Can You Thrive On A Vegan Diet?

Vegan options on every menu, vegan foods in every supermarket, and most of us probably have at least one friend who’s a vegan. Vegan eating is more popular than ever, but can you meet all your nutritional needs if you avoid all animal foods?

Once considered fringe, vegan eating is one of the most in-vogue dietary trends. About one per cent of the world’s population identify as vegan, which means they don’t eat any foods of animal origin including meat, fish, eggs and diary food. While this may seem a small number, it has been increasing rapidly over the past few years.

Sales of meat-free and diary-free foods are booming, with even fast food chains cashing in by offering vegan options. It’s predicted that the global vegan food market will be worth US$24.3 billion by 2026.

 

Why are plants becoming so popular?

A Mintel survey in the U.K found health, weight management, animal welfare and environmental concerns were the big motivators for people to switch to vegan eating. There’s plenty of evidence that eating more plant foods – vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains – coupled with a reduced consumption of animal foods, is good for our health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. But you don’t have to become vegan to eat more plants. Along with full-time veganism, flexitarianism – part-time vegetarianism or veganism – is also becoming more mainstream.

Eliminating all meat, fish, diary and eggs from your diet will mean cutting out valuable sources of nutrients. So, if you’re following a vegan diet, can you meet all your nutritional needs?

Yes, you can, says US vegan dietitian Brenda Davis, a leader in the field of vegan nutrition. But you need to plan. One of the mistakes vegans make, she says, is ignoring the nutrients of concern. You need to make sure that the main nutrients found in foods you’re no longer eating – meat, fish, diary and eggs – are being replaced by plant sources.

Clare Collins, professor of nutrition at the University of Newcastle, agrees. She says vegans must pay strict attention to what they eat and understand food better than the average omnivore or even vegetarian.

What are the nutrients you need to watch out for if you opt for a vegan diet?


Vitamin B12

This is an incredibly important vitamin but one that’s only available from animal foods such as meat, fish, diary and eggs, or in the form of supplements. Trace amounts may be found in some plant foods such as mushrooms that may be contaminated by soil or insects, but these are not reliable sources for vegans, says Davis. “The only reliable sources for vegans are supplements and fortified foods,” she says.

“You don’t want to end up with a B12 deficiency,” says Professor Collins. B12 is vital for making DNA, fatty acids, red blood cells and neurotransmitters – chemicals that pass signals around the brain.

While a deficiency may manifest first as vague symptoms like light-headedness and tiredness, it can progress to mood changes like depression and nerve problems like numbness, pain and loss of taste and smell.


Iron

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world. This essential mineral is best known for its role in transporting oxygen around our bodies in red blood cells, so if you’re deficient you’re going to feel tired and lethargic, lack the ability to concentrate, and have a lowered immunity to any bug going around.

Plants do contain iron – it’s found in foods like legumes and beans, seeds and dried fruit – but it’s in a form that isn’t as well absorbed as the iron found in meat. This means vegans and vegetarians are more at risk of deficiency if they are not careful with their diet. One simple way to help your body absorb more plant iron is by including a source of vitamin C with your meal. Vegetables like red capsicum and broccoli, and fruit such as oranges, kiwis and strawberries all contain good amounts of vitamin C.

Professor Collins also recommends avoiding cups of tea immediately after meals. “The tannins and the phytates in the tea actually interfere with the absorption of the iron,” she says.


Calcium

Calcium is important for bone health, heart health, muscles and nerves. Diary foods provide a rich source for omnivores so if you don’t replace diary foods with calcium-rich plants, your body will ‘steal’ calcium from your bones putting you at risk of osteoporosis (brittle, weak bones) later in life. One important study, the EPIC-Oxford study, found that vegans who consumed less than 525mg calcium per day had a 30 per cent increase in fracture risk compared to non-vegetarians. Calcium-rich plant foods include tofu, low-oxalate greens (such as broccoli, bok choy, and kale), calcium-fortified non-diary drinks, almonds, sesame seeds (tahini), and figs.


