My Plantcentric Journey

Posts tagged ‘B12’

It’s Not Just Candy Causing Childhood Obesity this Halloween

Halloween is just two weeks away, and most parents are worried about the frightening amount of sugar children consume. That’s understandable. But Halloween is just one day. What really scares me are the meat and dairy products lurking in children’s diets every day and everywhere—from fast food to school lunches. Unfortunately, some parents don’t share this fear. Some parents may not yet realize how healthful a plant-based diet can be for their children.

Meat and dairy products are loaded with fat and cholesterol that lead to childhood obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. A new study in the British Medical Journal found that obese children as young as 5 years old were already showing signs of heart disease that could seriously increase their risk of heart attacks and stroke as they get older. Now that gives me nightmares.

But time and again, evidence-based science shows that plant-based diets can help prevent these unnerving consequences. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals—says that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

In this video, I’ll share some more morbid statistics about the health of America’s children—and why a plant-based diet is the treat we should provide children on Halloween and every day of the year:

What is Spirulina? And Why Should I Care?

Spirulina – A Superfood With Benefits

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Spirulina Is Loaded With Vital Nutrients

Spirulina - A Superfood With Benefits
Spirulina grown in a greenhouse
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Spirulina is fresh water blue-green algae, and compared to other sea vegetables spirulina is more easily digested and has greater bio-availability. Greater bio-availability means a greater amount absorption of the nutrients into the bloodstream. Spirulina is considered a superfoodbecause the abundance of various nutrients it is comprised of.

Spirulina And Protein

Sixty percent of spirulina is made up of protein. Amazingly it is a complete protein because it contains all theessential amino acids, amino acids that the body cannot synthesize and must get externally. Spirulina’s protein makeup is superior to other plant protein, and is on par with the protein from meat, eggs, and dairy, except for the reduced amounts of methionine, cysteine and lysine (amino acids). Spirulina is mostly used as a supplement now, but it can be used as a food, and has been. The Aztecs and other indigenous people South America used spirulina as a food source before the Spanish colonized South America and changed the landscape for agricultural and urban development.

Spirulina And Vitamin B

Spirulina contains vitamin B1 (Thiamine),vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), vitamin B3 (Niacin), vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), and vitamin B9 (Folate).

Spirulina also contains vitamin B12, but there are two sides to the argument as to whether it is a reliable source of vitamin B12. The accepted medical literature supports the B12 in spirulina as being an unreliable source of B12. There are unaccepted assays that support the B12 in spirulina being a reliable source of B12. The B12 in animal products are called active B12 and is the B12 used primarily in the body, and the B12 in spirulina are called analog or non-active B12. I have found that this is a very muddy subject.

There are people who testify that they eat no animal products or derivatives and that their B12 level is fine because they take spirulina as a supplement, but there is literature that clearly states that spirulina is not a reliable source of B12. During my vegan diet my B12 levels dropped but they were still in the middle of the accepted scale for B12 levels. I haven’t been taking as much spirulina as I used to because I take more chlorella now. So to be safe, I recently began to take a vegan B12 supplement here and there. I do like to stay away from man-made supplements because they are man-made and I like to get my nutrients from food. I am still not convinced that spirulina is not a reliable source of B12 and I plan on revisiting the issue in the future.

An interesting thing is that B12 does not come from animals, but is ingested by grazing animals from the plants they eat. The B12 is then passed on the other animal eaters. The B12 that is the active form we use comes from microorganisms in the soil that use the cobalt in the soil to make the active form of B12. This active form of B12 is the only vitamin that contains a trace element, cobalt.

Other Vitamins and Minerals

Spirulina also contains vitamins:

    • Choline
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin D
    • Vitamin E
    • Vitamin K

And minerals:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc

Rich In Life Sustaining Plant Pigments

It may sound funny to hear that plant pigments can sustain life, but yes it is true. Spirulina contains a combination of pigments, which have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and some of which the body can convert into vitamin A. These powerful antioxidantscan help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease, and they enhance the immune response to infections. These life supporting pigments include allophycocyanin, beta-carotene (orange color), beta-cryptoxanthin, canthaxanthin, chlorophyll (green color), diatoxanthin, echinenone, myxoxanthophyll, oscillaxanthin, phycocyanin (blue color), and xanthophyll, zeaxanthin.

Essential Fatty Acids

We need essential fatty acids(omega-3 and omega-6) to support the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. The human body needs the essential fatty acids to manufacture and repair cell membranes, enabling the cells to obtain optimum nutrition and expel harmful waste products. Spirulina is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Spirulina also contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), arachidonic acid (AA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), linoleic acid (LA), and stearidonic acid (SDA).

Spirulina’s B12 makeup

The New York Times, Nina Planck, and Safety of Vegan Diets

The New York Times, Nina Planck, and Safety of Vegan Diets

by  on APRIL 23, 2012 in UNCATEGORIZED

Last week brought more shoddy coverage of vegan diets from The New York Times. This time, it was a debate about the safety of veganism. And it didn’t occur to the Times to solicit opinions from anyone with actual expertise in vegan nutrition.

