Throughout my 20+ years of being 99.9% vegetarian—and my girls’ whole lifetimes of being the same—we’ve learned to listen to our bodies and pay attention to the seasons of our lives.
When my girls were little, they never showed up with any nutritional deficiencies, but when they were teens, we discovered that one of them was low in D at a certain point and the other was low in iron at another point. And, because I have the same food lifestyle (and overall lifestyle) that my girls have, I considered that all of us might do well to explore our iron, B12, and D sources. (None of us were ever low in B12, but that can be a thing for vegetarians, so it went on the list.)
For D and B12, we added milk, but this was later to be regretted, as we recently discovered it’s the source of serious breakouts for one of my girls. (As an aside, in Farmacology Daphne Miller discusses why the homogenization of milk increases allergies. She notes, “The high-pressure churning…has the unintended effect of displacing allergy-causing proteins: Instead of remaining safely tucked inside the fat globules, they now lie on the membrane surface where they’re likely to set off an inflammatory response within the human immune system.” (p.72))
Needless to say, we’ve cut milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese from our main menus, which has caused us to get creative with substitutes. Last night, for instance, we made cranberry-orange muffins that called for milk. Instead of milk, we added a half cup of leftover chickpea cooking water and a half cup of leftover whole-wheat pasta cooking water (we just save these cooking waters in a pitcher in the fridge, for uses like this when such needs arise). Okay, and, unrelated, but perhaps of interest: we had no cranberries, so we put a bit of strawberry jam atop each muffin. (Covid quarantine creativity!) The muffins were quite delectable, with lots of hidden nutrition, and they served as a bit of comfort food in a hard time.
But, back to the matter at hand: D and B12. For both of these nutrients, we’re now depending more heavily on pastured eggs from our local farmers market. Yes, we were surprised to learn that egg yolks (especially from the eggs of pastured chickens) contain a lot of Vitamin D. Who knew? It does go to show that eating a little closer to the land can be a big key for health.
As to the question of iron, there are a few things we learned to keep in mind. First of all, we believe the tea factor was one of the biggest issues for my girl’s low iron (teenhood being the other issue, but there’s nothing we could do about that).
When we started researching about iron-rich foods, we discovered that tea and coffee can block up to 90% of your iron absorption. Oh my! This was significant, because we’d gotten into the otherwise good habit of having green tea with every single breakfast. Now we save our tea for afternoon tea or snack times.
Other than that, we were already eating a lot of iron-rich legumes, but we added black lentils on a regular basis. And now we eat more whole grains like millet and barley, being sure to soak them overnight to make the iron and other nutrients bioavailable.
When any of us feel a little more tired than usual, for too long, we do a short-term iron boost with liquid iron or raw iron. This is something to be careful about, since you can actually overdose on iron. But it’s what our doctor recommended for times when it seems we are feeling more fatigued than usual.
The nice thing about both of the iron supplements we use is that they have the better form of B12, plus C, both of which increase iron absorption. Though the supplements add a cost to our food bill, it’s not a frequent cost, and our overall costs are still low, because a plant-rich diet saves money on the whole.
Try out a bit of rhyming for fun. Rhyming is part of creating a humorous poem, which is why people sometimes accidentally end up with poems that are humorous when the poems weren’t meant to be. Of course, rhyming can also be beautiful, when handled deftly. But, for your “rich” poem, you can be funny if you like. After all, a good sense of humor takes us far when making shifts in life.
She says I should be rich,
in iron that is,
if only I can find
Lentils, lead me.
Barley, be not far from me.
You can still be mine—
but mostly after