Friday, February 5, 2010

Vegan for Life

I love getting blood tests. I realize that is kind of sick and morbid, but really, I love them. I was a perfectionist when writing university finals and I am a perfectionist when it comes to getting my blood tested for vitamins and nutrient levels. I can hardly contain myself waiting the two days to get the results.

(Aside from this fascination with blood work I am a very normal person so I would appreciate it if you didn't label me a freak and call mental health on me.)

I wasn't always this way. I used to dread getting bloodwork done. To the point where I wouldn't go, and then say I forgot. One time I even lied to my doctor and swore up and down that I went but those darn nurses at the lab lost the paperwork. The transparency of that lie was definitely the purple elephant in the room when I had to return to the doctor's office.

In those days, I had a whole host of minor issues that were destined to be major issues at some point in my life. The most concerning was this ridiculous blood sugar thing I had going on, where it would spike and then drop very quickly, leaving me in a state of blind rage (Paul dubbed me 'Hungor' during these times, as the rage coincided directly with needing to be fed after a drastic drop in blood sugar levels). I also had a pretty frightening iron level and was characterized as deficient. The doc put me on these disgusting supplements that I refused to take (money well spent). I was also on a steady path of weight gain, a solid five pounds per year since Paul and I got married. Which, granted, is quite normal in our society, but not exactly a great thing. And so I spent the first years of adulthood feeling like complete and total crap.

I have been vegan for about a year and a half now and literally within the first few weeks of my journey all of the ailments (and subsequent lying about ailments) started to disappear.

People are constantly questioning how vegans can possibly have adequate levels of protein, iron, B vitamins and calcium. With me, I think the biggest concern was the iron, because I was so deficient before I was vegan (granted, to say that I ate like crap as an omnivore would be the understatement of the year). The great protein concern is the most ridiculous, as it is the easiest to achieve on a vegan diet. I'll give the critics the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the Bs, particularly B12, as it is a very misunderstood vitamin. While achieving adequate B12 levels is a concern for vegetarians and vegans, what many fail to recognize is that it is very easy to be deficient in it as an omnivore as well. The common misunderstanding is that B12 comes from animals only (and thus it is not readily available to vegans) when in actuality it comes from bacteria. There are plenty of studies being conducted on plant-based B12 sources (mushrooms and spirulina algae among the forerunners) and how they can be absorbed by the body, so the verdict is out. How vegans can get adequate interaction with this bacteria is of great debate within our community and discussing it is unfortunately above my pay grade. What I do know is that the meat and dairy industry has been riding us for years, threatening people with B12 deficiency should they stop buying their products.

Just know that these threats are empty attempts to secure your dollar. That being said, B12 is a tricky bugger that takes some work and it was the specific reason I asked for a blood test this time around.

Low and behold, my B12 (and all B vitamin levels) came back above average. My iron as well. The whole spectrum of what my doc tested came back with excellent results. The whole A+ on my favourite test for the first time in my life. Glucose levels were normal (no more HUNGOR!!!), blood pressure was in appropriate ranges and...oh, my most favourite....I've reversed the 5lb post-wedding curse and am now back to where I was pre-wedding. Holler!

So the moral of the story is, don't let anyone try and bully you out of veganism, threatening you with ailments that first of all are not vegan-exclusive (plenty of omnivores out there suffering from iron deficiency...I was one of them) and second of all these issues are easily preventable with VERY minimal effort. I don't really supplement at all, with the exception being that my rice milk (as well as any fake 'meats' you may use, like tofurky, etc.) are usually fortified with B12, iron, calcium and vitamin D. I also do have a daily multivitamin that collects dust in my cabinet because I always forget to take it. This A+ blood test is the result of nothing but being vegan, drinking water and non-dairy milk exclusively (okay, and some red more see-through lies) and eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables everyday.

I don't claim to know it all. Really, I know nothing about any of this. I'm not a scientist or nutritionist so you can take my words and do what you want with them. All I know is that I was a very hostile F student in the world of blood tests and now I'm on the Honour Roll. I don't get B12 injections. I don't really supplement. I don't panic and measure my food or attempt to make exact nutritional calculations before I make a meal. I just eat...kind of a lot, actually. I eat the rainbow, meaning I make something different for dinner every night and I don't rely on the same staples for all my meals. I go with what veggies are in season and on sale each week (and so know that the other idle threat - that veganism has to be expensive - is also a myth. This process does not cost a fortune).

I kind of want to get my blood test results tattooed on my forehead for the next person that asks me if I am anemic.

All this is great, but the journey is far from over. I've got a little bit of poundage resting around the middle (damn you, buttercream cupcakes!) and it is time for it to GO. I know how to fix it. It's really very simple. And it has nothing to do with my diet and everything to do with those running shoes staring at me from the corner of the room.

And because I'm in a cheeky, smug mood today (always dangerous and I'm sure something embarrassing will happen shortly to restore my ego to its rightful size), anyone want to play a round of Defensive Omnivore Bingo?


speakmanphotoblog said...

A great blog as always, Mary. I wish I were as good with my words as you are...that way I wouldn't look so bad when people questioned my vegetarian lifestyle.

Mary said...

It took me awhile...I'd get put on the spot and I wouldn't know what to say when people asked me why, or how I knew how to take care of myself being vegan, etc. It was all a learning curve and now it's just second nature. You're doing great, I hope the veg life has been good to you so far!

Bliss Doubt said...

Bravo, Mary. You tell 'em! I, too, feel that B12 is misunderstood, and I'm glad you posted about new tests being done. I wouldn't have known. I actually have this theory that you can get B12 from beer, but I can't prove it.

And by the way, don't get your test results tattooed on your face and ruin your pretty looks.

Mary said...

YES! Let's invest more research dollars into confirming that beer is indeed a source of B12!

Allison, The Busy (Happy!) Vegan said...

GREAT post! It is such a misconception that vegans and/or vegetarians are likely to be lacking in nutrition. Most of the evidence actually says that we live longer, have fewer diseases, and healthier weights than omnivores! Your recent blood test success is just more evidence of that!

I blogged about a similar experience recently, when I applied for life insurance, and received the "super-preferred" rate, which apparently only 6% of their customers are entitled to! If only I could somehow send that result to the midwife who, when I said I was frequently tired during my pregnancy, said "well - I'm sure it's low iron because you're vegetarian." (By the way, it wasn't the case, which surprised her into quite the eyebrow raise!)

Anyway - keep posting about all the great things veganism can do for you!

Kristen said...

Great post as always !! I love your blog - you definitely have a way with words!

Anardana said...

I like blood tests too! I love proving that the vegan diet can be totally sufficient :)

Lisa said...

I like blood tests too! I make my doctor fax me the detailed results so I can see all the awesome numbers for myself (otherwise I get a one-line "your levels are normal" note in the mail and that's it). Glad I'm not the only one who gets excited about acing those tests. :)

Wyillow said...

i am the same way! i love being able to point to my blood test results to show people how i am actually *more* healthy now than i was back when i was an amnivore!

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