DHA in Vegan Diets. Is Supplementation Necessary? Plus, True Vitality Protein Powder (DHA Enriched) Product Review.

by Gena on September 2, 2012

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Greetings, all!

Hope you’ve been enjoying restful and happy holiday weekends. Mine has been very busy–tons of “back to the grind” stuff to deal with–which is fine with me. To be honest, as nice as vacation is, it only takes me a week or so to start aching for work again. I’ll be ruing these words in a month or so, but at the moment, it feels great to be stretched thin with projects again.

On my project list for some time has been a review of a new, and super favorite, protein powder. It’s called “True Vitality” protein powder, and it is from Green Foods. Like many protein powders on the market, it is infused with probiotics, Omega-3 fatty acids, and greens. It’s vegan and gluten free. What makes it unique is that it contains a dose of DHA from algal oil.

What is DHA, exactly? DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid (or, more precisely, all-cis-docosa-4,7,10,13,16,19-hexa-enoic acid—take that, orgo!!!) is an Omega-3 fatty acid that may play a role in fetal brain and retinal development, heart disease prevention, prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, and even a positive role in managing ADHD. Though none of these correlations have been proven (research on DHA and human health has a long way to go), the findings suggest that DHA is at least worthy of broader study.

DHA is a hot topic for vegans, because vegan diets have historically been lower in the nutrient than omnivorous ones. The most readily available source of the nutrient is fish and fish oil. Though there is no hard evidence of health defects in vegans due to missing DHA, current thinking is that DHA supplementation is at least worthwhile. Here I’ll quote my friend Ginny Messina, R.D., who writes about DHA in her invaluable book Vegan For Life (which I consider to be a “must read” for vegans who want solid nutrition and health information):

…Because the research on the overall benefits of Omega-3s is so conflicting, it’s hard to know whether these supplements are useful for vegans. We are not convinced that they are. On the other hand, we are not convinced that the lower blood levels of DHA and EPA in vegans is unimportant. Until we know more, we are inclined to recommend supplementing with very small amounts, around 200 to 300 mg of DHA (or DHA and EPA combined) every two or three days.

Conveniently, in the 1980s, NASA researchers discovered a means of isolating DHA without the use of fish or fish oil for astronauts on long voyages. They realized that certain species of marine algae could be used to produce supplementary DHA, and so DHA from algae is now widely available to vegans.

I’ll confess that I have not consistently supplemented DHA myself, but Ginny’s recommendation is good reason to consider it seriously. Moreover, if you are an expecting mother, it’s well worth asking your health care practitioner if a DHA supplement may be wise, as its role in brain development may be significant. We aren’t sure what role DHA plays in plant based diet, but as Ginny points out, it does seem clear that some supplementation of this nutrient can’t hurt, and may help.

For this reason, I was excited to find that True Vitality protein contains DHA from algal oil! It’s worth noting that the DHA in True Vitality protein powder is 1000 mg per serving; this is about 3-4 times what Ginny and Jack Norris recommend. That said, it’s very easy to use half a serving of the powder per smoothie or drink, or to use it only a few times weekly, rather than daily. When we find new products that boast particular nutrients, it’s tempting to glut ourselves on them, but it’s important to remember that over-supplementation can be expensive, unnecessary, and even harmful; when you get a new powder or enriched food, always check out labels to see what your intake will be!

Green Foods sent me samples of both the chocolate and vanilla flavors. Both are delicious. Unlike some vegan protein powders, they’re not sicky sweet, but they’re sweet enough that the greens and slight trace of algae can’t be detected readily.

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The base of the protein is a mix of pea, rice, and hemp, which I like because it means variety. If you’re curious about details, here’s the ingredient label:

I used both flavors, often in my “standard” smoothie mix of banana, greens, berries, almond milk, flax, and hemp seeds. The chocolate flavor worked really well in a smoothie of cherries, cacao, cacao nibs, strawberries, and greens.

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Yum!

