Tough Decision: A Vegan On Pills Or An Omnivore With Balanced Nutrition

by TaylorR

On Wednesday evening I received a call from my doctor’s office telling me the results of blood work I had done two days prior.

As I had suspected, the test revealed that I am anemic. Aka, I have low iron… not much of a surprise really, since I am vegan and iron is mostly absorbed from meat. I had a feeling I was suffering from low iron, but still wanted to know for sure.

What made me suspect low iron? 

For about 6 months now, I’ve been feeling low on energy, weak, tired, foggy at times, suffering from headaches, and to be honest just not “in the zone”. There have been numerous times when Dan has called me out on being flighty and spaced out. Though, these times aren’t frequent they have happened enough times for me to raise a cautious eyebrow and ask… “what’s going in?”

From the chart above, I have experienced:

  • Reduced exercise tolerance
  • Cardiorespiratory disturbances
  • Headaches
  • Pruritus (apparently is fancy lingo for itchy skin)
  • Impaired immune system
  • Impaired concentration/cognition
  • Lethargy
  • Impaired libido (TMI)
  • Fatigue
  • Intolerance to cold (but that could be because I HATE cold)
  • Pallor (fancy for being pale in color)

The tired and weak symptoms are the two most prevalent, and as a trainer who needs to be high on energy and up on her workouts, these just won’t do.

So at my annual doctors appointment on Monday I mentioned all of this to my doc, who then agreed I should get tested.

So that’s where I am and here lies the decision I am trying to make.

I promptly started taking an iron supplement on Friday to start getting my levels up. I’m fine with that… what I am not fine with is the idea of having to take a supplement long term.

For quite sometime I have preached the importance of getting all of the body’s necessary nutrients from a whole food diet.  I hate taking pills of any kind, yes, even iron pills. Heck, I don’t even like taking Advil!

Also, at the request of my doctor I started taking vitamin B12 pills as she believes I am likely low on it as well due to my lack of animal products. I was taking B12 a few months ago (at the request of my husband), but once the jar ran out, I stopped. Well, now I’ve got a big ole’ bottle in my medicine basket.

Is veganism worth it? 

veganlife

I love eating vegan. I love the way I have developed a healthy relationship with food, I love the way that my body feels after a hearty plant based meal and more importantly, I feel good about myself eating this way.

After taking the jump to eating plants full time, I began learning more and more about our current meat industry and while I don’t judge anyone for eating meat at all (Dan eats it every day… I’m the one that cooks it for him), I simply hate not being 100% sure as to where the meat is coming from, how it’s being packaged, how the animals were fed prior to slaughter, etc.

If I could have a small farm in my back yard with chickens, cows, etc… then I would have no problem going back to a meat eating diet. I would know exactly what I was eating and how it was prepared.

But, like most, I don’t have that luxury.

I also know that food is fuel, to the body, that’s it. Of course to us as humans, food is a lot more than just fuel, it’s togetherness, it’s memories, it’s comfort, etc… but at the basic level, it’s nothing more than gasoline to keep going mile after mile. And if your body runs of standard fuel, yet you give it diesel, it’s not going to go very far… right?

So, I’m at a standstill right now.

The 2 Choices I Have

Do I continue to follow a vegan diet while simultaneously taking supplemental pills to help balance out my nutrition, knowing that I am having to give my body fake sources of nutrients that I could be getting naturally from an omnivore diet?

Source

Now I know what you’re thinking… Taylor, there are plenty of vegetables that are high in iron. And you would be correct, however heme iron is the iron that is best absorbed by the body which is found in animal products. Trust me when I say that 90% of the foods listed below are a standard part of my diet now. So clearly my body is unable to gather the iron up as much as it needs.

Source

OR

Do I accept that fact that some people just need meat to be healthy? As an athlete I want to be the strongest that I can be. For myself, for my clients, for my family… I want to set an example. I want to be healthy and I want others to say, “she’s an inspiration.”

