The simple answer is yes. Most breads are vegan friendly. Always check those labels though.
Well-made bread (not the processed kinds found in supermarkets), is traditionally made with a few simple ingredients. Yeast, water, a very small amount of sugar, a healthy fat and flour.
Vegan Yes – But Healthy?
Is bread vegan? Mainly, yes. Is it healthy? Not so much.
It has been known for a long time that refined grains (particularly in the form of white bread) aren’t particularly healthy, beneficial or nutritious for humans.
For the last 20 years doctors, dieticians and nutritionists have advised us to consume whole grains instead.
But are whole grains really any better for us and should bread ever be categorised as healthy?
The Gluten Controversy
Bread is largely made of wheat, and wheat is predominantly made of gluten, which is a type of protein that gives bread it’s stretchy/springy quality.
Over the last 15 years there has been mounting evidence that a growing proportion of the population is particularly sensitive to gluten.
It was generally thought that it was only those with Celiac Disease that experience an immune response to gluten (wheat, barley, rye, spelt). But there is now growing speculation that even those with gluten sensitivity experience a certain amount of immunological damage after consuming wheat products.
There have been a number of controlled trials (study, study) in the last decade that have demonstrated that gluten has the propensity to damage the digestive tract, even in those without Celiac disease. The immunological response can cause symptoms such as tiredness, pain, bloating and irregular bowel movements.
There have also been strong links between gluten sensitivity and certain disorders of the brain. Schizophrenia (study,study) and cerebellar ataxia (study, study), for example.
I always believe there is no smoke without fire. Most bread contains gluten and we know gluten has the propensity to trigger an immune response in certain individuals who have a susceptibility. So if you have unexplained symptoms of tiredness, digestive pains, bloating or even anxiety or depression, then seek medical advice. The only real way to establish whether you have a gluten sensitivity is to remove gluten from your diet for a period of 30 days and then reintroduce foods containing gluten to see if your body reacts (but this should be under the supervision of an experienced professional).
The Toxic Ingredients of Bread
The reality may be that Gluten is actually the lessor of two evils. The real dangers of bread may actually come from some of its unsavoury ingredients:
Artificial Flavours & Colours: Obviously these vary in usage from country to country. Artificial flavours and colours are also normally derived from petroleum. And many of these additives have been linked to health issues in children such as allergies, asthma and hyperactivity.
Preservatives: All foods are supposed to be eaten fresh, and bread is no exception. Steer clear of any breads that contain preservatives. A common one in a lot of countries is calcium propionate. Again, this has been linked to child health problems such as ADHD.
Refined Sugars:This can be an ingredient that is incredibly difficult to spot, even in breads that are marketed as “low sugar” and “healthy”. Some common household breads contain as much as 2-3 grams of sugar per slice. The World Health Organisation advises that we should consume no more than 6 grams a day. There is also the contentious issue in some countries that the sugar used is derived from GMO sugar beets.
Dough Conditioners: In traditional bread making techniques these would never have been used. They have literally been introduced so that manufacturers can speed up the manufacturing process and maximise profit. Many dough conditioners are derived from extracting fat from corn or soybean oil and then manipulating it with other ingredients. Some common examples (and also ones that have been banned) include: sodium stearoyl lactylate, monoglycerides, azodicarbonamide and DATEM.
GMOs: Thankfully these haven’t made their way into the UK yet (but I am sure it’s only a matter of time). A lot of countries (especially the U.S.) use multiple GMO ingredients in the production of household breads. GMO soy flour, corn oil and soybean oil are all common. GMO use is clearly a contentious issue. The issue for me is that there have never been any long term tests on humans that assess the health impacts. And the argument that GMO’s are safer because no pesticides are used is incorrect. Some GMO’s are actually engineered by inserting toxic pesticides into the seed. This then causes the insects stomach to explode when trying to eat the crop.
Nutritional Profile of Bread
Bread is really just empty calories. It contains only low levels of vitamins and minerals. High levels of sugar. Low levels of protein. Often high amounts of unhealthy fats. High amounts of salt. And not much else.
But what about whole grain bread, I hear you cry? Well, it’s not much better I’m afraid.
While whole grains offer slightly more vitamins and minerals than processed grains, whole grain bread will contain higher levels of phytic acid, so it will potentially block any increased nutritional profile.
