“If I Need to Take a Supplement, How Can a Vegan Diet Be Natural?” Responding to the Common Critique.

by Gena on September 3, 2012

Hi all! Glad that folks took interest in yesterday’s post on DHA in vegan diets (and in the product review!).

That post, like most posts in which I touch upon the role of supplementation in a vegan diet, prompted concern from one of my readers. She commented:

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?

A lot of vegans echo this sentiment. How can we try to advocate the diet to others, they reason, if there are essential nutrient gaps that demand supplementation? Vegan critics are also quick to latch onto this issue, claiming that no diet in which supplementation is vital could be “natural”. And if it’s not “natural”—if it’s not nature’s perfect diet—then why are we doing it?

This is a complex issue, both among vegans and between vegans and our critics. It’s important for vegans to address it logically, because it continues to exert a powerful influence on skeptics of plant-based diets. So today, let’s chat about supplementation for vegans: why we do it, how it fits into the broader scheme of modern nutrition science, and whether supplementation is indeed a knock against veganism. I’ll use Vitamin B-12 as my primary talking point.

As all vegans know, B-12 is the one nutrient that vegans must supplement without question. Yes, there are fortified foods that provide good amounts of B-12 (nutritional yeast, fortified non-dairy milk), and some B-12 may also be available in spirulina (though the studies on algae as a B-12 source are not conclusive), but regardless, health practitioners agree that a B-12 supplement is still necessary for vegans. Everyone likes the idea of getting everything we need and want from whole foods, but good quality B-12 supplements give us protection and insurance at essentially no cost to our health. By contrast, if fortified foods and algae fail to meet our B-12 needs—which they often do—vegans can get genuinely sick, which is harmful both to us and to vegan messaging on the whole. I agree with many that the natural supplement industry has become as large, powerful, and problematic as the big pharma industry, but that doesn’t mean that certain supplements don’t have a vital and important role in diets of all kinds.

In spite of how easy it is to obtain in supplement form, B-12 remains a topic of endless debate, in part because critics of veganism have used it as evidence that veganism is “unnatural.” Some time ago, I had my friend, Dr. Stuart Seale of the Renovo clinic in AZ, speak to the great B-12 debate on my blog. For the entire discussion, I really recommend you check out his guest post, which also contains his recommendation for supplementation dosage. But to clear up some of the details, I’ll share a portion of the post:

Vitamin B12 is an essential micronutrient for humans. “Essential” means that it must come from external sources – we can’t manufacture it in our bodies using other nutrients as building blocks. The vitamin, in its full form, must therefore be supplied dietarily. This fact is what creates a potential rub for vegetarians, because no plant foods serve as a reliable source for B12. It’s only found predictably in animal foods – meat, eggs, and dairy.

Does this mean that we weren’t designed to be vegetarians, and that plant-based diets are inferior? In order to answer these questions, we need to look at the ultimate source for all vitamin B12, which is bacteria. The vitamin is made in nature only by bacteria that reside in soil, the upper intestinal tracts of ruminant animals (cows, sheep, deer, etc.), and also the lower intestines of animals. In the case of ruminants, the B12 that is made by the bacteria residing in their stomachs can then be absorbed into their tissues. In addition, the food they eat is contaminated with soil, which contains vitamin B12. Livestock are also fed B12 fortified foods to boost tissue levels. For wild, non-ruminant vegetarian animals there likely is enough ingestion of bacteria from foods contaminated with soil to provide adequate B12. In the case of wild, carnivorous animals, B12 is supplied from the liver (the animal storage organ for excess B12) and the intestinal bacterial of their prey.

The daily requirements of B12 for humans is very low, and in the past when we didn’t live in such a sterile and germophobic society it is likely that soil and other bacterial contamination of plant foods provided all the B12 needed. But our environments are different in the modern age. We are not only living much more sanitarily and bacteria-free, but our agricultural soils have also become sterilized. Of course, there is still the bacterial production of B12 in the lower intestinal tracts of animals, including humans, but we can’t absorb the vitamin from that location. However, undoubtedly much of the B12 found in animal foods is derived from intestinal bacterial contamination during the slaughter process.

