Friday, March 17, 2017

Food For Thought Friday: Foods for Vegans/Vegetarians to Boost Iron and Protein

Welcome! Well, I had a bunch of blood tests done last week to get updates on my liver, kidney and lung functioning, plus a bunch of other stuff (thank you, yet again, to the oh-so-gentle tech who bruised up my entire arm in the process....I digress).

Although I haven't gotten all the results back yet, I was relieved to know that I am not suffering any form of Hepatitis (A, B, or C), which was becoming a huge concern for my physician. However, a large concern was the fact that both my iron and protein levels are very low. The doctor said that having gone through cancer treatments, which lower these things as your immune system and metabolism take a beating. Then, on top of the treatments,  three of my organs are not functioning properly. Needless to say, I completely lost my appetite so I ate very little. All of these things combined caused me to lose weight I couldn't spare plus muscle mass, and anytime I did try to eat I'd either throw up or it found another way to re-appear. SO, I have taken a very aggressive approach to (a) keep the food I eat in, (b) put foods that truly count into my body, so even if I do get sick at least some of the important minerals, vitamins and other good stuff gets absorbed, and (c) get those iron and protein levels back up.

It can be a very frustrating process because all the research on foods out there focus on what you need to eat/avoid eating to lose weight. Hello? Some of us have the opposite problem.

To help others going through this, I am going to take you on my iron, protein, metabolism and immune system boosting journey. Today, we're going to focus on what vegetarians and vegans should be focusing on, as I am vegan. From there we'll delve into stuff to help you carnivores out there (although you guys should be eating veggies and fruit too).

Here are some excellent choices to try. And combining them is a great way to get as close to your whole proteins as possible. Have fun!

Meat and animal products are very high in protein and iron, and many people have been raised on the 'meat and potato' type of eating. Aside from the fact that it's more 'green' to eat less (or no) meat, there are those of us whose digestive systems can't digest meat and animal products (::raises hand::) and must find good sources of iron and protein to stay health. Plus those who have low immune systems or illness may also need these boosts.

I highly recommend seeking the advice of a physician or nutritionist to ensure you are going down the right path, and getting all you need nutritionally before going hard-core vegan/vegetarian. But here are some starters to at least steering you that way:

~ Beans especially lentils, black-eyed peas and black beans. Lentils are high in protein and fiber, while black beans not only count protein-wise but they are also an excellent source of fiber.

~ Chickpeas are usually categorize in the bean category but they are so versatile I thought I'd list them separately. Already a great source of protein on its own, when you create hummus with them (using olive oil and tahini), you have a complete protein. I didn't know that until I started my research. YAY that my favorite dip is even better for me than I thought!

~ Tofu is not only very high in protein, it can be used in so many different ways. And a few companies have started creating tofu-based products like breakfast sausages, sandwich 'meat', pepperoni and other yummy options. The best way to reap the benefits of the tofu is to try finding recipes using the plain tofu. I plan to have a post dedicated to tofu recipes in the near future so stay tuned.

~ Tempeh is a version of tofu that is rich in probiotics. Personally, I enjoy the texture and flavor of tempeh over tofu but it's all in how you prepare and cook it.

~ Edamame is basically a small, young soy bean. It's packed with protein, antioxidants and fiber. They can be used in many of the same ways as regular tofu (eg: stirfrys, soup, pasta, burgers, etc.) And, just like with chickpeas, you can toast them up to snack on. With their nutty sweetness, eating them raw is yummy too.

~ Soy milk is a great substitute for those out there not able to digest regular milk. It has all the same health benefits, only easier to digest. It's best to choose the organic and unsweetened kinds (although I do love the vanilla flavor!).

~ Quinoa is a superfood that not only has high protein amounts, it also contains iron, fiber, magnesium and antioxidants. You can cook it like rice, add it to dishes as a topping or even bake with it! I have a fantastic 'burger' recipe using quinoa as the base.

~ Amaranth is very similar to quinoa, but smaller. In addition to being a great source of protein, it contains B12 (which many of us women are low in) and magnesium.

~ Hemp seeds are a whopping 13 grams of protein in just 3 tablespoons! These are also very versatile and can be eaten right from the bag, baked, cooked or even throw some in a smoothy.

~ Chia seeds are known for teas but is best know for being a whole protein.

~ Pumpkin seeds or seeds from most squash, actually, are high in protein, iron and magnesium.

~ Nuts are a really winner too, especially peanuts and almonds. In fact, peanuts have the highest amount of protein of all nuts. And both peanut and almond butters are not only delicious but so good for you.

~ Green peas are high in protein, fiber and iron, especially when you eat them with the pods. A bonus is these wonder veggies are high in an amino acid called 'leucine' which helps to boost the metabolism.

~ Artichokes was something I came across and was pleasantly surprised at the benefits it gives us. They are high in both protein and fiber and seem to be more filling than other veggies so you eat less If you're worried about losing weight, this is a good one to add to your diet.

~ Spinach is my favorite green next to chards and arugala. It's high in iron, protein and fiber plus you can use it in so many ways, including pesto. Adding those pine nuts and olive oil only add to the protein level!

~ Broccoli is a beautiful veggie that is good raw, steamed, boiled or as part of a stir-fry. Not only is it high on the iron and protein levels, it is worth 30% of the daily calcium requirement, high in vitamin C, all B vitamins and fiber.

~ Asparagus also contains the vital B vitamins and iron.

~ Green beans have fiber, iron, protein as well as vitamin B6.

~ Spirulina is a new source that I recently discovered through my research. Although I haven't given it a shot yet, it's basically a protein derived from blue-green algae. It comes in a power form so it can be 'hidden' in desserts or smoothies. It's a bit intimidating with its baby-poo green color, but with providing high protein and 80% of the daily iron requirement, I could choke some down.

~ Tahini, which I mentioned earlier, is a fantastic protein source. It also contains iron, B vitamins, magnesium and potassium. Plus, it gives hummus that extra boost.

~ Nutritional yeast has the same texture as eggs with a cheesy flavor. It packs a powerful punch with 8 grams of protein in a mere tablespoon. Haven't tried this one either, but am willing to give it a shot.

~ Hemp milk can be bought ready-prepared, or you can even take the time to make it at home. You basically just add the seeds to water, no need to soak them first, then straining it.

~ Oatmeal, surprisingly, contains three times the amount of protein that brown rice. Plus, it contains fiber, magnesium, calcium and B vitamins. Plus, if you make it with milk or soy milk, plus add one of the seeds mentioned above, you're tummy with be satisfied for hours.

Try them all, add them to your current meal plan or stick with, and mix up, these staples to start your vegan journey. Share some of your own favorites.

We'll be sharing some recipes using these ingredients in upcoming posts so stay tuned!

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