Is bread vegan? Is bread healthy? It can be. Why not try one of these healthy recipes?
Deliciously Ella: Date & Pecan Loaf
Plant Based Judy: Date & Pecan Loaf
Vegan Corner: Gluten Free Buns
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Vegan documentaries……. I love nothing more on a Sunday afternoon than turning on Netflix (other film providers are available), making some vegan treats and watching a good old vegan film that puts the world to rights.
But for me, these films mean more than a bit of Sunday viewing pleasure. They help instruct and maintain historical records. They document aspects of modern life and reality that often get overlooked in the mainstream media. They inform. And they inspire people to make fundamental and lasting changes in their lives.
If you are vegan, then you will know what I mean. We have all had that moment in life when the penny finally dropped. It was a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon in November. You have just been to the supermarket and are overdosing on sweets that are rotting your body and your mind. You are sat flicking through film options when a thumbnail catches your eye. You start watching and within 15 minutes your whole life has been turned upside-down. You have just realised you are living in the matrix.
The reality for most is that once you know the truth there is no going back. Within days you have removed all animal products from your house. The freezer, the fridge and even your cleaning and toiletries are not safe. Your family thinks you are having a nervous breakdown.
The documentary you watched on Saturday provoked such strong emotions that you were compelled to change your diet and lifestyle forever. A lifestyle that had remained largely unchanged since birth.
That is the power that well-made vegan documentaries can have over people. And these type of documentaries have probably done more for veganism in the last 15 years than anything else combined.
Below I have listed some of my personal favourites. Documentaries that have had profound and lasting impacts on my life. I hope you find the list useful, and if I have missed off any great choices then leave a comment in the comments section below and I will update the list regularly.
Fork Over Knives is a documentary that examines the claim (or as I like to call it, TRUTH), that most, if not all of today’s degenerative diseases can be prevented, halted and even reversed by rejecting animal products and replacing them with plant based foods. The majority of the story is focussed around the work and research of two leading Dr’s. Dr Colin Campbell and Dr Caldwell Esselstyn. The film also discusses the findings of Dr Campbell’s 20-year China-Cornell-Oxford project that were laid out in Dr Campbell’s book, The China Study. The China Study shows how the majority of diseases in the western world (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes and obesity etc) are a direct result of animal based foods and other processed foods in people’s diets. This is a must watch film for anyone who is concerned about their family’s health.
Is one of the best vegan documentaries out there! The producers follow 3 New Yorkers for 6 weeks as they give up meat, dairy and eggs and adopt a vegan diet. The film documents (with hilarity at times) their journey as each of the participants discover how they can create a greener, kinder and cleaner world, one bite at a time.
I am not going to lie; Earthlings is a very tough watch. It was made in 2005 and documents how humans have created a total reliance and dependence on animals purely for economic purposes and greed. The film is broken down into 5 elements: research, pets, food, clothing and entertainment. If you are easily upset, then I suggest you watch some of the other films on the list and avoid this one.
Is one of the first vegan documentaries that was funded almost entirely through crowdfunding. And it has probably turned more people vegan than all the other films combined (slight exaggeration there!). The film chronicles the journey of Kip Anderson as he uncovers animal agriculture as the most destructive industry facing the planet today. You are taken on a journey where you learn that the meat and dairy industry is the number one cause of deforestation on the planet. The industry creates more pollution and greenhouse gases than all of the transportation industries combined. And many, many other mind-bending statistics are revealed. The story gets really interesting as Kip approaches leading environmental groups with his research only to find that there is an intentional refusal by these organisations to discuss the issues in hand. But why is this and what are the consequences for Kip’s personal safety?
This is the unbelievable journey of Kris Carr and her battle with cancer. She changes her diet, juices, takes up yoga and changes many other aspects of her life in order to beat the disease and obtain optimal health. The emotional fight is sprinkled with humour and even romance. A must watch for anyone who wants to understand the disease in greater detail.
This film uncovers what farms have been struggling to keep secret for years. The conditions that animals are kept in, as well as their treatment and diets are all exposed. This is one of the great vegan documentaries that takes viewers on a white-knuckle ride that crawls through bushes, flies in planes and hides in factories, all to come face-to-face with the farmers who are rearing animals in such poor conditions. A must see!
