Thursday, April 14, 2011

Meghan the Veghan Goes to the Nutritionist

The Vegan Food Pyramid
I'd like to say I get consistently awesome advice from my friend Jess. It's quite close to consistently awesome advice, but I am pretty sure she gave me the go-ahead to attempt to take 21 shots on the day of my 21st birthday. As we've gotten older, Jess has become a dependable source of reason. Though I can always count on her to listen to me gripe about specific problems, her advice usually comes in grand, sweeping form. For instance, before she left for a year-long trip around the world, she reminded me, "Don't die before I get back. Also, don't get married."

Things like that.

Jess has been a vegetarian for as long as I've known her. She calls it avoiding "food with face." The idea of a face seems rather flexible, though; I would be hard-pressed to identify a face on a shrimp (though I could guess the general vicinity), but she doesn't eat shrimp.

When I told Jess I had decided to be a vegan, she was delighted. But the second sentence out of her mouth (after "Hooray!", which counts as a sentence in my world) was, "You'll need to go to a nutritionist." So I decided to take that good advice. I called university health services immediately, but the earliest appointment I could get was for yesterday afternoon.

The nutritionist at university health services is named Betsy, and as it turns out, she was a vegan for fourteen years. The first question she asked me was, "Why did you decide to be a vegan?" Later in our conversation, she revealed that she asked that question to see if my answer would involve any combination of the words "weight" and "loss." It didn't, so we proceeded.

Betsy confirmed my belief that flax seed is awesome. She also recommended walnuts and purslane as sources of omega-3 fatty acids. I responded, "" Purslane is a weed-like green that's yummy when mixed with veggies, and Betsy said I can pick it up at most farmers markets around here.

But Betsy's main concern was that I am not getting enough calcium. Apparently, our bones only accumulate calcium until we're about thirty years old. Then we're stuck with whatever we've got. It's like a savings account from which you can only withdraw money after age thirty. But it's worse because if you run out, your bones fall apart.

I find that terrifying. Luckily, I eat a lot of spinach, which is a great source of iron and calcium. But the iron and calcium compete for binding sites in the intestinal tract. Betsy said to squeeze something acidic like lemon juice or balsamic vinegar on my spinach before I eat it to inspire the fiber to "let go" of the iron and calcium. Or I can swallow one of those horse-tranquilizer-sized calcium supplement pills every morning. Or both. I don't want my bones to fall apart.

I used to get all the calcium I needed from cow's milk. Almond milk is usually not enriched with calcium, but Betsy said that often soy milk is. I've been trying to steer clear of soy milk because I've heard some crazy rumors about Japanese people's brains shrinking after eating too much soy. I told Betsy I didn't want my brain to shrink. She told me that as long as I don't consume more than 35 grams per day, I will be fine. And it would take a real effort to consume more than 35 grams in a day.

As we wrapped up our session, Betsy urged me not to be influenced by crazy people who do cleanses or who restrict their diets in absurd ways. She urged me to eat cheese when I'm in France this summer, but I already planned to. I don't know how to say "ridiculous American vegan chick" in French, and I don't really want to find out.

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