As for the price point, it’s 29.99$ for 22.7 oz of the protein; this is not cheap, but it is more affordable than other premium brands (to give you a sense of comparison, 30.4 oz of Vega is $69.99). And the company has a range of products that also includes green powders, wheatgrass, carrot essence, and beet essence. Check out the array of products on the website, here.

I’d certainly purchase this protein again, and plan to. Though I don’t consider protein powders to be an essential part of vegan diets, they can be helpful means of boosting protein intake for particular purposes (if,  for instance, you happen to be an athlete, a person in ED recovery, or a person who is new to veganism and struggling with protein sourcing) or if you simply feel that you thrive with more protein than you can get conveniently from your diet. They can also add a lot of density and satiety to smoothies.

I have a much more complete protein powder review in the works; if you guys have any particular questions, please comment and let me know, so that I can take them into account!

Have a wonderful evening, friends.

xo

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Bitt September 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Interesting new product. I definitely supplement with DHA/EPA. I don’t take any chances with brain health. Too bad this stuff has agave in it! Q:thoughts on pea protein? Some raw foodies say its MSG.

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Gena September 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm

I hadn’t heard that one yet! Do you have a link/study? I’d love to read more.

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bitt September 3, 2012 at 12:46 pm

No I thought maybe you might. I heard it from a few raw foodies but I haven’t found any studies to back it up (although I haven’t looked that hard). that is why I have kept eating it.

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Ali September 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm

My question for your upcoming review: any ideas for using protein powders in savory (as opposed to sweet) applications? Smoothies and puddings seem to be standard but I’d be interested to find ways to use them in something savory.

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Gena September 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm

That is a GREAT question/challenge for me. Thanks Ali!

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Christy September 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Hey Ali. I’ve been using it in everything from baked goods, pancakes, and savory muffins, loafs and dips. If you are baking something savory substitute some of the protein powder for the flour. It’s can be tricky. I’m creating a recipe booklet for a protein powder and it has been harder than I thought it would be to incorporate it into recipes!

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Gena September 2, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Christy, I’ll be really curious to see your savory recipes!

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hannah September 2, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Hi Ali, I’ve seen on protein powder packets the recommendation to use it in soups as a thickener in place of cornflour/corn starch. That might be something to try as autumn approaches?

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Jessica October 23, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Hello! I know I’m a bit late to the game here, but I just got some of the Now Foods pea protein (non-GMO!) and I found it unpalatable on its own in water, but it’s fantastic in falafil patties and as a thickener in soups, especially split pea for obvious reasons. I imagine it would be good in savory muffins as well. But I imagine a pre-sweetened/flavored protein powder like this one would be difficult to incorporate into a savory recipe.

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Dreena Burton September 2, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Excellent post topic Gena. I haven’t tried/seen any protein powders in our area with DHA. (I’m a big fan of the Vega Smoothie Infusions – Vanilla Almondilla and Tropical Tango flavors – and I’d definitely like to try something with DHA, like this Green Foods brand.)

We have supplemented with DHA/EPA for some time now, and it is (I think) critically important when pregnant and also when nursing, as we don’t know how efficiently our bodies are converting our whole food omega 3′s into DHA. We also supplement our girls, with a vegan oil that goes directly into their drinks (our older girls take a small amount from a spoon). It’s some reassurance when we don’t really know how each of us individually is digesting/converting our chia, flax, walnuts, etc.

Thanks for the info and insight. xo

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jess September 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

good to know of another DHA supplement – i’ve got the nutra-vege oil but lately it’s been a tough swallow & has been repeating on me like crazy with my pregnancy indigestion!

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char eats greens September 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Great post!! I’m actually pregnant and via Dreena Burton’s post on pregnancy got the Deva vegan omega-3 supplement. This protein powder definitely is intriguing, and I think would be a good option for quick smoothies!!

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chelsea September 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I haven’t supplemented before, and I’m wary to start doing it. If I have to supplement to stay healthy, how can I tell others inquiring about my lifestyle that it’s a healthy choice? I think I’ll keep trying to get enough naturally. Can people eat algae?

