Preventing Nutrient Deficiencies on a Vegan {Or almost vegan!} Diet!

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Guys, I’m having trouble finding good pictures for this blog post because I didn’t want to post boring pictures of vitamin pills, so here’s a picture of blueberry strawberry ‘nice’ cream smoothie recipes I’ve recently made. 🙂

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Should we all take a multivitamin to achieve nutritional adequacy? Answer: YES!

So here’s the deal. There are certain vitamins and minerals that we should take in supplement form because many of us are at risk of inadequacy (especially vitamin B12 in the case of vegans) and there are certain vitamins and minerals that are very dangerous to take in supplement form. Ideally we should look for a vitamin pill that supplies us with the desirable vitamins and avoid supplements containing the noxious supplemental vitamins. Below is a list of which vitamins are great for us to take and which we need to avoid like the black death.

Body Lovin’ Vitamins

1) Vitamin D- This is the sunshine vitamin that we should all be taking. Most of us don’t spend enough time in the sun or wear sunscreen, which minimizes our ability to absorb enough vitamin D. It’s so important that we have enough vitamin D in our bloodstreams because a lack of vitamin D has been correlated with the development of osteoporosis, several cancers, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease and depression. Yikes! Making sure we have enough vitamin D is super important for our overall health. In the wintertime it’s especially important that we take a vitamin D supplement. Seasonal depression has been linked to a deficiency in vitamin D and studies indicate adequate vitamin D levels can actually put us in a better mood. If you are not a sun worshipper then aim for a supplement that contains 2000 IU (this is 500 percent of the government’s recommendation- a accumulating body of evidence is suggesting that we need more than currently recommended). Plus, we should not be aging and needlessly wrinkling our skin or causing premature aging with excessive sun exposure. We can pay a price for the excessive sun exposure in our teens and twenties with wrinkled, discolored and skin cancer-prone skin in our 60’s and 70s. Certainly, being careful with sun exposure and assuring Vitamin D adequacy with a supplement makes good sense all around.

2) Vitamin B12– We need to make sure we’ve got enough B12! This vitamin is needed for a healthy immune system, nervous system and for the health of our red blood cells. While avoiding animal products will help us avoid pernicious toxins, prevent chronic diseases and prolong our lives, people who don’t eat animal products will just not get enough B12 without supplementation. B12 deficiency can lead to stomach problems, nerve damage, anemia and depression. Look for vitamin pills that contain the more biologically available form of B12 called methylcolbalamin (versus the synthetic cyanocobalamin, which is more absorbable.

3) Vitamin K2- Pshh, calcium move over. Vitamin K is in the house (or at least it should be in yours). Vitamin K is a bone protector and strengthener, defending the health of our bones day in and day out. Without enough, our bodies can’t use calcium for bone and teeth formation. We get plenty of vitamin K from green vegetables, which is essential, but getting some extra K2, not found in veggies adds another layer of benefits. Having enough vitamin K in our tissues is critical for the prevention of osteoporosis- a total of 13 studies have shown that vitamin K2 reduces the risk of fractures- more so than vitamin K1. This vitamin has also been shown to protect against free radical damage, hence, it has anti-aging effects. Vitamin K2 is a natural form of vitamin K that is far superior to vitamin K1, so look for supplements that contain this form.

Body Lovin’ Minerals

1) Iodine- This is one sexy mineral. We need to consume enough of it for the production of sex hormones and without enough, we can suffer from brain damage or our thyroids can go out of whack. It’s difficult to consume enough iodine unless we eat salt, which is often fortified with iodine. Considering the fact that adding salt to food increases our risk of having a heart attack or stroke, it’s a safe bet to get our iodine from a vitamin pill.

2) Zinc- Zinc is critical for a healthy immune system, resistance to infection, healthy skin, and our ability to smell and taste. The zinc in animal products is more easily absorbed than the zinc in plant foods, so vegetarians and vegans require more zinc than omnivores. Green-leafy vegetables, mushrooms and seeds are rich in zinc, but it’s wise to ensure you are getting enough via a vitamin pill.

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I may need to post this smoothie recipe soon, don’t I? it was actually very easy! Now, let’s continue…

Body Hatin’ Vitamins

1) Folic Acid- Conventional nutritional wisdom may dictate otherwise, but new studies show that supplemental folic acid can be mega harmful. In fact, folic acid has been implicated in the promotion of breast, prostate, and other cancers. One study following women who took folic acid in the form of a multivitamin concluded that folic acid supplementation increases the risk of breast cancer by 20-30 percent. This is gosh darn awful news because most vitamin pills contain folic acid.