There is an abundance of nutritional research demonstrating the benefits of eating whole plant foods, even if no animal foods are included. Humans are perfectly capable of eating a totally plant-based diet and maintain superior health while doing so. In our former agrarian society when bacteria-rich soils were worked by hand, there simply wasn’t an issue with humans getting enough B12, because it was supplied by soil contamination of our foods and skin. The issue of vegans requiring vitamin B12 supplementation is therefore not an indicator of a plant-based diet being inferior or unhealthy. The two really have nothing to do with each other. The fact that modern vegans require B12 supplementation is related to the sterility of our environment, not to the overall nutritional quality of the foods we eat. Humans haven’t changed, but our environment has.

 

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So part of why vegans need to supplement is because we live in a world in which it has become harder and harder to obtain B-12 without relying on animal foods. It may indeed be possible that adequate B-12 was obtainable from plant-foods in our pre-industrial society, but that simply isn’t the case now. Does that mean we need to abandon all of the other good reasons for eating a plant based diet? Hardly. The B-12 issue is a good example of the fact that our dietary needs can shift with our environment; pondering what is “ideal” or “natural” is fallacious without considering specifics of soil, air, lifestyle, and food production.

To use another example, Vitamin D deficiency is so prevalent right now that a physician friend has called it an “epidemic,” and suggested that two thirds of her patients had been deficient at some point or another. The deficiency seems to affect everyone all over the US, not just vegans. So does that mean that omnivorous and vegetarian diets are inherently “unnatural,” too? Probably not. Vitamin D deficiency is rising for a number of reasons, the primary of which is sunlight deprivation. As counterintuitive as it seems, the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency illustrates an important reality, which is that the culprit behind vitamin deficiencies is not always to be found in what we are or aren’t eating.

If we start to make the claim that any diet that demands regular or occasional nutrient supplementation is by definition an inadequate diet, we’ll soon find that we’re condemning nearly all diets, because deficiencies can creep in regardless of how responsibly we eat. One of the advantages of living in the modern world is that we can identify potential gaps in our diets—be they due to environment, socioeconomic status, circumstances, or individual health conditions—and fill those gaps in with supplements and fortified foods. Vitamin deficiencies or nutrient gaps are nothing new: throughout time, most people throughout the world have found it hard to obtain one or a few nutrients with food alone. Nowadays, science gives us tools to help manage those challenges.

It’s also worth pointing out that vegans are not the only people who develop nutrient deficiencies in the U.S.. Indeed, B-12 deficiency is a phenomenon that extends far beyond the vegan community. To quote the National Institute of Health,

Some people—particularly older adults, those with pernicious anemia, and those with reduced levels of stomach acidity (achlorhydria) or intestinal disorders—have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from food and, in some cases, oral supplements [22,23]. As a result, vitamin B12 deficiency is common, affecting between 1.5% and 15% of the general population [24,25]. In many of these cases, the cause of the vitamin B12 deficiency is unknown [8]. (Click through for article and footnotes).

15% of the population is a large number, and the article does not state that all, or even a majority of those who are susceptible are vegans. Indeed, the most at risk group seems to be older adults, which is also why the article states that “the IOM recommends that adults older than 50 years obtain most of their vitamin B12 from vitamin supplements or fortified foods [5].” As my friend Ginny Messina pointed out on her wonderful interview on Our Hen House this week, does the fact that most people over the age of 50 are advised to take a B-12 supplement mean that we’re not supposed to live over the age of 50?

In other words, it’s overly simplistic to use deficiencies as fodder in an argument about what’s “natural” or unnatural. The reality is that most diets contain potential weak points in terms of nutrition, and demand a certain amount of planning. Whether you’re vegan or omni, you probably will need to give some amount of thought to getting proper nutrition through food choices, and there’s a good chance you’ll want to take a supplement of some kind at some point in your life. What that supplement needs to be may vary with your diet, your age, your gender, your health history, your environment, and your eating style. The idea that vegan diets need to be more “well planned” than other diets is a little misleading: smart eating habits demand consideration across the board.

