B-12 and Veganism – Flashback Friday

IMG_0468There are many vitamins and minerals that we hear about in the media, from medical professionals, and from our parents/family growing up. We mostly understand that we require some calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and iron. We understand that we need protein (though there are very interesting debates about how much). However, many of us have no clue about the B vitamins. Vitamin B12 can be a particular issue for those on a vegan diet who do not consume fortified food/drink (like soymilk). Thus, raw vegans may be more inclined to a B12 deficiency.

Why is this important? B12 is a vitamin that the body requires (like folic acid) to make red blood cells. The body cannot synthesize B12; it must be consumed in the diet. I’m sure that I don’t need to explain that red blood cells are pretty important to our oxygenation and thus our overall health and wellness.

In a typical Westernized diet, people generally absorb sufficient quantities of B12 by eating meat, eggs, and dairy products. Those who consume a vegan diet, or those who eat a very limited variety of foods (which can be more common in older adults), may find it very difficult to consume adequate B12. Additionally, some medical conditions (including Crohn’s disease) and medications (including popular stomach acid reducers) may make it hard for the body to absorb enough B12 through diet.

Often, people are unaware that they have a B12 deficiency unless/until it becomes severe.  Symptoms can include fatigue, bleeding gums, weight loss, dizziness. Persistent B12 deficiency can even lead to nerve damage and the associated physical and mental symptoms.

If you suspect that you have a B12 problem, your physician can test for anemia and B12 levels. However, even if you don’t think testing is needed, it’s probably a good idea to think about how much B12 you are consuming and whether you need to supplement your dietary levels. For those on a vegan, but not raw, diet, soy milk and other processed vegan foods may be fortified with B12. For individuals on a raw diet, B12 (or full spectrum B) vitamins are readily available in most pharmacies, GNC stores, or online.

If you would like more information about the role of B12 in the body and supplementation, check out:

American Family Physician article on B12 deficiency

The Vegetarian Society B12 information sheet


Tips for Making the Vegan Transition

IMG_0986webI have been a vegan for a longish time now (8-9 years) and a vegetarian for almost two decades. I am often asked by vegan-curious folks (sometimes vegetarian and sometimes omnivore) about how to make the switch. There is not one best way to make this switch, but having tried to be vegan a couple of times before it really took, I do have a few thoughts that I share with people contemplating the change, and I share them with you here.

1. Make a commitment. It doesn’t matter if you decide to go “cold tofurkey” on all animal products or if you phase them out one at a time. The key is to think it through and make a firm choice.

Decide what you plan to do and then write it down. If you are going to give up one item at a time, make an actual schedule and mark it on your calendar. If you are making the switch all at once, make yourself a list of things to eat (see below) instead of the animal products you normally consume.

Waffling on it, or just trying to move toward it by reducing overall consumption makes the whole process take longer, because there are going to be situations where it is a challenge to avoid animal products, and if you haven’t already made a firm choice and established your boundaries, you aren’t likely to make it though those.

2. Research alternatives before you start. You know what your animal product weaknesses are. Think about how you will replace them in your diet. Is it cheese? Milk? Jerky? Honey? Burgers? Almost anything can be replaced with something vegan that will satisfy the same taste urges, but you have to figure out what it is, and that’s easier when you aren’t starving or trying to cook dinner in 20 minutes.

There are so many sites online that can help you in this process. I like to think that this is one of them, but it’s certainly not the only one. Since this month is the Vegan Month of Food (VeganMoFo), there is a wealth of informational links available for you at http://veganmofo.com. Check it out!

3. Think about ways to maintain your usual ratio of “fun” to nutritious foods at first. If you are accustomed to having Doritos every night for a snack, and you go vegan and only eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you are going to be an unhappy camper.

There is plenty of vegan fun (or “crap” depending on your frame of reference) food, so it is not necessary to deprive yourself. You can start changing the ratio after you get more comfortable with the overall choice. In fact, if Doritos are your go-to snack, I have an idea for you!

4. Be open to prepared foods for a while. I am not a big fan of them, but when you are first starting a vegan diet, it might be easier to microwave a Boca burger and some veggie baked beans, or an Amy’s meal, than to come up with a menu on your own. It’s more expensive and you don’t have as much control over nutrition, but that will come.

If it’s a choice between going vegan and eating some prepared foods, and not going vegan at all, then take the prepared foods. Mainstream vegetarian brands (Boca, Morningstar, Gardenburger) have some vegan items, but be sure to check the labels for milk and eggs. Lightlife brand has mostly vegan items, but again the label should be checked. Tofurkey brand is, I think, all vegan.

