Because we are always talking so much about the benefits of eating more plant foods we are frequently asked why we are not vegan. So, we figured we would tell you…
Why We Still Eat Some Animal Foods
We don’t eat animal foods so much for the protein they provide because we know we can get the protein we need from plant foods, assuming we eat enough calories and enough variety. Instead, we eat animal foods because we like their taste and because animal foods contain certain nutrients that are difficult to get in adequate amounts from plant foods. Nutritional supplements are an option for strict vegans, but it is best to use supplements as just that, supplements. It is always far better to get the nutrients your body needs from whole foods.
Nutrients Strict Vegans May Be Deficient In
Some of the nutrients found in animal foods that are difficult to obtain in adequate quantity from plant foods are the following:
- VITAMIN B-12. Strict vegans absolutely must supplement their diets with B12 or choose vegan foods to which supplemental B12 has been intentionally added. There are no non-fortified vegan sources of vitamin B12.
- IRON. Good plant sources of iron include cooked dry beans, leafy green vegetables, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, and tofu. However, iron from plant foods is not absorbed nearly as well as the heme iron found only in animal foods. If you do not eat any animal foods at all you really need to pay extra special attention to eating iron-rich plant foods. We do not suggest iron supplements unless under a physician’s supervision because iron supplements can be toxic and free-radical forming. Note: Eating foods that contain vitamin C along with iron-rich foods will boost the body’s absorption of iron from a meal.
- DOCOSAHEXAENOIC ACID (DHA). Considered the most beneficial of all the omega-3 fats, DHA is for the most part found only in fatty fish and egg yolks. Even if you are not vegan and you eat fish and egg yolks we still think everyone should take an omega-3 fish oil supplement containing DHA. Strict vegans who do not eat fish or take fish oil should supplement with an algae-based DHA supplement. Note: Algae-based DHA supplements contain less DHA than do fish oil supplements. Refer back to Day 19 of the Challenge for more specific guidelines on DHA supplementation.
- VITAMIN D. Whether you eat animal foods or not, getting enough vitamin D should be a concern for everyone. If you are overweight you need more vitamin D than the average person because body fat traps this fat-soluble vitamin and makes it unavailable for your body to use. Unfortunately vitamin D is found in very few foods naturally so it’s hard to get optimal amounts. Although cow’s milk and dairy products are well known for being good sources of vitamin D, dairy foods contain synthetic vitamin D; natural vitamin D is found in fatty fish and eggs. Fatty fish is also a far richer source: 6 ounces of salmon contains 900 International Units of vitamin D compared to 160 International Units found in 2 large eggs. In the plant kingdom, portobello mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light contain approximately 400 International Units of vitamin D. But other than those few sources, vitamin D is not readily available from the food you eat. Although your body can make vitamin D from sunlight exposure, we feel eating a vitamin D–rich diet and taking vitamin D supplements are important for everyone (refer back to Day 12 of the Challenge for supplement guidelines.) And, we should add, you should step outside without sunscreen on a regular basis too. A little sunlight and fresh air will always do a body good.
- ZINC. One of zinc’s major roles is to allow the body to use dietary protein as building blocks for the regeneration of muscle as well as support a healthy immune system. However, because zinc from plant foods is poorly absorbed, it is important for vegans to eat plenty of zinc-rich plant foods such as peanuts, soy foods, wheat germ, sesame seeds, and cocoa powder. Animal food sources of zinc include dark meat turkey, fish, eggs, oysters, crab, and red meat.
The Last Word on Going Vegan…
The last thing we have to say for anyone contemplating a strict vegan diet is to simply see how you feel. We have both experimented with veganism and while we absolutely feel better when the vast majority of our calories are from unrefined plant-based foods, we don’t feel as good when we completely eliminate all animal foods, especially over an extended period of time. But, having said that, a well-balanced plant-based diet that is centered around a wide array of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and unrefined whole grains and supplemented with vitamin B12, vitamin D, DHA from algae and a good multi-vitamin can absolutely be a super healthy, super clean way to eat. And if you give it a try and you find you personally feel best on a 100% plant-based diet then we can’t argue with that! We encourage you to listen to your body and see what works best for you.