Saturday, July 30, 2011

Supplements for a vegan diet

Something interesting about us vegetarians is that some of us are anti-supplement and say that if we eat a balanced diet we will be able to get all the nutrition we need. Can't disagree with that. But I believe this anti-supplement sentiment could be due to the pressure from the society telling us that "the vegetarian diet is nutritionally deficient" which pushes vegetarians to try to prove the opposite is true by not taking any supplements.

However, if we consider the kind of stressful and demanding lifestyle we are living now compared to 100 years ago, even non-vegetarians, whose diet are suppose to be "nutritionally complete", are supplementing like mad. Vitamin C, multi-vitamns, fish oil, calcium, vitamin B complexes - just to name some of the supplements the non-vegetarians I know are taking.

The best way is to eat as naturally as possible. But now lots of things are processed and have low nutrient levels. If you feel that taking a supplement helps you in some way, you could do so, it is unrelated to whether the "vegetarian diet is nutritionally deficient" or not.

Two things so far on a vegan diet that you will want to look out for is vitamin B12 (MUST supplement for vegans) and DHA (Optional).

Vitamin B12

I have a friend who was on a regular fruit, nuts, seeds diet, and when he went for a blood test, the b12 levels were below the normal range, in fact the level was quite bad that doctor classified it as an emergency and wanted him to the hospital immediately. He told me of his experience and the symptoms he had was mainly a kind of dizziness where he didn't have a sense of balance and couldn’t walk straight at times. His physical strength and mental clarity were fully intact and he could still do a 10km run. However he experience tingling sensations in hands and feet under heavy physical exertions.

For myself, I did not do a B12 supplement right away when I go into a vegan diet. Only after some time I got some GNC B12 tablets. Even then, I do not eat it regularly because I hate swallowing tablets.

When I went for a B12 blood test last year, my B12 level was 100 something. It was still in the normal range according to the doctor. However, it was already on the lower side of the normal range. According to other countries 100 something may be considered below normal.

Not long ago, I ordered the 500mcg B12 spray from vegan essentials - this is great for a pill-hater. I spray 1 or 2 times into my mouth regularly now. If you haven't supplement B12 and have been vegan for some time, please do, B12 deficiency could lead to nervous and cardiac problems.

Vegan EPA and DHA

The other supplement I thought was something vegans can consider is EPA and DHA. Chia, kiwifruit seeds, perilla and Flax seeds contains high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids ALA. This is the short chain omega FA that will be converted to the long chain EPA and then to DHA in our bodies.


Some reports say this conversion is not very efficient and could be further impeded by omega 6 fatty acids.

Most plants to not contain EPA and DHA - with the exception of purslane and chlorella (processed under certain conditions) containing some EPA.

Wakame - an edible seaweed, contains high levels of EPA - and thankfully for us, it's one of the top invasive species. My guess this is how vegetarians in the past in asia got their source of EPA when modern technology is unable to produce algae DHA.

Spirulina contains some EPA and DHA as well, but I don't really fancy eating bacteria.

If you really don't want to bother hunting down these for your source of EPA and DHA, then you have modern technology to thank because we now have vegan EPA and DHA. Do keep your oils in the fridge, because they can taste "fishy" if you leave them out.


Anonymous said...

U could try mixing a lil Marmite or Brovil into your soup or porriage to boost ur vitamin B12 intake.

Cheap but wholesome !

dreamy said...

Hi chek,

I tried marmite a few times, but don't really like the taste. I couldn't take everyday in bigger amounts for more significant B12 because it's too salty. But it's still a useful alternative B12 source of food :)

Irene @ H.E.S.H. said...

Excellent blog! This blog gave me something to think about. If taking supplements help us to have a healthier body then I guess there is nothing wrong with it. Let us not forget that most supplements are also derived from plants.

Chua said...

Thanks! Just what I needed to know about supplementing my diet. I've been vegetarian for a year and have turned vegan a month ago. I've been doing my homework on nutrition and boy, do those horror stories about vegans suddenly turning sick scare the s* out of me! I am (well, was) one of those pill-haters but have become more aware that its more sensible to pop a B12 pill than suffering deficiency symptoms and thinking I have to go back to meat. Thanks so much for this info :)

dreamy said...

Hi Chua,

Yes there are indeed many horror stories about feeling weak, etc. but that is because they do not balance their meal properly.

Outside food in SG usually do not have sufficient wholegrains besides brown rice. So it is important to eat a variety of wholegrains.

They also do not use much legumes and beans in their cooking, that needs to be included as well.

Nuts and seeds - especially pumpkin seeds for zinc, dried fruits - such as cranberries, figs, dates these should be included in your diet as well for trace minerals.

For Iron - I highly recommend taking blackstrap molasses and cooked beetroot juice. For woman, 1 tbs daily of BSM, men can take less frequently. Beetroot can be cooked with apple. If you can stomach them raw that's also fine.

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