How to beat fatigue if you’re vegan
As most of you know, I have been on plant-based lifestyle since 2007, became vegan in 2014, switched to vegetarian in 2016 and fully embraced veganism last year (read my entire journey). Plant-based means minimal to zero animal consumption; vegetarian means no animal consumption but can consume dairy and eggs; vegan means no animal consumption and its byproducts; veganism is an ethos, a lifestyle that goes beyond diet, which means adapting a completely vegan, cruelty-free and ethical lifestyle centered on animal compassion and personal health (read how to transition to plant-based). Anything I use and buy for myself and our household undergo strict scrutiny and research. I know it may sound extreme to most but believe me, this lifestyle has liberated and humbled me in more ways than one. Not to forget that I am in tiptop shape if we are to consider my yearly blood work results and overall well-being.
Now that’s out of the way, I’d like to fill you in one of the most common feedback or comment I get from recent and long-time vegans alike. Note that while I have access to medical information and research as a registered nurse, my opinion should not replace your doctor’s.
So let’s talk about fatigue. A pretty common condition caused by a lot of factors, whether you’re vegan or not. Fatigue is a medical condition requiring formal diagnosis by your physician. It should not be confused with feeling tired. Whereas the latter can be remedied by sleep or rest, fatigue is chronic, characterized by marked lack of energy, lethargy and reduced mental alertness.
What are the possible causes of fatigue if you’re vegan? How to beat fatigue if you’re vegan?
- You’re not eating enough variety of whole food plant-based diet. One of the common pitfalls of someone on vegan diet is food restriction. Because let’s face it, some still associate vegan with just leafy vegetables and fruits here and there which isn’t the case! Not eating enough means your calorie intake is potentially deficient which then leads to reduced energy and fatigue. When I first vegan years ago, I was a picky vegan. I only ate food that I am familiar with or what my taste buds like. Hence, my food selection was borderline boring and at times, not really healthy as I hoped for. So yes, I experienced this dreaded fatigue first-hand. I armed myself with more information, research, and expanded my food selection! Fatigue solved.
How to fix it: Introduce a more balanced meal composed of green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, arugula, kale, etc), starchy vegetables (potatoes, squash, yams, etc), legumes (kidney beans, black beans, garbanzos, lentils, etc), whole grains (quinoa, rice, oats, whole wheat), etc. The good thing about vegan diet, granting you are eating WFPB, is that you can eat more without pumping your body with artery-clogging and high-blood pressure inducing animal fat. If you need guidance from a medical perspective, please follow Dr. Michael Greger (US-based physician), read his articles on nutrition facts or download his free app Daily Dozen. If you are concerned with your heart health, please follow Dr. Esselstyn, Jr (cardiovascular surgeon). If you are concerned if you are getting enough protein on vegan diet (which by the way is a myth as there have been no documented incidence, morbidity and mortality of protein deficiency), please follow bariatric surgeon Dr. Garth Davis. You see, there is an upswing of medical practitioners supporting vegan, whole-food plant based diet. In fact, even the American Diabetes Association is now encouraging doctors to offer this option to their patients.
- Low Vitamin B12 may be the culprit. But don’t panic just yet! The only thing which can confirm your deficiency is blood work ordered by your physician. Also, new vegans don’t suffer from immediate B12 deficiency because you have enough supply for 3-5 years of no supplementation. But even then, you’d be surprised to know that supplementation is not always the cause but the inability of your body to absorb Vitamin B 12, hence this condition is also prevalent among non-vegans, especially older people.
How to fix it: Vitamin B12 is available in oral supplements (daily with 10 micrograms or weekly with 2000 micrograms), injectable (once a month especially to those suffering from pernicious anemia), fortified food (ie nutritional yeast, Califia almond milk), or even sublingual.
What exactly is Vitamin B12 anyway? Vitamin B-12 a.k.a cobalamin is a water-soluble vitamin which helps in the normal functioning of the brain, nervous system and blood formation. Unknown to most, vitamin B12 comes from bacteria from the ground and found in the feces of animals, in particular, cows, chickens and pigs. Because of their unsanitary living condition, the chances of consuming their own feces mixed with soil is very high. You get the point of food cycle (bacteria to animals to man). Because vegans don’t consume animals and because vegetables are overly-washed now (sold for retail), their B12 source is said to be affected.
- You’re not exercising or not exercising enough. Most people turn to vegan diet to lose weight, and yes it can happen to some, even if you’re not exercising. But you are missing the point of staying healthy as vegan. Have you noticed an influx of athletes turning to vegan diet? If you want strength powered by plants, I suggest that you follow these world-class athletes who are living proofs that you don’t need meat for protein: Rich Roll (triathlete), Meagan Duhamel (figure skater), Nimai Delgado (bodybuilder), Patrik Baboumian (strength athlete), among others.
How to fix it: Exercise is one key to combating fatigue but if your body isn’t fueled properly, you will not have the energy to do so; hence we go back to #1 and #2 reasons as mentioned above. Read my fitness tips for women over 40.
- Other underlying medical issues. Vegan diet will not instantly give you super powers to tackle other underlying medical problems you may have. While there are hundreds of clinical studies and anecdotal experience how a strictly vegan diet can help with hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, among others, there are other reasons that can contribute to chronic fatigue (i.e hypothyroidism, low testosterone, fibromyalgia, respiratory problems, depression, among others). Fatigue is a symptom of anemia, a condition where your body does not produce enough red blood cells.
How to fix it: Needless to say, it is best to seek medical advice. Mention to your primary care doctor that you are vegan, or if your have family history of cancer, smoking, alcohol and drug history, and all other pertinent information related to your current condition. Health is wealth!
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