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Ask the RD: Alison Ozgur

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October 30, 2012

Alison is a Registered Dietitian specializing in health and fitness nutrition. She has nearly twelve years of experience helping clients reach their nutrition and weight loss goals. Alison is now working for the T. Colin Campbell Foundation as an instructor for the Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition Course through eCornell and is the co-author of ďGo Beyond Good: The Trail to a Lifetime of Health and Vitality!Ē which focuses on plant-based nutrition and fitness. Do you have a question for Alison? Email us at

Q. I have been following a vegan diet for the past year. Previously I was a vegetarian. Since changing, I became sick in February 2012 with the flu and relapsed 3 times. This summer, I came down with shingles in spite of having had the vaccination and no stress in my life. I am 66 years old and have previously been exceptionally healthy with no chronic disorders, and until this past year, rarely got sick. Is there some nutrient(s) missing in my vegan diet that is causing my immune system to be in poor working order?

A. Making a change to eliminate all animal based foods from your diet will benefit your health tremendously. However, we do encounter some health conditions that simply cannot be explained, despite doing all the ďrightĒ things. In terms of your diet, itís not enough to just be vegan. Your food and nutrition plan should consist of a whole food plant-based diet. Stick with foods that are minimally processed and packed with nutrients. Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E and also selenium play a role in strengthening immunity and decreasing chronic inflammation.

One particular nutrient that helps with immunity and tends to be low in a plant-based diet is zinc. Phytates from whole grains and legumes can reduce absorption of zinc. Try soaking or sprouting nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes to increase zinc availability. Good sources of zinc include: adzuki beans, chickpeas, lentils, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, and cashews. The recommended daily intake for women is 8mg and 11mg for men.

Q. I have a friend who was told by her doctor to eat an antihistamine diet. Iíve heard of the anti- inflammatory diet, but not this one? What foods does it exclude?

A. There are certain foods that can cause inflammation, aggravate existing allergy symptoms, and trigger the release of histamine. It is best to avoid pro-inflammatory foods like high-fat processed meats, high-fat cheeses, pickled vegetables, alcohol, candy and chocolate. You didnít mention if your friend currently follows a plant-based diet, so moving in that direction would be more beneficial. We donít want to avoid only high-fat meats and cheese, but we want to eliminate ALL animal foods. You donít need a separate diet for separate health conditions. In other words: Nutrition that is beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.

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