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elizabeth September 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Gena, I agree that protein powders aren’t an essential part of vegan diets, but I do think you need to encourage all of your readers, not just those who are athletes, or in recovery from anorexia, or new to veganism to consider supplementing. Protein needs seem to vary pretty widely, and figuring out how much you need is not a matter of consulting experts, whose recommendations vary considerably, but experimenting to see just how many grams of protein a day you need to thrive. Personally, I do best on a good amout of protein (at least 50 to 60 g a day), and protein powder is the easiest and most digestible way for me to get it.

I have been eagery awaiting your review, only becuase I have given up Vega after nearly four years. I’m not at all enamored of the reformulation (ingredient profile no longer justifies the sticker price and it is way. too. sweet. even by my standards). Moreover, Brendan’s response to why these meal plans (http://myvega.com/resources/7-day-meal-plan) are so low calorie, espcially given the Vega target market of high performance athletes, was disattisfying in the extreme.

I’m trying the Sun Warrior vanilla (not as impressive on the ingredient side, but if it’s just protein you want, tasty, mixable, and assimilable). I’m curious about Health Force Nutritionals Warrior Food, so my big question is which of these (Sun Warrior or Warrior Food) you prefer. I’m only curious about the vanilla, as I don’t love chocolate smoothies (I get enough chocolate in raw desserts).

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Gena September 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I agree that the response lacked something to be desired, and that the meal plans might better have been called “snack plans!” And the reason I’m working so hard to develop this review is that I’m dissapointed (and changing brands) myself.

I hesitate to encourage it globally because I think it depends so much on the nuance of one’s vegan (or plant focused diet); if one is eating 1-2 servings of tofu or tempeh daily, for example, I think it’s less necessary, whereas it may be more necessary for a higher raw dietary nuance. As you say, however, it depends on the individual, and I certainly don’t agree with experts who claim that vegans can “just eat leafy greens” and get all the protein they need! I’ll consider how to revise that statement.

Good for you on Sun Warrior; I have to admit, it tastes chalky to me. I like the brand, but can’t say it’s my preference from a taste point of view. Health Force Warrior foods I prefer more, but there are a few other brands I’m enamored of, which I’ll mention!

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jessica September 2, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I always wondered why those meal plans were so low calorie – what was Brendan’s reasoning? I missed that!

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Gena September 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Who knows. They really do look like snacks, all of them; I wonder if they’re so scant to emphasize the powder’s nutritional adequacy–in other words, to say, “vega is all you really need”? If so, that strikes me as irresponsible to be sure.

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity September 2, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Great post Gena!
I use food as medicine. Suffering from depression and in recovery from an ED Omega 3′s and DHA’s are extremely important to me. Its great to see that companies are becoming aware of the importance of these essential fatty acids. That said, I do personally believe that supplementation is not necessary.
You are able to get all the nutrients you need from whole foods so they are easier absorbed by your body and also less expensive.
Eating spirullina gives you a large amount of protein and Omega 3′s. If I need more protein, I have chickpea flour instead of splet.
I understand that this is just my personal opinion. Are there any additives or preservatives in the powder?
xx

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Gena September 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm

It doesn’t seem like there’s anything too ugly in there. I agree that food is medicine, but don’t eschew supplementation, either; in our modern world, it serves an essential purpose.

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Amy S. September 2, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Hey Gena,
I’d love to see a review of the Perfect Fit protein that the ToneItUp girls came out with.

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Gena September 2, 2012 at 7:06 pm

On the queue…

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bitt September 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm

I really hope not to see too much ToneItUp stuff on here. I’ve already had to unsubscribe from tons of blogs that have their stuff. :-( It’s very triggering for me.

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salli September 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm

to britt: triggering how? I have major food sensitivities, including hidden glutamatic acid (MSG) and I’m trying to find out if their “natural vanilla flavor” might be one.

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Amelia September 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I’ve just started a 100% plant-based diet and am still unsure about how much I need in terms of supplements. Do you have general guidance on how much protein powders and other “boosts” are necessary?

