Thursday, February 11, 2016

Going Vegan, Pt. 2: Moving Towards Change

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/mLnot 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 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.”

Eating Out

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.

Eating In

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


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Land Reform and Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua

This is a comment on a comment that activist Sandra Ramos made during an interview. I don’t have a problem with the interview. It was the comment. It inspired me to write — a lot.

Ramos states in her December 2015 interview that Nicaragua “had a female president in the 90s but this didn’t mean that the gap in inequality was transformed.” Ramos thinks that “women in government, or in institutions or municipal office make a great effort because they always face inequality.” I don’t think it helps Ramos’ case to mention Nicaragua’s female president, Violeta Chamorro, a politician who promoted inequality with her reform policies.

In the 1990 presidential election in Nicaragua, international monitors supported the U.S. narrative that the elections were “free and fair.” This, despite the fact that the U.S. chose the opposition candidate, Violeta Chamorro, to win against the Sandinistas.1

According to, the “U.S., through the CIA and National Endowment for Democracy (NED), orchestrated a process to consolidate a number of Nicaragua’s opposition parties into a so-called unified effort, the United Nicaragua Opposition (UNO). In attempting to tabulate the total amount of money provided by the U.S. government between 1984-1990 to the ‘opposition’ parties of Nicaragua, one must add up the known covert aid with the identifiable overt funds provided to both the CIA and the NED. If the truth were known, the total might approach $50,000,000.”2

Erin O’Connor writes about Nicaragua’s first female president, stating that having a woman president doesn’t necessarily advance women’s reproductive or abortion rights. In her book Mothers Making Latin America: Gender, Households, and Politics Since 1852, the author states that “Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua adamantly opposed abortion, including in cases of rape.”3

In 2007, Human Rights Watch published Over Their Dead Bodies: Denial of Access to Emergency Obstetric Care and Therapeutic Abortion in Nicaragua. The report illustrates O’Connor’s point:

In 1989, to facilitate the implementation of the penal code provisions allowing therapeutic abortion, the Health Ministry mandated all hospitals to set up a standing committee — made up of social workers and medical doctors — to determine whether women or girls with crisis pregnancies were eligible for a legal abortion. Scholars report that only one such committee was ever set up at the Bertha Calderón hospital, the largest maternity care facility in the country. Following the election of conservative President Violeta Chamorro in 1990, the newly instated conservative director of the hospital shut down the committee and access to therapeutic abortion became noticeably limited.4

On July 9, 1990, the anti-choice president called out the army to restore order during a strike of both public and private sector workers. According to, “Some 90,000 workers participated in the strike, which shut water and electrical service to the city of one million and closed the airport, mail service and operator-assisted phone service. The pro-Sandinista strikers demanded that the Chamorro regime rehire government workers fired as part of its cost-cutting measures and to drop plans to return land expropriated by the Sandinista government to their previous owners.”5

Two months earlier, in May 1990, “Chamorro issued Decree 11-90 which called for a review of the confiscations and redistributions of agricultural land” under the Sandinistas. In his book The History of Nicaragua, Clifford Staten explains: “Within a year the commission had heard more than 4,000 cases and had ruled in favor of the previous owners in about half the cases. The Nicaraguan Supreme Court then declared much of Decree 11-90 to be unconstitutional and this further complicated the land ownership issue.”

The Sandinistas had confiscated the land from the Somoza family and its closest supporters. Staten asserts “this property had been turned into state-run farms for the production of sugar, cotton, and coffee. The former land owners, many of whom had fled to the United States, insisted that they had a right to reclaim the estates seized by the Sandinistas.”6

In other words, Chamorro’s supporters wanted their backs scratched. Powerful and armed interests, including the U.S., which had poured money into Chamorro’s presidential campaign, expected the new president to look after them. The new conservative government, in an effort to reconcile opposing armed parties, promised property to demobilizing Contras and officers of the Sandinista Popular Army. The Hemisphere Initiatives report Contesting Everything, Winning Nothing: The Search for Consensus in Nicaragua, 1990-1995 explains that “beneficiaries of the agrarian reform and workers on state farms did not want to lose their farms. The government has not been able to resolve these conflicting claims or meet its promises.”

The report lists the challenges of land reform efforts:

A significant minority of former owners have gotten their property back through privatization and some workers have been able to get a share of businesses being privatized. Other former owners have received bonds as compensation. Agrarian reform beneficiaries, and others, have unclear property titles. Insecurity increased with a wave of land invasions. Finally, the workings of the neoliberal model amidst these crises has resulted in distress sales by agrarian reform beneficiaries to the extent that analysts speak of a reconcentration of land.7

In other words, the new government’s solution to Nicaragua’s land distribution problem took land away from campesinos or pushed them, by way of economic policy, to sell back to large land owners the land won under Sandinista agrarian reform, in order survive.