And let’s suppose for a moment that vegan diets do demand a little more planning than other diets—so what? Taking a B-12 supplement and considering a DHA or D2 supplement seems like a very small price to pay when we consider veganism’s many advantages—namely, the fact that vegan diets help to spare billions of sentient beings pain, suffering, and early death. For this reason alone, I’m happy to take B-12, but it’s not the only reason: vegan diets are also beneficial to the environment, and they offer us plenty of health advantages that outweigh the small hassle of a B-12 supplement, such as reduced changes of obesity and high cholesterol on average. Fretting endlessly about whether or not veganism is the “ideal” or “natural” diet is counterproductive and futile, since it’s unlikely that science will show us conclusively what the “ideal” diet—if such a thing has ever existed—is anytime soon. What strikes me as a far more urgent question is “what is the most responsible, ethical, and intelligent diet I can eat healthily in this day and age?”

We all have different answers to that question, but veganism is my answer. I believe it’s the diet that makes most sense for me, for animals, and for the planet. Fortunately for me, current science shows us without question that the diet can be healthy. If a B-12 or Vitamin D supplement is the only price of admission, well then, I’m happy to pay.

For more on this hot topic, I seriously recommend you listen to Ginny Messina’s Saturday podcast on Our Hen House! And that you consider subscribing on iTunes! Jasmin and Mariann frequently get into the nitty gritty of vegan health, and their conversations with health practitioners are illuminating and important.

I’d love your thoughts, of course, on this topic. Have a wonderful holiday!

xo

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Debby Sunshine September 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm

This is an excellent article!!! I love Ginny Messina’s statement that just because people 50 years and older should supplement with B-12 “does that mean that they aren’t supposed to live past age 50?” The main point is that B-12 would have been found in nature if not for our hygienic modern society and that, therefore, a vegan diet is as perfect as any other. We must look at the big picture. Common sense, logic and science make it clear that a vegan diet is the healthiest for each and every one of us and for the planet as a whole! Vegan critics who latch on to the B-12 argument are not seeing the forest from the trees!

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JL September 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Great post, Gena! I will gladly choose supplementing over consuming animals. Period.

My husband, a triathlete and coach, spends many hours outside and is an omnivore. My Vitamin D levels are better than his! He has to supplement for Vit D; I have to supplement for B12. We both take daily multivitamins, regardless of diet. So, I stand by my super-healthy, planet-friendly, animal-loving diet!

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bitt September 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Your reader’s response irks me because I hear it a lot from people who want “natural raw vegan diets” then get sick/deficient and decide to not be vegan. Not too smart. I don’t think supplements are unnatural. (I guess it depends on what one’s definition of natural is.) Getting DHA from algae is where the fish get it from, you are just saving a step. A lot of people don’t realize the animals that they eat the flesh or eggs from are getting supplements and antibiotics and so forth, and I believe it’s a legal requirement for milk to be fortified. It’s really impossible to live a life without supplementation, and why would one want to if those supplements are what is required for a healthier and longer life?

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Stephanie September 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Great post! Which B-12 and Vitamin D supplements do you take? Thanks!

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Dreena Burton September 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Gena, another extraordinary post. It is one the most ‘compelling’ arguments people have against adopting a vegan diet. I heard it repeatedly with presenters at this year’s Summerfest – Brenda Davis spoke about it in her talk, and I was happy to hear Ginny Messina address it in her recent interview with Our Hen House. Thank you for writing about it in detail and with references. And, B12/vitamin D aren’t just vegan issues, as you’ve mentioned. Much appreciated post, will share.

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Ali Seiter September 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Beautiful post, as per usual, Gena. I especially love the quotes “the idea that vegan diets need to be more ‘well planned’ than other diets is a little misleading: smart eating habits demand consideration across the board,” and “What strikes me as a far more urgent question is what is the most responsible, ethical, and intelligent diet I can eat healthily in this day and age?’” It’s as if nonvegans attempt to reveal any possible downfall of/excuse not to adopt a vegan diet to justify their own, which results in far more overreaching consequences in the greater scheme of things. Heaven forbid we have to take a pill for insurance to allow us to live compassionately and in tune with our values. I agree–that’s a small price to pay.

