by Dr. Ariel Policano
So, you are loving the raw diet, right?
You’ve lost weight, you have more energy, and a positively juicy new outlook on life. Fantastic! A raw vegan diet is filled with nutrition, vital force, enzymes and is free of nasty preservatives and chemicals. It is truly amazing.
Still, even on a raw or high raw diet, it is good to have a health “check-in” from time to time. The fact is there are actually a few deficiencies that could develop on a raw, vegan diet if you aren’t aware of them. They can develop if you are not meticulous about having diversity and perfect balance. And really, who is?
Here are 3 markers I feel are crucial to keep your eye on. This way, you can be sure you are staying healthy in every way on your raw vegan diet.
1) Ferritin (your iron stores).
2) B12 Levels, measured as methylmalonic acid (MMA).
3) Cholesterol (wait to be surprised here!).
It is important to keep your levels of iron healthy. Of course, iron allows the transport of oxygen to your cells via the blood. Low iron levels are commonly referred to as anemia. One of the most common signs of iron deficiency anemia is sensitivity to cold weather. You feel like you cannot get warm no matter what! Another sign you can look at are changes in your thumbnail. Yes, your thumbnail. Look at it from a side angle. Do you see a dip in your nail? This can happen from the deoxygenation of cells over a period of time. It is a “secret” sign of your body that you need to check your iron levels.
Now, back to those labs. The iron levels in your blood may show up as normal even if you are on the edge of becoming anemic. Ferritin, which are your stores of iron, provides a much more accurate check of whether you are running out of “gas”. It has been said that iron-rich blood gives you charisma. Now, who wants to be without that for very long?
Ferritin levels are very important to check to avoid iron deficiency anemia. The range for women is 12-300. I would address levels below 50. Depending on how low it is, supplementation may be in order. The company Floradix carries and “Iron and Herbs” mix that is tried and true for vegans. If you are very anemic, however, this is going to be a slow intervention. In this case, you may want to supplement with a chelated iron such as iron aspartate. For those worried about iron supplements causing constipation, no need to lose any sleep. Ferrous sulfate is a form of iron is prescribed by many MD’s in high doses (325mg) at one time. This type of iron is more likely to cause things to “slow down” or to be clear, cause constipation. Also, the dose we are talking about with the iron aspartate is about 30mg, more or less.
Keep in mind some foods that are high in iron so that you can avoid a deficiency. They include Jerusalem artichokes, cherries, blackberries, nettles, spinach, dates, Swiss chard, burdock root, sea vegetables like kelp, and (yum) figs. Iron needs to constantly be renewed, especially if you are physically active. So, round up some of these foods soon!
2) B12 – Methylmalonic Acid.
MMA is considered to be a more accurate check of Vitamin B12 levels. It will tell you if you are developing a deficiency before it will show up in the serum (blood) B12 levels. Having a B12 deficiency is serious business. It is probably the most risky deficiency that can develop out of a vegan or raw vegan diet. There are many things you can do to prevent it, you just need to be aware of them!
Just getting back to MMA for a moment. If you don’t have enough B12, MMA levels will increase. That is because B12 helps to convert MMA to a crazy substance called succinyl CoA. Succinyl CoA is a raw material that helps you to produce ATP, the raw fuel of your body. Which is why…one of the signs of low Vitamin B12 is fatigue.
The more serious sign of a vitamin B12 deficiency is parasthesia, or numbness in the extremities. The old pins and needles feeling, but for an extended time. The reason this is so dangerous is that it is irreversible. Yep. As in, permanent. You really don’t want to dance with the possibility of a B12 deficiency.
As a doc, I do recommend that this is the one place that you consider taking a B12 supplement on a regular basis. Why take any chances?
Here are some food-based ways to keep your B12 levels up. You can have nutritional yeast for vitamin B12. Caution, caution, caution! I recommend you look at Red Star Nutritional Yeast if you want to go with this option as they have one of the highest quality nutritonal yeast products. Get it fresh! Nutritional yeast that is out in the bulk bins, or has been sitting on the shelf for a long time is less likely to have sufficient levels of B12.
Are you a clean freak? You might be a good candidate for a B12 supplement. Washing your fruit and vegetables really thoroughly is excellent for clearing the germs, but you may also be washing off the soil-based organisms that build your B12 levels.
Foods that contain B12, but are questionable for reliable supplementation include spirulina, blue-green algae and sea veggies like dulse. I love these superfoods for many reasons, but I would not rely on them for sufficient quantities of B12. In Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford lets us know that this type of B12 may be an analogue of the B12 that our body utilizes. Enjoy the other high nutrition of minerals and amino acids in these foods.
Are you in love with raw sauerkraut? How about kombucha? Like to take mega-doses of probiotics as a hobby? Well, if your intestines are rich in healthy bacteria, you may be producing sufficient quantities of B12 internally. Of course, with people taking so many antibiotics and not having a healthy share of probiotics they are more at risk of having a B12 deficiency.
OK, hold on to your hats and your shares in your pharmaceutical companies! Your cholesterol may be TOO LOW. If you have total cholesterol below 160, you may want to consider getting those levels UP, yes up.
Is cholesterol just some pesky toxin that we are trying to ban from our bodies with every opportunity? The drug companies make it seem that way, don’t they? Cholesterol is a crucial raw material for healthy hormones including reproductive hormones and adrenal hormones. It is also an important component in cell membranes. You want to love up your cell membranes! They surround your cells, allowing only certain things in (like good nutrition) and making sure that all the waste products get out. A healthy cell membrane is crucial to disease prevention including cancer.
Low cholesterol levels have been correlated with depression, anxiety, risk of hemorrhagic stroke and premature births. Pretty crazy! You might notice that you are craving saturated fats, or that you are feeling a little fatigued or just “not right”. Have your labs done and then check out the parameters below.
If I were looking at your labs, I would want to see total cholesterol above 160, LDL above 90 (even up to 110), and HDL above 50. If your total cholesterol or LDL is low, I want to recommend that you really make an effort to get some saturated fats into your diet. Of course, coconut oil satisfies this need, and so does cocoa butter (the fat portion of raw chocolate). Red palm oil is also another oil to consider. It is really beautiful to look at because it is also rich in beta-carotene, which is pretty cool. This is the palm oil that is NOT partially hydrogenated. Check out organic virgin Palm Oil from Tropical Traditions.
I suggest that once per year you give yourself a gift and check in with a health practitioner who is knowledgeable about raw vegan nutrition. Here are the labs that I suggest you have done each year:
- CBC – Complete blood count
- Chemistry Panel – numerous checks including fasting blood sugar, liver and kidney markers
- TSH – Thyroid marker
- Lipid panel – fats including good and bad cholesterol
- Vitamin D-25-Hydroxy – Best marker of your Vitamin D levels
- Ferritin – Iron Stores
It only takes a small investment of your time and attention to truly inform yourself about what you need to thrive and avoid deficiencies. You’re worth the effort.
To your health,
Dr. Ariel Policano
Dr. Ariel Policano has been studying live food nutrition for over 15 years. She is a licensed naturopathic physician and a graduate of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Ariel helps people to optimize their health with a balanced diet of living foods, superfoods and other cutting-edge nutritional interventions. She is the creator of the Body Bliss Cleanse, which is an effective 14-day supplement program. Dr. Ariel is available for phone consultations and works with clients around the world.