This is a follow-up to Going Vegan, Pt. 1, which I wrote on September 12, 2014.
I have been eating vegan for 1 year, 7 months, and 4 days. Eating a plant-based diet, I have lowered my total cholesterol and improved the health of my thyroid — which I think went out of whack a bit from ignoring nutrition as a vegetarian for 19 years. My health is great, though I am still flirting with hypothyroidism. I want to get most of my nutrition from food, but have found with blood tests that I might need to experiment with how much vitamin D and B12 I need.
Vegetarian (lacto-ovo): Summer 1995 - July 7, 2014
Vegan: July 8, 2014 - Present
|Test Dates||Total Cholesterol||LDL Cholesterol||Triglycerides||HDL Cholesterol|
|August 20, 2003||222 mg/dL||131 mg/dL||200 mg/dL||51 mg/dL|
|June 10, 2009||225 mg/dL||142 mg/dL||137 mg/dL||56 mg/dL|
|February 8, 2012||218 mg/dL||137 mg/dL||157 mg/dL||50 mg/dL|
|July 28, 2014||224 mg/dL||141 mg/dL||178 mg/dL||47 mg/dL|
|January 7, 2015||197 mg/dL||122 mg/dL||114 mg/dL||52 mg/dL|
|November 18, 2015||194 mg/dL||111 mg/dL||148 mg/dL||53 mg/dL|
When I look at my cholesterol results, I see my cholesterol improving. Between July 8, 2014, and November 18, 2015, I was taking Gugulipid and Milk Thistle. I don’t know if these herbs helped. Additionally, between July 8, 2014, and July 8, 2015, I consumed an average of 142 grams of sugar per day (added sugar and natural). Since food labels do not yet separate “added sugar” from sugar, I’m not sure how many of those grams are added sugar, possibly influencing my cholesterol levels.
|Test Dates||TSH||T3||T4||Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies|
|July 28, 2014||9.30 mIU/L||3.0 pg/mL (free)||1.1 ng/dL (free)||not taken|
|August 11, 2014||7.91 mIU/L||not taken||not taken||20 IU/mL|
|November 10, 2014||28.57 mIU/L||2.9 pg/mL (free)||6.0 mcg/dL||20 IU/mL|
|January 7, 2015||6.93 mIU/L||104 ng/dL (total)||1.1 ng/dL (free)||23 IU/mL|
|June 18, 2015||8.10 mIU/L||113 ng/dL (total)||1.1 ng/dL (free)||not taken|
|November 18, 2015||0.78 mIU/L||4.1 pg/mL (free)||9.9 mcg/dL (total)||49 IU/mL|
The blood work to monitor my thyroid shows that my Thyroid-stimulating Hormone (TSH) went from high to within normal range. However, I have more Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) Antibodies than I did in August 2014. “Because the autoimmune response waxes and wanes,” according to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, “the patient may test negative one week and positive the next.” To test a patient struggling with symptoms of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, Dr. Kharrazian may suggest the patient enjoy extra sugar and gluten in his or her diet before getting a second TPO antibodies test, “as sugar will drive up inflammation and gluten will provoke the autoimmune response, both of which better the chances of producing a positive result on an antibody lab panel.” I’ve been avoiding gluten, not sugar. I’m not sure if these antibodies increase as I consume more sugar, soy, or cruciferous vegetables.
I have experimented with eating different amounts of soy and cooked versus raw kale. I don’t think soy has had an affect. If my thryoid blood test results don’t improve, I might take a food sensitivity test. I did take Ashwagandha daily for at least three weeks before the January 7, 2015, blood test, then took the Ayurvedic herb infrequently. I’m not sure how much the herb affected the January test.
Vitamins and Minerals
|Test Dates||B12||Homocysteine||Folates, Serum||Iron, Total||Ferritin||Iodine||Vitamin D|
|July 28, 2014||421 pg/mL||11.8 umol/L||19.0 ng/mL||not taken||60 ng/mL||not taken||34 ng/mL|
|August 11, 2014||514 pg/mL||not taken||not taken||not taken||not taken||44 mcg/L||not taken|
|January 7, 2015||534 pg/mL||10.5 umol/L||17.2 ng/mL||not taken||not taken||not taken||50 pg/mL|
|June 18, 2015||not taken||not taken||not taken||not taken||not taken||74 mcg/L||not taken|
|November 18, 2015||810 pg/mL||12.0 umol/L||not taken||340 mcg/dL||64 ng/mL||not taken||48 ng/mL|
My hope is that taking more Vitamin D might improve my thyroid health. On July 28, 2014, twenty days after becoming vegan, my 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25 OH vitamin D) test told me that I was very low in Vitamin D. As a vegetarian, I would take a supplement every once in awhile, but never thought about supplementing with D regularly until I became vegan. I talked to my doctor about my thyroid and test results, and he suggested taking 6000 IU of vitamin D per day. To save money, I took one pill instead of two. In other words, between July 28, 2014, and December 31, 2014, I was getting about 3,300 IU of vitamin D per day instead of 6,000 IU.
