One of the first things that people worry about when considering a dietary change is: “Will I get enough protein? Iron? Calcium? Vitamin C? And what supplements do I have to take on this diet?”
Harkening on themes discussed previously, there really isn’t much you have to do on a whole-foods, plant-based diet apart from: eat as much as you want of whole, plant-based foods. Supplements are not needed, nor do they seem to do any good from the evidence presented in the book (which draws from a plethora of independent studies). You get more of the nutrients listed above from plant-based foods than from animal-based ones, on average, plus all the others like antioxidants that animal-based foods do not contain.
The only (possible??) exceptions are Vitamin D and B12, so let’s chat about them. Although, as we’ll see, they are “problems” for the general public if you believe the medical establishment.
Vitamin D is probably one of the most important “vitamins” in our body (see Appendix C of the book for more info, or any university biology book, or here) and can enter our system from two sources – (1) UV rays in the sunshine interacting with our skin and (2) dietary sources.
Sunlight is definitely the most “natural” source of vitamin D3, and although estimates vary of how much you need (and is also dependent on time of year, geographical location and skin colour), it isn’t much – something like 15-30 minutes every couple of days on your hands and face. That really isn’t much at all and it’s all you need – UV rays from sunshine. That’s how our ancestors did it. Don’t spend your whole life indoors or covered with SPF 275 sunscreen and tons of UV clothing. (note: glass blocks UV radiation, so sitting by the window doesn’t count)
Dietary sources of Vitamin D are scant, and are all fishes and mushrooms. (meat and eggs provide so little that they’re not worth mentioning) So most “normal” North Americans don’t get enough from their diet anyways, and need sun regardless – there is nothing special about being a vegetarian (except that you’re more likely to eat mushrooms and get your fill – so maybe you’re better off… 😉 ).
Anyways, get some sun occasionally and eat your mushrooms – nothing abnormal or complicated about that, and it applies to almost everyone – not just vegetarians.
Vitamin B12 is a super-complicated vitamin (molecularly and biologically), and is one of those enigmas that mystefies me (and seemingly the medical community as well). Daily recommended intakes far exceed what any reasonable diet can provide, apart from supplementation, so how did people live historically? (not everyone had access to beef liver… or clams… or 3 cheeseburgers a day… 😉 )
B12 is apparently only produced by microorganisms, so we must get it from them – but how? Campbell postulates that B12 is adequately taken up by vegetables grown in fertile soil. As most of the soil our food is grown on is now “dead” soil, with little to no natural fertiliser (i.e. poop) used, and our foods are super-sanitized by the time they reach us, there might be a break in the historical chain allowing microorganisms to provide us with B12. Add in paranoid sanitation (anti-bacterial dispensers at every elevator stall, anyone?) and super-“cleaners”, and we get almost no exposure. Microorganisms in our guts produce B12, but they may produce B12 lower in the intestine than where it is absorbed… so should we be worried?
Many foods are fortified with artificial sources of B12, including breakfast cereals and soy milk. We can also store up several years worth of B12 in our bodies, giving us a large reserve to draw on. It might be prudent to get a B12 supplement, but I’m not sure at this time. I suspect that we get enough supplementation and intake elsewhere, but it looks to me like there should be a ton of people with inadequate B12 intake if those NIH stats are to be believed (pasteurisation, boiling and other cooking/processing methods destroy the B12 present in many animal foods – so no one’s really getting it).
The further problem with supplementation is that it is never uptaken in the same concentrations when you take a pill, and no dosage may be adequate depending on who you believe. Your body can only process things so quickly, and it may even be the case that B12 needs the presence of other nutrients to make it into your blood stream.
So I come back to the old adage I have used many times: “If people have been doing it for millions of years, why is it any different now?”. Perhaps our modern agricultural practices change things. But I think that no one really knows the story about B12, and it’s a “myth”, or half-truth that vegans have a problem. The literature is confused, and scattered, and ignores historical precedents. Pernicious anemia, the result of inadequate B12 intake, is not any more common in vegans than “regular” people. If vegans really were missing a hugely important vitamin that you can “only” get from animal sources, then these stats would be drastically different. And not being able to make red blood cells or myelin sheathing for your nerves is a *huge* problem that you would notice right away.
Here’s a second opinion: link
Here’s a third opinion: link (cherry picked from google, FWIW. Take them or leave them)
Personally, I’m in the “bacteria in your gut make enough along with regular food intake” camp.
