VEGAN PROTEIN AND OMEGA-3: A DEEP DIVE
Transcript of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 54.
Registered Dietitian Lauren McNeill does a deep-dive on
vegan protein and omega-3 fatty acids
Karina: You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 54. Registered dietitian Lauren McNeill is here for an in-depth discussion of two of everyone's favorite vegan nutrition topics: protein and omega-3.
Hey there, welcome to episode 54 of the podcast. I am Karina (or Coach K, as my clients call me), your go-to no-bullshit vegan fitness and nutrition coach.
I'm excited to introduce Lauren McNeil to the show. Lauren is a registered dietitian with a Masters of public health in nutrition and dietetics, who focuses on plant-based nutrition. She has a virtual private practice where she counsels clients online – everyone from those who are vegan or vegetarian to those simply wanting to incorporate more plant-based foods into their everyday eating pattern. Lauren has a dedicated social media following of over 45,000 individuals on her Instagram, which we're linking to in our show notes, so you can check that out at nobullshitvegan.com/054, where she shares plant-based recipes, nutrition tips, along with the lifestyle and wellness advice. Lauren has worked with Dr. David Jenkins to validate the then proposed changes to Canada's food guide to incorporate more plant-based food. She's an avid runner and she spoke at the first ever Canadian plant-based nutrition conference debunking common plant-based myths. Lauren's favorite vegan meal is Thai green Curry. Hope you enjoy our interview.
Karina: Hi Lauren. Thanks for joining me on the show today.
Lauren: Hi Karina. Thank you so much for having me.
Karina: It's pretty awesome actually to have a fellow Canadian on the show. I mean, you're on the other end of the country, but still it counts, right?
Lauren: Yeah, it definitely still counts as Canadians need to stick together.
Karina: Exactly. So you're a registered dietitian and you focus on plant-based nutrition, and of course you are vegan yourself. So I'm curious to start things off how and when you decided to go vegan.
Lauren: Sure. So it's a kind of long-winded explanation so I'll do my best to keep it short. But I actually went vegetarian probably about eight or nine years ago, I think it was. And that was really for animal welfare reasons. I'd read a book and I wish I remember which one it was now. It was talking about the livestock industry and the realities of it. And I've always been a huge animal lover, absolutely obsessed with animals. And I had never really put two and two together, or maybe I had just pushed it out for a really long time, didn't really want to think about it, but I finished that book and I kind of decided there and then that I was going to go vegetarian. And to be honest, it wasn't too hard of a transition for me.
It was relatively easy and I did it overnight. And I felt really great afterwards and I kind of noticed feeling a little bit lighter, not physically, but just kind of mentally. And I think for a long time I had kind of been having that burden of eating animals on my conscience, and then kind of lifting that felt really good for me. So, I stayed vegetarian for probably about four years I'd say. And I was pretty content with it. And the funny thing is I remember saying to myself, I'm going vegetarian, but there's no way I would ever go vegan. That's just way too much. And it's funny because I think a lot of people have that mindset first. And so that was good for me. And then the more I started thinking about it and you know, I've watched kind of all of the, typical documentaries that you hear about like Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives and, and all of those.
And I started to think about veganism more and more. And I didn't know anyone who was vegan. So it wasn't something that I was kind of influenced by other people by. It was really those documentaries. And then it just kind of spiraled and I started looking into it more and more and I decided that if animal welfare was really my main concern for being vegetarian, then veganism was really kind of the next logical step for protecting animals. And then of course I did end up caring a lot about the health implications of consuming animals and animal products and also the environmental reasons as well. But it really was the animal welfare and I think that's what kind of kept me propelled on my journey. So I'd say about four years ago I started being vegan-ish, so I would eat completely vegan at home and always cook for myself, vegan.
And when I went out to restaurants, I’d try my best to get a vegan option. But I'd say I was probably about 80% there. I never wanted to be a burden to people when I went over to their houses. So I would eat dairy, sometimes eggs, sometimes things like that. And then the percentage just started going up and up, of being vegan. I kind of got to the point about two and a half years ago where it just felt right to me to go completely vegan. And at first that kind of started just with the food aspect of it. And I always say veganism in general is a journey and I know a lot of people are very protective over the word vegan with meaning every single aspect of your life needs to be completely vegan.
