Okay, so I got this book called Eat Beautiful by legendary makeup artist Wendy Rowe and it was packed full of tips on which foods are good for you and will nourish your skin from the inside. Spoiler alert: It’s totally awesome, BUT they’re mostly expensive and some of them are obscure and hard to find.
However, such things don’t normally bother me. I totally loved this book and will use the info in it when I am in a country where I can acquire the foods it talks about. But for now? In China? I am not. Most of the food here is weird.
So instead, here’s my own list of things I have found that really make a difference, all of which I’ve been able to buy in one form or another in China (except Miso soup… WTF China?!):
Tomatoes. Tomato juice is my favorite, but also passata, any kind of tomato-based pasta sauce or soup, fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes… they all contain antioxidants and lycopenes, which help protect your skin against cancer by helping the cells stay healthy. Healthy cells are pretty cells.
Blueberries. These also contain antioxidants. Now, current research shows that you don’t want to overload on antioxidants because after a certain point they’re not so useful. However, most of us don’t get enough dark blue and purple fruits and vegetables, so I’m still reaching for the blueberries in the store.
Avocado. Vitamin E is SO good for your skin, especially as you age. It gives you a healthy glow. And avocados, along with nuts and olives, are full of vitamin E.
Coconut oil. I’ve talked before about coconut oil. It’s good for you on the outside and the inside. Enough said.
Miso soup. Expensive, but really healthy. Fermented soy beans are the ones that are effective in the fight against cancer. We’re talking PREVENTION here; if you HAVE cancer, go to a real doctor.
Black grapes. As well as making the BEST wine/champagne, black grapes are healthy AF, and like blueberries and tomatoes, they help reverse skin cell damage to ensure your outer layers are in tip-top shape.
Orange juice. Some people buy vitamin C serum to put on their faces. Others just drink more orange juice. I prefer to drink it because I put enough other stuff on my face, lol. It’s not a buzzy fad food, but sometimes the oldies are the best. Also, OJ is WAY cheaper than vitamin C serum, by several orders of magnitude, and if you only put it on your face you’re losing out on all the other health benefits of orange juice.
Shiitake Mushrooms. Got a vitamin D deficiency? These will help. And we’re all more beautiful when we have the inner tranquility of not having nutritional deficiencies.
Spinach, kale and broccoli. If you’re low on vitamin K, leafy dark green vegetables are the way forward. A vitamin K deficiency makes your skin look pallid and washed out, and it also makes you bruise more easily, making blue under-eye circles and veins worse. Consult your doctor if you’re on warfarin.
Carrots. Beta carotene gives you a healthy glow (some people even take tanning tablets with a high amount of beta carotene to make them look tanned, although I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s also the reason that flamingoes are pink– they eat shrimp packed with beta carotene. That’s why they sometimes turn white in the zoo; lack of beta carotene), and pro-retinol of course has boatloads of research to support its effectiveness as a beauty product.
Parabens. It’s seen as a dirty word amongst the “natural beauty” movement and the “mainstream” cosmetics industry is trying its best to ignore it, right? Because of parabens, many people are spending more money than ever on cosmetics and personal care products to avoid those scary-sounding paraben ingredients.
Today I want to step (mostly) aside from the quibble over whose scientific paraben research was more inaccurate, to examine the bigger question; who really benefits from the fears surrounding parabens?
To get at the answer, we need to do some digging. You may have noticed the unbelievable number of very expensive “natural beauty” paraben-free organic natural companies that have sprung up over the past couple of years. They charge you an arm and a leg for beautifully coloured, luxuriously scented containers of goop with names such as “thermal spa minerals bath elixir” “cleansing water mist” and “nourishing body souffle.”
Paraben free products are not necessarily being marketed by ethical companies.
Okay, so some of you are thinking “what is going on? Has she been paid to say this?”
I am an independent researcher, sitting at home writing this, and I look at all the information I can get my hands on and I base my conclusion on the information I find.
Here’s some things you need to know about the people telling you to avoid parabens:
1. The “natural beauty” companies who are selling the paraben free products are operating on a much higher profit margin than conventional companies. It doesn’t cost them more money to avoid putting an ingredient in a product because they’re not replacing parabens with something else that costs more. Here’s an analogy: Think of a cake, if you made a cake without chocolate powder, so it was a plain flavoured cake, would it cost you more to make that cake, or a cake which used chocolate powder? When all the other ingredients stayed the same, the chocolate cake would cost more to make. So why is the plain cake costing so much more to buy? Why are the paraben free products costing up to ten times more than their paraben-containing counterparts? It’s very profitable to make paraben-free products.
2. The “big beauty companies” that some sensationalist self-styled “health journalists” are criticizing? Most of them are benefiting from the paraben myth in some way. Here’s a list of well-known beauty companies who have at least one product that they’re marketing as paraben free:
Clarins, Clinique, Ojon, Pureology (and by extension, L’Oreal), Dead Sea Spa, Aveda, Morrocan Oil, Vaseline, Revlon, Dr Organic, Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees, Bare Escentuals (and Bare Minerals), L’Occitane, Origins.
This is where the biggest money behind the anti-paraben hype is overtly coming from, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only people making megabucks from scaring you away from parabens.
