Lifestyle

One: Mindset is Everything.

It’s in your head.

Before starting to plan for it, before even finding the main motivation behind your transition, you need to understand something very, very important.

Your attachment to animal products is mostly psychological:
Most of the anticipated pleasure of having meat in your mouth is only there because (probably) ever since you were born, a good steak or a shawarma sandwich was associated with family, celebration, reward, strength, comfort, ads, strong bones, good health, power figures, etc.

This is important, because you need to understand how deeply your body is actually attached to certain foods that it’s been given its whole life. The hard part is not hunger; it’s psychological hunger.

We all got super sick after eating a particular food as kids – didn’t the idea of that food keep making you sick for years? Probably up until this day?
The same applies to animal products; if they were a big part of your LIFE, imagine all the possible and very positive associations your brain formed with them.

Imagine you give a kid as many marshmallows as they like every day for three years. You then completely cut them off, without walking the kid through the ‘why’, without giving any explanation, and you leave the kid hung out to dry.
Count 24h, and that kid will have found a way to get their hands on some marshmallows, clinging to them for dear life.

Now imagine you do this to your brain and body, with something it’s been having for more than a decade.

The first and best advice I can give anyone is to remember this: your history with animal products is not a switch you can turn on and off. It’s a complex physiological and emotional relationship, treat it as such.

Accordingly, keep in mind, throughout your transition, that your body will crave and ask for animal products; and that is more than okay, and I would say, go ahead, give it what it’s calling for, but maybe just a small piece, with a delicious side of stir fried veggies in a teriyaki or BBQ sauce.

Consider this as reverse-going-to-the-gym; you want to decrease the animal dumbbells’ weights gradually, and increase the plant goodness ones instead.

Another important point is to get to know WHY we’re attracted to animal products. Look up the psychology of eating meat; you will find a lot of research that explains why it is so difficult for us to acknowledge that meat is, well, sort of a huge turn off.

Understand why you’re craving meat, why you’ve been eating it your whole life. When you crave it during the transition, reflect. Don’t block. Never say no to your body without having this conversation. Think about the real reason why you’re craving an animal product in that moment; take that reason, and start to projecting it onto plants!

Is it flavor? Dressing? Texture? Health benefits? Nostalgia? Habit? Tradition? The “fsssh” sound on the pan? The color? The sides?
Find that reason. Recreate it with plants. Wash. Repeat. (and I am here to help with ideas just drop me a dm on IG or an email!)

For example: you realize that red meat used to be something to look forward to post-workout, making your workout ‘worth it’, almost ‘logging it in’. Read more- and a lot- about the benefits of leafy greens, nuts, and seeds post-workout! When you tell your body something is great for it, when you read studies about it, or just google about it, when you’re convinced of something, it’s going to believe you. And that, right there, is your key to shifting those psychological connections from animal products, to plants.

This is YOURS and YOURS only

A lot of people, including myself, will be giving you advice, telling you all about the dos and don’ts. Listen, but only take into account; DO NOT feel pressured to do anything anyone says to you. DO NOT put in mind that if someone had it a certain way, it’s the ‘right’ way.

You are changing the wires of YOUR body. YOU know best. You should get informed, but do not appropriate anyone’s word or experience as what yours should be.

If you cut off animal products for a month, then had a steak, don’t let anyone blame you for it; it’s not wrong. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do this. This is your journey and yours only. You’re not doing this for anyone else. (Although the entire planet and our future generations should thank you for it).

If you had animal products after being off them for awhile, it’s fine; keep going forward as if it didn’t matter, because it doesn’t. Just keep going.
Remember, your current lifestyle is still better than your old one. Just keep going forward.

Set the Scene

Alright, now we can get to work.

You will need to identify your WHY.
Is it the planet? Pure curiosity? The trend? The animals? Your body? All of the above?

Identify your why, and deepen your understanding of it. Try and strengthen as much as possible your relationship with it, solidify your conviction through research, reflection, and conversations. This will help your body and mind stay on track.
Some people found documentaries on animal cruelty incredibly helpful – it wasn’t my personal cup of tea because just imagining what was going on in there was too hard to handle – do you, whatever rocks your I’m-into-plants-now boat!

Identify your ‘HOW’
Would you like to use my method of going slow? Or do you think an abrupt change (taking into account the ways your body might react) would be better?

Think about this, reflect on it considering your personality, behavioral patterns, and usual commitment issues or lack thereof. If like me, you have no commitment issues and wouldn’t mind being patient, if you like to go slowly but surely, and would like to avoid any strong reactions from your body – then this guide will definitely be useful!

Just set up a plan – any plan.

Live outside the box!

Something incredible helpful in my experience was to avoid saying ‘I’m vegan/vegetarian’. I kept saying ‘I’m reducing my animal product intake’ instead, even if weeks had gone by without them.

I particularly think this is impactful considering the many many categorizations our current culture imposes on us, and how anxiety-inducing they can be. As a strong believer that you want to prep your brain to crave this transition and love it, you need to make sure it’s actually comfortable in it.

We – very unfortunately – find ourselves defining our lives with our weight, our height, our relationship statuses, employment, income, fitness, culture, gender etc. All of which can be great, but also serve as an open buffet to our anxiety. Why project that relationship onto food? Onto an activity that we do at least twice a day, which, let’s face it, is already emotionally charged most of the time?

Don’t think about ‘who’ you are in the diet scene. Just be whatever you are at the moment. Asserting you’re a ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ now won’t bring you anything but pressure, and possible guilt in case of a change of mood!