The Cove was released in 2009 and is an Oscar-winning film. The film follows a group of brave and courageous animal activists as they expose a small Japanese town, that is home to an industry that slaughters dolphins for meat. The film also follows the story of a former dolphin trainer (from hit TV show, Flipper), as he tries to forgive himself for exploiting these intelligent creatures in his earlier days. A great all round watch!
I only saw this for the first time a few months back, but it quickly became a personal favourite of mine. Blackfish chronicles the story of a captive killer whale, that has taken the lives of several people. The film undercovers the poor conditions that these creatures are kept in and highlights problems within the sea-park industry that have been deliberately covered up for years.
Is one of the lesser known vegan documentaries out there, but it’s still a great watch. This feature film documents the human relationship with animals. It also looks at the history of veganism and the reasons underpinning why people turn to veganism. The health reasons, the ethics and environmental reasons are all discussed.
This is a great documentary that documents the journey of 6 Americans with diabetes as they switch to raw vegan diets in an attempt to reverse this disease. The participants give up meat, dairy, eggs, processed foods, nicotine, caffeine and all cooked foods for 30 days. The results are startling. A must watch for anyone who has diabetes or who has family members battling with the disease.
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Vegan blogs are a great! And vegan blogs are also one of the main reasons that veganism has grown so much over the last 10 years. They inspire people to make fundamental and lasting changes in their lives.
There are now thousands of blogs to choose from. Blogs on nutrition, health, animal rights, recipes, environmental issues…..the list is endless.
I am often struck and blown away by how creative these blogs are now becoming and the direction they are now taking veganism. I am even getting friends and family saying to me: “oh, I cooked a recipe that I found on such and such a blog and it was delicious”. Times are clearly changing.
Below I have compiled a list of my favourite vegan blogs. I have put them into 3 categories: health and nutrition, recipes and environment and animals.
I am always on the lookout for new blogs to get inspired by, so if I have missed any good ones, then please leave a comment in the comments section below and I will update this list on a regular basis.
(Just as an FYI – the blogs are in no particular order!)
Dr John McDougall has one of the most inspirational vegan blogs on the internet and he inspires me more than most. His blog has tons of information covering everything from recipes, health education, a nutrition program, success stories about people who have reversed chronic diseases, apps, videos, podcasts, discussion boards and even a shop where you can buy nutritious food. If you are looking to regain your health or get healthy, then this is the first place you should stop.
Nutrition Facts is a website run by Dr Michael Greger. This website and blog is one of my favourite health resources on the internet. Dr Greger is a physician and bestselling author. He is also an internationally renowned public speaker. Nutrition Facts.Org provides daily blogs and videos on the latest nutrition research. The information is presented in easy to understand way that leaves you informed and ready to take on the world. Again, if you want to lead a healthy life, regain your health or simply want to understand the best foods to eat for optimal health then visit the blog and website. Dr Gregers latest book: How Not To Die is also a must read!
Dr Neal Barnard is another leading physician who advocates a plant and vegan based diet. Neal Barnard set up the Physicians Committee which is a leading revolution in the world of medicine. The committee has a membership of over 12,000 physicians and doctors and also has over 150,000 committed members from all around the world. The Committee aims to educate doctors about how modern diseases can be treated and reversed on plant based diets. All diseases are looked at from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. By putting prevention at the forefront of Dr’s minds, the committee empowers Dr’s and patients to take control of their own lives.
The Center for Nutrition Studies was set up in 2007 by Dr Colin Campbell. The Center was set up following a lifetimes worth of nutrition research and the world famous China Study (if you have never read it then buy it!). The centre also runs one of my favourite vegan blogs which provides daily and weekly articles on everything from health and nutrition, recipes, plant based nutrition courses and lots of other useful information. A very good nutrition resource!
Ok, not strictly a blog, but this entry was always going to be in my list. The website is a great resource for health articles and scientific facts as well as plant based recipes. The website was born out of the bestselling documentary also titled: Fork Over Knives. If you haven’t seen the film, where have you been the last 10 years? The film and website examine the claim (or as I like to call it – truth) that most degenerative diseases today are caused by poor nutrition and that most of these diseases can indeed be controlled, prevented and reversed by removing animal based foods from your diet. This is where it all started for me. If you have been thinking about transitioning to a vegan diet then I strongly recommend you watch the film, if you haven’t already done so (available on Netflix in most countries).
