Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

The Truth About Vitamins February 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alicia @ 12:59 am
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Many people believe that when you transition to a vegan diet you are putting yourself at risk for deficiency for a host of vitamins. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, meat and dairy products only have a select few vitamins and minerals, no fiber, very few carbohydrates which are essential for brain function (none in meat), little to no water and no antioxidants.

 

In stark contrast plant foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains) are high in a vast array of vitamins and minerals, high in fiber, rich in carbohydrates, water rich and are packed with an assortment of antioxidants. To put it simply plant foods are more nutrient dense than animal. Nutrient density means that a food provides a large amount of nutrients relative to the number of calories it contains. The higher the level of nutrients and the fewer the number of calories the more nutrient dense a food is.

 

There are literally thousands of edible plant foods and I’ve randomly picked out 5 of my personal favorites to compare against chicken breast and milk.

 

 

RDA/AI**

Chicken Breast, roasted 172g

1 cup 2% Milk*

1 cup collard greens, cooked

1 cup quinoa, cooked

1 cup blueberries

1 cup almonds, raw

1 cup black beans, cooked

Calories

 

284

137

49

222

84

822

227

Protein (g)

0.8g/kg

53.35

9.68

4.01

8.14

1.10

30.34

15.24

Fat (g)

 

6.14

4.85

0.68

3.55

0.49

70.67

0.93

Carbs(g)

55% of calories consumed

0

13.45

9.33

39.41

21.45

30.99

40.78

Fiber  (g)

25g min.

0

0

5.3

5.2

3.6

17.4

15

Sugars (g)

 

0

0.76

14.74

5.56

Calcium

(mg)

1000mg

26

350

266

31

9

378

46

Iron (mg)

14.4mg

1.79

0.15

2.20

2.76

0.41

5.32

3.61

Zinc (mg)

8-11mg

1.72

1

0.44

2.02

0.24

4.40

1.93

Vitamin C (mg)

75-90mg

0.0

2.7

34.6

0

14.4

0

0

Thiamin, B1 (mg)

1.1-1.2mg

0.120

0.110

0.076

0.198

0.055

0.302

0.420

Riboflavin, B2 (mg)

1.1-1.3mg

0.196

0.475

0.201

0.204

0.061

1.450

0.101

Niacin (mg)

14-16mg

23.585

0.247

1.092

0.762

0.619

4.481

0.869

Pantothenic acid, B5 (mg)

5mg

1.660

0.414

0.184

0.671

Vitamin B-6 (mg)

1.3-1.5mg

1.032

 

0.243

0.228

0.077

0.204

0.119

Folate (mcg)

400mcg

7

12

177

78

9

72

256

Vitamin B-12 (mcg)

2.4 mcg

0.58

0.96

0

0

0

0

0

Vitamin A, IU

3000 IU

36

184

15417

9

80

1

10

Vitamin E (mg)

15-22 IU

0.46

1.67

1.17

0.84

37.49

*usually Milk is fortified with vitamin A & D for this example I used milk that was not fortified with vitamin A to show the true nutrient content

**These are average RDA’s values change for women who are nursing, pregnant and change proportionally based on caloric needs

 

The vitamin supplement craze has done the American public a huge disservice by making us believe we need to get 100% of our RDA/AI of vitamins and minerals in just one food item. This is a horrible and dangerous myth. Total cereal is fortified with 100% of the recommend daily allowance of most vitamins and minerals. So, once you eat a bowl of Total are you just supposed to eat nothing else for the day? No! Because 1 bowl of Total cereal will not provide you all the fiber, protein, carbohydrates, calories and phytonutrients you’ll need in a day. To get all these things and all the vitamins & minerals you need it is best to eat a varied diet. Whether you’re vegan or omni you shouldn’t eat the same thing day in and day out. You simply won’t get the amount of macro and micro-nutrients you need.

