How to Nail Race Day: 4 Keys to a Successful First Ultramarathon

Sunrise trail run

Five months ago, my wife Katie gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Let’s call her Eliza (that is her name, after all).

For months leading up to Eliza’s birth, Katie and I attended birthing classes, read books on having a healthy pregnancy, and wrote birthing plans, all with the focus on getting that baby out of Katie as easily and naturally as possible.

And it went great. Two days later, we pull into our driveway from the hospital with a tiny, wrinkly, healthy, baby Eliza.

Exhausted, Katie immediately gets in bed for a nap while I grab Eliza and snuggle up on the couch.

That’s when it hits me.

“Holy shit. Now what?!”

We had spent so much energy trying to successfully get through the pregnancy and birth that we didn’t focus on how to actually raise this child — an actual human, I might add — for which we are responsible.

Over and over, I see runners doing the same thing during their first ultramarathons. They pour an enormous amount of energy into getting through the training, and they neglect the race — an actual ultramarathon — for which they set a goal to accomplish.

Even the best-trained runners can blow it on race day, because training is only the first step.

The real work begins after you cross the starting line.

4 Rules to Executing a Successful First Ultramarathon

Training for your first ultramarathon is a big deal.

It means running farther than you’ve ever run before, getting comfortable running trails, and testing your mental and physical limits.

Like I said … it’s a big deal.

But it’s not the training you set out to accomplish. It’s the race.

For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of coaching runners through their first ultra-distance races. After witnessing what works on race day and how runners struggle, I’ve developed a set of hard and fast rules all new (and experienced) ultrarunners should follow.

These aren’t rules for how to train, but rather how to prepare for whatever race day throws your way and attack those challenges head on.

And it all starts with avoiding that “Holy sh*t! What now?” moment …

Rule #1 — Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

A few weeks ago, at the finish line of the Mendocino Coast 50K, I started chatting with a runner (and NMA Radio listener) who ran the race as his first ultramarathon. He loved it, but crossed the finish line a full hour and a half later than expected.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I just had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he told me. It didn’t surprise me.

With road marathons, variation between courses is limited unless a race specifically promotes a unique challenge. It’s generally safe to assume that city marathons are city marathons, and a traditional marathon training plan will suffice.

Ultramarathons, on the other hand, can vary wildly depending on the location. It’s not just the extra five miles you need to train for, but the terrain as well.

And knowing what you’re getting yourself into is key to optimizing your training.

How to do your research:

  • Study the course map and elevation profile to evaluate the amount of elevation gain and descent.
  • Read previous years’ race reports and look for videos of the course to learn about the terrain.
  • Prepare for typical weather conditions in that area on race day, which could be a lot different than what you’re running in at the start of training.
  • If the course is known to be muddy or wet, train your feet (and mind) to handle those conditions.
Rule #2 — Have a Plan

Ultramarathons take a long time to complete. Seems obvious, I know (go ahead, roll those eyes), but it’s so obvious a lot of runners neglect to think it through. A 50K could take six, eight, ten hours to complete.

That’s a long time to be on your feet, outside, in the elements, running.

Which means, you need a plan for just about everything:

  • Have a nutrition plan — Think 250-300 calories per hour either through gels, sports drink, or real food. Know ahead of time how much you need to carry, and what you can collect throughout the race at aid stations or from your crew.
  • Have a gear plan — Weather, terrain, and distance between aid stations will dictate your gear. Always have options and backup layers available.
  • Have a plan for your crew — If you’re lucky enough to have a crew supporting you on race day, treat them right. Make a plan so they don’t have to guess. Tell them ahead of time where to meet you, what to have available, and what you expect from them.
Rule #3 — Lock In Your All-Day Pace

I’m not sure where I first heard the term “all-day pace,” (I wish I did so I could give them credit) but it has stuck with me ever since.

Your all-day pace is the magical sweet spot where it’s just fast enough that you feel like you’re racing, but comfortable enough that you can maintain it hour after hour. I’m not going to lie, the concept is a little hard to wrap your head around in front of a computer, so go out and practice during your long runs.

You’ll know once you’ve hit it.

Consider this:

Pace is a misleading term in this situation. Unlike a road race, where mere seconds per mile count, ultrarunners run more often by effort than splits. As you approach a hill, slow down to maintain a consistent effort — which can be monitored by breath, heart rate, or general perception — and as the terrain levels out or drops downhill, speed up.

You’re aiming for a consistent, manageable effort level, maintainable throughout the race.

How to monitor your pace on race day:

  • With every new hill, trail, or surge of energy, check-in with yourself and your effort.
  • If it feels like you’re working too hard, you almost certainly are. Slow down.
  • When it feels too easy, trust yourself and put your training into practice.
Rule #4 — Stay Positive

I consider running an ultramarathon a microcosm of life …

… You face big highs, and major lows.

… You make friends, and encounter miles of solitude.

… You rely on others, but ultimately it’s up to you to do the work.

And just like in life, your outlook will dictate the result.

Positive thinking can boost energy and confidence, both of which could completely turn around a race once you’ve hit a rough spot.

How to stay positive:

  • Focus on a short, inspiring mantra.
  • Distract yourself by chatting with others.
  • Smile and cheer on other runners … even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Take deep breathes to keep anxiety down.
  • Use each aid station as a reset button.

These Rules Aren’t Meant to be Broken

I love a good rule-breaking rebel, and the ultrarunning community is known for its off-the-beaten-path (figuratively and literally) attitude, but there are times when falling in line pays off.

This is one of those times.

You just poured countless hours and miles into training for this race. Now all that’s left is a smart execution and crossing that finish line.

And maybe a beer.

About the Author: Doug is an ultrarunner, coach, and the co-host of NMA Radio. Pick up his free eBook, Why Every Runner Should Be a Trail Runner (And How to Become One).

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The No Meat Athlete Cookbook – Sample Content & Recipes

This post contains a sample from The No Meat Athlete Cookbook, which hits the shelves in just over a week! But first, a quick intro.

9781615192663_3D

It’s been almost four years since my first book, No Meat Athlete, came out.

That first book wasn’t a cookbook, but it did include 50 of the recipes I’d picked up as a marathoner who was still fairly new to a vegan diet.

Today, over 30,000 copies later, I’m so proud of what that little book has become.

And at the same time, a lot has changed since then. Enough that I decided it was finally time for another.

I’ve learned so much in these past four years. About nutrition, mainly, but also about cooking and, with two high-energy young kids who also eat this way, the importance of practicality. I’ve undergone a ruthless streamlining of my own routines … and that includes those in the kitchen.

More than just about anything else, this focus on practicality is what sets The No Meat Athlete Cookbook apart.

Sure, it’s one of the only 100% vegan cookbooks that’s geared towards athletes.

