A Complete Protein Supplement for Vegetarians and Vegans!


Originally published in 2013. 

I recently learned about a product unlike any I’d seen before. It’s called Complete Truth Protein Powder, and it is a raw, plant-based supplement designed primarily for active women.

Now, I’ve never used or seen the need for protein powders since I’m just an average active woman, but this supplement intrigued me. When I read about it, I learned it could be used for baking, and this discovery could not have been timelier. I’d been looking for something easy to carry with me when I need to eat breakfast on the road. I like a moderate amount of carbohydrates with my breakfast, but I don’t want to go overboard. In other words, I don’t want a bagel or any other kind of commercial bakery product.

At home, I usually have something like scrambled eggs and a slice of sprouted grain toast or a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter for breakfast, but obviously those are not foods I can throw in a baggie and take with me to eat in the car! So when I came across CTP, I thought this might be my answer.

The Truth about Complete Truth

While it’s labeled a “protein supplement,” CTP is really much more than that. It’s a whole food; it’s raw, and it’s 100% vegan. It also provides a good source of nutrients like magnesium, iron, and zinc. These are not qualities that are easy to find in a single package.

If you’re a health-conscious vegan or vegetarian (yes, there are unhealthy forms of these diets), you know you need to pay attention to the way you combine plant foods to be sure you get all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) your body needs. If I asked you to name a plant that provides a complete source of protein, you’d probably say soy. But soy can be problematic for some for several reasons, such as allergies or the desire to stay away from the hormone-like phytoestrogens soy contains.

If you’ve made the decision to eliminate or reduce the amount of soy in your vegan diet, what do you do for protein? You may wonder if there are any other options out there that provide a complete source of this important nutrient. Well, there are: quinoa and hemp, which happen to be the only two ingredients in Complete Truth Protein Powder.

What’s so great about quinoa and hemp?

You probably know that quinoa is a high-protein grain, but did you know that its protein is complete? I love quinoa as an alternative to rice, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a protein powder with quinoa, not soy, as one of its basic ingredients.

The other ingredient, hemp, is also a complete source of protein, this time in a seed. And hemp’s got some other benefits as well, most notably its omega 3 content. In fact, both hemp and quinoa qualify as super foods in my book.

If, like me, you are a vegetarian or vegan who enjoys a moderate amount of carbohydrates but wants to balance them out with protein and healthy fats, few foods on the planet are better choices than quinoa and hemp.

Finally, a Complete Protein Breakfast Muffin!

Drew Taddia, the fitness expert who designed Complete Truth Protein Powder, says he created the product after searching for a whole, raw, plant-based source of complete protein that did not contain long list of added ingredients he couldn’t pronounce. Not surprisingly, Drew couldn’t find such a product…so he created one himself!

Maybe if I searched long enough, I could find a whole food, high protein breakfast muffin that has all of the essential amino acids and also a good amount of omega 3 and other nutrients. But why look? Now I can make one myself!

My Complete Truth Protein Banana Muffin

There is a recipe book that accompanies Complete Truth Protein Powder, but since I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand for any of the recipes, I decided to try CTP in a banana muffin recipe I often make with oats and whole wheat flour.

All I did was substitute Complete Truth for the flour, and in about 30 minutes, I had a healthier version with a complete source of protein! I can store the muffins in the freezer and take one (or two) out whenever I need something to carry with me for breakfast on the run.

I’m guessing you can do the same with anything you bake – muffins, cookies, breads, etc. But if you’re not a baker, you can also add CTP to yogurt, oatmeal, shakes, and smoothies to make those foods more balanced and healthier.

Bad Foods: Why Some Foods Probably Should Not Be Part of Your Diet

Many people follow diets that do not allow this or that kind of food. Some avoid gluten, while others forego meat. For others, refined carbohydrates are bad foods.

Conversely, many people who eat whatever they want. Many of these people use catchphrases like, “There are no bad foods.” You might also hear things like “all things in moderation” from those who do not believe there are bad foods. So, what’s the truth?

Are There Bad Foods?

chips and berries

After more than twenty years of studying nutrition, I understand the limitations of restrictive diets. I understand why some people say there are no bad foods. But my belief is there are most definitely bad foods. Or perhaps I can put it more accurately and say there are foods that are not good for you!

What I can’t do, though, is give you a list of such foods. Foods that are not good for you depend on your own uniqueness. We are not all the same physically, emotionally, or biochemically. So a food that does no harm to one person might have a terrible effect on another.