 

As you can see from the chart above different foods are rich in different vitamins & minerals. Collard Greens are high in calcium, iron, Niacin, folate and vitamin A; Quinoa is high in protein, iron and zinc; blueberries are rich in antioxidants, almonds are high protein, calcium, iron, zinc, EFA’s and vitamin E; and black beans are high in protein, iron, zinc and folate. All of them have all the other essential vitamins and minerals that you need in modest amounts so that when you eat a balanced, varied diet you get everything you need. The only exception to the rule is vitamin D and vitamin B12. Vitamin D is not abundant in any food. Sure you can get a bit from fish but overall meat, dairy and plant based foods are so low in vitamin D that there’s not even a column for them in the USDA nutrient database. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is activated when the sun hits our skin. 15-30 minutes of sunlight will give you the adequate amount you need. Since many people spend most of their time in doors or slathered in sun block a lot of physicians are now recommending you take a vitamin D supplement. Your doctor can run a simple blood test to see if you are deficient in vitamin D. After all the hype over vitamin D deficiency and the purported problem with African-American’s not being able to get adequate amounts of vitamin D due to darker skin color I was surprised that, after taking this blood test, I am not deficient in Vitamin D and my levels were well within the normal range. I highly recommend getting this test just so you know where you stand. One more word on Vitamin D. The dairy industry has been pushing the need to drink milk to get this vital nutrient. However, milk does not naturally contain vitamin D, it is fortified with vitamin D. So you would be better off drinking calcium and vitamin D fortified orange juice (which is more nutrient dense than cow’s milk) or simply taking a vitamin D supplement.  Lastly, as many vegans already know there are no longer any reliable plant based sources of vitamin B12. Many experts recommend taking a vitamin B12 supplement.

 

 

***Note: This blog educational purposes only. Before taking any supplements you should always consult your physician***

 

References:

All nutrient information was taken from the USDA Nutrient Database SR21. You can get a complete profile of the nutrients in a wide variety of food including a full breakdown of the lipid profile and amino acids of your foods http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/

 

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21 Responses to “The Truth About Vitamins”

  1. [...] Admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt Many people believe that when you transition to a vegan diet you are putting yourself at risk for deficiency for a host of vitamins. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, meat and dairy products only have a select few vitamins and minerals, no fiber, very few carbohydrates which are essential for brain function (none in meat), little to no water and no antioxidants.   In stark contrast plant foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains) are high in a vast array of vitamins and minerals, high in fiber, rich in carbohydrates, water rich and are packed with an assortment of antioxidants. To put it simply plant foods are more nutrient dense than animal. Nutrient density means that a food provides a large amount of nutrients relative to the number of calories it contains. The higher the level of nutrients and the fewer the number of calories the more […] [...]

  2. Melissa Says:

    In all fairness and honesty, do vegans (in general) really consume a wide variety of plant foods? In my work and in conversations, I am sorry to report that the diet of many vegans still contains highly processed foods, with very little diversity, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

    I am not an expert, and I’m definitely not saying this is true for vegans the world round, but I meet many vegans whose diets are not health supportive, in which case supplementing with vitamins is advised.

  3. I think it depends where the vegans are that you’re interacting with. I have noticed that here in the East Bay Area, vegans (as well as vegetarians and omnivores) incorporate a more whole foods dietary philosophy into their regiment. However, this could just be the area, as East Bay Cali is known for its awareness around healthier whole foods eating….

    When I was living in the Boston Area, there seemed to be much less awareness of how to transition into a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and incorporate whole foods philosophy into the diet. I can’t really say why it was so different in Boston. Maybe I can add that inquiry to my gazillion doctoral projects I have on geographies and alternative food philosophies :-)

    -Breeze

  4. ARPhilo Says:

    I eat a variety and a balanced diet. I have met some vegans that don’t but I think the ratio of vegans that eat a variety of balanced foods to the ratio of nonvegans is definitely imbalanced (in favor of the vegan population). Most people don’t eat right, though. But, it’s not because they are vegan, it’s because they choose not to eat right.

  5. [...] from vegans of color The vitamin supplement craze has done the American public a huge disservice by making us believe we need to get 100% of our RDA/AI of vitamins and minerals in just one food item. This is a horrible and dangerous myth. Total cereal is fortified with 100% of the recommend daily allowance of most vitamins and minerals. So, once you eat a bowl of Total are you just supposed to eat nothing else for the day? No! Because 1 bowl of Total cereal will not provide you all the fiber, protein, carbohydrates, calories and phytonutrients you’ll need in a day. To get all these things and all the vitamins & minerals you need it is best to eat a varied diet. Whether you’re vegan or omni you shouldn’t eat the same thing day in and day out. You simply won’t get the amount of macro and micro-nutrients you need. [...]

