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FAQ - Nutrition


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Selected Questions and Answers:
     Do you have any information on vegan pregnancy?
After a couple of months on a vegan diet I am craving meat. Am I missing something?
     Is there a vegetarian version of the Atkins Diet?
     I would like to grow sprouting grains at home. Which contain the most iron?
     Can you advise me about food combining and feeding fruit to my baby?
     How many different types of vegetarian proteins are there?
     I have Haemochromatosis and am confused about the value of iron that veggies have
     Is there anything nutritional that is helpful in the prevention of skin cancer?
     Is vegetarianism beneficial both mentally and physically?
     Do the phytates in tofu prevent the absorption of iron?
How do I verify that I get enough Vitamin B12 in my diet?
     Is it true that some animal protein cannot be substituted with vegetable protein?
     Would I be getting enough Omega-3 by eating walnuts and drinking soy milk? 
     Where do I get my Omega-3 from?
     Where can I obtain methylcobalamin tablets from in NSW? 
Where can I buy vegan vitamin/mineral supplements on the internet?


Do you have any information on vegan pregnancy?

Q  Hey Dave, I'm doing a project for my child services course on raising children as vegans. I'm looking for information on the kind of things that a mother would have to do while pregnant, breast feeding, and also basic vegan nutrition for a young vegan child. Any good websites you know of would be great too. Thanks heaps.

A  There are many websites offering support and information on vegan pregnancies and raising vegan kids, as well as lots of helpful books (some of which are available through our Lending Library). For starters, there are many veg family websites with this information, including forums where people can ask specific questions and link in with vegan families:
and in Australia... has a forum with a vegan family section if you'd like to talk to
     people who have raised vegan children. also has many vegan parents.
Informative websites that detail pregnancy and lactation nutrition: (this also includes some infant and child nutrition).
And vegan nutrition during childhood:
Other websites offer personal experiences of vegan mothers that detail their experiences during pregnancy and with raising their children vegan that I think are particularly helpful:
This is the official position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada on vegetarian diets, which they maintain are adequate for all stages of life:
     Pregnancy, Children and the Vegan Diet (Dr Michael Klaper) (This book is often
     and check for other vegan pregnancy and children books, then search for
     these in your local library.
Hope all this helps!
It is important for potential vegan mothers to make sure they are well informed with regard to nutrition, for their baby's health and also to allay family concerns. Also, seek out a doctor with a good knowledge of vegan (or at least vegetarian) nutrition (refer to our Vegetarian Friendly Doctors & Naturopaths listing for ones in Victoria).
As with any pregnancy, keep in close contact with your chosen doctor and speak up if you have any concerns.
And of course, make sure to eat a wide variety of healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, greens, legumes etc. (not too many processed foods).
Good luck with your project!

After a couple of months on a vegan diet I am craving meat. Am I missing something?

Q  I seem to be having difficulty stopping. I feel terrible but I wasn't raised a vegetarian so obviously I have eaten meat products for most of my life. Now I am a breastfeeding mother and a couple of months of a vegan diet I am craving meat. It's strange because I am eating tofu and "fake meat products" i.e. TVP, and taking my preg/bf vitamins. Am I missing something? Is this just normal because my body is used to meat? I wasn't generally a large meat eater anyway, I prefer veg. I am also getting a lot of pressure from family and friends that I am being stupid, comments such as "are you still on that veg kick?" After seeing the PETA video and a few other internet sites I am disgusted that I have eaten meat for so long and know that I can never do so again. Any advice would be great. Thanks.