Carbohydrates, Fats, and more: Am I eating too many? Aren’t they going to make me fat? Shouldn’t I be decreasing my carb intakes? Isn’t sugar bad for me?
Sugar, as far as organic molecules go, is as natural as it gets. For those who have forgotten their high school chemistry or biology, here is a short refresher on sugar and “complex carbohydrates”: link
Basically, your body turns complex carbs into sugar with… dunh dunh dunh… water. (No! The inhumanity!) (* – this one of the reasons why you need to drink more water when you live a whole foods lifestyle)
Your body then metabolizes sugar (C6H12O6) for energy into… water and carbon dioxide by using… dunh dunh dunh… oxygen. So, you breath in what you need to metabolise it and you breath out the result of that metabolisis. This is what makes you go. This is your gas tank – it doesn’t get any simpler or more natural than that. Sugar = fuel.
So while white refined sugar is not a whole food, it certainly is a natural intake and byproduct of our living that we cannot avoid. Like all things, it is toxic in large doses and can upset the balance if taken in large quantities. But if you are baking it in with whole wheat, fruits, flax seeds and other stuff in baking, I wouldn’t get bent out of shape about it. Minimize and get on with baking occasionally.
As for maple sugar, agave nectar, brown sugar, cane sugar, honey, et. al. – same thing. Moderate usage, and don’t try to pretend that you’re not putting sugar in. All of them are processed, non-whole, plant-based sweeteners.
As for artificial sweeteners, hopefully everyone knows just how bad they are. When a sweet substance hits your tongue, it starts the endocrine system pumping to digest sugars hitting your stomach. That means increased insulin levels. If you are eating empty crap (like Diet Coke), then there is nothing there for the insulin to work on and instead it chews up whatever remaining blood sugar you had left. This then leads to hunger and weakness as your blood sugar levels get further depressed. Which makes you crave sugar, which you then satisfy with more empty crap (like Diet Coke). Rinse, lather, repeat. It’s a vicious cycle and causes your body to develop an immunity to insulin as a coping mechanism, which leads to type II diabetes.
If you’re gonna eat sugar – then eat sugar. Otherwise you’re messing with your endocrine system and setting yourself up for severe health problems. Never ever touch artificial sweeteners.
Before we start on FATS, here is an organic chemistry refresher course for those who slept in high school or university: link
So I think there are two things to consider with fat:
1) If calories in (digested food) < calories out (exercise and general living), you will lose weight. End of story. This is how the Atkins and many other “diets” work – there is nothing magical about their food content (as Campbell puts it: ‘I don’t care if you eat worms and cardboard – you’re going to lose weight’). Binge calorie restriction is not a sustainable weight loss mechanism, however.
2) Dietary fats (the stuff you eat) are part of most foods, and body fat (the stuff you hate) is a means to store excess energy for a rainy day. The two are not the same.
Dietary fat intake does not necessarily correlate to blood cholesterol levels, body fat or any other health effects (that I have seen convincing evidence for).
Saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated only refers to the ease of pulling the fats apart due to bond strength in the carbon chains (see above link for details), and as far as I can tell has *no* effect on health. The constituent parts of fats are just organic molecules that are present in all food and our bodies anyways – it’s just a convenient way of storing energy for later.
Campbell touches on this when pulling apart the Harvard Nurses’ Study cohort, as they had fat intake ranges between 20-55%, but all had high animal protein intake. There was no measured effect of fat intake on western disease levels. Animal protein – yes. Fat – no.
That said, oils are not a whole food. They are mostly plant-based these days (palm, corn, rapeseed (aka canola), olive, peanut, etc.), but are extracted from the plants and are thusly not whole. So the answer about oils & margarine is: minimise it as it’s not a whole food (I don’t care if it’s olive or palm oil – same story).
If you’re eating a whole foods diet with lots of variety you *cannot* get a high fat intake – plants in general just do not naturally contain high levels of fats. So this is really a moot question if you are following a whole foods, plant-based diet.
So you don’t need to obsess about fat content and stare at nutritional information. Just eat whole foods. (this actually makes my life easier)
So in summary: eating a variety of whole, plant-based foods will eliminate any need to count calories, vitamins, minerals, carbs or fats. Spend time outside in direct sunlight and get some B12 supplements if you’re paranoid. Minimise use of non-whole plant-based stuff like oils and sugar/syrup/nectar.
That’s hardly a crazy way to live… lol…