Just go with the flow, and whenever you feel like this lifestyle has truly become a part of who you are, and you are completely comfortable with that, then define yourself as whatever-the-hell-makes-you-feel-good.

One day at a time

The way I did it, was only having meat/chicken for four days a week for a month, then for three for a couple month, and eventually cutting it to weekends-only for awhile. Then one day, I decided to go meat-less for two weeks in a row, and these two weeks casually turned into three years, four months, and counting.

Inspired by the efficiency of a slow paced transition, here’s my advice to you:
Decide on a pace; how fast would you like to go – and this can fluctuate through time.

Do it gradually; otherwise, your body might react negatively – and you might end up losing or gaining to much weight suddenly, developing intolerances and sensitivities, or simply adding more negative emotion to your relationship to the new diet because of restriction.

Another way to do this is to wake up every morning and ask yourself: would I like to try and go animal-product free today? If the answer is yes, make a mental list of the kind of foods you’d like to eat, what you are looking forward do, and maybe something new to learn/taste!

What about dairy?

A lot of vegans I know mention dairy being the most difficult category to cut off – it wasn’t the case for me, since I had to cut it off for health reasons anyway. But I feel your pain – nothing like a cheesy, gooey feel on a pizza or nachos or some mac’n’cheese, right?

The answer is simple; you’re at the diet gym. This is your beast. Definitely take your time with it, but also consider you’ll need to warm up even harder for it; reading about the dairy industry helps a lot. Realizing how outrageous it is to be consuming juice coming out of a cow’s tits will definitely be helpful. Also realizing that the meat and dairy industries are inherently and entirely interdependent helps too; doesn’t matter if you cut off meat, as long as you’re consuming dairy, you’re still sending off cows to get slaughtered!
This is the part where, if you have the heart to, watching a documentary would be most helpful.

Again, and for the last time; if you have dairy again, it does. not. matter. What matters is going forward. A day where you consumed an animal product is just more data – nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, make sure you’re kitchen ready. Going slow and with the flow won’t get you anywhere unless you’re able to, as mentioned earlier, decrease the weight of the animal dumbbells, and increase the plant goodness: have a well armed, personalized, plant-based friendly pantry, fridge, and entourage, and definitely make sure you read the rest of this guide.


Lifestyle

My Story

Three years, an Instagram page, and more than 14 recipes; time to celebrate the Vegan Whisper’s first anniversary, that’s right, we’re turning one!

I figured the best way to celebrate would be to (finally) release a VW- tailored guide to transitioning to veganism, inspired by my own journey. Whether you’d like to cut off your animal product intake, adopt a plant-based lifestyle, or turn completely vegan, I’m releasing a guide just for you!

I am very proud and happy with my own lifestyle which rests on a particular mindset I carefully crafted throughout the years; it relies on flexibility, transparency, curiosity, and simplicity. As you’ll discover, I religiously think the most important advice I could give is that no book, no influencer, no blogger, or nutritionist, no movement, group, or trend, no parent or friend should draw the lines, conditions, and stages of your journey; YOU are the one that decides how when and why to do this, whether it feels right or not, what you’d like to gain from it, and how you feel about it.

My guide will include some personal tips and some interesting insights I wish someone had shared with me during my own transition. You can now find it as a section under “Lifestyle” in my Menu! I will be gradually releasing different sections – make sure to follow me on IG, or follow my blog to stay updated!

In the meantime, here is my journey towards veganism, which inspired the guide. Happy reading, and never hesitate to email or DM me for any inquiries!


How it started

Believe it or not, pre-2017, I barely ate any fruits!

My diet consisted mostly of meat, chicken, legumes, grains, and salad. I never liked fish except for the occasional grilled salmon, but really enjoyed cooking and eating stews based on meat and chicken, not to mention the incredible amount of dairy I had every day (from milk to Lebanese yoghurts and lots of Cheese Mana’eesh). My mom had to beg me to eat fruits; I only liked green apples and cherries, and those weren’t always easy to come by!

Whenever I met a vegetarian or vegan, I remember feeling admiration, respect, but for some reason, it wouldn’t stir any kind of motivation to adopt that lifestyle myself. I somehow felt detached from these people, like I was a different category of human, and these diets were not an option for me. I never held any strong opinions about plant-based diets, but I simply never thought about them much.

Flash-forward to March 2017, when diet culture was still a thing in my life and I wasn’t as aware as I am now of its highly toxic nature; I had a friend who offered a 2 week ‘detox’ program with 24/7 tips and support that involved going completely vegan and gluten-free for 14 days, including 2 juicing days (which to be honest I really enjoyed! I would love to do these again).

Mother’s day was coming up, and I decided to offer my mom that program to lose some weight, and experience what it would be like. Now obviously, that meant having LOTS of veggies and fruits (as much as we wanted actually), which didn’t sit very well with my taste buds at the beginning, but this was a challenge, and I thought it would be fun to try it out.

Story short, the whole experience was absolutely life-changing. First off, I had never felt better in my body than during these 14 days, I rekindled my flame with fruits and seeds, I started to appreciate spices and different flavors more, and my whole outlook on animal products just shifted completely. From having them as a major player in my food consumption to completely not even wanting to consume them anymore; this is where it started.

I then decided to try and maintain a sort of plant-based lifestyle; the benefits of that ‘detox’ program, including better sleep and less-painful periods, completely convinced me to set a plant-based lifestyle as a goal.

Being the moderate and control freak that I am, I decided to take it slow.

