First things first. Veganism is not a diet. It is a way of living that rejects the use of animals for food, clothing, entertainment and experimentation. It is a way of living that seeks to cause the least amount of suffering to others (and ultimately to oneself and to the earth’s resources.) The plant-based diet is just one aspect of living and being vegan, albeit an important one, as we all will eat several times a day and we all want to thrive.
As a vegan coach, I am frequently asked about how nutritionally sound this “diet” is. The American Dietetic Association states that it is very safe and viable for all stages of life (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19562864). Numerous studies conclude that a plant-based diet can prevent and reverse chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease (http://www.pcrm.org/). Studies have also linked dairy to breast and prostate cancer, autoimmune disease, inflammation and osteoporosis (http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/health-concerns-about-dairy-products).
Some people come for vegan coaching because of their health. Many come because they are now aware of the unnecessary and unfathomable cruelty involved in our unwillingness to leave animals and their secretions off our plates. When people realize the very “foods” they continue to eat are the “foods” that are making them sick … a waking up occurs, which is always the precursor of change.
Let’s talk about B12. Vitamin B12 is a microbe — a bacteria produced by microorganisms. It is the only vitamin containing a trace element — cobalt — which gives this vitamin its chemical name – cobalamin. B12 converts carbohydrates into glucose and enhances energy. It helps to regulate the nervous system and protects against diseases of the heart. It aids in cell reproduction and skin renewal. There is no doubt that B12 is a nutrient keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 is an essential water-soluble vitamin that is commonly found in animal-based foods. So what are vegans, who eat no animals, to do?
Author Ashley Capps, in one of her many articles about vegan living, tells us, “While it is true that plants do not produce vitamin B12, neither do animals inherently produce it. B12 is produced by bacteria that live in the soil and in the intestines of animals, including humans; however, in humans and other animals, it is generally manufactured too far down the intestinal tract (in the colon, in our case) to be absorbed by us. And while animals in nature can be a source of B12, it’s important to realize that most meat, dairy and eggs come from farmed animals whose feed is supplemented with B12.” We would do better to leave out the middleman and take supplemental B12 directly.
Even the USDA recommends the synthetic supplement form of B12, noting that it is better absorbed than B12 from animal products. In the past, B12 used to be found in the soil, but now, it is not a reliable source, which is why farmed animals are given B12 supplements of their own! When we supplement with B12, vegans are simply bypassing the animals and the suffering they endure. Many foods today are fortified with vitamin B12, further ensuring that we receive enough to remain non-deficient.
Animal flesh (meat) is a poor source of B12 because meat is normally cooked, taking out many of the vital nutrients, destroying the usability of the vitamin. So, many non-vegans need to be supplementing B12, too, and it is wise for everyone to have their levels checked during their routine check-ups.
The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board recommends that healthy adult men and women over 19 years old consume 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 each day. Pregnant women need 2.6 micrograms daily and women who are breastfeeding need 2.8 micrograms daily. Older adults over age 50 may need as much as 100 to 400 micrograms of supplemental vitamin B12 each day since the ability to absorb the nutrient decreases with age. Absorption of B12 varies, so the less frequently you consume B12, the higher the total amount needs to be to get the desired absorption amount. I take 1,000 micrograms two times per week (btw, my B12 levels were perfect.)
Aside from everyone needing to check and supplement B12, all the nutrients our bodies require can be found in earth-grown, plant-based foods and sunlight. Leaving animals and their secretions off my plate is the most liberating thing I have ever done for my health and my soul, and I will leave you with this thought: In the five years since I have become vegan and have followed a plant-based diet, I have not had one cold, not one flu, not one sniffle or sore throat. I used to get sick at least once or twice per year. Hmmm.
Sande Nosonowitz is a Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator as well as a certified yoga and meditation teacher. Contact her at her Sundara website: www.sundarajewel.com; firstname.lastname@example.org