Long chain omega 3 fats

Omega-3 fats are particularly important for the health of your brain, eyes and cell membranes. The most well-known sources include fish and seafood, which are rich in two types of omega 3 fats called EPA and DHA.

Plant foods typically only contain another type of omega 3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which our bodies must convert to EPA and DHA. But this conversion process is quite inefficient, which means that you must eat a good amount of ALA-rich foods to get enough omega-3s.

If you’re switching to a vegan diet, make sure you have plenty of chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and linseeds (flaxseeds). You can use chia seeds and ground linseeds as egg substitutes in baking. You may also want to consider a supplement of algal oil, which contains EPA and DHA, particularly if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Note: If you’re following a vegan diet, it’s worth mentioning it to your GP so they can check for any early sign of deficiencies, particularly B12 and iron.

Stay Safe Around Electricity

You flick the switch for your toast at breakfast, mid-morning coffee, and to print those important documents, taking the convenience of electrical equipment for granted. Yet the electricity in regular businesses and homes has enough power to cause injury or death by electrocution.


Humans conduct electricity very well. This means that electricity can easily pass through our bodies, causing injuries that can include cardiac arrest, burns and muscle, nerve and tissue damage.

Of course, some industries and workers are at higher risk of electrical injury with the risk of injury strongly linked to where and how electricity is used. The risks are generally higher if electrical equipment is used in situations that expose the equipment to moisture, heat, vibration, mechanical damage, corrosive chemicals and dust.

What are some general safety tips for working with or near electricity?

  • Water and electricity don’t mix. Ensure your hands are dry before touching appliances or switches, don’t touch electrical appliances if you are near water, and never use or leave electrical appliances where they can fall into water.
  • Always turn off the appliance before removing the plug from a power point, and hold the plug, not the cord.

  • Tape extension cords to walls or floors when necessary, or use a cover to prevent crushing or other damage in pedestrian and vehicle areas.
  • Avoid over-loading power points. Use only one double adaptor per power point.
  • Be aware that unusually warm or hot outlets or cords may be a sign that there is unsafe wiring. Unplug any cords or extension cords from these outlets and don’t use them until a qualified electrician has checked the wiring.



Inspect, test and tag

Inspecting and testing of electrical equipment can save lives by identifying faults. Many electrical defects, such as damaged cords, can be detected just by examining them, but regular inspection by a licensed person can pick up electrical faults and deterioration you can’t see. Specified electrical equipment and safety switches need to be tested at regular intervals according to the type of work they are used for.

How To Get Things Done

We all procrastinate. We do less urgent tasks in preference to the more urgent ones, or pleasurable jobs in place of less pleasurable ones. But for some of us, procrastination can stop us performing well at work, or might even make us delay seeking medical treatment.


There are many reasons people put off doing tasks. Some are just too overwhelming, complex or boring (such as your tax return), while we avoid others because we’re distracted or fatigues, or we fear we won’t do them well.

Procrastination isn’t a character flaw, laziness or poor time management, argue some psychologists, but rather it’s a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks. By putting off the task, we get rid of the bad feeling, whether it’s anxiety, fear, boredom, frustration, or self-doubt.

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” said Dr Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.


Unfortunately putting off the task only makes the negative associations we have with it worse, which contributes to further procrastination. It can also generate worry, guilt and stress which along with affecting your productivity, may also impact your mental health.

So what can you do if you think you might be a habitual procrastinator?

 

Forgive yourself.

Research suggests this one of the most effective things that you can do. In a study by Dr Pychyl and his colleagues, students who reported forgiving themselves for procrastinating on studying for a first exam ended by procrastinating less for a second exam. This works because procrastination is linked to negative feelings, the researchers say. Forgiving yourself can reduce the guilt you feel about procrastinating, which is one of the main triggers for procrastinating in the first place.