It took me 6 months, from the day I decided I wanted to be a vegetarian, to actually become one.


How it went

I set myself the goal to only consume meat or chicken 4 days a week for around a month, then 3 days a week for another and another, until I felt like reducing that rate to weekends only.

Honestly, hadn’t I done so, hadn’t I listened to my body and allowed it to get accustomed to a new lifestyle that was completely different than the previous 20 years, I don’t think it would have worked out. Which is why I think that the advice I give you in the guide is incredibly important, and I urge you to consider following it if it sounds convincing enough for you.

Then one weekend, I was heading down to a BBQ birthday, and on the way, I told my best friend: “You know what? I think I’m ready. I’m gonna go two full weeks, starting tonight, without any meat or chicken, and after that, I’ll see how I feel”.

Guess what, these two weeks turned into three years, four months and counting!

I just kept going with “one more day” two weeks after that BBQ, until “one more day” wasn’t even necessary.

That Christmas, I was offered my favorite kind of meat, and I wanted to have it, but the moment it touched my lips, I was immediately disgusted, and put it away. That was the moment I realized I was a vegetarian, and that cravings or the appeal of meat and chicken were purely psychological, linked to moments of happiness, comfort, and warmth.

A HUGE part of my progress was getting informed; learning more and more about the impact of cattle on the environment, global health (hi 2020), realizing what was really lying in my plate (ie. animal carcasses), and exercising the mental association between the juicy steak and where it actually came from. I cannot stress enough how IMPORTANT for your transition it is to work on that association. As I mention later in the guide, an enormous part of finding meat and chicken flavorful, good, and nutritious, falls on culture, the industry, and propaganda. You want to flip that switch in your brain, so get informed!

Another crucial part of my progress was specifying WHY I was doing this. I think that for every vegetarian/vegan, there is a driving factor, that ultimately, at least in my personal humble opinion, will lead to also adopting other motivations towards plant-based diets.

For me, it started with the impact of the industry on the environment and global health. Next came animal abuse as I had just adopted my baby June: a constant reminder of the hypocrisy of adoring a pet, and ignoring the lives of pigs, cows, hens, ducks etc., and finally came the health factor.

Around that summer/fall, my brother found out he was intolerant to dairy, and I realized I might have been too, so I did the test, which came out positive [Disclaimer: these tests are NOT 100% reliable/accurate]. I knew I wanted to transition to veganism one day but I wasn’t ready to do so then, and so I only reduced my dairy intake, until that January 2018. I was virtually surrounded by vegan athletes, doctors, and vegan nutritionists who helped me realize the harm the dairy industry inflicted on the animals, as well as the products’ very negative impact on my body. I was completely sold when I understood that being a vegetarian in our days isn’t enough to change anything really, since dairy farms feed the meat industry as well.


The Perks

When I say it’s life-changing, I am not exaggerating.

1. Bye Bye Iron deficiency!
I had lived the first 20 years of my life with a scary and painful iron deficiency, and I was constantly told to have red meat, so that’s what I did, and it wasn’t enough. I spent my teenage years with an Iron IV (which burns a lot) for around 2 hours twice a year. It was an absolute nightmare, but since supplements wouldn’t be absorbed, we thought it was a biological problem.

A year into vegetarianism, and around 9 months into veganism, I had my blood tested; and the 20 year old “4” that made me cry on my results suddenly turned into a “62”. I also cried, quite a lot.

My iron levels didn’t only rise up from the dead, they actually became normal.

A lot of acquaintances tell me they suffer from iron deficiency under a vegetarian/vegan diet, and I am planning on writing a post about that because in my experience, the fact that I was dairy intolerant, and didn’t know it, used to block the iron absorption. Studies show that dairy could be inhibiting iron absorption anyway – so that might be a reason why vegetarians are having a hard time with iron!

The minute I stopped having dairy, my body started absorbing iron, and with no IV, no supplements, just plants, my iron levels boosted up.

This of course will be different for every person, which is why the “Learning Experience” section in my guide is super super super important.

2. Self-communication
I’ve never been more in touch with my body and what it needs. Whenever I crave something, I notice that the nutrients in it are ones that I haven’t had in awhile. My body just speaks to me. It’s like I unblocked its airways or something.

3. Hello Flavors!
Any other vegans out there noticed their taste buds developing?? I used to absolutely loathe garlic, cinnamon, and turmeric. And suddenly? Can’t live without them. It’s almost as if they started tasting better.

4. Do meat-eaters know what’s out there?
I never knew that we had so.many.things.to.eat. From the different types of scpices, seeds, and mushrooms, to Kombucha. No meat-eater I know has as big as a variety of fruits, seeds, grains, legumes, sauces, spices, and just flavor combinations as the vegans I know.

5. It’s SO MUCH FUN.
Experimenting with food is amazing as a vegan. Just trying to recreate the comfort you used to feel with meat/chicken-based stews, but cruelty-free, will not only satisfy your taste-buds, but also satiate a curiosity you never knew you had.

6. I sleep better at night.
Knowing that I’m doing the best I can for my planet, the ecosystem, my community, my body, looking at my cat like I would any other animal in the world; I just know I am doing my best, and it feels so good.

7. Bye bye Acid- Reflux!
Acid reflux is also a monster that’s followed me literally since the day I was born. And nothing, and I mean nothing made it go away, well, except cutting-off dairy.