Worse, in the case of some allergies, eating a certain food could be deadly. For an obvious example, consider nuts. They are healthy for many people. For those with severe nut allergies, though, eating nuts can have catastrophic consequences.

A Better Definition of Good and Bad Food

In a sense, I agree there are no bad foods, but I agree with a caveat. My definition of food may be narrower than most. To me, food is a substance that is nourishing. To understand what I’m getting at, think beyond what you eat and consider a phrase like “food for the soul.”

The idea of nourishment is simple. A food is not nourishing because it tastes good or because it’s filling or because everyone else at the party is eating it. It’s nourishing because it is good for you. Something positive happens to your health when you eat it. Or at least, something negative does not happen.

If I have a nut allergy, a nut is not food to me. If I’m diabetic, perhaps I shouldn’t think of sugar as food. If my gut goes haywire when I eat wheat…you get the picture!

Food for Overall Well-being

I have not eaten red meat or poultry in decades. I wrote about why in another post. At this point, if I were to eat a single hamburger, I doubt that anything “bad” would happen to my body. But for me (just me), something negative would happen to my spirit.

Based on what I’ve learned about factory farming and its abuse of animals and the environment, eating meat from a grain-fed cow slaughtered in a factory would not be a nourishing experience to me. If I thought my body needed meat for physical health (I don’t), humanely raised grass-fed beef might be an option. This is one personal dietary choice. There are many others. I’m sure you have your own.

Everyone is Different

The truth about food as I see it is no one diet is appropriate for everyone. But to make choices about food, we must know how our bodies use it. We must also know how it is produced. I remember an excellent article in which a naturopathic physician took the idea of bad foods to task. In the article, she stated that she eats “anything she wants.” What she didn’t really get into, though, is that her passion for health and her education about food give her the incentive to make choices that are good for her. Not all people have this luxury.

There are certainly people who believe that feeding a child a hot dog on a white-bread bun and a soda for lunch every day is healthy. I’m fairly confident in my belief that it’s not.

The One Question to Ask About Food

If you’ve found a way of eating that works for you, chances are you had different beliefs before you found that diet. And you may change your ideas about food as time goes on. I’d need to spend a good amount of time with you before I could suggest what might be good or bad for you.

I think there’s only one question to ask about food. The answer to that question may not be so simple, though. The question is, “Does this make me healthier?” And when I talk about health I mean not only physical health, but other aspects of your well-being too.

Over time, if you have a good relationship with all aspects of yourself and with food in general, knowing what is good for you becomes intuitive. Only you know when a piece of chocolate cake will do your body no harm and when it will it will hurt you. You may need to expand your definition of food to make this decision well.

This idea works with almost every food you can think of. Sure there are some foods (organic berries come to mind) that are good for almost everyone. There are others (like blue cotton candy) that can be called food only by a great stretch of the imagination.

The point is the path to good health depends on a lot of things. Diet (in the good sense of the word) is only one of those things.

If you don’t have a good relationship with food, you will not be able to make better choices overnight. You might get on track more quickly by getting to know more about you instead of trying to decide if a food is good or bad.

Think about it.

You Are What You Don’t Eat

calfYou are what you don’t eat. And what you do eat. Or maybe you’re not food at all. So what, then, “are you” when it comes to nutrition and dietary choices?

Telling people I’m a vegetarian is the easiest way to explain why I don’t eat beef, pork, poultry or lamb. But it doesn’t explain why I do eat wild-caught fish and shellfish. It also doesn’t explain why I don’t eat sugar, refined carbohydrates or processed foods that contain ingredients I can barely pronounce. It doesn’t explain why I try to avoid the “dirty dozen” (the produce that absorbs the highest amounts of pesticides) or why, for me, a day without vegetables is like a day without water.

So what exactly am I, and does it really matter? Personal dietary choices are something like religious beliefs in a way. Just because someone claims to be a member of a particular religion doesn’t mean that person has the exact same beliefs and behaviors as all the other members of the group.

Why labels don’t really matter

Religious labels do not tell the whole story, and neither do dietary labels. Still, people seem to want them. It helps to have some “rules” if you need to explain to someone why you choose not to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. You really can’t just say “turkey is not part of my diet” and get away with it, but you can say, “No thanks. I’m a vegetarian.” It seems people expect a label with a definition attached to it, and then you are allowed to say no to the turkey. A case like that is a perfect example of “you are what you don’t eat.”