3. A lot of the smaller start-up companies (such as all the new startup sellers of natural, paraben-free, organic, very expensive products) don’t have to list their board of directors or key shareholders, particularly if they’re not floated on the stock exchange or aren’t incorporated. This means that, to start a smaller start-up company that makes big bucks from the current “natural beauty” craze, a larger company can finance it for a share of the profits, guide product development and marketing, then step back and let the smaller company turn a profit – who then repay a percentage of that to the larger company. We’ve seen this time and again on Dragon’s Den, you think they’re the only people doing it? Everyone in business with investment capital is doing it! If the smaller company goes bankrupt (such as “organic skincare” company Davina Peace… they had a waiting list of clients when they launched in 2010. You can find Davina Peace halfway down this list of insolvent companies in administration in 2012, along with the date of insolvency), the larger company washes their hands of the whole thing because it was nothing to do with them. If anything, they end up on the list of creditors (people owed money). If and when the current “natural skincare” craze ends, and the consumers start looking for something else, the larger company comes out of this beauty trend totally unscathed, with their reputation in tact when everyone goes back to buying “normal” stuff again. It is impossible to know behind the scenes who is financing and guiding these companies. It is impossible to know if any company is truly independent because corporate accounting strategies are inscrutable. Smaller companies are less accountable than larger ones.
4. You know whose products still contain parabens? The Body Shop! They’re an independent company not affiliated to any others, they are all about “natural” skincare and beauty, but their products are still packed with parabens. Why? Because they want to kill you? Uh, reality check, if cosmetics companies kill their customers, who’s going to be left alive to buy cosmetics? They use parabens because the evidence for the current paraben-noia is flimsy, it all comes from studies where at least one of the same people were involved, they all use very small sample sizes (the latest one, the one that “proves” parabens are dangerous? 40 participants. All in Britain. That’s 0.0000000006% of the world’s population (or 0.000000012% of the population of America). And the researcher was forced to conclude that parabens are “only part of the bigger picture” which is scientist speak for “I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life barking up the wrong tree.” Why was this conclusion made? Well 7 of the 40 participants didn’t even use any cosmetics in the underarm area, so they weren’t getting any parabens from those products and yet the tissue samples still contained parabens. No deodorant, no body lotion… do you know anyone who doesn’t use any deodorant, any lotion, anything at all under their arms, who ALSO wears face cream or make-up? Who bathes regularly?? I don’t. These things tend to come in groups – people who don’t use deodorant (including natural ones) or body lotion tend not to use other products. Such as shower gel. And that’s if we totally ignore her first study on the effect of parabens, published in January 2004, which had a sample of twenty participants (also in Britain) and didn’t have a control group (a group of people who didn’t have cancer, or who didn’t use parabens, for example, to check if their paraben level was the same), which is the study everyone keeps misquoting.
5. Research is driven by funding. Without funding, people don’t research things. Every job in science has to be paid for and accounted for. Researchers have to justify why they need money in most fields. By studying parabens, an oncologist (for example) would no longer need to depend on funding from public health bodies (such as the nearly-bankrupt British NHS, Britain being the country where all of the research on parabens was carried out by the same lead author) or charities specialising in cancer research, and instead, that researcher could open up a huge avenue of funding for the university they work for, from cosmetics companies (or subsidiary research institutes funded by straw-man companies funded by cosmetics companies) who stand to gain from the results – if those results mean they can sell more paraben-free products. Additionally, these big companies don’t require the results to be very rigorous (unlike health organizations) as long as they’re sensational. Just like the beauty blogger who sells her scruples for a free mascara, the researcher claims that “all opinions are my own” although in science-speak, that’s “the research method was robust.” For good measure, the researcher could get other people they know to peer-review it (everyone in the same field knows each other). This is sadly how a lot of corporate-relevant scientific research is being done nowadays – fund a university, they can claim they’re independent, the company might even guide the university’s researchers about sharing the results with the world to get maximum impact but because it came from a university lab, we believe every word as infallible. This is how many people get a PhD these days! It all depends how financially malleable the researchers are, but there are hints that this happens all over academia, especially in the research areas most relevant to the pharmaceutical, nutritional and cosmetics industries. If the research had showed parabens were not implicated in cancer, the cosmetics companies would gain less overall. When was the last time a newspaper ran a story that said “fresh broccoli doesn’t cause cancer” (for example)? It doesn’t sell products.
So what, exactly am I trying to say, and who do I think I am that I can say this? Just like animal testing, the truth behind these “natural beauty” companies is surrounded by a mystique of obfuscation, corporate financial backing and bad science… which makes them no better than the regular cosmetics companies. I wrote this because I value honesty and I was compelled to show that you don’t need to spend large amounts of money on “paraben free” products. These companies are cashing in on our biggest fears.
I think that in order to really get to the heart of the paraben issue, we’ve got to examine why we react so strongly to allegations that products are dangerous: Fear.
The Role Of Fear
We fear cancer more than anything else because we feel powerless, most of us know someone who has died of cancer. Breast cancer is terrifying because we don’t know why some people get it and others don’t. We don’t know why cancer seems to be getting more common than ever before. Personally, I believe it’s down to processed food; I think there’s something about all those condiments, sauces, ready meals and so on. But that doesn’t net an attention grabbing headline, that’s never going to produce viral content, so nobody writes about it or researches it for long because they can’t get funding. Research is driven by funding – especially at universities. Who funds research? Companies who stand to gain from it!
Look at the recent evidence linking bacon to cancer. What was the public’s response? Oh, I love bacon, I’m never going to stop eating bacon! It hardly made the news for a week before disappearing! These are the same people avoiding cigarettes and parabens! The reason I wanted the world to know what fuels the paraben myth is because people think that if they avoid parabens they get some kind of points, that they can then use to smoke, drink and eat bacon. It doesn’t work like that. The things you eat, drink and smoke are the real culprits here.
