Veganuary Side Effects
So you’ve nearly reached the two week mark, and by now some of you may already be experiencing a renewed feeling of wellness, lightness and a reduction in aches and pains; however, others may have reached the point of skin outbreaks, fatigue, bloating and wind. Don’t let these aspects deter you!
Let’s start with those skin outbreaks! Going vegan and perfect skin go hand in hand in the world of Instagram, and while scientific studies have shown that a diet rich in plants is definitely going to improve your skin, this is not going to be something that happens overnight, or even in two weeks. From about day seven of eating a plant-based diet many people will find that they get a breakout of pimples as their skin literally expels toxins which have built up inside the body. Our skin is the largest organ in our body, and the most obvious one in determining our health, as we can literally see it. The physical beauty and condition of the skin - its luster, moisture level and softness - are all good indications of a health. Furthermore, the permeable nature of our skin means that it is also great at absorbing vitamins and minerals – the majority of our Vitamin D absorption comes through our skin from the sun, and magnesium is also better absorbed through our skin than our diets. Conversely, the appearance of acne, pimples, black heads and dry, flaky skin, all suggest the presence of harmful toxins. When changing from a diet of meat and dairy to one of all plants, the toxins need to leach from inside the body and out, thus causing the skin outbreak. This will clear as you continue on your plant-based journey, so keep with it and that flawless complexion will come.
Two other aspects which may be causing a skin outbreak are vitamin B12 which you are certain to have heard about by this point, and Zinc. Vitamin B12 is one of those aspects, like protein, that everyone wants to bang on about when you go plant-based, even though you have probably never ever heard of the vitamin before. Lack of Vitamin B12 can cause fatigue, and some people on a vegan diet supplement with it. However, let’s get things straight here. In our modern day food supply pretty much no food contains natural Vitamin B12 anymore. Those that eat animal products are only getting B12 in their diets because those products are fortified or injected with it. Those on a plant-based diet get their B12 in exactly the same way, through the foods they eat that are fortified with it. Most plant-milks, Vitalife butter, cereals, marmite nutritional yeast, are all fortified with B12. If you are regularly eating these products then you should not also need to supplement. If you are supplementing B12 and eating these fortified products and getting skin outbreaks, it may well be that too much B12 is causing the skin outbreak, it is in itself casing a toxic build up that needs to get out and does so through the skin.
Zinc deficiency is a much more likely deficiency than B12, or calcium, iron, or protein – the common ones that everyone - who never cared or questioned what you were eating before when you were stuffing your face with saturated fat and cholesterol - cares about when you eat plant-based.
When a person is deficient in zinc, skin cells clump together instead of dying and falling off the body like they do in bodies of individuals with adequate zinc levels. The stuck-on skin cells lead to clogged pores, which are another main culprit for acne and breakouts. Vegans tend to be at risk for zinc deficiency, as many zinc-rich foods like red meat and seafood are obviously not appropriate for a plant-based diet.
Additionally, vegans can experience a one-two punch for zinc deficiency because a vegan diet tends to be higher in grains and legumes than an omnivorous diet. While these provide their own health benefits, the phytates (which come up again shortly) in these foods bind up zinc, and prevent it from being absorbed by the body. To make matters worse, the zinc from plants is more difficult for your body to absorb, so with the combination of hurdles, those eating plant-based are especially prone to zinc deficiency. Combining is key here in order to help zinc absorb. Pumpkin seeds are the most concentrated, non-meat food source of zinc. Most foods that are high in zinc are seafood based foods such as crabmeat, lobster, clams and salmon, but if you are following a plant only diet, we can also get zinc from nutritional yeast, beans (chickpeas being the highest), brown rice, nuts (cashews being the highest), sesame seeds, chia seeds, mushrooms, potatoes and even cacao. Vitamin C, E, B6, and minerals such as magnesium increase our zinc absorption in the body, so alongside these zinc rich foods we need to make sure we are getting plenty of those too through food combining with at least 3 leafy green vegetables, at least 3 other vegetables and 3 pieces of fruit each day (see the previous Veganuary Plan Blog).
So to recap skin – don’t worry if your skin is detoxing right now – it will clear. Don’t fret about Vitamin B12 unless you are eating no products that are fortified with it and feeling very fatigued, and make sure you are eating zinc rich foods like a Folks Cacao Nutshake in combination with a vegetable rich Buddha Bowl!
Ok – next side effect: bloating and gas!
You may feel like you are Mr Trumpy Pants at the moment, but again this does not last forever! Pooping a number of times a day will remain, but that’s a good thing as it means that your intestines and colons are working exactly as they are designed!
