'VEGucate Yourself'

Barbara Ames, a family and consumer sciences educator with the K-State Research and Extension office, gives a presentation, “VEGucate Yourself,” that explained the health pros and cons to vegetarian and vegan diets.

The K-State Research and Extension Wildcat District offered a free lunch and seminar, “VEGucate Yourself,” on the “who, what, when, where and why of the vegetarian and vegan diet” Tuesday afternoon at the Jerry Lilley Conference Room at Labette Health.

Hosted by Wildcat District family and consumer sciences educator Barbara Ames, the session targeted the average person’s need of daily minerals and how many health issues are caused by vitamin deficiency. One way to address deficiency is a change in lifestyle, Ames noted, or figuring out how much of a vegan, vegetarian and omnivore a person is based on their diet.

“It’s important, with any diet, that you eat a wide variety of things,” Ames said. “No matter which one you might align with, eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes can ensure your body gets exactly what it needs.”

Through a series of informative slides, Ames added that the U.S. Agricultural Department uses ChooseMyPlate.gov as a means of promoting dietary guidance for the public and conducting research in nutrition and consumer economics. 

“One thing you’ll notice about ChooseMyPlate is that a good half of what you eat are fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Not only is it crucial to know if you’re a vegetarian or omnivore but so is planning for adequate nutrition.”

Ames discussed the seven most important things the average body typically needs starting with protein. 

“Since protein helps function cell growth and development, deficiency can really slow down a person’s ability to recover from an illness or injury,” she said. For those with more restrictive diets, nuts and legumes or dairy products are noted as a great source of protein. “So long as you have a variety of foods to obtain amino acids from, it’s really based on your preference.”

Iron, which is needed to help produce hemoglobin and myoglobin, can be easier to find in fruits and vegetables, but it is not easy to absorb. 

“Vitamin C helps improve the body’s absorption, and cooking in a cast iron skillet. Anemia forms from an iron deficiency,” she said.

Zinc, a nutrient of concern Ames said, helps sustain the immune system, heal wounds and encourage cell growth. A deficiency in zinc could also reduce functions in the brain and has been known to affect smell and taste.

“Zinc is also poorly absorbed through plant sources. Eating fortified cereals, whole grain and seeds like pumpkin would be good for a vegetarian or vegan diet,” she said.

Calcium is another required mineral for healthy teeth and bones; a deficiency in it could lead to osteoporosis, a bone-degenerative disease.

“For someone who wants to try a vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s encouraged to eat fortified soy products for calcium, figs and juices. Almond or sesame seed milk have great calcium benefits.”

Feeling a bit lethargic? It could be from having a deficiency in B-12, the fifth vitamin that Ames talked about in her seminar. B-12 is important for metabolizing proteins, red blood cell growth and the central nervous system. Not only will someone feel tired if deficient, but also they could experience vision loss and anemia.

“B-12 is found only in animal foods,” Ames said. “For a vegetarian or vegan, you’d need to eat fortified cereals and soy products for it.”

Vitamin D is another important mineral, and while it can be obtained in small doses from sunlight, a deficiency in it can cause rickets and osteoporosis.

“Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, and although we make it naturally, there are very few foods that contain it. It’s encouraged to supplement or eat mushrooms, soy foods and orange juice,” she said.

Last not but least was Omega 3 fatty acids, a necessity for brain and heart health. Omega 3 fats can be found in fatty fish, but vegans can find these same acids in flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans.

“The most important thing is to remember that with careful planning, you can meet your dietary needs,” Ames said. “Another thing is knowing the myths and facts behind vegetarian and vegan diets and why one might be beneficial for you or a loved one.”

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