And to me that's ideal of course. But what I say to my clients all the time and the kind of advice that I give myself as well is we're all just trying to do the best we can. So sometimes I call myself plant-based. Sometimes I call myself vegan and depending on who I'm talking to, my goal is always a hundred percent vegan. And I always eat a hundred percent vegan and my journey is still continuing with every other aspect. And like I said, my goal is always to be a hundred percent vegan, but I'm doing my best and I love it. I'm a dietitian, so I get to learn a lot about the human body and how the human body reacts to veganism and how we can support our body in that as well. And I'm so lucky that I get to work with clients as well.
And you know, not all of my clients are vegan. I like to say I see everyone from those who are vegetarian and vegan to those simply wanting to incorporate more plant-based foods into their everyday lifestyle. But I just feel so lucky that I get to help other people on this journey as well. So, that's a bit about me and my journey and it's been great. It hasn't been a super quick line, you know, I can have a lot of clients that go vegan over night, and things like that. But it's been good and it's worked out for me.
Karina: That's awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing. And you know, it's always interesting to see, as you said, everyone's journey, right? Like it sounds a little cliché when you say health “journey” or whatnot. But it's true though. Veganism is a journey. I like that. That's a really good way of putting it. And our listeners will know that I have a similar journey. I was vegetarian for five years before going vegan, because it took me that long to figure out that there is no moral difference between all those different, you know, like the dairy industry and the meat industry and the egg industry is all the same. And also I was 11 when I went vegetarian, so I didn't really have the research skills.
So now I can say I've been vegan for half my life, which is fantastic. It'll be 17 years in January. So, you know, I don't even remember what it's like not being vegan. So it's cool to get other people's perspectives cause you are, you know, two and a half years in. That's a legit amount of time. But this is within the timeframe of Toronto having amazing vegan restaurants and stuff. And not just having like iceberg lettuce be your only option when you're going out, which is nice. That's great. Now, hey, you were saying one of the things that was maybe holding you back at first to be a hundred percent vegan was not wanting to be a burden on people when you go out, or when you go to their places. So how did that change for you? I'm just curious. A lot of our listeners are probably in the same boat. Do you bring your own food now? What changed now that you're a hundred percent plant-based?
Lauren: Such a great question. And you're right. So many people, that's the barrier and that's the thing holding them back. So I kind of got to a place where I realized the percentage of time that I was going to other people's houses for dinner. I'm going to restaurants that might not be fully vegan or even have vegan options on the menu. That sort of thing was so small compared to the rest of the time that I'm eating or preparing food for myself or anything like that. And I also had to take into consideration my why. And that's something that I really work with clients on is establishing what their why is for making the decision. Because when you figure out your reason for wanting to do something, you can really weigh out the pros and cons and you're able to make decisions that are right for you.
So for me, my why was so strong with wanting to go vegan that the rest of it didn't really matter to me, and I knew that I would be able to accommodate whatever was thrown my way. So admittedly the first few conversations with let's say, extended family of going vegan, you know, Thanksgiving coming up, we might be spending time with our extended family or friends, things like that. And it's always awkward to bring up the conversation of, Oh, actually I'm vegan. I can't eat that or something like that. So what I encourage people to do is to go with their own comfort levels. So you don't need to call yourself vegan right away. If you're around people who you think might be judging that scenario or judging your decision, you can simply go and say, Oh, you know what, that looks really great, but I'm actually gonna stick with this.
I brought this and I'm going to have that. And I'd love if you tried it as well. And that's something that I always do. You know, if I'm going to potlucks with friends or if I am spending time with family or extended family, I'll bring my own food and I'll make enough for everyone to have. And that's a really great way to kind of start the conversation and make sure that you're not the one that's not eating anything that looks fun. And if you want to tell people, you know, Oh actually I'm going vegan, this is what I'm having, and maybe you can try it too. That's a really great way to open other people's minds about it as well. Another really easy thing to do that I, that I try and tell people is, you don't need to say it's a permanent thing.
So a lot of people kind of have this hesitation going places and making the declaration of, Oh, I'm vegan and I'm not going to eat that because they feel like if something happens or if they have, you know, a quote unquote slip up or something like that, then there's going to be a lot of people holding them accountable. So what you can do instead is saying, you know, I'm trying to be vegan right now. That looks great but I'm going to stick with this or something like that. So I guess to answer your question, and it's kind of multifaceted, so I will end up bringing my own dishes places if I don't think that there's going to be anything for me to eat. And I always make sure to make more than enough because I want to make sure that other people can try it as well.
