How Healthy is Veganism Really?

veganuary-2017

The vegan diet has gained immense popularity. A dietary lifestyle that once seemed extreme, picky and difficult to cater for has become one of the hottest topics in heath and nutrition right now.  There is an onslaught of persuasive vegan media, vegan critics have gained more of a louder voice, and with tenacity the campaign is really quite intense.

Let’s be clear. I’m not anti-vegan. I am an omnivore and I’m not a passionate meat eater either. I don’t eat much meat and vegan cook books make up the majority of my collection. I am however concerned with some of the veganism claims floating around that are based on pseudo-science, skewed claims and the judgements that scoff at anyone who isn’t following a vegan diet because we’re so unenlightened and stupid for not seeing the light.

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Instagram: @noraspiration

A lot of the momentum for veganism was gained on social media; social media influencers have a massive power over our health and well-being choices (Byrne et al, 2017). This is important in relation to influencing public health amongst the general population with influencers often having more impact than traditional advertising campaigns. It seems that fruit and veg finally have some momentum to compete with food manufacturers. One study found that 41% of participants agreed that social media influencers motivated them to make healthier food choices sometimes, and for 32% of participants the motivation to eat healthier overall (Byrne et al, 2017). This news could only be bloody brilliant right? Finally, we have an effective way of influencing the nation’s diet for the better?

Uhhhmmm, not always. There is a downside to the influence of social media trendsetters. A big proportion of influencers are not qualified dietitians or nutritionists (Byrne et al, 2017), which is important when misleading nutritional information is being shared (Byrne et al, 2017). This makes the dietary choices they’re recommending potentially health damaging as they advocate choices such as gluten-free as a healthier choice for those without coeliac disease, and diets that can include eliminating whole food groups and lead to nutritional deficiency (Byrne et al, 2017).

I’m not saying you can’t have a complete diet whilst being vegan, but you do need to spend effort covering all of your bases to prevent malnourishment (Cramer et al, 2017). A main and legitimate concern for those following a vegan diet is bone health over time. Insufficient intakes of calcium, vitamin D, Vitamin B12, zinc and n-3 fatty acids can lead to a higher chance of developing osteoporosis and  fractures (mangano and tucker, 2017).

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Instagram: @naturally.jo

I have many burning questions about veganism which I will be exploring in a series of posts including topics such as:

  • The role of supplements
  • Maintaining bone health in the long run
  • Whether vegan really is the healthiest option
  • Where pseudo-claims are coming from
  • Whether the reason for being motivated to follow a vegan diet affects compliance over time
  • Endurance training
  • Environmental impact of diet and lifestyle choices
  • Eating disorders and veganism
  • Mood and veganism

Let’s go on a journey of discovery and see what science says about veganism. If you have any specific topics you’d like to read about you can comment or email me at ninjaontherunblog@gmail.com

Ciao for now.

References:

Byrne, E., Kearney, J. & MacEvilly, C. (2017) The role of influencer marketing and social influencers in public health. Proceedings of Nutrition Society. 76(OCE3) .

Cramer, H., Kessler, C.S., Sundberg, T., Leach, M.J., Schumann, D., Adams, J. & Lauche, R. (2017) Characteristics of americans choosing vegetarian and vegan diets for health reasons. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour. 49(7) pp.561-567.

Mangano, K.M. & Tucker, K.L. (2017) Bone health and vegan diets. In: Mariotti, F. (ed.) Vegetarian and Plant-Based Diets in Health and Disease Prevention. (1st) London: Academic Press. pp.315-327.

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Apple Harvesting and Juice Making with The Orchard Project

Last week at Growhampton – a sustainable social enterprise at the university of Roehampton, we teamed up with The Orachrd Project and  harvested apples from the campus orchard. Until recent years the orchard was completely grown over and had been neglected for a period of time. One of the tasks that Growhampton and The Orchard Project undertook was to re-open up the orchard from the overgrowth and maintain it. The Orchard Project started as an urban orchard project in London and now helps maintain community orchards nationwide. The fruit of this labour, is as predicted, a variation of fresh apples growing on the healthy trees. Last year some pear trees were also planted and will come into fruition within the next 3-4 years.

