#19 Take Vitamins Daily
I am a big believer in getting the nutrients your body needs directly from the food you eat. But I also acknowledge that sometimes that isn’t possible or as easy. A lot depends on the nutrient-rich foods you eat and more importantly, nutrient synthesis i.e. food combinations. Understanding nutrient uptake is actually quite a science. There are a lot of foods that can both help and hurt absorption.
I read my first book ever on the study of nutrition when I was about 11. It was called Becoming Vegetarian and although it has been around for decades, it is still considered to be the authority on nutrition for vegetarians. Eating good, wholesome, nutritious food has never been a problem for me. I have books such as this one and my mom to thank for that.
But due to my dietary choices, I am not able to get all nutrients I need from actual food sources. Cue the supplements. My biggest problem with supplements is simply remembering to take them. Hence this goal on my Thirty by 30 list.
The big gap in any vegetarian/vegan diet is B12. This nutrient is found in soil particles and drinking water that contain micro organisms which generate B12. As you can imagine animals are actually a good source of B12 by virtue of their own eating behaviours. But as a strict vegetarian, unless I eat unwashed produce, I won’t have access to it. Why is it so important? B12 affects the development and maintenance of red blood cells as well as digestion, absorption of foods and breakdown of fats and carbs. Deficiencies can appear in the form of fatigue, nausea, indigestion, weight gain, to name a few. Absorption of B12 in the body can also be inhibited by excessive drinking, nicotine, potassium supplements, antibiotics and antacids.
I take a daily multivitamin with 10mcg of B12 and a further B12 & B6 tablet which contains 150mcg of B12. Although the RDA for an average adult is 2-3 mcg, B12 is non-toxic and whatever my body doesn’t use/need simply gets flushed out.
As mentioned above, I take a second supplement in addition to my multivitamin which contains B12 & B6. What is B6 and why the need for an extra hit? B6 plays an important role in thyroid regulation and the metabolism of fats in your body. Obviously that links to healthy weight and body functions but it also controls mood. The combination of B12 & B6 with folate has also been shown to address a big issue I struggle with – canker sores. These are essentially the same thing as stomach ulcers but they occur in the mouth usually as a result of a build up of stomach acid (the onset of which for me is as a result of stress). The combo of vitamins are essential for proper stress response and tissue development.
I take a daily vitamin with 10mg of B6 plus the dual supplement mentioned above with an added dose of 75mg. The RDA for an average adult is 1.3mg. Admittedly, I do get a lot of B6 from food sources such as chickpeas (which contains the highest amount), tofu, bananas, and raisins but I take the supplement to help address the occurrence of canker sores.
I have learned that a healthy gut is a happy one. And a probiotic supplement can help maintain or restore the balance of healthy bacteria in your system. I take one capsule every morning filled with billions (10 to be exact) of good bacteria. If you take a probiotic, you will want one high in lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, and packaged in an enteric-coated capsule. All that means is that the capsule is coated in a substance that is stable and won’t absorb in your stomach (i.e. a high acidic environment) but instead will ensure the bacteria is released in your intestine (i.e. much more alkaline environment).
Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin is actually not a vitamin at all. It acts more like a hormone and its function in our bodies has been terribly understated. Nearly every cell in our bodies has a vitamin D receptor. That’s crazy right? If you are deficient, you may not know it but if you do, it could be spelled out in any of these ways: muscle pain and weakness, weight gain, restless sleep, headaches, lack of concentration/focus, joint pain, chronic pain, muscle cramps, etc.. Vitamin D also plays a role in helping to prevent a ton of other terrible diseases. The list is long so I’ll just say that I’m bummed I don’t have the right kind of access to the most efficient source of Vitamin D – the sun – most of the year. (In just 20 minutes outdoors in the summer time, I could generate about 20,000 units of vitamin D.) Thankfully I can take a couple of pills every evening with a meal that contain 1,000 IU each.
The average vegan or non-vegan multivitamin for women contains 18mg of iron. This is considered enough to meet the recommended daily amount. That said, iron absorption in the body is kind of complicated. Coffee and tea inhibit absorption by 35 and 60%, respectively when ingested within one hour of eating a food rich in iron. Eating a bean salad is awesome as a source of iron but it is even better if some red pepper is chopped up in there and drenched in real lemon juice. Why? Vitamin C (in red pepper and lemon) acts as an iron enhancer helping your body suck up the nutrient properly.
Borderline anemia is no joke. Thankfully I have never suffered from anemia but my hemoglobin levels tend to hover on the lower end of the healthy range. So when I received a call from my doctor recently suggesting that I consider “iron supplementation”, I decided to re-think my approach. Many years ago, as a teenager, a different physician put me on iron supplements because she was concerned about the impact of my vegan diet on my body. Iron supplements alone can contain as much as 45 mg. They are very hard on your stomach and I found myself nauseated even when taking them with food. I wasn’t about to take that route again. I did a bit of research and discovered that prenatal vitamins not only contain between 21 and 28mg of iron but they also often include a digestive stabilizer such as peppermint extract. Bingo.
Now I am taking the aforementioned multivitamin containing 28mg of iron. I am keeping track of any changes in my energy level. In 3 months time, I plan to donate blood again so I will get to see if this little experiment has made any difference at all.
DEVELOPING THE HABIT
After all of that explanation as to what I take, how did I manage to develop this habit? I oddly found it easier to remember to take them if I split up the pills.
Morning: I take B6 & B12, Vitamin C, and my probiotics supplement with breakfast. Vitamins B & C are water-soluble and don’t need much to dissolve. So just in case I have an eat-and-go breakfast, I can still toss back the vitamins before I head out the door.
Evening: I take my multivitamin and Vitamin D with my dinner. I do this for two reasons. 1) I don’t have high fat content in my breakfast and Vitamin D is fat soluble so dinner is a great meal to help absorb the nutrients. 2) As explained above, my multivitamin has a high amount of iron in it. If there is one thing that doesn’t jive with iron it is coffee and since I do drink coffee/tea in the mornings and not at night, it made the most sense to split up my vitamin intake to avoid the classic iron inhibitors.
#19 is done!