Dietary labels get complicated in some circles. It’s difficult to explain to your Italian mother that pasta is not something you eat now that your body is showing signs of carbohydrate intolerance. It took my mom years to adjust when I began to move toward a vegetarian diet. Now this?

If I had to find a label for my diet, I guess it would be unprocessed/clean, real-food vegetarian that also eats some kinds of fish and drinks red wine and too much coffee. (By the way, did you know that some vegans eat shellfish?)

But do you eat eggs?

Yes—cage free organic omega 3 eggs (unless I’m in a restaurant; then any egg goes). And, believe it or not, I really don’t like talking about any of this most of the time.

I know people imagine my dietary choices are restrictive or boring, but they’re really not. It’s true what they say; you stop craving things that are bad for you when you start eating healthier (and yummier) things instead. You don’t have to believe me, but there really are much tastier dishes you can make with veggies and lentils. Bacon grease or white bread are extremely dull by comparsion!

Why all this fuss about food?

My interest in vegetarian nutrition started when I was in college looking to shed the “freshman 15” (more like 20). Soon after I graduated, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I took an actual test though I know it was a fad diagnosis at the time. I learned more about hormones and other unwanted things that accumulate in the fat of animal flesh. And I gradually made the shift to a vegetarian diet. As a DES daughter (one of millions whose mothers took this drug during pregnancy between 1938 and 1971), I’d already overdosed on synthetic hormones before I was even born. (The consequences of that is another story.)

As I learned more about the things going on in the food industry, particularly with respect to factory farming, I became more and more convinced that the lower on the food chain one eats the better. It’s better not only for that person’s health, but for animals and the entire planet as well. Ethical reasons for my food choices soon became as important, if not more important, than health issues.

Then I realized how complicated that can get!

It took years to get where I am now, and I’m sure my dietary choices will continue to evolve. I even earned a traditional college degree in nutrition. I believe the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well.

And life is just better when you care!

I think the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to be learned when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well. And life is just better when you care!

Why I’ve Supported Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals (And Hope You’ll Support the Sanctuary Too)

my turkey friendIn past years, Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals has taken place in cities across the country in October. This year, there was only one walk. It took place in Chicago on October 1, 2016. The Walk for Farm Animals events raised funds for the sanctuary, which cares for farm animals and educates people about the abuses they suffer at the hands of mass food manufacturers. In 2017, the sanctuary will launch a new fundraising event.

Why I have supported Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals

When I first moved toward a vegetarian diet decades ago, I found an article called “Why I Am a Vegetarian.” I typed up a list of bullet points from the article to carry in my wallet so I’d have an easy reference to share with people who wanted to know why I had stopped eating meat. It wasn’t that I didn’t know why, but in those early years, I found it difficult to talk about it without being defensive or sparking a pointless debate. At the time, the people around me weren’t in tune with my decision.

Over the years since, most people who know me have gotten used to the idea that I’m not going to touch the Thanksgiving turkey, and it’s really not an issue any more. More importantly, I’ve grown in my own understanding of the issues. I’ve learned more about how industrial farming abuses animals, destroys the environment and threatens the health of human beings. And that’s why I’ve participated in Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals twice and supported the event since I learned about it almost a decade ago.

I’m not much into preaching or telling other people how to eat (unless they ask; then I might share my views ), but I do think this is important. Here’s why.

It’s not just about the animals; it’s also about our planet and you!

Farm Sanctuary is actually a group of three havens for rescued farm animals (one in New York and two in California). Their mission that goes beyond the refuge they provide for rescued animals. As I mentioned, they educate people about the many ways in which factory farming harms the entire planet and all of its creatures.

You can visit Farm Sanctuary (I’ve been to the New York site) and meet the animals. If you do, your eyes will probably open a bit wider to the fact that each of these creatures is unique and has a distinct personality, just like your very own pets.

For some people, the fact that animals are treated cruelly is reason enough to stop eating them. But there’s much, much more.

Here, in a nutshell, is why I support Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals…

(And by the way, nuts are a great source of nutrients for most vegetarians.)

I’m not against humans eating meat if the meat is compassionately raised and healthy. But the thing is, it’s incredibly hard to find that kind of meat, and if you do find it, it’s likely to cost you more than you spend on a week’s worth of groceries.