The blog is run by Robert Cheeke, a 36-year-old vegan bodybuilder from the U.S. Robert turned vegan at 15 and between 1995 and 2003 had gained 75 pounds in muscle following the adoption of a plant based diet. On the blog there is so much information if you are looking to build healthy muscle on a plant based diet. There is everything from meal plans, forums, articles and a nice resources section. Robert is one of many who are dispelling the myth that vegans are “weak and skinny”. Definitely worth a look……even if you aren’t into bodybuilding!
The Oh She Glows vegan blog was created by Angela Liddon, a leading bestseller author. For over 6 years Angela has created over 600 recipes (all free) that enable people to live healthier lifestyles. Her goal is to encourage more people to transition to plant-based diets by developing mouth-watering vegan recipes. Her recipes are also great for parents who are trying to get their children to eat healthier foods (her recipes work a treat on even the pickiest of children). Most of the recipes on the blog are also gluten free and allergy friendly!
Laura Millers blog (Raw. Vegan. Not Gross) is one of the most vibrant vegan blogs on the internet. Laura Miller is an American vegan who has had well over 87 different jobs before stumbling on her real passion in life. Predominantly raw vegan recipes. Her recipes are bright, colourful and super tasty. Oh, and highly nutritious. She also has a series on Tastemade, which is EPIC. So check it out!
If you love a vegan blog with tons of attitude, then look no further. But be warned. The content contains more expletives than a wound up Gordon Ramsey. If you have a great sense of humour and love delicious and affordable recipes, then this is the blog for you.
Dreena has been vegan for well over 20 years. During this period, she has built up a substantial recipe portfolio that includes a number of bestselling books. Her recipes are centred around bringing families together with whole-food recipes that look and taste great.
If you love tasty food with minimal fuss, then this is your blog. The website is the brainchild of Dana and John (married) who wanted to offer one-bowl recipes that can be made from scratch in under 30 minutes (and who doesn’t need this in their lives!). The food photography on this website is stunning, so give it a glance. But be warned, you will salivate!
The Post Punk Kitchen was actually a TV cooking show that aired for 2 years between 2003-2005. Fortunately for all of us, when the show was stopped, the website and blog went full steam ahead. This has resulted in a number of well received cookbooks. The blog is run by Isa Chandra Moskowitz who is also a bestselling vegan cookbook author.
The vegan Yack Attack blog is run by Jackie Sobon. It covers a wide spectrum of vegan recipes from delicious desserts, nutritious meal ideas and even raw recipes for those raw veganists. There is literally something for everyone. I love how simplistic and appetising many of the recipes are. Give it a look over!
What a couple of years it has been for Ella Woodward. It was only a few years back In 2011 that she was diagnosed with a serious disease (Postural Tachycardia Syndrome POTS). She was bed-bound and exhausted. After trying medications for 6 months she soon realised that this wasn’t going to be her solution. So she began her journey. After experimenting with her diet and removing meat, dairy, eggs and gluten, she was able to come off all her medications within 18 months of her diagnosis. The Deliciously Ella blog was born during this period and has gone from strength to strength. Ella also has some amazing cookbooks (that Mrs Goji & I love). If you have never been on Ella’s website…..go there now!
Bitter Sweet is a great vegan blog with a focus around sweet treats (a must for those with a sweet tooth). Although the focus is all things sweet, it wouldn’t be fair to not mention that the blog also contains great savoury and fresh vegetable dishes for those wanting to rustle up something quick and nutritious.
Vegan Richa is run by Richa Hingle, an award winning blogger and photographer. She has featured in Oprah.com, VegNews.com, Cosmopolitan and Huffington Post to name a few. Richa has been blogging since 2009 following a career in software development and also following a potentially fatal brain tumour diagnosis. Richa went plant based in 2010 and has never looked back. Her recipes and blog is simply stunning. I love the quote she gave on her blog when asked why vegan. She responded: “I couldn’t directly or indirectly cause extreme suffering and death of any other animal or human when there are alternatives”. Amen to that!
I love food photography and I am continually looking for creative inspirations. If you share this passion too then I can’t recommend strongly enough that you pay a visit to Pickles and Honey. This is one of the best vegan blogs on the internet for recipes and stunning photography. It will literally leave you drooling! Enjoy!
