A great argument for veganism

yum! But is it B12 fortified?

Now here’s a great reason to become vegan: as the human population explodes, the UN is promoting consumption of insects as an alternative to animals.  I assume vegans won’t choose to eat bugs, although they might accidentally eat insects that contaminate plant foods.  Personally, I’d rather eat nuts and beans than grasshoppers, giant water bugs or ants.  But for cultures where insects are a traditional part of cuisine, bug farming could be a new growth industry.  They don’t need a lot of water, expensive feed or large swaths of land for grazing.  They’re fairly high in protein with moderate fat.

But what kind of fat?  And do they have vitamin B12? A review of 30 years of studies on vegans and vegetarians showed lower blood levels of B12 and lower tissue levels of omega-3 fats.  The study author concluded that veganism could increase risk of heart disease.  Vitamin B12 is only found in animal-sourced foods like meat, fish, dairy and eggs.  The biologically active long chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are also only found in animal foods, such as fatty fish, although the short chain omega-3, alpha linolenic acid, is found in some vegetable oils like canola, flax and other nuts.  Some of this shorter chain omega-3 may be metabolized to the longer versions in the body.

While high intake of animal foods is linked to higher risk for heart disease, this study suggests that avoiding animal foods doesn’t necessarily guarantee lower risk, if these key nutrients are missing.  B12 affects a host of metabolic processes.  Deficiency causes a particular type of anemia, along with neuropathy, digestive disturbance and possibly dementia.  Omega-3 fats have multiple physiological roles.  For most vegans, the only way to get sufficient intake of either would be supplements.  Vegan omega-3 is derived from algae.  Vegan omega-supplements are limited to the DHA form at the moment, since the algae technology only produces DHA, not EPA.

I don’t think this alarmist review is anything for most vegans or vegetarians to worry about.  In addition to supplements, many vegan foods, especially meat-like products, are now being fortified with B12.  Vitamin D is another key nutrient only found in animal foods.  And as with B12, D is now being added to soy “milk” and other similar plant-based products, at levels similar to milk.  Vegans are just as susceptible to vitamin D insufficiency as anyone else, so get checked before supplementing.  And if it turns out that insects are lacking B12 and vitamin D, the insect-eating population of the future may also need supplements.  Vitamin-fortified crickets anyone?

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