There’s a rumor that you can’t get enough nutrition unless you eat animals. For so long, we have been told that eating animals will provide enough nutrition for strong bones, brain health, tissue growth, and nerve function. This belief is understandable since most of us have been raised on animal products. But, if animals are the only sources of these essential nutrients, where is 85% of the animal kingdom getting them from? By that logic, all vegans would be deficient. Let’s get into the most common nutrients vegans are accused of lacking and whether we have to eat animals to get them.
The first question a vegan will get asked is, “where do you get your protein?” Apparently, people still think the only source of protein is an animal. And if you respond by asking, “do you know what protein is?” they may just look back at you blankly.
The truth is, we are obsessed with protein, just like we are obsessed with refined sugar. The affects of too much protein in the human diet includes higher risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, constipation, diverticulitis, chronic inflammation, IBS, bone fractures, and much more. In other words, we are already getting too much of it. Most of us think that we need to add a separate “source” of protein to our plate in order to have a complete meal, when there is actually protein in everything. Increasing protein from animal sources and protein powders, takes away from the healthfulness of the meal altogether.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are found in all living organisms. Almost every food on the planet contains all essential amino acids, including broccoli and potatoes. Sure, you can get higher/lower amounts from some foods than others, but you don’t need to follow the old “complete protein” myth to get all your amino acids. When you eat protein, the body breaks it down into the amino acids it is composed of. The body is incredibly efficient at recycling amino acids, using them on an as needed basis. So when there is a demand for things like tissue repair, muscle growth, and cell formation (and there always is), your body will use the amino acids that are circulating in the body.
There are 9 essential amino acids that animals do not synthesize on their own, which means they have to get them externally. So why would someone argue that plants aren’t good sources of protein if that’s where most animals get them from? The largest, most muscular, animals in the animal kingdom are herbivores. And even though they are a different species than us, their large physiology only gets 15-20% of their calories from protein. Yet, they don’t do any mathematical calculations or food combining to get this amount. They just eat. A plant based diet clearly provides enough protein.
Protein deficiency doesn’t exist. The only time you could be deficient in protein is if you were literally starving, i.e. deficient in all other nutrients, and be in very poor health. In fact, protein requirements are much lower than we realize. The governmental recommendations for protein is about .8g per kg of body weight. This applies to children and adults as well. If you’re eating enough calories, particularly from whole food sources, you will exceed this recommended protein requirement.
Foods that are highest in protein content are beans, soybeans (edamame, tofu, tempeh), lentils, quinoa, brown rice, sprouted wheat, nuts and seeds. But, remember that all foods have amino acids.
Has your grandma ever told you that you need to drink your milk for strong bones? Well this is probably because in the 1940s, the dairy industry started paying for ads linking cow milk to bone health. Since then, we have brainwashed with advertisements about dairy being an essential part of a healthy human diet. The dairy industry is even behind the U.S. government’s MyPlate and the food pyramid, which is why dairy has it’s own food group. You may also remember seeing the celebrity endorsed “Got Milk?” posters everywhere. Even schools would receive these materials to teach kids the importance of drinking a mother’s mammary fluid beyond their baby years.
There is no question cow milk is a healthy food group….for calves. But there is absolutely no need for it in a human diet. Instead of building strong bones, cow milk weakens them. The areas of the world who consume the most cow milk, have the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures. Studies show that the more cow milk consumed, the lower a person’s bone density. Milk’s acidic pH causes the body to draw calcium out of bones and tissues in order to bring the blood more alkaline. Excess calcium is excreted out of our urine. Remember, you need calcium in your diet, but you also need to keep calcium in your bones.
If that’s not enough for you to realize cow milk isn’t the best source of calcium, remember that a mother’s milk is for her baby. It contains mammalian pregnancy growth hormones, estrogen, lactose, cholesterol, and saturated fat. Drinking it directly increases your IGF-1 hormone which stimulates growth, including cancer growth. Keep in mind, all mammalian species drink their mother’s milk after birth, and then wean off of it. After they wean off of it, they never drink milk again. Of course, baby calves do not get to drink their mother’s milk in the dairy industry,
To increase your calcium absorption, it’s essential that you get enough vitamin K from green leafy vegetables, and your Vitamin D from sun exposure.
Best sources of calcium are soy milk, rice milk, soybeans, brown rice, navy beans, cabbage, kale, dried figs, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone, not a vitamin, called calcitriol. All land mammals produce it when they get enough sun light. It is also essential for the absorption of calcium and bone mineralization.
Part of the reason many people think that animal products are the best forms of vitamin D, is because the dairy industry began fortifying milk with it in the early 1900s. Originally it was added to milk to help reverse an epidemic called rickets, which is a bone weakness cause by severe vitamin D deficiency. Eventually, milk became a lot more attractive to consumers once they could get their vitamin D from it too. This trend has lasted for more than 100 years.
What’s interesting though, is rickets was characterized as a bone deteriorating condition among children who were deficient in vitamin D due to a lack of sun exposure, not a lack of vitamin D fortified cow milk. The land animals most commonly consumed, like cow, beef, chicken, and pig, naturally get adequate vitamin D intake because they are in the sun. Their bodies, like ours, are designed to produce large amounts of vitamin D through sunlight exposure. Only 400 IU of vitamin D is added to milk, which is hardly a fraction of what a healthy body needs.
Spending as little as 20 minutes in the midday sun without sunscreen can help your body produce 10,000 IU of Vitamin D. Keep in mind that your location on the earth and the color of your skin does affect your sunbathing requirements. If for whatever reason, it’s difficult for you to get enough sun exposure, you can take a supplement. Vegan vitamin D supplements come from lichen, or algae. Non-vegan vitamin D supplements come from lanolin, which is the sebaceous oil that’s found in sheep wool.
