Pitfalls and misinformation in the vegan community.
There are lots of do´s and don’ts floating around the web regarding how to balance your vegan diet without risking malnutrition or deficiencies. Dissecting all that information can be a daunting task. We´ve tried to sort out some the most crucial information below.
You may have heard from various sources that as long as you follow a varied vegan diet with “whole plant foods” – you´ll get enough of everything you need to cover your needs of vitamins and minerals. Statements that create a picture of a universal dietary plan that suits everyone without regard to the individuals. The truth is, unfortunately, that statements like these give rise to potentially harmful myths. For example, vegans can fulfill vitamin B12 needs by eating untreated organic vegetables, or that vegans have lower calcium needs than omnivores, or that it has been “proven” that none of us need long chain omega-3 fatty acids in our diet.
If claims like these create an illusion of an easy to adopt – perfect right out of the box- vegan diet, while at the same time giving false information that can be directly harmful to our health, it is important to address the issues at hand.
There are many reasons why people give up or end a vegan diet, and bad nutritional advice from others in the “vegan community” is probably one of them.
It is not particularly unlikely considering there are several spokespersons and “specialists” who provide incorrect information or inadequate advice. This includes suggestions that you may only have to; “sporadically” supplement with vitamin B12 after you have been vegan for three years or some other fixed amount of time. Some resources do not even elaborate on the dosage you should take or what problems may occur in connection with the body’s absorption or conversion of B12.
Here are some examples of how vegans who already supplement with B12 can still develop deficiencies:
· They waited too long to begin to supplement and did not take high enough doses to rebuild their body’s stock.
· They think they use supplements on a regular basis, but in reality only take a small dose of B12 a couple of times a week.
· They use low-quality products that the body is unable to digest/absorb.
Some of these may be good examples of how an otherwise conscientious vegan may fail to get adequate B12 levels simply because the nutritional information they read was inadequate.
The issue at hand is that we follow a way to eat that, all things considered, is still well beyond the norm and therefore our safety requirements and informational sources must have a high threshold.
What´s at stake?
The health of people we influence and promote our way of life to, and equally important, the lives of millions of animals dependent on us to make veganisme a realistic and safe choice for everyone to adopt. So, let’s use common sense and careful thought before giving recommendations or dietary advice to others! The issue at hand is that we follow a way to eat that, all things considered, is still well beyond the norm and therefore our safety requirements and sources must have a high threshold. Vegans need nutritional supplements or fortified foods. Assuming that a plant-based diet is not automatically perfect, is much better than risking getting sick due to deficiencies. If you have convinced someone you know to change their eating habits, make sure that those changes are viable over time.
Here are some of the supplements (or fortified foods) that vegans need:
• Vitamin B12.
You cannot get enough by eating unwashed organic produce or mushrooms growing in B12 rich soil. The recommended dose is from 2 to 50 micrograms per day or 1000 micrograms 2-3 times per week. However, new recommendations show no damage to up to 100 micrograms per day. If you have not taken B12 for a while, you should take a blood sample to see how your levels are and if you may need a more therapeutic dose.
• Vitamin D.
If you live in a sunny area all year long, and spend time outside without sunscreen, you probably have enough vitamin D. The rest of us need a supplement or enriched food (just like omnivors do) that provide around 10-20 Microgram of vitamin D every day. (This figure is according to the health authorities recommendation.) • Iodine.
Omnivores get most of their iodine from dairy products. Vegans who regularly eat sea plants can get enough, but the amount varies greatly, as it does for sea salt and other “natural” salts. Miso (fermented soybeans), which some vegans prefer to use instead of salt, is usually not a good source of iodine. The only reliable sources are iodized salt or a dietary supplements that provides a minimum of 100 micrograms per day.
*Exception for people who fall in the first category mentioned above.
There is still uncertainty regarding whether vegans have lower calcium requirements then omnivores. Current advice is (as mentioned, uncertain) vegans should complement their intake according to RDD (recommended daily dose). Our ancestors, if we go far enough back in time, did not drink milk, yet got all the calcium they needed from wild plants. And although modern cultivated vegetables have less than those we found in nature then, we can still theoretically get enough calcium if intakes are sufficient. But the recommendation to eat four or more cups of cooked vegetables a day makes veganism unattractive to many. Without fortified foods, many vegans end up with low calcium levels (this is true for omnivores aswell; the food industry does not enrich orange juice or oatmeal with calcium as a service to vegans).
Young women with severe periods can have a hard time keeping up with iron needs, and again, this is not just the case for vegans! Iron deficiency is relatively common in the population. And especially in populations consuming monotonous plant-based diets.
It may help find a low dose supplement (high doses may be hard for the stomach) that you take along with orange juice to increase the absorption.
Extra supplements worth examining:
• DHA / EPA.
200 to 300 mg several times a week. Lack of essential fatty acids is associated with a variety of disorders such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Anorexia, Schizophrenia, Depression. EPA and DHA are so-called marine fatty acids. EPA is often found to be put in context with cardiovascular diseases, while DHA is important for several of the brain functions. Every cell in the human body contains these substances, yet we do not make any of them naturally on our own. For this reason, it is important that the body is supplied with omega 3 fatty acids via diet. [4, 5]
Too many supplements?
Put things in perspective: Omnivores get vitamin D from fortified foods (primarily milk or dairy, which is not a natural source of nutrient) and their iodine from accidental contamination of dairy products and salt. And the health authorities recommend that everyone over 50 should add vitamin B12 supplements or enriched foods to the diet as it becomes more difficult to digest and absorb vitamin B12 in animal food with ageing. Vegans may need to work a little more to meet nutritional needs, but it is a small sacrifice in the greater context of making choices based on compassion for animals.
Prentice, A. Vitamin D deficiency: a global perspective. Nutr Rev. 2008 Oct; 66 (10 Suppl 2): S153-64.
Thomas Remera, Annette Neuberta and Friedrich Manza. Increased risk of iodine deficiency with vegetarian nutrition. British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 81, Issue 01, January 1999, pp 45-49.
Zimmermann MB, Hurrell RF. Nutritional iron deficiency. Lancet 2007; 370: 511-20. PubMed
Artemis P. Simopoulos. The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) June 2008 vol. 233 no. 6 674-688.
Klára Kitajka, Andrew J. Sinclair, Richard S. Weisinger, Harrison S. Weisinger, Michael Mathai, Anura P. Jayasooriya, John E. Halver, and László G. Puskás. Effects of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on brain gene expression. PNAS, July 27, 2004, vol. 101 no. 30.