Japanese women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than anyone else in the world because of their diet. Tokyo is a very polluted urban environment; have you ever been there? Huge skyscrapers, people’s living space is tiny, ventilation is complicated, and yet those women are getting breast cancer less often than women living in the Great Plains. Do Japanese women use parabens? Of course they do! They may use some “traditional Japanese” products, but when was the last time you used a “traditional” product of your own nationality? The only traditional English beauty product I use is rosewater from the supermarket (the stuff in the beauty shop is full of alcohol – which DOES cause cancer when ingested), and if I’m honest, I don’t use it as often as I should.
By avoiding parabens, consumers are being given a false sense of control, a false sense of security, a false sense of everything’s fine. Clearly, everything is not fine. Vegetarians and meat eaters are getting cancer at similar rates. Natural organic homeopaths are getting cancer at the same rate as people using branded products full of parabens and “chemicals.” The lie is that we are safe if we avoid parabens and other molecules labeled as “nasties.” We are not safe. None of us are. That’s the truth about parabens: You can avoid any ingredient with more than ten letters in the name as much as you like, it’s not going to help you. All this is doing is letting the real culprits get away with murder for longer while the cosmetics companies get even richer than ever from people’s fear.
Cosmetics companies are experts in using fear to sell products – fear of looking old, fear of really being old… those anti-ageing creams are cashing in on people’s fear of mortality. Fear of being ugly, of not looking attractive… make-up cashes in on people’s fear of being alone, people’s fear of rejection. The cosmetics industry has a long track record of subtly using fear to motivate women to buy their products. I’m not telling you to start buying products full of parabens, or to stop buying cosmetics; you should look how you want to, but you need to be aware of the truth about parabens. Avoiding parabens is not going to save you. We will all get old. We will all be alone sometimes. We will all die one day. And that’s the real truth about parabens. It’s a shame everyone’s so busy being scared of parabens to understand what’s really at play here.
After seeing a lot of articles about 101 uses of coconut oil (or more) I decided to write a list of what I’ve used coconut oil for. All of the things I mention here are things I’ve actually used coconut oil for, because there’s a lot of embellished “uses” for coconut oil floating around the internet that aren’t quite verifiable (I wrote about this yesterday in my article 10 Myths About Coconut Oil That Just Need To Die).
1. To cook food. It’s especially good to fry stir fry if you’re having Thai food. I tried spreading it on toast but I didn’t like it. I’ve never tried it in coffee, but in tea, it just sits on the surface as an oily blob even if you use a blender. People say it’s flavourless in cooking – I disagree, I think it tastes like coconut.
2. As a moisturiser / lotion. Just rub it on your skin. Too much can cause breakouts on sensitive skin (e.g. my cheeks). Bear in mind it sits on the surface a bit, so it will cause grease stains on your clothing, sofa or sheets unless you want to stand upright for several hours after using it. Coconut oil and silky fabrics REALLY don’t mix.
3. As the base for homemade cosmetics, such as DIY lipbalm. Actually that’s the only one I’ve used it for but it was really easy to add some rosewater. I’ll make a video of how to do this real soon.
4. To clean and possibly whiten your teeth via the oil pulling method, which is an Ancient Ayurvedic technique (i.e. they use it in India and have done for a while). I’ve made a video where I investigated the claim that coconut oil can whiten your teeth. Watch the video here.
5. To moisturize dry hair as an intensive conditioning treatment: Melt, slather over hair, leave on for at least 30 minutes and wash out with normal shampoo and conditioner.
6. As a home-made dandruff prevention and scalp soother. Melt a small amount in your hand, rub between your fingers and rub it over your scalp. I found this sped up hair growth as well.
7. To smooth frizz/flyaway hair. Using a small amount regularly prevents split ends so hair appears to grow faster.
8. For hayfever and seasonal pollen allergies. Rub it on the inside of your nose instead of Vaseline to soothe allergies. This isn’t going to be as effective as Benadryl; it catches the pollen before it gets a chance to get up your nose where it would usually wreak havoc, but of course it’s not going to catch all of it. When I worked at a pharmacy we used to recommend this to pregnant women as they were unable to take allergy tablets.
9. To make natural home-made tea light candles instead of using beeswax. Melt it, mix with the scents or colorants you feel like, add a wick, set it on fire. I only did this once and I found the coconut oil melts too quickly unless you do this in a tea-light foil dish thingy. Do those things have a name??
10. To make natural home-made soap instead of using glycerin. Melt it, mix with the scents and colorants you feel like, and rub it on you in the tub (but remember it’s still going to melt at relatively low temperatures).
Please consult a healthcare provider before using coconut oil if you feel ill.
What have you used coconut oil for? Did it work as you expected? Let me know in the comments!
With so many different types of sunscreen on the market today, it can be hard to know which type is best for sun protection. And that’s if you don’t even try to contemplate what Sun Protection Factor (SPF) you need to protect yourself from skin cancer and other damage from ultraviolet rays such as premature ageing. Twenty years ago, many people used to view sunscreen as optional. Thirty years before that, sunscreen had barely been invented and everyone thought SPF 2 (yeah, you read it right) was the biggest thing ever. These days, we’ve all been terrified into knowing better, and advances in SPF technology means we can all afford to protect ourselves from UV sun damage. Skin cancer is the ninth most common cancer in Europe (there are actually three main types of skin cancer, but they put them together for this statistic), and malignant melanoma (the really bad one) is the 19th most common cancer worldwide. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, these figures are rising quickly, because our parents and grandparents (and so on) trashed the O-Zone layer that used to reflect many more of the harmful UV rays back out into space. So the meek inherit the Earth – but only after the pushy have wrecked it for everyone. Thanks, gramps. Isn’t it handy that they invented sunscreen around the same time we really needed it?