And if I'm going to a restaurant that is not vegan or doesn't easily cater to people who are vegan, I know that they're always probably going to have French fries on the menu. So that's one thing that I definitely do. And of course it's frustrating sometimes to go to eat at a restaurant where you know that they could be making so many delicious meals, but you're the one that's eating French fries and a salad or something like that. And you want to be the picture of what a great vegan diet can be for both taste and health and everything like that. But sometimes, you know, I just suck it up and I say, you know, this is one situation out of so many and it's not that big of a deal. And you might still have people who kind of poke fun at what you're eating, stuff like that. But like I said, in the grand scheme of things, it's really not a big deal. And I just always have my why. Like I have in the back of my head of why I'm doing this. Why this is important to me. And to me that always kind of comes forward, in everything that I'm doing and makes decisions pretty easy.
Karina: Totally. I think that's a really good point. It just actually becomes a moot point when we have our why, you know, bring some food, make do. I mean nowadays we have so many options, right? There's really no excuse. I order off menu a lot because I have food allergies on top of being vegan. So I'm like, Hey, what can you make that has A, B, and C, you know, so there's always options. And I think the why actually is easier for people who are ethical vegans because a lot of people are going plant-based, let's call it, for health reasons primarily, not that it matters. I mean, we're all for people going plant-based for any reason, but there's not as strong of a why behind it, I don't think. I mean, maybe I'm imposing this on people who are vegan for health reasons, but I just kind of feel like if we're thinking about the ethics or the lack thereof in animal agriculture and having that plus health, it's a lot easier to just go into a restaurant and say, you know what, I'm OK with fries today even though we're in the health and fitness realm and that's pretty much making do for us.
Lauren: Exactly. That's a really great point. And that's what I believe as well and like you said, there's absolutely nothing wrong with going plant-based or vegan for health reasons. That's amazing. That's wonderful. But it can be easier to sway from it a little bit if that is your reasoning as well. So I completely understand what you mean. And I love that you said that you talk to the server of what they can make for you because I think a lot of people are really nervous to ask to kind of bring that up. That's something that comes up a lot with my clients. But they're there to help you and they know the menu better than anyone. So if you say, Oh, okay, I see that you have avocado on the menu, I see that you serve black beans with this dish. I see that you have rice here and tomato here. Can we pull something together and make a dish then usually as long as you're really nice to them. I used to be a server so I'm very cognizant of them and things like that. I find that they are really accommodating.
Karina: Yeah. It's kind of interesting. I guess I'm just so used to it because with food allergies, there's a lot that I have to tell a server. I actually have a little allergy card that I'll give them. Like, Hey, can you show the chef? Cause it's, you know, I'm walking around with EpiPens and stuff. It's not a good situation. But a lot of people just assume that what's on the menu is it or they feel uncomfortable. But whether or not you're vegan, I mean, people with allergies do this every single day. And so, yeah, I mean, I had the best fajitas I've had in my life at a steak house of all places just cause I asked them to make something, and they're like, sure, we can put this together. It wasn't on the menu, but it was amazing.
Well, let's get into everybody's favorite topic (speaking of steak), which is protein, right? I mean, we've talked about this on the show before and there's so much BS out there on vegan protein that I think it's worth tackling again. So why don't we start at the beginning? So we all know that we need protein, but why do we need it? Why is dietary protein important for us?
Lauren: Amazing question. So for starting at the beginning, let's go to amino acids. So amino acids are the building blocks of protein. And I think we all know that protein helps to build muscle, but it's also really important for many other things in our body, like hormone regulation, nerve cell transition and many other things – helping to develop bones as well. So we definitely do need to make sure that we're getting enough protein, but our society is so obsessed with the amount of protein that we're eating, and it seems like that's the only thing that matters. But that's not the case at all. But like you said, we definitely do need protein. It is important. So like I said, there are 20 amino acids. Nine of them are essential. So this means that we have to get them from food because our bodies can't make them in adequate quantities.
