How to be a healthy vegan

Climate change is spawning a mass vegan movement in a way that concern for animal welfare never did. Animal Liberation was written in 1975 and until the last few years, veganism was a fringe movement with a bad reputation. Its impact has been small and slow. But this has changed with rising concern for the climate, the environment, and perhaps also for health. Veganism is becoming mainstream.

Sometimes I wonder what impact a massive shift to a plant-based diet will have on the health of the population. I think it will be a positive one overall, with less diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer, but what about nutrient deficiencies? Fortunately many vegan foods are fortified with B12, a vitamin that vegans need to source from supplements or fortified foods. I have always bought a plant-based milk that is fortified with B12 but recently I discovered a delicious oat milk that doesn’t contain B12 so I’ve started taking tablets.

The Vegan Society produce a supplement especially for vegans that contains B12, iodine, vitamin D, and selenium. If you’re new to veganism and still figuring out how to cook vegan food and what to eat then I think it makes sense to take a supplement. A vitamin B12 deficiency is very dangerous and can cause severe neurological problems. This is easily avoided with a supplement.

Some people think it’s unnatural to take a supplement but if the choice is between a B12 supplement and statins to treat heart disease, I know which tablet I’d rather take. There’s also very little natural about the food system today and in particular, factory farming. Proponents of the natural argument would have a stronger case if they killed an animal in the wild then skinned and cooked it themselves.

A few weeks ago I tried to take a DIY blood test using one of those testing kits you can buy online. It was a bit of a disaster and the lab emailed me to say it was not viable but didn’t say why. I’ll never to do that again. Instead I found another company – Medichecks – who you can pay £39 to have a nurse come to your house to take the blood intravenously. I did that and my iron and B12 levels are perfect.


11 thoughts on “How to be a healthy vegan”

  1. I’ve found that taking supplements as I get older just makes me feel better. I did spend a long time trying not to supplement but I think it’s harder for our bodies to extract nutrients as we get older, and that applies to omnivores/vegans/vegetarians. It’s good to be aware of B12 and not feel bad about supplementing if it helps to support a healthy vegan life.

    1. So true. The worst that can happen with a supplement is you produce expensive pee 🙂 It’s also miles better than the many prescription drugs people take as they get older to fight heart disease.

  2. Hi – Good post. Like you most vegans are very conscious about what they are eating and probably have a better grasp of nutrition than most …. infact I have put up a ‘What do Vegans Eat’ poster in my kitchen to point to when any new visitor almost inevitably asks ‘where do you get your protein?’. Thank you for reminding fellow vegans to watch out for B12 and iodine etc. The Vegan Society’ Veg 1 (which you describe) is a once a day chewable multivitamin and is great, similar in taste and texture to having a chewable Vitamin C but with so much more goodness in it. Always enjoy your blog and turn green every time I see your cargo bike …. I sooooo want one! Keep on pedalling, Mx

    1. Yes, I think in general vegans are well-educated and have a good understanding of nutrition. I worry more about the mass uptake of veganism in the general population and think most of them probably aren’t aware of the need for things like B12 and iodine. The Veg 1 tablet does taste like vitamin C and you can also give it to kids.

      Thanks for your kind words about my blog and bike! I do love my cargo bike 🙂

      1. You are absolutely right. Good to get the word out about the less known but important nutrient facts. My granddaughter takes Veg 1 as at 3 she wanted to join her mum and dad and go vegan! Think I need a tin to save up for that bike. Mx

  3. A vitamin B12 deficiency can be unsafe although it can be tested for free through the NHS. Calcium deficiency could also potentially be an issue with a vegan diet. There are possibly some foods that are calcium enriched for vegans, I admit that I haven’t looked into that. A shortage of calcium for women isnt a great thing as it contributes to osteoporosis, which can affect women after menopause significantly. Weight bearing exercise helps prevent osteoporosis, and vitamin D from the sun also helps with strengthening bones. As a pharmacist from the third world country of NZ, I am also concerned about the long terms of statins, although people are living far longer lives with medication for heart disease that might be inherited or unrelated to their diet. I know a pharmacist who switched to a vegan diet due to high cholesterol and it was effective. The saddest thing I came across was a family who were vegetarians and waited until the kids went to bed to eat treats to give themselves more energy. Their kids had behavioural issues and health problems. I reckon hunger might have been a potential cause as their parents were doing a great job of being parents.

    1. It’s hard to get an appointment with the NHS here so I try to avoid it if I can. The last time I tried to test my iron with the NHS they didn’t do it. I think they’re discouraging blood tests like this to save money.

      I don’t think diary products are necessary to prevent osteoporosis. Indeed there’s some evidence that they might not be good. In countries where dairy products are consumed in the largest quantities the incidence of osteoporosis is highest. Plant-based milks are also fortified with calcium. Canada have just released an updated version of their food recommendations guide and they’ve removed the “milk and milk products” category completely:

    1. Yes, most plant-based milks are fortified with B12 and I’m sure it’s just as effective. The one I buy doesn’t have it which is why I take the tablet now. I really like this particular oat milk and don’t want to change.

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