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Lauren (@poweredbypb) September 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm

This is a fantastic post. I am more than happy to complement a diet that makes me feel amazing with a b12 supplement, it’s just a small price to pay!

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity September 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Thanks for shining light on this topic!
My answer to the best diet these days is to go chemical free.
So this means vegan, whole foods. No artificial “diet” crap and chemical cocktails that today’s supermarkets and meat industries and packed with.
You have such a reasonable view on this. Thanks for the info x

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Sondi September 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I think that given the state of our food system today, it’s not unusual for our food to have less nutrients than 50 or 100 years ago. Many people are also eating a lot more processed food and refined carbs, which don’t have a lot of nutrients, either. Whether you’re a plant-based or omni eater, it’s possible that you’re not getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need. Regardless of the kind of diet you choose, supplementation does not mean that there is something lacking or unhealthy about your diet. It just means that it’s not always possible to get everything we need from food.

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Andrea September 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Thank you for publishing such an excellent, well-researched and well-reasoned review. I never could understand how the need to supplement with B-12 (or anything else) negated the benefits or “naturalness” of a vegan diet. Omnivores often need to supplement their diets as well, but no one suggests they stop eating animals. I had an interesting experience with the “vegan-deficiency” idea when I was raising my children. Our doctor at the time was always testing my kids for deficiencies, and one day she said, “I can’t understand it. Your kids are never deficient in anything, but my “regular” patients are always coming up deficient in iron and B-12.” She gave the “regular” supplements, and I’m pretty sure she never suggested they become vegan!

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Stellaluna September 7, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I have been vegan for 4 months, I am looking into purchasing the right supplements for myself and my soon-to-be-6 year old daughter, what steps would you suggest I take in finding the right supplement? I’m not sure if I should buy a Vegan Supplement or individual supplements.

Also, I’m curious what form of B-12 supplement you used for your kids. I bought Flax Seed Oil and hate taking it orally…yuk!

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Anonymous September 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm

If you are going to take a Vitamin D supplement, take D3 – do not take D2.

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Anonymous September 4, 2012 at 9:27 am

D2 is vegan and almost all sources of D3 are animal derived products (fish oil and lanolin (from wool)) and therefore are not vegan. Make sure to check that your D3 product is vegan, if you take one.

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Marissa September 3, 2012 at 4:19 pm

This is a great piece, and extremely thoughtful! I’d also like to add that in terms of personal health, everyone’s “perfect diet” is different. We all have the same basic needs, but our bodies are all different and process things differently. As someone who has had a B12 deficiency for a short period of time (while traveling), I can safely says that I never noticed any effects of that deficiency, even though my doctor expected me to. Everyone’s different, and when it comes to supplements, many omnivores I know take them even though they don’t know of any deficiencies in their diets, because no one eats the perfect complement of all nutrients every day.

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Ricki September 3, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Great post, Gena, as always. I had come across the point that we used to be able to acquire sufficient B12 from soils in eras past and am so glad you brought this up. It’s so similar to the fact that conventional produce these days isn’t as nutritious as organic or even conventional produce back in the 1940s, say–because modern agricultural practices have stripped so much of the natural vitamins and minerals from foods. The same seems to apply with B12. And my own feeling is that many people in our culture–vegan diet or not–could benefit from supplementation, period!

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Jess September 3, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Thanks for this post. I actually developed a B12 deficiency a few years ago when following a mostly-vegetarian diet—not even vegan. You bring up a lot of really good points. Thanks for sharing.

