Monday, October 25, 2010

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

People say a lot of crazy things when they find out you're attempting a vegetarian diet. "Oh My God - What are you doing to do on Thanksgiving?! "So you're just eating like sticks and stuff?" "But you still eat chicken, right?" Hmmm.

Aside from these little gems, the thing I am asked most often is what supplements I'm taking to replace the "essential" nutrients found in meat. This is a stumper because the recommendations from different sources are varied and the notion that meat contains something absolutely essential for our survival is so ingrained in our culture. Some say you need additional iron, B12, Vitamin D & calcium. Others say that there are certain "combinations" of proteins you should eat together to make them "complete". My gut tells me that a well rounded vegetarian diet will provide all that I need but I need the facts so let the research begin!

IRON: A friend stopped me at work last week to warn of the health dangers of being a vegetarian. He said that he had been a veg for years and suffered from anemia to the point that he was hospitalized. My initial instinct was to tell him that cashews contain about the same amount of iron ounce for ounce as red meat but I kept my trap shut - no one likes a snarky vegetarian. I managed to dig up these iron content numbers per 100/cal. The RDA for iron in men and post-menopausal women is 14mg/day - 33mg/day for for premenopausal women.

Spinach, cooked 15.7
Collard greens, cooked 3.1
Lentils, cooked 2.9
Broccoli, cooked 1.9
Hamburger, lean, broiled 1.2
Chickpeas, cooked 1.1
Sirloin steak, choice, broiled 0.9
Chicken, breast roasted, no skin 0.6
Pork chop, pan fried 0.4
Flounder, baked 0.3
Milk, skim 0.1

Spinach v. Steak = No-Brainer

B12: Ah B12. After doing my research, this is the one I am most concerned about. B12 is essential and is not found in significant amounts in any plant sources. If our bodies are functioning properly, the liver will release and reprocess the B12 in our system (over and over again) for up to 3 years. The problem is that you don't know if you're processing the same old B12 or if you are suffering from a deficiency until the damage is done. The damage from B12 deficiency is mainly neurological - yikes. Soy contains no useful amounts of B12 regardless of what it says on the package. Even the big Vegan websites concede the false advertising. My best bet is to either take a B12 supplement or stick to whole grain cereals that are "fortified" with B12. For now, I'm sticking with Smart Start cereal and unsweetened almond milk. It's quite delicious.

Calcium + Vitamin D: These two are almost always linked together. You need Vitamin D to process and retain calcium. Our vitamin D needs are more than adequately met by about 10 minutes in the sun per day. I live in Barbados - check. We've been lead to believe that cow's milk and cheese are the only sources of calcium on the planet (Thank you Dairy Council!) It may be the fastest way to get your calcium but it's also the fastest way to ingest numerous amounts of hormones and pesticides. It's also ridiculous to think that the milk I drink comes from a nice farmer sitting on a bucket in the morning dew milking Ol' Bessy. I think I'll take my chances on the following foods & a calcium supplement if necessary...

Oatmeal, fortified 240ml; 163 mg Calcium
Spinach, frozen, cooked, 240ml; 138 mg Calcium
Tofu, firm, 240ml; 258 mg Calcium
Almonds, 240ml; 92 mg Calcium
Beans, boiled, baked or refried, 240ml; 50 mg Calcium
Mustard greens, cooked from fresh, 240ml; 52 mg Calcium
Orange, 1 medium 52 mg Calcium
Halibut, baked, 75g; 51 mg Calcium
Kale, fresh, cooked, 240ml; 47 mg Calcium
Broccoli, cooked from fresh, 240ml; 36 mg Calcium
Bread, whole wheat, slice; 32 mg Calcium

Food combining seems to be a thing of the past in VegLand. As long as we eat the necessary nutrients, our bodies are completely capable of arranging the molecular bits and pieces into exactly what we need. Considering that a fair number of 300 million Americans are abusing their bodies with McDonalds, Dominos, and all things fried (have you seen that ridiculous chicken sandwich at KFC that uses two breasts as the buns?), I have full faith that my body can take my responsible vegetarian menu and make me function properly.

As I read more and more and more (Amazon LOVES me these days!), I find that most of my fundamental food beliefs are only beliefs because of multi-million dollar ad campaigns, powerful lobbies and a whole shite-load of people who have floated a ton of toxins and chemicals into our animals and genetically engineered our food for a whole lot of money.

I don't want to become one of "those people" but frankly, the whole mess is very scary.


  1. B 12 is also in Spirulina (which is a food not a man made supplement) but there is also debate about its bio-availability.
    Something you haven't mentioned is SPICES - that could be your next fact finding mission and Blog. Spices are like catalyses for food digestion and assimilation. They also have medicinal value in themselves. Spices also change an otherwise 'boring' tasting meal into something exotic or ethnic. Spices and sauces are a vegetarians saviour especially when feeding non-vegetarians. Salt and pepper are also useful tools.
    Keep going with your good work and when you publish your 1st book - I'll buy one :)

  2. I love that you do all this research Lauren. I am very interested, but too lazy to do all the reading about the subject of food and nutrition...been there, done that. You have re-sparked my interest in eating healthier. While always being very in tune w/my body, I am noticing I feel much better when I don't eat dairy and wheat. I am also thinking there is a gluten 'intolerance' going on...or something. What have you read about that? ;)
    I love your info. and dedication. You are definately and woman of ACTION!


    ps...I am going to give spinach the attention it deserves!