8. I know so much more stuff
From learning about the ecosystem, to animals’ fascinating personalities, to different combinations of food, to the negative impacts of the vegan industry, this whole journey is nothing but a learning experience. And that, to me, is incredibly enriching.

That journey OFFERED me so much It FIXED so much. It EXPLAINED so much. It TRANSFORMED me, my body, my perception of the world around me, my values, and mostly, my kitchen.

Thinking of hopping on the Plant-based train? Stay tuned for the Vegan Whisper’s Guide to Veganism!

Kitchen Whispers, Lifestyle

Let’s talk about Supplements (B12 & Omega-3)

A very popular argument against Veganism concerns taking supplements. As a Vegan, I’m sure you’ve heard the “I would love transitioning to Veganism, but I don’t want to spend my whole life taking pills, it’s so “unnatural”” drill way too many times.

Personally, I find using the argument of supplementation against Veganism incredibly useless; most of our food is fortified. From breakfast cereal, bread, spreads, to the cows and hens themselves, fortifying foods in B vitamins, Iron, Calcium, etc., is usually a great asset to said product; it actually is the main reason why the product becomes so attractive.

Why is it such a big deal then, when Vegans decide to take the matter into their own hands, and control the type and quantity of supplementation they would otherwise get in animal products?

Focusing on B12 and Omega-3, as both are one of the very few difficult to absorb/find in a Vegan diet, I interviewed Fida Fneiche, a licensed clinical dietitian and nutritionist, whose area of study and interests focus on medical nutritional therapy and metabolism, to help me address the controversy.

Should Vegans take supplements? Is it bad to take supplements? What are the roles of B12 and Omega-3? Should non-Vegans also consider fortifying their intake? Which kind of B12 pill is best? Where do animals get their B12 and Omega-3 from anyway? How can a Vegan ensure a healthy intake of both?

Backed by secondary sources, this blog post answers all these questions and more.


VW: What is Vitamin B12? What role does it play in the body?

FF: Vitamin B12 (AKA cobalamin), is a water-soluble vitamin necessary for lipid and amino acid metabolism, DNA synthesis, and proper nerve function.

It has several and notable roles: co-enzyme/co-factor for several methylation reactions necessary for energy release, synthesis of normal blood cells, maintenance of the myelin sheath on nerve cells, and the regulation of inflammatory immune responses

Deficiencies in vitamin B12 lead to an array of consequential pathologies such as neurological deficiencies (e.g. peripheral nerve disease, myopathies, etc.) and an altered hematological blood panel (indicative of pernicious anemia).

Bioavailable vitamers which work in humans are methylcobalamin and adenocobalamin. Vitamin B12 and its analogues come in many forms such as cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, adenocobalmin, hydroxycobalamin – it is a structurally complicated vitamin belonging to the corrinoid family (molecules with cobalt-containing tetrapyrrole rings). Excretion of the vitamin: kidneys – storage of vitamin: liver (unlike other water-soluble vitamins, cobalamin has a high retention in organs, i.e. can be stored for a longer period).

VW: What about Omega-3?

FF: Omega-3 fats are fat molecules made from long-chained essential fatty acids. They are ‘essential’ because our body does not produce them and therefore should be obtained from our diet. Two types of these omega-3s [eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)] are known to have anti-inflammatory and protective effects on our cardiovascular health and are recommended for consumption. These are obtained from fish and fish oil products mainly.

Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) is also an important omega-3 essential fatty acid derived from plant-based sources and can be converted into EPA and DHA through a series of complex reactions in the body.


VW: What exactly is the issue with ALA conversion in plant-based diets?

FF: ALA is inefficiently converted to EPA and DHA in our bodies, and this is imposed by the large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids found in our diet that is regularly consumed with respect to omega-3s.
The efficiency of converting ALA into EPA and DHA also depends on a lot of other factors including age, disease, and dietary/lifestyle patterns. For example, fasting and alcohol consumption can limit this conversion, and people with hypertension or a zinc deficiency cannot efficiently achieve this conversion either.

A large intake of omega-6 fatty acids can reduce omega-3 fatty acid conversion by 40% to 50%.

For vegetarians who consume few sources of EPA and DHA, a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ranging from 2:1 to 4:1 has been suggested as being optimal to ensure maximum conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.

[More recent research suggests that optimal conversion is achieved with a ratio of 1:1, although this is more difficult to achieve]

There is evidence that the conversion is significantly better in young women than in men; hypotheses suggest this is due to the nature of females pertaining to the expected increased needs during pregnancy and lactation.

Although conversion is slow and incomplete, it appears to be sufficient to meet the needs of most healthy people if ALA intake is sufficient.

Scroll down to Section 1 for references.


VW: Where do B12 and Omega-3 come from?

FF: Bacteria & archaea are the only synthesizers of vitamin B12. Naturally, vitamin B12- synthesizing bacteria are commonly found in soil & feces.

With the current farming practices, most livestock acquire vitamin B12 from fortified feed due to the urbanized agricultural settings which lack vitamin B12 synthesizing bacteria

Vitamin B12 is also synthesized by bacteria in humans at the site of the colon but is not utilized since it is past the level of absorption (absorption of the vitamin happens at the level of the small intestine)

In conclusion: geographical location, animal breeding practices, and the type of vitamin B12 analogue used (in fortified feed and food) affect quantity and quality of B12 in food products

Small note: Vitamin B12 metabolic pathway polymorphisms determined genetically also dictate the efficiency of absorption of the vitamin in our body.

Omega-3 fats primarily come from phytoplankton and algae from the sea. Marine animals feeding on these sources become sources of omega-3 fats accordingly.

