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You are absolutely right to be thinking about making life style changes. A healthy diet and exercise can actually prevent four out of five heart attacks. Among the various types of diets a healthy vegan diet, also called a plant-based diet, has the most beneficial effects and the least risk for heart disease. Research has shown that such a diet may prevent and reverse atherosclerosis, which causes blockage in arteries reducing blood flow to our heart and other organs. The diet also reduces blood pressure, blood lipids, and weight, all of which in turn reduce risk for heart disease. These beneficial effects are related to the high amounts of fiber, healthy plant proteins, low levels of saturated fat and lack of cholesterol in these diets. Remember to include a good dose of exercise, such as daily brisk walking which is an excellent activity. As you make changes in your own life, hopefully other members of the family will learn from you and do the same.
I expect that you have all the resources for making healthy vegan meals where you are. You have easy access to a tremendous variety of legumes, such as channa dal, mung dal, chhole, all of which are great sources of protein. These along with whole grain rotis, vegetables, and fruit make for a diet that is well balanced and compassionate. Contrary to popular belief, grains and vegetables are also good sources of protein. Thus, protein needs are easily met with a diet that contains a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables. Cooking oil is a fabulous alternative to ghee. Also include some nuts in your diet and if you like you can make butter, milk and cheese from nuts like cashews and almonds. Along with your vegan diet, remember to take a vitamin B12 supplement, which can be found at your local chemist shop.
Yes, I believe that a vitamin B12 supplement is a must for vegans. I also strongly recommend it for vegetarians, who may get some B12 through dairy or eggs, but it may not be enough. Some studies have shown that as many as half of those on a vegan diet may be deficient in the vitamin. B12 is produced by bacteria that live in the soil so whenever there is little peeling or washing of the produce, people may be able to get enough of the vitamin from the soil on the produce. However, that clearly is not a safe approach for getting the vitamin. Because animals ingest soil along with the plants they eat, those who eat meat get the B12 along with it.
Vitamin B12 is important for forming new red blood cells and maintaining our nervous system. The body can store it for years, protecting us if we don’t get sufficient amounts now and then. However, a deficiency over time can cause serious consequences, including a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia, as well as damage to our nervous system causing a neuropathy and dementia as well as psychiatric disorders. Low levels in pregnancy increase the risk for neural tube birth defects. While some foods are fortified with B12, they are not a reliable source for the vitamin so I strongly recommend a supplement. This could be part of a daily multivitamin or an individual supplement, easily obtained at low cost from local chemist shops. While the recommended daily amount for adults is 2.4 mg, you can safely take higher doses, since our body absorbs only as much as it needs, and any excess passes through the urine.
My advice is to be cautious with nuts. While, nuts contain healthy fats and antioxidants, which are good for health, they are also calorie dense. Consuming large amount is not conducive to weight loss. It is easy to indulge and eat nuts by the handful resulting in excessive calorie intake. I recommend limiting them to a small handful or about 30 gm each day. You could consider pre-portioning your nuts for a snack or choose nuts in the shell to avoid eating too many.
Importantly do not rely on nuts for proteins. Instead eat plenty of legumes such as channa dal, mung dal, chhole, all of which are great sources of protein. Contrary to popular belief, grains and vegetables are also good sources of protein. Thus, protein needs are easily met with a vegan diet that contains a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables. Consume whole grains, and add more vegetables and fruit to your diet. Also remember to include a good dose of exercise in your day.