And yes, it’s almost exclusively based on whole foods, including (and I fought hard for this one) an oil-free option for every single recipe, so that you can choose your own adventure when it comes to oil.

But more than anything else, the difficult conversations my co-author Stepfanie Romine and I had during the process of developing and testing recipes for this book centered around the issues of simplicity and ease of use.

I say “difficult” because we both have incredibly high standards.

For both of us, whole-food nutrition was paramount, of course. To Stepfanie, a plant-based chef, it was also crucial that every recipe be delicious. And I, a dad in that phase of life where trying to do to way too many things is par for the course, wanted to make absolutely certain that our recipes made sense for busy, athletic families, and people who can’t easily get to specialty health-food stores to do their grocery shopping.

That “Quick, Easy, and Family Friendly!” burst at the top right of the cover? Well, we mean it.

With few exceptions, if an ingredient couldn’t be found in a regular grocery store (and I’m not counting Whole Foods as “regular”), either it didn’t make the cut or we made sure to provide a substitute.

Similarly with cooking techniques: if a recipe was difficult or required equipment most people don’t have — spiralizer, potato ricer, etc. — then we changed it.

In trying to balance all of that emphasis on simplicity and practicality with the need for top-nutrition and of course, food that makes you actually want to keep eating this way, this was a project. But we did it, and I’m so happy with how it has turned out.

I’m pleased to share some sample content with you today, but before we get to that, I want to remind you of just a few things:

We’ve put together a really great packages of bonuses for anyone who pre-orders the book (meaning you’ve got to order before Tuesday, May 16th and forward us your receipt). The bonuses include a 30-day meal plan, an ebook of my favorite quick staples and condiments that make it way easier to be vegan, my 46-minute presentation on the 7 Foods Worth Eating Every Single Day, and a special video series on oil-free and microwave-free cooking (a bonus offer that was so popular we’ve brought it back). You can see all the details about book and pre-order package here.

Although this sample content is from our chapter on real-food recipes for before, during and after workouts, the actual book includes lots of food that’s for the rest of the day — breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts. (See the Quinoa Primavera featured on the Forks Over Knives blog.) On that note, I did go ahead and include our recipe for Olive-Chickpea Waffles into the sample since it would work as long-run fuel, even though it’s technically not in Chapter 7.

We’ve had a ton of great press on this book, including making Sports Illustrated’s and People’s lists of “The 7 Best Health & Wellness Books of 2017,” and already being included in VegNews, Vegan Health & Fitness, and Publisher’s Weekly … with features in several other mainstream fitness magazines slated for the summertime. Keep an eye out for lots more as the release date approaches!

And so, if I may make a direct request: If you’ve gotten something out of No Meat Athlete — the free blog and podcast content every week, the running groups, and everything else we’ve done over the past 8 years (!), I’d really appreciate if it if you’d consider adding our new cookbook to your collection. It has the potential to make a huge splash for this movement, but that won’t happen without your help. Thanks for thinking about it.

With that, enjoy this sample bit of Chapter 7, including four recipes!


Chapter 7: Fuel & Recovery

REAL FOOD FOR BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER YOUR WORKOUTS

Don’t undermine your workout by fueling it with processed junk that barely qualifies as food! Instead, let our recipes for natural, homemade versions of sports nutrition staples take you further so you can get the most from every workout.

To Eat or Drink Your Carbs? That’s the Question

As you read in Chapter 1, you should usually only consider using added sugars and quick carbs to fuel before, during, or after a workout. For years, the only “sports drinks” on the market were loaded with refined sugar and designed to replenish carbohydrates as well as electrolytes. But for various reasons, more of today’s athletes are choosing instead to eat their carbs or to forgo them altogether during workouts. As such, more lower-carb, electrolyte-only sports drinks have hit the market.

We think there’s a time and a place for both types of drinks. Our new favorite sports drink, switchel—which actually isn’t new at all—embraces that flexibility. Our base recipe for switchel uses just 2 tablespoons of maple syrup (100 calories, 27 g carbs), so it has about half the sugar of a traditional sports drink.

For lighter training days when you don’t need an immediate energy source to get you through the workout, reach for the lower-sugar versions of switchel. On long run days, when you need more fuel, we have other switchel recipes suitable for your increased carb needs.

Our base recipe also contains 481 mg sodium from ¼ teaspoon sea salt (that’s slightly lower than table salt, which has 560 mg per ¼ teaspoon), plus 129 mg potassium. It’s right in line with commercial sports drinks, which typically provide 427 g sodium and 120 mg potassium in 32 ounces.

Need to customize a drink recipe? Here’s a quick guide:

SODIUM:

¼ teaspoon sea salt = 481 mg sodium

1 teaspoon umeboshi (salty-sour Japanese plum paste) = 340 mg sodium

CARBOHYDRATES

1 tablespoon maple syrup = 50 calories, 13 g carbohydrates

1 tablespoon sugar = 45 calories, 13 g carbohydrates

If you prefer another sweetener, such as dates or agave, feel free to experiment with those as well.

As you read through this chapter, you’ll notice that we call some beverages “sports drinks” while others are “electrolyte drinks.” The former are akin to what you’d buy at the store; the latter are designed primarily to hydrate, rather than to fuel.

Sports Drinks: Designed to be carb replacements with electrolyte

Electrolyte Drinks: Lower in carbs than traditional sports drinks

Check out this list to get started (with grams of carbs per 16 ounces):

Cucumber-Lime Electrolyte Drink: 14 g

Lemon-Lime Electrolyte Drink: 14 g

Switchel: The Original Sports Drink: 14 g

3 Switchel Mocktails: 14 g

Umeboshi Electrolyte Drink: 18 g

Miso-Maple Electrolyte “Broth”: 21 g

Cranberry-Citrus Electrolyte Drink: 22 g

Fruit Punch Switchel Sports Drink with Juice: 22 g

Very Berry Switchel Sports Drink with Juice: 31 g

Orange Switchel Sports Drink with Juice: 32 g

Grape Switchel Sports Drink with Juice: 33 g

With any of these sports drinks, feel free to adjust the sweetener-to-salt ratio as needed to suit your needs and palate.

In addition, we offer recipes for solid-food fuel that contain mostly carbohydrates, or a combination of protein and carbs for extremely long workouts.