 

Don’t wait until you are in the right mood.

One of the most important things, advises Dr Pychyl, is to recognise that you don’t have to be in the mood to do a certain task.

“Most of us seem to tacitly believe that our emotional state has to match the task at hand,” says Dr Pychyl. But that’s just not true. Recognise that you’re rarely going to feel like it, he advises, and that it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like it.

 

Start with one small step.

Even if it’s a tiny action such as working for 10 to 15 minutes on a task, a little progress will make you feel better about the job ahead and increase your self-esteem, which in turn reduces your need to procrastinate to make yourself feel better.

“We can’t deny our feelings, but we can pay less attention to them… and our research has shown that getting started is key,” says Dr Pychyl.

3 Ways to Boost Your Memory

Frustrated that your once excellent memory seems to be failing you? Perhaps you’re studying and struggling to learn new facts, often forget where you’ve left your keys or phone, or people’s names escape you. Here are three ways to help improve your memory.


1.       1. Get moving. We know that regular exercise has numerous benefits. Now we can add brain function, including memory, to that list. In an analysis of previous studies, University of Canberra researchers found that aerobic exercise improved cognitive abilities in the over 50s, such as thinking, reading, learning and reasoning, while strength training improved memory. Study author Joe Northey believed the findings were convincing enough to enable both types of exercise to be prescribed to improve brain health in the over 50s. New research has even found that memory improves immediately after a short, single bout of exercise, although the benefit is only temporary.

2.       2. Tweak your diet. What you eat affects how well your brain functions – just as it affects every other organ in your body. The MIND diet is an approach with the goal of reducing dementia and age-related decline in brain health. Like the Mediterranean diet, it focuses on vegetables and wholefoods, but also singles out specific brain-healthy food groups. These include green leafy vegetables – such as spinach, rocket, kale, and silverbeet; all berries (especially blueberries); and oily fish high in omega-3 fats known to help control inflammation in the brain. What you don’t eat is just as important. The hippocampus is a part of your brain that’s key to your memory. Studies show that diets high in junk and processed foods (think lots of sugar, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates) appear to shrink the hippocampus, while healthy diets are associated with larger hippocampal volume.

3. Do nothing. When trying to memorise new material, most of us assume that the more work we put into it, the better we will perform. But we’d be better off taking breaks and literally doing nothing, say researchers. Just sit back and enjoy 10 to 15 minutes of quiet contemplation immediately after reading the material, and your memory of the facts you’ve just learnt will be far better than if you’d attempted to use that time more productively. The emphasis here is on doing nothing – no running errands, checking emails or surfing the web – as this gives your brain a chance for a complete recharge.


While the exact method is still unknown, we know that once memories are initially encoded, they pass through a period of consolidation that cements them in long-term storage. It was previously believed that this happened primarily during sleep, but research has since found that similar brain activity occurs during periods of wakeful rest, too.

Is Cancer Linked to Your Diet?

By the time we reach our 85th birthday, one in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. The statistics may make grim reading, but the fact is that the choices we make in life – including what we eat – can prevent at least one in three cancers.


Thanks to the success of public health messages, we know that the dangers of smoking and excess sun exposure and how they increase our risk of lung and skin cancer. But what you put on your plate should be on that list too, as cancer experts become more aware of the important role diet plays in cancer.

Some foods have hit the headlines because of their anti-cancer properties – among the better-known ones are broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables. Healthy as these foods are, it’s unlikely that there are ‘magic bullet’ specific foods or nutrients that in themselves cause or protect against cancer, says Dr Kate Allen, World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International’s Executive Director of Science & Public Affairs.

“Rather, different patterns of diet and physical activity combine to create a metabolic state that makes you more or less susceptible to cancer,” she says.

In 2018 the WCRF published the landmark report Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective, the result of an ongoing review of decades of evidence by independent experts from across the globe.


