A lot of people I talk to are not aware of the importance of Vitamine B12 for their health. For this reason I decided to write a short introductory blogpost on the topic. Remember, I am not a professional. This information comes from research I have done through the last years. You can find it online, if you take the time to look it up. I always refer to “The Vegan Society” as trustworthy source.
Everybody needs regular, reliable sources of vitamin B12.
Most vegans are aware of this, some don’t waste their thoughts on it. But Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause nasty side effects such as anaemia, nerve damage, heart disease or pregnancy complications – so it’s not worth taking any chances!
Vitamin B12 is crucial to the human body, which needs it to produce new DNA, red blood cells, proteins, hormones and fats. Vitamin B12 is also key to the health of nerves. B12 deficiency is a common problem because it can be affected by factors like age and digestion. Seniors, vegans and pregnant women are especially prone to vitamin B12 deficiency. People may not realize vitamin B12 is missing from their diets because the liver can store a 3-year supply. Most vegans consume enough B12 to avoid anemia and nervous system damage, but many do not get enough to minimize potential risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications.
What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency? Someone with low vitamin B12 may lose their appetite, lose weight or feel tired and weak. Depression, poor memory and trouble thinking are symptoms, as well as numb or tingling feelings in the hands and feet, a loss of balance, a sore mouth or tongue and constipation. Yellowed skin, anemia, paranoia and hallucinations may also indicate a vitamin B12 deficiency. So if you notice any of these symptoms on yourself, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor.
How much do you need? To get the full benefit of a vegan diet, vegans should do one of the following: Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day OR Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms OR Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.Check food nutrition labels and supplement details to see how many micrograms (also written μg or mcg) of vitamin B12 you are receiving.
Where can you get your B12 from? There are many possibilities to meet your needs! Reliable vegan sources of B12 are supplements and foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals). My recommendation for you: Fortified toothpaste. I use the Vitamin B12 toothpaste from Santé. It is an easy way to increase B12 levels. B12 in the toothpaste is absorbed through the mouth mucosa. A study by the Institute for Clinical Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Magdeburg showed a 60% increase of levels after four weeks of use. Brushing twice a day can result in the absorption of the recommended dose of 300 micrograms per day – according to the researchers.
Where to get B12 supplements? Nowadays you can find it in most grocery stores, in pharmacies or speciality shops. An easy way would be to buy it on the internet.
Is B12 vegan? The vitamin B12 component in supplements and fortified foods is made by bacteria and sourced from bacteria cultures. It is not taken from animal products. But be careful, some companies might put gelatin in their B12 supplements, though this appears to be less and less common.
Before I went on the first big trip in my new life as a vegan, I was quite a bit worried, I must confess. I wondered what challenges I´d have to face and if I would have to live on rice and beans for the coming months.
But instead it turned out, that it is not difficult to stick to your diet. Even in the most remote places, where locals have never heard about such thing as veganism and a plant-based diet, you´ll find something to munch on!
Here are my tips for you, based on my own experience as a vegan backpacker. To come right to the point: Preparation is the key.
1. Research your destination.
I found the most useful app on my phone to be HappyCow. Which could actually also be called HappyVegan, for obvious reasons. The app finds you all the lo cal vegan and vegan-friendly places near your destination. Even at the back of beyond – a remote village in the very South of Bolivia that is… Get ready to be pleasantly surprised by the culinary gems that you’ll find.
2. Book a vegan meal on your flight.
This should actually stand first, because booking a flight is what every trip starts with, right? If your flight includes meals, the vegan option will for sure be free of charge, too. Nothing sucks more than to spend a 14 hours flight to Buenos Aires eating salty peanuts and crackers. Be smart. Book vegan.
3. Pack your own food and snacks.
Again. Be prepared. I always carry a clif bar and an apple in my bag. Maybe even a sandwich. Just in case… Your travel destination or mode of transportation (such as your flight) might guarantee vegan food, but still, do yourself a favor by packing snacks. Dried fruit, trail mix, bars, nuts, all work great.
4. Chose your hostel wisely.
I always go for the ones with a kitchen. It is probably the best way to make sure you can stick to your animal friendly diet. That way you also get to cook your favorite dishes. I go for easy comfort food such as oatmeal and pasta, or if I feel like having something lighter, I can chop up a salad any time. Lifesaver.
5. Check other forms of hospitation.
Helpful resources such as “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms” (WWOOF), HelpExchange, Couch Surfing, Facebook groups, AirBnB and others, can help you find vegan-friendly hosts around the world. It’s essential to inform your hosts beforehand that you’re a vegan, as well as ensuring they know what this means and that they’re happy and able to meet your needs. This will save them from going through the trouble of cooking animal-based foods that you won’t eat and may even get them interested in a vegan lifestyle.
