Posted on

How I came to write ‘Feeding Your Vegan Child’

Blog post written by Sandra Hood, author of ‘Feeding Your Vegan Child’. Available for pre-order now, launches 29th June.

 

When I first became vegan I was bombarded by friends and family who were really worried that I would become ill!  But this was back in the 1970’s.  There were no vegetarian, let alone vegan, ready meals available then. Meat and two veg was the norm with the Dairy Council diary being found in most households and adverts for the daily pinta and ‘go to work on an egg’ rife!!   I remember making cheese with the only vegan margarine available – melting it and stirring in soya flour and yeast extract and waiting for it to go hard – it was surprisingly tasty!

I joined the Vegan Society and as a member I received a small A5 magazine every month full of tips and recipes.  I loved the holistic approach, providing information on diet, animals and the environment.  It included a contact list so one could link up with other like-minded people – there were very few vegans back in the 1970’s!  Fortunately, there was a local vegan group near where I lived and my younger sister, who had been vegetarian since a child, and I went along.  I remember food was the main focus, with cakes and dishes being shared with great enthusiasm!  Those groups were so important back then to be able to spend time with others.

What’s cooking?

It was at the local meetings I met the wonderful Eva Batt.  I was so lucky to have a ‘celebrity’ living near me!  Eva wrote the first vegan cook book – ‘What’s Cooking’.  Eva inspired me to cook wonderful vegan dishes – back then everything had to be cooked from scratch, no ready meals then!  Her dishes were nutritious, colourful and tasty.   I still use Eva’s recipes to this day.

The first plant milk in the UK

As a member of the Vegan Society I was invited to attend the Vegan Society AGMs.  Back then, as the membership was so small, the AGM’s were held in the garden of Kathleen Jannaway, secretary of the Vegan Society. It was there where I met the late Arthur Ling.  There were no milk alternatives in the UK in the 1960’s and Arthur and a small group of other vegans tried unsuccessfully to get non-dairy milks imported into the UK.  Failing to achieve this they decided to produce their own and in 1964 Plamil was produced.  Check out the Plamil website to find out more about its fascinating history.  The company went on to produce other vegan products and is still going strong.  Arthur’s son Adrian, vegan from birth, runs the company and is known as the vegan Willy Wonka.

Children’s case histories

I worked with Arthur for a number of years. Whilst working at Plamil I was able to indulge in its other vegan products including peas pudding, rice pudding and delicious chocolates.  The soya milk came in tins and later moved to tetrapaks.  It came concentrated and you diluted it yourself with water.  The thought was that it was practical, not having to carry the extra weight of water, and also saved on packaging.  Wouldn’t it be great if this was the case today?  More environmentally friendly and really practical!! Arthur was way ahead of his time.

Arthur was so passionate about appropriate nutrition for children and adults.  He meticulously kept records of children whose parents were raising them on vegan diets and I was involved in researching these case histories.  I was fascinated by the simple whole foods that the parents were giving their children and how they thrived.  Plamil Foods produced 4 copies of these case histories over the years, with the first one produced in 1973 and the last one in 2000.

I wanted to learn more and I decided to study nutrition.  I also wanted to find out for sure whether a vegan diet was ‘safe’ and be able to answer the ongoing criticisms from friends and family, the majority without any nutrition knowledge, who said that the vegan diet wasn’t ‘natural’ and was inferior to an omnivorous diet.

Becoming a dietitian

University was tough and I was known as ‘the vegan’.  However, I thrived and decided to do the extra year’s study to qualify as a dietitian.  After qualification I was fortunate to secure a full-time post as a community dietitian.  I kept in close contact with the Vegan Society who welcomed my knowledge and asked me to become their gratis dietitian.  As such as I provided a nutrition page, answered questions and was generally available for any nutrition queries.

My first book

The Vegan Society was regularly being contacted by parents and health professionals alike asking nutrition questions about raising vegan children.  I suggested to the Vegan Society that we produced a book to support parents and health professions and in 2004 I wrote ‘Feeding your vegan infant – with confidence’.  The idea was to produce a complete guide from preconception through to infancy to reassure parents and health professionals alike that it was possible to raise children happily and healthily on a vegan diet.

Today

Over the last couple of years there has been such a growth in plant-based eating.  Vegan diets are now something to aspire to.  Evidence is clear that raising children on plant-based diets not only meets nutritional requirements but indeed can benefit health.  In addition, it is the way forward for the planet.  As my book was still the only UK version on raising vegan children, I thought this was the perfect time for an update.  I wanted it to remain a practical but readable book to assist both vegan parents and health professionals. I am really hoping my book will do this.