Livestock living in free-range areas and fed grass are a source of omega-3 fats; however, most livestock consume fortified feed and the amount of total fat consumed from meat renders the protective benefits of omega-3 useless.

Meat contains high saturated fat content, so it does not change the dominant fat composition. Poultry fed fortified feed can produce omega-3 eggs as well.

Some plant sources contain it too, like flax/chia seeds, walnuts, etc. Microalgae and seaweed are a very rich source as well.

Scroll down for references.


VW: What are some of the misconceptions surrounding vitamin supplementation?

FF:
X Supplements are ineffective and unnecessary if dairy/meat/algal or yeast food sources are integrated into one’s diet:
Most foods are nutrient sparse from industrial processing and food handling (transport, washing, cooking, etc.) and vitamin B12 is overlooked because of this generalization.
X Supplements as a bad sign of dietary habits:
Supplements are not a sign of bad dietary habits being put into practice; most people should adapt to the concept that enzymes, probiotics, and vitamin/mineral supplements should be part of a normalized nutritive plan for a functional human body, as this is how our bodies are adapting to urbanized modalities of living.


VW: How dangerous is it to take vitamin B12 supplements?

FF:

The contamination of vitamin B12 supplements with heavy metals is a constant worry since these metals (cyanide, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, etc.) are known to cause toxicity.

This all depends on the brand and the studies conducted to prove and ensure their product safety.

Certified approved brands make sure to keep these heavy metal concentrations under a level that is safe for consumption.

However, I would recommend supplementing with methylcobalamin rather than cyanocobalamin (the synthetic form of vitamin B12), as there aren’t any conclusive results on the long-term side effects of cyanide (compounded to cyanocobalamin) accumulation in our organs, mainly our liver.

I would generally recommend methylcobalamin or adenocobalamin over cyanocobalamin because they are forms of vitamin B12 that are retained for a longer period over cyanocobalamin, making them more efficient for storing enough of the vitamin.

This does not mean that cyanocobalamin is not necessary to take if the other forms are not available. The risk of not getting any of this vitamin is far worse than an exposure to unwanted chemicals.

VW: Should vegans take vitamin B12 supplements?

FF: People with digestive problems that are constantly overlooked such as gastritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac, IBS, etc. should supplement with vitamin B12.

People with a prolonged history of anemia and a hematological blood panel that is chronically abnormal (MCV, Hgb, and Hct) should consult with a physician and consider supplementing. In fact, people with a history of unresolved anemias should investigate this and possibly consider B12 injections.

People with inflammatory diseases such as pancreatitis should consider supplementing since the pH and enzymatic functions are compromised in this case.

These are all conditions that should be considered whether a person is on a plant-based diet or not. Genetics also play a very important role that is very much overlooked in terms of vitamin B12 metabolism, as this can interfere with proper vitamin B12 intake that might require supplementation.

Vegans, vegetarians, and anyone following a plant-based lifestyle should consider synthetic supplementation of vitamin B12 (common commercial analogues are methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin), as most food consumed is devoid of that vitamin and fortified food consumption [in its moderate amounts] wouldn’t suffice the daily requirements.

Avoid using algal-based supplements with vitamin B12 or during a meal rich in vitamin B12, as these might contain vitamin B12 inhibitors that would exasperate a vitamin B12 deficiency.

All studies on algal-derived vitamin B12 compounds have been proven to be other compounds with similar molecular configuration to the vitamin, making them act as a pseudovitamin, thus interfering with vitamin B12 absorption by competing on.

VW: Is it dangerous to take Omega-3 supplements?

FF: Most omega-3 supplements are fish oil-derived or based, and the manufacturing process does not eliminate the heavy metal or industrial product content in them, as most products in the market are high in mercury and PCBs.

Fish oil in the form of omega-3 supplementation is not necessary and will not make our bodies healthier (studies done on fish oil supplementation are inconclusive in terms of their beneficial effects, and other studies done on their negative impact from pollutants prove harmful risks on an individual’s health).

It is always advised to eat the fish over the fish oil supplement – at least this way the individual is aware of the omega-3 source. The bigger the fish, the higher the mercury content. Despite available studies proving that these metals are insignificant with respect to other food sources in eggs, vegetables, and meat, the long-term exposure of these supplements may cause harm.

VW: Should Vegans take omega-3 supplements?

FF:

The best way to ensure proper omega-3 intake is to invest in plant-based sources like flaxseed oil, walnuts, chia seeds, and supplements/powders derived from microalgae such as Spirulina.

It is also best to maximize omega-3 intake by not eating large amounts of omega-6 with the meal (e.g. not adding peanut butter or olive oil when adding flax or chia seeds).

While I don’t advise the intake of Spirulina for vitamin B12, it could be a good addition in terms of EPA and DHA. The best way to take it is possibly on a meal where vitamin B12 is not a dominant nutrient in the food and if the B12 supplement has been taken on a previous meal.

Scroll down for references.


VW: Are fortified foods enough to cover supplementation?