FUEL

Solid food that contains mostly carbs or a combination of carbs and protein (used during very long workouts to prevent crashes)

Calorie Bomb Cookies (page 219)

Chocolate-Coconut-Pecan Chewy Bars (page 220)

Green Energy Bites (page 215)

Key Lime Pie Rice Bites (page 217)

Piña Colada–Almond Butter (page 213)

Sesame-Tamari Portable Rice Balls (page 214)

Strawberry Shortcake Rice Bites (page 216)

Vegan-Edge Waffes (page 51)

Switchel: The Original Sports Drink

Good for: hydration • before, during, and after a workout

Makes: about 4¼ cups (1 L) // Time: 5 minutes to prep, plus resting overnight

Switchel is the original sports drink, what farmers drank in the fields to stay hydrated during the summer. It’s a clever combination of simple, real ingredients. Maple syrup contains magnesium and potassium, which help to prevent cramps, and the apple cider vinegar prevents nausea, stomach upset, and indigestion. (You really want raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar here, so you get the min­erals and other good stuff.) The ginger adds flavor and also helps with nausea. The drink is refreshing, mildly sweet, and tangy and, when made with fruit juices, tastes surprisingly like the convenience store sports drinks we grew up with. You’ll want to refrigerate it overnight to allow the flavors to mellow and mingle. This recipe makes an entire pitcher; it’ll keep for a few days in the fridge.

  • 4 cups (960 ml) water
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece ginger, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Shake all the ingredients together, refrigerate overnight, strain, and drink.

Nutrition info (for the entire recipe): Calories 110 Total fat 0 g Sodium 481 mg Potassium 129 mg Total carbohydrates 28 g Dietary fiber 0 g Sugars 24 g Protein 0 g

switchel

Calorie Bomb Cookies

Good for: fuel • before (as treat), during, and after (as treat) a workout

Makes: 12 giant cookies (or 24 regular cookies) // Time: 15 minutes to prep, 30 minutes to bake

These cookies fueled the BSM cycling team (cofounded by Stepf’s husband, Sam) through a ten-hour road trip and epic adventure ride a few summers back. They’re hefty yet easy to eat and digest in the saddle or driver’s seat; they’re also packed with as much real food and as many calories as possible, hence the name.

  • 4 cups (385 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1½ cups (225 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1 cup (200 g) raw sugar or coconut sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) coconut oil (Oil-Free: coconut butter)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (90 ml) water
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds or ground flaxseeds
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (225 g) dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup (120 g) raw walnut pieces
  • ½ cup (75 g) raw sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup (40 g) unsweetened shredded coconut, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Place 2 cups (195 g) of the oats in a food processor or blender and pulse until they are finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl and add the flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining oats.
  3. Combine the bananas, sugar, oil, water, chia seeds, and vanilla in the blender or food processor. Add to the oat mixture and stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until combined. Add the chocolate chips, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and coconut.
  4. With wet hands, form about ½ cup (60 g) dough into balls for giant cookies, about ¼ cup (30 g) dough for regular cookies. (There should be 6 balls on each baking sheet if making giant cookies.) Flatten them to ¾ to 1 inch (2 to 2.5 cm) thick.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before removing from the baking sheets. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. Wrap in parchment paper for on-the-go eating.

Variations: Use coconut extract in place of the vanilla. Swap carob for the chocolate. Dice mini peanut butter cups and add to the mix.

Nutrition info (for the entire recipe; with shredded coconut): Calories 5,893 Total fat 291 g Sodium 1,371 mg Potassium 2,471 mg Total carbohydrates 819 g Dietary fiber 97 g Sugars 359 g Protein 97 g

CalorieBombCookies

Green Energy Bites

Good for: fuel • before, during, and after a workout

Makes: 36 energy bites // Time: 15 minutes to prep

The distinct flavor of spirulina is somehow masked in this simple energy bite—and that’s no easy feat! Inspired by the green bites sold in bulk at health-food stores, these chunks are intended for on-the-go snacking and mid-race fueling.

Spirulina is blue-green algae that’s incredibly high in protein (by weight). More than 60 percent of it is protein! In lab studies, it has been shown to boost probiotic growth. It can absorb undesirable heavy metals from the water where it grows, so choose a reliable source that tests for such things.

  • 1½ cups (220 g) pitted dates, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and drained
  • ½ cup (75 g) raw sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup (60 g) roasted, unsalted cashews
  • ¼ cup (40 g) carob or chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons spirulina powder or another greens powder
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Pulse the dates in a food processor until they form a paste. Add the sunflower seeds and cashews. Pulse until roughly chopped, then add the carob and spirulina. Pulse a couple of times, then process until thoroughly combined.
  2. Transfer to a rectangular glass dish (we used a 6-cup/1.4 L glass storage container) lined with parchment paper. Press down, using a small piece of parchment to keep your fingers from sticking to the bars. Sprinkle with the coconut and salt.
  3. Pull the parchment out of the container and slice into 36 pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition info (for the entire recipe): Calories 1,729 Total fat 79 g Sodium 6 mg Potassium 1,951 mg Total carbohydrates 231 g Dietary fiber 18 g Sugars 160 g Protein 33 g

Olive-Chickpea Waffles

Makes: 4 to 6 waffles // Time: 10 minutes to prep, 30 minutes to cook

Soccas are Mediterranean flatbreads made with chickpea flour. But although they are quick to make and full of nutrition from the chickpeas, they typically call for quite a bit of olive oil to add flavor and richness. Inspired by socca but seeking something lighter, we created these savory waffles.

  • 2 cups (240 g) chickpea flour (garbanzo bean flour)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary or thyme
  • 1 teaspoon GF baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup (90 g) pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
  • ¼ cup (15 g) sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (Oil-Free: omit)
  • 1½ cups (360 ml) hot water
  • Hummus or Weeknight Marinara (page 81)
  1. Preheat a waffle iron. (Oil-Free: See page 49 for baking directions if your waffle iron isn’t truly nonstick.)
  2. Combine the flour, rosemary, baking powder, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the olives and sun-dried tomatoes, then whisk in the oil followed by the hot water. The batter should be thick but thoroughly combined.
  3. Spread about ½ to ¾ cup (120 to 180 ml) batter onto the waffle iron, close the lid, and cook through, according to waffle iron directions, about 6 minutes.
  4. Top with hummus and serve.

Variation: Substitute ½ cup (30 g) chopped flat-leaf parsley for the olives and fold in ¼ cup (40 g) chopped red onion.

Credit line: Recipe from The No Meat Athlete Cookbook: Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes to Fuel Your Workouts and the Rest of Your Life © Matt Frazier and Stepfanie Romine, 2017. Photographs copyright © Ken Carlson, Waterbury Publications Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek! To pre-order The No Meat Athlete Cookbook and take advantage of our great pre-order bonus offer (or just to learn more), click here.

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How to Lose 5 Pounds Without Changing Your Whole Life

Young healthy girl on home scales.

I want to lose five pounds. Not because I need to for health reasons, but because for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a little extra weight that I just can’t seem to drop. Even with a regular running routine, plant-based diet, and all-around healthy lifestyle, those pesky few pounds stick around.

