When I announced to my parents that I have been a vegan for 3 months in July 2012, that I visited Greece for the summer, they were not as open-minded as usual. The main reason was the fact that I have always been tiny, with low blood pressure and low iron (I had to take iron once as a kid, as I was almost anemic). Excluding all these foods from my diet seemed irrational. The fact that my 1,88m tall boyfriend turned also vegan with me only made things more awkward.
You see, in Greece food is a huge part of our culture, which is not exactly the case in the Netherlands, where I currently live. Still, in NL you do have many options for vegans in health food stores, even in my small city. In Athens, the capital of Greece, there is one vegan restaurant and another one, which is vegan and vegetarian. And they are not fully booked either. You see where I am getting at here, right? Additionally, denying the fresh cheese made by your grandparents’ neighbors at their village is considered a huge insult.
Thankfully, it was summer, so everyone watched me eat tons of fresh fruits, vegetables and the many foods based on olive oil that the Greek cuisine has to offer. I have to admit it was a lot of french fries, fried zucchini, fried aubergine and fried everything, but it was also huge salads and legumes. So slowly, and after quite a few lengthy discussions with my parents, they were convinced I was not going to die soon. Still they kindly asked me (demanded) to do blood tests and see if I am all-right.
I did and I was great. But that was only 3 months into veganism.
I visited them again now (just came back from Greece yesterday) and repeated the blood tests. I am still alright, my ferritin levels are quite low though. So was my white blood cell count and red blood cell count. All in all, I kind of messed up with my iron. I am not mentioning that to scare you. On the contrary, I am mentioning that to point out that it is crucial to keep track of your health with veganism, as with any other diet.
My iron issue will be solved with a supplement for a month or so, until I get back in track with my diet. We moved houses and it made a huge change in my career, which led me into a lot of “just-one-meal” days with soy-based hot dogs, mustard and ketchup. Guess what? My body noticed. But the fact that I am addressing the issue instead of pretending that it is not there, makes also my family trust my decisions. That is particularly important for people who still live with their parents or are financially depended on them. If your family knows that you do take good care of yourself, they are much more likely to support your decision.
So here is a list of essential blood tests that you need to do every six months (and later, once you have kept good track, maybe once a year is enough), to make sure that you have no deficiencies. I am not a doctor or related to the medical profession in any way and this list is a result of my personal research and discussions with my family doctor.
So here it goes:
-CBC (Complete Blood Count)
I have also checked my thyroid function, just to make sure that I have no issues with it, before changing the diet.
If you are battling with eating disorders or you have medical issues such as type 2 diabetes, anemia or are recovering from an illness or severe injury, it is of the utmost importance to consult a doctor and licensed dietician on further tests and/or consultation that you might need.
On a side-note, I am really-really scared of needles and have almost fainted when I did blood tests as a teen. It is ridiculous. Just don’t look at the thing and it will be over in seconds. Mention that you are a cry-baby (I always do) and the ladies and gents at the medical center will take extra good care of you and make sure that it won’t hurt.