Christmas is just around the corner and if like me, you’re going to be spending time with people who are not plant based, this blog is for you!
The Christmas period is often a long one. In the build up to the big day, it usually involves work do’s, social functions, bring a plate get together’s and the countless morning/afternoon tea shouts at work. Christmas is traditionally seen as the time where it’s acceptable to over indulge in rich foods, over eat and drink alcohol at breakfast!
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas even though I’m still not used to it being hot here in New Zealand. I love seeing relatives we’ve been meaning to catch up with all year and the spirit of kindness embodied by everyone.
The thing I’ve struggled with is visiting and eating with people who aren’t plant based. Now that I’ve done a plant based Christmas twice; I’m sharing the tips I’ve learnt along the way. Hopefully they will save you from learning the hard way; offending anyone or being offended.
Always offer to bring a dish or two to share
Call the host ahead of time and explain the situation. Say that you’ve been plant based for xxxxx amount of time and you’d like to make it easy for them by bringing a couple of dishes to share. This will take the pressure off the host trying to figure out what to make for you!
2. Dinner parties where everyone is eating standard food is not the best time to launch into all of your knowledge and education about nutrition
If you’re like me, you were so excited to tell anyone who would listen (or not) about all the new things you’ve learnt about the plant based diet and nutrition. But believe me when I say that Uncle Bill doesn’t want to hear about how the glazed ham he won at the raffle is clogging his arteries; especially after Aunt Sally spent 4 hours cooking it. If anyone asks you about the plant based diet at the table; say that you’d love to tell them all about it and suggest that you talk about it another time. Maybe offer to send them some information via email or suggest you go out to lunch to talk more about it.
3. Use Dr. Doug Lisle’s “seem strategy.”
If there are people who are insistent in asking about what you are eating, there is a simple answer that helps to diffuse the most persistent people. If someone starts questioning you about your diet simply respond, “It seems to be working for me.”
4. Compliment the host
Even if you can’t eat the food served, be sure to compliment the host on how nice everything looks. Also, be sure to thank them for inviting you. This may feel strange, but in my experience it will quell the need for anyone to comment further about what you can/can’t eat. It will also show that you’re not judging them.
5. Eat before you go as an insurance policy
When you have no idea what food will be offered, it’s a good idea to fill your belly with a healthy plant-strong snack or meal beforehand. This will keep you satisfied and prevent you from diving into the contraband! A hungry tummy makes mental midgets out of all of us. For some snack ideas, check out my Get Set For Summer – Meal Plan & Cook Book
6. Bring dessert!
Everyone loves dessert! I love bringing some of my favorites; Raw Strawberry Cheesecake, Date & Almond Cookies, or Christmas Chocolate Slab. Everyone loves all of these and they are super easy to make!
7. The host may offer to make a dish that you can eat
Give some suggestions that are easy to make with ingredients that are familiar and tell them what plant based means. Again, be sure that you thank the host for their time and for being so considerate of the way you eat.
8. Drink water and go easy on the booze
Naughty food and a tipsy head make for a bad combination! This is especially true if alcohol triggers you to eat junk food. When you’re intoxicated, it can be more difficult to keep your resolve and succumb to pressure or temptation. I’m not saying don’t drink any alcohol; only you know what work’s for you, but be sure to keep yourself hydrated with water during parties.
9. Remember that it’s not all about food!
I love hanging out with my family and friends. Sometimes we make social engagements all about food, when they should be about the people who are there! One of the wonderful things I have discovered is that the longer you stay on the plant based path, the more friends you find in your life who are also plant based.
When you find yourself visiting friends and family who do not follow the plant based lifestyle, remember that you are the only one responsible for your health and nobody cares about your health and well being as much as you! Stay plant-strong!
10. Remember that tomorrow is another day
Whatever stage of the journey you’re on, be kind to yourself. Christmas can be a stressful time and the last thing you need is to be berating yourself for falling off the wagon.
⭐The only person judging you is you ⭐ Tomorrow is another chance to start over ⭐ Love yourself and the skin you’re in ⭐ Strive for progress, not perfection
True or False: The iron that our bodies require is the same element found in a cast-iron skillet.
This question fools a surprising number of people. Iron is greatly misunderstood as a nutrient, especially when it comes to vegan and plant based diets.
The mineral is found all over the earth and is essential to red blood cells transporting oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body, connecting us directly to the land we live on. Pretty amazing, right?
But iron deficiency is a very common nutrient deficiency. Symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, weakness and inability to maintain body temperature. And as vegans, it’s worth paying special attention to make sure we’re getting enough.
So how much iron do we actually need?