So the question is, how can I lose five pounds without totally changing my life? I’m not interested in a crash diet, and I want to drop the weight in a sustainable, healthy way.

In today’s episode I pose that question to Matt, and together we formulate a plan for how to lose those final few pounds without completely disrupting my life and eating habits.

Here’s just some of what we talk about in this episode:

  • Intermittent fasting … what is it?
  • Why counting calories (for a few days) might help
  • Should I stop drinking beer?
  • Reducing oil intake
  • Nuts … and why I want to keep them in my diet

Click the button below to listen now:

Read more »

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27 Books that will Change Your Life

Pile of books on table

Over the past few years, we’ve talked a lot about our favorite fitness, nutrition, and mindset resources — including how-to guides, tutorials, and blueprints.

What we haven’t done, however, is share our favorite non-resource books under those same categories. Books that will inspire you to take action, but ones you can listen to on the run as an audiobook or enjoy while lounging the beach. No note taking, studying, or memorization required.

Here are our 27 favorite inspirational casual reads … some of which just might change your life.

Here’s just some of what we talk about in this episode:

  • What makes for a good casual read?
  • Why Matt hates running books (but Doug loves them)
  • The simplest nutrition book you’ll ever read
  • BONUS: Cookbooks

Click the button below to listen now:

Read more »

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Sweet Treat or Workout Fuel? Vegan, Oil-Free Banana Bread

banana-bread

Note from Matt: This recipe post comes courtesy of Stepfanie Romine, co-author of The No Meat Athlete Cookbook. (And don’t forget, today is the last day to get our upcoming video series on oil-free, microwave-free cooking as a bonus when you pre-order the cookbook! Details here.)


One of the great things about being an endurance athlete is that you have a great excuse to eat sweet baked goods by calling it fuel.

But despite my love of cooking (and yummy baked goods), I’m not much of a baker.

There are a few exceptions, however, guided mostly by my husband’s sweet tooth and need for high-carbohydrate, real food snacks to gear up for long bike rides. (He even sometimes brings some, like this one, along with him.)

I make big batches of Miyoko Schinner’s whole-grain waffles (from her book, The Homemade Vegan Pantry), scones from the forthcoming The No Meat Athlete Cookbook, and banana bread — my preferred sweet treat.

Growing up, we had cakes on birthdays and cookies during the holidays, but it was banana bread that always popped up on a regular basis. My stepmom’s version was classic: white flour and lots of white sugar, butter and eggs.

Though she made the recipe every few weeks for years, she would always dig out the weathered index card from her recipe box before she started baking, reading over each line, and by the time I was in high school, I was often the one poring over that note card to whip up a loaf for the family.

Once finished, we’d slather thick slices still warm from the oven with margarine — yes, margarine from a giant beige tub. Ah, the 90s.

A loaf rarely lasted more than a couple of days.

Banana bread isn’t a glamorous dessert, but nor is it a particularly challenging one to make. It makes use of overly ripe bananas that would otherwise be destined for the compost pile. Those humble roots make me love banana bread even more.

In this crazy, mixed-up world of unicorn toast and tie-dye bagels, I’ll take a hearty slice of banana bread any day.

My Vegan and Oil-Free Version of the Humble Banana Bread

For years, I didn’t have my “own” banana bread recipe. I experimented with different versions: with vegan “butter” and later coconut oil; with and without add-ins like nuts and chocolate; in muffin, loaf and even cake form.

Finally, this year, I set out to create a version that satisfied my cravings as well as my desire for a nutrient-packed banana bread. This one is nothing like the one from my childhood, and I like it even more.

It takes 45 minutes to bake and only 15 minutes (tops) to prepare. There’s not much mess, so there’s one less factor that typically deters me from baking. All in all, it’s a perfect recipe to integrate into your weekly meal planning routine.

Best of all? It’s oil-free. When it comes to banana bread, that doesn’t happen much.

This banana bread is slightly sweet — there’s just ¼ cup sugar plus the bananas (and whatever sweetener is in the chocolate chips you choose to use) — and it’s surprisingly light despite using a combo of oats and whole-wheat flour. I bake one batch every week to 10 days, whenever we have a half-dozen extra-ripe bananas in the house.

This recipe yields up to 24 slices, and we eat it just as often for breakfast and snacks as we do for “dessert.” And, since it holds together nicely on the go, Sam takes this on bike rides and I pack it on hikes. Just wrap a slice or two in parchment, then tuck into a plastic bag or reusable one.

My standard recipe uses chocolate chips or cacao nibs for sweetness plus walnuts for crunch (and more nutrition), but the beauty of this recipe is its versatility. I’ve listed several options below, but you can get creative.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s the recipe:

Oil-Free Vegan Banana Bread Recipe

1.0 from 2 reviews
Oil-Free Vegan Banana Bread
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 loaf
 
Ingredients
  • 6 ripe bananas
  • ¼ cup raw sugar (such as turbinado)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk (see note)
  • 1 ½ cups oats
  • 2 ½ cups whole-wheat flour (see note)
  • ¼ cup ground flax seeds
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup chocolate chips or cacao nibs
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or 2 loaf pans) with parchment or lightly grease with coconut oil. Set aside.
  3. Puree the bananas in a blender, then transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Add the sugar, vanilla and coconut milk to the banana puree, and stir well to combine. Stir in the oats, and set aside for 10 minutes. (This allows the oats to soften. If you skip this step, the bread will still turn out just fine, but the oats will stay slightly dry in the center. This will yield a tougher, drier loaf overall.)
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, flax, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  6. After the oats have soaked, use a sturdy wooden spoon to fold the dry ingredients into the wet a third or so at a time, until thoroughly mixed.
  7. Fold in the chocolate chips or cacao nibs and walnuts. Reserve a few for the top, if desired.
  8. Transfer to your prepared baking dish, using a spatula to smooth it to the edges. (The batter will only be about an inch deep.)
  9. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (If you use two loaf pans, start to check the bread after 40 minutes.)
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before slicing using a serrated knife. If using a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, cut down the center lengthwise first. Cover tightly and consume within five days before best results. You can also freeze individual slices for up to three months. Wrap slices first in parchment, then place in an air-tight container.
  11. If your coconut milk has separated into solids and liquids, aim for about ⅔ solids and ⅓ liquids. I prefer whole-wheat pastry flour, which is finely ground, and produces a softer, less dense final product.
Notes
There are several variations to explore. You can swap chopped pecans or macadamia nuts for the walnuts, add dried cranberries, currants or raisins for the chocolate chips, or sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top of the banana bread.. For a spicier version, stir in chopped candied or crystallized ginger, and for a creamier version, swirl in ¼ cup nut butter into the dough (don’t mix it in entirely so you can see it and taste it).

