It is Veganurary! What is Veganurary, you ask? It's a month-long challenge to educate people about the vegan diet and encourage them to try vegan foods, recipes, products, and more!
So, what does being vegan mean? According to the Vegan Society, "Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
So by that definition, a vegan diet is one that abstains from ALL animal or animal by-products. This means lots of plants!
Let's take this a step further and discuss a few essential vitamins and minerals that help to complement a vegan diet. No matter your dietary choices, supplementing is a good idea as our soils are depleted of vitamins and minerals, and it's only possible to meet some of our requirements through food alone. This is where a nutritionist like myself can help; we can access your diet and help you fill in the gaps with a customized supplement plan and/or what foods to add to your day to help.
As it's Veganurary, we are sticking to the essential nutrients that are harder to get in a vegan diet. Some nutrients are less bio-available from plants, and your genetics can also play a role here.
Let's start with vitamin B12, a nutrient found primarily in animal-based foods, so an individual that consumes a vegan diet has the potential for deficiency. B12 is vital for many functions in the body, such as energy, DNA synthesis, good mental health, formation of red blood cells, nervous system health, and more!
How much B12 should a vegan take? The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for males and females is 2.4 mcg (more is needed if pregnant and breastfeeding). A list of food sources can be seen here. Foods containing B12 that are vegan-friendly will be fortified.
Taking a supplement like Herbaland's Vegan D3 & B12 is a great way to ensure you get enough vitamin B12. This gummy in a delicious raspberry flavour contains 850 mcg of vitamin B12. This amount may seem high compared to the RDA, but RDAs are the minimum amount the body needs, not the optimal amount. Not only that, many factors are at play as to whether you will absorb the total B12 amount, such as low stomach acid, which is needed to unbind B12 into its free form that the body can absorb. We also need enough of a protein called intrinsic factor, this helps us to absorb B12 in the small intestine. B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, so you will excrete what your body does not use.
Nutritionist Tip: you can be B12 deficient even if eating an animal-based diet. As discussed above, having high enough levels of HCl (stomach acid) and intrinsic factor are necessary for absorption.
As we mentioned vegan D3 above, let's discuss it next! No matter our dietary choices, all of us, especially those who live in Canada, are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Why? We lack SUNSHINE! Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is a supplement for which I recommend testing your levels before supplementing. Unlike B12 where the excess is excreted, vitamin D3 is fat-soluble (along with vitamin A, D, E, and K) and is stored in the body. This means it can pose a greater risk for toxicity than water-soluble vitamins when consumed in excess. A vitamin D test is a simple blood test; just ask your doctor!
Vitamin D is essential for many functions in the body, such as calcium and phosphorus absorption and bone and teeth health. Vitamin D is also needed for the nervous system, heart health, normal blood clotting, immune health, and mental health and can help decrease auto-immune activity. RDA varies for age but is about 600 IU daily. Remember, this is the body's minimum amount; depending on your levels, health concerns, and more, this amount will change. Herbaland's Vegan D3 and B12 contain 1000 IU per gummy; this is a safe amount to take without knowing your levels for most individuals. As always, ask your health practitioner for individual references.
Why am I including Vitamin D in this blog if it is not just vegans that can be deficient? Most vitamin D supplements are made from the wool of sheep. A vegan will want something other than this type of Vitamin D3; luckily, other sources are vegan-friendly. Herbaland's Vegan D3 uses lichen, a kind of plant. The cool thing about the lichen plant is they need to protect themselves from the sun's damaging rays, so they produce D3 to do this!
Omega-3 is another essential nutrient that can be harder to absorb when consuming a vegan diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered good fats; they help lower inflammation in the body, keep triglyceride levels in check and protect against heart disease. Symptoms of low omega-3 can range from mood disorders like irritability, attention and concentration issues, dry skin and hair, fatigue, joint pain, and more. Adults benefit from 1-2 grams of Omega 3 daily. Omega-3 "starts" as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and the body converts it to bio-available forms of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Many plants contain ALA (flax, walnuts, chia seeds, and more), but how well your body converts it to the active form of EPA and DHA can be determined by genetics.
Herbaland's Omega-3 gummy comes in a tasty orange flavour and is vegan friendly because it uses a plant source omega-3 from flax oil. Concerned if this form of omega-3 is enough for you, reach out to a practitioner like myself or one you trust for a DNA test. Or you can pay attention to low omega-3 symptoms.
One last mineral I'd like to discuss is iron. Iron is available in many plant sources, but the bioavailable form of iron, heme, is only found in animal-based foods. I wrote a whole blog on iron here. I want to mention it as it comes up often when a vegan diet is discussed. I share tips in that blog about how to get the most iron out of the food you eat, and one of them is pairing vitamin C-rich foods with your iron-rich foods. There are also symptoms we can look out for when our iron is low, extreme fatigue, weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and poor appetite. Iron needs are different between men and women as women menstruate, so they need extra iron. Adult men, on average, need 8 mg daily, and menstruating women benefit from 18 mg daily. I suggest a blood test as we must be careful about taking too much iron. Herbaland's Iron Plus gummy, in raspberry lemon flavor, contains 9 mg of vegan-friendly iron per gummy.
I hope this helps anyone looking to consume a vegan diet or try a vegan diet for Vegauary! I cannot stress enough, though, it is not just vegan diets that can be deficient in these essential nutrients. No matter your dietary choice, I encourage you to include real whole foods. Real whole foods are the best source of these nutrients and will beat out fortified foods any day! Fortified foods tend to use non-bioavailable sources of these nutrients, making them negligible in terms of helping to restore levels.
Happy Veganurary, everyone!
Featured Blogger: Michelle Vysohlid, Holistic Nutritionist
I'm Michelle, the founder of Eat Well with Michelle & Find Wellness. I am a Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for holistic health & living and sharing how easy this lifestyle can be. I love educating my clients and audience on valuable and practical ways to find wellness in their lives. I will show you how you can heal and thrive one meal at a time! My main focus in practice is gut health, hormones, and metabolic syndrome. Learn more here.
Please reach out to me on social media as I love meeting new friends worldwide that share the same love for living with intention. Hope to hear from you friends!