Okay has anyone ever seen Blazing Saddles? The 1974 Mel Brooks satirical film all about the wild, wild west? My dad is a huge Mel Brooks fan and so I grew up watching these types of movies. Now the reason I bring up this movie is two-fold. First, if you’ve never seen the movie you should. Second, there is a scene in the movie that I was reminded of by my new lifestyle. The song is entitled “I’m Tired.” It is pretty silly but I thought about that song today because frankly I’m tired with this vegan diet. I have been so strong, and I thought I was doing so well but this last week has been exhausting. I knew that becoming vegan would be a full-time job but I did not realize how all-consuming it was going to be.
I have been fairly good about planning out balanced vegan meals, allocating time for some thoughtful grocery shopping and I have definitely noticed some changes in how I feel. Last week however, I was feeling really low on energy. I wondered if it was my new schedule of waking up an hour earlier than I normally would but I was lethargic through the weekend. I came to the conclusion that I was not getting enough vitamin B12. I have been taking a multivitamin but not religiously but I guess it wasn’t enough. I thought I was eating enough variety in my diet (fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, carbs, grains) but I was just so tired by the end of the day. I have started eating a little bit every couple of hours now because all the food I eat gets me full but doesn’t quite satiate me or keep me full for very long.
Now here is my moment on my soapbox. Vitamin B12 is crucial to healthy body function. This little vitamin is responsible helping build genetic material, turning carbs, fat and protein into energy, building DNA, maintaining protective sheaths that surround nerve fibers and is especially important for cells that reproduce rapidly like red blood cells. Now I know what you are thinking: wow that is crazy and why didn’t I know about vitamin B12 before? I only knew about vitamins C, D, E. I was super surprised about how magical this little vitamin was as well. Now when people eat both dairy and meat products, they usually get all the B12 they need so there is no need to take a supplement. Vitamin B12 along with vitamin D are not typically present in plant-based diets and therefore from what my dietary book says in bold and italics is: “the evidence is perfectly clear that vegans require vitamin B12 (cobalamin) in the form of a supplement or fortified food.” B12 is hardly present in any plant-based foods and therefore it is crucial to supplement the vitamin in a vegan’s diet. Makes sense. B12 derives from one-celled organisms (bacteria and fungi) and can be located almost everywhere: in the ocean, earth, wind and rainwater. The interesting thing is that today all the foods we eat are sterilized and cleaned pretty thoroughly so even traces of B12 are not seen in plant products.
You only need to absorb 2.4 micrograms a day, such a small amount. That’s only one-millionth of a gram but if you don’t get it then you’ll start feeling fatigued, depressed, inability to concentrate, tingling in fingers and toes which could lead to paralysis. The reason you can feel all these ways is because red blood cells begin producing in abnormal shapes and sizes, which don’t carry oxygen very well through the body and this affects the brain, spinal cord and nerve cells. A lack of vitamin B12 is harmful also because homocysteine, a byproduct from the breakdown of the amino acid methionine, and will begin to build up, which can damage the inner lining of your artery walls and be a trigger for heart disease. Now I don’t say this to scare anyone but I honestly didn’t realize how serious this lack of a vitamin was, especially a vitamin I had heard nothing about until now.
So if you haven’t been paying attention over the last two paragraphs, I was just trying to explain the complications in having a restricted diet and things that people with a restricted diet have to know and deal with that others without a restricted diet don’t have to. So you can see, I’m tired. Don’t worry though for those of you that were paying attention. I have picked up some vitamin B supplements and am taking my multivitamin much more regularly. Oh and here’s the clip of the song “I’m Tired” for being such a good sport.