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In order to harvest the apples we used a tool which was a bit like a small pond fishing net but instead of catching fish, we were catching apples. Once the apple is in the bag you position the bag so the branch goes between the teeth of the entrance to the bag and snaps the apple free from the tree. This on a really long pole, which extends to what must be ~3m in length at the maximum extension. This makes it quite hard work because when the weight of the apple drops into the bag it takes a bit of effort from your shoulder, arm and back muscles to keep control of the pole.

When harvesting we separated the apples into ones for cider and ones for juice. If they had become bruised then they went into the cider pile. On Sunday we went to the pressing site in an arch way at Herne Hill in South London. We had ~550Kg of apples to sort, crush and collect juice from. It was quite as big a task as it sounds and took a whole day of work between a team of 10 people in order to get through the yield.

The first stage was quality control. If there is a lot of bruising then the apple was discarded. If there was only a little bruising then we just cut it off. The reason for this is that when the apple bruises beneath the skin a chemical reaction occurs and the waste product of this can spoil a batch of juice. However, when fermenting for cider it is destroyed in the fermentation process – which is why apples with bruises are OK for cider and not for juice.

We washed them once in the first bucket, then again in the second before piling them into crates. From these crates the apples went into a pumped up blender that smashed the apples up into small pieces and churned them out of the bottom. Form this you make cheese – which sound odd but that’s what it is called. It doesn’t involve real cheese.

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Apples mashed up and waiting.
Processed with MOLDIV
Making cheese

The building cheese process involved using a square frame within which a cheese cloth fabric square was placed at a diagonal angle. The smashed apples were scooped into the frame then once the frame was full the cloth was folded over in one direction. Once the frame was removed a wooden pallete was placed on top and the process happened again until there was a pile of apple parcels stacked upon one another separated only by the wooden palletes. Once stacked as tall as it could go and still be able to fit under the press the basin rotated 180°. The machine then slowly raised the base upon which the pallettes were stacked upon. In the process all the juice was released from the apple and funnelled out through pipes in barrels of juice.

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Processed with MOLDIV
and press…

Each time apples are pressed from an Orchard the juice and cider are different because of the variety of the apples changes from orchard to orchard. This means that no two batches of juice or cider are identical.

The Orchard Project works to enable communities to conserve and utilise the natural orchards around the country and in London that may have been neglected and forgotten about. In return for the apple yield The Orchard Project give 50% of the juice yield to the orchard or organisation who maintains each orchard, and use the other 50% to bottle and sell for funds to keep The Orchard Project going.

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Source: http://www.theorchardproject.org.uk

The drinks produced by The Orchard Project in London is called Local Fox Cider and London Apple Juice – it is a dry cider with no sugars or juices added in the process. It is a completely natural process of fermentation that occurs naturally. Both products are produced only from apples harvested from the urban orchards of London. More than producing juice and cider, The Orchard Project is a community project that empowers local communities to develop community spaces and harvest.

I really enjoyed getting involved with the harvest and juice pressing with The Orchard Project. It was good fun and speaking for myself, I really enjoy getting involved in community projects like this: you tend to meet nice people, have a bit of a giggle whilst you work and in return I had some banging apples from the orchard day and a Local Fox Cider: both of which were banging by my account.

To find out more The Orchard Project and see what they’re up to in your area click here.

 

 

 

Future Self – A Letter I Wrote to My Future Me

Last year, in a bid to try and improve my life I bought The Daily Greatness Journal. I am a big fan of the self improvement trend that’s been going on because I believe that we can all always be better at something in our lives – and the tools out there for self improvement can help with reaching those goals. There is not such thing as perfection, but there is definitely always room to learn, improve and enhance our life experience.

When I did the prep activities in my Daily Greatness Journal I was quite low in mood; it took me about a month to get through all of the goal setting, action planning and writing letters of forgiveness, acceptance and missions to myself. One activity was to write a letter to yourself to open in a years time. I didn’t stick with using my Daily Greatness Journal for more than 3 months because the level of positivity in every question was too much for my winter depression brain to handle. I did however take from it that goal setting, and self reflection on a regular basis can help with achieving what we want from out lives.

