The Dirty Little Secrets of Vegan and Vegetarian Diets

Let’s come clean about the dirty little secrets of vegan and vegetarian malnutrition. Yes, malnutrition, even with meals made from organic health foods which, on paper, are “loaded” with nutrients.

You see, most vegans an vegetarians don’t know that some essential nutrients simply do not exist in plant foods and others are very hard to absorb. That is why so many vegan and vegetarians lose muscle mass and bone density, are pale, anemic and exhausted, and whose immune systems frequently crash. This can lead to autoimmune disease and much GI distress. Some gain weight (read “fat”) from all the grains, mostly wheat, that they eat and wonder why it is so hard to lose this weight (fat).

According to CBS news only 2% of the American population consider themselves vegetarians, but 6% say they used to be! And according to Psychology Today, many vegetarians revert to omnivory due to declining health, social pressure, "irresistible urges", and shifts in moral thinking (I am not going there...).

If you are going to stay on a plant based diet (my prefered term), you must understand that:

  1. Some essential (your body cannot produce them) nutrients simply do not exist in plant foods like certain omega 3's, vitamin D (unless food treated, fortified, or fermented), vitamin K2, Vitamin A (beta-carotene is in plant foods), and B12 (the B12 in spirulina and other sea veggies may not be well assimilated). Other critical nutrients not found in plants are creatine and carnosine.Omega 3s are found in algae (DHA only), walnuts, flaxseeds (ALA or Alpha-linolenic acid). ALA must be converted to EPA and DHA and this conversion is at best 20%.

Most people do not get enough Vitamin D from the sun, so a supplement is usually necessary. This is one of the evils of the 21st century Western world. Who is out in the sun between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm? The only vegan food with K2 is natto, which most people will not eat. All other sources are animal foods. Vitamin A (the direct form is only in meats, egg yolks and dairy) is not found in plant foods, only beta carotene. The beta carotene in plant foods must be converted by the body to vitamin A. To get B12, plant based dieters must eat either fortified foods or take a B12 supplement.

2. And some are much hard to absorb from plant foods like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine.

Foods like beans, quinoa, and pumkin seeds are high in iron, only it is the non-heme iron, not the heme iron found in meat, poultry and fish. The non-heme iron is not nearly as well absorbed (20% at best) as the heme iron. Likewise, on paper, soy foods, sesame seeds, and almonds are high in calcium, but the problem is something called phytates. These phytates can bind to these minerals and prevent absorbtion as well as affect the digestibility of starches, proteins and fats.

The bottom line here is that to get rid of as much phytate as possible, you must soak your beans, nuts, and grains (the soaking can also help get rid of the gas producing sugars from beans)!

In addition, stop eating all that wheat and switch to the "ancient grains like quinoa and amaranth. Eat soaked almonds and lentils to protect your bones and teeth. Drizzle your veggies with some lemon juice to help increase iron absorption.

This lack of mineral absorption can lead to fatigue, loss of focus, headaches, insomnia, and catching colds more frequently.

When the risks and deficiencies of a plant based diet are dismissed or downplayed, how can you make fully informed choices? It can cost you the vitality, muscle mass, strong bones and teeth, properly functioning immune system you desire and deserve.

I am not here to convince you to eat meat. If a plant based diet is what you choose, so be it. Just make the right choices for your health!

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