7. Don´t be shy.
I often ask staff at restaurants to make changes for me. “Hold the cheese, please.” You know the game. Don’t be shy to do so abroad. There is no reason to not do this when traveling. Be aware that throughout the world the terms vegetarian and vegan aren’t all understood the same way. In Spain you might still be served paella with seafood after having explained your dietary needs on an animal free diet. Because those aren’t “real animals”… In such a case I only have one tip. Stay calm.
8. Learn to communicate the basics.
If you’re going to a country where another language is spoken, learning a few words and phrases can go a long way. It does not only open the arms of the locals, but will make it easier for you to communicate your needs. The word ‘vegan’ is not universally understood, so learn to communicate the actual definition. Trust me, it will make your life a lot easier.
9. Get a vegan passport!
Traveling out of the country? You can try to use Google Translate to explain what a “vegan” is in different languages, or you can just carry around one of these bad boys.
10. Look for Local Farmers Markets.
I am a big fan of farmers’ markets. They are a great place to get the best local ingredients for your vegan meals at a low price. And a big plus: You support the local community.
11. Learn About Local Food.
Another thing you may consider researching before you hit the road is local vegan food for the countries you are planning to visit. You will be surprised that delicious local treats like gallo pinto, bean tamales, and areas are often vegan or can easily be changed to meet your needs. Which brings us back to point 6 and 7.
12. Stock up on cruelty-free essentials.
This might not be for the minimalists. After all carrying around a pound of toiletries is not what most backpackers are looking for. But if your mode of traveling and luggage restrictions allow it, carry all the vegan shampoos, creams and powders you like. Shoutout to the inventor of travel-sized products. If you prefer to travel with a carry on, you might want to check out the Leaping Bunny. The website has a section that lets you search for cruelty free, vegan products in countries all around the world. It couldn’t be easier to ensure the products you buy around the world are vegan.
13. And finally: Be sure about your veganism.
If you are new to this lifestyle or have been living it for years traveling to foreign countries you might find experiences that will test your commitment. It will be challenging sometimes, to find food that is a 100 % vegan and there will be a lot of unknown stuff, that though obviously not vegan, might be attracting you. Remind yourself why you turned vegan in the first place and what you have gained by doing this change. And at last, don’t be too hard on yourself. As my favorite saying goes: Strive for progress, not perfection. With the time you will learn how prepare for traveling and how to avoid tricky situations.
Transitioning to a vegan diet is one of the most beneficial things you’ll ever do for yourself, the animals and the entire planet, but is a book of seven seals for most people. I understand it can be intimidating transitioning to a vegan diet after being an omnivore your entire life – speaking from personal experience. I grew up in East Germany, where regular meals included meat, eggs or dairy at most meals. Only think of the typical German “Brotzeit”: A meal that includes bread, butter, sausages, cheese and eggs. Yes, I know. Sad, but true.
As I progressed into my twenties, the idea behind plant-based eating suddenly began to make sense to me. I had played with the thought of going vegetarian for a time. But growing up in a family of meat eaters and with a slight addiction to cheese and other dairy products, I had dismissed those thoughts again and again. I was a gym rat and could not imagine that a vegan diet would provide me with enough protein.
It must have been the excessive overindulgence during the christmas holiday´s, combined with increasing health problems, that made me undertake an experiment: One month on a plant-based diet.
During that time I learned the most (and least) effective ways to transition to a vegan diet, and I found just how awesome it was on the other side where the grass really is greener in this case! And obviously I did not stop after four weeks. It has been a three year journey so far and I am still learning something new almost every day. Veganism became a lifestyle, not only a diet.
I am sure you think it is going to be the hardest thing to transition from omnivore to herbivore. Don´t worry! I will show you that it is way easier than you expect it to be!
What I’ve written below is what has worked for me, so take this with a grain of salt – everyone’s experience will be different. It is worth repeating that I’m not a nutrition or health professional and my opinions and experiences should not be substituted for medical advice. Always consult your doc before making any diet/lifestyle changes.
So, how do you get started?
1. Educate Yourself
Before you can approach a vegan diet with full confidence and the best chances for success, it’s a great idea to educate yourself on why you’re considering a vegan diet. Learn the benefits behind the lifestyle and how others out there have done it too. Watch movies that show the benefits of a plant-based diet and the reality of what eating animals actually entails. I recommend checking out Forks Over Knives for an eye-opening documentary. Other great movies include Food Inc., Vegucated, Hungry for a Change, and Earthlings to start with.