I learned about self efficacy, about picking myself up after a blip, about accepting myself where I am right now in order to achieve the goals I want to, about the effect of practicing daily gratitude, daily mindfulness and the art of perseverance. I’m not saying I’ve mastered all of these qualities, and I am saying that this journal helped me focus in on my behaviours to initiate behaviour change and improve my ability to have and utilise these qualities within myself. It helped me dig deep to access my ability to achieve the goals I want.

It’s not wonder cure for a stressful life, and it is a useful tool in helping hone in to your behaviours that may be more or less efficient to change what you want to. There are plenty other tools, journals, books, apps, and sites out there with similar principles. The Daily Greatness Journal is the only one I have used so I cannot comment on comparisons of products – but there’s so much out there at the moment there is bound to be something suitable for your own style and needs if you want to find it.


Since writing down my goals in the way that The Daily Greatness Journal asked me to, I cemented them into my mind. So in this letter to myself, I wrote about what I wanted to achieve in the next year. I wrote it on the 22nd October 2016. I know yesterday was the 3rd, but the temptation grew too much seeing as I was so close to the date, but hey, it’s pretty much been a year. So here goes, here’s my Letter:

To Future Monica,

It is now late October 2016. A year ago I had big hopes for 2016 and lots of plans, but it hasn’t gone quite according to plan.

So far this year I don’t feel very accomplished, pleased or proud of myself. I am rather disappointed. My mood hasn’t levelled out as much as I’d have liked it to by now. I have better coping skills from DBT for not engaging in target behaviours but I don’t FEEL any better. Currently I am very angry and frustrated with my team and the majority of staff involved in working with me.

I have recently started university and I am finding this change difficult to cope with. I never finished my book. I didn’t go climbing much, and not at all with the club outdoors. I’ve stopped running. Exercise isn’t as much a part of my life which saddens me. I enjoyed it.

So I haven’t been admitted much. I’ve not been in contact with emergency services as much by far – and these are positives but it doesn’t mean I’m feeling or coping particularly better.

A lot of energy has gone into DBT and resisting target behaviours, and target behaviours that focus on my QUALITY of life have diminished. I want to change this within the next year, or at least move towards making this change for myself and my life. Things I would like to achieve working towards this are:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Run 10k race, maybe a half marathon
  • Climb regularly
  • Lead climb outside
  • Explore outdoors and nature more via walking, climbing, camping etc
  • Read for pleasure again
  • Keep writing
  • Have some good quality close friendships
  • Keep studying and do well at it
  • Eat healthier and cook more

and within myself:

  • Feel more stable and/or able to manage my mood better
  • Feel more energised, fit and healthy
  • Feel strong, mentally and physically
  • Believe in my own capabilities
  • Have a more positive outlook on my life and future

and finally, ENJOY myself more,

All the best,
Monica

When I read through this it helped me to reflect on a period of time that was longer than a week or day at a time – and it made me feel better about myself, and the changes that have occurred in the last year.

I have been quite aware recently that things had greatly improved. Recently, with thanks to Facebook memories and such, I can see snippets of where I was 1 and 2 years ago. I was in a very different place. 2 years ago to the day I was discharged from my longest stay in hospital at that time. I remember this as a very disturbing and quite traumatic time in my life. 1 year ago, I started University and I was trying really hard to get involved with running again with little success. I was low, and I wasn’t coping or enjoying going to uni. With help I managed to stick it out and I’m so glad that in those months of thinking I wouldn’t be able to do it that I did.

So where am I today? Today I am training for the London Marathon 2018. Today I am studying my 2nd year at university. Today I am functioning more, dressing more to my own taste and style as opposed to living in tracksuits because they’re basically pyjamas you can wear out and about. I signed up to the gym again and I actually use it. I speak to people more and have ever so slightly less anxiety about doing so. I believe that this degree if within my capabilities and I’m damn well going for it. I get up each morning and I’m able to. It’s not always easy but the main difference is that I can and I do.