According to Dr Allen, these are the key messages we need to take from that report.

1. Avoid the gradual weight gain through healthy eating and exercise.

There are at least 12 cancers linked to excess weight, including liver, breast, prostate and kidney cancer.

2. Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and beans. The dietary patterns consistently linked to lower rates of cancer are high in these foods, says Dr Allen.



3. Limit consumptions of ‘fast foods’, red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks and alcohol. Fast food and sugar-sweetened drinks fuel overweight and obesity, red and processed meats are linked with colorectal cancer and alcohol is a cause of six different types of cancer.

4. Do not rely on supplements for cancer prevention. Aim instead to get everything you need from your diet, advises Dr Allen.

Eat More, Bin Less

You start the week with good intentions, stocking up on fruit and vegetables to get your daily recommended servings. Then life gets in the way. By Friday you find yourself binning not only fruit and vegetables, but excess bread, milk and eggs.

Globally, an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year. That’s a staggering one-third of all food produced for human consumption, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. And it doesn’t just damage our household budget, it affects the planet too.


Food in landfill

Fewer than three out of 10 of us recognise the impact food waste has on the environment. When food goes into landfill, it decomposes and produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide. If you can, compost your food waste (even small balconies can accommodate a worm farm) or investigate whether your local council collects food scraps for compost. According to the FAO, home composting has the potential to divert up to 150kg of food waste per household annually.


What are we doing wrong?

1. We cook too much food.

Solution: Unless you’ll be eating the leftovers within a few days, or plan to freeze them, cook for your needs.

2. We throw out perfectly good food.

Solution: You don’t necessarily have to throw out foods as soon as they reach the ‘best-before’ date. There’s a difference between use-by dates and best-before dates. Foods stamped with a use-by date should be eaten or frozen by this date as they are more perishable. But foods with a best-before date can be eaten after this date, as they are less perishable and usually perfectly acceptable.

3. We don’t know how to use food that’s past its best

Solution: Revive wilted vegetables by plunging them in a bowl of iced water. Use them to make pesto, curry or soup, fry them up with garlic, blend them into a smoothie, or make them into a vegetable soup. Lightly cook fruit that’s gone soft, then use them to top your morning muesli or weekend pancakes, layer with natural yoghurt, make into muffins or crumbles, or use to fill a fruit tart.

4. We buy takeaways at the last minute before cooking the food we have at home

Solution: Search online for recipes that take 20 minutes or less – and plan them in advance.

5. We buy too much food.

Solution:

  • check the cupboard and fridge before shopping so you don’t double up
  • shop with a meal plan and a list and stick to it,
  • only buy in bulk if you can use it before it spoils
  • don’t shop when you’re hungry, as studies show you’ll buy more food than you need.

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Do we need to walk 10,000 steps a day?

It’s become something of a magic number. Walk 10,000 steps a day we’re told, to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. But can we still get fit by doing less?

Thanks to activity trackers, step counters and smart phone apps, we’re seldom in the dark about how many steps we’ve clocked up. Many of us don’t have time to fit in 10,000 steps (the equivalent of eight kilometres), and for the one in five of us who don’t reach this number, there’s some good news.

First, there’s not much science behind 10,000 steps. It was part of a marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer company in the 1060s, a way of encouraging people to increase the time they spent walking every day. Being a nice round number, the idea took off, both in Japan and across the world.

Second, our public health guidelines promote at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day. This translates to between 3,000 and 4,000 steps. The more you do, however, the more you’ll benefit, and you’ll notice improvements in your fitness as you increase your daily step count.


Pace may be just as important

As fixated as we get with reaching a target step count, our pace is just as important, says Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health. "There's a big difference between doing a slow-paced 10,000 steps and a brisk walk of 7,000 steps," he told ABC online.

“To be considered moderate intensity, in general most adults need to take 100 steps per minute,” Professor Stamatakis explains.