And of course I want my body to be healthy, as it deserves only the best. Our bodies deserve to be spoiled, and proper fueling and exercise are the ways I do that.

Is that possible to be all those things knowing that I am choosing to not give my body the fuels that it requires?

I don’t know.

But I do know that I will be taking some time to reflect on the past 2 years since I’ve given up meat. I do know that I need to make a choice.

What else am I worried about? 

I don’t want to use this as an easy out… Yes, I am scared that perhaps you will judge me if I do walk away from a vegan diet. No one wants to be a disappointment or a failure… for me, failing is one of my biggest fears in life (perhaps a confession and a story for another day).

I would love your opinions, good and bad. What do you think? 

 

  • http://www.theworkoutmama.com Tamara @ The Workout Mama

    No judgement here. I was in the same dilemma a few years back. I went back to eating (grass-fed) meat and have not been happier. Before I became pregnant with my son I realized how deprived my body actually had become, I was feeling the same way you are now. I know everyones body respond differently to food but meat is my friend and I feel so much better eating it, my workout performance has improved, and I am happier. Don’t worry about what others will think, I know it is hard especially when you put yourself out there with your blog, but it is your body and you know how you feel right now. Can’t wait to hear what you decide to do. Happy Sunday and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Thank you so much Tamara. I love knowing that others have been right where I am. It helps in so many ways!

  • http://jillconyers.com/ Jill @ Fitness, Health and Happiness

    Giving up a vegan diet and adding fish to my menus was, surprisingly, such a challenging decision for me. Failure being at the top! And being judged a close second. I’m having follow up blood work in a few weeks and hopefully I will find out that my decision was what is best for me.

    Maybe you’re right. Maybe some people need meat in their diet.

    If you’re interested you can read about my decision here. I didn’t go into the medical reasons but you’ll get the idea. http://jillconyers.com/2013/11/michelle-bridges-12-week-body-transformation/

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Thanks so much Jill, I’ll check it out now!

  • Liz

    I am sure you already have, but look into what other vegan athletes do to make sure they are combining their foods in a way that increases absorption. Rich Roll, Patrik Baboumian, Jim Morris, Catra Corbett, and Fiona Oakes to name a few. Eat to Live is a good book to check out as well – if you haven’t already.

    Don’t you supplement with Vega? Shouldn’t Vega, or Vega Sport, contain good amounts of iron?

    Either way, this is your journey and you get to decide what makes you comfortable. You won’t let anyone down for making an informed, well-thought out choice! More power to you!

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Thanks Liz, yes that’s what I am currently doing now… looking up all the pros. If they’re able to get it figured out, should be easy for me, right!? Thanks!

  • http://mybeautifulrescue103.wordpress.com/ Jen

    I was in the same boat a few months ago. After watched Vegucated and doing some research on the meat industry, I decided to go on a vegan diet. I ate vegan for a few months, but ended up with really low energy, weight loss, and I could barely workout because I was so tired. After starting a sugar detox to get rid of candida, I had to incorporate meat back into my diet. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt, especially in my energy levels. I just don’t think my body functioned well without eating animal protein. Now, I make sure to get only organic, grass-fed meat and that I know where they come from.
    I know the decision is tough, but just some encouragement to do what you think is best for you body. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for what you decide. Good luck!

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Thanks so much Jen!

  • http://twitter.com/ColaMomOnTheRun ColaMomOnTheRun

    Taylor–I’m an RD who specializes in vegan nutrition. You may want to consult with an RD to get someone to look over what you’re eating. You have to supplement vitamin B12 on a vegan diet–so make sure you keep doing that. We used to be able to get B12 from the soil (bacteria) but I generally don’t recommend people eat dirty vegetables to get their B12. :) There are also tricks to increasing iron absorption–like making sure you eating iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C to enhance absorption. I see lots of people who are anemic and eat lots of red meat. I tell pretty much everyone I know, no matter what diet they eat, to take a multivitamin–covers zinc and iron which can be low sometimes in vegan diets. Let me know if you have any questions. I can send you some of the research we’ve published too on changes in nutrient intake when people go vegan (we tend to see iron intake go up–albeit it is all in the non-heme form).

