Can I be Healthy and Vegan?

vegandiet-384x256 Without a doubt Austin is one of the best cities to be vegan in. Vegan culture is alive and well here with numerous dining options, veg events and a supportive community of friendly animal lovers. Twelve years ago I became vegan without truly knowing what that meant and without knowing a single person who identified as such. Even back then, being vegan in Austin wasn’t all too challenging despite being in the heart of Texas, a state known for its love of barbeque. I greatly owe veganism for leading me to a more health conscious way of life and ultimately to my love, naturopathic medicine.

As a naturopathic doctor and proud vegan, people often reach out to me with questions about supplementation, concerned about whether or not a vegan diet is healthy and if deficiencies can occur when following a strict vegan diet.

Before addressing supplementation, it is important to understand why some choose a vegan lifestyle. Self-identified vegans have many different reasons for choosing to abstain from all animal products in their diet. This could include the welfare of animals, personal health, spiritual beliefs and environmental reasons. Veganism has gained more attention in recent years as celebrities and well-respected physicians are endorsing the lifestyle and diet. If you have ever thought about going vegan or reducing animal meat and products in your diet, it has never been easier!

So the main question is, can you become deficient in vitamins and minerals if you follow a vegan diet? The simple answer is yes, of course you can. Any diet whether vegan, paleo, Mediterranean, etc. can lead to deficiencies. Many health experts will agree that even if you have the most well-rounded diet you will probably need to supplement at some point in time. The truth is, the vegan diet, when mostly comprised of organic whole foods, is extremely nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory, high in fiber, cardioprotective, and the list of benefits goes on! It is very easy to get the adequate amount of protein in the vegan diet as well, as proven by vegan bodybuilders and athletes.

My recommendation is to first work with a naturopath or holistic nutritionist to help you develop a nutritional protocol that works for you and addresses your health needs. As a starting point, I find that these supplements generally need to be added to a vegan diet: B-12, iodine, vitamin D, omega-3’s and iron. A high-quality multivitamin can address these nutrient needs and make supplementation easier. Many of the brands we carry at Peoples have vegan options in which the product is made without any animal bi-products and the capsules do not contain gelatin. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant and are vegan, I highly recommend you see an expert for guidance. If you are an athlete or are looking to get more protein in your diet, I recommend trying Xymogen’s Fit Food Vegan powder, which contains 17 grams of protein per serving.

It is important to understand that there are lot of myths about the vegan diet out there. Just like any diet, it can be unhealthy if not done correctly, but this is not common amongst health-conscious, knowledgeable vegans.

Whether or not the vegan diet is right for you, reducing your intake of meat, eggs and dairy and increasing your intake of plant-based foods can have a positive and even life-saving impact on your health.

Better Sleep the Natural Way

sleeping In general you should be sleeping 6-9 hours a night without interruption. For many people this is not their reality and according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, millions of people in the U.S. have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. If you are like millions of Americans looking for help to get better sleep than you have probably tried everything you can to get relief.

There are several factors that could be negatively impacting your sleep cycle. The most common factor but often overlooked is stress. Stress from work, finances, relationships or even anxiety of what the future might bring can cause one to easily lose sleep and lie in bed for hours staring at the ceiling fan. If you have a job in which you work overnights or get out of work past 8 pm you may have an extremely difficult time establishing a healthy sleep pattern. I suggest looking for work that allows you a schedule more structured and would allow you to get out no later than 6 pm. If having a regular work schedule is out of your current reach than establish regular eating hours and do not have breakfast any later than 9 am and dinner no later than 8 pm, max.  Keeping a regular eating pattern among an ever changing or unpredictable work schedule can help the body adapt and keep your metabolism and hormones balanced.

Caffeine is not your friend if sleeping is an issue for you. Ween off all caffeine slowly over the course of 1 week. I suggest stepping down half a cup of caffeine a day until you are no longer consuming any. If you need to swap coffee or energy drinks out for another beverage try Teechino or herbal teas. If you wake up exhausted, do not reach for caffeine, instead push through and get in a quick walk or a set of jumping jacks to wake your mind and body up.

If you are experiencing menopause and sleeping has become an issue, your hormones could be the culprit. I suggest seeing a health professional to have your hormones tested. There are several all-natural ways to balance hormones with nutrition, herbal medicine, as well as Chinese medicine and homeopathy. Simply rebalancing your hormones may help you sleep soundly again.

Here are my favorite all-natural remedies to help improve sleep:

·         Lavender essential oil

Put a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow before bedtime. Lavender is very calming and can help you get into parasympathetic mode. You can also add the oil into an essential oil diffuser so your whole bedroom smells of lavender.

·         Calming herbs

When looking for a tincture or tea to take before bedtime look for these herbs: passionflower, hops, skullcap, chamomile, valerian, milky oats, catnip or California poppy. These herbs can help a nervous mind and body relax.

·         Self-hypnosis

I have used autogenic training to help calm my body to fall asleep. Essentially you are telling your body to relax and become heavy repetitively until you fall asleep. Here is a youtube link that give you an idea of how to perform this technique

·         Setting a ritual and clearing space

It is essential to set up good sleep habits. This means setting a time to go to bed every night and ritual whether it be drinking a tea, then brushing your teeth and then a quick prayer or meditation. The ritual should not include tv, electronics or books. Instead the ritual should be calming and not mentally or physically engaging. Turn off all lights and keep cell phones off or away from the bed. Use a white sound machine if a little noise helps you fall asleep.

If you are looking to get off sleep medication talk to your physician about natural recommendations and how to make the switch. Even if you have tried all of these recommendations to no avail there are several more naturopathic tools to help you get deep restful sleep.