In addition to taking more vitamin D, I read more about the relationship between the vitamin and the thyroid. An article called “The Link Between Vitamin D and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease” suggests getting a vitamin D test “if you are being treated for a thyroid condition, or are euthyroid (‘normal’ thyroid levels) but have elevated thyroid antibodies [TPO].” Mostly normal thyroid levels and high TPO describes me perfectly. Asking whether vitamin D deficiency and hypothyroidism are related, a Livestrong.com article asserts:
Autoimmune Thyroiditis — an immune disorder — is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, which occurs when your immune system mistakes your thyroid for foreign tissue and produces antibodies against it. Researchers found that patients with autoimmune thyroiditis had significantly low vitamin D and that it correlated with thyroid antibodies. They concluded that vitamin D deficiency may be involved in hypothyroidism and that the results warranted a recommendation for vitamin D supplementation.
Now that I see my TSH improving and my Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies increasing, I’m taking 5,000-6,000 IU per day in an effort to find the amount of vitamin D that is right for me.
Fortunately, my blood tests show improved results supplementing with iodine and B12. Interestingly, as my B12 has increased, so has my homocysteine. If I take B12, my homocysteine is supposed to go down. In this way, the homocysteine test can indicate whether or not I’m getting enough vitamin B12. I thought I was taking enough. But I wasn’t taking B12 by itself. I would sometimes supplement with 500 mg of L-methionine because I thought I was low in this amino acid. According to Dr. Weil, the body transforms methionine into homocysteine. He also states that “elevated homocysteine levels may be due to low levels of thyroid hormone.” I’m not sure which factors are influencing the increase in homocysteine, but I’m taking more B12 — 1,000 mcg every few days. I hope that helps.
Should I Care About Choline?
Is choline deficiency responsible for the higher homocysteine level? Jack Norris, a registered dietitian, writes that “choline might help lower homocysteine levels, but it’s not clear that this has any benefit for health.” He believes “the concern for vegans regarding homocysteine continues to be to avoid the very high homocysteine levels that occur with vitamin B12 deficiency.”
Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, both registered dietitians, clearly describe choline in their book Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. The nutrient choline “helps transport fats and other nutrients through cell membranes. It’s used in the construction of an important neurotransmitter, so it’s crucial for the transmission of nerve impulses and it aids memory and muscle control. Choline also assists in clearing fat and cholesterol from the liver.”
Choline can be confusing. According to a publication from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “choline, folate, vitamin B12, and methionine metabolisms are interrelated. Thus, a disturbance in the availability or metabolism of 1 nutrient results in compensatory changes in the others.” In their book, Davis and Melina warn that the body’s choline synthesis can be limited “when intakes of folate, vitamin B12, and the amino acid methionine are low.” The NCBI publication warns that there is a higher demand for folate with a choline deficiency “because a greater supply of methyl-tetrahydrofolate is required to regenerate methionine from homocysteine.” My concern is that a deficiency in any of these nutrients may result in elevated plasma homocysteine levels. Another NCBI study suggests that “choline may be important for lowering plasma homocysteine concentrations even when dietary consumption of folate and other B vitamins is adequate.” Since I’m often low in choline, I’m now taking a supplement of 500 mg every few days.
Note: The NCBI publications rely on studies that use both mice and humans. I refer to them because the studies are directly related to my situation. I neither support the tests on animals nor believe the results from tests on mice have relevance for human health.
Can I Get It All from Plants?
Other vitamins and minerals I’ve found hard to get eating vegan are sodium, iodine, vitamin D, biotin, potassium, zinc, chromium, and niacin. Besides using hot sauce on occasion, I don’t eat a lot of salt. I don’t eat sea vegetables, so I started using kelp seasoning with some of my meals and eating rice cakes with tamari and seaweed. I also take a kelp supplement for iodine. I get vitamin D from enriched almond, soy, and hazelnut milks, and take a supplement. Biotin is mostly in non-vegan food, so I use a supplement. The Recommended Adequate Intake of biotin for adults is 30 micrograms per day. One avocado has 2-6 micrograms of biotin. If you don’t want to eat several avocados, you could eat a lot of mushrooms.
When I eat, I have no way of knowing how many grams or micrograms of a nutrient I’m getting, so I use a website. I never paid attention to nutrition as a vegetarian. With this additional change to my diet (going vegan) and finding out my blood test results (low in B12, D, and iodine), I wanted to make sure I was getting all the nutrients I needed. I planned on using Cronometer for 2-3 months. I discovered that I learned more about vitamins and minerals as I used the site and went to the store with nutrition in mind.
As I enter a food that I eat in Cronometer, the site uses nutrition databases. When I put in a cup of this, I see I’m getting 30 percent of my vitamin A. When I put in a cup of that, I see I’m getting vitamin C and 15 percent calcium. More specifically, if I eat a baked 600 gram sweet potato, I see I’m getting 61 percent of my potassium, along with several other nutrients. By the way, many people need more potassium. Davis and Melina write in Becoming Vegan that “surveys show typical American intakes of potassium to be low, averaging 2,300 mg per day for women and 3,100 mg for men; 97 percent of those surveyed failed to meet the recommended daily intake” of 4,700 mg. I’ve started eating more sweet potatoes, bananas, spinach, zucchini, and drinking coconut juice to get my potassium.