I’ve achieved a lot of that list already, and perhaps some more than I ever imagined that I could back in October 2016:

  • I exercise a few times a week now. It has become a habit and when I miss to many days I miss it. At the moment, this is a definite lifestyle choice I am making and managing.
  • I’ve smashed 10k in February, a half in April, Tough Mudder Half, and I have a 10k this weekend that I’m excited for and not too nervous about.
  • I’ve been climbing more and am bordering on being better than I’ve ever been at climbing.
  • I’ve been on a few walks and outside ventures. I went to Sardinia and explored the nature in another country – and get this, I enjoyed it. I really really enjoyed it.
  • I’ve read about 6-7 books this year for pleasure.
  • I’m writing right now, so…
  • I’ve managed to make some friends and connections where I live, through running and am exposing myself to more situations where the possibilities to make friends and have human connection is more possible.
  • I’m still studying and I did well enough to feel pleased with myself in my 1st year despite the challenges I faced and the time I missed.
  • I cook every week at the moment and have been experimenting with recipes from all the books I’ve bought over the years.

and as a result:

  • I feel more able and capable of managing my mood and the associated problems
  • I feel more energised, fit and healthy. I’ve started to see muscle gains from my training too which is always a nice bonus.
  • I feel quite strong physically and stronger than I was mentally. I am more able to take the hurdles as they come and manage them more effectively than I could before.
  • I believe that I can more than I ever have.
  • My life feels very much worth living. I am making plans for the next 1-2 years and I can see myself being around to take part in those plans. For the first time in years I don’t think I won’t be around in the next 1-6 months.

I mean wow! I’m 99% sure I will be alive and well for the mid and long term of my life unless a catastrophic and freak accident happens. I’m not even praying for such an accident to happen because you know what? I am actually enjoying life at the moment – even with the ups and downs that happen to us all. It all, finally, feels very very worth it.

This exercise has been very useful for me – so I think in the next week I will write myself another one. Lets see where I am in a year’s time. Hopefully, I’m still doing well, enjoying my life, and happy to be alive. Some of it is pot luck with my illness. I doubt I will ever be free of being potentially knocked sideways by my illness – but that doesn’t mean I give up, sit around and wait for it to happen. It means instead that I try and give my life a damn good go. It means I make the most of the time that I have when I am feeling well. It means I am pro-active in creating the life I want so that when I am knocked off my feet that I have a life I love to get back to and a life I love that I feel is worth fighting for.


Why not give it a go? Write yourself a letter about where you’re at today, and in general and what you hope to achieve in the next year. They can be big or small goals, the only catch is to make them realistic. There was a set of tools that helped me reach deciding these goals, and they were focused on really answering questions to discover and realise what my values were, and what was important to me in my life. I recommend doing that so that the goals you set are really close to your heart.

Peace, love and DOMS,
Mon

Marshalling Run Wimbledon 2017

At the weekend I did something completely new. I did something that brought me joy, another something that I came across as a result of my running journey. I entering the world of being a race marshal for the first time.


I marshalled for Run Wimbledon, by Perseverance Events. This is a tough course of undulating, i.e. very hilly, difficult and sometimes loose ground. I ran a 10k loop here in 2015 at the Summer Breeze Running Festival, to date this remains the hardest race I’ve done because of the heat paired with the course. It was a looped course, with one lap for the 10k, 2 laps for the half marathon and 4 laps for the full marathon – read, those guys are batshit bonkers!

My job was to direct people in the right direction on a sharp turn, up the hill and onwards with the course whilst handing out sweets and cheering the runners on. On that day I considered myself Captain Morale Wimbledon. I had great fun cheering people on, dare I say possibly more fun than some of the runners seemed to be having as they edged to the foot of ‘that bloody hill’. This was especially relevant towards the end of the day for the half marathoners and the marathoners.


Having run a few races, I know how welcome a well timed cheer or music zone can be, I know how welcome a snippet of conversation and encouragement can boost a mindset of dwindling positivity. Hearing someone tell you that you can do it when your mind is telling you that you can’t, someone cheer and pass on some infectious smiles of good will to a grimacing face, or someone to just clap your efforts around a course can really help garner extra energy from god knows where, and sometimes it’s enough just to get you up that sodding hill a bit easier than you would have otherwise.

I felt like it was time to give something back to the running community considering how much I have gained over the years. So many times have strangers, friends and family cheered me on and congratulated me on my achievements – now it was my turn to believe in someone. I doubt I will ever be able to give as much as I have received – but to give back something is better than nothing.

