A Healthy Vegan Diet NEEDS Good Fats
To keep our nutrition balanced and our bodies nourished, we must eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, aka “plant-based,” and avoid all animal products. This is something that all vegans can vehemently agree on. However, many people, both vegan and omnivorous, still believe that a healthy diet contains little to no fat. This blanket statement about fat is mostly wrong and could very well be a detriment to your health. All fat is not created equal. Fat can and must be separated into “good” and “bad” in order to decide what should be included and what must be eliminated from our diet, to keep our bodies functioning properly.
A person following a balanced, healthy diet will include healthy fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids), and eliminate items containing saturated fat and trans fat. The USDA recommends that healthy adults over the age of 19 consume 20-35% of their daily calories from good fat. Consuming the proper amounts of healthy fats provides the body with essential Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, provides structure for our cells, keeps our skin soft, and helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. They are also wonderful sources for energy stores. Omega-3 fats are crucial for brain, nerve, and heart health. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats can reduce the risk for heart disease by up to 50%. Additionally, high levels of trans fats in the diet have been proven to increase heart disease rates by about 25%, and to increase the risk for many other diseases. Many trans fats have vegetable sources, so it is important to look for words like “partially hydrogenated” and avoid foods containing those oils. Trans fats and all saturated fats, aside from palm oil and coconut oil, come from animal sources. We can obtain all of the necessary “good fats” via a plant-based diet.
Monounsaturated fats, also known as Omega-9 fats, n-9, or oleic acid, can be found in nuts and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats can be obtained via many nuts (almonds, cashews, filberts/hazelnuts, macadamias, peanuts, and pecans), seeds, algae, and leafy greens. Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two types: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Our bodies make all the fatty acids that they need, with the exception of linoleic acid (LA), an Omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an Omega-3 fatty acid. These “essential fatty acids” must be consumed, and are required for growth and repair, as well as production of other fatty acids. ALA is the principal Omega-3. The body uses ALA to make eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenonic acid (DHA). Contrary to popular belief about the necessity of EPA and DHA rich animal foods like “fatty fish,” this proves that ALA is the only essential Omega-3 fatty acid, and is easily found in many vegetables, beans (particularly mung beans), nuts, seeds, soy products, grains, vegetables and fruits. Some examples of ALA rich foods are flaxseeds, walnuts, as well as flaxseed, canola, soybean, and walnut oils, and wheat germ. Corn, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils also contain Omega-3s, although they are not as high in omegas as the previous oils mentioned. One might think it would be less taxing on the body and easier to simply consume foods containing EPA and DHA, rather than forcing your body to go through this conversion process. While this is simply not true, you can also obtain EPA and DHA from algae like spirulina and chlorella, which boast a host of other nutritional benefits such as a complete amino acid profile, high protein, potassium, and iron. The Omega-6 fatty acid Linoleic Acid (LA) has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and other disease-fighting benefits. It is very uncommon for a diet to be low in LA, since foods high in LA are quite common (green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower). While we seek to obtain our omegas in our every day diets, it is crucial that we obtain them in the correct ratio, so our bodies can seamlessly convert them. The RDA for Omega-3 is 1.6 g/day for adult males and 1.1 g/day for adult females. Our bodies make DHA and EPA from Omega-3; however Omega-6 inhibits the conversion of Omega-3 into DHA and EPA. Therefore, some of the more popular omega rich foods like walnuts (2,542mg Omega-3 but 10,666 Omega-6), oats (173 mg Omega-3 but 3781 mg Omega-6) or sesame seeds (105mg Omega-3 but 5,984mg Omega-6) might not be the best sources for conversion into DHA and EPA. By all means, you should continue enjoying walnuts and sesame seeds; however, also enjoy these foods, which are higher in Omega-3’s and lower in Omega-6’s, and are more easily converted by your body into DHA and EPA.
9 Sources of “Good Fats”
Flax Seeds: 6388 mg per 1 oz.
Chia Seeds: 4915 mg per 1 oz.
Hemp Seeds: 1100 mg per 1 oz.
Mustard Oil: 826 mg per 1 tbsp.
Spirulina: 58 mg per tbsp.
(aside from chlorella, it is also the only vegan source containing DHA and EPA, which means our bodies don’t have to make it)
Spinach: 352 mg per cup cooked
Blueberries: 174 mg per 1 cup
Wild Rice: 156 mg per 1 cup cooked
Winter Squash: 338 mg per 1 cup cookedIt is conclusive that a vegan diet rich in good fats will reduce or nearly eliminate your risk for most diseases. A wonderful way to abide by this is to combine high omega foods with foods high in monounsaturated fats for at least one meal per day. A spinach and kale salad with blueberries chia dressing, sprinkled with some crushed almonds or walnuts is a wonderful combination. Oatmeal with ground flaxseed and/or chia seeds mixed in, topped with blueberries and hemp seeds is wonderful. Don’t forget to check out this creative guacamole recipe!
Super Green GuacamoleIngredients:
1 tbsp spirulina powder
2 large collard leaves, center rib removed and torn into pieces
Handful of chopped cilantro
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp chopped onion
Juice from 1/2 lime
Himalayan Pink Sea Salt to taste Scoop out the insides of your avocados. Chop half of an avocado into small chunks and set aside. Drop the other 1 1/2 avocados into the container of your bullet blender (or regular blender/food processor) along with the remainder of your ingredients. Blend. Fold in the avocado chunks and serve with veggies and tortillas or pita chips.
For more information on good fats in a plant based diet, as well as how to obtain them, Michael Greger, M.D. has several wonderful video series on these topics.
After reading this, how are you going to change your diet? We wanna hear from you! Leave a comment below 🙂