Protein and Vitamin B 12 for Vegans

Protein and Vitamin B 12 for Vegans

Institute For Plant Based Nutrition
Monograph Number One

Dear James and Dorothy Oswald:  I am a student in Bethesda, Maryland.  For my  science project this year, I am doing a survey on protein and Vitamin B12 in relation to vegetarian diets.  Since you are involved in vegetarianism, I would appreciate it if you could send me some information on this topic  Thank you. 

 R.. A., Potomac, Maryland.   

November 30, 1997

Dear R. A.:

We are pleased to respond to your letter of November seventh which inquired  regarding “protein and Vitamin B12 in relation to vegetarian diets.”  You are perceptive to note that there is not just one pattern of vegetarian nutrition.  As  vegans and vegan education advocates, we will respond to your questions from a vegan perspective.

As for protein, we vegans obtain it only from plant sources and attempt  to avoid excessive quantities.  It seems that around 12 grams of protein per day can be sufficient. (When we were your age, over 60 grams were typically advocated.  Researchers discovered that too much protein – from any source – stresses the kidneys and is one modern cause of osteoporosis.)  Every vegetable contains protein, legumes, and grains are protein rich and fruits provide small quantities of protein.  Pretty much anything you eat will contain protein, so the issue  is:  how much and what kind of food is appropriate and desirable for the particular person?  These questions should be discussed by every family and each  individual should consult with a physician and nutritionist or dietitian to ascertain proper protein quality and quantity.  Young people such as yourself need adequate protein to encourage and sustain growth.  Athletes, depending on sport and physique, and others who are physically active, likely require more protein than others who are sedentary.  It could be that 24, 36, 48 or 60 and even more grams of protein per day might be required for a young person at a particular time and  situation.  And protein needs surely vary at different stages of life.  So each of us ought to listen to our body, watch our muscular development and seriously  honor the counsel of professionals who advise individuals on nutrition based on scientific studies and extensive experience.  There’s no single or magic number in  terms of daily protein needs which would serve everyone well at all times.  The literature seems clear, however, in suggesting that individuals in our American society are often consuming excessive protein and this is causing some significant negative effects on health.

According to Dr. John A. McDougall, M.D., “Eating  excessive amounts of proteins can seriously damage our health.  When our diet contains more proteins than we need, the excess is broken down in the liver and excreted through the kidneys as urea.  This protein breakdown is called BUN, or blood urea nitrogen.  Urea has a diuretic action, which causes the kidneys to work harder  and excrete more water, and one of the most important minerals lost in this manner is calcium….”  (John A. McDougall, M.D. and Mary A. McDougall. The McDougall Plan.  Piscataway, New Jersey:  New Century Publishers, Inc., 1983, Page  100.)

We hope you will contact the  associations and individual institutes of the National Institute for Health which is concerned with cancer, diabetes, kidney and heart disease, and osteoporosis.  These are listed in the Washington, D.C., and Bethesda telephone directories and will provide brochures and research reports invaluable to your science project study.  Also, you may wish to visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture Library in Beltsville, MD, near your home in Potomac.  Nutritionists on staff  there will provide bibliographies on vegetarianism you’ll find of interest.  From USDA you can obtain extensive documentation relating to plants, human and animal nutrition and the school lunch program.

We are not medical doctors, nurses or dietitians, but educators.  Therefore, we have had a licensed doctor, a nurse, and a nutritionist review this letter to ensure that we have not provided you with any incorrect or misleading information.  Our role is service as intermediaries, to facilitate access by individuals and organizations to plant-based nutrition related concepts, information, and other resources.  This is the function of the Institute  for Plant Based Nutrition;  we are striving to serve as catalysts and connect people with information which already exists but has not yet been secured or realized.  Toward that end, we are enclosing publications of the American Vegan Society, North American Vegetarian Society, Vegetarian Resource Group, Physicians  Committee for Responsible Medicine, the American Dietetic Association, EarthSave,  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Farm Sanctuary, The Vegetarian Society  of DC, and the Institute for Plant Based Nutrition, and there are many other organizations with publications which will be helpful as you pursue the questions relating to protein (and Vitamin B 12) in human nutrition.  Please, whatever else you read, obtain a copy of:  Nutritive Value of Foods, Human Nutrition  Information Service Home, and Garden Bulletin Number 72.  Washington, District of Columbia:  United States Department of Agriculture, 1991 [or most recent  date].  First published in 1960, and regularly updated since then, this is the standard reference for nutritive values of foods.  Not only will this be informative and helpful in your school work and personal dietary planning, it is also easy to read and inexpensive.  Your nearest United States Government Printing Office retail outlet will supply a copy for a few dollars (around $2.75 as we remember).  Or, you can order this publication through the Superintendent of Documents,  USGPO, Washington, District of Columbia 20402.  It’s a valuable resource.

As vegans, we secure more than enough protein from our daily diet of legumes,  grains, vegetables, roots, tubers, fruits, seeds, nuts, and herbs.

To close discussion of protein, for the moment, let us conclude that too much is being consumed by many and this is reflected in their waistlines as well excessive calcium in their kidneys and urine.  The art of proper nutrition is finding the balance between actual needs, perceived wants and individual body tolerances.

You also inquired regarding Vitamin B12.  Presumably, you have looked it up in an encyclopedia and know that this is a compound of the mineral cobalt, cobalamin, a product of microbes and ubiquitous around the world.  Creatures, including humans, intake B12 through  inhaling, licking and eating food which has been exposed to air and the particulate matter it carries.  From air currents and soil, plants pick up B12, though it is said that plants do not “contain” B12.  Rather like a yeast or nutritious dust, cobalamin is around the world floating in the air, washing into the soil during rain and snow, being produced by microbes -which have access to cobalt – all over the place.  It is on, rather than in plants.  And it is normally in us, recycling.

We’ve heard doctors and dietitians advocate, “Don’t scrub the carrots too much” and “Don’t cover the cooking pot.”  These are simple reminders that we sometimes go overboard scouring and peeling, and some good stuff is on as well as in plants.  Korean kimchi, Chinese pickled cabbage, Japanese tofu, Indonesian tempeh, Ethiopian injera, European sauerkraut and diverse other foods which are openly fermented or manufactured outdoors, are likely to provide B12 as is an unpeeled apple, pear, carrot or radish.  Tofu, to cite just one example, prepared indoors in stainless steel vats with tightly sealed lids and then aseptically packaged is unlikely to contain B12 unless it is added during the process.  A farmer chewing on wheat in the field, or sampling some alfalfa leaves during harvest would likely be taking in  B12.

Healthy individuals recycle B12 in their bodies.  Our review of research indicates that it is passed through the digestive tract and then reabsorbed by the colon so that a given supply may last many years.  Some colons may not assimilate B12 well and a deficiency might be determined through a blood  test.  Many so-called nutritional deficiencies are results of assimilation problems rather than effects of insufficient intake.  That is, a given person might be  consuming a thousand times more B12 than needed, yet suffering a deficiency.   And another individual might rarely intake B12 yet have enough in the body.

The  problem is that no one knows how much cobalt-rich microbial B12 may be in the wind, on a leaf or potato today.  So, to be sure, many people take a daily  supplement.  You’ll find B12 listed as an ingredient on many multiple vitamin and food products.  We personally have no fears of B12 inadequacy, yet take a little as supplementation in our vitamin tablets every day.  This in addition to eating much of our food raw and periodically making kimchi in our kitchen…

If you Like to read the rest of our letter, please contact Jim Oswald or write to IPBN 333 Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, PA. USA 19004-2606