Just remember, without sunlight, there would be no vitamin D.
Best place to get vitamin D is the sun or a vegan D3 supplement derived made from lichen.
Anemia is the most common nutrient deficiency across the world, and is most prevalent in industrialized societies. It’s thought that people who don’t consume animals are subject to iron deficiency anemia more than animal eaters, but it turns out that they are no more at risk than anyone else. Just like protein, people think the only place to get iron is an animal. And, while animal products are the most heavily concentrated sources of iron, they are not the best place for humans to obtain it from. In fact, plant foods provide more than enough amounts of iron.
There are two types of iron. Heme iron, which comes in the form of a red blood cell, and non-heme iron, which comes from plant cell. Heme iron is more bioavailable than nonheme iron, however this is part of the problem. The body cannot regulate heme iron like it can nonheme iron. This means that when you absorb heme iron, it can build up in excessive amounts. Excessive iron in the body has shown to double the risk for metabolic syndrome by damaging our beta cells, which are the pancreatic cells responsible for secreting insulin in response to glucose. As stated in a study called, “Iron and Diabetes Risk” by Simcox and McClain, “High iron has been linked to oxidative damage to DNA, lipids, and proteins that in turn has been implicated in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and neurological degeneration as seen in Alzheimer’s.” Oxidized lipids literally damage the arterial walls, which increase LDL build up, or arterial plaque.
Getting your heme iron from animals also means you are ingesting saturated fat and cholesterol. So, not only does this excess saturated fat increase arterial plaque build up, but it damages insulin secretion by beta cells and insulin receptor sites on muscle and liver cells. This is a perfect recipe for insulin resistance and diabetes.
Best sources of plant based iron are: legumes: lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans. Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal. Nuts and seeds: pumpkin, squash, pistachios, sunflower, cashews, and unhulled sesame.
Fats are crucial for maintaining a healthy brain, heart, and metabolic function. The three main omega fatty acids are ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is a short chain fatty acid that is found in things like flax, chia, hemp, walnuts, and leafy green vegetables. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are found in marine plants and animals, and are non essential long chain fatty acids because they are made in the body by the conversion of ALA.
What concerns people is the low ALA to DHA conversion rate in the human body, which is about 1-9%. What’s interesting, is that the land animals we eat also have around the same conversion rate of ALA to DHA. Still, there is conflicting evidence whether humans should be worried about not getting enough DHA or not.
The reason fish are such high sources of ALA, EPA, and DHA is because their diet is rich in marine algae. We do know that getting DHA from fish or fish oil capsules is actually not the healthiest. In fact there is evidence showing the increasing fish consumption or taking fish oil capsules can lead to health complications like cardiovascular disease. Epidemiological studies show that populations that consume less fish have longer life expectancy and lower rates of cardiovascular disease. Compounds in fish actually raise c-reactive protein, increase cholesterol, and contribute to cardiovascular disease. ALA from flax seed has been shown to lower blood levels of a compound called C-reactive protein (CRP). Reducing this inflammatory compound appears to be as important as lowering LDL-cholesterol in lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
What most people aren’t aware of is, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences does not consider DHA or EPA to be essential nutrients. There isn’t even a dietary reference intake of omega 3 fatty acids, which means nobody even knows how much is enough, or not enough. However, considering our over fishing crisis and unnecessary health risks associated with fish oil, it’s pretty obvious that a marine algae based supplement and other marine plant sources are the best place to get your DHA.
Currently, the bigger issue is our diet full of refined fats, which throws off our omega 3 to 6 ratios. This causes inflammation and metabolic problems. Since Omega 3 and 6 use the same enzyme to convert them into their longer chain omega fatty acids, it’s important to eat whole foods that naturally have more omega 3s than 6s. We can easily fix this by eating whole plant based foods and avoiding refined oils.
Sources of DHA: stinging, purslane, wood sorrel, lamb’s quarter, espazote, marine algae, or a vegan DHA supplement made from algal.
B12 is crucial for neurological function and heart health. Too little b12 can cause high homocysteine levels, and ultimately heart disease. B12 is made by an anaerobic bacteria which used to be prevalent in natural water and soil. Ruminants like cows and sheep actually make B12 in their gut and can synthesize it. Humans do make B12 in their colon but it cannot be absorbed because it’s too far from the intestine. B12 is absent from industrialized societies as a whole. We live in a world where we sterilize everything and are separated from nature. Our water contains fluoride, chlorine (which we drink, shower in, and grow our crops in) to kill harmful bacteria. This means our water contains no B12 and neither does our soil, or the foods we eat.
Nowadays, the government requires animal agriculture to add vitamin B12 to their feed. Baby formula is even fortified with it. You see, B12 is not just a problem for vegans, but for everyone. So, if you are eating animals or their bi-products, you are essentially supplementing B12.
And you should be supplementing if you are vegan. But getting B12 from a supplement alone is much healthier than eating an animal for it – as explained above in the “Protein” section.
It has been speculated that the better your gut flor
Best B12 sources: B12 supplement or various fortified foods like soy milk, nutritional yeast, hemp milk, etc.
The Bottom Line
When compared to omnivores, vegans get more net nutrients. They also tend to be healthier in many areas, and avoid cancer, heart disease, and diabetes better. Remember that the majority of the animal kingdom gets all their nutrients from plants. We eat animals to get the nutrients that they get from their diet. Anyone can become nutrient deficient, whether vegan or omnivore. But someone who eats animals is at an increased risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
If you want to ensure that you’re meeting all of your nutrient needs, complete your free assessment form and we’ll tell you how you score!