So many people don't know that all nine of these essential amino acids can actually be found in plant-based foods. So it makes very little sense to assume that we need to consume animals in order to get them. So it is true that animal products are a source of all nine essential amino acids, but there are also plant-based foods that have all nine essential amino acids as well. And these are particularly soy foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame, and hemp seeds as well. And chia seeds are sources of all nine essential amino acids. And we can actually get these other amino acids from other plant-based foods too, and making sure that we're getting a good variety of plant-based foods throughout the day. So you'll hear a lot of people say that we need to be combining beans and rice or legumes in general and rice together at every single meal in order to make sure that you're getting all nine essential amino acids.
And this is because legumes are a good source of one particular amino acid called lysine. And whole grains are a source of an amino acid called methionine. And it was previously thought that we had to pair these together at every single meal in order to make sure that we're getting the full spectrum of amino acids. But we now know that this isn't the case because our body is able to store pools of amino acids, which means that if we have one meal that's kind of low in one of the essential ones, then we'll be able to draw on those tools in order to get those amino acids that we might have been missing from that one particular meal. So that covers the quality of protein, the story that a lot of people wonder, “Are plant-based sources of protein, good quality protein?”
And then of course, as you know, there's the quantity of protein. So a lot of people are concerned about getting enough protein on a plant-based diet as well. But like I said, we really don't need as much protein as many people think that we do. And I always say that as long as you're trying to make about a quarter of your plate protein rich foods. So things like beans, lentils, other legumes, tofu, tempeh, edamame, nuts and seeds, all good sources of protein. Then as long as you're eating a good diversity of these foods and you're eating enough calories for your body as well, then protein will not be an issue for you.
Karina: Totally. And that is a super important point because you know, everybody becomes a nutritionist when you tell them you're vegan. Then they tell you are you going to get your protein? It's not going to be a good quality, etc. But you know with protein, I mean our listeners probably know that there's no RDA for protein like there is for other things like iron or calcium or vitamin D, you know, because it depends on your activity level and your age and all this kind of stuff. But can you give us some guidelines or general recommendations when it comes to actual amounts? So I really like the visual quarter of your plate. That's super useful cause you can just look at what you're eating. But when it gets down to the nitty gritty, can you take us through how much protein we actually need?
Lauren: Absolutely. So there is an RDA for protein and this is for kind of a general quote unquote healthy population and that's about 0.8 grams per kilogram of your own body weight per day. Now there have been some more recent studies that have come out that said a very slight increase to 0.83 grams per kilogram of your body weight per day might be beneficial and some other studies have also shown that for those who follow vegan diets, having an intake of about 0.9 grams per kilogram of your body weight of protein per day would be beneficial as well. And that's just because of the digestibility of plant-based protein. But regardless, this is very easy to achieve with, like I said, the quarter of a plate of a plant-based proteins per day. Like you mentioned, there's some differences for people who are highly active, and people who are endurance athletes.
Lauren: So if you're a runner, or a biker, even a swimmer or something like that and you do those kinds of high intensity sports and you're going for a long time using those muscles, then you'll probably want to aim for about 1.3 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of your body weight of protein per day. And then if you're a strength training athlete, so if you're someone who lifts weights a lot and goes to the gym, then you want to aim for about 1.3 to 1.9 grams per kilogram per day of protein. So there definitely is a range and that's why I always recommend people see a dietitian just for more personal recommendations, just because you know that that is still a bit of a range. But that's a good guideline. And, and like you mentioned, I do like that plate method because if you think about it, if you're someone who is an endurance or a strength athlete, you likely have a larger appetite than the average person. And so your plate size might be a little bit bigger, but that would often mean that you're increasing the protein portion of that plate as well. So it can be a good visual if you're someone who doesn't want to track their protein intake and stuff like that.
Karina: Totally, that makes sense. So what you're mentioning for the general population, this is probably the number that most people are familiar with. The recommendation of 0.8-ish grams per kilo. So 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. I have read that that was actually a minimum, to prevent health issues, especially as we get older. You know, when we get older there's absorption issues sometimes and we may need to do more protein. Is that actually true that that's kind of a minimum requirement versus an optimal requirement?
