I just got comprehensive blood test results and it seems my nutritional numbers are in decent shape (vitamin D, B12, etc) after being vegan for over a year, which is a good sign that I’m probably doing most things okay. Also, I feel good, my weight hasn’t changed, and I can still build muscle (although not quickly; it seems I need to eat more in order to build muscle quickly, and I am not prioritizing that right now).
(I’m a 37yo man living in Washington DC. Context for writing this was a recent post by Elizabeth: Health and nutrition is one of the trade-offs someone might be making by switching to a vegan diet. I think more altruistic people should be vegan for ethical reasons, but I am not militant about it, and I definitely understand if someone feels like they are risking too much health-wise or along other important axes to be vegan.)
Anyway, it seems to be working for me – in hopes that my experience can help other aspiring vegans avoid health issues, here’s what I am eating.
First and most impactfully, almost every meal has protein in it. For breakfast my protein is usually a protein smoothie, but on weekends I might have Just Egg and/or vegan sausage. For lunch and dinner, I usually make meals with Field Roast sausages, tofu, Impossible/Beyond meat, tempeh, or beans. For snacks, I have Barebells protein bars.
Second, I add vitamin supplements to my protein smoothie. My recipe is: a small handful of kale, a few chunks of frozen banana, a small handful of frozen berries, a scoop of protein powder, a cup of soymilk, one B12 supplement tablet, one teaspoon of omega-3 oil, and one scoop of creatine HCl. I have this shake about 3 or 4 times per week.
Third, I take vitamin D3 in chewable gummy form occasionally (2000 IU 1x a week or so) during the winter months, when I don’t get a lot of sunlight on my skin.
Fourth, I try to eat a decent amount of vegetables in general, and greens in particular, to shore up on micronutrients. Most days for dinner I have at least a side dish’s worth of spinach, cauliflower, or some other nutritious veggies along those lines.
I’ve preferred to use powders, liquids and gummy supplements rather than pills. I find pills don’t work well as a habit (they’re annoying to remember, and slightly unpleasant to take), but it’s pretty easy to remember to add a powder or liquid to my smoothie, or to eat a gummy.
I add B12 because it’s the one vitamin that is really hard to get from plants, based on reading advice based on research. (Currently my B12 levels are in the middle of the range, so this seems to be working well.)
I add D3 because I don’t go outside every day; tons of indoor workers are deficient, and vegans benefit more from it because of something to do with calcium absorption, so it seemed safe to assume I should be supplementing. This past winter I was taking a 2000 IU gummy whenever I felt like it (not on a schedule - when I thought about it and felt like I hadn’t been outside in a while). I tested on the low end of sufficiency (32 ng/L) for vitamin D in April, so I think this is working ok for now. I skimmed a few papers to check, and agree that this level seems like a lower bound for insufficiency; that said I think it seems safe to increase my supplementation since there’s quite a bit of headroom, and I’d rather be well into sufficiency than where I am today. So I’m going to switch to taking 5000 IU capsules a few times a week, and check my D levels again in a year.
I add creatine (and am focused on getting a lot of protein) because I lift weights as a primary form of exercise and it helps with muscle growth, and also because I’ve heard that creatine insufficiency can cause mental health issues. Creatine is hard to get from plants. I chose creatine HCl because I read that it is more readily absorbed than monohydrate (the HCl formulation tastes very sour in just water, but when used in a smoothie it’s great!)
I didn’t add iron because I have genetically high iron levels and am a man; my blood tests didn’t check iron levels, but I am not worried about it currently; although Elizabeth’s recent post makes me think I should check it next year. (My partner, a woman who’s also vegan, does supplement iron.)
I didn’t add calcium, zinc or iodine, just because I expect that I can get these “good enough” from vegetables. Calcium was in normal range in my blood test. I have no indications related to the others.
Regarding the omega-3 oil: I had previously assumed that canola oil was good for omega-3s. However, I recently was told that – despite showing up high in rankings of omega-3 oil-containing foods online – canola oil (and other vegetable oils like flax or whatever) actually don’t have much in the way of omega-3s usable by the body (it’s all ALA, which converts very inefficiently to EPA and DHA which you need). This is the reason fish oil is so commonly recommended as a supplement despite the much more readily available canola. I didn’t want to eat fish oil, so I did some research to find algae oil which has high levels of EPA and DHA, and in liquid form, at Vegetology. (My blood tests didn’t test for omega-3 so this is mostly still on faith that it’s working!)
My blood test showed that my LDL cholesterol is slightly above range, but that seems to be part of my genetics; it was that way before I was vegan too, so I don’t think it is likely to be related to my diet and neither does my doctor.
Lastly, very occasionally (once every couple of months) I eat oysters or mussels, usually a tin of smoked oysters. I believe this to be ethical. Since it’s so low quantity I don’t expect it is helping much with my micronutrients, but figured I’d mention it in case it matters.