In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.
‘One of the secrets of life is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks.’ – Jack Penn
A common concern for vegans and plant-based vegetarians is that we don’t get enough nutrients. People sometimes look at me like they expect me just to keel over in front of them, they can’t believe that I can not eat animals and yet look so healthy.
There are four nutrients that can only be found in animal-based foods: cholesterol and vitamins A, D and B12. Cholesterol is made naturally in our bodies, and omnivores do not need the extra that they get from meat and eggs. Vitamin A is also made in our bodies, as is vitamin D if we have a few minutes exposure to the sun every day. Interestingly, vitamins A and D are both toxic if too much is consumed.
If you eat a healthy, plant-based diet, the only thing you can’t get is B12. This isn’t because we need to eat red meat, however. Some B12 is made in the intestine, but it is not enough so we are advised to consume more in food. Historically, our ancestors would have got enough B12 from the soil, where it is made by micro-organisms. When vegetables are grown in healthy, organic soil, they soak up nutrients through their roots. Also, people in the past wouldn’t have washed their vegetables as well as we have to and would have drunk dirty water, so would have literally been eating the soil. Modern mass-farming techniques, with all it’s technology and chemicals, has stripped the soil of it’s natural nutrients, including B12.
There’s no need to panic, though. Modern technology has also brought us other sources of B12, including fortified vegan milks and margarine, fortified breakfast cereals and B12 supplements (my personal choice because it’s easier to monitor my intake). Yeast extracts such as Marmite also contain B12, but be careful if you have problems with gluten. Until the day that we return to organic farming and the soil is given the chance to repair itself, these alternatives are more than adequate.