A  You are definitely not alone in your cravings and in your isolation from relatives and others who do not see life as you do.
Let's address the craving part first. Most of us went through a craving for meat stage when we became vegetarian. It's hard to go without something that we've had, some of us most of our lives! Cravings aren't necessarily indicative of something nutritional missing in our diet.
Ask yourself, what is it that you most miss/crave in meat? Is the taste, the texture, the various ways you can prepare it?
Once you've figured this out, it may be a combination of all of the above, then you can begin to find the right sorts of meat substitutes available that satisfy your cravings.
Have you tasted many meat substitutes? There are some out there that even meat eaters have trouble tasting the difference. Asian cultures have been perfecting mock meats for thousands of years, and large Asian stores stock many of these. If you live in Melbourne, then try Vincent's Vegetarian (refer to our Great Places to Shop page) for an enormous range of very convincing vegan and vegetarian mock meats including chicken, fish, beef, pork etc.
Also, check out the frozen section of your local supermarkets for a range of vegetarian burgers, schnitzels and nuggets. Many of the products on our Meat Alternatives page can be found in your local supermarket. Hopefully you will find something that's helps!
As for your relatives being unsupportive, that too is extremely common. I've been vegetarian now for around eighteen years and even now my relatives occasionally ask if I'm still 'doing that vegetarian thing'!
It's even harder with a young child, the pressure will be more intense as they may see you are compromising your child's health for some silly whim.
The best way to address this difficult situation is firstly to get your and your child's health comprehensively tested. This means testing for various possible nutrient deficiencies including iron, B12, calcium, zinc etc. Make an appointment with a GP to discuss these tests and get them to put both yours and your relatives minds at rest. If you are eating a varied diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes then you should be quite healthy. It is most important to test for deficiencies in your diet, especially with a young breastfeeding child.
Vegetarian and vegan diets can definitely be a healthy way to live and to raise young children, I know many parents of vegetarian children who are raising healthy, growing and vibrant children.
The second way to combat concerns is to become as informed as possible. The more you know, the better you can plan your diet and the more readily you can counter concerns. Whether you are vegetarian, vegan or omnivorous, everyone should learn more about nutrition in order to lead a healthier life.
Reading books, checking information on reputable websites, and talking to veg friendly health specialists are just some of the ways you can learn more about vegetarian nutrition.
VNV has a Lending Library service with many informative books that you are welcome to borrow free of charge. We also have some Nutritional Information and a list of veg-friendly Dietitians and Doctors/Naturopaths you may like to check out.
Good luck!
And remember, you're not alone!

Is there a vegetarian version of the Atkins Diet?

Q  Have you heard of any research on a vegetarian version of the Atkins Diet? I don't think such a version would be very popular - but it might help to differentiate the benefits and harm associated with the diet.

A  Yes, I have heard of a veggo version of the Atkins Diet. In fact, a book has recently come out on that exact topic. It is called 'The Low Carb Vegetarian' by Margo Demello. If you look the title/author up on the Net you will find lots of info on it.

I would like to grow sprouting grains at home. Which contain the most iron?

Q  I have just read a wonderfully enlightening article in 'Nature & Health' about vegetarian diets. I would like to grow sprouting grains at home and hope you can advise me which contain the most iron. My diagnosis of Haemochromotosis last year has me most anxious to avoid too much iron in my diet and would appreciate very much any information you can provide.

A  There is a huge variety of sprouting grains available here in Australia, probably the most popular is alfalfa. Sprouts are VERY easy to grow and highly nutritious!
The iron content of each varies considerably.
The following website has a detailed nutritional analysis of a wide range of sprouts:
Just having a quick look, it seems that alfalfa and mung beans are quite low in iron. Wheat seems to be fairly high.
Sprouts of all kinds can be found in your local healthfood shop and sometimes even in your local supermarket. There is an ocean of information on the web about how to grow sprouts at home!

Can you advise me about food combining and feeding fruit to my baby?

Q  Hey Dave, this may be a very specialised question, but here goes... We have a six month old baby who is being given his first foods. I am vegetarian and lean towards veganism and also believe that food combining is the healthier way to live. To this end I am feeding my baby only fruits at the moment, raw and introducing one at a time. My fiance is not vegetarian but knows the value health wise of raising a child in this way. The trouble we are having at the moment is that the advice we look for regarding the beginning of our childs' eating is in conflict with what we are doing. That is, many will not only suggest heavier foods to begin with, for example cereals, (even iron fortified ones!) but some even say that giving fruit first is bad because it will give the baby a sweet tooth!
Well, most such foolishness is seen as just that by us, as long as our baby is healthy there is no need to add supplements to his new system. We are being told now, however, that it is not good to feed the new baby food, fruit or otherwise, on an empty stomach. Now in natural hygiene principles that is the only way to eat, not mixing a high protein substance like breastmilk with fruit which will require, I'd imagine, different substances in the stomach to digest it. The reason they are saying this is because once the baby stops relying totally on breastmilk they are going to be more prone to deficiencies in things like iron.
I think this is bollocks too. Fruit is the best start for my baby, it has nutrients which will be the best replacement for his body when the milk is no longer needed and I think the best way for his body to get used to utilising those nutrients fully is to introduce it on an empty stomach and allow the body to learn how to deal with it unobstructed by the milk.
But "I think" is not good enough. The mainstream nutritionists have research to back their ideas up. Where do I go for support for what I think?
I hope you can help.