The reason compassionately raised meat is so expensive is that the process of raising meat (and producing many other “foods” as well) has been transformed. Your burgers and chicken wings are mass-produced industrial products. They are brought to you by conglomerates that have no interest in the well being of animals, the environment, soil, water quality, food safety, nutrition or your health.

Do you think I’m exaggerating? If you’re not convinced, but you are interested, there’s a great site, Sustainable Table you can visit to learn a lot more about why we need to change the way we produce our food.

The Problems with Factory Farming

When you think of a factory, you probably think of things like mass-production, economies of scale, getting as many products as possible made as cheaply as possible, and things of that sort.

But do you think of health? Do you think of nourishment? A factory is no place to produce food meant to nourish you and keep you healthy.

Here are just a few reasons why not. The list is condensed from information you can find on the Sustainable Table website.

  • Factory farming is cruel and inhumane.
  • Livestock agriculture contributes to destruction of rain forests, global warming, soil erosion, water shortages, air and water pollution, and the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria.
  • It takes far more fossil fuel and water to produce a single calorie of protein from beef, pork or poultry than it takes to produce a calorie of protein from soy.
  • It takes up to 16 pounds of soybeans and grains to produce 1 pound of beef and between 3 and 6 pounds to produce one pound of pork or turkey. People in underdeveloped countries cannot afford meat. The grain used to produce so much meat could be feeding them.
  • The correlation between meat consumption and a wide range of diseases is well documented.
  • Because of industrialized farming practices, animal fat contains high concentrations of pesticides, herbicides, sterols, antibiotics, growth hormones, and other veterinary pharmaceuticals.

Still not convinced?

I know this issue is complicated and not everyone is convinced it deserves attention. But if you’re one of those people, please answer this (at least for yourself). Why is it okay that we treat certain animals as parts of our family and others as mass-market products?

The animals in places like Farm Sanctuary have a special bond of friendship with those who care for and support them, and I assure you, they are not less special than your own pets (if you don’t have pets, take a look at the pet-human relationships of people you know).But  if compassion for all beings is not your thing, consider the environmental, political, economic, and health issues. Is it not clear that our system of food production is in need of serious reform?

Without organizations like Farm Sanctuary helping to educate us all about the abuses of factory farming, we probably wouldn’t make a dent in changing the status quo. But luckily, such places exist, and the good news is things are slowly changing.

Is this just a vegan or vegetarian cause?

Of course it’s not! In fact, if you’re a meat-eater, it might be even more important for you to support places like Farm Sanctuary, that is, if you want safe, healthy food and would prefer not to see animals abused.

In order to reform the factory farming system, all people, whether strict vegans or just people who care about the health and happiness of all beings, need to get on board and support reform.

Will you help?

You don’t need to make a huge donation to make a difference. The more people we can get behind this cause, the more likely we’ll eventually change the minds and hearts of those can make a difference. We need people who have the power to clean up our food supply and treat farm animals with the respect all creatures deserve to step up and do just that!

Please consider a donation to Farm Sanctuary to support its mission. Or just let me know you think about this issue too.!


Ayurvedic Spices to Balance Vata Dosha

ayurvedic-spicesUntil recently, I used few herbs or spices other than the basics I grew up with (salt, pepper, and, like every good Italian, basil and oregano). I had no idea what I was missing! Now that I’m beginning to tap into the benefits of spices for health (and for making food tastier), I have many favorites (basil and oregano still among them). I also love a blend of vata-balancing Ayurvedic spices that I now use every time I make a salad: cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, asafetida, and salt.

According to Ayurveda, a balanced diet should consist of foods that contain all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent). A few years ago, I found a product called Organic Surya Spice Blend from the Chopra Center that contains the six tastes I listed above.

Balancing Vata

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the doshas, here’s a quick overview. In Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine, each person has a unique constitution that is classified as one (or in some cases a combination) of three types, called doshas. The three doshas are vata, pitta and kapha.

Since my dosha is vata, I was drawn to this blend of spices, and it became a staple in my kitchen right away. It’s delicious in salads (also in soups, as in ingredient in dips and for seasoning fish), but beyond that, the properties of each spice have unique health benefits for someone of my constitution. Balancing vata energy is especially important now that it is “Vata season” (autumn). Vata is an airy, spacey kind of energy, so these grounding spices are especially useful.