 

Posted on

The Truth about Vitamin D and Sun Exposure

Vitamin D and strong bones

This is the vitamin we have all heard of in relation to strong bones. It is actually a hormone, made from cholesterol. Vitamin D is made in the skin upon exposure to ultraviolet light (UVB rays). Vitamin D deficiency is becoming rife in our society, and it has been linked to numerous other medical problems.

From the skin where it is formed, Vitamin D travels to the liver, where it is converted to a ‘storage’ form. When vitamin D is needed, some of the stored form is transported to the kidneys, where it is converted by an enzyme to a ‘supercharged’ form known as 1,25 D, which is 1000 times more active.

If the diet is high in animal protein, the converting enzyme cannot function effectively and the process of producing 1,25 D is adversely affected. Likewise, those with high levels of stress might be inadvertently affecting their vitamin D levels due to high levels of cortisol, which reduces vitamin D absorption.

Vitamin D is essential for calcium and phosphorus absorption in the gut and its deposition into the bones. If calcium consumption is too high (such as with overuse of chalk-based supplements) it lowers the activity of the kidney converting enzyme, and the levels of 1,25 D fall, indicating that high calcium diets are not necessarily better for us.

Raw plant diets and Vitamin D

About 90% of our vitamin D supplies come from sun exposure, not food. However, certain mushrooms have been shown to have relatively good levels and are used in supplementation regimes. The humble stinging nettle gives a good supply, so put some gloves on and pick some fresh nettles to go in your daily green juice. You may hear that the only food source of vitamin D is from animal products. This is not actually the case – we just have to be a bit more resourceful in where we look. In fact, an interesting study indicated that people following a living-foods, uncooked plant-based diet absorbed and maintained higher levels of vitamin D.

There exists considerable controversy about sun exposure. How many times have we heard that we have to wear at least factor 15 sunblock before we consider venturing outside, even in the UK in winter? We seem to have become so consumed with the fear of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, that many of us get insufficient sun exposure to stimulate adequate vitamin D production.

Vitamin D deficiency

It is estimated that half the population of the UK is deficient in vitamin D in the winter, with as many as one in six being classified as severely deficient. Those more at risk are the dark skinned who live too far away from the equator, women who use a traditional religious dress which prevents any exposure of their skin to the sun, and anyone who lives at latitudes greater than 40 degrees north or south of the equator.

Additionally, those living in a polluted environment will have less exposure to UVB, since air pollution blocks some of the UVB rays reaching us. Older people also seem to have a lower rate of production of vitamin D in the skin when exposed to sunlight.

Use some common sense. Do not go out in the sun at midday at the equator and stay there for three hours; build up gradually. After a long winter, expose slowly, for a few minutes a day, if you have very pale skin. Avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm as a general rule. But do expose!

Sunblock and Vitamin D production

Regarding sunblock, avoid chemical sunblocks, since the skin will absorb practically everything you put onto it. Personally I never use sunblock unless I am up a mountain (altitude increases your ‘dose’ of UVB rays), and I am well known for my love of being out in the sun. My favourite form of protection is close-woven cotton clothes, as recommended by the Vitamin D Council.

A final word of warning regarding sun exposure supplying you with adequate vitamin D is that if you shower within 12 hours of the sun exposure, you wash off the oils in the skin that are being converted. New studies even indicate that it could be up to 48 hours before the vitamin D has been absorbed, and most people would certainly have showered by then. The advice therefore would be to go out in the sun early in the day, and not shower until the following morning.

I recommend that anyone concerned about their vitamin D levels, and whether they should be supplementing, get tested for 1,25 D. I advise against indiscriminate supplementation with vitamin D, particularly if you have regular sun exposure. When you take vitamin D, the body creates more vitamin K2-dependent proteins that move calcium around in the body. Without vitamin K2, those proteins remain inactivated, so their benefits are unrealised. This is why, when supplementing, I recommend supplements that contain 1,25 D and K2 together, for the best health benefits. Taken together, these two nutrients keep the calcium in your bones and improve heart health by preventing the arteries and other soft tissues from becoming calcified.

For more information on raw plant diets and natural ways to support your health read Max Tuck’s books Love Your Bones and The Whole Body Solution, and follow @MaxTuck on twitter.

This extract is taken from Love Your Bones, the essential guide to ending osteoporosis and building a healthy skeleton available as ebook and paperback.

Further Reading:

15 Health Benefits of Vitamin D, According to Science (+15 Best Vitamin D Foods)