Moderate intensity is a pace where you’re able to notice your breathing but can carry on a conversation without noticeable pauses between words. Many people think of this as a brisk walk. You’ll get even fitter if you up your pace to a vigorous intensity. This means you can talk to a friend but will be interrupted with noticeable pauses between words to take a breath. That’s about 130 steps per minute, according to Professor Stamatakis.

Tame Your Inner Critic

Is your inner bully quick to point out when you’re failing at what you’re doing? If you’re often secretly assaulted by self-doubt – that voice inside telling you you’re not good enough – know that you’re not alone, and that there are ways to turn down your internal critic.

No one gets through life without making mistakes. Or without failing, getting rejected, feeling guilty or not living up to expectations. It’s part of being human. Yet many of us will respond to these common experiences by criticising ourselves harshly.

For some of us the inner critic appears every now and again, while for others it’s a never-ending chatter of such ferocity that it undermines how we feel about ourselves and our effectiveness in life and work. This voice can be especially loud for anyone experiencing anxiety or depression.

Psychologist Sabina Read believes that we all have an internal critic. “But that doesn’t mean that the inner critic is always giving us valid messages. Often, if you’re living with symptoms of anxiety or depression that inner critic will seem louder.”


So what do you do to recognise and challenge the inner critic?

1.   Notice the negative self-talk. It’s easy to allow your mind to ruin your day, so give yourself the conscious goal of catching yourself saying negative things.

1.      2.   Don’t believe everything your inner critic is saying. Remember that your thoughts are not facts. “When the critic is on high-repeat we just take it as gospel that whatever’s being said must be the truth and we don’t stop to challenge it,” explains Ms Read. “Then there’s a reinforcing loopback because physically or emotionally our body responds, and we feel sick in the stomach and it makes us think that the fact is even more watertight.”

2.     3.   Take your thoughts to court. This means looking at the evidence for what your inner voice is saying, suggests Ms Read. “If you wandered into a courtroom and said, ‘Well, I’m just hopeless, there’s no way I’ll be able to thrive in this relationship or cope in this job’, it’s unlikely a judge and jury would accept such a sweeping statement. The legal team would say, ‘Where’s the evidence for that?’ And if there was no evidence your case would be thrown out of court.”

3.       4.   Speak to yourself with kindness. According to self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, the antidote for self-criticism is self-compassion. This means treating and talking to yourself kindly, as you would your close friends, and accepting your imperfections along with your strengths.

4.       Self-compassion has been shown to reduce negative emotions and highly self-critical thinking across numerous studies.

5.       “Self-compassion involves valuing yourself in a deep way, making choices that lead to wellbeing in the long term,” says Neff.

Neff and Christopher Germer’s 2019 research shows that people who offer themselves self-compassion are more able to cope with tough situations like illness, divorce, and loss of job, and are more likely to engage in healthier lifestyle behaviours such as eating nutritious food and exercising.

6.       5.  Seek out your supports. When your inner critic is at its loudest, check in with a supportive friend, colleague or family member. Develop a shortlist of people you trust and can count on to offer encouragement and compassion when you need it.

7.       6.   Focus on the things you do well. If you’re constantly looking for information that confirms you’re not good enough, you’ll find it. Instead focus your attention elsewhere, on the skills you do have. It can be hard to see your own skills because they’ve been with you for so long you think everyone has them. But they don’t. Each night, write down in a journal three things you did well that day – look at these whenever your critic is particularly loud.

8.       7.   Be kind to yourself with self-care. Give yourself some time everyday for your mental and physical wellbeing. For example, schedule time to take a walk (even if it’s only for 10 minutes), read a book, go for a swim, break for a coffee, do some yoga, or practise meditation.

Stroke’s Early Warning Signs

It kills more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer. Yet how much do they really know about stroke?

Every year, over 15 million people globally suffer stroke. That person could be your friend, workmate, family member, or even yourself.