Gluten Free Girl is the blog of Solveig, a 20-year-old vegan blogger. She started the blog at 16 after discovering she had developed a gluten sensitivity. The blog chronicles the journey of Solveig and provides lots of tips and information for anyone who thinks they have health problems associated with gluten. There are lots of stunning gluten free recipes from: breads, breakfast ideas, desserts, cakes, cookies, pies and tarts, sweet treats, main courses, raw vegan ideas, soups and spreads. Basically this is a great collection for those wanting to avoid gluten!
This is another one of my favourite vegan blogs and it is a great site for those of you that love food photography. I have slight blog envy if truth be told lol. I love the food outlook that Sara and Hugh have, minimal intervention and freshly prepared. They have recipes for every taste and persuasion. Appetizers, sides, summer, winter, breakfast, beverages, salads and baby foods. You name it, they have it.
The Fig Tree Blog is run by Winnipegger Courtney and was a predominantly vegetarian based blog until Winnipegger was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. Soon after she went vegan. She said goodbye to meat, dairy and eggs and she’s never felt so good. The blog contains lots of great recipe ideas as well as some stunning photography. A great all-round blog!
Keepin It Kind is a blog by Kristy and Chris. I love the whole ethos of the blog from start to finish. Kristy was a self-confessed meat, dairy and eggs lover and the thought of going vegan filled her with fear. In her early 20’s she transitioned to be vegetarian and struggled to give up cheese. Eventually she transitioned fully to a vegan diet and now her and Chris (photographer) make stunning recipes accompanied by visually pleasing food snaps. Stop by and say hello to Kristy and Chris!
Is a great vegan blog for those who have dietary restrictions. The blog is run by Cara and she states that: “My hope in starting this blog was to create a site where people with dietary restrictions will not only feel normal, but find that eating without certain ingredients can still be good”. Here, here to that! And the blog certainly delivers on that front. There are lots of breakfast recipes, bread recipes, copycat treats, cookies and bars, snacks, all raw recipes, ice cream, chocolate recipes and side dishes…….to name a few.
I love Vegan is run by Brittany and William, a young married couple from Canada. Their goal is to make living a vegan lifestyle as simple and sustainable as possible. They are both passionate about veganism and they are both passionate about food photography. They have some great vegan recipes and some vegan resources on their blog, so stop by and say hi!
The Colorful Kitchen is a great blog that is based on great plant based recipes that are mainly gluten free. The blog is run by Ilene (a certified health coach) and Ilene is a firm believer in listening to the body and making choices based on what the body is telling you to do. There are lots of great recipe ideas on The Colorful Kitchen: smoothies, breakfast recipes, baked goods recipes, raw food recipes, desserts and also great holiday recipes.
The Cowspiracy blog is one of the best vegan blogs on the internet that highlights the destructive consequences that animal agriculture is having on the planet. The blog and website is born out of the critically acclaimed film: Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. If you haven’t seen it then get yourself on Netflix NOW! As most of us know, animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and produces more greenhouse gases than all of the transportation industries combined. The blog is a great resource that takes these facts one step further and provides daily and weekly articles around highlighting further issues born out of the animal agriculture industry. A great blog and resource for all vegans.
Get Vegucated is a leading blog from the makers of Vegucated. Vegucated is a critically acclaimed film following the journey of three meat and dairy loving New Yorkers as they follow a vegan diet for six weeks (a must see film!). The blog contains lots of great information from resource pages to communities that you can get involved in. There is also lots of great articles that will help you keep informed on everything vegan!
ADAPTT was formed in 1996 by Gary Yourofsky. Gary is a leading animal rights activist and to date has given over 2,600 lectures to well over 60,000 people and his YouTube videos have been viewed millions of times on the internet. Despite being arrested numerous times and being banned from 5 countries, Gary still continues to motivate and inspire. His website and blog is a great resource for anyone who thinks I wish I had an answer for that vegan question. There is information on plant based diets, animal rights, recipes, videos and other great presentation materials. A great all round source of information.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a UK based charity that is run to protect the rights of all animals. PETA campaigns tirelessly via research, legislation, events, public education and even celebrity involvement campaigns to highlight the mistreatment of animals all around the world. Their blog is one of my go to sites to keep up to date on animal activism information and I strongly urge you to stop by on their blog at least once a week!
