The big question for many people today is how does soya vs dairy compare? I started experimenting with a plant-based diet recently and have been largely flying through the changes with a smile on my face.
Our family has been cutting down on meat over the last couple of years but remained big dairy consumers thanks to endless bowls of cereal and the favourite dinner (uniquely enjoyed by all members) of macaroni cheese.
Then, like many others, we watched ‘The Game Changers’ on Netflix and both my husband and I were wowed and intrigued by the results experienced by many elite athletes who have moved to plant-based eating. The health and fitness factors coupled with the enormous environmental benefits inspired us to make the change
As a Chinese medicine practitioner cutting out dairy was an easy one to get my head around. We eat too much dairy in the West. This, along with eating too much processed food, way too much sugar and our warm wet climate creates the pathogen Damp in the body. Damp slows our system down and can create all kinds of problems including unwanted excess weight, tiredness, depression and infertility.
Meat is a little trickier. As many of my patients will testify I regularly recommend a prescription of eating some red meat to improve the quality of their Blood. Women in particular are often Xue Xu, which translates as Blood deficient and one of the surest ways to treat this with Chinese dietary medicine is to eat a bit of red meat. Could I really get away from this and support patients without the advice to eat meat?
Luckily I have discovered that lots of plant-based food has iron in it – especially leafy greens, apricots, chickpeas and seeds. The issue is that our body finds it harder to absorb the iron contained in plants. Nonetheless with a few thought out adjustments it’s totally doable and for those of you who are really deficient a good supplement such as SpaTone or Floradix will get you there.*
But it’s actually the symptoms of menopause that have made me stop and think about whether cutting out all animal products is a good idea.
There are two issues that have raised their heads. The first is calcium and the second is phytoestrogens.
Women’s bone density decreases by up to 20% after the menopause, caused by the drop in oestrogen in the body. HRT helps protects against this but to protect yourself naturally you need to a) keep active with weight bearing exercises, b)cut down on caffeine and alcohol, c)reduce stress and d) make sure your diet contains good amounts of both calcium and vitamin D.
OK, easy – just swap up your cow’s milk for fortified soya and have a few portions of tofu each week right?
Hmmm. Not so easy actually.
There’s a lot of confusion around whether to soya or not to soya as a way to manage menopausal symptoms. On first look it seems like a great choice. Soya contains isolfavins called phytoestrogens that bind to oestrogen receptors in the body.
When isoflavones bind to some oestrogen receptors, they mimic the effects of oestrogen. Great.
However, when they bind to other receptors, they block oestrogen’s effects. Not so great.
You can manage this dilemma by choosing your soya products wisely. Fermented soya has been found to do the good binding far more effectively that unfermented soya. So include soya products such as miso, tempeh or tamari instead of soya milk or tofu.
But where does that leave us on the calcium front?
According to Zero Carbonista**
“There are over 20 plant based foods that contain more calcium than milk on a pound for pound basis. And the calcium in these plants is actually more easily absorbed by our bodies than that in milk and milk-derived products”.
leafy green vegetable
nuts and seeds
There is no question in my mind that the health of our bodies and the health of our planet would be greatly improved by moving towards a more plant-based diet. And I’m pleased that this meandering path has revealed that it is possible to be plant-based and to get all the nutrients you need, so long as you eat mindfully.
But I also think there is perhaps some room in there for a little flexibility. I’m not a ‘you’re either with us or against’ kinda gal so always like to inject a bit of nuance to any situation.
I was recently asked what the difference was between being a vegan and following a plant-based diet. My response was ‘they’re pretty much the same except on a plant-based diet I’d still eat a cheese and ham sandwich if presented with it for lunch at someone’s house.
Until next time. For more information contact me.
*If you’ve received a diagnosis of anaemia or iron-deficiency from your doctor always follow their advice around medication and diet.