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Monitoring your health as a vegan or vegetarian

We explore the role of blood tests in making sure your diet and nutrition are optimal for health and wellbeing.

Monitoring your health as a vegan or when following a plant-based diet is very important.

One of the many pitfalls of adopting a new diet or lifestyle is not checking how it is affecting your health. If you are not monitoring your health regularly, it is difficult to know the true impact of your new diet or to see whether you are getting enough of the right nutrients.

Why have a blood test as a vegan?

Blood tests can help you to make sure you’re getting enough of the right nutrients, as well as to monitor or identify any health conditions.

Three reasons to have a blood test as a vegan:

  1. To monitor how diet changes impact your health

It can be difficult to switch to a plant-based diet. But, seeing the positive impact your lifestyle changes or diet choices are having on your health, through regular blood testing, can be a fantastic motivator to keep going and make even more positive changes to your lifestyle.

  1. Check you are getting the right vitamins and minerals

When starting a new diet or way of eating, knowing the right things to eat to help fuel your body can seem like a bit of a minefield.

Regular blood testing can help you see if you have any nutritional gaps to pinpoint areas of improvement [1]. This way, you can make small tweaks to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need from your diet to feel your best.

  1. Monitor the effects of supplementation

When supplementing, we often leave it to guesswork and hope we get the right amount. But supplements are not industry regulated and different products can contain very different levels of vitamins and minerals.

We all absorb vitamins and minerals differently, too. By monitoring your blood, you can see whether you are getting the right amount of any vitamin or mineral that you are supplementing. Too much of some nutrients can be unhealthy health, and, in some cases, dangerous [2].

How often should I have a blood test?

Whether you’re a vegan or not, how often you should have a blood test depends on your symptoms and results.

If you are feeling good and your blood test result are within the normal ranges, there is no reason for you to take another test for a while.

An annual blood test can help you to make sure everything is on track. If one or more of your blood markers comes back outside the normal range, you may want to test again once you have changed your diet or supplementation regime. Medichecks’ doctors will usually advise when is best to retest and for vitamins and minerals and this is generally in 12 weeks.

Which biomarkers should I be monitoring?

If you are following a plant-based diet, there are some important biomarkers you may need to keep an eye on to make sure you are getting adequate levels [3].

Diet aside, you may need to monitor vitamin D in winter and consider that we find some nutrients more difficult to absorb, such as iron. In these cases, regular monitoring may be useful to make sure levels stay within normal range.

Key biomarkers for vegans:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Ferritin (your body’s iron stores)
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 6:3 ratio

As well as testing key vitamins and minerals, you may also want to test your general health markers such as cholesterol, CRP-hs (inflammation marker) and HbA1c (diabetes marker).

Have a look at our plant-based diet and nutrition page to understand more about your nutritional requirements.  

Omega 6:3 ratio and inflammation – the vegan paradox?

From our research, we know that our customers who are vegans have an average omega 6:3 ratio of 15.4:1, compared with 9.5:1 for people who do not eat a vegan or vegetarian diet. That’s a whopping 62% higher and is the biggest disparity between the biomarkers that we expect to be influenced by diet.

The ideal ratio of omega 6:3 is thought to be 3:1 or less illustrating that modern diets, with their emphasis on processed foods and omega 6 fats, make it difficult for anyone to reach the ‘ideal’ ratio, but even harder for the vegan population to do so. And yet, when we look at other markers for inflammation like white blood cell count and CRP-hs, they are consistently lower in our vegans than in our non-vegan customers, potentially lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

It's too early to be able to explain this paradox. Perhaps the ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids is not as important for inflammation as some commentators believe, or there are other pro-inflammation factors involved in eating meat and dairy that vegans miss out on.

If you’re a vegan and you’d still like to reduce your ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids you can include good sources of omega-3 in your diet such as chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts and avoid excessive consumption of omega-6 oils found in many processed and fried foods.

You may also consider supplementing with a vegan source of omega-3 oils such as flaxseed oil. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggest a long-chain omega-3 fat, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), intake of 250 milligrams per day for adults.

One of the best sources of omega-3 fats is in algae, as this is what the fish eat to get their omega-3. Algae can be found in most health food shops and as it is usually grown in filtered water tanks, it contains none of the pollutants that may be in traditional fish oils. Algae oil already contains EPA and DHA so is already in the form the body can use.


References:

  1. https://www.healthtestingcenters.com/can-blood-test-detect-vitamin-deficiency/
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/iron/
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-vegan-diet/