Part V: Do Plant-Based Diets Need Supplementing?
Many of us worry about things that never crossed the minds of our great grandparents. Am I eating enough protein? Do I need more calcium to strengthen my bones? Will my iron stores get low? How can I ensure enough omega-3 in my diet? The modern supplement industry benefits from these fears of "nonexistent deficiencies." This blog series has explored the common nutrients that people suspect are inadequate in a plant-based diet and answers the question, "Do I need to take supplements if I'm eating only plants?"
Fruits, Veggies, Beans, Whole Grains, Nuts and Seeds ALMOST Have It All. Eating from a variety of plant-based foods gives us nearly all the nutrients we need for radiant health. There are, however, two nutrients that plants can't provide in sufficient amounts. Vitamin D is a hormone produced when sunlight hits our skin. If we find ourselves spending more time under a roof than out of doors, we can easily become deficient in this vital nutrient. A simple 25-hydroxy Vitamin D blood test will tell if our bodies are missing this vitamin. For patients who are severely deficient in Vitamin D, I recommend getting more sunshine, eating an oil-free, whole-food, plant-based diet, and supplementing with Vitamin D (but no more than 5,000 units daily. Never do I recommend taking 50,000 units of vitamin D at one dose).
Vitamin B-12 is produced by bacteria, not plants. The World Health Organization supports the recommendation that all people over the age of 50 take B-12 daily. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing Vitamin B-12, so a daily supplement is recommended for everyone over the age of 50, regardless of diet style. Individuals who drink alcoholic beverages or use caffeine are at increased risk of becoming Vitamin B-12 deficient due to the diuretic effect of these addictive substances. Also at risk are those who take strong antacids like proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec or Nexium, etc.
As a physician, I keep a sharp eye on the latest scientific research into health and nutrition. It still amazes me that as our knowledge expands, we are repeatedly discovering that a simple, whole-food plant-based diet free from added oil is the best for vitality and longevity. The needs of the human body haven't changed over time.
Do plant-based diets require supplements? As long as we are in good health and are eating sufficient calories from a wide variety of whole plant foods, getting adequate sunshine for our Vitamin D, and supplementing with Vitamin B-12, our nutritional needs will be bountifully met by plants.
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(9) Vegan Paralysis
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