Jack Norris R.D. Answers Your Plant-Based Nutrition Questions!

A couple weeks ago, we featured an entire week of informative guest posts by vegan dietitian Jack Norris R.D. We received so many great questions for Jack in the comments that we thought we’d have him back to answer some of them for you.

Laryssa Wirstiuk asked:
How can I make sure that I’m getting enough iron, and how do I know when I’m not getting enough iron? This is something that concerns me because my non-vegan friends are always reminding me that I could be missing important nutrients, despite my effort to eat a diverse and nutrient-rich diet.

Answer: Generally, if you feel fine, then you are probably getting enough iron. If you feel fatigued or have other symptoms of iron deficiency, then you should check with a doctor to see if you have iron deficiency. The real trick to improving your iron levels on a vegan diet is to consume vitamin C, and avoid coffee and tea, at meals. This is because what matters more for plant iron absorption is not how much iron you are getting, but how well it is absorbed. Vitamin C is a strong iron absorption enhancer and coffee and tea have iron absorption inhibitors. You can read more here: http://veganhealth.org/articles/iron

Melissa McElroy asked:
How can I get more protein without eating a ton of soy? I feel like I eat way too many (usually processed) soy products per day.

Answer: All legumes products are good sources of protein, as is quinoa. Legumes include beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts.

Beth Mickens asked:
A close co-worker and I talk a lot about our differences in diets. While she is a devoted Paleo, I am a devoted vegan. Her and I are both very informed about both diets and continuously debate about what diet is best for our bodies. While we both agree a gluten-free diet, low in carbs and higher in protein and fat seems to be ideal, I’m really interesting in hearing what the RDs say about following what we call a “Vegan Paleo” diet… one that contains no animal products but is focused on the concept of eating a higher amount of protein and healthy fats? Another thing she commented to me that I really want to know… as a vegan, will my skin lose elasticity faster (causing me to look more aged at a younger age) than a meat eater based on the fact collagen is only found in meat? (assuming I don’t use ANY products on my face). Help me bust that one!!

Answer: There has been one four-week clinical trial that put people on a low-carb vegan diet, which they called “ECO-Atkins” with positive results. I personally don’t think it’s necessary for most people, but if someone feels good on it, then more power to them. I’d say the same about gluten-free. Gluten has become an easy molecule to hate but it’s just a protein that most people can break down into amino acids as they do with most protein. Some people have an autoimmune reaction against it, but that puts it in good company with a host of other proteins. If you have celiac disease, then avoiding gluten is very important, but a knee-jerk reaction to avoid gluten by people without celiac disease is, in my opinion, a waste of time and energy. For what it’s worth, one study showed that avoiding gluten can have harmful effects on beneficial gut bacteria.

In terms of looking old because of not getting enough collagen, just make sure you are getting enough protein by eating at least 2 servings of legumes (including soy foods) or quinoa per day. There has been no research indicating vegans have collagen issues and many vegans look younger than their age. People often mistake me for being 10 years younger than I am. I don’t know that it’s only due to being vegan, but the high level of antioxidants in the vegan diet might be at least part of the reason I stay looking relatively young.

Amy Davidson asked:
How much DHA should a vegan take daily?

Answer: 200 to 300 mg every 2-3 days should be fine for vegans under 60. For vegans 60 and older, I recommend 200-300 every day.

Terri Cole asked:
I need to lose 100 lbs. Are there any structured diet programs that have vegan options? It also needs to be affordable; my budget is already stretched to the breaking point!

Answer: I would recommend PCRM’s program for treating type 2 diabetes (even if you don’t have type 2 diabetes): http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=1733

If you do this program make sure you get all the nutrients that vegans need by seeing the recommendations here: http://veganhealth.org/articles/dailyrecs

Jane asked:
I want to know whether or not it’s worth taking a B12 supplement even if you consume a good amount of soy products.

Answer: Soy doesn’t naturally contain vitamin B12. See this page for how much vitamin B12 someone needs from either fortified foods or supplements: http://veganhealth.org/articles/dailyrecs

Jennifer Lipinski asked:
Obviously too much of anything can end up being a bad thing, but I have heard that too much soy can be rather unhealthy for you. How can I continue to get enough of my daily nutrients, without going overboard on the soy?

Answer: You can get everything that you get from soy from other legumes. Here is an article discussing the harmful effects of soy: http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=1778

Kristen Wilk asked:
Are there particular vitamin/mineral supplements that are recommended for every vegan?

Answer: See this post: http://veganhealth.org/articles/dailyrecs

Sferd asked:
I am concerned about bone loss (my mother has Osteoporosis) which is one of the reasons I went vegan. I feel that my calcium intake is currently sufficient, but isn’t Magnesium also needed? Do I need a Magnesium supplement?

