You Are What You Eat

Vegans and vegetarians enjoy some of the largest health benefits by virtue of their food choices.  These benefits include decreased chances of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and numerous other diet related issues.  The benefits of the vegetarian lifestyle that can be created by making a health conscious decision to eliminate the consumption of animal flesh and animal by-products are numerous, but there are some necessary vitamins and minerals that this lifestyle struggles to provide.  The vitamin of the greatest concern is B-12.

B-12, also known as cobalamin, is essential for the maintenance of a healthy system.  B-12 has numerous purposes, however, some of the most important include:

  • Helps make your DNA and your red blood cells.
  • Helps maintain a healthy nervous system reducing stress and depression.
  • Helps protect against heart disease.
  • Helps cell reproduction in environmentally exposed systems such as the skin, hair, and nails.
  • Helps protect the body from numerous cancers such as breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers.

With a listing like this, it is obvious that B-12 is a necessary vitamin, and it must be available to the body system to keep yourself healthy.  According to certified nutritionist Daisy Whitbread, however, 8 out of the top 10 foods that provide B-12 are animal flesh and animal by-products.  Well, that still leaves 2 foods for the above average vegetarian to go to, right?  Unfortunately, the non-animal based foods that made the cut into the top 10 are fortified foods.

So what foods should a health-minded vegetarian look for to avoid a B-12 deficiency?   For the health seeking vegetarian gurus of the modern world, unless you eat true organic foods or prepared vegetarian foods that add the all important B-12 supplement, you may be courting unhealthiness.

How ill can a lack of B-12 make me?

According to many sources including Esther Crain for Health.com, there are a number of issues that are linked as a direct side effect of B-12 deficiency.  These include but are not limited to: 

  • Weakness and Fatigue
  • Pernicious Anemia
  • Immune system issues
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Trouble maintaining balance
  • Pale skin
  • Sore or smooth tongue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Personality changes
  • Memory loss
  • The list goes on, and effects of a lack of vitamin B-12 may be both cumulative and permanent!

While the side effects of not consuming enough B-12 are both comprehensive and scary, there is a silver lining behind this cloud.  Most people do not have a B-12 deficiency, even vegetarians, and vegans.  The human body, according to Dr. Gina Shaw, actually recycles its B-12!  The amount of B-12 that is necessary for an entire lifetime of health is about 1/7th the size of an aspirin tablet.  The oh so efficient human machine secretes B-12 in the gastrointestinal system which then reabsorbs it into the body.  So why the ongoing scare of B-12 and the vegetarian lifestyle?

The truth behind B-12 deficiency

Vitamin B-12 is produced by a bacterial microbe (Shaw, 2011).  It is produced by microorganisms initially found in the soil that proliferates throughout the human GI tract.  Although the human body is already primed to recirculate the existing B-12, vegetarians and vegans may find themselves reabsorbing more B-12 than inputting fresh B-12 due to dietary choices and practices.

This is not normally an issue as it can take up to 20 years to exhaust the re-circulation of B-12. However, vegetarians also consume a large number of naturally antibiotic foods such as garlic, onions, honey, foods rich in vitamin C including kale and spinach, and many essential plant compounds (Fenton, 2017).  This antibiotic consumption can affect the bacterial microbe that produces B-12, as can over the counter antibiotics, or foods, either animal based or plant, that have been treated with antibiotics.

Given that a diet high in such vegetarian staples is healthy, there would seem to be an impasse in how to maintain a healthy level of B-12 in the body and not depend solely on the B-12 that already exists in the body.  The best method by which an active vegetarian or vegan can ensure that they are getting enough B-12 is to go organic.

Organic is a word that gets bandied about a lot in the press, but there are several reasons why in this case, organic is best.  Vitamin B-12 is produced by a bacterial microbe that feeds primarily on cobalt, and cobalt is found in organic, untreated, all-natural soil.  In an omnivorous diet, the food animal would consume small amounts of dirt in the grazing process which builds up its B-12, and then humans would get their B-12 from the food animal.

For a vegetarian or vegan, however, this is not an option.  The best method by which a vegetarian or vegan can get their B-12 is to consume vegetables grown in rich soil, and not be quite so eager to remove the touch of earth before eating. In essence, vegetables and fruits, especially root vegetables, that are not washed extensively and not peeled to eliminate soil contact may be the best choice for vegetarians.

It is possible to overcome a B-12 deficiency or to make certain that one does not occur.  While there are a number of supplements available on the market, if you prefer to stay on the path of all-natural then simply stop over-washing, stop peeling, and just enjoy the fruits and vegetables of the Earth, naturally.  This can help prevent a B-12 deficiency from occurring and keep vegetarians and vegans on the path to health, balance, and wellness.

References:

Crain, E. (2017). 21 Important Facts About Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Health. Retrieved from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20924065,00.html/view-all

Fenton, D. (2017). Natural Antibiotics: Foods That Work as Antibiotics. Healthy Living. Retrieved from   http://www.steadyhealth.com/articles/natural-antibiotics-foods-that-work-as-antibiotics

Shaw, G. (2011). The Vitamin B12 Issue. Vibrancy. Retrieved from http://www.vibrancyuk.com/B12.html

Whitbread, D. (2014). Top 10 Foods Highest in B12 (Cobalamin). HealthAliciousNess.com. Retrieved from https://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-vitamin-B12.php