Spices for Vata

Here’s a rundown of each ingredient in this delicious spice blend.

Asafetida, the one ingredient on this list that may not have heard of before, is so-named for its strong odor. It also has the nickname “devil’s dung.” Sound good so far? I didn’t think so either – until I learned more about it. This sour herb is great for the digestive system, and it also reduces inflammation throughout the body.

Cardamom is a warm spice from India. Those with a vata constitution do well with warmer foods and can also benefit from cardamom’s cleansing and detoxifying properties. It’s a peppery spice that is classified as bitter, though it has a very pleasant taste. Cardamom is one of the ingredients in curry.

Cinnamon is another warming spice, and it’s one of my favorites. Since vata people (among others) do better avoiding sugar, the sweetness of cinnamon is a great substitute.

Cumin, a favorite among Indian cooks, is a bitter spice with strong antibacterial properties. It’s also another spice that can help balance the digestive system.

Ginger, the astringent in the group, is great for the digestive troubles that vata people often experience. It’s also known to be an uplifting spice (maybe that’s why it’s used to make those yummy holiday cookies).

Nutmeg is often found alongside ginger and cinnamon in many recipes that hint of the warmth of autumn evenings by the fire. This spice adds a pungent flavor to the blend.

Salt may not seem like a healing spice, but when blended properly among the other tastes, it adds just the right balance and helps bring out the flavors of the other spices.

The flavors in this blend really do come together nicely. It’s not too sweet, bitter, spicy, salty, sour or astringent; it’s just right! So, if you’re intrigued by the idea of using more spices to add flavor and health benefits to your food but you don’t know where to start, try a blend like this. There are also blends available for the other two doshas. You can find them all at the Chopra Center store, or you can buy the individual spices and experiment with combining them yourself!

Good Food, Bad Food; Eat This, Not That

chips and berriesI recently had a conversation with a man—I’ll call him Kenny—who insisted that “all foods are good.” In fact, he went beyond that to suggest that “all foods are healthy.” The conversation went something like this:

Kenny: All foods are healthy.

Me: No they’re not.

Kenny: Yes they are.

Me: No they’re not

Kenny: Yes they are.

Okay, we both made some other points, and in the end we agreed more than we disagreed, but the one issue I do take with Kenny is the idea that all foods are healthy (or “good” if you want to use that word instead).

There is No Perfect Diet

Kenny is a man on a mission to dispel the idea that there is a single diet that anyone must follow in order to be healthy, and I concur. But Kenny also believes that:

  • There is no such thing as a superfood.
  • GMOs pose no health risk to people.
  • If you are trying to lose weight or get healthier, you should not cut any specific food or group of foods from your diet.
  • No food has the ability to boost brain power, improve immunity, or do anything else in particular.
  • Organic foods are not better than conventional foods.
  • Additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients are fine.

Well, Kenny. Where do I begin? I don’t disagree with all of this, but some of it is just sloppy thinking. I’ll elaborate by responding to this statement (from Kenny): “All foods are healthy; that’s why they’re called food.”

Okay, maybe Kenny and I have a different definition of food. For starters, pesticides, artificial ingredients, and the like are not substances that belong in food, so when they are added to anything intended for human consumption, I will do my best to avoid that thing. Sure it’s not always possible, but it’s worth my attention. And while it may be true that no specific food single-handedly boosts brain power or improves immunity, it is certainly true that certain nutrients do. And where do we get these nutrients? Well, from certain foods, of course (but not all foods).

All Foods Are Not Healthy

So, like I said, Kenny and I went back and forth on this until it dawned on me that I didn’t really have an issue with what he was trying to say; I just had an issue with what he was actually saying (which is that all foods are healthy). That part of the conversation went something like this:

Me: Diet cola is not healthy.

Kenny: Yes it is.

Me: No it’s not.

Kenny: Yes it is.

Me: No it’s not.

And then I realized that I was trying to say that it is not healthy, while Kenny was trying to say it is not unhealthy. What’s the difference? Kenny’s point was that if I drink a can of diet soda once in a while but my overall diet is healthy, the diet soda won’t hurt me. My point was that the diet soda does not nourish me in any useful way, so it is not healthy. And this is just me, but because it is not healthy, I choose not to drink it. Ever. Because it’s not healthy.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other things that I do consume even though they probably don’t contribute to my health in any meaningful way.