 

 

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Moderation: Sensible or Slippery Slope? with Pamela Fergusson, RD PhD

Moderation

When making a big life change, especially around healthy eating, is it better to go all in or leave room for moderation?

We posed that question to Pamela Fergusson, RD PhD, who — as a nutrition consultant — knows a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

… Should you allow for cheat days?

… Should you relax your guidelines when going out to dinner?

… What about when cooking for your family?

Pamela shares her advice and experience on the topic, so you don’t make the same mistakes as many new plant-based eaters.

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Healthy, Practical, Plant-Based Meal Planning with NMA Cookbook Co-Author Stepfanie Romine

vegetables

It’s no secret that meal planning can feel intimidating. There’s a lot of work up front, and if you’re new to the plant-based world without a built-up library of go-to meals, your options can quickly get monotonous.

But once you get started, meal planning will save massive amounts of time and energy throughout the week, and provide a blueprint for creative, delicious meals.

In today’s episode we chat with Stepfanie Romine, co-author of the brand new No Meat Athlete Cookbook, about practical meal planning tricks for the vegan athlete, and how to start saving time and energy in the kitchen.

Here’s what we talk about in this episode:

  • Stepfanie’s “Double-Up” method for meal planning on a busy schedule
  • Matt and Stepfanie’s obsession with flavor enhancers
  • Go-to last minute meals
  • ‘Flavanoids’ … huh?
  • The Instant Pot: is it worth it?

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More than B12: The Ultimate Guide to Supplementing Your Plant-Based Diet

Vegetables colorful background

Note from Matt Frazier: When people ask me about the biggest mistake I’ve made in my plant-based journey, it’s a no-brainer.

My answer is that I went too long without supplementing. I don’t mean protein powder or even a multivitamin, but instead just a handful of nutrients that, for one reason or another, simply aren’t that easy to get on a plant-based diet … nutrients that, when lacking in your diet, can result in deficiencies that have a serious impact on your long-term health, even increasing risk of heart disease and cancer if allowed to persist.  

That’s why it’s a pleasure for me to publish this comprehensive (read: long and totally worth-it) post from my friend Matt Tullman, a guy whose obsessive, evidence-based approach to nutrition is one that really resonates with me. His ambitious vision is to help 30% of the population to become plant-based by 2030 — and as you might guess, that excites me (you know I’m all about big goals!).

Matt and I share the view that the best advertisement for this lifestyle is a whole lot of healthy, thriving vegans, and I sincerely hope this post helps to make that happen. (And if you haven’t heard it yet, be sure to listen to my interview with Matt on NMA Radio.)

I’m here with a message that, without a doubt, isn’t going to make me the most popular guy at the vegan potluck.

But it’s one I believe is absolutely critical to the long term health of our movement, and that’s why I’m committed to sharing it.

Here goes: We need more than just B12.

Sure, Vitamin B12 might be the only supplement required by vegans in order to survive. But if you’re anything like me, you’re interested in much more than survival — you want to thrive.

As it turns out, there is compelling evidence suggesting that certain nutrients that are not typically part of most plant-based diets can help ensure optimal wellness and maximum healthspan.

For the good of our movement — which depends on the health of every individual that’s a part of it — I hope you’ll take the time to consider whether you need to make the effort to ensure you get those nutrients.

A Cautionary Tale

I was lucky: I caught my deficiencies before they could do much lasting damage.

But if I hadn’t been so meticulous in monitoring how my body responded to adopting a plant-based diet, I might not have been so fortunate.

Two years into my plant-based transformation, motivated by the loss of two loved ones to chronic diseases, and driven by my obsessive nature to read nearly 200 books and twice as many peer-reviewed articles, I was shocked when my monthly blood draw prompted my doctor to diagnose me with “rheumatoid-like inflammation.”

That’s right. Despite feeling energetic, running faster than ever, and having lost 30 pounds of excess weight — all signs that the plant-based diet was the key to lasting health — my blood panel showed levels of inflammation on par with autoimmune disease.

I was no junk-food vegan. I ate pounds of fruits and vegetables every day. (I know because Whole Foods charges by weight.) And I made sure to get Vitamin B12.

Health, longevity, and nutrition were my obsessions.

How could I be “sick”!?

Why B12 Probably Isn’t Enough

The fact is that not all nutrients come from plants.

Or, to be more specific, there are essential nutrients not abundantly available from plants (Vitamin B12 and D); others that may not be adequately absorbed from plant-sources (zinc), and still others that may exist as part of certain plant foods, but are not commonly consumed as part of a Western plant-based diet (iodine, Vitamin K2, and certain Omega-3’s).

My hope is not to convince you to take a multivitamin. Rather, it’s to encourage you to be thoughtful about what nutrients you’re regularly consuming and which ones you might not be, and to convince you that complementing your plant-based diet with a handful of essential nutrients is critical for your health.

Why do I say “complement” rather than “supplement”?

A complement is defined as “a thing that completes or brings to perfection.” This is not about adding more of the nutrients that you already derive from plant-based foods (like protein, for example, or most of the vitamins and minerals in a typical multivitamin).

Instead, it’s about complementing your intake of plants with the essential nutrients that are not found in the most commonly consumed plants (or not adequately absorbed from those plant sources).

In Defense of Plants

Don’t get me wrong: plants are nutritional powerhouses, and a plant-based diet is the best way you can eat.

If you look at the nutritional profiles of the most common foods in a particular diet, the clear winner, across the board, is fruits and vegetables (including nuts, seeds, legumes, and the like). Optimal nutrition requires a daily intake of high-quality nutrients, and unprocessed plants provide the most nutrients on a per-calorie basis.

When you weigh the scientific evidence, the compelling fact becomes clear: focusing your diet on whole plants is the best way to ensure vibrant health and maximum longevity. And a big part of the reason is the nutrient-density of plant foods.

But some critical nutrients are not found in plants because they come from bacteria, the Earth’s surface, or the sun’s rays. And, yes, some of them are concentrated by the bodies of animals, so they can be found in animal-foods and not plants.

But the converse is even more true: many nutrients that are abundantly available in plants cannot be found in comparable amounts or quality in animal products.

And since eating animals is certainly not the only means of deriving these nutrients, there’s no reason to compromise your health by consuming these substances which are tied to a range of adverse health outcomes.

Which leads us to a good question: If optimal nutrition depends upon the proper intake of nutrients, what are nutrients?

Macro- and Micronutrients: a Primer

In this post, I’m focusing only on the vitamins and minerals deemed “essential” for human health — meaning evidence shows that without those nutrients, the prolonged deficiency will manifest in serious illness, at times irreversible damage, or even early death due to malnourishment.