A  I certainly understand your dilemma and can sympathise with you about all this, but I am not really qualified to advise you about it.
I do know however that babies need sufficient quantities of high-calorie foods and that a mainly fruit diet may not provide sufficient calories for their required growth and development. This seems to be of particular risk when babies stop being breast fed.
I do not know where you can go for evidence to support the theories you outline. Maybe you could contact the Natural Health Society for further advice (02 4721 5068). Personally, I suggest you see a dietitian about it. Amanda Benham is a vegan dietitian who is available for consultations via email. Her contact details are on our Dietitians page.
I hope this info helps.

How many different types of vegetarian proteins are there?

Q  How many different types of vegetarian proteins are there? e.g. quorn. What are they? And could you PLEASE tell me what they are derived from.

A  I am not sure what you mean by the question "how many different vegetarian proteins are there?" Proteins, regardless of the source, are made up of amino acids, and there are 20 different animo acids, 8 of which must be obtained through the diet.
Do you mean: How many protein-rich meat alternatives are there? Or how many vegetarian sources of protein are there? If you do, there are heaps. Refer to the Meat Alternatives section on our Great Vegetarian & Vegan Products page where we list some of the different products available in Australia. (Incidentally I haven't seen Quorn available in Australia yet.) Most meat-like meat alternatives are made up of wheat gluten or soy, or a mixture of these, it depends on the product.
Most foods contain protein (to different extents, of course). For more info on protein in vegetarian diets, and for a list of some protein sources in vegetarian diets, refer to our article Protein and Vegetarian Diets.

I have Haemochromatosis and am confused of the value of iron that veggies have

Q  I have Haemochromatosis, and I have had it for 4 years, but instead of my venesections getting less they are increasing because my body is absorbing 85% of the iron I eat. I would like to go vegetarian but I am watching my weight, and I also hate the taste of Cheese, butter and Cream. I am also confused of what value of Iron that Vegetables hold.
If you could help me that would be good. Many thanks.

A  I was originally planning to do some thorough research and get back to you with an extensive answer, but after researching the topic for a while, and not being a doctor or dietitian, I am hesitant to advise you about it. It is quite a complicated subject!
A few thoughts though:
- Haem iron, which is the iron derived from meat, poses the greatest risk for people who
  suffer from haemochromatosis
- Going vegetarian could help you because although vegetarian foods do contain
  adequate iron, they tend to contain less than meat
- Vitamin C enhances iron absorption, so try to minimise the consumption of foods
  containing vitamin C when eating foods containing iron
Iron-rich vegetarian foods:  dried fruits, whole grains, soya flour, nuts, green leafy vegetables, parsley, watercress, seeds, pulses, black molasses and edible seaweeds.
Vitamin C-rich vegetarian foods: potatoes, green leafy vegetables, green peppers, blackcurrants, mangoes, citrus fruits and tomato.
I'm not sure what you mean when you say you'd like to go vegetarian but are watching your weight. Are you trying to lose weight or put it on? Vegetarians, generally, tend to be leaner than meat eaters, but you can also put on weight if desired...
One website I came across that may be of help is the homepage of the Haemochromatosis Society Australia Inc. They talk a little bit about vegetarianism, and actually suggest having more vegetarian meals.
A final suggestion I have is to get in touch with dietitian Amanda Benham. You probably have already, but getting advice from an expert is recommended. Amanda is the only dietitian recognised as an expert in vegetarian nutrition by the Dietitians Association of Australia and is available for consultation in person, over the telephone and via email.
Her contact details are on our Dietitians page.

Is there anything nutritional that is helpful in the prevention of skin cancer?

Q  I am interested in knowing if you have found anything nutritional to be helpful in the prevention of skin cancer. Thank you for your help.

A  As most people now know, the most important things you can to do to minimise the risk of skin cancer are:
   - Avoid excessive sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
   - Cover your skin with clothing and a hat.
   - Use sun screen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater.
In regard to nutritional prevention and treatment of skin cancer I haven't come across much info. A good (but brief) article that covers it is at The article states:
   - The risk of malignant melanoma is higher in people with low levels of vitamin E. Because
      this vitamin is a powerful antioxidant, this effect may be because it reduces the
      damage that ultraviolet radiation causes to the skin cells.
   - Deficiencies of selenium may increase the risk of several types of cancer including skin
      cancer. This is because selenium is necessary for the body to manufacture its own
      potent free radical scavengers.
   - Vitamin C is an extremely powerful anti-cancer agent that also boosts immunity.
   - Vitamin A. also contains potent antioxidants to destroy free radicals.
Of course, you also want to ensure your diet is generally well balanced and healthy, and that you eat a variety of foods every day.

Is vegetarianism beneficial both mentally and physically?

Q  I am a year 12 student and at the current moment I am doing a home economics assignment and I was wondering if you can give me your views and opinions since you are a vegetarian and my topic is "vegetarianism: is it beneficial both mentally and physically".

