One of the major debates with regard to the viability of a high raw vegan diet revolves around the lack Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria; since the responsible ‘parties’ live in the digestive tracts of livestock, it is present in the muscle meats of these animals and consequently passed on to meat eaters. But the fact is that plants have vitamin B12 too – or shall I say, organic plants and wild plants do.
It’s All About the Soil…
Many take it for granted that simply eating raw fruits and vegetables constitutes a healthy diet and it certainly might present a better option than the alternative. But fruits and vegetables by themselves are not necessarily laden with vitamins; they are wholly dependent on the soil or medium in which they grow and from which their roots absorb the vitamins and minerals that make up their nutritional content. Most vitamins are made by bacteria within the soil food chain that includes organic material, fungi, mites,, worms etc. It is a delicate symbiotic relationship between all these players that ensures soil health and, ultimately, the health and nutrient availability of the plants we eat.
There is an enormous difference between the soils of the 1940’s and now. 1942 marked the year that chemical manufacturers started introducing leftover World War II chemical weapons as pesticides and fertilizers; the ensuing and continued use of these toxic chemical compounds resulted in sterilization of the beneficial bacteria in our agricultural soils. Sure, they killed the pests but they killed all the good guys too! Nature was thrown completely out of sync. That’s why we are not finding Vitamin B12 in industrial grown produce. And since Vitamin B12 was only discovered in the 1950s, the powers that be were virtually clueless as to the damage that was being done and its ultimate effect on the collective health of the population.
Organic is Key to maximizing nutrient density
Eating organic has, in the scheme of things, only recently become a trend, stemming largely from the revolt against GMOs; all of a sudden it was brought to light that, even the foods we thought were good for us, were potentially dangerous and that the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers was detrimental to our environment. The larger percentage of agricultural soil in the United States contains only about 2% of organic matter, which, in a nutshell, is anything that rots. This soil would technically be considered ‘dead’. Unless organic matter is consistently re-introduced into the soil via compost, there is a great deal more missing in terms of nutrients than just Vitamin B12. Therefore it is key to maximizing the health benefits of a raw vegan diet to buy your produce from local farmers markets or organic growers that use compost to amend and strengthen their soils. As a vegan, you may also wish to verify that the compost used does not contain animal products.
In the course of her research, prominent raw foodist, Viktoria Boutenko,, discovered that those raw foodists who did not wash their organic produce prior to eating it, did not suffer from deficiencies in Vitamin B12, whereas those who vigilantly cleaned their fruits and vegetables did. An odd little observation . But it serves to confirm the idea that there is vitamin B12 in soil but because we have become hyper-paranoid – with rightful cause given the situations under which much produce is grown – about thoroughly washing our produce, we are actually washing off the good stuff that is attached to it. If you can buy your produce from a known source then you can be a little more relaxed about ‘disinfecting’ your vegetables and perhaps, in turn, receive more of their benefits.
When in Doubt, Cheat a Little
Naturally, the best way to know your food, is to grow it yourself. Even in cities we are moving more consciously in that direction. Across the board, organically grown produce is higher in vitamins and minerals than conventionally farmed produce .However, even though it is always preferable to get the majority of your nutrients from fresh, whole food, if you are concerned about getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals in your diet, it’s not against the rules to take a supplement: Nano B 12 is, hands down, one of the best Vitamin B 12 supplements around. Spirulina and seaweed can also be taken as both contain Vitamin B12 analogues; up to three tablespoons a day is an excellent dietary supplement. Spirulina is great in a morning smoothie.
One thing is certain: many studies have been done to support the case that Vitamin B 12 is deficient in most raw and vegan diets. But don’t feel bad because, in reality, the real problem is, not as much dependent on availability, as it is on the fact that many people – especially meat eaters – have a problem with B 12 absorption. Leaky gut is one of the more prevalent health issues today that prevents Vitamin B 12 absorption; it’s ironic that leaky gut, itself, is attributed to eating foods that are processed or chemically ’treated’, antibiotics, alcohol and chronic inflammation that basically cause damage to the intestinal lining, allowing ‘waste; to leak out into the bloodstream.. This is not something that affects a lot of vegans. Veganism is the ultimate anti-inflammation diet! But the bottom line is, you do not want to be deficient in this vitamin: Vitamin B 12 protects the nervous system and overt Vitamin B 12 deficiency can cause serious damage including blindness, deafness and dementia. Because it is also responsible for the health of the digestive system, a lack can cause problems with digestion. In mild cases of Vitamin B 12 deficiency the more common side effects include upset stomach, diarrhea and nausea, a feeling of the body being swollen, headache and joint pain. More serious side effects can include heart issues, muscle pains and cramps, weakness, itching, weight gain, persistent thirst, coughing or wheezing, fatigue, confusion or dizziness and redness, swelling or tenderness of the arms and legs. Sounds like those lists in commercials of the things you might get instead of the thing you actually have when you take certain drugs! Not good. In the elderly Vitamin B 12 deficiency actually elicits suspicions of Allzheimers. If you are older or, on the other side of the spectrum, pregnant or rearing a vegan child, you should know that these groups are at special risk for deficiency. It does not require a great deal of Vitamin B 12 to satisfy the minimum daily requirement: about 2.4 micrograms for anyone over the age of 14.
So, put aside the paranoia and do what needs to be done to insure that you are getting what you need. Don’t let a lack of Vitamin B 12 that stands between you and the ultimate health you are striving for.