Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Healthy Vegetarian

I consider myself a fairly healthy person. I've been vegetarian my entire life. I try to eat non-processed, fresh foods. And I definitely do not have a perfect diet - I try to only eat frosted flakes 29 days of the month.

Not really. But I do enjoy ice cream and I eat all types of sweets - usually after a balanced meal that includes grains, protein, veggies or fruit. I firmly believe you shouldn't classify any particular food as "bad".

After CA70.3 when I struggled to pull my heartrate up all day on the bike (I averaged 149hr on the bike for those of you who love numbers), Coach ordered some blood tests, worried that my iron was low.

I've now had blood drawn several times and in the process I have learned a lot about iron, vitamin D and the role they play in carrying oxygen around in the blood. I'll share a little of what I've learned and if you have more questions feel free to email me.

 These are human red blood cells. My count is low, mostly from lack of iron among other things.

If you are an endurance athlete who is vegetarian, chances are you may not get enough iron through food alone. Especially if you don't eat fish and seafood (I don't). However - sad as this makes my friends who were very excited to take me out for a big steak - iron levels can be brought back up to normal levels without eating meat.

So now what? Well, I've started taking iron and vitamins B & D. And I've learned if I take iron with calcium or caffeine - the body won't absorb it. (Bummer since I love lattes!) Iron likes vitamin C. Creative problem solving is something I'm good at, so I have learned to spread out the pills and fit everything in. There are of course some foods rich in iron that are not meat-based, most of which I already eat including spinach, cereal, lentils, etc.

Patience is the final thing I am learning. Low iron, ferritin, hemoglobin, etc. will not magically return to normal levels overnight by popping a pill. So I will do what I can and take one day at a time. I'm still planning to race Wildflower in a few weeks and hopefully won't fight with my heartrate on the bike, but if I do at least now I know why.

If you are vegetarian and think you might have low iron I'd recommend asking your doctor to do some blood work.

19 comments:

IAN said...

Tony the Tiger is my Homeboy!

t-odd said...

WHAT!? You eat Frosted Flakes? My kids don't even get to eat those. They are saddled with eating chocolate chip granola instead. And like 50 Oreos, but with milk.

Hope the blood chemistry works itself out so you up to full speed again soon. Hang in there.

Pamela said...

Hey Charisa,

Have you tried sea vegetables, like nori and hijiki (you can buy it dried and sprinkle it on your salads)? They have something like 18 - 42 mg of iron in 1/2 cup - some of the most nutrient dense foods ever! So, vegetarian sushi - perfect. There's a list of sea vegetables on wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_culinary_vegetables#Sea_vegetables.

I've also tried the type that you can just mix in water or orange juice (vitamin C!), or you can put them in a smoothie. I have the same issues around iron, even though I eat fish and sometimes chicken. I'm always trying to find food that will up my ferritin levels without having to eat cow's liver (blech).

Yasi said...

Thanks for that! I'm not full-blown vegetarian, but I think I've been swaying that way for the past year. I don't eat anything from under the water, never red meat, and don't eat chicken or eggs too much. Now I just need to figure the rest out!

Nicole @ Geek Turned Athlete said...

Thanks for the veggie tips!! I hope you feel better!! They are definitely making me feel better about cutting the meat out!

Aimee (I Tri To Be Me) said...

Thanks for the information! It is really helpful for me b/c I'm a vegetarian (semi-vegan) too. Although I eat tons of spinach and other foods known for their high iron content, I think I need to get some blood work done b/c I'm afraid I might have an iron deficiency.

Kathleen @ ForgingAhead said...

So glad you got some tests and have a plan - you're super good when you have a plan! Now, what cereal has iron? It must be fortified rather than naturally occurring I guess. Keep taking good care of yourself my friend.

Michelle Simmons said...

I'm in a similar boat, Charisa. I started taking an iron supplement every day (with B and C, and we get D from the sun)... and I'm feeling pretty good these days. It's been 2-3 months now with the iron though...

Beth said...

Hoping the iron levels come up soon! Imagine how much better you will feel when you are 100%!! The patience is the hard part. I always tell people - your iron stores didn't get low overnight so they certainly aren't going to get back to normal overnight either. Just like you said - one day at a time!

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Hey Charisa - hang in there! I too am working on re-boosting my iron. I was surprised at how iron-dense dandylion leaves are (sorry about my "creative" spelling). That's another thing you might want to add that could help... Thinking of you!

ONEHOURIRONMAN said...

Ironic...
Low Iron for such a High Iron performer....
Corn Puffs... hands down!

elizabeth said...

Iron seems to be the most talked about thing in my life lately.. that and fatigue. But they go hand in hand :). I just added an additional Iron supplement to the plethora of pills I have just started popping again. During high training I try to maintain a 10,000mg a day dose of Vitamin C as well as several others. Unfortunately that requires 5 pills in the morning and 5 pills at night. What can I say I am back to being a pill popper :). Hope your iron increases soon!!! YAY for energy :D

GoBigGreen said...

Ferritin...Lots of people have normal Fe levels in a CBC and are not anemic but are very low in Fe stores. I think the number was about 75% of women athletes, even if they eat meat. As you noted its an absorption issue plus losing blood monthly if you are not Amenorheic.

blahblahblah I "like" a liquid iron that sits better for me called Floradix or Floravital...you can get it at most health food stores...

Good for you. I know i am always struggling with timing and i only take D3, Ca+ and Fe!

Erin said...

Ahh I see GoBigGreen takes the same supplement I take! Good post Charisa! You are right, it is not an overnight process unfortunately. Hang in there, I know it's frustrating! If you find any tips that are new, feel free to share them too! =)

Jennifer Yake Neuschwander said...

So sorry to hear you are anemic. I was really anemic while training for a marathon my senior year of college. I was a vegetarian and fueled primarily on the collegiate diet of diet Coke, potatoes, salad in a bag, and oatmeal. I thought I was really healthy as I didn't smoke or drink much beer like other college students. I couldn't figure out how I could run a marathon but struggle to keep up with my non athletic friends while walking up a flight of steps. I cut back on running, changed my diet and took oral iron. It still took about 6 months to get lab values to normal. In casual conversation with physicians years later, it has been mentioned that IV iron would have been worked a lot quicker. We give it in the ICU all the time. I'm not sure anyone does in the office. It might be worth checking into since you've got places to go and fast;)

SSB said...

Sea veggies. And try not to eat a lot of fiber when you eat foods high in iron (can be difficult if the food itself is high in both). Chickpeas are a good example, but still a good food. I have a recipe for chickpeas that are like corn nuts if you want it. So yummy.

ADC said...

OK, this really made my think as I am also vegeterian. However I do eat fish so I am hoping that has some benfits. I haven't had my iron (and other) levels checked since I was a kid and perhaps, reading this, I should. Let me know how it goes and what you do to make things better.

Kiet said...

Funny, I'm working on a blog about vitamin D right now. And that my friend is why I wouldn't give up fish and seafood when I decided to stop eating meat, well, that and because I freakin' love sushi.

Teresa said...

Yep, no messin' with low iron and ferritin numbers. Keep an eye on it....I struggle with it lots with my "issues" and it can be a challenge to keep up, and is such an important factor to being an athlete.

Let me know if I can help with anything :)

tn