A  If nutritionally balanced, a vegetarian diet can be very healthy and therefore beneficial both physically and mentally.
As you are probably aware, the two leading killers in Western countries are heart disease and cancer. Studies have shown that a healthy vegetarian diet (which is generally lower in animal fats and includes more fruits and vegetables) can help reduce the risks of breast and colon cancer, and possibly other forms of cancer. Such a diet can also be of assistance for those with heart disease and hypertension. Further it can reduce the risk of developing diabetes and assist with weight management. For more info about the health benefits I suggest you check out some of the links on our Nutrition Information page.
I have not come across any studies that have compared the mental health of vegetarians with non-vegetarians. However, as a vegan it feels good to know that I am not supporting slaughterhouses, intensive piggeries, intensive chicken farms, hens in battery cages etc, and the wastefulness and environmental impact that accompanies the production of human food from animals. So from this perspective I think vegetarianism is good for my mental health!  Conversely, most meat eaters prefer to remain ignorant about where their food comes from. For example, how many people could go to an abattoir then sit down straight away and enjoy a nice steak? Not many! I know quite a lot of people who just don't want to know about where their meat comes from because they know they won't like it and they don't want to change their eating habits. I don't believe ignorance like this, and the sometimes associated guilt, is good for mental health!

Do the phytates in tofu prevent the absorption of iron?

Q  I noticed you listed tofu as a main source of iron, however, I have been reading a lot about the fact that the phytates in tofu prevent the absorption of iron. Do you know anything about this?

A  If you are consuming a wide range of whole foods, including a moderate to high amount of foods that are good sources of iron (and accompanying them with a source of vitamin C), getting sufficient iron should not be a problem. The phytates in tofu will not affect overall iron balance, and will be countered somewhat by the enhanced iron absorption due to the presence of vitamin C.

I have been vegetarian for 17 years (vegan for 13 of those years) and eat a lot of tofu. My iron levels are at the higher end of the normal range and I donate blood and exercise regularly. Although phytates from the tofu may be reducing my iron absorption from the tofu, they do not appear to be affecting my overall iron balance. For more information on inhibitors of iron absorption, including phytates, refer to our article Iron and Vegetarian Diets.

How do I verify that I get enough vitamin B12 in my diet?

Q  How do I verify that I get enough vitamin 12 in my diet?

A  I am not sure whether you have read the article on vitamin B12 on our Nutritional Information page but that's somewhere to start.
Vitamin B12 is not found in plant foods; it is only present in meat, eggs and dairy products. Therefore, if you are vegan we strongly recommend that you regularly take a B12 supplement or regularly consume B12 fortified foods (e.g. some soy milks or Marmite). If you consume eggs and dairy products, you may receive sufficient B12 from these foods, but not necessarily. This is because regardless of your intake, your level of B12 ultimately depends on how well you absorb it.
The most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency is a lack of intrinsic factor rather than a low dietary intake of the vitamin itself. (Intrinsic factor is produced in the stomach and is required to absorb B12 through the intestine.) So it doesn't matter how much someone consumes through their diet they may still be deficient.
Ultimately, the only way to verify whether your vitamin B12 levels are ok is to have a blood test. You should be able to get a blood test from your local doctor. If you do get a blood test for B12 you may as well get a general blood test done at the same time, or at least have your iron, zinc and calcium levels checked too.

Is it true that some animal protein cannot be substituted with vegetable protein?

Q  From my medical doctor I've been told that some animal protein cannot be substituted with vegetable protein - is this true?

A  There is much mis-information around about protein and it seems that many doctors and health professionals are still uninformed about it. Protein is not an issue at all for vegetarians if a properly balanced diet is eaten.
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Of the 20 different amino acids, the human body can synthesise 12 of them; the other 8 are called essential amino acids and must be consumed in the diet. Meat contains all 8 essential amino acids while plant foods contain them, but in varying quantities. Research over recent years has found that soy beans also contain all 8 essential amino acids.
Vegetarians can ensure they eat sufficient "complete" protein (i.e. all 8 essential amino acids) simply by eating some soy based foods and/or a range of plant foods throughout the day - some plants low in a particular amino acid are complemented by another plant high in that amino acid. By eating a wide range of foods it just takes care of itself. It is, however, wise to eat some "dense" foods each day that do tend to be higher in protein (e.g. legumes, tofu/tempeh, veggie burgers, wholemeal/wholegrain breads, pasta, rice etc).
Contradictory to many theories about vegetarianism, combining proteins is not necessary at each meal. If a range of foods is eaten throughout the day the body combines amino acids consumed early in the day with those eaten later in the day to form complete protein.

