Vitamin B12 is essential to everyone’s health. Vegans need to take a B12 supplement, and/or eat enough B12 fortified foods, to get the recommended daily dose of 2.4ųg. It’s not hard, but how mainstream nutritionists do love to bang on about how dangerous a vegan diet is – especially the shills that the big food businesses employ. It lacks naturally occurring sources of vitamin B12, they trumpet, so there’s only one thing for it – chuck it out! And ignore what’s good about every other aspect of a vegan diet, and what it does for us, for the animals, and for the world as a whole.
In recent times, some nutritionists have modified their stance to acknowledge that a “well thought out, well planned, and well balanced” vegan diet might just – at a stretch – be okay. I would say that this recent trend has come about because the USA and the British Dietetic Associations, as two examples, now support a vegan diet that is well thought out … etc, etc. A bit hard for nutritionists to ignore. But don’t all diets need to be that? Why single out a vegan diet? I’m guessing that it’s a bit rogue to endorse a vegan diet, and that’s not where the money is. For now.
That’s not to say that vegans can’t be dumb with their diet, but the extra warnings are misplaced. Vegans are often way ahead of nutritionists in the game, and nutritionists would serve the world better by issuing warnings about the chronic health dangers of eating meat and dairy instead.
In the early days of veganism, it wasn’t well known that supplementing with vitamin B12 was necessary. But we learn things about food and nutrition all the time. For example, it took a while before the consumption of sugar was associated to tooth decay (as well as an instrumental factor in some other health issues), but there has only ever been a small backlash against it. Instead, fluoride was added to toothpaste, and also to the water supply in many places. The sugar industry is more powerful than mere governments.
The big food businesses, through their financial and political clout, have influenced almost all we publicly know and have learned about food. Their business interests are embedded in the advertising and information that surrounds us everywhere. That information has so successfully permeated our world, that we hardly recognise it as having a major influence on our choices of what we eat. What is considered ‘normal’ food, is just what the big food businesses tell us is normal.
Apart from vegans, that is. And that simply isn’t to be borne! It’s big business’s job to demolish the competition. It’s what they do. They find a weak spot – e.g. vitamin B12 – and use it to camouflage the fact that a vegan diet as a whole is better for – oh, you know – the whole world. Instead, it prefers to erroneously highlight the children whose parents made them sick with a vegan diet – not with their own negligence, of course – and blow that one up with global headlines. An article in the NZ Herald in 2017, claimed that admissions to Starship Children’s Hospital for malnutrition had doubled since 2007. An awful statistic, but not really the stuff of global headlines, it would seem, because they weren’t predominantly vegans (?).
We really still don’t know enough about vitamin B12. Non-vegans are also at risk of B12 deficiencies, especially as they age. Modern diets may be responsible in part for this, as animals raised on pasture can need supplements to ensure they manufacture B12. Likewise, a modern vegan diet may be responsible for the lack of B12 in it. Think of wild herbivores – they don’t seem to be falling over in droves from a lack of B12. The NZ Listener (March 30 – April 5) has an interesting article in it about our gut microbiome, which is something else we are learning about all the time. It suggested that a variety of thirty different types of plant foods over the course of a week, including herbs and spices, improves our gut microbiome. Perhaps our much smaller diversity of food in a modern diet may be instrumental in our compromised ability to make B12 in our gut? Just speculating here.
Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria and micro-organisms. Some of these bacteria are found in soil around the grass that ruminants eat, which they ingest along with the grass, and enables them to continue producing B12 in their gut. Humans then consume these animals, or their by-products, and the B12 is consumed along with it. Vegans prefer their B12 to be grown in a more humane way. It’s not all that easy to find out exactly how vitamin B12 is made commercially, but it is still made by bacteria, just not in a living, breathing, sentient host. It is wrong, though, to imply that it’s superior to get B12 from an animal than from a commercial preparation. Both have to go through a manufacturing process before it is available for ingestion by humans, but just by different methods.
I don’t know much about ruminants – e.g. cows and sheep – who are kept confined their whole lives. I do wonder, though, how many supplements they need to be fed to maintain adequate amounts of trace elements, such as vitamin B12. For wild herbivores of any sort, who have access to a wide variety of plant foods – and don’t sanitise them before they eat – supplementation isn’t necessary. Sanitisation is not a bogey, though – it is one of the greatest health discoveries of all time. Like many things, however, it has it’s down-side, in that we lose the bacteria and traces of bugs that might supply us with B12. However, the up-side to having clean food and drinking water can’t be denied.
In spite of all the negativity about veganism over the decades, much of which was fuelled behind the scenes by the big food businesses, it is thriving and growing. What big businesses didn’t get, is that veganism is a life-philosophy, not just a diet. Many packaged foods, both slightly processed and highly processed, now have vitamin B12 added to them, which actually benefits both vegans and non-vegans. Soon, we may be able to get a considerable amount of our daily B12 requirement from commonly consumed food. After all, food businesses are here to make money, and veganism is the ‘new’ money.
Veganism is a powerful belief. It’s still not easy to be a vegan in the world, but we’re on the right side of history – or should I say herstory, seeing as about 70% of vegans are women 😊
About vitamin B12 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_B12
Child malnutrition 2007 – https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11923626
Child malnutrition 2017 – https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10423413
Supplementation in cows – https://www.dairynz.co.nz/animal/cow-health/trace-elements