“What Does the U.S. Want?” asks Lisa Haugaard in her piece for NACLA. The United States intervened quietly in the first two years of Violeta Chamorro’s term, “pushing privatization, budget cuts and layoffs, trade liberalization, and other common elements of an IMF-style austerity package. U.S. aid also aimed, as it does in other parts of Central America and the developing world, to foster a more conservative and pro-free market social landscape, by bankrolling private sector think tanks, business associations and domesticated unions, and by influencing public school curricula.”8

Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, Haugaard states that “Chamorro’s honeymoon was short, however, both within Nicaragua and with Washington. The multiparty UNO coalition that elected her fractured over two major issues: Chamorro’s pragmatic agreement with former Sandinista army leaders and her refusal to immediately return properties confiscated through the Sandinistas’ land reform.”9

In his book No Trespassing!: Squatting, Rent Strikes, and Land Struggles Worldwide, Anders Corr describes the unfortunate consequences of Chamorro’s balancing act. He explains that the Chamorro government, threatened with loosing foreign aid from the U.S. and loans from the World Bank, “began expropriating land from families who had benefited from Sandinista agrarian reform.” For example, “in June 1992, the new Nicaraguan security forces (many of them ex-Contras) violently evicted inhabitants of 21 farms slated for return to former owners, 11 of which went to family members of Somoza.” By 1995, Corr continues, “3,000 claims by former land-owners remained unresolved, one-third of them filed by members of the Somoza family or their supporters. The claims include a quarter of Nicaragua’s arable land, upon which 170,000 families had settled, most of them impoverished squatters and war refugees to whom the Sandinista government had promised land titles.”

Additionally, Corr writes, Chamorro “violated the truce agreed to by Sumo Indians and the Sandinistas after the Indians waged a guerrilla war in the 1980s to protect their tropical forests from commercial incursions.” In March 1996, for instance, Chamorro “gave foreign companies lucrative concessions to log 62,000 hectares of that forest,” more than half of which is in the indigenous reserve.10

I wanted to respond to Sandra Ramos’ comment that Nicaragua had a woman in the office of president. I intended to write a couple sentences, but wrote several paragraphs. The research for my comments has taken most of the day. Though I am familiar with Central American history and Violeta Chamorro’s relationship with the United States, I cannot satisfactorily describe land reform in Nicaragua, citing only ten sources from the internet, which I haven’t fully read. Since writing this response, I’ve collected a list of articles and spurred a desire to look more deeply at land reform in Latin America.

If you’re interested, Ramos’ comments make me think of “Why This Socialist Feminist Is Not Voting for Hillary,” Liza Featherstone’s January 2016 feature in The Nation.


“U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is funneling election manipulation money to strengthen anti-Sandinista media through the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, according to Informe Pastran. [Chamorro was the U.S.-backed candidate who defeated the Sandinistas in 1990 after the U.S. spent more per Nicaraguan voter than the two U.S. presidential candidates combined spent per U.S. voter two years earlier.] The Chamorro Foundation did not reveal the amount of USAID money it will be funneling but named 12 national and regional media outlets that it will fund including La Prensa, Channels 12 and 15, national radio stations Radio Corporacion and Radio Universidad, plus regional radio stations in Esteli, Matagalpa, Carazo, Leon, and Bluefields. Channel 12 President Mariano Valle stated, “All our decisions are based on their benefit to our audience.” The amount of USAID funding is believed to be significant since among the things it will fund is equipment upgrades for Channel 15 and the purchase of a mobile broadcast vehicle. The TV channel will create a new program called ‘Vote 2016.’”

From Nicaragua Network's
Nicaragua News Bulletin (February 9, 2016)
“U.S. Steps up Opposition Funding in Advance of Presidential Election”



Friday, September 12, 2014

Going Vegan, Pt. 1: French Toast and Iodine

I finally went vegan on July 8, 2014. I was a vegetarian for 19 years, but after watching the documentary Forks Over Knives and YouTube videos by doctors John McDougall, Michael Greger, and Michael Klaper, I decided to stop eating dairy and egg.

A good friend, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, said, “But what about French toast?” I love French toast. I have eaten a lot of French toast over the past few years. When I lived in Sherman Oaks, all the servers at Natas Pastries were aware of my French toast obsession. I grew up allergic to egg and dairy, so I never ate a lot of egg. I don’t like the taste of fried egg, egg in potato salad. Quiche is okay. I like frittata. I love French toast.

