BHSc, ND, GDCouns, Naturopath, Counsellor and EFT Therapist

Seven tips of the week:  Eat a Rainbow Every Day, Eat Legumes Every Day, Ensure you have a reliable source of vitamin B12, Eat Real Food, Get Up and Move, Get your Green Leafy Vegetables, Know how to answer “the protein question”

Eat a rainbow every day!
The beautiful colours of plant foods are not just a feast for our eyes (and it’s notable that we humans, along with other primates show trichromatic vision which allows us to detect the colours of ripe fruit and succulent leaves, rather than the dichromatic vision (colour blindness’) found in carnivores. These colours are indicators of the presence of plant pigments that belong to a class of compounds known as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals play a critical role in the metabolism of plants, protecting them from environmental insults such as excessive ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, insect pests and fungal diseases.
What’s fascinating about phytochemicals is that the human body has evolved to use them in its own functions, even though those are wildly different from plants’ functions. Many phytochemicals act as antioxidants, protecting our cells from harmful free radicals; others protect our DNA from damage  that could lead to cancer; others regulate our immune system, ensuring that it detects and eliminates harmful invaders and cancer cells while leaving our healthy cells alone; and others still play roles such as protecting our eyes from UV radiation, strengthening our blood vessels and blunting the cancer-causing effects of sex hormones such as oestrogen.
To maximise our intake of phytochemicals, we need to ‘eat a rainbow’ of naturally coloured foods (not glow-in-the-dark sports drinks and Slurpees 😉 every day. Red tomatoes, strawberries and kidney beans; orange papaya, sweet potato and of course oranges; yellow corn, squash and capsicums; green asparagus, kiwifruit and kale; blue blueberries; purple eggplant; black beans and rice; all these attractive and delicious foods nourish our senses and our bodies”.

Eat legumes every day!
Legumes – dried peas, beans and lentils – are probably the most neglected food group not just among Australian omnivores, but among vegans. This is a complete tragedy, since legumes offer a suite of health benefits unmatched by any other food group.
Legumes are famously high in fibre, as well as being the richest source of resistant starch in our diets. Resistant starch helps us feel full while preventing the absorption of starch calories; promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut which produce short chain fatty acids that increase our absorption of minerals, suppress our appetite and increase fat-burning in between meals; and restores insulin sensitivity, helping to prevent and reverse diabetes. 
Legumes also contain compounds which modulate the effects of sex hormones, reducing the risk of breast and prostate cancer; reduce cholesterol absorption and increase its excretion from the body; and detoxify carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals).
In the “Food Habits in Later Life“ (FHILL) study, which recruited 785 participants aged 70 and over in Japan, Sweden, Greece and Australia and followed them up for seven years, each 20g increase in daily intake of legumes was associated with a 7-8% reduced risk of dying from any cause. Legumes were the only food group found to have this lifespan-prolonging effect in this study. I encourage my clients to eat at least half a cup of cooked legumes, twice per day – usually at lunch and dinner. Legumes can either be eaten as-is (for example, as tinned 4-bean mx, in a salad) or turned into lentil burgers, bean burritos, chick pea curry, hommous, scrambled tofu, or a host of other delicious dishes. See my website for recipe ideas.

Ensure you have a reliable source of vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is typically thought of as a ‘carnonutrient’ – a nutrient derived from animal products, but in reality it is made not by animals, but by the bacteria that live in their guts. B-12 producing bacteria also live in soil, and organically-produced or home-grown vegetables that aren’t peeled or washed too thoroughly contain some vitamin B12.

However, the major dietary source of this nutrient is animal products, and vegans are at risk of developing B12 deficiency unless they take supplements or regularly use B12-fortified foods.

There are 2 main consequences of B12 deficiency: haematological and neurological. The haematological manifestation of B12 deficiency is an abnormality of red blood cells called macrocytic anaemia. Lack of B12 causes red blood cells to fail to reach their smaller, mature form; they remain large (the ‘macrocytosis’ part) and don’t transport oxygen well. If the B12 level remains low, anaemia (low haemoglobin level) develops, causing fatigue, reduced exercise tolerance, shortness of breath on exertion, pallor (pale appearance) and even heart palpitations and worsening of angina in those who already have it.

The neurological consequences of B12 deficiency mainly impact on the peripheral and optic nerves, posterior and lateral columns of the spinal cord, and the brain. Symptoms are usually gradual in onset, and may include paraesthesias (sensation of tingling, tickling, prickling, pricking, or burning of the skin); clumsiness especially affecting the hands; lightheadedness and impaired taste and smell; sensations of cold, numbness, or tightness in the tips of the toes and then in the fingertips; and if untreated, eventually weakness in the limbs and a stumbling gait

Babies born to vitamin B12-deficient mothers may suffer delayed development and even death if they don’t receive supplemental B12 in time.

B12 deficiency in adults is thought to contribute to dementia.