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Gena September 2, 2012 at 7:05 pm

It really does depend. A multivitamin, a calcium supplement for women, and a B-12 supplement (or a multi that has a good amount) are adviseable for all vegans; the B-12 is absolutely mandatory. When it comes to “boosts” (like protein or DHA), a lot depends on your constitution and what you “feel” is right for you. In my experience, different bodies need different amounts and proportions of macronutrients. So check in with your energy levels, etc., as you go along.

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Amelia September 2, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Thanks! Maybe a multi-vitamin review for a future post? :-)

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Molly September 2, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Yes! Gena, I’d love to know what multi-vitamin you use.

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hannah September 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Grrr I just looked this protein powder up and I’m sooo frustrated because the distributor has converted straight from dollars to pounds – $30 for you, £30 for us so it’s nearly double the price NOT FAIR! :(

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hannah September 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

P.S. I saw on a recent-ish post that you use GOOD Hemp oil and wonder if you have tried/seen any of their new protein powders?

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Christa @ Edible Balance September 2, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Great post Gena! I am quite impressed by this protein powder, especially with the addition of probiotics, DHA and greens. I tend to use powder supplements when short on time and most definitely while traveling as there are no decent options in airports, etc, for gluten free vegan lifetstyles.

I had been using Vega and had to stop because of breakouts and just not feeling that great after consumption. Because it had so many ingredients, I can’t pinpoint exactly what I’m reacting to. I’ve yet to find a good all around replacement for it, and am using plain Sunwarrior in the meantime (I’m not a huge fan of stevia, used in the flavored). I would love to try this supplement, do you know if it’s available in Canada?

Looking forward to more of your reviews!

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Tt in nyc September 2, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Hi gena-
Because of the sketchy ingredients i find in protein powders i have often used peanut flour as a sub- can you include this in your protein powder review? I love that its so much cheaper as well but wonder if it is digested and used the same as a hemp/pea/etc protein powder?

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Elaine September 3, 2012 at 12:02 am

Hi Gena,
I have always wondered about the safety of hemp protein. I use an organic, non gmo brand that does not use hexan. My concern is soy isolate is dangerous, why is hemp okay. If you could explain the difference I would be very grateful. Thanks!

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Hanna M. September 3, 2012 at 4:18 am

Hi! A long time fan and “lurker” here. One of the many reasons why I enjoy reading your blog posts is that they are always very reflected and well researched, so I was a bit surprised when I read this, as I think the importance of DHA, and EPA, for optimal health is somewhat undervalued. Is the research really not more conclusive? What are your opinions on EPA? Though I’m an advocate of plant-based diets, I believe that supplements of DHA/EPA, be it from fish or algae, are crucial. Though the body can convert some from plant essential fatty acids, this is the bare minimum and leads to a very skewed omega-6 to -3 ratio, facilitating inflammatory processes. Love to hear your thoughts!

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Gena September 3, 2012 at 9:44 am

Hannah,

When I got my CCN degree, the role of EPA/DHA (and the Omega 6:3 ratio) was emphasized immensely, and I agree that the evidence is highly suggestive (I also just read WHY WOMEN NEED FAT, which makes a very pro-Omega 3, anti-Omega 6 case). That said, I was myself surprised to review literature and see how inconclusive our current studies are; supplementation didn’t seem to yield a conclusive benefit among vegans. So the recommendation to supplement is not yet urgent in the way B-12 supplementation is. We can definitely say, “here’s what we know, here’s what we suspect may be true, and you should draw your own conclusions,” but the research is still developing.

This is no cause for alarm, though: it’s simply all the more reason to keep conducting research. More and more MDs are getting interested in the relationship between fatty acid ratios and health, so I would imagine this particular arena of study will continue to grow. In the meantime, supplementation is wise even without conclusive data, especially for expecting mothers and growing children.

G

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Heather @ For the Love of Kale September 3, 2012 at 9:25 am

Great concise post, Gena! I’m hoping new research comes out in the next few years on DHA for vegans (and coconut oil too!). I’ve been using Life’s Basics chocolate protein powder in lieu of Vega (sad bank account) and love it!

