I’m allergic to two things. Doctors and shiitake mushrooms. Really. I projectile vomit within a half hour of eating shiitake mushrooms and while I don’t have a reaction as strong as this to doctors (thank goodness, that would be awkward), I still avoid them at all costs. I haven’t had a primary care physician since, well, forever.
So it was with some trepidation that I scheduled a visit to a new physician in order to have my blood drawn and studied to see if, in fact, this vegan diet that I write about, recommend and heartily endorse is really working. Having been a vegan for over 7 years, vegetarian for 14 and mostly raw for 2, I wanted a blood test to reinforce my suspicions that I would receive A++ straight across the board. I was looking forward to the test results to reinforce my theory that I eat not only the best tasting diet, but also the healthiest!
To my new found physician’s credit, she did not drop her clipboard in astonishment when I informed her about my vegan lifestyle. Not even a raised eyebrow. Living as I do now in Idaho, not exactly a state known for being super evolved in regards to dietary choices, I expected more. More questions, contemplative silence, maybe even some misguided advice to make sure and “get enough protein.” Indeed, it seemed she wasn’t even concerned that the majority of my diet is fruit.
I requested as extensive of a test that my insurance would allow without additional money kicked in by me. My test would include everything from blood pressure to a full thyroid panel and everything in between. My physical exam went well, with the doctor proclaiming everything looked and sounded great. I guess that means my heart was beating and I was standing upright.
After a few days I received the results of my blood test via the patient portal on their website. My, how times have changed since my last visit to a doctor. No phone calls or returning to the office, just a quick email notification with my user ID and password for the website.
Houston, we have a problem.
Low vitamin D. Okay, so not a big problem, and not unusual, seeing as how I live, as I mentioned, in Idaho. Idaho has a full 4 seasons and I’m smack dab in the middle of the one I don’t like in which the sun cracks through the clouds once every 2 weeks for 20 minutes and then disappears as if never to return. My vitamin D was at 8.0, and needs to be at 30-100. Oops.
No big deal, my doctor reassures me on the phone. She prescribes a Vitamin D2 supplement and let’s me know all other results the tests are quite good. I smile but I’m not happy about the Vitamin D diagnosis. So I tell my husband later that we must pack up and move to Hawaii or California immediately, doctor’s orders. I consider asking her to write me a prescription with those very words.
Deficient Vitamin D levels are common in Northern states, my doctor tells me, even before my test results come back. She wouldn’t be surprised to see that at all. So she sort of jinxed me.
But low Vitamin D levels are seen even in parts of the country with high sun exposure. Check out the amazing website from Dr. Michael Greger, nutritionfacts.org for some succinct info on Vitamin D supplementation, starting with this video.
Vitamin B12 and folate
Though I am within the acceptable range of 211-946, it’s certainly something I may consider supplementing in the near future. At 221, I’m good but teetering on the edge. Still, as long as I don’t lose any more and test the same in another year, all is good.
Many vegans supplement with Vitamin B12, though deficiency in these levels isn’t just common for those of us that eschew animal products. Those eating the standard american diet are often diagnosed with low levels of B12. Vitamin B12 isn’t made by plants or animals, but by microbes. It can be difficult to obtain from food sources.
I’m considering supplementing with cobalamin, which I’ve researched and can be found online for as little as $2 per year. This info is also on Dr. Greger’s site where I watched this video about Vitamin B12 supplementation. Can you tell I kind of trust his site? Let me tell you, it’s such a relief to find one place to look up all my questions about nutrition. Plus, he’s a great guy.
My iron levels are 338, right near the middle of the recommended range of 250-450. Good news. I’m often asked about iron on a vegan diet and of course, I’ve heard my fair share of stories about people failing on a vegan diet because they became anemic. Then, of course, their doctor recommended eating meat. Or at least it goes something like that. Or maybe they just wanted to eat meat. Not sure which is more accurate. Since I’ve never had my levels tested, it’s nice to know they are within the acceptable range.
I volunteered a few years back to donate blood, but I was turned away because I lacked a sufficient amount of hemoglobin in my blood. Well, they told me that but they also mentioned I didn’t have enough blood to spare. Whatever that means. I was thoroughly confused and also a little irritated that my blood wasn’t good enough to donate. What? Well I’m over that now, but at least my hemoglobin levels are good now. Maybe I’ll give that blood donation another try.
For those (certainly not you) that believe calcium is only obtained by dairy products, my calcium levels are perfectly good eating fresh fruits and raw vegetables. No animal secretions needed! Or wanted, for that matter. Did you know oranges, of which I eat a huge amount, contain 60 mg of calcium? Kale, almonds, and my favorite, arugula, also pack a ton of calcium. The best part? No artery-clogging cholesterol and cruelty-free.
Protein, oh yes, the protein.
Protein levels are all good and within the recommended range. I take in anywhere from 30-50 grams of protein per day eating an all raw diet of fresh fruit and leafy greens. My protein comes from the greens, tomatoes and oranges I consume every day. I don’t supplement with protein powders. I think those are a gigantic waste of money. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables provides plenty of protein. If you truly believe you need to supplement with powders, ask yourself why? Where are you getting your information? What amount of protein do you believe you need? I find most people have a hard time answering those questions. All they know is they need more. More protein.
A good test is to use cronometer or another website to track your food intake for a few days and find out exactly how much protein you’re getting. You can then determine if additional is needed or not. My guess is that you don’t need additional protein. I use the .4 to .5 g per lb of body weight that is also recommended by recent studies found here.
I recently joined a gym here to take some boot camp classes. The trainer and I were discussing diet and she remarked that they (I’m assuming that’s the gym) recommend 1g of protein per lb of body weight a day. What? I was floored. That’s an incredibly crazy amount of protein to be consuming. I would have to somehow choke down at least 3-4 protein shakes a day in addition to my normal meals in order to get to 125g per day.
The question is, what would that extra 75-85g of protein give me? Excess calories? A toilet bowl full of protein? Less money? No thanks. This is a great reminder to question everything and do your own research before accepting something as true, especially when it comes to nutrition.
Lipids and thyroid
All good here, as expected. Cholesterol and lipids are good, along with my thyroid results. I would like to see my cholesterol below 150, but I’m not sure how that happens. Since I haven’t had cholesterol other than the tiny amount in plants for at least 7 years, I would think it would be lower.
Thyroid level I’m happy about, as I’ve had several friends experience thyroid issues of late. Several have had surgery to remove part or all of their thyroid gland. Then they must also be on some sort of medication for the rest of their lives. That doesn’t sound like fun to me.
I’m happy with my results, and glad to have gone through the process of getting tested. I recommend everyone get one. Particularly if you’re starting a vegan or raw vegan diet. Or just because you’re curious. It’s interesting to see the information, and it can be motivating to improve. I’m looking to increase my Vitamin D and B12 over the next year or so before I have another test.
Information is power and your health is a priority. Treat it as such and get your blood tested. Leave comments below on your results and any questions you have.