More importantly, no statistic is ever going to show whether skin cancer will happen to you or not. Since sunscreen is really good at preventing premature ageing, and protects you from ultraviolet rays, why risk it at all? Here’s the types of sunscreen and their pro’s and con’s:
Sun Block: Typical range: Factor 50 and over.
This is the gloopy stuff that looks like emulsion paint when you put it on your skin. It is favoured by very pasty looking people (the correlation is probably because it makes you look whiter) and is renowned for being able to block EVERYTHING. But is that necessarily a good thing?
According to Model Beauty Secrets, you should be using factor 50 and over. My aunt, a nurse practitioner (no, Americans, it’s not like being a nurse, it’s like being a doctor with less pay), also recommends factor 50+ during summer months.
But there was that rumour last year about whether high-factor sun block caused Vitamin D deficiency. I’ve written an article all about Vitamin D that’s very scientific and much more comprehensive than anything I’ve seen to support this theory, and here’s what I think: If you don’t get Vitamin D from your diet, for example if you are vegan, then you need to get it from somewhere. HOWEVER, if you don’t get the cholesterol (as vegans don’t), going unprotected in the sun is useless because your body won’t have any raw materials to turn into Vitamin D! I’m glad to see this myth getting shelved again for the time being, but I do think our fear of cancer and ageing is starting to spoil the fun of going out on a sunny day – with OR without sunscreen.
My biggest gripe with high-factor sun block is that it suffocates my skin, overloads it with crap, and makes me break out in horrible spots. That can’t be good for you either, and I can’t see models walking round with white skin and red spots all over to combat fear of ageing – surely ageing skin is just as bad as red breakout spots! It’s a trade off, though – if you burn easily and have very fair skin, or if you’re a child, use sun block. Otherwise, go for something lighter and re-apply regularly.
Tanning Oil (with SPF): Typical range: Factor 2-15
This is a light SPF for people who wish to tan in the sun. I’ll be honest, I’ve been using this stuff during the thirty degree heat wave we’ve been having in the UK this week (I use the factor 15). I’m not convinced it’s actually making me tan any quicker than normal sunscreen, but it definitely feels nicer on my skin, is quicker and easier to apply, and leaves me feeling non-sticky, which are all a good thing.
The cons are if you have greasy skin this might not be for you (I have normal skin, bordering on very slightly dry), and obviously it’s not going to be great for sitting around the house in your best dress – you might get oil stains. But for its intended purpose – tanning – it’s the best sun protection and skincare you can get, as it doesn’t leave your skin feeling overloaded.
Face Sun Cream: Typical range: Factor 20-50
This is a special type of sun cream that is made for the more delicate skin on your face. After all, you wouldn’t use body lotion on your face, so why use body sun cream on it? The pros are that it’s usually formulated to be non-greasy, non-shiny and some of them are even gels that are supposed to be more hydrating (for my normal skin I disagree and feel drier after using a gel for some reason). The downsides are that hardly any shops actually stock it, and that it can cost the same for a tiny tube as it costs for a whole big bottle of the body sun cream. Avon does some good ones but they can be very expensive so keep an eye out for special offers.
Facial Moisturisers with Sun Protection: Typical range: Factor 10-20
These are usually daily moisturisers such as Olay that have a small amount of sunscreen in them. The advantage is that you don’t need a separate cream for sunny days, but the disadvantages are that you probably won’t re-apply it during the day, and that means that the sun will burn through it as the day goes on. Factor 15 needs to be reapplied every 20-30 minutes in direct sun exposure or on a cloudy day, twice during the day (source here) and most people put their face cream on and forget about it. This leads to premature ageing, so you’re better off going barefaced and suncreamed in summer or on sunny days (remember you can even burn while skiing, so cream up whatever time of year that the sun is out) so that you can re-apply without removing all your makeup. Additionally, it’s only really useful if it’s factor 15 and above, as I discussed earlier, and annoyingly they don’t seem to do an SPF 50 day cream worth a damn.
Body Sun Cream: Typical range: Factor 15-30
This is the best sun protection for most people. It isn’t too cloggy and isn’t too lax on the protection, and it goes well under normal clothes without causing grease stains or other problems. The advantages are that it’s cheap and easy to come by, and that it usually comes in a good sized bottle so you don’t need to worry about whether you have enough to keep reapplying. The disadvantages are that it won’t protect you enough if you’re pale or a toddler, and that it can cause you to break out if you use it on your face.
What about UVA and UVB?
Most sun creams nowadays protect against both UVA and UVB. UVA can age us and UVB can burn us, so finding a sunscreen that protects against both is important. The SPF on the bottle usually refers JUST to UVB, which prevents burning, but does nothing to stop premature ageing (just to make it more complicated)! To find out the UVA rating, there is now a labelling requirement that if it says “UVA” on the label, a sunscreen has to protect you against 1/3 of the amount of UVA of the SPF. For example, if your sunscreen was SPF30, with a UVA sticker on the bottle, it would have a UVA SPF of at least 10. If there’s no UVA logo, there is no obligation to protect you from UVA. To make it more complicated, there’s also UVC, but apparently that still gets stopped by what’s left of the O-zone layer.
