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Vegan Diet in Questions & Answers

We are going to answer your vegan diet-related questions sent by our readers. Answering those questions are Dr. Neil Barnard and Dr. Jim Loomis.

What is your favorite veggie burger recipe?

It is the simplest, easiest thing you ever wanted – this is my veggie burger recipe, and it’s still one of the best. Here’s what you do: you take a cup of lentils and half a cup of brown rice. Throw them in a pan with three cups of water. Simmer it for about 40 minutes and then mash it up with some chopped onions, crushed garlic, a tablespoon of soy, and that’s it!

Put it in a little ball, throw in a non-stick pan, cook it just like a burger and top it with whatever your favorite toppings are, and you’ve got a great burger.

It’s got almost no fat in it at all, zero cholesterol, no hormones. The only suggestion is I wouldn’t eat them if you’re wearing white clothes because whenever I do it, it explodes all over whatever I’m wearing. But apart from that, your coronary arteries are going to really love it.

McDonald’s coming out this week announcing that they are going to have something called McPlant, which is their version of a plant-based burger. We want to know what your opinion is on this.

Well, I’m really glad to see it. I have to say we have been waiting for McDonald’s to jump in a bigger way. They put their toe in the water here and there. They’ve been better overseas than they are here, but the McPlant could really help enormously.

Frankly, it could help the public, and it could help McDonald’s because they need to get into this game, which the others have been in. Is it healthy or not? It’s going to depend on what’s in it, and we have not yet seen what’s in it.

It’s almost certain that it’s going to be better than a meat burger. I mean, it’s a vegan burger. It won’t have cholesterol, and so it’s going to be a good thing for meat-eaters to choose the McPlant instead of McDonald’s burger.

Comparing with our veggie burger, when it comes out, go on their website. They will post the nutrition facts and check this saturated fat content.

If they’ve put a lot of coconut fat or palm oil into it, the saturated fat content will be high, and that will mean it’s not as healthy as a veggie burger that doesn’t have that high saturated fat content.

So check the celery fat. If it’s zero or pretty close to it, then that’s going to be a good choice.

Is it possible for your blood pressure to elevate after eating several junk food meals or sweets that contain oil?

When we talk about diet and blood pressure, most people think about their sodium intake, which is important, obviously living in your sodium.

But in fact, too much unhealthy fats, particularly omega-6 fatty acids, can indeed raise your blood pressure, and here’s why. Those fatty acids actually get incorporated. They form phospholipids, which gets incorporated into the wall of our cells.

In our blood vessels, cells that have a lot of omega-6 fatty acids increase their ability to tighten up. Cells, where the cell walls have a lot of omega-3 fatty acids have a greater propensity to dilate. So, obviously, when your blood vessels are constricted, that can raise your blood pressure.

Studies show that high-fat meals raise your blood pressure. That’s a great question, something I don’t think we talk enough about when we talk about blood pressure.

Some of our readers ask if they should be worried about gas when they are on a plant-based diet?

That’s a common problem, and I think that a lot of times, the reason people have too much gas is that they still haven’t reset their gut microbiome. Because what happens is the oligosaccharides or complex sugars, when they are not fully digested, they pass into the colon and get fermented, and that’s what that’s actually why people with lactose intolerance get gas.

Alcohols can sometimes be a problem, and things like mannitol and xylitol, and sorbitol – they’re oftentimes used as artificial sweeteners. They get hidden in things like chewing gum and breath mints that are a common cause of gassiness.

Now, there are you know medical conditions which can cause increased gas, so obviously, if your symptoms persist or don’t get better, I’d certainly suggest following up with your health care provider.

What would help for cutting cheese out of my diet?

You are not alone. When people begin a plant-based diet, cheese is one of the foods they really do crave the most.

If you haven’t yet tried nutritional yeast, it’s a great flavoring you can put on a pizza. It doesn’t have any fat at all, it doesn’t have any cholesterol, doesn’t have any hormones, works really well, so you might try that.

There are vegan cheeses, but I would be careful about them over the long run because they’re pretty fatty as well.

My kids will not eat leafy greens that are not good. Are there other foods that I can feed them that will make up for those nutrients?

