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Conversations with a Vegan

Last weekend, we had a family member stay the night and I knew he was a vegan.  Being a Nutritionist I knew what this entailed but personally I had not really cooked and fed a vegan before.  I am from the country, grew up with families who all served and ate meat with every meal.  Being a vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian was never something that was discussed around any dining table that I sat around in Moree, it just wasn’t the done thing.

For whatever reason, possibly the fact that I was intrigued by his discussion to be a vegan, the conversation always came back to Veganism.  For those who are not vegans, I will give you a snap shot of what this means.

A vegan feels adverse to eating the following

  • Meat from any breathing animal;
  • Fish or any animal from the sea/river;
  • Products from animals – this includes all dairy products, goat products, beef, pig, sheep and chicken products

A vegan LOVES lots of vegetables, legumes, grains, oils and fruit (oh and sugar if they choose too!).

What did we discuss at dinner?  We spoke about Vitamin B12 – how do you get it if you don’t eat meat?  We spoke about Omega-3’s, how do you get this if you don’t eat fish.  We spoke about the impact that society is having on the environment.

So, I decided to do a little research for myself!

Facts about Vitamin B12

B12 was isolated from liver extract in 1948 and was identified as the nutritional factor in liver that prevented pernicious anemia (lack of red blood cells in blood).  Vitamin B12 works with folic acid in many body processes, these include the very important function of the synthesis of DNA.  It is essential for normal blood function, and neurological function in humans.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in impaired nerve function, which according to Dr M. Murray and Dr. J. Pizzorno can cause numbness, “pins and needles” sensations, or a burning feeling in the feet as well as impaired mental function.  The other thing about B12 is that we only need very small amounts, according to the Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, we only need 2.4 µg/day.

So, it was mentioned that now days to ensure there is enough B12 in the meat we buy at the butcher that the animals are supplemented with B12.  However, from my reading I believe this is not the case.  Cattle absorb B12 that is made by their gut bacteria.  The B12 is needed by the cow to breakdown cellulose (found in grass). There is a constituent of B12, called Cobalt.  Cobalt is found in soil, sometimes the soil may lack Cobalt.  This happens in coastal or heavy rainfall areas.  If the soil is depleted in Cobalt the farmer may supplement with a form of B12 to ensure the animals are able to breakdown the cellulose (found in its food) efficiently.  So essentially the B12 in cattle comes from it’s gut – very interesting!!!

Omega-3 Fatty Acid

This is interesting – so fish accumulate omega-3 fatty acids they do not make these fatty acids.  The omega-3 fatty acids (Alpha-linolenic acid) comes from the consumption of microalgae or prey fish that have accumulated omega-3 fatty acids.  Boom there you go!  So, we don’t need to eat fish to get our omega-3’s.

Why is omega-3 fatty acids so good for us?  So, this is an essential fatty acid that the body needs yet is unable to make.  It is required for cell membrane function and there is a great amount of research indicating that the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are vital components for good health.  These omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in fish, cold water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and halibut.

Without a healthy cell membrane, cells lose their ability to hold water, vital nutrients, and electrolytes.  Without the right types of fats in cell membranes, cells simply do not function properly.  Cells lose their ability to communicate with other cells and be controlled by regulating hormones.  This is heavy!

The omega-3 fatty acid can be found in a variety of foods including cold water fish, linseed/flaxseed oil, walnuts, pecan nuts and chia seeds.  For more information on this go the heart foundation website.

We then went onto speak about the environmental impact that farming livestock is having on our environment.  This is a discussion for another time, I’m not a vegan but he certainly challenged my thinking and raised questions that, at the time, I didn’t have the answer to.

What did we eat?

For diner I roasted portobello mushrooms with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, fresh garlic and herbs.  It was served with roasted brussels sprouts and lentil salad.  The meal was divine, satiating and refreshing.  I didn’t capture this spectacular feast but will post the recipe once I make it again.  I really enjoyed the challenge of cooking with a beautiful variety of fresh vegetables.  You wouldn’t believe it, but roasted brussels sprouts actually has its fair share of omega-3’s.

So next time your stuck for ideas, perhaps play around with spicing up different vegetables that you wouldn’t normally eat.



Photo by Keenan Loo on Unsplash