  6. walkabout Says:

    As a 13-year-long, no supplements vegan, it’s distressing to see veganism problematized by the same old propaganda regarding B12. Who defines ‘reliable source’… because I can tell you that my veggies are a reliable source of the <1 microgram that a person with a healthy digestive tract needs per day.

    Some people may need to supplement/eat fortified foods, depending on their ability to absorb, but not everyone, and hardly most vegans. More problematic for B12 absorption is overly frequent alcohol consumption, or use of prescription medicines.

    Please read these:

    http://www.plantbased.org/html/b12.html

    http://www.rawfoodexplained.com/why-we-should-not-eat-meat/the-vitamin-b12-hoax.html

    http://libaware.economads.com/b12.php

    • treaclemine Says:

      Walkabout, a reliable source of vitamin B12 will halt and reverse the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency in real human subjects. The consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency range from elevated homocystine causing an increased risk of a range of serious illnesses, through to permanent nerve damage and death.

      Until we know for sure that e.g. ‘your veggies’ are a reliable source, it is the best bet for individuals and for all vegans to take a proven reliable source of vitamin B12 such as fortified foods and supplements.

      http://www.vegansociety.com/food/nutrition/b12/

  7. Alicia Says:

    Melissa to put it fairly do vegans, in general, really eat a variety of plant foods. Yes, they do. Whether they mean to or not. Eating a variety of plant foods isn’t rocket science and not every vegan lives in a metropolitan area or vegan friendly city where they have access to a lot of vegan convenience foods. Even if a vegan were to eat every meal outside the home at fast food places (the choices are pretty limited here) or restaurants they would still actually manage to get the majority of the nutrients they needed. Especially macro nutrients.

    So let’s just say that you have a vegan who only eats processed food. Never a whole fruit or vegetable or even fruit juice (mind you this scenario is very unlikely but for the sake of argument we’ll go with it). Let’s look at some of the things that they would be eating as compared to their omnivore counterparts.

    A veggie burger (patty only) has 124 calories, 11 grams of protein, 4.41 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 3.4 grams of fiber, 95 mg calcium, 1.69 mg iron, 0.88mg zinc, not to mention vitamin c, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, panthothenic acid, vitamin B6, 87 mcg of folate, and even 1.41 mcg of vitamin B12 which is over half of the RDA. On the other hand a beef hamburger (patty only) has 251 calories, 19.59 grams of protein, 18.56 grams of fat, no carbs, no fiber, 9 mg calcium, 2.06 grams iron, 4.11 grams zinc, no vitamin C, less thiamin & riboflavin than a veggie burger, 4.5 mg niacin, only 18 grams folate and 2.25 mcg vitamin B12. If you look at the overall composition of the two patties then it is clear that a veggie burger is the more nutrient dense option. Providing you with a portion of all the minerals and nutrients you need in a day in just the patty alone. If we looked at it with the bun it would provide even more nutrients. Eating a veggie burger and fries, while not the healthiest option in the world provides you with more nutrients than eating a regular hamburger and fries. So the junk food eating vegan is still better off than their meat eating counterparts.

    And in case you’re wondering about the nutrient value of fries if we take a large order of Wendy’s fries, for example, you would get 7.16 grams of protein, 29.86 grams of fat, 6.8 grams of fiber, 28 mcg calcium, 3.55 mg iron, 0.98 mg zinc, 9.4mg Vitamin C, 31 grams of folate, 4.567 mg niacin as well as thimain, riboflavin, panthotnic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin K.

    So you see, the nutrients in plant foods add up very quickly whether you’re eating a whole foods diet or not. A whole foods diet gives you a higher assortment of vitamins and minerals and is better for you overall but even if you’re a junk food eating vegan you will still get what you need and in fact will get more of the nutrients you need than your junk food eating omni counterparts.

  8. Alicia Says:

    Great point Arphilo. Living in America as a vegan and as an omnivore it is definitely more acceptable to eat junk food than to eat healthy. I’ve been unemployed for 6 months now and I can tell you it’s just as easy to eat healthy on a budget than it is to eat junk but it’s been ingrained in us that eating junk is easier and tastier. I do have the advantage of having many grocery stores close by vs. people living in concrete jungles who don’t have the same resources available.