Lauren: So there definitely is a range. And it's interesting because as you know, I'm sure when you're going through the evidence there's so many different studies that say so many different things. So in my practice, I wouldn't recommend someone going below 0.8 and like I said, I would recommend someone actually aim for about 0.9 grams per kilogram per day of protein. Even if you're a bit slightly above that, that's okay. Especially if it's plant-based protein. So there are some concerns with having excessive protein intake just on our kidneys. And, and it can be hard on our body. The effect doesn't seem quite as bad with plant-based proteins, which is beneficial. So, I would recommend someone sticking to the 0.9 grams per kilogram per day as I mentioned. And I wouldn't recommend going below 0.8 but 0.8 still is the RDA. So that's where the totality of evidence is pointing us to be kind of the minimum for sure. But again, if you're someone who is following a plant-based diet, I would go with the 0.9 definitely.
Karina: Right. And that's for the general population who doesn't train intensely.
Lauren: Right, exactly.
Karina: Cool. Okay. So I just did the math for myself. So if I go to the strength training realm, because I usually lift between five and eight times a week depending on the week. So I'm going with 1.9 grams just on the high end as an as a kind of theoretical number here. So 1.9 grams of protein per kilo of body weight for me translates into 108 grams of protein a day, which is actually, you know, for someone who's eating, I used to eat over 3000 calories when I was working with clients in person in a gym where I was walking around demoing exercises. Now I basically sit on my ass or I stand all day. So it's a little different. I'm doing like maybe just over 2000 calories now, but even on that, that's really easy to get a 108 grams of protein a day. But what are your go-to vegan protein sources? So if you had someone who was a strength athlete, they needed 108 grams of protein a day, what would you say to them? Where should they get their protein from?
Lauren: That's a great question. So I would definitely recommend some more concentrated sources of protein. So things like tofu and tempeh are incredible sources of plant-based protein and they have some really great amounts in there. And you know, you can definitely do beans. Lentils especially are high in protein, other legumes, chickpeas, those are all going to be really great sources of protein. I love telling clients to add edamame to meals because you can buy it frozen and it’s so easy to basically throw in whatever meal you might be having, and you don't have to worry about keeping it fresh or anything like that. You can buy a big bag of it, keep it on hand in the freezer. So those are kind of my go-to sources. If your needs were a little bit higher, I would definitely recommend going with that, tofu and tempeh.
And if you're someone who has, maybe you have a smoothie or something like that in your day, there's ways that you can add in protein to there too. So using soy milk has more protein than other plant-based milk alternatives. So say you use seeds, almond milk, you could use soy milk instead and that'll give you about seven or eight grams of protein per cup as well. Some people do enjoy using protein powders as well. For me that's kind of a case by case basis depending on your activity level and things like that. But that can be a good option. So those are kind of my main sources that I would probably recommend.
Karina: Totally. Yes. A lot of my clients are strength athletes, so my niche is vegans who lift heavy shit in the gym basically. So we talk about protein a lot. And those are all excellent sources. That's all stuff that I think probably most strength athletes would do. But for our listeners who are just kind of wondering, they're new to the whole veganism thing, that's going to be super useful. And I'm with you. The powder, I mean, it's kind of like a plan B, right? It's an insurance policy. It can be convenient for people who have crazy schedules and just gotta like chuck down a smoothie or something. But I would think that we're both on the same page that ideally you’d be getting your protein from whole foods.
Lauren: That's right. That's exactly it. It can definitely be an option if you're someone who, like you said, maybe you would do an intense strength training exercise in the morning and then you have to run off to work and you really don't have time to get down much. Then I would rather you have a smoothie with the protein powder. But I would add other things to it as well. So it wouldn't just be the protein and the water. It would be maybe a banana, maybe some greens, and then getting those flax seeds or chia seeds, things like that to make it more of a meal replacement than just a protein shake, if that makes sense. And exactly. It's kind of the plan B, that's the perfect way to put it.
Karina: I have a five-step approach to nutrition with my clients, in order of importance, and supplements are number five. So they're at the bottom of the list for a reason, but they can be useful. Okay. So, one more thing on protein then before we go into our next topic. A lot of the clients that I'm working with, and maybe you too, I'd be interested actually, they are working on improving their body composition. So they're losing fat, gaining muscle by strength training, by focusing on their diet. And so specifically for people who are in calorie deficits. So if they want to lose fat, they gotta be in a calorie deficit, right? Protein can be extra important because you want to make sure that you're losing fat when you're in a calorie deficit but not also muscle. So is that something that you take into account with clients based on their goals? Does protein come in when someone is currently losing weight, for example?
