I’m about to embark on a new dietary experiment which is giving me mixed feelings so I’m here to talk about it. My decision came about after recently receiving some disturbing lab results. I’m all about honesty. As much as I’d like everybody to think I am a vegan bursting with immaculate health, I have encountered a bump in my road and I’m ready to take action.
Earlier this year I participated in a research study entitled: Blood docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in vegans: Associations with age and gender and effects of an algal-derived omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids are fats that we need to get from our diet; our bodies cannot produce them. Previous research has indicated that vegans often have low levels of these critically important fats. The richest source is fatty fish like salmon and sardines. For vegans, walnuts, ground flax seeds and chia seeds are good sources and I eat these on a regular basis. Study results like this boosted my confidence that I was fine. I thought there was no way I would be low but my blood sample showed otherwise. In the reference range of 0.5%-10.6% my result was 2.4%. Anything under 4% is considered undesirable and 8% or higher is optimal (according to OmegaQuant). This is based on the levels of DHA and EPA in my blood. DHA and EPA are beneficial fats found in fish– not the same thing as alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 found in plant sources. The omega-3 fats found in plants like flax can be converted into DHA and EPA in the body, however this conversion is believed to be inefficient in some people. While I was conscious of consuming plenty of omega-3s in my diet, the conversion to DHA and EPA wasn’t happening. At least not in my blood– perhaps in my brain and other tissues it is good? Maybe I am eating too many nuts and seeds that are high in omega-6s? That’s the thing about all of this. Nobody really knows for sure. What I do know is that we understand very little about how various foods affect us and all I can do is go with the things science has established, doubts and all. On the one hand, I still have my concern for mercury and other pollutants in fish as well as disgust at the horror that the fishing industry is causing– but I also don’t want to take any chances with my health and these results scared me.
I received a follow-up email with an opportunity to take part in phase 2 of the study where I would take a supplement (from algae) daily for 3 months and then get retested to see if my omega-3 levels have increased. While I do take a B12 supplement, generally speaking I am not a fan of getting nutrients in pill form. And algae? I know it may be more humane but it doesn’t sound at all natural. Fish have been consumed by humans since ancient history. I doubt people ever had the urge to snack on algae. And while I have chosen not to eat them, I do recommend fish and seafood consumption for my clients as a healthy food (in moderation). After a long neurotic struggle inside my brain I decided to go with 1-2 servings of fish per week. Starting tonight. Chris had some striped bass he caught himself that was in the freezer. It’s not as high in omegas as salmon but it’s what we have. We also have a can of sardines in the pantry which I plan to try next week. Having such a strong reverence for life and love of all animals, I am not going to try to justify eating fish in any way other than to say that as a dietitian who is concerned with health I am going to do this. And I am okay with it. It feels very strange, after identifying with being vegan for over 12 years. My way of life almost felt like my religion. And now it’s changing. It feels almost unreal and a part of me fears that other people will judge me but I have to get over that and do what I believe is right in this situation.
I like things simple, clear and black and white. Rules provide structure. Veganism offers that. In a world filled with uncertainty and chaos, what you eat is one of the few things you can control. When animals are abused and the earth and oceans destroyed and there is nothing you can do to stop it, living a vegan lifestyle makes you feel like at least you are doing your part. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing to make a difference. Most days I will be vegan. Other days I won’t. Maybe after a few weeks I’ll decide to go back to avoiding seafood. I still believe you can have a healthy life omitting all animal products and I respect anybody who chooses to do so… as well as those who choose to eat animals and their products. I always felt pretty good eating the way I eat. Is it possible I might even feel better adding some fish for it’s DHA and EPA? Maybe this test result means nothing because in reality the science of nutrition is still in it’s infancy. I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure. But something clicked in my head and I’m ready to eat fish again. For me, I need to lighten my “vegan rules” and see what happens.
My first non-vegan meal in over 12 years: baked sweet potato and white potato, steamed spinach and grilled striped bass caught near Block Island by Chris.
I wasn’t really as appalled as I look- I am the most un-photogenic person I know and just happen to have my eyes closed in most photos. It would have been smart to take a few pics but hey, we wanted to eat.
Interested in Omega-3 information and vegan diets? Here are a couple of links to check out:
I’d love to hear anybody’s thoughts on this~