    To be honest when people ask me where I get a certain vitamin or mineral from I turn the question back on them and ask them the same. Most people have no clue what is really in the foods they are eating. As a student of nutrition I can’t help but know this stuff I look at it everyday so it being able to pull up the stats easier makes it easier to argue the points.

  9. By the way, http://www.veganhealth.org/ is a really great source for information about vegan nutrition that conforms to mainstream standards. It’s a good place to send people who have questions about veganism and how to eat healthily.

    Regarding variety: I eat a wide variety of foods. I can’t eat the same thing every day. I just can’t. I eat fresh fruit every day, but other than that, it’s anyone’s guess.

    Regarding whole, fresh foods: I eat my fair share of packaged foods and restaurant foods, but there is a BIG difference between current me who truly understands the choices and makes a conscious choice to eat a those foods versus old me and most people who don’t truly understand what they’re putting in their bodies.

  10. Jaci Struwe Says:

    Elaine’s link to veganhealth is useful. Vegans are a fairly misunderstood group in the U.S.
    I’m not a vegan and I don’t pretend to know how to advise one so useful information. I appreciate it.

  11. ann Says:

    Great information. Thanks for this post.

    By the way, even if cereals such as Total are fortified with 100% of the recommended daily allowance for vitamins and minerals, most of those vitamins are not in a form that our bodies can easily use. It’s much, much better to get your nutrients from foods, especially plants.

    • Does anyone know why the FDA approves of “food” products that are “fortified” with certain vitamins and minerals that the body can’t completely assimilate? I’m not sure if this question makes any sense. I am always amazed how, for example, iron pills are often prescribed by doctors for anemic pregnant females in the USA . Apparently these don’t work very well, if at all, and they constipate. It’s just strange. I’d love to know the “logic” behind this….

  12. Alicia Says:

    The FDA is really just the “DA” they care very little about food which is why I’m so happy that Obama is overhauling the FDA (but it probably still won’t be enough). There really isn’t a governing body in the U.S. that is just for consumer food. The USDA cares more about agriculture than food and the FDA cares more about drugs than food. And to be honest they don’t really care of drugs they j ust care about money.

    I think the “logic” behind it all came from when they started enriching white flour because they realized that all the nutrients were being lost in the processing. And when they started adding folic acid and iodine to things to help ward off certain vitamin related diseases. It just took off from there and now people seem to think that supplements and fortification is better than the real thing. Our bodies can only absorb about 1/4 to 1/3 at the maximum of the supplements we take. When it comes from getting your vitamins from whole foods it goes up to about 3/4.

  13. mel Says:

    Thanks for the chart! It’s very interesting.

    This post is rather timely for a headline I’ve seen circulating around about a recently published study regarding the use of vitamin supplements: http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/healthday/2009/02/09/vitamins-do-older-women-little-good.html

    As a vegan, it’s hard to not have a “yeah, no shit” reaction to the idea that living off of the SAD and popping pills doesn’t have the same results as a plant-based, whole foods diet.

  14. Alicia Says:

    There was also a recent article looking at multi-vitamins and cancer prevention and there have been several studies looking at vitamin supplements in an array of diseases. What all the studies show is that vitamin supplements or taking a lot of one type of supplement is ineffective and if you want to get your vitamins you need to eat whole foods. But our culture is not one that is receptive to this information. We love short-cuts, even if those short-cuts are actually taking us the wrong way.

  15. Rossane B Says:

    I think it may depend on how you combine different veggies, I have been vegetarian for about 12 years now and except for a year that I lived in a place where It was difficult to find a good market I had to take som supplements, I am not an expert anyway.

  16. Alicia Says:

    Hey Rossane. I just want to make sure that I emphasize that being a vegetarian or a vegan isn’t about only eating vegetables. You should be doing more than eating a variety of vegetables you should be eating a variety of plant based foods which include vegetables, fruits, nuts/seed, legumes and grains. You don’t need to be an expert to get the vitamins and minerals you need in a vegan diet all you need to do is go down the aisle of a regular grocery store and you’ll be able to find all the plant based foods you need to have a healthy varied diet.

  17. george Says:

    Very informative articles, this is also worthy of reading too, simply put…why waste money? http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2353632/the_absorption_factor_for_vitamins.html?cat=8

  18. Avnish Says:

    Im vegan but I still take water soluble vitamins because most commercial food lacks nutrition


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