The thing about seeing people push themselves on a difficult course is that it can make you want to get out there and do it yourself. You get race envy. I often get race envy when I see an event that I think I would have enjoyed.  On Saturday, there were times during the day when I was inspired to get out there and run. There were also times when I was put off it for the day when I saw how worn down many people got by the course. From this, I think I’ll take that when I sign up for this run next year, I’m going to do a lot of training on undulating ground to get my body used to it. Road running isn’t going to cut the mustard with this beast of a course. This isn’t the kind of race you rock on up to without proper consistent effort going into your training. It isn’t the kind of race you rock on up to the start line of in the hope of winging it because those rolling inclines will get to you and they might destroy you for the day. They might not but I doubt it’s worth taking the risk.


I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy marshalling. In fact I was pretty anxious the night before and wishing I hadn’t agreed to it. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to project my voice loud enough for people to hear me. I wasn’t sure if I could be brave enough to talk and cheer on people I didn’t know on my own. Soon enough however, as with many things I have doubted of myself in my running world, I got into it, even as a relatively shy and awkward person, I got into it and received only positive reception for my cheering efforts which only encouraged me to crack out the shit jokes department of my personality.

To everyone who ran, a big well done to those who finished, those who didn’t finish and gave it a go, hats off! It’s a tough course on Wimbledon Common and I’m sorry for my shit jokes.

How Important is Nutrition for Running Anyway?

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If I said that when training for a marathon, or anything in any sport, that nutrition was an imperative part of the programme, I think there would be a resounding, ‘duh!’. I even say it to myself in my head, yet over these past few weeks I have learned that nutrition during training has even more of an impact on training and ability to complete training runs. It turns out that diet is as important as the running itself.

I am starting to realise that training for a marathon is about many more things than I originally thought: often it is my mind I have to work on more than I do my legs; my nutrition is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week project; and planning when I will realistically do my runs via planning is proving to be quite the steep learning curve too. These are all things that are proving to be bigger factors than whether my legs can physically carry me for 26.2 miles in one go.

The answer to that is yes, my legs could definitely carry my that far if they had to – in fact, I think they could carry me very much farther if they had to. The trick is, planning the training when I’m not too tired, or too pressed for time; fuelling my body with quality nutrition on the days when I’m not even on rest days; keeping my muscles stretched and rolled out to avoid tightness and the risk of injury; convincing myself that even though TV and chocolate feels more appealing when I’ve come on my period and my bones ache that I’ll probably feel less cramps and aches after a run. This running a marathon malarkey is turning out to be very little to do with my legs and a lot to do with a lot of other things that didn’t even cross my mind when I signed up.

Having a strong nutrition game feels like a very obvious component of this journey. However, I didn’t pay enough attention to it a few weeks ago. I didn’t budget accordingly in order to allow me to eat well. This left me eating chocolate and biscuits because they’re cheap. I missed meals because I hadn’t saved enough money aside to do so. The result was that I missed some training runs because I felt drained, and it wasn’t a mental ‘I can’t be bothered’. It was a ‘my nutrition has been terrible and my body hates me for it, and therefore won’t comply with running 10K’ situation.

Then there are the days when eating pastries, cakes and chocolate in front of the TV on an off evening. I didn’t even consider that what I eat the night before will affect me for the next 24-36 hours as what I have consumed has an effect for far longer than the time it takes for me to eat it, McVities and Cadbury have a lot to answer for.

Don’t feel sorry for me that I couldn’t eat well for a few days. I had done it to myself. I hadn’t put enough importance on the longer term when I bought a few coffees too many, and an extra piece of cake for £3.50 here and there. It doesn’t seem like much because coffee and cake is very little for your money in London and added up, well, I could have eaten well for a few days on 2 coffee shop visits alone.

It comes down to priority, budgeting, and really enabling my body to function at its optimum ability. Having given this some thought, by pushing my body to its max and potentially breaking myself by running 26.2 miles I have to treat it like a temple and feed it well. If I don’t, my body will just not run efficiently or as well as it could do – and I will feel the consequences. This doesn’t mean no cake, this means proper nutritional intake before cake because damn, I am not going through this journey without some tea and cake along the way – I am British after all.