Along the same lines, it’s good to research the nutritional aspects of a vegan diet. There are many books out there now with this information to help guide you. A balanced, well-planned vegan diet will successfully meet the nutrient requirements of almost anyone at any age. There are many misconceptions about plant-based diets but the truth is, a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds, complex carbohydrates, and a reliable B12 supplement are all a vegan needs to satisfy their nutritional requirements.
2. Take it One Day at a Time
Yes, it’s a cliché, but small changes really add up over time! When you’re learning to transition to a vegan diet, remember not to overwhelm yourself. I have slipped up on my vegan diet just like many of you have. My advice is to focus on all the amazing choices you’ve made to date instead of that time when you slipped up. No matter what kind of diet you eat, every time you chose plants over animals you are making a difference. Just take it day by day and even better, meal by meal. There’s no need to be stressed or intimidated by going vegan. For me, this journey has been easier and easier as the time flies by. The cravings I once had pretty much disappeared. Instead of craving the old foods, I now crave the new foods that I eat. It’s amazing how the taste buds can adapt when you give them a chance.
3. Find Motivation
There is a huge difference between adopting a vegan lifestyle and “going on a diet”. When you know exactly why you want to be vegan you will have far less difficulties to stick to it. This is why it is so important to learn about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle and the effect animal products have on our health, the animals and the environment.
4. Crowd Out, Don’t Cut Out
I always say focus on what you are adding to your diet, such as new foods, recipes, or cooking methods, rather than what you are taking away. If I were to tell you to go to the store and not buy meat, eggs, and dairy, you’d likely just feel defeated and deprived. But if I were to tell you what to buy instead such as quinoa, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas, tomatoes, mushrooms, flax, coconut milk, almonds, and berries, you’d have a much better idea of what to shop for. When you approach a vegan diet, it’s best to crowd out animal products with tons of delicious, filling plant-based foods. Choose nondairy milk, fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes to start and try to avoid vegan replacement meats if you can.
5. Find Recipes for Inspiration
I grew up thinking that if there wasn’t meat at a meal, it wasn’t to be considered a meal. Little did I know just how incredibly tasty and creative vegan food could be! I started looking up vegan recipes on the web and quickly found inspiration and ideas for ingredients. Especially Instagram and Pinterest were a great source of inspiration.
It really all starts with trying just one recipe! My advice is to try a new recipe every week or every few days and pick some quick and easy recipes to begin with so you don’t feel overwhelmed, such as the Green Power Smoothie, my Carrot Cake Oatmeal or the spicy Happy Cow Chili. Trying a vegan version of your favorite meal is also a great way to get started.
6. Go Shopping
A well-stocked pantry is one of the keys to success, especially in the beginning. It is time to buy all the vegan food you can get your hands on! It’s best to stock up on as much produce as possible and purchase healthy grains like quinoa, wild rice, and oats. These make wonderful bases for breakfast dishes or for a filling lunch and dinner. Then consider buying some unsweetened almond milk in place of dairy milk along with some hemp, chia, walnuts, or flax seeds for healthy fats. Legumes like lentils, green peas, chickpeas, and any types of beans you want to try are also great staples to round out your meals as well.
Try to stay away from foods with too much added sugar for optimal blood sugar levels (and overall health). Have fun at the store but remember to read ingredient labels and embrace simple foods as much as possible. Lastly, don’t forget the herbs, spices, and condiments like stevia, tamari, mustard, tahini, and balsamic, or apple cider vinegar. They’ll be key to making your meals taste flavorful, zesty, and decadent!
When I first made the transition I stocked my fridge with mock meat and vegan dairy products. The truth is, I had no idea how to eat a fulfilling, and healthy diet without these substitution foods. I wasn’t wrong for eating them and it made transition easier, but I didn’t feel great eating these products, or better, I didn’t feel as great as I did without them. Eventually, I discovered how to thrive on a vegan diet without relying on them.
7. Focus on the Basics
Remember that eating a vegan diet doesn’t have to be hard. Just start with the basics when it comes to your first meals. As an example, for breakfast you could have oatmeal with some almond milk, cinnamon, and chopped fruit or coconut yogurt or a toast with avocado and tomato. For lunch, I suggest preparing meals ahead. You keep them in the fridge to grab and go. Soups and salads are perfect for long school or work days. Great snack ideas include nuts and fresh fruits and vegetables. Dinner could be a pan of roasted root veggies with seasonings, alongside a batch of rice or quinoa. Remember that sometimes the basic ingredients end up tasting the best!