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mom September 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm

I stopped taking D and B12 and calcium about a year ago. I find it very confusing when two different people (professionals) have two different opinions about the same thing. I am over 60 and I noticed that I was very tired all the time and I was forgetting more and more words in my vocabulary, why I went into a room, easy information like my phone number. Then I started reading and researching your website. Long story, short, I am back on 2000 mg of D and 1000 mg of B12 daily and I drink green smoothies every day with flax and hemp hearts, spirulina and wheat grass, and my energy is back and so is my memory! Thanks for being there for me!

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Kait @ yogabeautylife September 3, 2012 at 7:40 pm

As usual…excellently worded and wonderfully insightful! Thanks for providing us a great response to the criticism. :)

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Emily @ Milly's Meals September 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm

I love how you address these topics…great article.

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Ally September 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Fantastic! I just finished an online short course in Plant-based nutrition with Dr. Colin Campbell who wrote ‘The China Study’ and one of the last lectures was about Vitamin B-12 and D in a vegan lifestyle and mirrored your thoughts exactly! So great to hear that again and it has made the whole subject much clearer in my mind =)

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Caralyn @ glutenfreehappytummy September 3, 2012 at 10:32 pm

what a great article! thanks for an informative read!! :)

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Marty September 4, 2012 at 1:13 am

Excellent article! I agree with Dr Seale and Ginny Messina wholeheartedly from alive been reading the past year, with your wonderful blog included.

Absolutely no one , no one eats a perfect diet. Unless you have blood work done, omni or carni, you do not know where you are. I’ve been vegetarian off and on for 35 years, and strictly now vegan for 7 years. I am fortunate to have insurance so I have blood work done yearly. I thought I ate very well, but my blood work showed that I needed to tweak my diet, needed Vit D, B12, calcium and digestive enzyme supplementation. When I ate meat, I was iron deficient, as a vegan I’m not. It very much depends on how your body assimilates what you eat. Carnivores can be B12 deficient, not just vegans and +50-yr olds, as I’ve read.

Please any vegan newbies, don’t judge vegansim unfairly, it is a very healthy and rewarding lifestyle. Do your homework, start with baseline blood work to assess your health, and talk to a vegan RD or Holistic
Practitioner, or your MD if they’re open to vegetarianism or vegansim. Unfortunately my MD is not, but my ND is.

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Chlorella September 4, 2012 at 5:37 am

Wow! Very well said. Now that’s exactly how to answer a common critique :) I am Janine and I also believe that it’s the diet that makes most sense for everything but if a B-12, Vitamin D or even Chlorella supplement is the only price of admission, like you, I would also be happy to pay. :)

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chelsea September 4, 2012 at 6:07 am

Thank you so much for this. Unfortunately, I don’t have a very good way with words, so when my coworkers start picking on me, I’m never able to defend myself, and then their criticisms leak into my head. Whether or not veganism requires supplements would never stop me from being vegan, it’s just hard to not worry that my coworkers and family members are right when they say its unhealthy. Even if I know it is healthy!

I might go to a health food store today to look at DHA and B12 especially.

Thank you again!

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Aoife September 4, 2012 at 6:26 am

Another absolutely wonderful post from you. I love how you tackle these sorts of questions in a logical and straightforward manner and you use common sense and facts to give such well-rounded answers. The supplementing issue has been on my mind lately (as a new, still-learning vegan) and I really feel that you got to the bottom of it here! Such a good blog, I’m so glad I found it a few months ago!

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Drisana (SoulShineBlog) September 4, 2012 at 7:36 am

Hi Gena, thanks for such a well-researched, well-thought-out, and well-written discussion on this topic! I love the point you make about vitamin D deficiency across all diets and also love the question you pose at the end! Spot on!

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Natalya September 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

Thank you for such great info! I am new to this and would like to retain my vegetarian diet. Any help with how to get enough iron in vegetarian diet?