At the center of the discussion was food writer and farmer’s market expert Nina Planck, who excels at making sweeping, unsupported observations about nutrition. She is woefully uninformed and spectacularly unconcerned about her lack of knowledge and credentials.

Planck believes that we have “extraordinary needs for nutrients not found in plants,” –including vitamins A and D, omega-3 fats, and carnitine–which translates to a need for what she refers to as “synthetic supplements.” I imagine that in referring to these supplements as “synthetic,” she’s hoping to convince us that they’re somehow inferior to the “real nutrients” found in food.

But let’s look at that. Vegan sources of the long chain omega-3 fats DHA and EPA aren’t synthetic; they’re derived directly from microalgae.  The DHA in fish ultimately comes from exactly the same source.

It’s the same with vitamin B12. Whether it ends up in a pill or a pork chop, it was produced by bacteria. The big difference is that the B12 in pills isn’t bound to protein, which turns out to be a good thing for bioavailability. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends vitamin B12 supplements for all people over the age of 50 since, in older people, B12 is better absorbed from pills than from animal foods. So much for the “supplements aren’t as good as food” argument.

I’ve written before about animal products versus plants for vitamins D and A. Vitamin D is very poorly supplied by foods and although you could technically get enough from fish, it’s not realistic or sustainable to do so. As a result, all of us, vegan and meat-eater alike, have to depend on fortified foods (the vitamin D added to cow’s milk is no more “natural” than the vitamin D in almond milk) or sun exposure or supplements. Vitamin D is an issue for everyone, not just vegans.

And since Americans get between a quarter and a third of their vitamin A from plant foods, they’d be in trouble if plant sources weren’t effective. The Institute of Medicine affirms that vitamin A needs can be met completely from plant foods. (But hey—these are just the world’s leading vitamin A researchers, so you can’t really expect them to know as much as a farmers’ market expert!)

Planck’s big concern is about babies and children, though, and she says that the breast milk of vegetarian women is dramatically lower in DHA than that of omnivores and also doesn’t provide adequate carnitine. Carnitine is an amino acid, but not an essential one since humans can manufacture it. There is no reason to think that vegan or vegetarian women would produce breast milk that is low in carnitine.

Some research shows that milk of vegetarian women is lower in DHA, though, which is not surprising.  But it’s higher than what has been provided by the infant formulas that have nourished generations of healthy babies. And, breastfeeding vegetarian mothers can easily raise DHA levels of their milk with supplements.

Planck says “The most risky period for vegan children is weaning. Growing babies who are leaving the breast need complete protein, omega-3 fats, iron, calcium and zinc. Compared with meat, fish, eggs and dairy, plants are inferior sources of every one.”

Yes, weaning is a critical period in infant feeding, and yes some animal foods do contain more protein, omega-3 fats, iron, calcium, and zinc. But does it matter? We don’t need “as much as possible” of every nutrient; we just need enough. So, if plant foods can provide enough, who cares whether some animal products have more?

If she wants to make the case that it’s easier to meet needs for some of these nutrients with animal foods, I can’t argue with that. That doesn’t mean that vegan kids can’t or don’t get enough. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have great data on the nutrient intake of vegan children. But we do know that vegan diets can indeed meet the nutritional needs of children. And it’s not as though omnivore children never have nutrient deficiencies.  In fact, excessive consumption of cow’s milk places toddlers at risk for iron deficiency anemia. Many U.S. children also don’t consume enough calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, folate, or vitamins A, C and E.

There is so much misinformation and confusion wrapped up in Planck’s two sentences about soy, that I’m not entirely sure how to decipher them. She says: “Soy protein is not good for a baby’s first food for the same reason that soy formula is not good for newborns. It’s a poor source of calcium, iron and zinc — and much too high in estrogen. It also lacks adequate methionine which babies and children need to grow properly.”

First, who says soy formula isn’t good for newborns? Babies grow and develop just fine on soy formula which has been around for nearly 100 years. And it’s fortified with all of the things—calcium, iron, zinc, methionine (and carnitine)—that Planck believes is missing from it.

As for soy protein as a “first food,” does she mean a first solid food? I’m not sure whether she’s confused or is just trying to confuse, because nobody recommends tofu or other soy products as a first solid food for young infants. First solids are nearly always enriched cereals. And as babies are weaned, they are introduced to a mixed diet of grains, legumes and veggies, making concerns about individual amino acids irrelevant.

Her information on vitamin B12 seems to come exclusively from an online article by a licensed acupuncturist who says that “studies consistently show that up to 50 percent of long-term vegetarians and 80 percent of vegans are deficient in B12.”  The “studies that consistently show” this turn out to be one study of 66 vegetarians and 29 vegans in Germany and the Netherlands. Other research doesn’t come close to confirming those percentages. The fact is that vegans who don’t supplement with B12 run the risk of deficiency. Those who take a supplement don’t.

There’s nothing new here. Nina Planck doesn’t like vegan diets and she doesn’t know nutrition science. That’s always a dangerous combination. The Nina Plancks of the world can’t be stopped from writing what they like, but it’s deplorable that the New York Times would provide them with a platform.

Edited to add: Thank you to Dr. Reed Mangels, author of The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book for giving me feedback on this post before I published it. Reed is THE expert on vegan nutrition for children and pregnant women.

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