Problems with the vegan diet?: protein, amino acids, iron, vitamin B12…
Obigatory legal notice: I don’t accept responsibility for any negative health results this advice may have on you. As with anything, think for yourself.
Are you worried about getting your vegan diet just right? I think that the stuff about protein, amino acids, vitamin B12, and so on are mostly myths, for the simple reason that it is NOT THAT HARD for the body to get what it needs and SCIENCE DOESN’T REALLY KNOW what it needs. To feed your body, I think it’s most important just to understand more or less what it’s telling you and let it do what it does.
I think these myths exist because people are very scared of what’s different to them. Our culture is a meat-eating culture, and just like foreigners and gays get a hard time, people want to put pressure on vegans to be like them, too. Hence, they’ll project their fear and make veganism something very scary, very dangerous. Of course it isn’t.
So no, you WON’T just drop dead if you go vegan without a doctor to tell you if you’re getting enough protein. Let me debunk these myths, one by one.
“But where do you get your protein?”
I think I’ve heard this phrase like 20 times in my life, and I’m a relative hermit. I never go to parties, it’s just not my thing. You may expect to be asked this about 10,000 times before you die.
The answer: “From my food! Where do you get yours??”
You can get creative with your answers to this question. The sky’s the limit. How about,
“I have special nodules in my roots where bacteria synthesise the amino acids necessary for the growth of my foliage.”
“I steal it.”
Do you have a favourite reply to this question? Leave it in the comments!
But really, there have been studies that show that certain tribes live on 10g of protein a day. If you eat enough to feel full, you can’t not get that.
Do listen to your body though. I find I eat a lot of protein, probably enough even for one of those dumb nutritional “experts” who think meat is a vitamin to be happy. I just listen to my body. It likes dense stuff: nuts and legumes, there’s a sort of “itch” that these things scratch.
I don’t obsessively eat faux-meats like seitan and tofu. In fact, for health reasons, I avoid them. I have a simple guideline in my diet that says “the more natural the better” (I know, radical, right?) and I think these fake meats are too processed to be healthy. I eat them for fun, maybe a couple of times a year. I don’t think I NEED them.
Veganism and the amino acid balance
Here’s another myth about veganism: you need to combine your meals in such a way as to get a complete protein, as vegetable proteins don’t have the proper balance of amino acids to nourish the body.
It’s true that not all vegetable sources have “complete” proteins. But then you don’t need to have a complete protein with every meal. Your body stores amino acids and can combine them from different meals. Get a varied diet, and that’s it.
Wholegrain wheat or brown rice, or lentils, figs, sesame seeds… all have a lot more iron than meat. Actually you’d have to try pretty damn hard to be iron deficient on a vegan diet.
All this stuff about milk being so important is a total myth. The milk industry wants your money, and that’s all there is to it. (Why couldn’t the spinach industry brainwash us and keep the cows out of this?)
Studies I’ve read show that milk is actually a factor in causing osteoporosis. Apparently the calcium/magnesium balance is wrong, so the body doesn’t absorb it well.
Not surprising really… humans didn’t evolve drinking milk past infancy, and definitely not cow’s milk. Milk is the perfect food… for calves. For us it’s alien matter.
Leafy greens are a source of calcium. Almonds and sesame seeds too. Just stop worrying. Whatever happens, you’ll survive. Fear is not called for here, just a little common sense.
Bottom line is, veganism is a natural diet which people have often been following for thousands of years. Many of our primate cousins are vegans. It’s natural, so your body can take it.
Ah, here’s something that IS supposed to be an issue. I’ve researched and I do believe that it’s no joke that B12 is necessary. Apparently modern cultivating methods deplete our plants of this vitamin.
I do have a friend who has been vegan for years without taking B12 and he’s just fine. I talked to a naturopath about it and her answer was vegans may or may not need it, depending on how their constitution is.
If you want to be on the safe side, you can buy B12 supplements which you only need to take about once a week. I like to be extra natural, so since a couple of months ago I take spirulina, the only plant source of B12 and a super nutrient rich food besides. I’m not anal about it though. I know in my bones I’m safe and if there’s a problem, I’ll deal with it as it comes up.
Don’t let anyone scare you. Whether or not there is an issue, fear is always an illusion. Use your head, you’re safe here.
(Edit as of 2/march/2010: I’ve decided to start taking B12 supplements. I no longer believe spirulina is a viable source of B12. This source has some excellent information.
Interestingly it would seem to suggest that our “natural” diet is to be eating some earth every so often. I actually don’t wash stuff I grow in the garden, it feels unnatural to do so. I wonder if I will do a soil-eating trial sometime? Sounds crazy but I’m not scared of bacteria… this crazy fear of microbes feels so OCD to me.
I like to learn by experience as you can see).
Check out Andrew’s other site, Lightworkers‘ Connection, if you consider yourself to be a highly conscious individual. You know there is more to life than meets the eye. You are not alone.