Extreme Protein Deficiency

by Laura

Laura's question...

I have been a strict vegan for 3 years and 1 month. I looked great! Had long, beautiful, thick hair. My skin was nice, teeth great, and just felt pretty! Then I became tired, sad, and noticed I wasn't as firm as usual. However, my hair and skin were never better. I received compliments every day. So I didn't think it was from my diet, or lack of nutrition. I thought I was just stressed, and perhaps should work out more. Then my hair started to fall out, and it won't stop!

My beautiful hair is gone, my energy is gone, I'm so very tired, my memory isn't the greatest, and I just look and feel horrible!!! I realize I am extremely protein deficient.

I thought I ate healthy. I ate only organic, all natural, non processed food, no junk food, no alcohol, no fast food, no sodas or sports energy drinks. I thought I was healthy! Now it's hard to wake up, and when I look in the mirror I just cry. This happened so fast, within a month!

How can I recover from a protein deficiency? How long will it take? What can I do?

Suzy's answer...

Hi, Laura,

I'm sorry to hear about your difficulties! The first thing you should do is see a doctor. It is always a bad idea to self-diagnose a health problem, especially when it is affecting you so profoundly. I would also suggest that you meet with a dietitian or nutritionist to plan a healthy diet.

It's as much about what you do eat as what you don't.

You mentioned all the things that you did not eat, but you did not say anything about what you did eat while pursuing a vegan diet. Although, it is possible to be healthy without eating any animal products, it requires a great deal of care and attention to your diet. The fact that you avoided processed foods and junk food is great, but at the same time it is important to eat a variety of whole foods from all of the food groups.

Anytime you restrict one food group in your diet, you may create nutritional concerns that need to be addressed. In the case of the vegan diet, there are some specific nutrients—Protein, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, Zinc and Omega-3 Fats--that could be affected by eliminating animal products from your diet.

Click here for more specific information on vegetarian nutrition.

Completing your proteins is part of the equation.

Have you heard about complementary proteins? These are proteins that when eaten together form a complete protein--that is a protein with all of the essential amino acids that are needed for protein to function as it should in your body.

Here is a list of complementary proteins, or proteins that when eaten together become complete.

Legumes... with Nuts
Legumes... with Grains
Legumes... with Seeds
Legumes... with Dairy
Grains... with Dairy
Nuts/Seeds... with Dairy
Nuts/Seeds... with Legumes
Dairy... with Nuts/Seeds and Legumes

Click here for more specific information on complementary proteins.

Good protein sources are not hard to find

Generally, when protein in the diet is discussed, meat, eggs and dairy products are the main source mentioned. Another way of saying this is that most, but not all, of the protein in your meals comes from the main course.

Steak… Hamburger… Roast Beef… Pork chops… Ham… Bacon… Sausage… Hot dogs… Lamb chops… Chicken… Turkey… Duck… Capon… Fish… Shrimp… Lobster… Crab… Scallops… Venison… Omelets… Egg Salad…

Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt are also good sources of protein.

In addition, there are some foods from plants that are good sources of protein. These are the legumes, grains, some vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Lentils… Split peas… Kidney beans… Pinto beans… Black beans… Soybeans… Garbanzo beans… Navy beans… Peanuts… Peanut Butter… Rice… Wheat…. Barley… Oats… Peas… Kale… Okra… Walnuts… Brazil Nuts… Almonds… Pumpkin Seeds… Sesame Seeds….

Most of the food you eat has some protein in them, but those foods listed above, are good sources of protein that will make it easier for you to fulfill your daily protein requirement. Which foods you choose will depend on whether you wish to include animal sources in your diet as well as your own personal taste preferences.

How much protein do you need?

The amount of protein needed can vary based on age, gender, genetics, health and the quality of the protein. It is generally thought that we need about 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight every day. This means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you would need about 52.5 grams of protein each day.

150 ÷ 20 = 7.5 7.5 grams x 7 = 52.5 grams

Many healthy eating experts put it a different way by saying that we should get about 30% of our calories each day from healthy protein sources. Protein has about 4 calories per gram, so if you consume 2400 calories a day, about 720 of them should be from protein.

2400 calories x 30% = 720 calories

If you don't want to do the math, then try to choose protein foods as part of all of your meals and snacks.

Rule out other health problems.

I hope this information is helpful. Please see your doctor to rule out any serious medical issues. Once you have done that, I hope you will plan a diet that includes whole foods from all of the food groups.

Eat and be healthy with my warmest regards,

Suzy Staywell


Vegan Foods, Protein, B12, and Iron
by: Don

Laura, I agree totally with Suzy. You should definitely go to a healthcare professional and get it checked out. If you have been vegan for 3 years, it's more likely you're deficient in B12 and iron.

I am also a vegan and I take B vitamins and a non-heme iron supplement every day. My doctors keep a close watch on me and my levels are excellent. In addition, women lose iron during their periods so you might want to take extra care. I recommend about 300 mg of ferrous gluconate per day.

And don't believe the hype. People can stay fit and healthy on a vegan diet with a few supplements. I wish you the best of luck.

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