FF: This goes down to a lot of factors we need to consider:

  • The efficiency of our bodies in nutrient absorption, especially in terms of digestive and other related health problems like Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, gastrectomy surgery, etc.
  • The amount of fortified food consumed per day and the quantities being absorbed per one meal.
  • Aging is a contributing factor which leads to reduced nutrient absorption with time – this phenomenon might require specific chemical compounding of nutrients that are available via pharmaceutical supplements that would give the greatest yield of nutrient absorption which fortified food wouldn’t suffice.
  • The type of diet being practiced: people following a plant-based diet are definitely advised to take supplements along with fortified food products, as the amount that totals at the end of the day does not ensure complete absorption due to the metabolic fate of these nutrients that is normally skewed from interacting compounds in plant food sources that interfere with nutrient absorption and distribution. This skewness in metabolic fate is also evident with people that consume meat, but the difference is an efficiency in metabolic pathways that have been assembled over the years for a greater yield in absorption from meat and animal consumption.
  • The socio-economic factor that is almost not taken into consideration: a lot of these fortified commodities are not available as widely as we may think they are – supplementation, even if through nutritional aid, is necessary and might be essential in this case.

VW: Any other general recommendations for supplementing B12/Omega-3 in a plant-based diet?

FF:

General Dietary Recommendations for Vitamin B12:

  • Recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms/day. A human excretes an average of 5-6 micrograms of B12 per day.
  • A recommended daily amount of 6-7 micrograms/day or higher (e.g. in supplemental form of 1,0000 mcg/day) can also be used with people suffering from gastritis, celiac disease, and other inflammatory digestive problems).
  • 30-40% of the elderly population has a significant reduction of vitamin B12 absorption due to decreased digestive potency and will require high dose supplementation.
  • Vegetarian and vegan populations are at a risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiencies, especially if they commonly use yeast and algae-derived supplements for vitamin supplementation.
  • More studies are needed on algal food samples, since the growing conditions of algae can alter vitamin B12 content in them (they aren’t main vitamin synthesizers and possibly contain many other active unidentified compounds which might possibly interfere with vitamin B12 metabolism).
  • With every meal eaten, only 1-2 micrograms of vitamin B12 can be absorbed. This is due to the intrinsic factor (IF) binding capacity to the vitamin, with a maximum binding capacity of 2 mcg/meal. The intrinsic factor is an important transporter found in the stomach which transports B12 from the food to the small intestine where it can be absorbed.

The higher the B12 ingestion during one meal, the less it is absorbed..

General Dietary Recommendations for Omega-6 and Omega-3:

Based a 2,000-kcal diet:

9 -18 g of omega-6 f.a.s

2.2 — 4.4 g of omega-3 f.a.s

To achieve a ratio of 1:1, you would need to reduce omega-6 fatty acids, increase omega-3 fatty acids, or do both: this would translate to the following: 7-9 g of omega-6 fatty acids & 7 – 9 g of omega-3 fatty acids.


References

Section. 1:

Dewell, A., Marvasti, F. F., Harris, W. S., Tsao, P., & Gardner, C. D. (2011). Low- and high-dose plant and marine (n-3) fatty acids do not affect plasma inflammatory markers in adults with metabolic syndrome. The Journal of nutrition, 141(12), 2166–2171. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.111.142240

Doughman SD, Krupanidhi S, Sanjeevi CB. Omega-3 fatty acids for nutrition and medicine: Considering microalgae oil as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2007;3(3):198-203.

Harnack K, Andersen G, Somoza V. Quantitation of alpha-linolenic acid elongation to eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid as affected by the ratio of n6/n3 fatty acids. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009;6:8.

Indu M, Ghafoorunissa. n-3 fatty acids in Indian diets—comparison of the effects of precursor (alpha-linolenic acid) vs product (long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids). Nutr Res. 1992;12:569-582.

Kusbak R, Drapeau C, van Cott E, Winter H. Blue-green algaaphanizomenon flos-aquae as a source of dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and a hypocholesterolemic agent. Presented at: Annual Meeting of the American Chemical Society; March 21-25, 1999; Anaheim, Calif.

Masters C. Omega-3 fatty acids and the peroxisome. Mol Cell Biochem. 1996;165(2):83-93.

Dangers behind taking supplements:

Eilander A, Hundscheid DC, Osendarp SJ, Transler C, Zock PL. Effects of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on visual and cognitive development throughout childhood: a review of human studies. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2007;76(4):189‐203. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2007.01.003

Hong, M. Y., Lumibao, J., Mistry, P., Saleh, R., & Hoh, E. (2015). Fish Oil Contaminated with Persistent Organic Pollutants Reduces Antioxidant Capacity and Induces Oxidative Stress without Affecting Its Capacity to Lower Lipid Concentrations and Systemic Inflammation in Rats. The Journal of nutrition, 145(5), 939–944. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.114.206607

Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ; American Heart Association. Nutrition Committee. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease [published correction appears in Circulation. 2003 Jan 28;107(3):512.]. Circulation. 2002;106(21):2747‐2757. doi:10.1161/01.cir.0000038493.65177.94

Other:

Dagnelie, Pieter & van W. A, Staveren & Berg, H.M. (1991). Vitamin B12 from algae appears not to be bioavailable. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – AMER J CLIN NUTR. 53. 695-697.

Foods highest in Vitamin B12 (based on levels per 100-gram serving)”. Nutrition Data. Condé Nast, USDA National Nutrient Database, release SR-21. 2014. Retrieved October 29, 2018

Watanabe, H. Katsura, S. Takenaka, T. Fujita, K. Abe, Y. Tamura, T. Nakatsuka, Y. Nakano: Pseudovitamin B12 is the predominate cobamide of an algal health food, spirulina tablets. J Agric Food Chem, 1999, 47, 4736–474

Greer JP (2014). Wintrobe’s Clinical Hematology Thirteenth Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 978-1-4511-7268-3. Chapter 36: Megaloblastic anemias: disorders of impaired DNA synthesis by Ralph Carmel

Herbert, G. Drivas: Spirulina and vitamin B12. JAMA, 1982, 248(23), 3096-7

Merchant, R. E., Phillips, T. W., & Udani, J. (2015). Nutritional supplementation with chlorella pyrenoidosa lowers serum methylmalonic acid in vegans and vegetarians with a suspected vitamin B₁₂ deficiency. Journal of Medicinal Food, 18(12), 1357.