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Wow thanks! I would love to see some research (I love research) and thanks for your tips! You’re right, people that eat meat can have the same issues. I’ll have to dig deeper. I might contact you on the idea of being a guest for What The Fitness? If you’re interested?

      • http://twitter.com/ColaMomOnTheRun ColaMomOnTheRun

        Sure–just let me know how I can help!

  • http://www.tiffskinnyjeans.blogspot.com Tiffany

    I think that you will find the path that works for you. Nothing else matters. It’s about being healthy and that looks different for everyone. Good luck finding your answer. (If you’re interested in my opinion I would rather see you eat QUALITY meat over taking supps, but that’s one persons opinion).

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Thanks Tiffany! You’re right, the only thing that matters is what works for me.

  • Paige Callahan

    I have learned a lot about iron, hemoglobin, and Ferratin in the last year due to a IBD that severely dropped my iron levels I am down to a 25 for iron and a 3 for Ferratin and have been given medicinal permission for iron IVs which should start this week. I am also a collegiate runner which is why it has been such a problem; my endurance was shot once I was diagnosed with ulceritive colitis. But from past experience it is possible to be a great athlete without meat. I haven’t eaten meat in 3 years and have excelled in the short very fast. I started distance running the same year I gave up meat and it was not a problem until the IBD which I have no control over. At school we had sports nutritionists talk to us about vegetarian athletes having twice the stamina of meat eating athletes and it definitely can be done as long as you do it right. Iron is also lost through the foot struck that occurs during running so if you’ve significantly increased your milage that could be a factor as well. Since being diagnosed I have had to take iron pills as well, I found the slow release is best absorbed, but don’t want to rely on it long term (I’ve been taking it for 8 months) but that might not be an option for me with other problems. There are a few tricks though, eating a source of vitamin c with iron rich foods and NOT having dairy/calcium or caffeine with then because they stop the absorption. Also it can be best to take the supplements without much food maybe just a glass of orange juice or something else vitamin c rich.

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Wow Paige, thanks for your insight! Sounds like you have quite the experience. Sorry to hear about your current health issues, I hope you see improvements with the IV! I really appreciate your response and I did not know you lose iron through the foot! SO interesting.

      • http://suzlyfe.wordpress.com Susie

        Paige, so glad that you made these comments-I also have an IBD (I hope you have improved and are doing well, BTW), am prone to anemia, and am a distance runner. Your comment to combine iron rich foods with vitamin c and to separate those meals/their consumption from calcium is excellent and spot on. It will absolutely increase absorption and will also ease stomach discomfort when taking iron pills.
        Ferrous fumerate (found in ferro-sequels and a supplement called proferrin, which is heme iron and folic acid) is the most easily and fluidly absorbed iron, another thought to keep in mind. Some people literally just don’t absorb iron that well (I am one of them), and no amount of meat will help you increase those levels. Trust me, if you aren’t absorbing properly, all the spinach, kale, etc in the world won’t be able to help you.
        I am always on proferrin, and I add in ferro-sequels on my menses (it is more potent and a shorter term use drug, though it won’t harm you if you have to use it for a whil)e. It has made a huge difference, but will make you a little… Plugged up? So I would recommend a stool softener while on it.
        If you can be comfortable taking the supplement, try them out for a month and see what happens, or try an omnivore diet for a month and get retested, then do the same on a vegan diet with the pills. Your body will tell you what it needs if you listen. You will figure it out! Good luck!

        • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

          Thank you so much!

  • http://www.TheTinyTerror.com Amy Lauren

    I am also anemic and have battled extensively with it for years. We probably need to talk aside from a blog post comment (hooray for living in the same city so we actually can), but you have to do your research and you can’t just listen to doctors.