What that means is I’m not addressing the many beneficial phytochemicals, known and unknown, that a plant-based diet provides. Perhaps at some point they’ll come to be considered “essential,” but for now, you can rest assured you’re getting tons of them if you eat a wide variety of whole plants.

But let’s narrow our focus even more. Nutrients can be categorized into two broad groups: “macronutrients,” including carbohydrates, fats, and protein, and “micronutrients,” which refers to vitamins and minerals. While many protein-fanatics “supplement” with macronutrients, the focus of this post (and the essence of “complementing”) relates to micronutrients.

Vitamins and minerals play critical roles in your body, often working synergistically to catalyze reactions, send signals, or regulate cellular growth.

Vitamins are organic compounds, the letter-names for which you’ve probably heard (A, C, D, E, K, and B’s), while minerals are inorganic substances that naturally occur in the Earth’s surface or water. Some of the most crucial include calcium, chloride, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulfur, and zinc.   

To provide a final level of granularity, we can separate vitamins into “water-soluble” and “fat-soluble.” This simply means that certain vitamins are absorbed and stored in fat — like Vitamins E and A — while others dissolve in water and more quickly flush out of our system.  

Of these many essential nutrients, most can be readily found in and absorbed from plant sources, including vitamins A, C, E, K1, and most B vitamins (niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, B6, pantothenic acid, biotin, and folate).

There are, however, nutrients that are not abundantly found in plants, like Vitamin D and B12. There are others that may not be adequately absorbed from the typical plant-sources because the food also contains agents that block some level absorption; by way of example, many zinc-containing foods also come with phytates that considerably reduce absorption.

And there are still other nutrients that exist as part of plants — just not the plants typically consumed in the West. This is the case for K2, which is readily available from Japanese “natto,” a fermented soybean dish not generally enjoyed outside of certain Asian cultures.

While all this might seem complicated, the takeaway is simple: A plant-based, whole foods diet is a nutrient-dense way of eating, but a handful of nutrients are not consumed as part of a typical plant-based diet.

Let’s explore each of these “hard to find” nutrients to see why, and more importantly, what you should do about it:

Vitamin B12

The Story

As most people know, there are no adequate plant-sources of B12 — despite what you might have heard about eating “dirty” vegetables. Let’s start by exploring that idea to better understand why it’s critical to complement your plants with a B12 source.

We all know that human life relies on fertile soil. But we don’t often realize that we rely on the life in our soil.

One reason is that soil bacteria produce Vitamin B12. (The bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract manufacture B12 as well. But this occurs too low in your gut for you to absorb the vitamin into your bloodstream.) By eating vegetables straight from the family garden, or foraged from the wild, humans have historically ingested trace amounts of B12.

This is the root justification for not washing your vegetables in order to ingest the B12 that remains on the surface. But here’s the catch: Modern agriculture and other human behaviors decimate these bacterial colonies, so the amount of B12 available on the surface of your unwashed fruits and veggies is questionable at best.

Why It Matters for Vegans

Certain animal products, like red meat, contain B12 — those animals ingested the B12 as they grazed the land, consuming the soil along with their food. Thus, humans who eat other animals are essentially supplementing their B12 stores by ingesting the B12 and the bacteria in and on the meat. Of course, this does not apply to plant-based eaters.

How to Get It

While you may theoretically be able to derive B12 from dirty vegetables, when you recognize the critical importance of B12, you realize that method is quite risky. You are essentially rolling the dice with a nutrient that is critical for neurological function, for maintaining your immune system, and even for making blood cells and DNA. Vegans who remain B12 deficient for many years could ultimately develop anemia and neurological issues.

You can, alternatively, maintain adequate B12 stores by intentionally eating foods fortified with the vitamin — nutritional yeast is a great example, but many common breads and cereals are also fortified. This, of course, is just another form of supplementation, but one that some people prefer.

Personally, with a nutrient as critical as B12, I prefer to know that I’m getting a precise amount every day, so I take a B12 supplement.

How Much You Need

You don’t require large amounts of B12 in order to maintain optimal levels. That’s because your body secretes the vitamin in tiny amounts over long periods of time.

So long as you consume around 2.4 mcg (that’s micrograms) per day, you can rest assured that your body can utilize ample stores of B12 for the foreseeable future, even if you miss a couple of days or even weeks. (Don’t be alarmed if your supplement provides much more than 2.4 mcg. Because it’s water-soluble, there is little risk of overloading to the point of toxicity.)

Vitamin D

The Story

Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies, like those of other animals, activate D in reaction to sun exposure.

If you’re like me, you love being in nature, and you spend as much time outdoors as possible. But you also wear clothing and most of your work takes place indoors (although I do my best to hold meetings outside). That means our natural ability to soak up the sun’s rays is limited. As a result, many of us — regardless of dietary pattern — are deficient in Vitamin D. So why does D matter?

Scientific evidence suggests that being “D-ficient” may increase the risk of various chronic diseases, from osteoporosis to heart disease, some cancers, and even multiple sclerosis.

Vitamin D is a factor in the expression of more than a thousand genes throughout the body. If those genes are not expressed properly, any number of issues can ensue, hence the wide-ranging health implications. We have long known the importance of Vitamin D for bone health and immune function, but we’re just now realizing how impactful this vitamin really is.

For just one example, look at heart health. Studies have shown that low Vitamin D levels are associated with overall cardiovascular disease, including a higher risk of heart attack, sudden cardiac death, and strokes.

Why It Matters for Vegans

Just like humans, other animals activate Vitamin D from sun exposure. So people who consume animal products like eggs or fish are ingesting some amount of Vitamin D that way. Moreover, many dairy products are fortified with D, so those items are essentially “supplementing” Vitamin D intake as well.

How to Get It

Theoretically, you can activate all the Vitamin D you need just by exposing your skin to the sun. But, for the reasons mentioned above, you might not be getting that much sun.

Or you might have a genetic condition that limits your capacity to create Vitamin D; or another condition — like pale skin — that prevents you from enjoying the sun without burning. Or maybe you live in Chicago or Canada and can’t access the sun’s rays like someone living in Florida.

If you can’t ensure adequate (and safe) sun exposure, it’s best to supplement with some form of Vitamin D. There are many plant-based sources that provide an algae- or mushroom-derived form of Vitamin D. And many plant-based milks (made from everything from nuts to pea protein) are also fortified with Vitamin D.

I suggest looking for D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the type synthesized by the human body that’s more effective in raising blood levels.  

How Much You Need

It’s possible you’re already getting enough D from the sun; to find out, get a blood test and make sure that your doctor measures “25(OH)D” or “25-Hydroxy Vitamin D.” Most experts suggest that, for optimal health and even cancer prevention, blood levels of Vitamin D should be greater than 30 mg/dL.