General Sunscreen Tips:
The bottle needs to be kept in a cool place: This is so the suncream doesn’t degrade from the heat – yep, suncream has to be kept out of the sun. The fridge is good if you’re in a super-hot country like Greece or Tunisia, but in the UK it should usually be fine in a cupboard, drawer or shelf in your house.
Don’t forget the lips! Your lips are unable to produce melanin to protect themselves from the sun so they need all the help they can get – an SPF 20+ lip balm is perfect for men and women alike.
Don’t forget your scalp either! You can either spray suncream onto it directly or wear a hat, but don’t get sunburn on your scalp, I have it on high authority that it’s a terrible place to get it! The hat is the better option if you need to protect your hair as well. Baldies and people with a shaved head should use a high SPF because most of the sun will catch your head.
Follow the airport’s rules on what size bottles you can take with you: It’s really embarrassing to be made to throw away all those suncreams and after suns when you get to airport security, and it’s a surefire way to annoy the other passengers who followed the rules (yes, the rules are really dumb, but you can’t change ’em, if you don’t like them, travel overland like I do most of the time).
Reapply it regularly: Often if you touch your skin (e.g. your arm) and it feels dry (like it doesn’t have any moisturiser/suncream on) then you need to reapply. If you can’t tell, then reapply to be safe.
Which sunscreen are you using during this heatwave? Let me know in the comments!
So I’ve been absolutely blown away with the support for my blog – readership and views DOUBLED this month compared to the last three! And there’s a third of this month still left! I’m really excited about what I’m going to do to take this blog into the future, so here’s some ideas I’ve had for regular posting slots:
Travel Tuesday – an article on travelling, logistics, cars, driving, planning travel or somewhere I’ve been.
Wedding Wednesday – an article about weddings, every Wednesday. Inspiration for simple, minimalist weddings which pack more fun in for less money; also (of course) vegan weddings (and vegan, minimalist weddings if anyone other than me is thinking of doing/has done both), and lots of information on the practicalities and budgeting. I feel really strongly about weddings that people have lost sight of the true meaning of a wedding with all this overpriced, bloated gimcrackery. If you want a consumerist wedding (read: £5,000 or more that you’ll never see again), or a wedding where everyone is dressed in bearskins, you might want to read someone else’s blog on a Wednesday.
Anything Can Happen Thursday! – Any article, completely at random. The suspense….
Friday – day off. Or an article. Because I’m unpredictable on Fridays.
Saturday – A beauty or hair post, or a link to my latest youtube tutorial, hopefully in time for anyone going out on the town who needs info.
Soft Soft Sunday – A day for fluffy bunnies.
Let me know what you think as I’d love to have your input in shaping the future of this blog! After all, without y’all, I wouldn’t have any readers.
This article outlines the problems with vegetable iron sources – and the solution (and it’s not necessarily meaty).
The science bit:
Iron is a mineral. It’s also an element, which means it’s on the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. The fact that everything in the universe is made of chemical elements is why it makes me giggle when people come out with all that “it’s natural there’s no chemicals in this product” nonsense. Every atom is a chemical element of some sort, and every molecule is a combination of atoms – a chemical..
Iron has the chemical symbol Fe and is one of the transition metals, it’s moderately reactive, that is to say that it’s not as reactive as the group I and group II metals (zinc, magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium… you should watch a video about some of these if you haven’t seen them react in water). It’s still fairly reactive though, when compared to copper, gold, silver, or any of the group 4 or group 0 elements (such as carbon, which is in group 4).
The nutritional bit:
We need a small amount of a lot of different metals in our body – we call these minerals, because it sounds nicer than calling them either metals or chemical elements. We need 8-18mg of iron in our bodies every day. That means eating some broccoli on Monday isn’t going to cut it by the time Tuesday rolls round, and it’ll be long used up by Thursday.
The funny thing about dietary iron is that there are two types. Iron likes to behave differently under different circumstances because it does weird stuff (copper is similar in this respect), so it actually does make a difference whether your iron came from an animal or non animal source. In biochemistry, they actually have two different names for these two sources of iron – animal-derived iron is called heme iron (which is what you have in your body after your body has processed it) and plant-derived iron is called non-heme iron. The iron you find in your blood is always heme iron.
Basically, if you eat heme iron, the animal you got it from has already done the hard job of turning the non-heme iron into heme iron, which means you can absorb more of it, and you absorb it faster, and less of it is needed or wasted. If you eat non-heme iron, you are the one who has to do the job of turning it into heme iron before it can get to your blood stream (to make hemoglobin – see how they both have the same word stem). This makes it a slower process, and means you should eat more of it, because its less absorbable.
For vegans, this can pose a problem but being aware of it means that you can easily overcome it. The solution is to just eat more iron-containing foods, such as the ones I’ve listed in my table of vegan nutrition in this article. You do need to be aware of this though, because it means the Recommended Daily Allowance / Daily Value for iron doesn’t give you a true picture of how much iron you need to consume as part of your daily vegan diet. The medical associations who made that stuff up were doing it under the assumption that you eat an “average American/British/Insert Your Country Here diet.” For most vegans, that’s not you, which means you need to fiddle those numbers a bit and get more iron than the omnivores, so you get the same amount of iron in your blood as they get in theirs.