8. Eat Whole Foods Most of the Time
It’s easy to go vegan and buy processed vegan foods, but that’s not the best way to approach a healthy vegan diet. Instead of buying processed foods, choose whole foods as much as possible and keep your diet balanced by consuming a variety of vegan foods! This will ensure you get the highest amount of nutrition and that you’re more satisfied at your meals.
9. Get Support
Find friends who want to take this journey with you. I didn’t know any vegans until I met many friends online through reading other blogs and going to meet ups. It’s important to have a support system. Join clubs, recipe groups, meet ups, and attend conferences.
10. Pack Food
When I leave the house for long periods of time, I always pack snacks or meals with me. Whether it’s an afternoon out or a few days on the road, I plan ahead and bring food. You can always find a couple energy bars in the bottom of my backpack. Most days I don’t need them, but I feel great knowing I have a healthy snack on me in case the hunger monster strikes.
Going out to eat couldn’t be easier these days. With more and more people going vegan, most restaurants now offer great-tasting, healthy vegan selections. For more comprehensive listings of vegetarian restaurants worldwide, check out these dining guides: Happy Cow, Veg Dining, and VegGuide.
11. Be Prepared
From awkward social situations to unfamiliar ingredients to concerns about protein, iron, and vitamin B12, unexpected pitfalls are responsible for more than their share of “I tried to go vegan for a little while but it didn’t work out.” The thing is, none of this has to be hard. I believe that going vegan and thriving in this lifestyle can be just as easy for most people as it has been for me. But it’s a matter of being intentional! Planning your transitioning gradually will most likely be more successful than just diving in because you’re excited and can’t wait. Sure, that approach might work for a few, like it did for me, but I’ve just seen too many people fail that way to believe it’s best way to change anything.
Should you use supplements?
Eating a balanced and healthy diet including a wide variety of foods, and eating enough calories to support energy requirements should ensure sufficient intake of protein, calcium, and iron. It’s very important to include a reliable source of vitamin B12 in your diet, this can easily be attained by consuming an appropriate mix of fortified foods, vitamin B12, vitamin D2, and kelp supplements, or by taking a good vegan daily multivitamin.
One day I woke up and decided to be vegan; I’m just that type of person. Sorry if that story is a bit boring. I did not think much about it before and didn’t give myself much of a transition time by going vegetarian first. I do nothing halfway.
I thrive on a plant-based diet made up of whole foods that are minimally processed and preferably organically grown. I enjoy eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, healthy fats and unrefined sugars in my diet.
I eat plants because I love my body, the planet, and other living beings.
With the change in diet, I started to read and research. At first I just wanted to make sure, that my nutrient needs were covered. But then I started to find more and more information about the truth behind the cruel food industry. I was the first in my family and circle of friends to completely quit animal products. The internet was my number one resource. With the knowledge I’ve learned about what animal products do to us, the animals and our earth – I choose not to put anything that has caused suffering in my body. I am convinced that humans can certainly thrive without eating animals – as I can testify from my own journey.
A lot of people want to know “what I am” – vegetarian, vegan, raw foodist, high carb vegan. I don´t like to put a label on things, being it a diet or lifestyle or something else. My food philosophy is this: Labels stink. They force a person to define themselves with very rigid terms, and beat themselves up if they suddenly eat something that doesn’t fit that definition. I know I never want to put a label on my diet, but I always encourage you to do what works best for you. If that means ascribing to a certain label, I support your choice!
Healthy eating shouldn’t be complicated.
My diet is different everyday and I am not very strict about rules; as long as I am eating a mostly whole foods vegan diet, it’s all good. But certainly, there are some foods, that I enjoy almost on a daily base: Creamy bowls of sweet porridge topped with an abundance of fresh fruit, huge smoothies with plenty of greens, banana ice-cream in all flavors, colorful salads and giant plates of steamed vegetables and sweet potatoes. I do not restrict calories. I aim to eat high-carb/low-fat because our bodies have evolved to run on glucose.
I avoid refined sugar, which is extremely processed and doesn’t have any nutritional value. I primarily use agave syrup, Medjool dates and stevia. Once in a while if I feel that a recipe needs traditional sugar I will use organic brown sugar.
For cooking I primarily use virgin coconut oil for it´s health benefits. It also has a very high smoke point so it’s great for frying and roasting at high heats. I also use cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil if I don’t want any coconut flavour in the recipe. But since I am a coconut lover, I really don´t mind.
I am fortunate enough to be able to have access to, and afford, fresh fruits and vegetables. I understand that is not to be taken for granted. Food access is a serious barrier for many people. Going vegan might not be a realistic option for all but if it is possible for you to do, I highly recommend it.