This not healthy versus unhealthy issue reminded me of a point I often try to make about people. There aren’t many people I dislike, as in I actively do not like them. But there are plenty of people I don’t like, as in I am not particularly drawn to them.

Get it? Okay, back to the food.

I asked Kenny if he thought it made no difference, given a list of 100 foods, which ones I choose to eat on a regular basis. Since I didn’t actually give him a list of foods, he told me he couldn’t answer the question. So I told him that I was going to choose, bacon, lollipops, hot dogs and diet cola. And then the next day, since all foods are good and it doesn’t matter what I eat on any given day, I would choose those same foods again. And I would keep this up every day because all foods are healthy and it doesn’t matter what I eat.

No, that was not Kenny’s point! (And yes, I knew that.)

But my point was that it is not true that all foods are healthy! To be healthy (I believe) they need to nourish my body. They need to provide me with some benefit that outweighs any deficit.

Kenny thought I was trying to say that there is no single axis measure by which I can compare foods and decide if one is healthier than another.

Well, of course there’s not. I wasn’t looking for one. A banana has some health-promoting minerals. An egg is a good source of protein. Leafy greens are loaded with vitamins. I can’t say that one of those three foods is healthier than the others.

But they are all healthier than diet cola!

Really, Kenny? You can’t give me this one?

When I asked Kenny what is “good” about diet cola, he said it was hydrating.


All Foods Can Be Part of a Healthy Diet

In fairness to Kenny, I have to say that he did make some good points with which I agree. They were just not points that had anything to do with the original purpose of the conversation, which was to flesh out what people mean when they say, “All foods are good.”

Kenny and I both agree that all foods can be part of a healthy diet. As he said, “It’s much healthier to look at your diet as a whole than to fret about individual foods.”

But he also said, “Calling certain foods ‘unhealthy’ just indicates an unhealthy relationship with food. Any food can be part of a healthy diet. No exceptions. There are foods that should probably form a larger part of your diet, and foods that should form a smaller part, but all those foods are good.”

I decided not to try again to get into my whole thing about how saying something is unhealthy is not the same as saying it is not healthy. So we ended the conversation like this:

Kenny: You can’t compare apples to eggs.

Me: I’m not trying to. But I’ll pass on the diet cola.

The Simple Truth About Vegetarian Nutrition

kale and beansWhen it comes to ideas about vegetarian diets, people seem to fall into one of two camps. One group believes that a vegetarian diet is the healthiest diet on the planet, while the other group will warn about all of the important nutrients that vegetarians are not consuming. (I was once warned that I was not getting enough vitamins in my diet because I don’t eat meat; clearly there are people who do not know where to turn for which nutrients!)

The point is that a vegetarian diet, like any other diet, must be planned well. There are certainly nutrients that vegetarians need to pay extra attention to because they are not easily obtained from plant-based foods. To be more specific, vegans (those who do not eat animal products of any kind), not vegetarians who eat dairy and eggs, may be at risk. But the best things in life are not easy, so let’s take a closer look at some potential pitfalls to avoid when considering vegetarian nutrition.


Most people think of dairy products as the best sources of calcium, but there are plenty of plant-based sources of calcium for vegans. Dark leafy greens (including broccoli), tofu that is processed with calcium sulfate, and other fortified vegan foods, such as soy milk, are examples. There is also calcium in blackstrap molasses and almonds. One word of caution, though, if you rely on greens for calcium: a compound known as oxalic acid, which is present in some veggies, can interfere with calcium absorption. Spinach, rhubarb, and chard contain a lot of oxalic acid, so rely on greens like broccoli and collards for calcium instead.


Iron is perhaps the mineral most associated with meat. But vegans can find good sources of iron in beans and dark leafy greens. (Are you getting the idea that those dark leafy greens are awesome?)

There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme. Non-heme iron is the iron that we get from plant sources, and while it’s not absorbed as easily as heme iron, the truth is that iron deficiency anemia is no more common in vegans than it is in carnivores. One trick of the trade is to include foods rich in vitamin C with your beans and greens because vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. There are even some foods that are rich in both iron and vitamin C, such as broccoli and bok choy. Or try some vitamin C-rich tomato sauce with your beans. (Here’s a great recipe.)