Miller A, Korem M, Almog R, Galboiz Y (June 2005). “Vitamin B12, demyelination, remyelination and repair in multiple sclerosis”. Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 233 (1–2): 93–7. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2005.03.009. PMID 15896807

Pratt, E. Johnson: Deficiency of vitamin B12 in Chlorella. J Pharm Sci, 1968, 57(6), 1040-1

Watanabe, F. (2007). Vitamin B12 sources and bioavailability. Experimental Biology and Medicine (Maywood, N.J.), 232(10), 1266.

Watanabe, S. Takenaka, H. Katsura, S. A. Masumder, K. Abe, Y. Tamura, Y. Nakano: Dried green and purple lavers (Nori) contain substantial amounts of biologically active vitamin B12 but less of dietary iodine relative to other edible seaweeds. J Agric Food Chem, 1999, 47(6), 2341-3

Watanabe, Y. Yabuta, T. Bito, F. Teng: Vitamin B12-Containing Plant Food Sources for Vegetarians. Nutrients, 2014, 6, 1861-1873

Kitchen Whispers, Lifestyle

Let’s talk about Soy

I thought I’d finally address the elephant in the room – aside from the almond milk controversy, I’ll do that when I have more energy.

You heard it, read it somewhere,  and certainly were warned by family and friends when you told them you consumed soy products. “Soy is dangerous: it contains estrogen, it will give you cancer, it will make you less “manly”” etc.

The real hassle in finding out the truth about soy was the information disseminated by soy producing companies, or, companies that are “threatened” by the rise of veganism.

Today I am sad to announce that the effects that soy has on our bodies are not completely sorted out just yet. But this is what you can find out if you ask nutritionists, and do some research online.

PS: This is not, in any way, medical/professional advice. I came up with this summary by reading reliable articles online, and by asking a couple nutritionists’ opinions. 


1. What are Phytoestrogens?

To use popular English, phytoestrogen is a chemical compound found in plants (yes, seeds and fruits – and even red wine –  contain them too, but in lower quantities) that mimic the naturally formed estrogen in our bodies. They are sometimes given as supplements, for healing purposes.

Phytoestrogen in soy contains isoflavones, which after a whole complex chemical reaction during digestion, return to the gut area in a different form, and either produce “metabolite equol” (I’ll call it A) or “O-DMA” (I’ll call it B).

It’s also been shown that 30%-50% of individuals are able to make that conversion to “A” (most of which are vegetarians or Asians), and it’s been hypothesized that the ability to do this is crucial in obtaining all the amazing effects of soy consumption.

The pros of phytoestrogen:

1. Some can lead to reduction of cell proliferation are a protein called PTK that is crucial in the development of cancer cells. So yes, they can have anti-cancerous properties.

2. In other weird chemical reactions, it can also be protecting nerve cells in the brain, and improve cardiovascular functions.

3. They are good anti-inflammatory chemicals, and good antioxidants.

The cons of phytoestrogen:

Since they mimic estrogen, they can block estrogen receptors (ERs) and lead to hormonal imbalances. They are considered endocrine disruptors and can cause imbalances in lactation, reproductive cycles, sexual  behavior, timing of puberty…

However, and with the studies around this, these effects are not conclusive yet, and are still in the “could” category; these effects were found in animals in the 1940’s, and thought to be generated by phytoestrogen, but it turned out, a few years later, that they were actually due to another chemical called coumestrol.

There are two receptors estrogen might block, and it blocks them differently. I do not want to bore you with the chemical details of this, but you can read more on the link I’ve attached below.

The conclusion is, that it is very “Selective” in the ER (estrogen receptive) it blocks, and thus is compared to a breast cancer drug that can be agonist in the uterus and bone, but, antagonist in the breast.

Agonist: it binds to receptor and activates a reaction
Antagonist: it blocks the action of the agonist and results in a reverse reaction

Even though I still don’t get exactly what this means as an amateur, it is clear and enough for me to understand that it can have different effects in different parts/circumstances of the body.

Whether it binds to one block or the other (ERα or ERβ) changes the result completely. And it highly depends on circumstance, and a bunch of conditions, to determine the result yielded by phytoestrogen.

2. What does this mean ?

The conditional benefits of Soy 

On top of all this confusion, while Soy has shown to yield extremely beneficial effects in bodies, studies are still inconclusive, because of the critical role dose, genes, dietary composition and other factors play

Indeed, the benefits of soy and phytoestrogens in general varied greatly across epidemiological studies.

For example, the benefits of phytoestrogens related to menopause were much more present in Asian countries than in Western ones.

Other benefits such as helping out with good bone density, turned out to depend on whether equol production occurred. Also, the extent to which Soy led to lower cholesterol, highly depended on the amount of soy consumed.

To quote one of the articles I read (and I reference below),

“determining if phytoestrogens increase or reduce the risk of developing breast cancer has proven to be one of the most challenging human health impacts to address.”

While it is known that by blocking the ERs, exposure to estrogen increases chances of getting breast cancer, the studies on the considerably lower cancer rates in Asia say the opposite is true.