But I gave it up. I’ve had good vegan French toast, but I’m now eating gluten free. When my health improves, I may look for alternative French toast.

As far as my health goes, I feel fine, but my thyroid is doing all kinds of fun stuff. I will address this in a few paragraphs.

When I became a vegetarian in 1995 (during a biology class at Sonoma State), I never liked fish. My father remembers taking me to restaurants as a young boy and watching me fork a piece of meat, hold it over a candle, and look for sinews and veins. If I saw something, I’d put the fork down and stop eating. I understand that my father spent some money on those nights when I got to order steak, but I don’t like to look at veins in steak and hamburger. I loved the taste of lamb chops, but cut off all the fat, which only leaves a couple bites. I couldn’t stand chicken skin or the globby fat pools floating around a bowl of chicken soup. Getting meat out of my diet was easy.

I loved dairy, so I kept eating pizza, eggplant Parmigiana, and using a quarter cup of half-and-half in strong coffee. I loved cream of mushroom soup with brandy and barley. And I ate lots of French toast.

After learning more about the relationship of casein (milk protein) with cancer and the way people treat animals to supply stores with dairy and egg products, I had no reservations about cutting out dairy and eggs. I knew I wouldn’t miss the 7 grams of fat and 22.4 milligrams of cholesterol in a quarter cup of half-and-half, and I knew I’d feel better about committing more deeply to the compassionate treatment of animals. Of course, eating differently, I looked forward to reducing my carbon footprint, too!

Going vegan coincided with my physical exam and blood work. After three weeks of eating less cholesterol and saturated fat, I was interested in seeing results. For days, I’d been throwing 2-3 cups of kale in a blender with apples, banana, coconut juice, cucumber, cashews, and flax seed meal. I’d been eating broccoli, asparagus, spinach, beans, quinoa. I’d never paid attention to nutrition as a vegetarian (besides taking an occasional B12 supplement and plant sources of omega-3), and now I was trying to get all my vitamins and minerals. I'd read Vegan for Life and ordered Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. With my research and the variety of foods I was eating, I thought, "My blood should be amazing."

But my lipid panel showed high cholesterol. My pituitary gland was cranking out thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), my testosterone was doing a low limbo, and vitamins D and B12 weren’t showing up for the party as enthusiastic celebrants. I was low on B12 and D, even though I'd been taking supplements. I started to wonder how many supplements I needed and how often I needed to pop them.

A week later I took another blood test, which led my doctor and me to think that I needed more iodine. More iodine could help out my thyroid and Tilt-A-Whirl hormones. Fortunately, my physical exam and blood tests revealed the beginning of hypothyroidism. I’ll take 12.5 milligrams of iodine per day for two months, then get another blood test to investigate whether or not I have an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto's. Since I do not eat fish or sea vegetables or use iodized salt, I find it easy to believe that a low level of iodine could be causing my imbalances. I'll know more in two months.

While waiting to take this future blood test, I'm avoiding gluten. According to dietitian Aglaee Jacob, "the antibodies that your body develops against gluten may mistakenly attack your thyroid gland because of its similar structure, causing you to develop an autoimmune form of thyroid disorder, often called Hashimoto's thyroid disease or Grave's thyroid disease."

This is one of two reasons I'm not eating French toast right now. The good French toast bread has gluten and/or egg. A week ago, I went to the store to look for gluten free vegan bread for delicious almond butter and spent at least twenty minutes digging through stacks of frozen alternative loaves, finally deciding on Food for Life's Raisin Pecan Bread. Though it tastes better than I thought it would, I don't know that I'll use it for French toast (with pumpkin instead of egg). The second reason I'm taking a break from French toast — vegan gluten free bread is like a brick.

Before leaving, I want to add — in case you are in a situation similar to mine, taking high amounts of iodine — three brazil nuts give you about 272 micrograms of selenium. I eat 2-3 brazil nuts a day. In his series on thyroid disorders, Berkeley acupuncturist Chris Kresser writes that “adequate selenium nutrition supports efficient thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism and protects the thyroid gland from damage from excessive iodine exposure.”

In the second part of Going Vegan, I’ll write about the vitamins and minerals I’ve found challenging to get in food, the supplements I’m using until I can get most of my nutrients from food, and the restaurants and meals I’ve been enjoying as a vegan eating gluten free.


For more information about iodine and hypothyroidism, visit:

For a list of blood tests recommended for vegetarians and vegans, visit: