So, you’ve got your head around what to do about your calcium intake and vitamin D levels, but everyone is asking you where on earth do you get your iron and how do you get your B12 if you’re not eating meat? So, let’s take a look.
Where can you get your iron from as a vegan?
Vegan diets must consider vegan sources of iron since plant-based iron is not assimilated as well as meat-based iron.
In addition to iron-rich food, consuming vitamin C-containing foods may help vegans absorb iron better. For example, adding orange slices on your greens and bell peppers into your beans or curry. Other good sources of vitamin C include broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi fruit, grapefruit and freshly squeezed orange juice. On the other hand, tea and coffee can make it more difficult for your body to absorb iron so keep those cuppas to a minimum, especially at mealtimes.
Good sources of iron for vegans include:
- Beans (Especially Black Beans)
- Nuts and Seeds
- Pinto Beans
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Hemp Seeds
- Ground Linseed
- Wholemeal Bread and Flour
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals
- Dark Green Leafy Vegetables Including Watercress, Broccoli and Kale
- Dried Fruits Such as Dried Apricots, Figs, Raisins
- Raw Cocoa (Which Is a Richer Source of Iron Than Beef or Lamb)
- Potatoes (Especially Skins)
- Soya Beans and Tofu
- Blackstrap Molasses
Pregnancy : The recommended amount of iron during pregnancy doubles, so you should make sure you consume plenty of iron-rich foods while pregnant since not all prenatal vitamins are iron-rich.
Where can you get your B12 from as a vegan?
We are told that Vitamin B12 is necessary to maintain healthy blood, a healthy nervous system and for maintaining metabolic functions (helping speed up reactions in your body) and without a reliable source of this nutrient, deficiency can occur causing anaemia and nervous system damage.
Of all the nutrients that vegans seem to be concerned about. B12 is the most confusing and controversial. Just a small amount of googling reveals a myriad of conflicting advice and we hear everything from:
”Because B12 is only found naturally in animal products, this proves vegan diets are unnatural for humans” to the complete opposite such as: ”Humans can make their own B12 in our intestines, so we don’t need to get it from plants”.
In all honesty, the sheer amount of misinformation is pretty scary and does not help the vegan movement at all so let’s take a look and try to get a bit clearer on the subject.
Now it has to be said that firstly yes, B12 is essential for all the above-mentioned actions so that is the first thing to clear up. We need it – end of story!
Next, all B12 is produced by bacteria. The bacteria live on and in the secretions of these animals, which are why they are found in animal foods. In essence, this means that bacteria provide us with vitamin B12, whether we are omnivores or vegetarians or vegans.
There are no naturally occurring reliable vegan sources of sufficient B12 (1)
Please do not believe what you randomly read on the internet. You cannot get reliable sufficient B12 from seaweed, algae, mushrooms, tempeh, fermented foods, bran, sprouts, greens, ”organic produce”, or by just ‘not washing your vegetables’
Now we DO have bacteria living in our guts and we can count our blessings and thanks for them because we do need them and they DO make B12, BUT they are located so far down the digestive tract it’s difficult for us to absorb it. In the majority of cases, they produce the B12 and we poop it right out. Yes, it’s true 🙂
It’s also true to say that most adults do accumulate and store B12, stockpiling it from a lifetime of steady consumption, but this doesn’t mean you do not need to supplement it.
After all, everyone is different and stores things differently just as they absorb things differently, and some people may be working through stores much more quickly than others do. Also, if you are pregnant studies have shown that your baby doesn’t have any and stored B12 isn’t transferred to the baby and only dietary B12 is transferred to the foetus or into the breast milk. (2) So, for all of us, it’s important to get a dietary source.
It’s also noteworthy that cattle are often also supplemented with B12!
Therefore, fortified foods and supplements are the only reliable source for vegans.
Luckily B12 is added to:
- Some alternative milk products
- Nutritional yeast flakes
- Yeast extracts
- Vegan spreads
- Breakfast cereals
The Vegan Society suggests that you eat these foods at least twice daily or supplement with either 10 mcg a day or at least 2000mcg weekly. This is because the less you consume, the more you need. They also state that ‘no upper limits have been set for vitamin B12 intakes as no toxic effects have been identified’.
For your information only: Nutritional Resources:(1/2) Davis, Brenda, and Vesanto Melina. Becoming vegan. Summertown: book publishing company.2000.122/168print.