    I’m not saying don’t listen to your doctor- but you have to go above and beyond what the doc says. The “normal” test results for these things don’t apply to us- they apply to “normal” people who are eating Standard American Diets and exercising maybe an hour a week- not someone running half marathons or doing track workouts or lifting weights. We probably exercise more than 90% of the population. So, even though I was in the “normal” range at times, I still wasn’t healthy enough for someone with my activity level!

    From 3.5 years experience, liquid iron works great and so does the Garden of Life brand (that’s what I’m taking now, and I can see a difference). Garden of Life pills are actually vegan, raw, etc.

    If you walk away from being vegan, it doesn’t bother me or change my opinion of you- and for those who really matter, it shouldn’t!! No one should look down on you for doing what you feel is best for your health. It’s not like you’re heading down a complete 180 path like taking up smoking; it’s just possibly eating meat sometimes.

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      I remember you mentioning liquid iron! I need to try and hunt that down. I’ll get the info from you on Tuesday! I’ll check out the Garden of Life too.

  • http://danielleleroux.com/ Danielle @ LabelsAreForTinCans

    I was vegetarian and largely vegan for about 2 years. I ran into problems – low iron, low vitamin D, low B12, and eventually serious hormonal and digestive issues. I am glad I did go to vegetarian in the sense that I began eating much healthier and ate way more veggies and fruit than ever before. Like you mention knowing the quality and source of my meat was and is very important to me. However, I would never go back to being vegetarian/vegan. Since I started eating meat almost a year ago I feel a million times better. I am not on any supplements right now (compared to many many before). I think you just have to find what works for you and what you will feel most comfortable with doing.

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Thanks Danielle!

  • http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/ Aqiyl Aniys @ Plant Based Diet

    Hi Taylor,

    To start of I want you to know I am a fellow vegan and truly believe we can all live healthy lives on a vegan diet. I have been vegan for two years and I don’t take supplements except for B12 and occasionally vitamin D in the winter. My energy level is incredible and I am way more active at 46 than I was at 25, and I was an amateur boxer when I was 25.

    The key is food combining and you need to have adequate amounts of vitamin C in your meals to help absorb the non heme iron of the veggies.

    I would like if you could share and break down what and how much you normally eat and drink for your meals throughout a regular day.

    Peace and blessings be with you,

    • Vini Run

      Very interesting and energizing Aqiyl! so one question for you: can you give us one typical day or meal that you would have to see the food combinations you are talking about? Thanks!

      • http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/ Aqiyl Aniys @ Plant Based Diet

        I replied below Vini.

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      I think the vitamin c might be what I am lacking. My normal day goes:
      Breakfast: oatmeal with cinnamon and nut butter or vegan/gluten free pancake
      Lunch: some sort of salad topped with raw veggies, almonds, and hummus.
      Snack: protein shake with Vega or Sunwarrior; berries, nut butter
      Dinner: whatever is planned. normally consists of veggies like kale, okra, green beans, sweet potatoes with things like mung bean fetuccini, chick peas (falafel), vegan pizza (homemade), etc.
      Water is definitely something I need more of!

      • http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/ Aqiyl Aniys @ Plant Based Diet

