The other day a friend characterized her brief stint on a raw vegan diet as “weepy.” It reminded me of my first vegan go-around a few years ago, which I did for all the wrong reasons.
I was casting about for non-fiction personal essay subject matter, and figured undertaking an extreme diet while living in the restaurant Mecca of New York would provide plenty of fodder. I adhered to a list of no’s for three weeks: No Sugar, No Alcohol, No Gluten, and No Animal Products. In retrospect, it’s not so different from a raw vegan diet, but my approach set me up for failure.
Lacking the energy to go anywhere else, the world shrank to the confines of my couch. Exercise was out of the question. I tired at the thought of all the chopping required to prepare the next meal, let alone the idea of walking to the gym. I don’t remember weeping, but I did feel intensely isolated. A good friend accompanied me to a vegan restaurant, and she still shudders at the memory. I’m not sure which was worse: the food or the listless company.
What was missing? The right intentions, yes, but something more concrete, too: vitamin B12. (My friend who reported weeping inconsolably while vegan says she wasn’t taking it, either.)
Our bodies use B12 for cell division and blood formation. Bacteria make B12. We can’t make it on our own. No plant or animal does, although plants can become contaminated by microorganisms that contain it (since we wash our vegetables, we don’t ingest enough of those microorganisms). Animals get their B12 from contaminated food, and for the most part we get ours from consuming animals, which is why vegans should take a daily B12 supplement. We need very little (the recommended does is 2.4 micrograms per day), but deficiency causes anemia and eventually neurological disorders.
There’s no knowing for sure whether B12 would have turned around my fatigue. Some sources say we store years worth of it in our bodies. Anecdotally, though, there are plenty of vegans who will recount similar stories of fatigue before taking B12. I can vouch that my energy has been through the roof since going vegan (while taking B12) three months ago.
Here’s a look at the supplements I take on a daily basis. Except for the B12, all of them are elective. I think of them more as nutritional boosters than must-haves.
To find out which supplements are right for you, read up on them and check with your doctor before adding them to your daily routine.
My Daily Supplements
B12: Look for a vegan, sublingual B12 with added Folic Acid and B6, like this one.
Omega-3s: These essential fatty amino acids control blood clotting and build cell walls in the brain, and our bodies can’t make them. Look for a vegan source in an enteric-coated capsule (they don’t dissolve until they reach your small intestines, which avoids stomach upset).
Probiotics: Our digestive health relies on the right balance of good bacteria in our intestines. If you eat dairy, you’ll find probiotics in yogurt and kefir. I take a probiotic supplement consisting of dormant bacteria every day to keep everything balanced. Look for vegetarian, enteric-coated capsules like Dr. Ohhira’s.
Digestive Enzymes: Taking a daily digestive enzyme supplement helps your body break down food more efficiently and extract more nutrition from it. I take one before every meal (two if I expect to eat cooked or processed food).
Aloe Vera Juice: 1 tbsp a day of this clear, tasteless aloe juice keeps my eczema at bay. Sayonara, topical steroids! Aloe also strengthens your immune system and has antiviral, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
Blue Green Algae: This is a liquid form of microorganisms harvested from water has 500% more chlorophyll than wheat grass. Chlorophyll pulls toxins from your tissues and helps the body flush them out. Benefits include increased energy and immune system support. E-3 Live Liquid Blue Green Algae is generally known as the highest quality source. The algae in E-3 Live is frozen alive and delivered to you that way. I put 2 tablespoons in my morning green juice.
Do you take any supplements? All you vegans out there, have you experienced a difference in energy while taking (or not taking) B12?