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    Healthy Living

    Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian & Vegan Diets

    Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian & Vegan Diets

    There are many reasons why someone may decide to go vegan or vegetarian. Some are compelled by environmental animal feeding operations while others by ethical or religious reasons. I respect these choices, even if my own exploration of these questions has led me to a different answer.

    But many choose vegan or vegetarian diet because they believe it’s a healthier choice from a nutritional perspective. For the last 50 years, we have been told that meat, eggs, and animal fats are bad for us. This is has been so drilled into our brains that very few people ever question it anymore. 

    Plant-based diets emphasize vegetables, which are very nutrient dense, and fruits, which are somewhat nutrient dense. However, these diets often include larger amounts of cereal grains (refined and unrefined) and legumes, both of which are low in bioavailable nutrients and high in anti-nutrients such as phytate. They also avoid organ meats, meats, fish, and shellfish, which are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat (1).

    Vegan diets, in particular, are almost completely devoid of certain nutrients that are crucial for physiological function. Several studies have shown that both vegetarians and vegans are prone to deficiencies in B12, calcium, iron, zinc, the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA, and fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D. 

    Let’s take a closer look at these nutrients on a vegan or vegetarian diet:


    This vitamin works together with folate in the synthesis of DNA and red blood cells. It’s also involved in the production of the myelin sheath around the nerves, and the conduction of nerve impulses. Studies have shown that 68% of vegetarians and 83% of vegans are deficient, compared to 5% of omnivores (2). B12 deficiencies can cause symptoms of fatigue, lethargy, weakness, memory loss, neurological and psychiatric problems, anemia, and much more! It’s also a myth that it’s possible to get B12 from plant sources such as seaweed, fermented soy, spirulina, and brewers yeast, but these foods actually contain B12 analogs called cobamides that block the intake of and increase the need for B12. 


    The bioavailability of calcium from plant foods is affected by vegans levels of oxalate and phytate, which are inhibitors of calcium absorption and thus decrease the amount of calcium the body can extract from plant foods (3). So while leafy greens like spinach and kale have a relatively high calcium content, the calcium is not efficiently absorbed during digestion. 


    Ferritin, the long-term storage form of iron are notably lower in vegetarian and vegans (4). As with calcium, the bioavailability of the iron in plant foods is much lower than in animal foods. Plant-based forms of iron are also inhibited by other commonly consumed substances, such as coffee, tea, dairy products, supplemental fiber, and supplemental calcium. This explains why vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce non-heme iron absorption by 70% and total iron absorption of 85% (5).


    Although deficiencies not often seen in Western vegetarians, their intake still often falls below recommendations. This is another case where bioavailability is important. Many plant foods containing zinc also contain phytate, which inhibits zinc absorption by about 35% compared to omnivorous diets (8). Therefore, deficiency may still occur. This study suggested that vegetarians may even require 50% more zinc than omnivores (9).

    EPA and DHA

    Plant foods contain both linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) which are both considered to be essential fatty acids, meaning that they cannot be synthesized or produced by the body and therefore must be obtained through food. Of the two essential amino acids, EPA and DHA from omega-3 fatty acids play a protective role in the body such as fighting disease, cancer, asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and autoimmune disease by greatly reducing inflammation in the body. Although it is possible for some omega-3 fatty acids from plant foods to be converted to EPA and DHA, that conversion is poor: between 5-10% for EPA and 2-5% for DHA (10). Vegetarians also have 30% lower EPA and nearly 60% lower DHA (11). 

    Fat-Soluble Vitamins

    Probably one of the biggest problems with vegetarian and vegan diets is their near total lack of the fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Fat-soluble vitamins are critical to human health. Vitamin A promotes healthy immune function, fertility, eyesight, and skin. Vitamin D regulates calcium metabolism, immune function, reduces inflammation and protects against many forms of cancer. These fat-soluble vitamins are concentrated and found almost exclusively in animal foods: seafood, organ meats, eggs and dairy products (12). Also, the idea that plant foods contain vitamin A is a misconception. Plants contain beta-carotene, the precursor to active vitamin A (retinol). While beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in humans, the conversion is inefficient (13).

    With care and attention, it is possible to meet nutrient needs with a VEGETARIAN diet that includes liberal amounts of pasture-raised, full-fat dairy and eggs, with one exception: EPA and DHA. These long-chain omega fats are found exclusively in marine algae and fish and shellfish, so the only way to get them on a vegetarian diet would be to take a microalgae supplement (which contains DHA) or to take fish-oil or cod-liver oil as a supplement (which isn’t vegetarian). Still, while it may be possible to obtain adequate nutrition on a vegetarian diet, it is not optimal—as the research above indicates.