One of the questions I most get asked is how I eat out as a vegan……and where are my favourite vegan restaurants. Now before I go any further I just want to caveat and say that I still have a lot of challenges in this area (so I totally understand your struggles and frustrations). Even today as I write this (21st July 2016), I find that my experiences of restaurants and even so called “vegan restaurants” are often hit and miss. The good news is that so many more restaurants and chefs are becoming educated on veganism, allergies and other dietary restrictions. And this will only continue to improve as demand increases over the coming years. I very much look forward to (as I am sure you do too), when I can walk into any restaurant and be spoilt for choice. Unfortunately, this is still probably a few years away. Until then, please feel free to use some of my tips and tricks below to make eating out a little bit easier.
1. It All Starts With The Internet – Happy Cow
If you are looking for a vegan restaurant or a vegan friendly restaurant to visit, then my top tip will always be to have a look on Happy Cow. Simply type in the area you live or the area you are visiting. You will then get a nice list of vegan and veg friendly restaurants. You will also get reviews and ratings, so you can get a feel of what people are saying about the restaurant. And always feed back into the system. If you had a good or bad experience then write a review. If the vegan restaurant or veg friendly restaurant didn’t have a particularly good selection of food, then write a review. The only way restaurants will change is when they can see a demand for vegan food or vegan friendly options.
2. Plan, Plan & Plan
If you are going out with friends who aren’t vegan or vegetarian or out for a family members birthday, then the restaurant wont always be vegan friendly (and I have had my fair share of these). A good tip here would be to have a look at the restaurants online menu (most restaurants now do these). This will enable you to have a look at any menu items that can be veganized. Make a note of these.
3. Buzz The Restaurant
Sometimes looking at an online menu wont be too fruitful. If this is the case then call the restaurant in advance and ask whether they can help you with your vegan requirements. Sometimes they will just play lip service to get you through the door. There have been many restaurants I have called who have said that then can cater for all dietary requirements……and when I got there the options were very poor. My tip for avoiding this is when you call, be very specific about what your likes and preferences are.
4. The Hidden Menu
One of the most frustrating elements about some restaurants is that they have hidden menus (go figure!). So they might have a vegan or vegetarian menu but they won’t put it on the table unless they are specifically asked for it. This won’t always be the case, but don’t feel bad for asking if they have a separate menu for your dietary preference.
5. It’s All About The Sides
If you are really struggling with the main options, then have a look at the sides. This can be particularly frustrating and might mean ordering a few side dishes as a main meal, but at least you won’t go hungry or be the only one not eating at the table.
6. Worst Case Scenario
Sometimes you will look at Happy Cow, look at the online menu, phone in advance and still your options might be severely limited. If this is the case eat a light meal before you go out. I do this to ensure that I am not hungry all evening.
7. Top Tip: Indian, Thai & Mexican
I have always found that Mexican, Indian and Thai restaurants have a lot more “vegan restaurant” options as these populations tend to eat less meat, dairy and eggs compared to those countries on “standard western diets”. Even when a particular dish has an undesirable ingredient, the restaurant can usually replace this with a vegan option without compromising on the flavour.
8. Things Will Only Improve With Reviews
I have got into the habit of writing short reviews because I believe this is the only way that restaurants will improve and become more accommodating to those of us who choose to be vegan. And we all know the power that social media can have. Therefore, if you have a good or bad experience then write a review on Happy Cow. If the restaurant doesn’t appear on Happy Cow then write a review on one of their social media profiles. I can guarantee that restaurant owners will be monitoring reviews and social media profiles closely because they certainly won’t want bad reviews or to lose money because they can’t accommodate a certain group of people.
9. Focus On The People
If I go to a restaurant that I know isn’t vegan friendly then I will always have very low expectations. This is extremely frustrating at times. But what you need to focus on is having fun with your friends and family and avoid drawing attention to yourself and appearing as that “stroppy vegan”. Do your research, speak to the restaurant, read the reviews, be proactive and if necessary eat before you go out. But ultimately the most important part of the experience of visiting a vegan restaurant or a veg friendly restaurant is spending quality time with your loved ones.
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Does cooking vegetables remove nutrients? The short answer is that it depends on which vegetables we are talking about!