Using Cronometer, I can see my zinc intake, between February 10, 2015, and February 10, 2016, is about 17 mg per day or 103 percent of what I need. That’s with supplements. Without supplements, for that same period, my zinc intake is about 6.9 mg or 42 percent of what I need in a day. And this figure includes food that might be fortified with zinc, like almond milk. So I supplement with zinc.
I don’t want to give the impression that I take a pill for every nutrient I need. I’ve been looking to get most of my vitamins and minerals from food. But this is more challenging than I thought it would be. After using Cronometer for a few months, I could tell it was easy to get many nutrients, like protein and calcium, on a vegan diet. I could also tell that I needed to find more food sources with niacin and chromium. I did some reading and found that I could get chromium from broccoli and spinach; niacin (B3), from potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, rice cakes, and avocado. Chromium is more challenging than niacin, so I found a multivitamin with chromium that I take every couple days. On the days I take the multivitamin, I also take vitamin D and a kelp pill for iodine. When I skip the multivitamin, I take D, kelp, and supplement with zinc and a B vitamin complex. When I use Bragg Nutritional Yeast, I skip the B complex and take biotin.
Whole Foods, Whole Story
I could just get my biotin, zinc, and choline from animal-derived foods. But if I learn more about plant-based foods and nutrition, I can eat without contributing to the harm of the cows, chickens, pigs, and sheep, with whom I share this planet. After watching documentaries, reading books, and learning more about going vegan, I knew it would be easy to cut out dairy and egg (French toast). The reasons for going vegan in 2014 were the same for going vegetarian in 1995, and were in line with principles of doing less harm, creating less suffering. I simply needed to pay more attention.
In many of the books and documentaries, I heard stories from vegans who were concerned about food production, organic versus commercial farming, the use of genetically modified organisms, growing food locally, factory farming, climate change, the cost of food, and government subsidies. Victoria Moran, for example, writes in Main St. Vegan:
You can get the dollar deal at a fast-food place and feel full, or spend a dollar and a half on a tomato. This discrepancy is a fairly recent one, and it’s largely due to government subsidies to the meat, dairy, soy (largely a feed crop), sugar, and corn industries. (Farmed animals — even fish! — are fed corn. It’s also turned into the high-fructose corn syrup that’s in an astounding number of processed foods.) Subsidies have helped to make burgers and buckets and pitcher-size sodas deceptively cheap, while the simple produce that ought to cost less is pricier. “The fact that a parent can afford to buy double-cheeseburgers but not fruits and vegetables is because the government is subsidizing Big Agra,” says HLN television host and Addict Nation author Jane Velez-Mitchell. “The government is the pusher and the lobbyists are the cartel.”
For an in depth look at vegan ethics and values, I recommend reading Will Tuttle’s The World Peace Diet. Like Tuttle, Jane Goodall believes that “everybody every day does make a difference.” In a recent interview, Goodall tells Democracy Now!: “If we think about the consequences of the choices we make — what we buy, what we eat, what we wear — and we start making the right ethical choices, then when that’s multiplied a thousand, a million, a billion, several billion times, we see the world moving towards change.”
Fortunately, I have found several places in the Bay Area to eat vegan. My favorite is Flacos in Berkeley. I order the Red Huarache with soy protein. (The restaurant replied to my e-mail about the soy protein in the Red Huarache. It's GMO-free, not gluten free. The regular Huarache is GMO-free and gluten free.) Sonoma Taco Shop in San Rafael has a McDougall menu. At Lucinda’s in Strawberry, I get the vegan Zookie burrito in a box (gluten free). Avatar’s mixes Mexican and Indian cuisine into meals like Punjabi burritos with curried sweet potato. When I ask for vegan, Avatar’s leaves off the yogurt sauce. For gluten free, I get the rice plate instead of the burrito. At Lotus Cuisine in San Rafael, I get vegan saag with chickpeas or mushrooms. For South India cuisine, I order a saag dosa at Lotus Chaat & Spices, which hosts a monthly vegan Sunday buffet. Other restaurants I enjoy: VeggieGrill, Herbivore, Tacos Club in San Francisco, and the worker-run Community Market in Sebastopol.
For something quick to make at home, I’ve started mixing quinoa cooked in low sodium vegetable broth, frozen or fresh spinach, and non-GMO pea protein crumbles with nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, and kelp flakes. The quinoa takes about twenty minutes; the spinach and crumbles, ten to fifteen minutes. This meal takes twenty minutes to make and ensures I get a lot of nutrition. I like the taste of the spicy crumbles with the nutritional yeast, broth, quinoa, spinach, and hot sauce.
Links for Moving Towards Sustainability
- Moving Towards Sustainability — By Eating Less Meat
- The Low-Carbon Diet
- Beware Cowspiracy — And the Spread of the Vegan Virus
- Carnivorous Greed
- The Truth About Grassfed Beef
- Livestock’s Long Shadow A 2006 United Nations report on “the very substantial contribution of animal agriculture to climate change and air pollution, to land, soil and water degradation and to the reduction of biodiversity.”