The medical bit:
If you don’t get enough iron, you will become anaemic. Anaemia is a decrease in the amount of red blood cells, because without iron, you can’t make red blood cells. They are the ones that carry oxygen around your body to release energy (which is the whole point of breathing and the process is called respiration). If you don’t have anything to carry the oxygen, you will constantly be tired and weak, and you will probably also be thirsty and dizzy and confused. Contrary to popular belief, you won’t go pale until the anaemia has reached a very severe level, so don’t rely on that as an indicator.
The list of symptoms of anaemia are:
Weakness, fatigue, general malaise, poor concentration, poor temperature regulation (feeling too hot or too cold for no reason). Some people also get depression, shortness of breath and in some cases, palpitations or angina can be present, due to increased heart rate as the body thinks it’s been exercising (anaerobic respiration) due to the lack of oxygen getting around the body.
Eventually, anaemia can kill you. Brittany Murphy and her boyfriend both died from pneumonia, which was a complication of the severe anaemia that they both had.
Not all of these symptoms will affect everybody, and the only reliable way to tell is to go to a doctor and get a blood test done. They will invariably want to put you on iron tablets, but be careful because I was given some last January that were called “Ferrous Fumarate” and they were made with gelatin, so that was a waste of money. Also be aware that in the UK those iron supplements that you get on prescription are also available over the counter, and if you pay for your prescriptions you should ask for the price because they’re usually selling for half the price of the prescription charge (and they’re not the ones you’ll find on the shelf – they’re more effective).
If you have anaemia, it’s a really good idea to take the iron tablets (I have some that are called ferrous sulphate which are vegan, but it will depend on the manufacturer as to which type are ok because different pharmacies use different brands which have different recipes, so always check). Making changes to your diet will help maintain your current iron level, but eating more iron-rich foods won’t be enough to increase your iron levels as much as is needed to overcome anaemia because you’re losing more blood cells by the minute due to the fact that you exist.
Side effects of iron tablets depend on which ones you get but I found the following side effects:
1. Standard off the shelf iron supplements – diarrhea, feeling too hot, stomach discomfort. They also don’t have enough iron in them to resolve anaemia (they have 14mg and the Ferrous Sulphate have 200mg).
2. Ferrous Fumarate – the idea made me feel sick due to the gelatin, so I didn’t actually take any.
3. Ferrous Sulphate – greenish tinge to stools, looser bowel movements, but nothing too spectacular. Sometimes they give me mild headaches.
In the long term, you are better off just eating more iron-rich foods. In the short term, get some supplements until you feel better. To prevent anaemia, always make sure you’ve eaten a bit more iron than you think you need. Remember, it’s not the general vegan diet that’s caused the anaemia, it’s your individual food choices within that vegan diet – so you have the power to fix it without necessarily having to resort to stopping veganism. Don’t deny the problem though if you have one because anaemia is really serious and totally curable.
Obviously doctors (and everyone else) are very quick to blame the vegan diet for anaemia, and for good reason, but do bear in mind that it doesn’t make you exempt from the other causes of anaemia which are more serious, so if your anaemia persists for several months while you’ve been taking supplements, go back to your doctor so he or she can thoroughly investigate the problem and make sure they didn’t overlook a serious blood disorder or something else important. If this is the case, it may be your sad duty to stop being vegan and include some meat in your diet to keep yourself alive.
If that happens, try not to be too hard on yourself. It may be that once you’ve got your iron stores high enough, you can be vegan again.
I was first diagnosed with anaemia in 2010. I spent 3 years in denial of the problem, until in late 2013 I developed a chronic blood loss problem that lasted 3 months. The blood loss caused the doctor to test for anaemia. This time, I eventually had to accept the diagnosis, from a different doctor, based on a different blood test. I was so anaemic that I had to take the iron tablets twice a day and I was also told, in no uncertain terms, that if I did not start including red meat in my diet I would never be able to function normally. For the first six months I made sure I ate red meat every second day. Then I tapered it down to about once a week. Then I left off unless I craved it, because in my experience my body tells me what it needs. Then I stopped completely, on 31st December 2014.
It’s two months since I stopped with the red meat regime and returned to being vegan. I’m now about 60-40 fruitarian to vegan, and I thoroughly researched the sources for nutrients before I considered changing my diets, which is what led to this vegan nutrition food sources table.
I do still take the Ferrous Sulphate when I need it, such as over the past week where the dizziness (technically it’s classed as vertigo, because it’s defined as “the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving” which is coupled with a feeling of disorientation and confusion, and always my first sign of anaemia, along with dry lips and skin) returned and I had to leave school early on Friday, leaving my classes in the hands of a cover teacher and losing half a day’s pay. I hate missing school for both of those reasons. So I’m back on the iron tablets again, due to the return in the last couple of weeks of the chronic blood loss problem, and I’m hoping that by catching it early this time, it will mean I don’t have to eat meat again. I’m also taking Vitamin K to help with the clotting.
I’ve always been a big fan of eating whole, unharassed, clean vegetables. I really love the simplicity of it. I think it’s one of the things I love most about my rabbits – we can pretty much eat the same food. However, I didn’t always know how to eat. My biggest mistake when I first became vegan was that I tried looking for foods in the supermarket that were beyond the fruit and veg aisle. I found myself frustrated with the conventional foods and convenience foods in the parts of the supermarket that I’d always bought food from, the fact that dietary staples such as Packet Pasta (an example would be Kraft Macaroni), vegetarian frozen food, vegetarian chilled ready meals, curry sauces, snacks and even drinks were full of animal products. I had many a meltdown in the supermarket where I would just walk out of the shop and sit in my car and cry, because I didn’t know what to do, I was certain I wasn’t going to eat that crap, but I didn’t know what to eat.