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Melanie St. Ours September 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Great work! I do supplement both DHA and EPA. I echo Ginny’s thoughts about the uncertainty of individual conversion rates for sources like flax, and I know how important EHA & EPA are for people with autoimmune illnesses & depression—both of which have played a significant role in my life and in my family history. I’m also eager for more research on vegan sources and their clinical efficacy. There’s a lot of data for fish oil, and I’d really like to see comparable data for algae oil. Logically, it seems like it would have to be as effective, but I’d feel so much more confident suggesting it to clients if I had evidence to support my theory and my ethical stance. It can be a dilemma when I’m faced with a non-vegan client who could benefit from supplementation. I usually just tell them all of my thoughts and the info that I have so that they can make their own best decision. (Come on, researchers! We’re cheering you on!)

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michelle s. September 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Thank you for the info Gena! I am also a long time VEGA user…. my husband and I start each day with a big green smoothie, often sharing it with our kids. I find the new vanilla flavour off-putting and we are switching brands as soon as we use it up. A friend gave me hers too because she couldn’t stomach it. Disappointing after being such a loyal customer that our old flavour just disappeared. I am glad to know there are other brands to try.

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Brian September 4, 2012 at 4:44 am

I’ve used Vega & even though I subscribe to Brendan’s approach to a vegan “Thrive” diet I didn’t much care for his protein powders, especially price versus quantity. I currently use organic raw hemp protein powder along with ground flax & Trader Joes green powder, which collectively seems to give me a hearty dose of plant protein. On occasion, I’ll use Garden of Life Raw Protein powder, which I find good tasting, easy to dissolve, & somewhat reasonable in price (at least for how protein powders go).

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janet @ the taste space September 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I’d love a review on vegan protein powders. Have you tried the Amazing Grass Protein powder yet? I just saw it online but have yet to try it. Love their Chocolate flavoured wheat grass supplement so I am so curious to see how it compares. :)

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janet @ the taste space September 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Oh, I also wanted to plug my current favourites, to see how your choices compare:
a) Manitoba Harvest’s Hemp Pro 70. My favourite of their line since it is water soluble, higher protein and makes my oatmeal creamy. A bit of green flavour, though.
b) Sun Warrior Blend Natural. No flavour (yay!) but not creamy.. not gritty either.. What I am using now.
c) Vega. I like their old chocolate whole food optimizer the best. Their new chocolate sport is uber salty (tastes great though) but the almond shake one is too sweet. Berry flavour is nearly unpalatable. Chai flavour not that pronounced. Natural flavour is second to chocolate.

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Julann September 7, 2012 at 11:16 am

Dr. Fuhrman has a DHA+EPA supplement available on his website that is algae based. He also has a supplement called New Harvest EPA that is vegan.

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Lauren @ The Homeostatic Mindset September 7, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Great post, as always! :)

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Melissa September 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Definitely looking forward to the protein powder review. In general, I’ve been very happy using plain hemp protein powder, although it is probably lower in protein than most. I like to flavor my smoothies with food and don’t care for the taste of artificial sweeteners many (like Vega) have.

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Karen October 7, 2012 at 8:26 am

I have been anxiously awaiting the protein powder review ever since this post. My Vega powder will be all used up shortly and I am trying to decide what to buy next! Any thoughts when the review might be posted? Thanks for all the wonderful education!

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Karen October 7, 2012 at 8:34 am

I noticed you still had the flax and hemp seeds to the smoothie even though hemp protein and DHA is included in the powder. Is that a flavor preference or do you feel that nutritionally you still want to include the flax and hemp seeds?

Thanks for the great info as always!

p.s. Any idea when the powder review will be poster? My Vega is almost used up!

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Look At This June 12, 2013 at 10:56 am

Hi my loved one! I want to say that this post is
awesome, great written and include almost all vital infos.
I’d like to peer more posts like this .

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Maria August 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Hi! I have a question for you. I just bought a jar of True Vitality, vanilla flavor, I liked it best among other powders because it is the only one that showed to be gluten free, and that had probiotics. So my question is can I take this even if I am not a vegan??

I would appreciate your response.

Many thanks!

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