        I see the issue Taylor, you need to start blending veggie juices. It is like taking supplements. You are not getting enough veggies into your diet. Start blending veggie juices. I will give you and Vini an outline of how I eat but I need to drop some links to outline this:
        Early morning: I make my “Bam Bam” juice: http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/bam-bam-veggie-drink-recipe-green-vegetable-drink/ . The recipe makes enough for my to drink 2 16oz glasses in the early morning, and I take a 28 oz of juice in a Blender bottle with me to work.
        I also make this fruit juice in the morning and take it with me to work: http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/banana-date-energy-drink-vegan-recipe/ . The recipe makes 2 28oz Blender bottle full of juice.
        So at 9am I start drinking the 28 oz of Bam Bam juice and it lasts me till around 11am.
        I also bring fruits with me mostly bananas. I will have around 4 bananas to snack on throughout the day. I have the 4 bananas and maybe an orange, plus I have to two “fruit juices.” One fruit juice is specifically for my lunch, around 1pm. The other bottle of juice is used to snack on before and after lunch. I would also drink some water or have some tea. This lasts me through the working day.
        For dinner I will have a glass of water and a meal like this: http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/vegetable-stuffed-quinoa-with-steamed-zucchini/ and drink some more water.
        Everything I eat takes into account it overall nutrient value, especially the Bam Bam juice. It is a good mixture of vitamin, minerals, and phytonutirents , and fatty acids. I usually don’t mix fruits and veggies together, except for apples. Apples are basically neutral on their affect on the digestive system so when they are digested with veggies they don’t cause the digestive system a problem. The main reason for blending the apple with the veggie juice is to get the vitamin C to help the body absorb the non heme iron of the veggies, plus it helps to sweeten the veggie juice.
        I modify my diet for time to time and right now I am eating the way I just explained which is a high carb diet, but the carbs are coming mostly from fruits which give the body quick energy.
        I was eating more fats from nuts, and I was eating a lot of almond and half the fruits I am eating now. I was definitely fine doing this also but I like to experiment and see how eating differently affects my body. Right not I like the high (natural fruit carbs) better. I minimize my complex carbs and some complex carbs I don’t eat: http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/what-are-good-carbs/

        • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

          Thanks for the details! I’ll check out everything! I def. think I am getting enough veggies, but perhaps I need to check out for sure! I don’t eat bananas right now due to some skin issues I am clearing up but I def can add oranges back in!

          Thanks so much! Now to get looking into juicing! :)

          • http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/ Aqiyl Aniys @ Plant Based Diet

            Taylor I suggest blening instead of juicing. Juicing removes the needed fiber and some nutrients, while blending keeps everything, allows you to get more veggies and fruits into your diet, and make it easy for your body to absorb the nutrients.

        • Vini Run

          Wow that is great, thanks a bunch Aqiyl! I love your website also and the name of your drink “bam bam” very much what you hope to for it ;)
          Yes, I do actually exactly what you do for your days except less bananas! I did checked a lot around and yes I do start my breakfast with my bam-bam rainbow smoothie (thanks to my blender!) with my regular oatmeal topped with chia seeds + almonds + raisins or apricots or other dried fruits!
          Lunch a big salad, very colorful, veggies, whole grains, with nuts and apple vinegar and avocado or other health fats – extra virgin olive oil or just nuts
          Dinner as you steamed veggies or salad or soup plus Greek yogurt and cinnamon and an apple – my addiction!

          Thanks so much both of you, I will check out more info on your websites, that is very exciting :)

          • http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/ Aqiyl Aniys

            I love the way you are eating Vini. Keep it up!

        • Vini Run

          Wow that is great, thanks a bunch Aqiyl! I love your website also and the name of your drink “bam bam” very much what you hope to for it ;)
          Yes, I do actually exactly what you do for your days except less bananas! I did checked a lot around and yes I do start my breakfast with my rainbow smoothie (thanks to my blender!) with my regular oatmeal topped with chia seeds + almonds + raisins or apricots or other dried fruits!
          Lunch a big salad, very colorful, veggies, whole grains, with nuts and apple vinegar and avocado or other health fats – extra virgin olive oil or just nuts
          Dinner as you steamed veggies or salad or soup plus Greek yogurt and cinnamon and an apple – my addiction!

          Thanks so much both of you, I will check out more info on your websites, that is very exciting :)

      • http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/ Aqiyl Aniys @ Plant Based Diet

        Hi Taylor,

        I was thinking about this convo and the vitamin C. As yo can see I add apples to my veggie juice to combine the vitamin C from the apple with the veggies in the juice. I eat more fruits and veggies by blending. Also you should eat more fruits to get vitamin C from them. Fruits and veggies should be the core of your diet. Peace and Blessings be with you.