Lauren: So protein like you said, is very important for that. And it's also very important for satiety as well, which is something that I'm really concerned about for my clients that do want to lose weight. If that is one of their goals and I take a more weight neutral approach. But if that is something that a client is wanting to do, then of course I'm here to support them as much as I can. And so protein comes a lot into play with my clients with satiety. So definitely making sure that at least a quarter of their plate is that really rich plant-based protein sources. It's really, really important for that. And then I also of course focus on fiber rich foods for that satiety piece as well. But definitely making sure that we're getting enough of those plant-based proteins. I think there's a lot of myths going around about the vegan movement and they come from a good place with saying that you know, there's protein in all foods and everything like that, which is absolutely true, but I do really emphasize that getting those protein foods are really going to help with satiety. And then like you said, if there is a client that wants to lose weight as well, making sure that you're keeping those protein levels up is really important to make sure that we are maintaining that muscle mass as well.
Karina: Awesome. I really like your term weight neutral. That's awesome. You know, because it's not about weight, we all know that, right? A lot of my clients will actually lose fat and gain muscle and their whole physique looks different, but the scale stays the same. So I really like that term. That's awesome. Okay, so let's move on to Omega-3 then. So thank you so much for all the info on protein by the way. Super important for all of our listeners. So one more kind of general topic then for our conversation: Omega-3. Now we've again kind of like protein, we've all heard that it's important and like protein, a lot of us vegans are asked about it by usually non-vegans. So what is the deal? What is omega-3 and why is it important?
Lauren: Okay, amazing question. So there are actually two essential fatty acids, which mean that our bodies don't make them on our own. So we have to consume them from foods. So these are Omega-6 and Omega-3 we hear a lot more about Omega-3 because it's more limited in our food supply and Omega-6 can be found really, really easily in a lot of food. So people kind of consider Omega-6 and Omega-3 to work with the inflammatory response in our body. So Omega-6 is kind of known as the pro inflammatory, which might sound like a bad thing, but it's actually really important for making sure that our body is working properly and it's really important for our immune function as well. And Omega-3 is kind of known as the anti-inflammatory, which again is really important for maintaining our blood pressure.
Lauren: It's really important in preventing things like cardiovascular disease and maintaining our brain and eye health, our neurological health, things like that. So we need to make sure that we're getting both Omega-6 and Omega-3, but Omega-6 and Omega-3 actually compete for the same desaturation enzymes in our body, which sounds really complicated, but it really just means it's the enzymes that are needed to allow both Omega-6 and Omega-3 to go through the reaction process to break down into the compounds that our body can actually use and benefit from in that inflammatory or anti-inflammatory processes in our body. So because of this, when we're thinking of making sure that we're getting enough Omega-3, the really important thing is to consider the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 that we are consuming because although our body does favor Omega-3 in this desaturation enzyme process, if we have too much Omega-6 in our body then we will favor that Omega-6 process instead.
So I always encourage my clients to support their bodies in being able to get this breakdown of ALA, which is the plant-based source of Omega-3, into EPA and DHA, which are the really, really beneficial parts of Omega-3 by first of all, making sure that they're consuming enough ALA rich foods. So these come from things like ground flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts. So I always encourage clients to get about two to three tablespoons per day of ground flax, chia or hemp, and then a small handful of walnuts has the same kind of amount as well. So that's the first thing, just making sure that you're getting enough of that ALA so your body can even consider to do the process. And then as I said, also watching the amount of Omega-6 that we're consuming because of that competition for the desaturation enzymes.
So we want to be cognizant of the food that have a really, really high ratio of Omega-6 and these typically are found in things like soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil, which also happened to be in a lot of the highly processed foods that we can find in the grocery store. So things like margarine, salad dressings, crackers, cookies, dessert, all happen to typically be made with these kind of less expensive oils that have the really high ratios of Omega-6 so I like to tell my clients, if you're going to be consuming oils with your diet, try to make them extra Virgin olive oil or avocado oil because those have a lower ratio of that Omega-6 and then also to watch the amount of those processed foods that you're consuming because they will have those added oils in them.