5. VARIED diet. I really can’t stress this enough. If you start out by eating salads for every meal, with the same set of four ingredients, you are going to get bored and frustrated and are more likely to crack and order an extra large cheese pizza from Pizza Hut.

Buy a cookbook or find a blog or website you like to peruse.  Even if you never actually  use any of the recipes, you will get some ideas about how to eat in a vegan style, and will probably be shocked by the amazing variety of choices.

If you make your meals interesting enough, then you will probably find that you forget what you aren’t eating. In fact, you may find that the things you thought you would miss aren’t a problem at all. I was sure that giving up cheese was going to be awful for me, but, it really wasn’t (and my cholesterol dropped 65 points giving up dairy and eggs).

Happy veganizing!


Top Ten Reasons Not to Worry About Protein in a Vegan Diet

Batman meme protein

I’m borrowing the Top Ten Tuesdays meme from my sister at Many Little Blessings today!

A top question that is asked of vegetarians and vegans is “how do you get your protein?” Protein is a combination of amino acids that the body uses for things like metabolism and muscle development. While we do need protein in our diets, it is not as much as is often assumed and plant sources provide perfectly adequate protein.

So, let’s look at the top ten reasons why vegans don’t need to fret about how they can get enough protein.

1. On average, an adult needs between 45-55 grams of protein per day. That’s really not that much! If an individual consumed a cup of beans, 1/3 cup of almonds, ¼ cup of oatmeal, 1 piece of whole wheat bread, and a half cup of tofu in one day, he/she would have 48.5 grams of protein, even without any incidental protein that comes from other veggies etc.

2. BEANS! Legumes are a primary ingredient for most vegetarians and they are full of protein. Most beans have 7-10 grams of protein per 1/2 cup cooked.

  • 3. Nuts. Nuts are also delicious, nutritious, and easy to work into any diet. Check out the protein in some of them:
  • Peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons – 8 grams protein
  • Almonds, ¼ cup – 8 grams
  • Peanuts, ¼ cup – 9 grams
  • Cashews, ¼ cup – 5 grams
  • Pecans, ¼ cup – 2.5 grams

4. Seeds. Most seeds are little bundles of protein. Sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds have between 6 and 8 grams of protein in just 1/4 cup and are easy to sprinkle onto salads or sandwiches, or blend into smoothies.

5. Grains. There is more  protein in whole grains than most people realize.

  • Quinoa, ½ cup – 4 grams
  • Bulgar, oats, kasha, ¼ cup cooked – 3 grams
  • Whole wheat bread, 1 slice – 2.5 grams
  • Broccoli, 1 cup cooked – 4 grams
  • Spinach, 1 cup cooked – 5 grams

6. Tofu. Vegan protein does not mean that you have to cook with tofu every day, though it can.  Tofu is very versatile and can be added to many food items with very little impact on flavor.  New tofu eaters may find it more palatable if it is more “dry.”  This can be accomplished by using a tofu press or by freezing a block of extra firm tofu and then thawing in a colander before use.

7. Tempeh. Tempeh is another easy way to fit protein in.  Tempeh comes in prepared blocks.  They can be chopped and added to other items, sliced and fried (we love it with bbq sauce), or eaten right out of the package.

8. Dark greens. Even items that you might not think of as protein sources, like dark greens, have protein. So, most healthy-eating vegans get a lot of that “incidental” protein in their diets without much effort.

9. Protein “combining” is not necessary in individual meals. No worries! Your body is actually so clever that it will “hold” the amino acids and do its own combining. And, some of the natural companion foods for vegan proteins are items that would “complete” them anyway. So, things like tortilla chips, rice, corn, couscous, or oatmeal are pretty good fits with the items listed above. It’s likely that you’ll end up with a protein combination in your meal anyway, and it’s almost inevitable over the course of a day.

10. There are plenty of vegan running long distance, boxing, doing competitive weight lifting, swimming, and playing football. When  you take a look at some of them (Robert Cheeke, Brendan Brazier, Tony Fiammetta, Molly Cameron, Matt Frazier), it’s pretty hard to doubt that it is possible to get enough protein in a vegan diet.

If, having read this, you still feel worried, it’s fine to add a protein shake to your day, but there really isn’t a need to obsess about it or have two or three shakes a day. Eat a varied, plant-based diet, and your protein should be fine!