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Taking Care of Your Brain Health While Eating a Vegan Diet

Veganism

We live in a new world with a growing emphasis on clean living, eating fewer animal products and being more environmentally friendly. It can be difficult to know what is ethical and what is required nutritionally when it comes to our diets.

With almost half a million Australians now practicing vegans and a total of 2.5 million vegetarians, getting sufficient iron from the diet is a real cause of concern for health practitioners.

Due to the meteoric rise of Instagram, and influencers and celebrities promoting their version of ‘healthy living’, many people have followed suit, including becoming vegan.  Unfortunately, this move may have led many people to make uneducated decisions about their diet. Of concern, tweens and teens may have dropped all animal products from their diet without understanding the dietary implications on their health.  Practicing vegetarianism or veganism may lead to health issues without an adequate intake of iron, vitamin B12, choline and other essential nutrients.

Iron

Iron is essential for living; it’s a mineral that the body needs for growth and development. Your body uses iron to make haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to every cell in the body. It is also responsible for making myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles. Your body also needs iron to produce several key hormones.  If you do not get sufficient iron from your diet, you are at risk of having low iron levels or even becoming anaemic.

Anaemia is a low level of red blood cells which can impair learning, concentration, foetal brain development and severely reduces energy levels. Aside from feeling exhausted all the time and out of breath, anaemia may cause issues with fertility and places a woman into a high-risk category during pregnancy. 

The risk for a pregnant woman with anaemia is that if she loses a lot of blood during childbirth, she may need a blood transfusion.

To get the best quality, bio-available iron, you would ideally source it by eating foods rich in “haem iron” such as red meat.  The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron in pregnancy is 27mg per day and can be difficult to achieve even if she consumes a diet with adequate red meat and other iron rich foods. The RDI for non-pregnant women is 18mg per day although she may require more than this if she suffers from heavy periods.

A well-tolerated, well absorbed form of iron is called iron bisglycinate. This form of iron can be especially helpful for people with sensitive stomachs, including pregnant women. Many other forms of iron can cause constipation and nausea which is not ideal, particularly for pregnant women who may already be suffering slow motility of the gut due to high progesterone levels.

The World Health Organisation reports that globally 24.8% of people are iron deficient and 41.8% of pregnant women.  In recognition of these deficiencies in many diets, NaturoBest has developed a high-quality iron supplement with co-factors folate, vitamins B12 and C and the addition choline for extra brain support.

Choline

Choline is another essential nutrient, predominantly found in animal proteins, such as fish, meat, liver and eggs. It is an essential nutrient that is required for normal body functioning and plays a key role in memory and brain function.

Choline is used to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. It is essential for brain and nervous system functions including memory, muscle control and mood. As choline is not produced in sufficient levels by the body, this means that it must be obtained from dietary sources or supplements to ensure you are getting enough for the body to run optimally.

Choline is particularly important during pregnancy for optimal foetal development, during breastfeeding and in the first two years of life. It has long been recognised that choline is particularly important in early brain development.  It has been proposed in research that a diet deficient in choline during pregnancy may affect lifelong memory function in the baby.

To get sufficient choline from the diet, you need to eat a diet rich in eggs, liver, fish, nuts, or legumes such as kidney beans and vegetables such as brussels sprouts and broccoli in very high quantities.

The RDI of choline in pregnancy is 440mg and this amount increases to 550mg during breastfeeding.  To obtain this level of choline from her diet, a woman needs to consume 3 large eggs and drink 3 large glasses of milk every single day.  That may be feasible for many women who can tolerate dairy and eggs but for those who are intolerant or vegan, this can be challenging.

Iron and choline are two key nutrients that often need to be supplemented during pregnancy. 

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