are short, but highlight the important nutrients vegans have to work harder to eat: proteins, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, minerals such as iron, zinc, and iodine. Their vegan food guide suggests eating whole grains and starchy vegetables (5+ servings a day), legumes and soy foods (3-4+ servings a day), vegetables (5+ servings a day), fruits (2+ servings a day), nuts and seeds (1-2 servings a day) and fats (2 servings a day) along with supplementation (including whole food sources) for vitamin B12, iodine, vitamin D and omega-3 fats.
Shorter chapters highlight key points for vegan pregnancy and breastfeeding, raising vegan children, eating properly if you are over 50 years of age, managing weight, heart disease and diabetes, and sports nutrition. This is actually a quick and engaging read for anyone wanting to learn more about vegan nutrition. Highly recommended.
Possibly one of the first books focusing on vegan nutrition was Becoming Vegan, initially published in 2000. Davis and Melina updated their classic book and despite streamlining it into an “Express Edition”, it boasts 86 more pages. This is an Express Edition, because it presents the information in a readable digest geared to a person learning about nutrition. It touches on the basics. There are pages dedicated to each and every vitamin and mineral and chapters outlining vegan sources of carbohydrates, fats and protein. There are readable chapters for people wanting to lose weight or gain weight on a vegan diet as well as chapters how a vegan diet may change over a lifestyle (athletes, pregnant women and the elderly are highlighted). A cursory last chapter is dedicated to a properly balanced vegan diet. Their balanced daily Vegan Plate includes vegetables (5+ servings a day), fruits (4+ servings a day), legumes (3+ servings a day), grains (3+ servings a day) and nuts and seeds (1+ servings a day), along with other essentials such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine. The chapters are well laid-out with headings, bullets, tables and quite high-yield if you know what you want to learn about.
It is a comprehensive book and one with which I agree with their message, but it fell short for me. There are lengthy textbook-like tables highlighting the nutritional composition of different foods and suggestions to make proper choices at meal-time (only 2 recipes are included as the companion cookbook is Cooking Vegan), but the scientist in me wanted more. I missed their citations. Where did they base their recommendations? My review may be a little premature, though. An updated comprehensive version, with 624 pages, will be published in June 2014, which may very well have all the information I seek. In any case, I still think this is a valuable resource. A sample snippet from the book about coconut oil can be read here and a nice Q & A with the authors here.
Authored by Messina, who co-authored Vegan For Life, with help from JL Fields for the recipes, Vegan For Her focuses on the special nutritional needs of vegan women. The basics of vegan nutrition are covered along with the basics of female physiology like hormones throughout a woman’s life. Messina looks specifically at the changing nutritional needs of enhancing fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, aging, athletes, dieting to lose weight, as well addressing how a vegan diet may help prevent breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, pain, depression and stress and how to increase and/or maintain bone density. The second half of the book is dedicated to recipes created by JL Fields.
While Becoming Vegan reads more like a textbook, Messina’s approach to Vegan For Her is more engaging in a novel-type of book. Without being too dry, Messina is still able to cite the scientific literature to strengthen her recommendations. However, instead of bogging down her reader with numbers and tables, she has introduced her Vegan Food Guide, highlighting vegetables (5+ servings a day) and fruits (3+ servings a day), whole grains and starchy vegetables (4+ servings a day), legumes and soyfoods (3+ servings a day), and nuts and seeds (1-2 servings a day) with special attention to calcium-rich foods, ALA, vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine.
Instead of empowering the reader by educating them about ingredient staples (Vegan For Life is a bit more list-heavy), there are recipes geared for a beginner, transitioning vegan without any nutritional information. I will be a bit critical of the recipe portion, as I found it quite perplexing to find so many specialty items listed as ingredients. I understand the need for transitioning recipes, finding common ground with familiar favourites. However, the recipes span the gamut of convenience foods like fake ground beef substitute, fake cheese, TVP, soy curls, “chicken style” seasoning, marinara sauce and vegan mayonnaise to harder-to-find specialty ingredients that might make a beginner intimidated such as ume plum vinegar, fresh coconut water, hemp seeds, chickpea flour, vital wheat gluten, amaranth and millet. Even as a seasoned vegan (almost 3 years of a whole foods based vegan diet here), I have tried to keep my pantry smaller and thus found it difficult to connect with the recipes. There was a lot of variety, though. Some were appealing. I have previously shared Fields’ Mediterranean Beans with Greens and I enjoyed some of her dressings. Next time, I recommend a more focused theme for recipes along with a plea to number the directions and space them out for easier reading.
My Mom may claim otherwise but it may be more of a challenge for older people to change their diet. To help burgeoning vegans over 50, Messina recently penned a vegan help book due out at the end of January 2014.
I probably should get my Mom to review the book for a more accurate view from the target audience. In any case, with a similar tone and style as Vegan For Her, Adams, Breitman and Messina explore why one would want to make the change to a vegan diet even later in life (it is never too late, as the title suggests). Not only does she highlight the important aspects of a diet for those over the age of 50, she helps one navigate relationship dynamics and issues surrounding being a vegan caregiver, all with stories from successful over age 50 vegans peppered throughout the book.
The last part of the book is dedicated to 78 recipes which are geared to transitioning vegans with recipes for basic hummus, Portuguese kale soup, mushroom pate, spicy collards with ginger, mashed potatoes and gravy, quick enchiladas, Texas chocolate sheet cake.
If you are the target audience, this may be a great start to begin introducing yourself to the vegan community.
As you can see, each book is different. Make no excuse to educate yourself about a proper vegan diet and try to find the one that resonates best for you and your needs.
For a few lucky readers, you will have a chance to win your own copy of these books. I have copies of Vegan For Her and Becoming Vegan Express up for grabs for those living in the United States. Please let me know if you have a preference for either book in a comment below. Have you read any of these books before? Any other books you recommend? I will select 2 winners at random on January 28, 2014. Good luck!