This is where it gets most complicated; the study results vary greatly across ethnicity.

3. So can I eat soy?

It is well concluded that a moderate intake of soy leads to a lot of pros and cons (similarly to caffeine, alcohol, etc.)

Despite the “cons”, soy remains a great source of protein, free of cholesterol, and packed with amazing nutrients.

Moderation is key here. Soy and phytoestrogens are NOT poison, but they are also not “superfoods” that we can just include 24/7 in our diet.

If you consume soy in your diet, just be aware of the potential risks associated with phytoestrogens, and make choices accordingly:

For example: 
If the milk in my fridge is Soy-based, then I make the conscious effort of avoiding soy in other forms during meals. 
If I had minced soy in my food for the week, I replace soy-milk with Oat, and avoid soy Yoghurt. 


People suffering from heart disease, high cholesterol, and other specific cases, ARE still encouraged to include soy in their diets, and there’s nothing to worry about if consumed moderately.

So my conclusion is, soy is A-Ok.

In a proper plant-based/vegan diet, there is not ONE component that we abuse of, unlike dairy and animal products in other diets; there are so many ingredients to have fun with, we accidentally consume a “moderate” amount of everything.

However, we shouldn’t depend on Soy to cure our diseases, and make us live forever; its benefits highly rely on our genes, ethnicity, and overall diet.

that being said, we shouldn’t “rely” on soy to make us healthy. It is just another sprinkle on top of the amazing benefits of a vegan diet.


Here is one of the articles I read to help writing this

Lifestyle

What IS Vegan ‘Cheese’?

One of the arguments against veganism that truly drive me crazy is:

“Well, if I’ll feel like eating cheese, I’ll have to put chemicals and bad things that are really unhealthy in my body”

This argument used to really piss me off because I knew that even if that were true, the effect meat and dairy have on our bodies is not that great either. Still, I couldn’t really say anything other than

I barely have these anyway, I don’t find a need for them in my diet!

Which is true by the way!

BUT, I was still curious to know what I was having when I occasionally ate vegan ‘cheese’. This is for the Vegans out there who need to pack sandwiches, have late nights, or would just like to indulge in a Vegan Pizza every once in awhile!

🇱🇧 Lebanese shoppers, there’s a special section in here for you! 🇱🇧

PS: you can make your own cheese at home with cashews/almonds, water, mustard, nutritional yeast, and other spices! I still haven’t figured out a recipe on my own since I don’t own a blender, but there’s plenty online!


The investigation was simple; I went on Violife‘s (the vegan alternative to cheese that I use if needed) website and read the ingredients to their regular sliced cheese. Here is a list of the ingredients used + whether or not I approve of it:

  • Water, Approved
  • Coconut Oil (23%), Approved
  • Modified Starch*, **google: “Modified starch is the starch extracted from grains and vegetables which has been treated to improve its ability to keep the texture and structure of the food”** , Approved
  • Starch, Approved
  • Sea Salt, Approved
  • Flavourings,
  • Olive Extract, Approved
  • Colour: B-Carotene, **google: “Beta carotene is an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A and plays a very important role in health. It’s responsible for the red, yellow, and orange coloration of some fruits and veggies.“, Approved

*Not to be confused with GMO (Genetically Modified) Ingredients

Here is the same list for their grated Mozarella:

Water, Coconut Oil (24%), Modified Starch*, Starch, Sea Salt, Mozzarella flavour, Olive Extract, Colour: B-Carotene, Vitamin B12
*Not to be confused with GMO (Genetically Modified) ingredients.”


I asked a couple of friends who studied Nutrition and Food Science about what “Flavourings” usually means in ingredient lists. They told me they couldn’t really know unless I had more information. So I asked them about what other foods we find flavourings in.

An example they could think of was: Syrups!

So basically, your Ketchup, Mustard, Caramel Macchiato, Vanilla Latte, Pumpkin Spice Latte, etc. all contain “flavourings”

I then asked if one should be concerned about finding flavorings in an ingredients list, and they answered with a simple: no.


🇱🇧 Lebanese Shoppers 🇱🇧

You can find “Violife” Cheese at Better Life Market in Beirut, “Nature et moi” at Spinney’s, “Badass Vegan” at ChiTabi3i and “Ada’s Vegan” and “Vicky’s” at either Live organic, or by delivery by finding them on their Insta page!

I also thought sharing an example of the kind of vegan cheeses we find in Lebanon would be a good idea; they’re actually quite different than the ones I find in stores in the UK.

As an example, check out the ingredients’ list for Ada’s Vegan Mozzarella:

Water, Almond, Lemon Juice, Tapioca Flour, Coconut Oil, Herbs, Spices, Himalayan Salt.”

AND all products are organic! Can it get any better?


In Conclusion: I think it’s safe to say that Vegan Cheese is completely A-Ok. I still wouldn’t have it every day because I’d simply get bored of it, and if you’re a vegan, you probably know how extensive the list of ingredients we can’t wait to use is!

So go on ahead with a restful mind, and celebrate with a big Vegan Pizza!

I recommend Luna’s Kitchen’s Cheese and Pesto Pizza for Lebanese residents, and Mamma’s American Pizza in case anyone from Edinburgh’s reading this!

How good does debunking stereotypes against veganism feel?


photo_2020-02-07_21-07-27
This was taken during my meal at Frankie and Benny’s Edinburgh: Rigatoni (Veganuary Menu) and Melted Fries!