The simple fact is that most meat-eaters consume a lot more protein than they need. Maybe this is why they’re so concerned that vegetarians don’t get enough. Don’t get me wrong; protein is important. If you’re a vegan, you’ll need to be sure to combine foods correctly because there are few plant foods that are complete sources of protein (“complete” proteins contain all of the essential amino acids – the building blocks of protein). Soy and quinoa are among the few complete plant-based proteins, but there are other options as well. Combine rice with beans or nut butters with whole grain bread and you’ll have all of the essential amino acids in one place! For most vegans, eating a variety of nuts, seeds and legumes is sufficient for meeting protein needs.

So if you’re concerned that you don’t know enough about vegetarian nutrition to be healthy, start here. Then continue to read and learn more. You’ll probably come to a simple conclusion before long; if planned well, it is very hard to deny that the benefits of vegetarian nutrition far outweigh those of any other kind of diet!

Is Organic Food Necessary for Good Health?

broccoli“Eat clean” is a mantra often heard among health-conscious people these days. The idea, as I see it, is to eat foods that are whole (not processed), organic, and free of artificial ingredients. I’ve been thinking specifically about the importance of eating organic when it comes to choosing produce. I wonder, is it really necessary to this? In the last few years, I’ve been eating more and more organic produce because, it seems to me that if a substance is meant to kill a “pest,” even if that pest is a tiny insect or weed, the substance cannot be good for the human body!

Those who disagree with the notion that eating organic is important to health might say that since hundreds of times larger than the organisms that pesticides are designed to destroy, we are safe from their poisonous effects. Perhaps this is true when considering the single dose that kills a pest, but what happens when small amounts of pesticides accumulate in our bodies over time? Most of the research I’ve read does not give a clear answer, but it does seem to confirm that the vast majority of us have these pesticides in our bodies, mostly from the food we eat.

Doesn’t the government protect us?

Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration are supposed to regulate the types and amounts of pesticides that can be used on the foods we eat. It would be nice to believe that these agencies have our best interests in mind, but even if they do, according to Pesticide Action Network (PAN), the government is simply not equipped with the right tools to protect us from pesticide contamination1. In addition, chemicals are regulated “one at a time,” so even if government safety standards were accurate for each individual pesticide, there is absolutely no regulation of what is referred to as “combined, cumulative and tragically timed” effects.

What does “combined, cumulative and tragically timed” mean with respect to pesticides in food?

According to research reported in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2005, it means that:

  • Most conventionally grown food crops contain residues of a cocktail of chemicals. The use of each individual pesticide may be within the guidelines of government regulations, but there are no rules about how many different chemicals can be combined to treat a single crop.
  • There is no real way to measure the cumulative effects of pesticide residues over time – that is, after months and years of consuming these chemicals in addition to all of the other pollutants to which we are exposed every day.
  • Unborn babies are especially vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure. This is “tragic timing.”

Does research support the idea that pesticide residues in foods are harmful?

This is a question I’m still trying to answer. As you can imagine, there seems to be evidence on both sides of this issue, and I just don’t know which side to believe. A short while ago, the news ran reports of a study that showed that there was no difference in nutritional value between organically grown and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. This may be true (other studies suggest that organic produce is more nutrient dense), but it isn’t really the important part of the issue. The real question is do the pesticides do harm? Think of it this way. Two people can each eat a bowl of broccoli and receive all of the nutritional benefits of doing so, but if one smokes a cigarette while eating the broccoli, the cigarette is doing harm regardless of how healthy the broccoli may be. The question, then, is does it matter if you get your nutrients with or without a dose of pesticides?

Why I choose organic produce as often as possible

Since I couldn’t find the research I was looking for to convince me that’s it is definitely in my best interest to continue to spend 10-40% more on organic produce than I’d spend for conventional varieties of the same foods, I checked in with my “gut feeling” instead. My gut told me to keep buying organic as much as possible. To me, it seems like common sense to avoid chemical cocktails on my healthy greens and berries. It’s also my experience that most organic foods (especially fruits)
taste better!

If money was not an issue, all of the food I eat would be organic. But since I’m not in a position to spend without thought just yet, I’ve chosen what seems to me like a sensible middle ground. When choosing whether to buy organic or conventional, I avoid the “dirty dozen” (the list of fruit and vegetables found to have the highest levels of pesticide residue) and also tend to stick to organic versions of the produce I eat almost every day. In the meantime, I intend to continue to seek out credible research on the matter until I know for sure whether organic foods are better for my health. If you have any thoughts (or research) on this issue, I’d love to hear from you!

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