  • Vini Run

    Thanks for this post. It is very useful as I just started to change my diet after reading many publications about food fighting cancer, or food and nutrition and active people as I am, saying that I get rid of all meat, diary, even though I was never a big fan of it. I read as well about what could change thinking about which nutrients I could miss: vitamin B12 – ok in yeast and yoghurt, iron well from the studies it was not something that would lack… with lentils and beans and all green leafy vegetables, broccoli, etc.

    Saying that, I do consider a lot your post! So now, one question: which kind of meat would you more consider to eat to get sufficient iron? Thanks!

    • Vini Run

      Oh by the way, I am not vegan I do eat salmon and it does not bother me to eat meat but in my regular diet, I will not easily buy meat unless it is grass-fed, organic.

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      I am considering eating high quality, lean meats like bison, chicken, and venison (I have a friend who hunts).

  • http://clearlyseen.net Sarah P

    My husband and I are largely plant based in our diet. We do eat farm raised eggs daily from a local gal who feeds her free range chickens on organic scratch and grain. Good organic eggs are typically much easier and CHEAPER to come by than large animal meats and have so much to offer nutritionally. Also, I’m a big believer in supplements because no matter how organically our vegetables are raised, our soils are just too depleted from decades of irresponsible farming to provide our bodies balanced nutrition. A quality complex mineral supplement is at the top of my to-take list along with an EFA supplement and vitamin C. I highly recommend the Beyond Tangy Tangerine 2.0 supplement from Youngevity. Every ingredient is certified organic and GMO free and it’s in a powdered form you simply add to water so it’s ultra easy to take AND absorb! Youngevity is actually a multi-level type company but I just buy the products via eBay so I don’t have to get involved with a middle man. Works out great. Hope that helps!!!

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Thanks Sarah! That does help, I’ll check it out!

  • http://www.itzyskitchen.com Erica

    Honestly, I feel 100% better eating some meat. Just being honest. While I love love a vegetarian diet, I definitely did not have the energy that I have now that I eat meat (and I don’t eat a TON). I think you should do whatever you feel is best. I don’t think you should be worried one bit what anyone wills ay do or think if you stop being vegan. Lifes too short :)

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Life is far too short to worry about others, that’s for sure! Thanks lady!

  • http://www.cottercrunch.com Lindsay

    You gotta do what FEELS right to you. I know a lot of supplements that are vegan that would help. Floradix is one. But, I also believe that food is fuel. I eat meat because my body does well with it. I think you should do a trial of both and see what works best. Maybe a few weeks of each. No judging either! Email me if you need any nutrition info!! Always here to help

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      I know you’re so right. I’ll check out the Floradix! Thanks for your support and help as always!

  • Megan

    Did you know that you lose iron through sweat??!

    I’m in a very similar position to you at the moment. I am vegetarian and anemic. However, I’ve been vegetarian for 20 years and have not had this issue before (except when due to a clear medical reason). There is no way that I will go back to eating meat. The idea of eating flesh after so long repulses me.

    I think you should try 6 weeks of supplements to make up the deficit and then a focus on eating more high iron, non meat foods as lentils and fortified cereals (there are plenty that are low sugar). I found it’s very hard to be vegetarian, and reduce your carbs and keep up your iron.

    • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

      Wow, I love learning new things!! I think I agree, I’m leaning towards supplementing for a few weeks to get my iron in a healthy zone and then focusing more on my nutrition. Thanks! Good luck to you.

      • http://www.naturallifeenergy.com/ Aqiyl Aniys

        If you start blending a well balanced veggie juice you won’t need to supplement and you will make up your deficit in no time. Getting a good amount of vitamin C in your diet is very important so the body can efficiently absorb the non heme iron. Amaranth is a nutrient dense seed/grain and it contains vitamin C. It is a good addition to replace oats and rice and it is gluten free.

        • http://www.fitwomensweekly.com TaylorR

          Thanks Aqiyl for all your help! I asked for a juicer for Christmas!

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