Anxiety and Depression: A Mind-Body Approach

girl-1098610_640 According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), over 18 percent of adults in the US experience mental illness in a given year. It is likely that you, a family member or friend has suffered from anxiety or depression. Anxiety and depression are among the top conditions I see in my practice, making it no surprise that emotional wellbeing and mental health are closely linked with physical health. There have been many times that I’ve uncovered a mental or emotional root causes to a disease that initially seems unrelated to mental health.

In the field of alternative and holistic medicine, the mind body connection is addressed in-depth and the patient’s lifestyle is assessed to help identify destructive patterns that can be corrected. It is important to screen for mental health issues in all fields of healthcare and address them with compassion and care.

If you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, be sure to have your blood levels checked. There could be an underlying physical cause, such as low Vitamin D levels, an undiagnosed auto-immune disorder or a thyroid condition causing your poor mood.

Here are some of my favorite holistic approaches to addressing anxiety and depression:

Nutrition: Diets are often overlooked when trying to improve mood, but it’s one of the biggest factors. I find people have the biggest changes in their mental health when they change their diet to include mostly whole foods instead of processed and fast food. The brain is an organ that needs proper nourishment, just like muscles and bones.

When looking to decrease anxiety:

  • Remove sugary foods and highly caffeinated beverages like energy drinks and coffee.
  • Swap coffee and energy drinks for organic green tea, which contains naturally occurring amino acid L-theanine that will help you to relax and focus.
  • Add in foods that are high in magnesium such as spinach, chard, cocoa, pumpkin seeds, almonds, bananas and avocados.
  • Try making a breakfast smoothie with coconut milk, raw cocoa powder, frozen banana, Ceylon cinnamon and almond butter. The magnesium from the banana and cocoa will improve your mood, the cinnamon will help your blood sugar and the almond butter will keep you satisfied till lunch.

Supplements and herbs: These can be very powerful during a rough time.

For chronic or intense stress and anxiety:

  • The adrenals are important glands often overlooked when looking to decrease anxiety. The these glands regulate cortisol, the hormone that helps respond to stress. I like to address adrenal gland health with herbs in a synergistic formula. Herbs like ashwagandha and holy basil are great for helping with stress and anxiety. Consider Gaia’s Adrenal Health Daily Support, a blend that has both ashwagandha and holy basil, to nourish your adrenals. If anxiety is affecting your sleep, you might try Gaia’s Adrenal Health Nightly Restore.

For depression:

  • Add omega-3 fatty acids (which are great for brain health!) like VeganDHA by Minami (a vegan version of fish oil), methylated B vitamins like B Activ by Xymogen and mood boosting herbs like mimosa or lemon balm tincture or in a capsule.

When using supplements for mental health issues consult your doctor or medical health professional first. Keep in mind that there are several helpful supplements on the market and a health professional can help choose products more specific to you and the root cause of the issue.


  • If you have a mental health issue, even if it’s mild anxiety, I highly recommend meeting with a licensed therapist regularly
  • Consider adding in the care of other professionals such as an
    • acupuncturist
    • naturopath
    • chiropractor
    • nutritionist and/or energy and spiritual practitioner.

A team of experienced practitioners can offer many more therapeutic options to address the cause of the issue.

In cases that need extra care, I like to utilize biofeedback, Neuro Emotional Technique (NET), and tapping (EFT). There are limitless options to addressing mental  health issues and as research supports mind-body techniques, more practitioners are becoming trained in these techniques in order to offer their patients greater healing.

Lifestyle Changes:

  • Lastly, I believe that lifestyle changes are the most important factor in addressing anxiety and depression. This means doing things that help you change your life and mindset to improve  mood. For example adding in yoga, exercise, meditation or prayer into your daily routine has been shown to greatly improve mood. This isn’t new science – these are ancient practices that have nourished minds and bodies for generations.
  • It is also important to remove barriers and create paths of opportunity. Simply put, things that keep you down can kindly leave and things that lift you up are welcome. Sometimes things are situational and difficult to avoid, and of course life can seem like a nonstop series of letdowns and pain but peaking with a professional can help you determine what is stunting you and what can help you grow. Whatever the situation is, you have the power to choose your emotions, reactions and beliefs.

Find what brings you joy and allow yourself to be happy and healthy.

If you want to learn more about mental health, visit


What spices have health benefits?

Adding delicious spices to your dishes is a great way to get health benefits in an easy and tasty way. Turmeric for example is a spice that has been used in Chinese and Indian systems of medicine for centuries to treat a wide variety of conditions. Turmeric helps fight inflammatory disease, aids against cystic fibrosis, and inhibits cancer cell growth and metastasis. It also helps lower cholesterol and improves liver function. You can use turmeric in your dishes by adding it to egg salad for color, or lentils and cauliflower dishes. Cinnamon is also a great spice to add to your rack. Cinnamon is the oldest known spice and it has anti-clotting actions, anti-microbial activity. It also helps keep blood sugar in control and boosts brain function. You can try adding cinnamon to your milk with honey for a sweet beverage. For a more hearty meal try adding cinnamon to sautéed vegetables and eggplant with raisins for a Middle Eastern inspired meal.

Anise is an amazing spice not often utilized in American cuisine. Anise is used in liquor by many cultures because of its licorice-like flavor. Anise helps ease menstrual cramps, is an aphrodisiac, and can help relieve toothaches. Anise tea aids digestion and anise oil can help get rid of lice. Try anise by making a tea out of it. You can also try using anise toothpaste.

Cumin is a spice also used since ancient times and is native to East Mediterranean and India. Cumin is a good source of iron, aids digestion, has cancer preventative properties, and can also help reduce flatulence. Try adding cumin to Mexican rice, black beans, pinto beans, or in sauces or salsas.