    I do not, however, think it’s possible to meet nutrient needs on a vegan diet without supplements—and quite a few of them. Vegan diets are low in B12, bioavailable iron and zinc, choline, vitamin A & D, calcium, and EPA and DHA. So if you’re intent on following a vegan diet, make sure you are supplementing with those nutrients

    When working with clients who I believe may suffer from nutrition deficiencies I often run a micronutrients blood test to see exactly where we need to fill in the gaps. Click here more information on testing and nutrition consulting.

    Guest post by Rachel Scheer, BS Nutrition & Dietetics from Baylor University. DFW Clinical Nutritionist (www.rachelscheer.com - @rachelscheer)

    Freedom Through Fasting

    Freedom Through Fasting

    Do you get tired of tracking every morsel of food and feeling like you do nothing but obsess about when your next meal is coming? Being a slave to eating around the clock gets tedious and nowadays doesn’t make sense for our busy lives. Contrary to belief, but is it possible to have the dream physique you want without the 2-3 hour feeding schedule? 


    Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a protocol of eating that offers a solution to the above problems. You can ditch the phone reminders and consume all of your calories and macros within a window of time and make incredible progress. This lifestyle is most popular for people who have time demanding schedules and don’t have the luxury to pull out a Tupperware of food every couple of hours.

    Benefits & Basics

    The basics of how IF works and the benefits it can have for an athlete or for someone who is looking to lose weight goes as follows:

    1. While in a fasted state, insulin levels drop, which increases the bodies fat burning abilities.
    2. Human Growth Hormone increases, which promotes muscle gain.
    3. Decreases appetite while boosting the metabolism. 

    It can also reduce overall inflammation, promote cellular repair, aid in disease prevention, and may help you live a longer life. In addition to the physiological benefits, IF is easy to follow, can be used anywhere you go and is also a lifestyle that can be used for the long run.

    IF offers a few different feeding windows that you can choose from that makes sense for your schedule.

    Fasting Windows:


    16 Hours Fasted: 8 Hours Feasting. This is the most popular window used in IF. It can be a struggle to consume a large amount of calories in a shorter window of time and this method offers you more time to eat and less time to fast. This specific feeding window is the one I personally implement in my own day to day life. I try to consume 4 larger meals during the feasting phase.

    A typical day for me looks like this:

    (Fast all night.)

    9am Pre-Workout Drink

    10-11: 30am Gym (Resistance Training)

    12-8:00pm Feeding Window Starts

    Post workout, I will begin by breaking my fast with my REAAL BCAA’s and immediately have a protein packed lunch. Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, I will consume about three-four more meals before bed, with an additional cardio session.

    Within the eight hours, I will consume all of the calories and macros I need. I don’t track my food, but I am conscious to make sure I get the required amount of protein my body needs, in addition to fat and carbs.

    8:00 PM Eating window ends, fast begins again.

    Other Eating Windows for 16:8 could look like this:

    Eating Window: 10:00 AM-6 PM
    Eating Window: 11:00 AM-7 PM


    20 Hours Fasted: 4 Hours Feasting. This type of fasting will typically be one or two very large meals.

    Eating Window: 12:00 PM-4:00 PM
    Eating Window: 5:00 PM-9:00 PM

    24 Hours

    24 Hour Fast: No calories will be consumed during a 24 hour period and regular calorie consumption will resume the following day.

    This doesn’t mean that you have to fast an entire “day”. You can set your fasting window to be from 7:00PM-7:00PM. So you could have a dinner right before the fast starts at 7:00PM and then have dinner the follow night after 7:00PM when the 24 hour period is over. This type of fasting would be done only a couple times a week.


    2 Day Fast: This type of fasting is where you would consume 500 calories for two days. This could be in one meal or spread out with little snacks throughout the day. You would then resume regular eating the other 5 days a week.

    You would choose two fast days for the week.

    Fast Days: Monday/Thursday, Sunday/Wednesday

    During your fast:

    With whatever fasting window you choose, during your fast you can consume water, black coffee, sparkling water, or tea. It is advised to try and avoid artificially sweetened beverages if you can handle it.

    Breaking your fast:

    Research has shown that breaking your fast with a high protein meal is more beneficial than a carb-packed meal. Opt for a protein shake, omelet, or typical chicken meal. Skip the oats and fruit for this first meal.

    The benefits of IF are undeniable. Although it does take a bit of discipline to refrain from eating during the fasting window, the freedom is worth it! Decide which one fasting window works best for you and your schedule, follow through with the protocol, and then watch it do its magic.

    [Guest Post by Team ICON Member Brandan Fokken. @brandanfokken]

    The Science Behind the Ketogenic Diet

    The Science Behind the Ketogenic Diet

    The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet which puts the body into a state known as ketosis: a metabolic shift in which the body is burning fats rather than carbohydrates as its primary source of fuel. This is a pretty simple definition, but in order to fully understand how the ketogenic diet works and its benefits, it is important to have a grasp on exactly how the body uses energy in the first place:


    Normally, when carbohydrates are consumed in the diet, they are converted to glucose and insulin.