There are also some people who would benefit from taking a supplement. That's kind of a direct source of that EPA and DHA that's derived from algae. And those specifically are those who are pregnant, those who are breastfeeding, and children. And there are other people who might benefit from that as well. But that's kind of more of a one on one thing that you have to kind of figure out with clients. But just really supporting our bodies and making sure we're getting those ALA omegas, clean rich foods like ground flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts. And then watching the amount of Omega-6 rich foods that we're consuming can be really helpful in supporting our body to get those really beneficial Omega-3s.
Karina: Amazing. That is super awesome info. So basically you are saying Omega-3's super important. And in order for our bodies to best process it to put it to use, we have to make sure that we are not ODing on Omega-6 which thankfully is usually in most processed foods rather than whole foods. So if we're mostly whole food vegans and we're focusing on eating our flax and our chia seeds and our hemp hearts and our walnuts, we should be pretty good. Right?
Lauren: So the interesting thing is Omega-6 is actually found in a lot of foods, so it's found in nuts and seeds and avocados and all of these really healthy foods. Even chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, walnuts all have Omega-6 in them, but because it's the ratio that we're looking at, we aren't too concerned about that because those are higher in Omega-3 so that's still going to be really beneficial for us. We just want to watch the amount of foods that we're eating that as you said, we'll kind of topple over in the Omega-6 and kind of ruin our entire ratio of the Omega-3 to Omega-6 and those happen to be kind of the oils that I mentioned are really high in Omega-6 but it's not that Omega-6 aren't in any kind of whole plant-based foods. It's just that the ratio that they're in isn't concerning as they are in kind of the other foods, if that makes sense.
Karina: Right. Yes, that's a good point. That's a good distinction: they exist in whole foods. They're just super concentrated in things that you mentioned, like sunflower oil and all those things.
Lauren: Exactly. That's exactly right.
Karina: Okay. Gotcha. So is this something that you think we should be really tracking or should we just be mindful of eating these higher omega-3 foods every day? Like is food tracking gonna help at all? Do we need to know how many grams of these things we're getting on a daily basis? What's your view there?
Lauren: Yeah, that's a really great question. So tracking can be really useful in some ways. So sometimes when I get clients who don't know a ton about nutrition, don't really know a ton about what they're eating, I will encourage them to track what they're eating just a couple of days. And this has nothing to do with calorie intake or anything like that. Really just to see what nutrients they're getting. This can be helpful for seeing your protein intake and things like that as well. It's also something I wouldn’t recommend tracking forever, just because I think sometimes that can lead to not so great behavior, but I think being able to track something just for a couple of days, see where you're at, see if you might benefit from adding some ground flax or chia or hemp or something like that to your diet if that would be beneficial. But we need about 1.1 grams of Omega-3 for women and 1.3 for men, and about three tablespoons of hemp hearts have two and a half grams of Omega-3.
So even that, adding that into a morning smoothie or maybe you have oatmeal for breakfast or something like that, that’ll give you the amounts of Omega-3 that you need. So kind of having that benchmark can be useful as well, just knowing, okay, if I get about two to three tablespoons of ground flax, chia and hemp, or a small handful of walnuts, then I'm good with my omega-3. But the tracking can be interesting for people to see their Omega-6 intake because we need about 12 grams about for women and 17 for men. But it turns out that the standard American diet or Canadian diet is much, much higher in the Omega-6 intake. So being able to track it and see it can just allow us to be a little bit more mindful of where that might be coming from and maybe reducing that a little bit more. So tracking is definitely a tool, for seeing where you're at and then making little tweaks.
Karina: Absolutely. Yeah. I like it as an educational tool for sure. But I'm with you. I wouldn't do it long-term cause I mean, first of all, who wants to be attached to an app for the rest of their life?! Like tracking your food. But at some point I feel it actually removes you from how it feels to eat such and such. You know what, whether it's protein you're trying to hit, whether it's a calorie goal, it's kind of nice to get to a place where you're confident in your nutrition without tracking. So yeah, like you said, it makes sense for people who are new or maybe they're new vegans or they just want to make sure they've got everything covered. Totally makes sense. But it's not something you're going to have to do for a year, hopefully.
Okay, well before I let you go, I would love for you to give our listeners some advice for success on a plant-based diet. So we have a lot of listeners who are long-term vegans and we also have a lot of listeners who are veg-curious and they're kind of on the plant-based spectrum, you know, probably similar to your clients. So, what do you have for them on success with a plant-based diet?