In terms of the bloating and gas, this will probably be the legumes: but we still need to ensure that we are taking in our 3 half cup portions a day for protein, vitamin and mineral needs, so don’t eliminate them out of embarrassment! There are a few things you can do to help while your body adjusts.
The reason legumes cause bloating and wind is due to the fact they contain high levels of fibre and phytic acid (also known as phytates – told you these would be mentioned again). Phytic acid is found in all plants in varying levels and its role is to help protect them from predators in their natural environment. But there are ways to help reduce the levels of phytates in legumes: soaking in plenty of cold water overnight can significantly reduce their phytate levels, helping to lower their potential for causing bloating. Once they have been soaked, rinse them thoroughly, cook them in fresh water and the bloating effects should be reduced. Adding some lemon juice or vinegar to the water further helps to breakdown the levels of phytates on the outer coating.
As well as soaking lentils overnight, it can be helpful to cook them along with plenty of carminatives. Carminatives are foods known to help soothe the digestive tract and help to reduce bloating and flatulence. There are many herbs and spices with valuable carminative properties which have been used traditionally for many years as natural remedies for helping relieve bloating and digestive discomfort. Those that we are most familiar with include star anise, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon balm, nutmeg, parsley and peppermint. These herbs and spices have been used in cooking for many years; not only do they add flavour, but they help improve our digestion.
Legumes also cause gas because they contain a particular sugar, which is called an oligosaccharide that the human body cannot break down fully. Oligosaccharides are large molecules and are not broken down and absorbed in the same way that other sugars are. This is because the human body actually does not produce the enzyme that breaks down oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides make it all the way through the digestive tract to the large intestine still intact and undigested. It is the bacteria that live in the large intestine that finally break down the oligosaccharides. This process is the one that produces the gas that must eventually come out of your bottom as flatulence.
By the same principal, other foods that come into the large intestine without being properly absorbed in the small intestine will cause gas. For example, stress can cause food to move through your gut too quickly to be properly digested, with the end result being more gas produced in the large intestine.
As long as it's not causing pain or excessive bloating, gas is a normal and expected part of the digestive process. In fact, gas is an indication that things are going the way they should in the intestines. Gas itself from diet won't cause any real harm, but taking steps to minimise gas can be used, and introducing prebiotics is a great way to ease the trump.
Prebiotics cultivate a healthy environment in our guts, just as we would with our allotments after the last frost, you have to put in the hard work to get the soil in perfect condition for the good things to grow. So, this is where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are like fertilizer.
What then is a prebiotic? It’s a kind of fibre, but it is special in that it is also resistant to human digestion. Unlike the legumes, these foods ferment in your gut bolstering the levels of healthy bacteria needed to break down the oligosaccharides. Without getting all ‘sciency’ studies into the effect of prebiotics on intestinal gas production have shown that “as prebiotic foods are introduced to the gut the microbiota adapts and shifts to a low gas producing pathway. This means less gas is produced, and a relatively minute amount is eliminated by way of flatulence as a higher proportion is metabolised.” So yeh – legumes will make you trumpy until you get used to them, but combined with prebiotics you will trump a little less.
The most common prebiotic is called inulin (not insulin that is associated with diabetes) and along with those specific qualities, studies have also shown that it has a few other amazing effects on our health and wellbeing besides eliminating the fart: it helps increase the amount of calcium, magnesium and iron we absorb from food, it supports a healthy response to inflammation, it supports a healthy immune system, and it lowers anxiety and stress hormone levels. Current studies also look set to suggest that inulin also lowers levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat.
Time to get out your shopping lists then, as which foods are we talking about then?
In no specific order, foods containing high levels of inulin include the following: asparagus, endive, fennel, onion, garlic, artichoke, leeks, chicory, dandelion leaves, jicama and bananas.
Other foods that are classified as partially prebiotic are tuberous vegetables such as sweet potato and yam, bitter leaves such as radicchio, rocket and arugula, and the cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, while blueberries also make the list.
Including a couple of these prebiotics into our Veganuary plan each day will help our digestive systems and help to minimise the gas, until our bodies fully adjust.
We have a brand new PREBIOTIC smoothie in the shop on our 2018 menu which contains inulin from chicory, dandelion leaves, bananas and blueberries, so if you are suffering the embarrassment of gas, then you may want to pop in and grab one.
So all in all, side effects – if you are having some – just bear with it – it is just your body adjusting to your new, healthier way of life and will be worth it in the end! Brownie guide promise! x