If you, or your physician, is concerned about low Vitamin D levels, many experts, like Dr. Michael Greger, suggest a supplemental dose around 2,000 IU of Vitamin D3. Look for “Vitashine” on the label — that’s the only vegan form of D3.

DHA and EPA (The Other Omega-3’s)

The Story

We’ve all heard of the importance of Omega-3’s, but we don’t often hear that not all Omega-3’s are created equal.

Omega fatty acids from flax or chia seeds — the “ALA” kind — are an amazing addition to your plate, but vegans may not adequately consume other forms — namely DHA and EPA, which are critical for cardiovascular and brain health.

Omega-3’s play a key role in nearly every cell of your body. As such, a daily intake of these essential fatty acids is critical for optimal functioning — from regulating your cholesterol levels to powering your nervous system.

One of the most important functions — which we are just recently beginning to appreciate — is controlling the low-grade, systemic inflammation that is tied to many chronic diseases, like Alzheimer disease. Some of the strongest evidence, however, relates to the benefits in preventing and treating heart disease.

So where can you find these powerful compounds?

Your body can produce all of the necessary fatty acids required for daily function, except for linoleic acid (LA), an Omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the Omega-3 referenced above. We need to consume those compounds as part of our diet. When we do, our body uses them to synthesize other fatty acids, like EPA and DHA.

The good news is that ALA is abundantly available from plant-based foods, especially flax, chia, and hemp seeds. Just remember to crush or grind the flax seeds because our GI tract is unable to breakdown the shell. If seeds aren’t your favorite food item, you can also find ALA in soybeans and walnuts, among other non-seed sources.

So if we can create DHA and EPA from ALA, why not just focus on eating tons of ALA? I’m glad you asked, because this is one of the most common misconceptions among vegans I talk to.

The challenge is that our body is extremely inefficient at deriving DHA or EPA from ALA. Research suggests that less than 1% of ALA is converted into “physiologically effective levels” of DHA or EPA. A blood test can diagnose how well you convert ALA into DHA and EPA; the vast majority of people cannot do so adequately.

Why They Matter for Vegans

Fish consume micro-algae and other marine plants, and these species of seaweed are the root source of high-quality EPA and DHA. Those compounds are then deposited in the fish’s fat deposits. That’s why folks looking for a supplemental source Omega-3’s take fish oil capsules. It’s not that fish uniquely produce DHA or EPA; it’s that fish eat Omega-3-rich seaweed.

So if you don’t eat fish, or tons of seaweed, you may not have an adequate source of EPA and DHA in your daily diet.

How to Get Them

Now you might be thinking, “Seaweed is a plant, so I’ll just eat that!” The problem with this idea relates to the actual quantity available to absorb.

Because seaweeds are so low in fat, they provide relatively low amounts of EPA and DHA on a per gram basis. So you would have to eat an extraordinary amount of seaweed every single day in order to reap a sufficient amount of Omega-3’s.

Is that a theoretically plausible way of consuming an adequate amount of DHA and EPA? Sure. You could make an argument for eating copious amounts of seaweed, every day, along with a variety of sources of ALA in large quantities. That would be a thoughtful, evidence-based approach.

But practically speaking, most people can’t or won’t do that. That’s why I strongly suggest considering ways to supplement your intake of DHA and EPA.

How Much You Need

If you don’t regularly consume sources of DHA and EPA, you won’t show signs of deficiency in the next year or two, at least not in the same palpable way as you could with B12. The damage is more subtle and corrosive, the sort that is imperceptible until it manifests in a chronic disease later in life.

But the potential benefits of increasing our intake of these compounds are considerable. For this reason, I complement my plant-based ALA with a purely produced, algae-derived source of DHA and EPA.

So how much should you consume?

The scientific community has not reached agreement in terms of a recommended daily intake for DHA and EPA. There have been numerous studies exploring specifically DHA supplementation in vegetarian populations. (That’s because retroconversion of DHA into EPA is possible, so supplementing DHA is an effective way to boost EPA levels as well.)

These investigations offer a sense for the optimal intake, leading some experts to suggest that adults should consume 300 mg of DHA per day. Other dietitians encourage us to aim for a larger intake, like a combined daily dose of EPA and DHA near 650 mg.

Iodine

The Story

Your body relies on iodine in order to create essential thyroid hormones. Without those, you would be unable to properly regulate metabolism and other vital functions. This process is even more important for pregnant women and children because a growing human relies on thyroid hormones for skeletal and brain development.

Iodine is similar to the Omega-3’s in that this mineral does exist as part of certain plants — especially seaweeds — but may not be adequately consumed as part of a typical, Western plant-based diet.

Just ask yourself, do you eat a lot of kelp, hiziki, kombu, or wakame? Maybe at a sushi restaurant, but those are not daily staples for most of us.

Aside from these marine plants, there are land-grown iodine sources like cranberries and potatoes, but the iodine content largely depends on the cultivation practices, soil quality, and the iodine levels in that particular plot of land. It’s therefore a bit of a gamble to rely on these as your iodine sources, and most research suggests that these plant-foods are insufficient to meet your iodine needs.

Why It Matters for Vegans

Much of the table salt sold in grocery stores is fortified with iodine, hence the name “iodized salt.” But many vegans and other health-conscious eaters have upgraded to more natural forms of salt, like sea salt or himalayan rock (also referred to as “pink”) salt, which don’t have the added iodine.

Further, people who consume dairy get small amounts of iodine that’s left behind by the products used to clean dairy processing equipment — one iodine source I’m quite happy to miss out on.

How to Get It

If you decide to supplement your iodine intake, that doesn’t mean you have to ingest the mineral in pill form. You can simply make sure to eat one of those sea-plants, like kelp, on a daily basis.

Another easy way is adding a dash of iodized salt to your meal, but remember that many natural salts do not contain iodine. And keep in mind that relying on salt as your “supplement” comes with drawbacks– the serving of iodine could also increase your daily dose of sodium, which some experts warn could increase your risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions.

If you worry about that, or just want to ensure an accurate daily dose, you might want to rely on a capsule or liquid form.

How Much You Need

Whatever your chosen form — seaweeds, iodized salt, or part of a multivitamin — try to reach the recommended daily intake of 150 mcg for adult men and women.

Vitamin K2

The Story

Most of us don’t realize is that Vitamin K, like the Omega-3’s, comes in multiple forms. One of those, K2, has only recently been understood to serve as a vital component of an optimal nutritional profile.

If you only take away one thing about K2, you should remember that it is critical to enable your body to properly manage calcium. That means moving calcium away from soft tissues, like your brain and your heart, and towards your bones and teeth.

The biological mechanisms by which K2 operates are the subject of many ongoing investigations, but the benefits and potential risks are already quite clear. K2 plays many diverse roles and recent studies suggest it helps prevent a variety of chronic diseases, like coronary artery disease. One way this is accomplished, similar to the Omega-3 fatty acids, is by combating chronic inflammation, which is linked to many of the leading killers worldwide.