Kids are often a little phobic of foods that we think are normal. They think they’re way too exotic, and leafy greens are ones that that will freak out kids a bit.

There are a couple of things that you can do. Number one – try serving them raw. For example, if you have spinach when it’s cooked, kids think it’s too gushy. It would be the child word for it.

But if it’s fresh spinach leaves as part of a salad, they might think it’s perfectly okay. So you might try that.

When it’s cooked, try certain toppings. For example, Braggs Aminos, that product, it’s right next to the soy sauce at the health food store. You spray it on, and it makes the greens turn into candy. You can put it on broccoli, put it on kale, you can put it on brussels sprouts, and people will like them.

The same thing works with vinegars like seasoned rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar. However, a lot of kids are going to have to get into older age when they start to really get a taste for broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and asparagus.

When they’re little, they like corn, green beans, peas, and carrots – simple foods, and it’s okay to stick with that. Don’t arm wrestle with your kids if they’re afraid of food, don’t fight about it, don’t make them sit at the table until they clean their plate. Don’t insist that they try it at least once because you’re going to have more problems. Just let it go and serve them the healthy foods that they will eat.

I need to lose 20 pounds on a plant-based diet, though do I still need to restrict calories and look at the macronutrient ratios?

One of the beauties of a whole food plant-based diet is you don’t need to count calories, you don’t need to count up macronutrients because well-balanced whole food plant-based diet following the power plate will provide you all the nutrients.

The reason is it has to do with this concept of nutrient density, and oftentimes I talk to patients about thinking of our calories as we do about money. When we have extra money, we invest in our financial future, and we’re looking for a positive return on investment ROI. Well, every calorie you put in your mouth is either an investment in your health future or it’s not. When we invest and we eat things like edible oils, canola oil. When we eat eggs and chicken – what do we get back nutritionally from those foods? It’s really just fat and protein and the taste of the oil. There’s no fiber, no cancer-fighting phytonutrients, no potassium to lower your blood pressure. So the answer is no, you don’t have to worry about counting calories or macros.

I’m a plant-based athlete, but I carry my weight in the middle. How can I lose that belly fat? Are there any tips specifically for losing that belly fat?

Not really. Some people say – oh, I’ve got belly fat, so I’m going to do more sit-ups. It does not work like that. Belly fat is the last place to go, and it is hard for you to create a caloric deficit to do that. Now, there is some evidence that intermittent fasting may target belly fat, in particular.

However, when I’m talking about belly fat, I’m probably talking about something different than what you are talking about. Inter-abdominal fat is fat that’s highly metabolically active. High levels of inter-abdominal fat have been associated with a variety of cardiometabolic diseases: diabetes, fatty liver, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to help reduce belly fat in the sense that you’ve got an extra inch or two subcutaneously. That is very hard to target and is kind of the last fat stores to be burned off.

So, in general, as long as your BMI is okay and you’re for women, if your waist circumference is less than about 35 inches and your BMI is less than 25, it really becomes more of a cosmetic thing at that point.

Of course, body image is important and how you look and feel is important, and it makes you feel good. But from a health standpoint, as long as your waist circumference in a woman is less than 35 inches and a male is 40 inches and your BMI is less than 25, then you don’t need to worry about it from a health standpoint.

What are the best foods for a post-menopausal woman to eat?

There’s a fair amount of research on the combination of a plant-based diet and soy, and the reason that these have been looked at is a number of decades ago, researchers were struck by the fact that in areas where more plant-based foods predominated, women really didn’t have many hot flashes and then when the diets westernized a lot more hot flashes came in.

So the concern is that the western diet is changing the estrogen flux that can apparently trigger the menopausal symptoms. In some studies, soy has been shown to have a pretty potent anti-hot flash effect.

You can try testing out that combination. If it were me, I would do a completely vegan diet, very low in fat and about half a cup of cooked soybeans a day, and just see where you go with it.

But the other thing though is menopause means we’re now about 50, and as we look out of the future, we’re concerned about other things that can happen like heart disease, and you’re concerned about breast cancer or colon cancer, things like diabetes that become more of a risk as the years go by. So once again, your plant-based diet has got you covered there to the extent that it can be.

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