Thursday, May 17, 2007

Vegan/Vegetarian Diet Considerations

The research continues. I am reading "Becoming Vegan" by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina and I feel that if we/I am going to promote vegetarian/vegan lifestyle I need to point out important things you need to be aware of while adopting this lifestyle.

This book is a great resource. I've enjoyed the fact that it doesn't just wax poetic about how wonderfully healthful the vegetarian/vegan diet is... it also points out the pitfalls and things you need to look out for. They also give scientific information in easy to understand terms. Nutrition and healthful lifestyle is similar to this whole 'green' thing in that it can get rather overwhelming. For me living the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle kind of dumbs it down for me. It really ends up helping me to make consistent choices - I can't really eat most processed foods when I'm staying away from animal products so the choice is made for me. :)

Two main topics of consideration when adopting a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle are B12 and Essential Fatty Acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6)


Vitamin B12 helps build genetic material and is important for cells that reproduce rapidly - such as red blood cells, it protects the sheaths around our nerve fibers and working together with other B vitamins it converts foods to energy that our body can use. In addition B12 helps rid the body of homocysteine which if built up in the body can injure the inner lining of artery walls leading to heart disease. - excerpt from Becoming Vegan.

Non-vegetarians get B12 from the flesh of animals that have eaten things containing the bacteria and fungus that create B12. Vegetarians that consume eggs and dairy don't need to worry about this as much as vegans. Vegans need to supplement with B12 either through foods high in B12 (though these sources have proved to be unreliable - such as algae, spirulina, alfalfa, various greens, and seaweeds) or fortified foods. One good option is Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula Nutritional Yeast Powder or Flakes or other nutritional yeast supplements. You are looking to get between 3 and 6 mcg a day. Check labels of soy milks and cereals as fortification levels vary.

Essential Oils

Essential Oils

When considering a vegan/vegetarian diet you must consider your intake of Essential Fatty Acids - specifically Omega 3s. Omega 6s (Linoleic Acid) are plentiful in most diets - particularly vegetarian/vegan diets - they are found in seeds, walnuts, grains, sunflower, safflower, corn and grapeseed oils. Omega 3s (alpha-linolenic acid) are found in foods that we don’t eat in large quantities such as flaxseed, hempseed, canola oil, walnuts, butternuts, greens and soy. Polyunsaturated fats are not considered essential oils because we can make them in our body from their parent fats – Omega 6 and Omega 3 – or consumed from foods. In the Omega 6 family we can either convert linoleic acid to arachindonic acid (AA) or consume it directly from animal products. In the Omega 3 family we can convert alpha-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) or consume them directly from fish or microalgae. Though polyunsaturated fats aren’t technically called essential they ARE essential and we need to be aware of them.. particularly DHA. DHA is a structural component in the brain, the retina of the eye and sperm. Low levels of DHA have been associated with neurological and behavioral disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Plant foods provide very little if any Omega 3s with the exception of single celled ocean plants and seaweeds and I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat a lot of those.

When considering a DHA supplement you need to look at the source. Most DHA / Omega 3 supplements are derived of fish. If you are following a vegetarian/vegan diet these won’t work for you. You want to find a supplement that is derived of microalgae such as Dr. Udo's DHA.

Interesting Tid Bit about Vitamin D

Did you know that Vitamin D can be sourced from either animals or plants. I had no idea there were two basic types. Vitamin D2 is plant based (mushrooms, certain seaweeds and yeast) and Vitamin D3 is animal based (fish, sheep's wool, hides or other animal parts such as cow brains). If you choose to avoid animal products all together (and for you vegetarians out there) you need to be careful with some fortified soy milks and food products. When reading labels generally vegetarian products will specify D2, but if they don't you are looking for ergosterol or ergocalciferol on the ingredients list. If precalciferol or cholecalciferol are listed then the Vitamin D in the product is D3 or animal sourced Vitamin D. D3 is usually used in Milk so if you are vegetarian and drink milk and eat eggs, but avoid animal products you might want to check your milk label.

All of this being said, I am not a doctor or nutritionist (maybe some day) so take my statements for what they are... the research finds of a non-professional. I highly recommend that you do your own research and definitley recommend Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD


Diane said...

I didn't know that about D vitamins either! Thanks for sharing. Have you read The China Study? I just bought it, so I haven't read it either, but it's all about how they've been able to trace vegetarian and vegan lifestyles for generations in remote areas of China. Amazing study! They've found these people are more healthy than meat eaters, live longer, and have little to no heart disease, cancers, etc. (Geez! Just imagine all I'll be able to comment on AFTER I read it!)

Laura said...

Diane, I have heard of the study and hope to read it myself. I'm definitely interested in hearing what you think of it! Are you Vegan/Vegetarian?

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