But that’s not the only way K2 impacts our body. By ensuring calcium is properly managed, K2 is critical in everything from preventing calcification of arterial walls to promoting strong bone density.

Why It Matters for Vegans

The critical realization is that Vitamin K comes in different forms. Many of us fail to recognize this, and assume we’re covered because we consume lots of Vitamin K1 through a typical plant-based diet. Indeed, K1 is easily attainable through a variety of plants, especially green, leafy vegetables, but K2 is not. (K3 is a synthetic form, so I won’t address that further.)

Since vegans are not consuming butter, egg yolks, or other animal-based foods that contain K2, we need to pay extra attention to our dietary sources of K2. Yet, since K2 is only found in a few plant-foods, which are not usually consumed in large quantities in the West, a supplemental dietary source of may be necessary to ensure your body is functioning at the highest level — and protected from chronic disease in the long run.

How to Get It

The challenge is that there are only a few plant-based foods rich in K2. The notable examples are certain fermented foods, like the previously mentioned natto, a Japanese dish made from soybeans (which is a pungent and polarizing dish even in Japan).

You might be thinking, “Why can’t I just eat miso and tempeh, since those fermented foods are frequently consumed as part of a Western plant-based diet?”

Yes, those are fermented, but they are not high in K2. That’s the challenge with relying on foods for bacterially derived compounds: There’s no real way to know how much you might be consuming in any given bite, and you may go days or weeks without adequate intake. That’s why I strongly suggest considering supplemental sources of K2.

How Much You Need

While there are recommended intakes for Vitamin K generally (120mcg and 90mcg for adult men and women, respectively), there are not official recommendations for K2 specifically. Nonetheless, you can find experts offering advice, like Dr. Andrew Weil, who suggests 10 to 25 mcg of K2 is adequate to ensure bone health.

With regards to dosing in order to prevent chronic diseases, we’ll have to wait for the scientific community to amass more data.

Zinc

The Story

Zinc is an important nutrient with a complicated story.

Our body utilizes zinc in a variety of ways. In fact, the mineral helps stimulate the activity of more than 100 enzymes. It also supports proper immune function, plays a role in ensuring normal growth, enables processes like gene regulation, and even helps neurons communicate, thereby enabling memory formation and learning.

Studies have even shown that zinc can help stave off age-related chronic illness by combating systemic inflammation.

Why It Matters for Vegans

Zinc can be a confusing topic. You probably know that many plants contain zinc, but you’ve likely also heard that vegetarians might not be getting enough. To understand why, the critical point to realize is that, just because you’re ingesting a nutrient, doesn’t mean that you’re absorbing it.

There are innumerable factors regulating how much of a substance actually enters your bloodstream: the amount of gut acid available to breakdown a food and pull out the active components; the specific chemical form of those nutrients; and even the other items consumed at the same time. There are also blocking agents that inhibit the uptake of specific nutrients, which brings us back to zinc.

Many vegan foods that are rich in zinc also contain phytates, which hinder our bodies’ ability to absorb zinc. Some medical researchers suggest that, as a result, vegans and vegetarians may need to increase their zinc intake by as much as 50% in order to compensate for the diminished absorption.

How to Get It

To reiterate, zinc is available from a wide range of plant-foods, including legumes, tempeh, and tofu, along with many nuts, seeds, and grains. It can also be derived from a variety of fortified products, like plant-based milks, many cereals, and even certain meat-substitutes.

Just keep in mind, if you consume zinc from the whole foods listed above, be sure to learn about how to enhance zinc absorption by reducing phytates — like roasting nuts and soaking or sprouting beans and grains.

How Much You Need

How can you tell if you’re consuming and absorbing sufficient amounts of zinc?

The easiest way to start is by looking for the symptoms. But be careful for false positives — “dry skin” is not necessarily a symptom of a zinc deficiency. But of course, a more accurate method is to simply ask your doctor to draw blood and check your serum zinc levels.

Before you jump off the couch to schedule an appointment with your doctor, though, keep in mind that research suggests vegans do not have much lower zinc status compared to the general population. A 2013 meta-analysis found that zinc levels in vegans were only slightly less than those of their non-vegetarian counterparts, and the difference was even less when comparing populations in developed nations.

That should be heartening news for us vegans. Nonetheless, given the importance of zinc in so many diverse bodily functions, and the potential complications with absorption, I try to be mindful of the amount I consume each day.

The recommended daily allowance for adults is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. When you look at plant-foods containing the most zinc per serving, you realize that your natural dietary habits may not allow you to reach the daily goal.

If you decide that you might be consuming too little — or are diagnosed with a deficiency — the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests taking a supplement of 150% of the RDA, though other experts suggest a more modest supplemental dose of 50% of the RDA. Since the upper tolerable limit is 40mg per day, either dose is unlikely to pose a threat over time.

Why Complementing is Key to the Plant-Based Movement

I wrote this guide because I want to ask for your help.

To ensure a thriving plant-based movement, it’s imperative that every vegan is a thriving vegan.

Whether you’re vegan for the animals, the environment, or your health, we need you to lead a long, vibrant life — that’s the best sort of advertisement for the plant-based brand. We know the remarkable benefits of this diet, and the best way to share them is through the vibrancy of our community.

This depends, in turn, on optimal health for every vegan. If a complementary set of nutrients will serve to support your vibrant health, I encourage you to seek it out.

The plant-based community’s dedication to whole foods leads many of us to reject the idea of “supplementing.” That certainly applied to me! I assumed that eating a diverse set of unprocessed plants would provide ample amounts of nutrients — and I still believe that to be mostly correct.

But now I’m more educated and intentional when it comes to identifying gaps in my plant-based nutrition. And I take proactive steps to complement those plants with the essential nutrients that might be missing.

Trust me: Feeling great is not a failsafe bellwether of long-term wellness and maximum healthspan. I spent years as a vegan, consuming a whole-foods, plant-based diet, not knowing that certain nutrients were vital for me and my family — and were entirely missing from our daily diet. The only way to truly know for sure is to work with a qualified health professional and pursue the necessary blood tests.

The great news is that a diet based on whole plants is packed with the vast majority of essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals — not to mention the ideal macronutrient profile — so you don’t need to worry, and calculate, and measure.

Just eat lots of whole plants, and be aware that there are a few nutrients — those explained above — that you might want to give extra consideration, to maximize your chances of living a long, healthy, vibrant life.

About the Author: Matt Tullman is determined to help the plant-based movement reach 30% of the population by 2030. To make that happen, he’s currently focused on starting, advising, and investing in plant-based companies.

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