The 411 on folic acid: FA is the synthetic form of folate, which is present in pretty much all green vegetables. Folate is awesome for us and high amounts of folate in natural foods is a very good thing; the amount of folate we need is perfectly in sync with the amount in vegetables and the body regulates its absorption anyway. Folic acid, on the other hand, is not found in natural foods and is added to food or used as an ingredient in multivitamins. Most processed grains, like white bread and pasta, have folic acid added to them to counterbalance the nutrients lost in processing. Sounds tasty and nutritious, doesn’t it? NOT. Because Americans can’t get enough of processed goodies fortified with folic acid, in conjunction with a multivitamin, we are getting a hella lot of synthetic folic acid. Our bodies can’t regulate the absorption of synthetic folic acid like they can with it’s far superior natural form, folate. Basically speaking, even though folic acid and folate are related, they do not have the same effects on the body and folic acid can be toxic whereas the folate we get in natural plant foods is most certainly not. Moral of this paragraph: eat ya green veggies, yooo.

P.S. Pregnant women are often advised to take a folic acid supplement to ensure that their babies aren’t born with neural tube defects. Folate and folic acid are in the B family of vitamins and we need them to properly synthesize DNA and to regulate gene replication. This is why a lack of folate/folic acid can lead to fetal developmental abnormalities. While there is a risk for developmental abnormalities in babies whose mother’s don’t get enough, pregnant chicas are SO much better off eating green vegetables and beans which naturally contain folate as opposed to taking pills containing synthetic folic acid. Not only is a high vegetable intake associated with a lower risk of cancer for the mother, but studies show that the unborn child will have a decreased risk of developing cancer in childhood or being diagnosed with ADHD. This is a pretty spectacular research finding if I do say so myself, but the benefits of eating green vegetables versus taking supplemental folic acid during pregnancy don’t end there. Folic acid supplementation by pregnant women has been associated with a higher incidence of childhood asthma, infant respiratory tract infections, and cardiac birth defects.

2) Beta-Carotene/Vitamin A- It’s pretty remarkable how bad for us some vitamins can be when taken in isolation, extracted from natural foods. Beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and vitamin A itself are a testament to this fact. Scientists once thought that taking beta-carotene supplements could protect against cancer because it was found that populations with high levels of beta-carotene in their bloodstreams had extremely low rates of cancer. Yet, beta-carotene is only one of over about 500 carotenoids found in natural plant foods. The high level of beta-carotene in the bloodstreams of these peoples was merely a representation of the hundreds of carotenoids and phytochemicals in the fruits and vegetables they were eating. Beta-carotene alone wasn’t responsible for the impressively low cancer rates, it was just a marker for populations with high fruits and vegetables intakes. Unfortunately, many scientists mistakenly believed that beta-carotene could be a wonder-pill.

Studies on the benefits of beta-carotene followed. Naturally, nature wins when we look for health benefits in a bottle and the results the scientists were looking for never came about. Beta-carotene supplementation didn’t just not work- it actually increased the cancer rates among study participants. In Finnish studies, subject had increased rates of lung cancer, prostate cancer, and heart disease. A review of multiple studies on beta-carotene intake, called a meta-analysis, concluded that beta-carotene supplementation was associated with increased all-cause mortality rate.

As a result of many European and American studies all pointing towards the toxicity of beta-carotene supplementation, medical journals like the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and the New England Journal of Medicine warn against taking supplements that contain this dangerous little vitamin.

Vitamin A: The Horror, The Horror!

Get this: vitamin A (aka retinyl palmatate and retinyl acetate) supplements are even more dangerous than supplements containing beta-carotene. Supplemental vitamin A has been shown to cause calcium leakage from our bones, contributing to osteoporosis, and has been linked to liver toxicity and birth defects in the children of pregnant mothers. Needless to say, vitamin A is a potent, noxious little thing. Women especially need to be careful not to take multivitamins containing vitamin A because we have a greater suceptability over men to being diagnosed with osteoporosis and suffer from spontaneous fractures as we age. One study showed that for every 1 mg increase in vitamin A consumption, hip fracture rates increased by roughly 70 percent. Like it’s precursor beta-carotene, vitamin A ingestion is linked to an increase in all-cause mortality.*

4) Copper- Like iron, we need to have a healthy balance of copper, yet too much can do some pretty frightening damage. The lowdown is that copper is needed for a healthy glow in our skin tone, for the metabolism of iron and other important cellular functions. However, we should definitely not be taking any supplements containing copper because excess copper is linked to decreased immune system functioning and a lower antioxidant status. Like iron, excess copper can contribute to an acceleration of cognitive decline as we age. I go pale just thinking about what too much of these vitamins in our bloodstreams can do. If we eat foods containing copper and don’t take copper containing supplements, we will have a perfect balance of copper and will have no need to fret about any copper toxicity.

5) Selenium– No surprise that selenium too, has pernicious effects, given its presence on this list. Excess selenium has been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease, impaired immune functioning, breast cancer, and diabetes. Just say no to multivitamins containing selenium.

So with that tidbit on vitamins and minerals (I covered the most beneficial and most dangerous), you might have to do some hunting in your local health food store for a multivitamin without the more harmful supplemental vitamins. Remember if you are a vegan, vitamin B12 is especially important for you to take and most all of us could use more of the sunshine vitamin, that lovely vitamin D {well, except if you are a mermaid or live in perpetual summer like I seem to…}. I hope you found this post useful!

XO,

Talia

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