So if you're just considering transitioning to a plant-based diet, it's something that you're thinking about, then first and foremost, I would think about your reason behind it. So your why, we've talked about that a little bit already, but figuring out the reason that you're doing it can really make sticking to your choice easier and can really give you kind of that ammo when you're out and about when people are asking you about it, things like that. And with that I always recommend to people to research about their why as well because I think you know, a lot of the times if not many people in your friend group or your family are making this decision as well, just arming yourself with evidence-based research about veganism and a plant-based diet. That's why this podcast is so amazing. But being able to have that information to share with people can be really great and can build your confidence as well.
In terms of really actionable steps, I always tell people to start with the easiest meal for them to go plant-based. So choose a meal that you think is already pretty close to being plant-based or you can definitely see yourself making an easy switch. So it just so happens a lot of people choose breakfast for that. Because I think a lot of traditional breakfast foods can very easily be made vegan. So just starting there and really working your way from there and making sure that you are replacing foods and not just taking them away so we can get into kind of dangerous territory when we start to think about all of the foods that we're cutting out, and not think about the foods that we're going to add in instead. So if you're someone who's kind of a traditional meat, potato, and veg type person, just cutting out the meat is going to mean that you're left with a lot of nutrient deficiencies and things like that.
So we need to be making sure that you're acknowledging what you're going to be adding in instead. So are you going to be incorporating tofu or tempeh? Maybe more beans and other legumes? Really great as well. So just being cognizant of the foods that you're replacing with as well. And I think that's a really great mindset to a lot of people can get caught up in what they're taking away from their diet. But I also encourage people to just try adding more stuff in and try adding in more beans and lentils and nuts and seeds, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, maybe even fruits or vegetables that you've never tried before. And just seeing if those slowly push away the foods that you hopefully are wanting to decrease or take away altogether. I also, well we encourage people to make sure that you're taking a vitamin B 12 supplement if you're starting a plant-based diet just because that's a really common deficiency.
It's one of those nutrients that we can't get in adequate quantities on plant-based diets. So we need to supplement. A lot of people rely on fortified foods for vitamin B12 intake, which I actually don't recommend just because you know, the amount of food that we eat on a daily basis can vary so much. And then of course the amount of fortify foods that we eat on a daily basis can vary as well. So I always make sure that people are taking a vitamin B 12 supplements is just kind of a general thing and just to not be too hard on yourself. It's a journey. And so many of us grew up in a time where following a diet that's really heavy in animal products was really common and kind of giving yourself some grace and allowing yourself to take your time with it and make this feel right for you.
And if you do have a quote unquote slip up or if you have something that you, you know, weren't planning to or might not be vegan, don't be too hard on yourself. Let yourself get right back on where you began. And, you said as a learning situation, see where maybe you could have supported yourself a little bit better, or maybe it was a time when you were really hungry and you stopped for fast food. Maybe being prepared with a little bit of meal prep would have been a better situation. So, just try not to be too hard on yourself and give yourself some grace in the situation and allow yourself the amount of time that it needs.
Karina: Love it. That's super important because we all want this to be a long-term thing, right? And if you do it overnight, I know for some people that works, but for other people that means that it's not going to be long-term, it's just too much to handle or it's too overwhelming. So I think that's a super important point. And I also really like what you said about the avoidance or kind of like a mindset of deprivation. Like, Oh no, I can't eat this and I have to subtract this versus what's all the cool, plant-based stuff that I've never tried before that I can cram my plate full with? And it's just automatically going to crowd out all the animal based foods. I think that's a fantastic way of looking at it. Love that.
Well, thank you so much Lauren, and thanks for coming on the show. Thank you for discussing protein, Omega-3s, your vegan story, and tips for our listeners. Super useful. We're going to have show notes so our listeners can connect with you, check out your website, and follow you on social media. It's been fantastic speaking with you. Thank you so much.
Lauren: Thank you so much for having me! It's been such a pleasure.
Karina: Lauren, thank you so much for an in-depth look at protein and Omega-3 and your excellent advice for our vegan and also our vegan curious listeners. Head to our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/054 to connect with Lauren. Thank you so much for listening, and I'll see you in our next episode.