    • Glucose is the simplest form of sugar, meaning that it is easy for your body to convert and use as energy. This is why glucose is the body’s preferred source of energy.
    • Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas to process the glucose in your blood steam by transporting it around the body to where it is needed. When energy levels are sufficient, insulin will convert glucose to adipose tissue (fat) for later use.


    With the average high-carbohydrate diet, glucose is the main energy source because there is an abundance of it. However, the body can only store a limited amount of glucose—only enough to last for a couple of days. Therefore, if we forgo eating carbohydrates for a few days, our body relies on other means for energy through a biochemical process known as ketogenesis.


    In ketogenesis, the liver begins to break down fat as a usable energy source instead of carbohydrates. Ketones or ketone bodies are produced as an alternative energy source to glucose. Once ketogenesis kicks in and ketone levels are elevated, the body is in ketosis.


    How to Enter Ketosis


    There are a few ways to body can enter ketosis. One is by fasting: when you stop eating altogether for an extended period of time, the body will ramp up fat burning for fuel and decrease its use of glucose. Another way to get into ketosis is by eating less than 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day (it will vary per individual). Therefore, people on a ketogenic diet get only about 5% of their calories from carbohydrates.


    Steps to enter ketosis:

    1. Cut down on carbs (less than 5% of calorie intake).
    2. Increase your consumption of (up to 80% of calorie intake).
    3. Without glucose being used for energy, your body is now forces to burn fat and produce ketones instead.
    4. Once the blood levels of Ketones rise to a certain point, you officially enter into ketosis.
    5. This state results in consistent, fairly quick weight loss until your body reaches a health and stable weight.


    Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet


    Unlike many fad-diets that come and go, the ketogenic diet has been practiced for more than nine decades (since the 1920s) and is based upon a solid understanding of physiology and nutrition science. This diet works well for so many people because it targets several key, underlying causes of weight gain—including hormonal imbalances, elevated insulin and high blood sugar levels. A ketogenic diet has even shown to offer therapeutic benefits for several brain disorders.


    1. Weight loss


    A diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates, such as the ketogenic diet, helps to diminish hunger and boost weight loss through hormonal effects. When we eat foods that supply us with carbohydrates, we release insulin. But with lower levels of insulin, the body is less likely to store extra energy in the form of fat and instead able to use existing fat stores for energy. A diet high in healthy fats and protein is also much more filling, which can help curb appetite and reduce the overconsumption of empty calories, such as sweets and junk food.


    1. Cholesterol and Blood Pressure


    A ketogenic diet has shown to improve triglyceride and cholesterol levels most associated with arterial buildup. More specifically low-carb, high-fat diets show a dramatic increase in high density lipoprotein (HDL) and decrease low density lipoprotein (LDL) particle counts as compared to traditional low-fat diets. Many studies also show better improvement in blood pressure. High blood pressure issues are often associated with excess weight, which is a bonus because the ketogenic diet tends to lead to weight loss as well.


    1. Controls Blood Sugar


    A ketogenic diet also helps with lowering blood sugar levels by controlling the release of insulin. This can help reverse problems such as insulin resistance or pre-diabetes. Studies have shown ketogenic diet to reduce HbA1c levels—a long term measure of blood glucose control (1). Therefore, because this diet works so well at reducing blood sugar levels, it also has the additional benefit of helping people with type 2 diabetes to reduce their dependence on diabetes medication, however, it is important to speak with your doctor prior to starting a ketogenic diet or adjusting any medications.


    1. Fights Neurological Disorders


    Over the past century, ketogenic diets have been used to treat and even help reverse neurological disorders and cognitive impairments, including epilepsy. Research shows that cutting off glucose levels with a very low-carb diet makes your body produce ketones for fuel. This change can help to reverse neurological disorders and cognitive impairment. The brain is able to use this alternative source of energy instead of the cellular energy pathways that aren’t functioning normally in patients with brain disorders. In a study of children who suffer from epilepsy, over half had a greater than 50% reduction in seizures when eating a ketogenic diet, while 16% even became seizure free (2). The benefits of a ketogenic diet are now even being studied for other brain disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (3). 


    So, what can I eat on a ketogenic diet?

    A keto meal should contain high amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter or ghee, palm oil, avocado, tree nuts, seeds, and fatty cuts of wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef or bison, and free range poultry. Fats are a critical part of every ketogenic diet because fat is what is providing energy for your body and preventing hunger, weakness, and fatigue. Keto meals also need a good amount of non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, leafy greens, asparagus, cucumber, zucchini, and other cruciferous vegetables.


    The types of food you will want to avoid when eating a ketogenic diet include items like fruit, processed foods or drinks high in sugar, those made with any grains of white/wheat flour, conventional dairy products.


    For a more detailed list of foods: Click here to download my KETO FOOD LIST.




    Is Gluten-Free For Me?

    Is Gluten-Free For Me?
    Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.

    Read more