Would I be getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids by eating walnuts and drinking soy milk?

Q  I've read your article on Omega 3/Omega 6s (Omega-3 Fatty Acids:  Are They "Essential"?). I was always under the impression that walnuts were also a good source (and soy beans), so always thought we were 'covered' by drinking soy milk and including 'some' walnuts in our diet. Now you have me thinking... Do you have any info onhand about walnuts, as in what sort of quantities need to be eaten? Don't fret if you don't. I will certainly be getting onto the flaxseed oil.

A  I have not heard that walnuts are a good source of Omega-3, so I can't help you with the quantity question about walnuts. But they do say that soybeans/soybean oil is an ok source (refer to the table in the above article). The beauty about flaxseed, though, is that the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is very high, so you can have less oil overall to obtain the same amount of Omega-3. I would definitely suggest consuming a small amount of flaxseed oil regularly, ideally a dessertspoon full  every day. Something like that would be sufficient.

I have found a reference that lists the fatty acid composition of various plant oils, grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts. This reference lists walnut oil as containing 10.4% omega 3. This is relatively high in comparison to most other foods, but flaxseed oil is still much higher at 57%.

Where do I get my Omega-3 from?

Q  If I am a vegetarian, where do I get my Omega-3 from? These are normally found in fish. So what is my alternative?

A  Please refer to our article about vegetarianism and Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Nutritional Information section of our website (Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Are they Essential?).

Where can I obtain methylcobalamin tablets from in NSW?

Q  I just would like to know how to obtain methylcobalamin tablets in NSW. Health food stores are selling only cyanocobalamin tablets. Please advise!

A  Methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosyl cobalamin are the two forms of vitamin B12 used in the human body. The form of cobalamin used in most vitamin supplements, cyanocobalamin, is readily converted by the body to both 5-deoxyadenosyl and methylcobalamin (except in very rare cases). I am therefore not sure why you specifically require methylcobalamin tablets. But in any case, I don't know of anywhere in NSW where you could purchase them. You may have to get a health food shop to order them in specifically, or purchase them directly through the internet. I have come across a few sites where you can order them:

Update received:
Hi Dave. Regarding the question about methylcobalamin availability and your answer.
Perhaps I can shed some light on the reason for your reader requesting it. The following quote I found on the internet recently:
Regenerating Nerves
Few substances have been shown to regenerate nerves in humans with peripheral neuropathies. However, a study in the Journal of Neurological Science (1994 Apr. 122[2]:140-143) postulated that methylcobalamin could increase protein synthesis and help regenerate nerves. The scientists showed that very high doses of methylcobalamin produce nerve regeneration in laboratory rats. The scientists stated that ultra-high doses of methylcobalamin might be of clinical use for patients with peripheral neuropathies. The human equivalent dose the scientists used is about 40 mg of sublingually administered methylcobalamin.
In humans, subacute degeneration of the brain and spinal cord can occur through the demyelination of nerve sheaths caused by a folic acid or vitamin B12 deficiency. In a study in the Journal of Inherited Metabolic Diseases (1993;16[4]:762-770), it was shown that some people have genetic defects that preclude them from naturally producing methylcobalamin. The scientists stated that a deficiency of methylcobalamin causes demyelination disease in people with this in-born defect. An early study published in the Russian journal Farmakol Toksikol (1983 Nov. 46[6]:9-12) showed that the daily administration of methylcobalamin in rats markedly activated the regeneration of mechanically damaged axons of motor neurons. An even more-pronounced effect was observed in laboratory rats whose sciatic nerves were crushed mechanically.
Two studies published in the Japanese journal Nippon Yakurigaku Zasshi (1976 Mar. 72[2]:269-278) showed that the administration of methylcobalamin caused significant increases in the in vivo incorporation of the amino acid leucine into crushed sciatic nerves, resulting in a stimulating effect on protein synthesis repair and neural regeneration.
Those suffering from peripheral neuropathies often take alpha lipoic acid. Based on our new understandings of peripheral neuropathy, we suggest that anyone using alpha lipoic acid also take at least 5 mg a day of sublingually administered methylcobalamin to ensure that alpha lipoic acid will be bioavailable to the peripheral nerves.

Where can I buy vegan vitamin/mineral supplements on the internet?

Q  Are you aware of any vegan vitamin/mineral supplements that can be bought on the internet?

A  There are heaps of sites on the internet where you can buy vegan vitamins & minerals. Have you done a search with keywords (such as 'vegan', 'vitamin', 'supplement')? I have found heaps by doing this, some of them are listed on our Vitamin, Mineral & Health Supplements page.

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