Recently in the U.S., the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) gave new recommendations for iron, specifically for vegetarians, that are 1.8 times higher than the general population. As Jack Norris points out, this increase is not based on actual research on vegetarians, but simply because the iron in plant foods is not as easily absorbed as the iron in animal products (more on this in just a minute).
As a result, many experts in vegetarian nutrition believe that these recommendations are much higher than needed.
My take on it: if you eat a varied, healthy plant-based diet that includes a balance of grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables — and follow the recommendations below — I don’t believe it is necessary to keep close track of iron intake. As I always say however; I am not a nutritionist so please consult your doctor if you have concerns about your iron levels.
Iron from plants vs. iron from animals
To better understand what we need to do to ensure our bodies are getting enough iron, we first have to accept two facts about iron — painful as they are for vegetarians and vegans to hear:
There are two types of iron — heme, which is found in animal foods, and non-heme, which is from plants. It is true that heme iron (the kind from animals) is better absorbed than non-heme iron.
Vegetarians and vegans may have lower iron stores than omnivores.
But don’t fret over these issues. We’ll see that in fact it’s not all that difficult to get the iron you need on a plant-based diet.
As for #2, it’s important to note that while vegetarians have lower stores of iron than omnivores, they do not have higher rates of anemia. In the research, many vegetarians’ stores are “low-normal,” but this does not mean less than ideal! Actually, there’s some evidence that says low-normal iron stores are beneficial: improved insulin function and lower rates of heart disease and cancer.
How to get enough iron on a plant-based diet
You can start by making sure that you’re eating foods that contain substantial amounts of iron. Some of the best plant sources of iron include:
Legumes: lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans
Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal
But here’s the key: It’s not how much iron you consume, but how well you absorb it.
So paying attention to make sure you’re absorbing your iron is just as important as making sure you’re taking in enough. And fortunately there is a lot you can do to increase the absorption of non-heme iron!
5 ways vegetarians and vegans can absorb more iron
1. The less you eat, the better it is absorbed.
Seriously! I know people who take one 15 milligram pill a day and think they are covered, but it doesn’t work that way. When consuming higher amounts of iron at one time, the percentage that our bodies absorb is actually lower than when your meal contains only a few milligrams. Plant-based foods may contain less iron than animal foods, but eating smaller amounts throughout the day is a great way to increase absorption.
2. Eat non-heme iron foods with vitamin C foods, and absorption can increase as much as five times.
Five times! Culturally these combinations are already happening: think beans and rice with salsa, falafel with tomatoes and hummus with lemon juice. The iron in beans, grains and seeds is better absorbed when combined with the vitamin-C found in fruits and vegetables. Bonus: some iron sources, like leafy greens, broccoli, and tomato sauce already contain vitamin-C.
3. Avoid coffee and tea when eating high-iron meals.
Coffee (even decaf!) and tea contain tannins that inhibit iron absorption. I recommend avoiding them an hour before or two hours after your meal.
4. Cast-iron skillets increase iron absorption.
The answer to the true or false question is true! Cooking with an old school cast-iron skillet increases the iron in your meal — especially when you cook a vitamin-C containing food in it.
Even better, a cast-iron skillet purchase puts you in the realm of official serious cook. I bought mine almost 10 years ago for $8 and it is one of my most valued possessions. (Yes, I’m that much of a food nerd that a skillet is one of my most valued possessions!)
5. It pains me to say this, but you may want to avoid spinach as an iron source.
Spinach contains oxalates that block absorption. Sucks, right? There is some disagreement in the research about this, but with all of those other iron-containing plant foods, why not try some new ones?
And for the record, even if you take an iron supplement, you should still follow the advice above.
Iron doesn’t have to be a problem in a plant-based diet
Follow these principles, eating good sources of iron throughout the day and keeping up with the absorption principles above, and you’ll find that it’s not hard to get enough iron in your diet, even as a vegetarian or vegan.
All of that said, iron is one of the few nutrients where a deficiency both immediately affects your health and is detectable, so if you have any iron-deficiency symptoms I recommend getting blood tests with your doctor. It is affordable, reliable and easy to interpret. And iron levels bounce back quickly when using the methods above or supplementation.
I’ll leave you with a fun fact about iron in plant-based diets (well, fun to a food nerd at least):
Some research shows that vegans have higher iron levels than vegetarians.
The difference between vegetarians and vegans is eggs and dairy products, and the latter contain almost no iron. When someone goes from vegetarian to vegan they are replacing dairy products with plant-based ones, all of which contain some iron, therefore increasing the total iron in the diet.
With this information and a little effort you can get all of the iron you need from plants to be healthy and strong!