 

Use the FAST test

Being able to quickly identify the signs of stroke is essential, because the faster you get to hospital for treatment, the better your chance of survival and of making a good recovery.

To help you recognise stroke symptoms and act quickly, there’s a simple acronym everyone should learn, says the Stroke Foundation – the word FAST:

Face: Check their face. Has their mouth drooped? Can they smile?

Arms: Can they lift both arms?

Speech: Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?

Time: Is critical. If you see any of these signs call emergency services straight away.


The most common signs of stroke are facial weakness, arm weakness and difficulty with speech. But they are not only signs. Other signs that may occur alone or in combination include:

  • weakness
  • numbness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg
  • dizziness
  • loss of balance, or an unexplained fall
  • loss of vision
  • sudden blurring or decreased vision
  • headache, often severe and abrupt
  • difficulty swallowing

A stroke is always a medical emergency. Don’t put off calling an ambulance, even if you think you’re making a fuss over nothing, or the signs disappear within a short space of time. If you suspect stroke, no matter how long the symptoms last, call emergency services immediately. The longer a stroke remains untreated, the greater the chance of stroke-related brain damage.

 

Over 80% of strokes can be prevented

High blood pressure is the most important known risk factor for stroke. Reduce your risk by making time for a health check with your GP for all stroke risk factors. Take charge of your health too, by a healthy lifestyle – being active, eating well, quitting smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation.

3 Myths About Anxiety

Despite it being the most common mental health condition in the world, anxiety is often misunderstood, with many of us still holding damaging attitudes towards it.

Your body works hard to keep you safe. One way it does this is through anxiety – by stopping you going too near the cliff edge, or getting you to see a doctor if you’re feeling unwell.


But as psychiatrist Mark Cross, author of the book Anxiety, explains: “When anxiety is intense, enduring and causing the kind of panic that interferes with a person’s life so they can’t function well, then it may be that they are suffering from an anxiety disorder and need professional help.”

Unfortunately, anxiety remains a misunderstood condition, which can lead to stigma and discrimination for people who experience it.

“A quarter of us will experience anxiety at some point, so it is concerning that roughly half of us still have either misconceptions or are unaware of the condition, its symptoms and available treatment,” says Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman.

Here are three common misconceptions about anxiety:

1.           It’s not a real medical condition

We all get anxious, but for most of us it’s fleeting, and the feelings pass once the stressor disappears.

Part of the problem, is that because most people have experienced anxiety at some level, we tend to minimise it. As described in the book Anxiety: “If I try to explain the debilitating anxiety that I experience, I feel sure that people will roll their eyes and think, ‘We all get anxious sometimes, get over it.’” But anxiety is a real medical condition. On top of the distressing psychological symptoms, anxiety can cause stomach problems, dizziness, chills, increased heartbeat, chest pain, trouble breathing, headaches, muscles tension, and insomnia.

 

2.           People with anxiety bring it on themselves, or can ‘snap out of it’

There isn’t an on and off button for anxiety, says Beyond Blue. Many people still believe that people dealing with anxiety should be able to just switch it off, or ‘calm down’.

Mark Cross, who suffers from anxiety himself, has experienced this attitude firsthand: “The person [with anxiety] may seem so calm that others doubt the veracity of their distress,” he says. “Because there are often no tangible symptoms, there’s a common perception that people somehow bring anxiety on themselves, that perhaps they have maladjusted temperaments, or lack willpower.

“These views ignore the evidence that people suffering anxiety don’t choose to be in that situation,” he explains, “and that it takes a massive personal effort to maintain clear thinking and acting.”

 

3.           Anxiety is a sign of personal weakness

Having anxiety does not mean you are weak or inferior. Anxiety, like other mental health conditions, affects people of all ages and all walks of life. Any perception that it is a weakness must change, says Beyond Blue, as this stigma means people dealing with anxiety are less likely to seek support.