Something my aunt told me recently, when I told her a vegan friend has found out she’s gluten intolerant, was “she’s going to have to learn to cook then.”
This is the big myth that keeps us all subjugated and enslaved to a world of shit food.
You don’t have to learn to cook. You don’t need to learn to cook.
You need to learn to eat.
A lot of “so you want to be vegan” type books (apologies if this book is real, I’m categorizing a type of book here) tell you that you need to eat more whole foods, that you can get “meaty” foods like tofu, Facon (fake bacon), scheeze (fake cheese) and so on, to replace the meat in your food.
Meat loss is not the problem.
All these eating books have built up the idea that you need to replace the meat with a solid, meat-textured object, that you only need to check the ingredients are animal free, and that if you do, POP! You’re vegan.
This type of eating is unsustainable, and really it undermines the fundamental principles of veganism. Instead of trying to find foods that you used to eat which happen to be vegan, and attempting to subsist off those (beans on toast anyone), or trying to “veganize” foods which are not vegan, or imitate foods, here’s a staggering thought:
How about try eating totally different foods, including lots of fruit and vegetables, and see where that takes you?
I’m only being slightly sarcastic here because it wasn’t until my mum died of cancer in December that I realised what I’d been doing wrong with my eating habits this entire time. We all do it. It’s so ingrained into us from birth that we must eat a particular way and when we question it we’re told it’s because of nutrition and when we get ill we’re told it’s because we’re not eating a particular way. On paper, I’ve always thought I understood this concept of “changing the way you eat” and thought it just meant, “stop eating animal products” and “move away from meat and two veg nonsense.” It’s so very much bigger than that.
What if the answer was to totally break free from all the things you think you know about cooking, all your kitchenware, all your dishes, steamers, microwave, etc etc? And then, once you’ve started listening to your body, identifying what it needs, and acting on it, you could maybe add some of those things back in?
After I got the news about my mum, I couldn’t eat anything other than raw vegetables for a week.
I didn’t understand why. My 22 year old sister, across the country, was spontaneously having the exact same problem. We both fundamentally knew, no matter what anyone told us was the cause of our mother’s death, that food was the key. In our house growing up, a meal would be chicken nuggets and chips, with maybe a tablespoon of tinned peas or sweetcorn. Snacks were crisps, biscuits and in summer, home-made ice lollies made from that stuff you dilute. We never had real fruit juice, fresh vegetables or fruit. Sometimes at Christmas there would be tangerines. When we went to clear her house, we found receipts for food shopping. Ready meals full of processed meat and other junk. I had changed the way I ate when I first left home at 18. Moving in with an Aunt while I finished school had been a culture shock. The idea of eating two freshly cooked vegetables with the evening meal literally astounded me. I felt so healthy. I didn’t even consider the possibility that this was only a moderately healthy meal. I still filled my face with chocolate and crisps, now adding biscuits and cakes to the list.
Sometimes, when I’m reading about nutrition and I come across some of the delicate balances of nutrients that we humans need, I wonder how it is that some people are still alive. I wonder how my sister and I didn’t grow up with some serious developmental disorders due to what we were eating.
I went to university. I became vegetarian. I felt like I’d never been healthier. I swapped sausages (which I’d always detested) for vegetarian sausages. Chicken nuggets became vegetarian nuggets. Chips (fries) were still chips. Pot noodles and spaghetti hoops were still the same too. Crisps (potato chips) were still a daily dietary staple. So was chocolate. I struggled with my weight, constantly fighting to get down to a 10 (US6). I exercised and didn’t understand why I was tired all the time. It literally didn’t occur to me that my poor diet was making me ill.
Fast forward two years. I became vegan. I took the “3 week vegan challenge” and, once the three weeks were up, I never really got round to eating eggs or dairy again. I felt healthier, stronger, happier, more outgoing, my grades soared and I was finally on track to get the degree classification I’d been obsessing over for the past two years. Never had I felt better. All my life, I’d been plagued by stomach pains, stomach cramps, trapped wind, bloating and a constant feeling of nausea. I had actually associated that nausea with feeling full. When I became vegan, after the first two weeks, all these problems went away. I realised that it wasn’t normal to feel like this, and that I had the power to avoid it. That was when I first started wondering if I was lactose intolerant. I had a few false starts in the first year; every time I slipped up, I felt the familiar nausea and pains in my stomach. It became a big decision-making factor in what I ate. And nothing vegan ever made me feel like that.
Two years later, I’d become quite ill. I’d been working at McDonalds and eating fries for lunch every day, or a hash brown if I was on the breakfast shift. Milkshakes started creeping their way in. And ice creams. Soon I was feeling sick all the time again, and I had forgotten why this happened. I thought it might be gluten, I was adamant that it couldn’t possibly be milk. After six months off gluten and feeling only slightly better (probably because my favourite food was pasta and cheese sauce), I had to concede that it was milk. I was being sick several times every day. I got very ill with a mobility problem and was in bed most days, with no money to buy good food. I finally cut out milk and, while some of my problems improved, others got worse.
I had cut out milk, but I hadn’t replaced it with anything. Yes, I was drinking soy milk instead of regular milk in my tea, but there was also the lasagna, mac and cheese, yoghurt; I had replaced them with totally different milk-free foods, but I hadn’t replaced the nutrients. Primarily, the protein.