As you can see, the consequences of B12 deficiency are serious, and no vegan should gamble with their health (or their baby’s health) by failing to get enough B12. I recommend sublingual sprays or lozenges which offer better absorption of this notoriously difficult-to-absorb vitamin. Savoury yeast flakes, also known as nutritional yeast, is also a good source if eaten regularly. Most vegan foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 are highly processed and of poor nutritional quality.

Eat real food!
Many vegans – both newbies and old pros – fall into the trap of relying on heavily processed vegan alternatives for their favourite ‘omni’ foods, such as faux meats, isolated soy protein-based burgers, ‘not’ cream cheese and highly sweetened non-dairy ice cream. These are fine as occasional treats or something to throw on your non-vegan friend’s barbeque, but relying on these foods as staple items in your diet will undermine your health and vitality.
Most of the vegans who come to me complaining of fatigue, low immunity and just generally feeling not their best, base their diets on heavily processed foods rather than fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. ‘Fake’ foods and other heavily processed foods are high in salt, sugar, refined starches, inflammation-promoting omega 6 oils and trans fats; and low in health-promoting antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, fibre and resistant starch.
Even if your motivation for going vegan is solely ethical, you need to take your own health into account. Most people who abandon a vegan diet do so because they feel their health has suffered on it. Don’t let this happen to you – fill your plate with fresh, minimally processed foods every day, and watch your health and vitality soar!

Get off your butt and MOVE!
Even the healthiest vegan diet on the planet won’t protect you against the damaging effects of being sedentary. Regular physical activity is crucial for your physical and mental health, at every stage of life!
Inactive lifestyles are linked with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, many types of cancer, osteoporotic bone fractures, anxiety, depression, and declining mental performance with age, among many other conditions that make life a drag.
People who exercise regularly have stronger immune systems, more enjoyable sex lives and better mental health than couch potatoes. I personally use exercise as one of my primary stress-busting strategies, as do many of my clients.
If you’re currently inactive, the way to get started is to choose some kind of physical activity that you actually enjoy. Don’t join a gym if the thought of sweating it out among Lycra-clad, treadmill-thumping automatons makes your toes curl; join a Latin dance class instead, try out indoor rock-climbing, or do something you haven’t done since you were a kid, such as roller skating or ice skating (I can vouch for these last two as not just incredibly fun, but a fine leg, butt and cardiovascular workout as well).
Buddy up with a friend who also wants to get fit, or join in with some of the fun fitness-based meet-ups that Sydney Vegan Club regularly hosts.
For the time-poor or those who like to exercise alone, Youtube offers many free workouts in every exercise style form Pilates to bootcamp-style training; just go to and search for your preferred exercise style.
Whatever you do, get off the couch and start exercising today!

Eat your greens
When people first go vegan, they often worry about suffering a deficiency of protein, iron or calcium. But the most common deficiency I see in vegans is Green Leafy Vegetable Deficiency! GLVs, as I like to call them, have the highest nutrient-per-calorie density of any food you can eat, meaning you get more nutritional ‘bang’ for your calorie ‘buck’ when you centre your meals on GLVs.

GLVs are rich in B vitamins – especially folate, the vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies – vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phytonutrients such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, as well as protein and fibre.

Many GLVs – especially those in the cruciferous or cabbage family – are also abundant in compounds called isothiocyanates, which fight cancer and help the immune system to more effectively target foreign invaders, while preventing the ‘mistakes’ that lead to autoimmune disorders.

Both raw and cooked GLVs are nutritionally valuable, and should be eaten every day. I recommend daily consumption of green smoothies (blended salads) using raw kale, bok choy, baby spinach, and/orlettuce; regular ‘chewed’ salads with an abundance and variety of different GLVs including lettuce varieties, rocket, baby spinach, watercress, parsley and coriander; and steamed, stir-fried or soup-cooked GLVs such as kale, cabbage, chard, silverbeet and Asian green.

Know how to answer “the protein question”
One of the most frequent questions you’ll be asked when you announce that you’re vegan is “Where do you get your protein?” Most people think that meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are the only good sources of protein on the planet, so vegans must surely all be suffering from protein deficiency!
Here are the facts about protein: All proteins are built from compounds called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that are necessary for the growth and function of mammals, including humans. Of these, 10 can be made within our bodies, from other compounds. These are known as nonessential amino acids as it’s not essential to consume them in our diet. The remaining 10 cannot be made within our bodies. These are called essential amino acids since we – and all other mammals – have to eat them ‘ready-made’. These essential amino acids are all made by plants (as well as by bacteria).
What this means is that every protein found in the bodies of lions, whales, dogs, rats, horses and us humans, contains amino acids that were ultimately derived from plants. Without plants there would be no proteins – since all proteins are built from a mixture of essential and nonessential amino acids – and therefore no animals, including humans.
So when someone asks you “Where do you get your protein?”” you can answer ‘Straight from the source – plants!”