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Simone September 4, 2012 at 9:51 am

Again, another really interesting, balanced and well argued article which makes my life easier when fielding questions from curious carnivores as to why I eat vegan or how do you get everything you need, etc etc…. I do wonder though about your comment on definately taking B12, surely you should only supplement if you were actually deficient? In all my blood tests I’m never deficient in B12. I have had a situation where as soon as the doctor found out I was vegan, instantly assumed I was deficient in certain minerals, in particular calcium and insisted I take a calcium supplement. I did not, because I strongly believe I am not deficient in calcium, given the amount of leafy greens, nuts seeds etc I eat. I really believe you have to listen to your body and it will tell you when something is wrong. If your constantly tired or getting sick or whatever, then get it checked out, but if your functioning fine is supplementing really necessary? This happened to me and in the end the one thing I was deficient in was iodine. So I took tablets for 6months (you are advised to do so for no longer than this) and now I make sure to include more seaweed in my diet weekly. Placebo affect or no, I felt better within weeks of taking the supplements for iodine. I think when your body calls for it you should take it, but also look for ways to include more foods in your diet that can also help to meet this mineral requirement.

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Janet September 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm

This…yes!!!!!
“Fretting endlessly about whether or not veganism is the “ideal” or “natural” diet is counterproductive and futile, since it’s unlikely that science will show us conclusively what the “ideal” diet—if such a thing has ever existed—is anytime soon”

In my opinion, to even speculate about agrarian culture using soil for their B12 requirements is not productive or helpful, as the prevailing assumption is that most consumed animal products in the form of dairy and eggs…this fuels the flame for argument from non vegans dismissing us as fabricating or exaggerating ideas that fit our diet.

It may not be 100% natural but at this point and the way factory farming is, who cares!! There are many real and measurable reasons to be vegan right now. As you stated, it’s better for our health, the environment, animal welfare, and society. I encourage people to use these arguments instead of these soil claims that have very little validity in the literature.

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Hoshigaki September 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Great post. Most vegans have been asked about B12 and protein. These are the go-to questions.

My response lately regarding the B12 issue is to mention my friend, Colin. He’s a tall, muscular guy with broad shoulders like the jolly green giant. We were discussing my vegan diet and he admitted that he had once been disagnosed with a B12 deficiency. He, a meat and dairy consumer. That interaction really stuck with me because it underscores the fact that no one’s diet is perfect whether animal products are included or not. And picturing a buff dude (sensitive, charismatic, and an outstanding listener too), succumbing to what we picture only frail veggies to experience changes the perspective in an important way.

Also, questioners are always enlightened when they hear someone say, Hey, this is a complex issue and simplifying it is doing a deservice to everyone involved.

Good job!

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Ashley September 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I am curious as to what supplements you do take. I take a food based multi vitamin, however, I sometimes worry that multivitamins have high concentrations of things we only need a little bit of. Because you are a clinical nutritionist and very familiar with vegan dietary needs, do you take a multivitamin or just individual supplements?

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Jacalyn Linder September 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I am interested to know if you have any brands of Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 you would recommend? I currently take the Raw D supplement from Garden of Life but I am curious if you have researched any brands? As always really enjoy your blog!

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Whitney September 4, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Amen, Gena. It’s time people stop looking at each and every issue in a vacuum! It’s just not that simple; there are far too many variables to consider for it to be so.

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Ela September 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Yes. Absolutely. I think you’re covering the important points.

It frustrates me when people say that a ‘healthy diet’ should need no supplementation. Aside from the question of whether soils are less rich in minerals than they were sixty years ago (which seems somewhat inarguable), individuals’ body chemistries and requirements vary significantly. An omnivore eating lots of grains and feedlot meat cooked in corn oil would need a lot of DHA/EPA supplementation, for example.

I eat a lot of greens and algae (yes, we do eat algae!) so my magnesium intake is probably high. However, I need four times the RDA just to be in the normal range. And that’s nothing to do with being vegan. My husband is an omni and he has a similar deficiency.

My naturopath says he supplements all his patients above 65 with b12 regardless their diet: it gets harder for the body to absorb as we age. Similarly, many doctors say everyone over 60 should take CoQ10, another one that’s harder to absorb as we get older.