I didn’t realise this until a fitness instructor was sat next to me at lunch one day and she looked at my food, tapped the plastic container and demanded “where is your protein?” in a particular tone that the written word cannot emulate. I looked at my food. I looked at her. Nettled at criticism of my food, I said, “I have protein with my evening meal.” She told me it wasn’t good enough. We never spoke much again, but in the back of my mind it got me thinking. Where was my protein?
I got wrapped up in other things such as teacher training, and my nutrient stores got even more depleted, until one day, early last year, I realised I couldn’t carry on. I was working 70 hours per week and not getting enough time to eat. I got diagnosed with anaemia and I knew it wasn’t the only problem. I looked at all my proteins in the cupboard and I could have cried. Quinoa, advertised as a complete protein, is one of the worst sources of protein of everything ever. White pasta has more protein. My Quorn, a vegetarian substitute for meat, which I was only eating for the protein because I hated the stuff, but it said on the label “good source of protein” was the second worst offender. In some cases, less than ten grams of protein per 100g. I believe, after years of false advertising, that they changed the labelling in the last 3 months because it’s a terrible source of protein. Nuts, textured vegetable protein and tofu all did a lot better. Nuts were the best. And lentils were really good as well. Mushrooms were another shocker, with hardly any protein in them. As a comparison, I looked at the meat that my boyfriend kept in a particular freezer drawer. The salmon, lamb, and chicken were all good sources of protein – but even the salmon was not as good as peanuts and pistachios.
I went around all the foods in my kitchen and I felt like my eyes had opened. I suddenly had a basis to found my dietary principles on. I was still eating a lot of processed and convenience foods, but I figured at the time that it was fine as long as I got my protein. However, I had noticed that I was struggling to get my five-a-day fruit and veg.
That was where I was at when my mum died.
Then my attitude to food was turned on its head even more.
Instead of eating for “taste” or “favourites” or “comfort” how about eating for nutrition? So, eat things that will enable you to get 45g of protein a day, eat enough things containing vitamins and minerals, get your 90g of carbs and 70g of fat. Ensure that the protein includes the right amounts of each amino acid, and that the fat contains essential fatty acids.
As long as you are doing that, it doesn’t matter how you eat. You can eat that as a meat eater, a vegetarian, a vegan, raw vegan, fruitarian or sproutarian (sorry, juicearians, if you even exist, it’s impossible to get all your nutrients from your specific diet).
When my mum died, and I was just eating vegetables, I began researching raw food diets because they have almost become fad diets. I did a series of articles on them, which explained what they all were and weighed up how easy it was to get each nutrient from each diet.
I then took that one step further and identified ten vegan sources for each nutrient, because I was sick of people saying that it was an unhealthy diet.
While I was researching all these different diets, I became very attracted to fruitarianism. I thought the ideals of the diet were beautiful, and reminded me of a renaissance garden of Eden type fantasy. Having researched it, though, I knew it wasn’t the healthiest diet to follow 100%. I know that some people do anyway, but on the other hand there are people who eat nothing but junk food – neither of these is optimal but it won’t kill you straight away, so people keep doing it. I felt myself changing inside. I felt that fruit was the answer. I had never really been interested in fruit before, so this was a revelation.
So at the moment, I’m a 60% fruitarian, 40% vegan (cooked). For this reason, I eat breakfasts and lunches that are fruit and nuts. Some days, like proper fruitarians, I will graze throughout the day. Other days, I feel the need for a “conventional meal” so I prepare all my fruit and nuts and put it in a bowl to eat. It makes me feel like I’ve actually eaten, and is easier to keep track of what I’ve eaten.
Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt like I’m functioning at a much higher intellectual level than before – no, I don’t mean it’s made me smarter, I mean, I was struggling with processing power, my brain wasn’t processing things very quickly and was struggling to take in new information. Not only that, but I was feeling very tired through the day, pretty much four hours of tiredness, followed by four hours of wakefulness. Since I’ve been eating fruit for my daytime meals, these problems seem to have disappeared.
I’ve started eating fruits I never would have considered before – I always used to worry about buying fruit, because like many people, I would constantly buy it, eat a small amount, then it would go off, then I would throw it away. I got so mad at my wastefulness that I stopped buying fruit for years after a particularly bad incident with a bunch of bananas. Making a commitment to eat fruit during the day eliminates this problem because the fruit just gets eaten. I’ve gone from having no fruit in a week (just veg) to having four to six pieces in a “meal.” I enjoy food shopping a lot more and I finally feel like I’m getting enough of everything. I’ve also stopped skipping meals since I’ve been seeing fruit as a viable alternative to regular meals – before, I would often skip breakfast and lunch on the basis that I would look in the cupboard and feel like I just didn’t have the food I wanted to eat – but I didn’t know what food I was craving.
Another thing I really like, for why I skipped the raw vegan step entirely, is that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment or cooking skills to be a fruitarian. Raw Vegans cheat a bit and use all sorts of weird and wonderful food processing techniques to make their food look and taste like “real food” whereas fruitarians just accept their food in the shape and size and flavour that it comes in, and eat it whole and unaltered. I really feel like it makes me connect with what I’m eating and where it came from in a way that raw veganism could never do for me. I’ve found myself drinking a lot more water since I’ve started eating fruit, too, which generally improves my wellbeing.
I don’t think I am never going to be a full-time long term fruitarian, because I feel that other foods also have value, but I do enjoy a good fruit fest and think that if you’re having the same problems that I was, the addition of fruit and nuts to your balanced diet could be your answer.