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The healthy vegan. Do you need supplements?

Veganism is becoming very popular as people are either worried about their health or about the environment or animal welfare. The UK is very much a country of meat but it’s becoming apparent eating meat everyday isn’t always the healthiest for our body’s. Nowadays meat is more mass produced with hormones and antibiotics are fed to the animals to keep them from spreading disease, they live closer together in close proximity where disease is likely to spread. This is all because the demand from the supermarkets is high.

If you purchase your meat grass fed and organic from the butcher then at least you know where your meat has come from and how fresh it is, as you have that communication with your butcher. Although there is still science to prove too much red meat is causing health issues whoever you are but especially if you are overweight.

Meat has plentiful, amino acids, B12, iron and, of course, high protein and most importantly all 9 of the essential amino acids needed so your body can absorb the protein and use it to build /maintain and repair muscle as well as all tissue cells in your body which helps you become stronger to fight infections etc. There are 22 amino acids and our body needs 9 which are essential to us. If you are vegan and have a meal using Seitan for example, you will need to carefully consider what else is on your plate that has those essential 9 amino acids needed to make that protein in the Seitan viable as a balanced healthy meal.

So, the main questions are; Does vegan food contain B12 and all 9 essential amino acids? Can we do it without taking supplements? Well, my answer is yes if you know what you’re doing.

Can we get all our amino acids needed in a vegan meal? Tofu is a good source of protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also a valuable plant source of iron and calcium and the minerals manganese and phosphorus. In addition to this, it also contains magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1. Quorn also has all 9 essential amino acids needed for a meal and no saturated fat. Seitan is low in Lysine which is 1 of the essential amino acids it doesn’t count as a complete protein source.

So check what products are a complete protein, it may say high in protein on the pack but this doesn’t count if it doesn’t have all 9 amino acids.

Can we get enough B12 in a vegan meal without supplements? The recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms. Below is a list of vegan ingredients that has B12 in it and what quantities.

  • Nutritional yeast - fortified, large flakes contain 16g/30ml (2 heaping tbsp) 8.0mcg

  • Fortified plant milk - soya milk per cup (240ml) has 3mcg

  • Tempeh - between 0.18 and 4.1mcg vitamin B12 per 100 g tempeh depending on where it is from

  • Fortified breakfast cereals - Kellogg’s Special K low fat granola is top at 12mcg per cup serving. And 3.4mcg in frosted corn flakes

  • Algae/seaweed - not a reliable source of B12 as some B12 (such as spirulina, blue and green algae) is inactive and we absorb the active B12 better. Some Seaweed may be fortified (added) then this is ok

Mushrooms - 50g of dried Shiitake mushroom will meet the for the average adult. All other mushrooms have trace amounts with Porcini a close second to Shiitake Bioavailability also varies by type of food source. For example, the bioavailability of vitamin B12 appears to be about three times higher in dairy products than in meat, fish, and poultry, and the bioavailability of vitamin B12 from dietary supplements is about 50% higher than that from food sources. Also fortified foods such as breakfast cereal having over 500% of the daily recommended B12 amount needed. In conclusion, yes you can be fully vegan without having to take additional supplements but if you want to go this route you will need to be careful with your macros consistently and eat whole foods as much as possible as although breakfast cereals are fortified to the eyeballs with B12 they are very high in carbohydrates and sugars so having a bowl of 30g cereal you will be low on protein but your carbohydrates will be very high to start the day which can cause cravings. This type of simple carbohydrate turns into sugar within the body. Added salt and sugar will make you come back for more. Here is an example of a balanced day as a vegan:

  • Breakfast - 40g porridge with soya milk and Sweet Freedom syrup seeds and blueberries

  • PM snack - coconut yoghurt pot and strawberries

  • Lunch - Quorn (100g) stir-fry with vegetables

  • PM snack - apple and Misfits protein bar 46g

  • Dinner - chickpea and sweet potato coconut and veg curry with wholemeal homemade roti

The above is 1500 calories and 90g protein. Depending on your goals and body type you may want to change the percentages to suit you.

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