Answer: Vegan diets generally have enough magnesium, which is found in a wide range of plant foods (legumes, whole grains, leafy greens). Leafy greens also have a lot of other important nutrients for bones such as vitamin K and potassium.

Scooby asked:
I am wondering if Vitamin D2 is as effective as D3. It is my understanding that D2 is vegan and D3 is not. I have low vitamin D levels and am concerned about this.

Answer: In amounts of about 1,000 IU per day, vitamin D2 and D3 appear to be about the same. In large amounts of 50,000 IU per week, vitamin D3 is more effective at keeping vitamin D levels high.

Mirkat asked:
I’ve heard that there are vegan sources of D3, but there has been some disagreement as to whether they are really vegan. Are there D3 supplements that are truly vegan and nutritionally reliable?

Answer: There is now a vegan version of vitamin D3 from Vitashine. It should be the same as any other vitamin D3.

Gabrielle Smith asked:
I would like to know the best vegan sources for Omega 3 fatty acids, other than walnuts.

Answer: flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, chia seeds are all great sources. You can read more here: http://veganhealth.org/articles/omega3

Dhonna Schwertl asked:
I am also interested in getting enough Omega 3s. I’d like to know how they are affected by cooking/baking.

Answer: Flaxseed oil should not be heated, but flaxseeds are okay if baked. As a general rule, you should not rely on cooked oils for omega-3s.

Lauren Culp asked:
What tests should I (vegans) ask the doctor at my annual check-up to make sure I’m not missing anything with my diet?

Answer: iron, vitamin D, homocysteine (an indirect measure of B12 and folate)

Keya Millionie asked:
What should vegans take if they’re pregnant?

Answer: Typical pre-natal vitamins and a DHA supplement of 300 mg/day.

Jane asked:
Is it better to err on the side of too many vitamins, or less? I usually drink fortified soy milk and plan to start taking B12 vitamins too, but I don’t want to overdo it!

Answer: It’s pretty hard to overdue B12 or other B vitamins (folic acid may be an exception – it’s good to get that mostly from the diet unless you might become pregnant in which case you should take a folic acid supplement). But if you are supplementing, you can get too much of some minerals and fat-soluble vitamins. You can check at VeganHealth.org for any particular nutrient. The Linus Pauling Institute also has good information on nutrients.

Beth Mickens asked:
What’s your opinion on using whole food, whole meal powders (that contain 50-100% of you daily needs for vitamins, minerals, etc) as opposed to pills concentrated on one vitamin or mineral?

Answer: Not surprisingly, I think people should get what they can from foods and get what they can’t (or don’t) get from foods from supplements. I don’t have an opinion on meal powders other than to say that you cannot get vitamin B12 from any vegan food that is not fortified with it.

MizzB asked:
I read Dr. Norris’ blog regularly, and would thank him for the information he provides, and the research he does to back it up. How does he stay motivated to do what he does?

Answer: I appreciate the question! I am motivated by my concern for animals and I generally have a desire to help people who need it.

We would like to once again thank Jack Norris for being so generous with sharing his expert information with us… we’ve all learned so much from him and hope to have him back again soon! You can visit his website at: http://www.jacknorrisrd.com

Have you made any changes to your diet based on nutritional info you learned here in recent weeks? Let us know if you found any of these tips useful… we’ll pick one of you to win today’s Everyday Giveaway for FREE Earth Balance®!

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5 Responses to “Jack Norris R.D. Answers Your Plant-Based Nutrition Questions!”

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  1. i added uncooked ALA in the form of flax meal to my oatmeal every morning. i also ordered a vegan omega 3 DHA and take it every other day! thanks for the help EB and Dr. Norris!

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  2. RAJ SHAH says:

    I’ve started taking a multivitamin and B12 vitamins, and I feel great!

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  3. Shirley J. says:

    I read the book he wrote with Ginny Messina and learned a lot. Just reading this post today I learned not to rely on cooked canola oil for my omegas. I really appreciate all the work you do, Jack. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.

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  4. Beth Mickens says:

    Thank you for answering my question Dr. Norris! I really appreciate the response! This’ll be great to share with my friend. I have to agree a lot of vegans tend to look a lot younger than they actually are which is why I was sort of baffled to hear such a thing regarding vegans and lack of collagen. Thank you also for the response on gluten-free diets and powdered meals. All of this was great info! I will definitely have to reassess the way my body feels when I eat gluten containing products and really see if its honestly necessary to go gluten-free. I will also definitely try to find a Vitamin B-12 supplement. Thanks again!!

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  5. Carrie M says:

    i always forget to take my B12. but i went and took one. :-) thanks for the reminder.

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