Thursday, 24 November 2011

Part Two of the 'Vegan Series': Questions I get asked. A LOT.

Welcome the Vegan Series. If you've just stumbled upon this post then pretty please read through Part One where I shared with you my 'Becoming Vegan' story. 

There are many questions that people on vegan diets are asked, but my top three have to be:

1. Where do you get your protein from?

I have to admit this question drives me up the wall. Since when did anyone think about protein. Protein is important, but why the obsession I'm somehow not getting any? The question is usually well intentioned, but it's over used. So onto the important stuff: where I get my protein from.

Nut butter: a pretty pleasant protein.

Protein is known as a 'building block of life.' It's used to repair the body and build muscles ;). I suppose this explains the protein shake craze. So when you eat a piece of food containing protein your wonderful (sometimes wonderful?) body will break it down for you into amino acids, of which humans can create 10 (alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine if you must know) of the 20. And logic dictates that the other 10 must be taken from our food (which is why breatharianism is out.)

The good thing about our bodies is that 1. we have brains and scientists with brains discovered point 2. which is that our bodies make no distinction between 'complete' or so-called 'incomplete' proteins and this is important because animal proteins contain all the amino acids in substainal quantities whereas plant proteins don't always. But that's okay because it's possible to combine two incomplete protein sources to make a complete protein source (B's lentil, chickpea and pasta bake for example.) 

Plus let's not forget those 8 or so spiders we eat accidentally at night ;) (please note the half-sarcasm in that comment.)

2. What about iron?

Iron is present in everything we eat. And I mean everything; cereals, lentils, wholemeal bread, beans...the list could stretch on. Iron is never something I worry about and I know when you think of iron you picture a steak. Even as an omnivore I had anaemia problems (diagnosed when I was 16 and very much a meat eater) and I carried this anaemia with me into vegan-ism, where I overcame 'serious anaemia' (I add the quotations because these were the words my panicked doctor used) through my diet (and with a lot of praying and patience for things to improve.) And yes I had tried their supplements - they didn't improve things.

Also, I think it's worth noting that my iron levels dipped after giving birth, I didn't want to take any supplements because they don't get on with my guts and my doctor was quite happy that I brought these levels up through my diet - with some recommendation on how a vegan could go about doing that (lentils, plenty of them and dark leafy vegetables.) I was lucky that my iron levels weren't too low and I could do this. Otherwise I would have had to bite the B12 bullet and take the damn supplements. 

And for iron to be absorbed in the body, vitamin B12 plays an important role. It's worth noting that you can get B12 in a vegan diet through fortified foods and supplementation - it's not a naturally occurring vitamin in non-animal foods, hence why it is added and why supplements can sometimes be required.  B12 is an amazing vitamin because it plays a part in the functioning of our brain and nervous system.

I've sometimes heard people say; 'if you have to take supplements, why are you eating these foods?' 

Food is a supplementation. Supplementing your diet is not bad - it's only bad when you're peeing out expensive multi-vitamins that your body doesn't really need.

Most human beings; omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike are lacking in vitamins and minerals, but not always aware they are lacking. Zinc, magnesium and Vitamin D being the usual offenders - and the Vitamin D is in my supplement. This is important for me especially as I don't make it outside as often as I'd like - and I live in Scotland. The sun sets at 3.30pm most days in winter!

3. Okay, we've covered iron and protein - what about calcium, Cara?

I'm glad you asked because this is my favourite question of all. 

All men and women have a calcium requirement of 700mg a day - sounds like a lot, right? Not really. Not as long as you're aware of what different foods contain and how you're going to get this 700mg. 

Also, it's worth thinking about why we need calcium. For our bones to grow healthy and strong, right? Yes, of course. But will our bones get healthy and strong just by eating calcium? No. For that it's a combination of being aware; aware that salt and caffeine cause calcium loss, aware that Vitamin D (mentioned above) is important in calcium absorption, as well as Vitamin K, protein and potassium. 

On top of taking these vitamins and minerals into our body weight bearing exercise is also important to help strengthen bone. This is especially important in the cases of those who are more prone to conditions like osteoporosis or those who have conditions that affect bone density.  


I very easily eat above the RDA of 700mg every single day. It's so important to understand these things, even if you're not on a vegan diet and to be aware that calcium isn't the only thing we need in order to strengthen and grow our bones.

Our RDA of calcium increases and decreases throughout our lives. For instance teenage girls need around 800mg a day of calcium (teenage boys require 1000mg!), whereas children between the ages of 4-6 years require 450mg, this increases to 550mg a day by the time children hit the ages of 7-10 years. 

What is important for me right is understanding that children between the ages of 1-3 years require 350mg of calcium a day. It doesn't sound a lot when you look at the above table, in fact it's relatively straight forward to include the above things in my nearly 2 year old son's diet. Things he loves to eat. But there will be a separate post on that later so I won't get into it too much.

Suffice to say I have done my homework. I am aware of what is going into my body, I am confident in my own intelligence and common sense at fact finding but I can understand these questions - and I welcome them and actually enjoy when someone takes the time to ask. 

Even though it's taken me some time to put these posts together it's been great fun to write. So it's been fun for me, good for me, right? What do you get from these posts? Hopefully an entertaining read, more knowledge about what a vegan diet truly is - and is not. Plus I am sincerely looking forward to sharing more knowledge with my readers in my next couple of posts.

So tune in next time when we discuss 'Bringing up Vegan Baby.' I promise there will be more pictures to entertain you. This post was kind of one of those fun and educational posts I do ;).

Further reading:

Vegan Society on iron and calcium.