We all should strive to eat a combination of raw and cooked vegetables on a daily basis to receive the maximum amount of nutrition possible.
Most of us are aware that when we cook food the chemical and physical composition can be greatly altered. For some vegetables the cooking process causes a loss of nutrients through leaching and degradation. For other vegetables it can be beneficial for us, as cooking can increase absorption rates as it helps soften cell walls and other food components (1).
We are all taught in school that some nutrients in food can be damaged by the effects of oxidisation, heat, light or a combination of the three. For example, vitamin C tends to be the nutrient most susceptible to damage through cooking. When you cook leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, roughly 30% of the vitamin C content is lost (2). B-Vitamins, antioxidants and folate are also particularly susceptible to heat damage. Alternatively, we know that fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E & K) are less prone to degradation as they are more stable when subjected to cooking (3).
Another area of nutrition that we are beginning to understand better are the glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables. When the plant cell walls are broken down fully (either by chopping or chewing), glucosinolates are converted into isothiocyanates (ITC’s – which have potent anti-cancer properties). It is important to mention here that heat de-activates the enzyme (myrosinase) that enables this conversation, so it is important that the vegetables are finely chopped or blended before cooking (ideally blended). We know that blending your greens and adding them to stews and soups generates the most isothiocyanates. It also appears that steaming instead of stir-frying and boiling your greens will result in minimal glucosinate loss in broccoli, but as always, try and subject the vegetable to as little heat as possible. Another tip for you to remember is that when you deactivate the myrosinase through heat, you will need to add in some more raw cruciferous vegetables (such as shredded cabbage) in order to produce more isothiocycanates (4).
And then we come to carotenoids. Most of the common carotenoids (lycopene, alpha and beta) tend to be fairly heat stable and you will actually increase your uptake of the compounds by cooking as they become more absorbable to the body. This is because lycopene, alpha and beta-carotenoids (and all carotenoids) are contained in plant cells in quite a rigid structure. To remove the compounds you have to literally “shake them out” which is what the heating and blending process does (5). It also appears that vitamin E is more accessible to the body following the cooking process (6). Recent studies on those who eat only raw foods have shown that they have lower levels of lycopene and other carotenoids in their bodies, compared to those who ate a mixture of raw and cooked. The study also showed that you can increase the amount of carotenoids in your body by adding fat to the meal (nuts and avocados are great choices) (7).
But it’s not just the cooking process that can lead to nutrient degradation. Storing foods in an incorrect manner can also increase the nutrients lost. It is common sense that if you ship produce from the other side of the world, compared to buying local produce, the food will have lost a much greater proportion of its nutritional value. If the vegetables have been frozen before being shipped, then on average they will contain lower levels of vitamin B1, B2, B3 vitamin C (because of the blanching process). With that being said, once you freeze the vegetables, the nutrients that are lost due to the storage process are minimal.
Freezing fruit has even greater benefits. This is because fruits are not subjected to the blanching process before being frozen. This means that they hold on to a larger proportion of their antioxidants (such as flavonoids) (2).
Another point to consider when looking at nutrient loss is that of boiling and steaming certain foods. You may not destroy the nutrients during heating, but you will lose nutrients through the leaching process. This is precisely why soups are so effective for holding onto nutrients (as long as you don’t over-cook).
Also pay particular attention to not cooking vegetables (or any food for that matter) at too high a temperature. This can cause the food to brown and burn which can increase the amount of acrylamide in the food. Acrylamide is a carcinogen that is commonly produced in overcooked starchy foods (particularly potatoes).
As a general rule of thumb I always advise people to eat a wide range of cooked and raw vegetables to maximise the amount of nutrients absorbed. If you are eating large salads on a daily basis and lots of soups and stews then you probably won’t be going too far wrong. Add in the healthy fats to increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E &K).
Suggested Cooking Methods
Cook greens in a steamer for no more than 10 minutes
For vegetables like parsnips, carrots and potatoes: add to stews or soups to avoid nutrient loss through leaching. If you want to bake them ensure you don’t overcook them.
Steam mushrooms for no more than 10 minutes or add to soups or stews.
Blend or puree cruciferous greens and onions before adding them to stews and soups.
For vegetables like butternut squash bake at low temperatures for approximately one hour (depending on oven). Cook around 160 degrees celsius (325 fahrenheit).