Finally, the suggestion that I wouldn’t have bipolar and need to take meds if I were an omni is one I find both bs and insulting, and that’s really the same argument, if you think about it.
Thanks for opening up the can of worms!
love
Ela

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Jade September 4, 2012 at 11:58 pm

@Ela, I love your post. If SAD eaters can claim that meds are needed by the majority of the population, how in the world is supplementation to support a diet that PREVENTS those ills a bad thing? :)

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Christine (The Raw Project) September 5, 2012 at 10:50 am

Wonderful post, thanks! This was something I wondered about going into a high raw vegan diet and was a little fearful about not getting enough B-12. But learned more about it from a few B-12 talks I went to at vegan expos and why it’s an issue for many people on a variety of diets with today’s modern sterilization.

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Marissa September 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm

This is fantastic. You tie up all of the points beautifully. This will be a great resource for me to give people who are having their doubts about supplementing on a vegan diet. Thank you!

If someone is unable to get regular blood work or if they have problems with vitamin absorption, I think it’s best to supplement with B12. Why take a gamble when the risks are pretty scary. Because SIBO can interfere with B12 absorption, I make sure I take it sublingually. I don’t worry about it being natural or not. I don’t think there is anything natural about the industrial agricultural system or things like stripping wheat of all nutrients only to fortify its final products. People often busy themselves by judging others’ diets based on stereotype all while blinding themselves to the gaps in their own diets. My usual response is, “what is ‘natural’?”

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Carol September 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I am an old lady…I’ve been a vegan since the seventies :) I am tired of the factory made “nutritional” items that are preferred today. I’m tired of the plastic bottles of pills and powders that have been shipped from all over the world for our gluttony, it’s so processed and wasteful. I go to whole foods now and am overwhelmed at all the gimmicks they sell and the extreme amount of money they are asking. Whatever happened to good old brown rice and tofu? I guess they can’t make money off those…unless they say they are sprouted then they can double the price…..makes you think twice about “health” claims! I love that vegan is hip now but it’s getting crazy with the marketing. I feel like they make us fear we are deficient in something we didn’t even know we needed to supplement…it’s like the beauty myth all over again (sorry, I’m dating myself).

If you feel you need to supplement then there is nothing wrong with that if your body needs it. No one can tell you it’s not natural. I take a B12 and D pill every other day and have for years. Because my body needs it! I’m only venting because I feel like the need for supplements is becoming totally artificial, making us think we need things we don’t, and that we’re unhealthy when we’re not, and that spending money on it will fix that. Think critically!!! Natural is what your body likes to eat that keeps you functioning at a healthy level. Full stop.

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Lauren @ Educated Mind, Healthy Body September 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I’ve had low B12 in the past, and although I eat a predominantly plant-based diet, I still consume eggs, fish and goat’s cheese. Sometimes our body’s cannot efficiently absorb what you take in. I now supplement with sub-lingual B12 (1000mcg), and I still by no means have ‘high’ B12 levels. Same thing with vitamin D- I was taking 1500 IU/day for about a year when I decided to get my levels checked. Turns out I was deficient here too- I now take 5000 IU today, just to ensure I am within the optimal range. Unfortunately our biochemical mechanisms are often sub-par, and both vegans and non-vegans alike require supplementation often.

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Sarah October 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Hey I just read a great article about B12 deficiency and vegans
http://www.pamrotella.com/health/b12.html
just wanted to share it’s actually really interesting :)

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sxwiurxjsodu April 14, 2013 at 4:01 pm

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ifejvbpgciqm April 22, 2013 at 1:36 am

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k. pope June 27, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Thanks for this post. It is a lot more insightful than some of the other B-12 articles that i’ve come across.

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Gena June 29, 2013 at 7:21 am

Thank you!

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André August 5, 2013 at 3:26 am

“No one knows how much grit prehistoric humans consumed, or how much might have been inadvertent (versus intentional), though the figure given above of 143 g/day of soil that would be required to achieve one’s daily B-12 requirement is probably far more grit than anyone–even a less-than-fastidious prehistoric human–could tolerate. This suggests that geophagy was not a significant B-12 source for prehistoric humans.”

http://www.beyondveg.com/billings-t/comp-anat/comp-anat-7e.shtml

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