When you first go vegan, you may be overwhelmed by all the new information you need to retain, especially in regards to your health. It is a good idea to visit your doctor to tell them about your intention to go vegan, so you can look into your general health before and during your lifestyle change. This article is intended to give you an idea of the recommended blood tests for vegans in Australia, and show you where to start with a “vegan blood test.”
Firstly, it is important to concede that we are not doctors, nutritionists, or dieticians. This article has been written based on our own experience going vegan and the advice we were given during our journey. It is intended as a guide only.
You should consult with your GP to determine which blood tests are best for you and to help you interpret your results.
Benefits of getting regular blood tests
There are many benefits to getting regular blood tests for vegans. Below are a few key ones.
- To actively track and preserve your general health
- To pick up on any abnormalities or deficiencies before they become a serious problem
- To show areas to improve on
- To assure people close to you that you are healthy
- To reaffirm that your food choices and activity level are working for you
Where to start with a vegan blood test
Start by booking in an appointment with your regular GP to tell them you plan to switch (or have already switched) to a plant-based/vegan diet. The purpose of the first visit to your GP is to get a better understanding of your general health so that you have a benchmark to look back on going forward.
It is likely that your GP will ask you what you want to get checked for specifically, so it’s a good idea to bring the following list of important blood tests for vegans along with any other questions you want to ask your GP. If you don’t ask questions there will be no opportunity for the doctor to engage and to help you with any of your concerns.
In your appointment, share all relevant information, like your usual diet and preferred eating pattern. Health QLD Gov says; “it’s well worth talking to a dietitian or a doctor and getting some advice on what the key foods and nutrients of concern are and some good sources for those nutrients.” These are all things you should bring up in your initial appointment.
What blood tests to ask your doctor for
The following is the recommended vegan blood work you may like to ask your GP for. If it helps, feel free to print off this page and add any extra questions you have to it.
Full Blood Examination (FBE) with Differential and Platelets
This is a standard test that a GP will include that looks into the white and red blood cell count, and platelets. This test can show whether you have any signs of anaemia or infection, as well as your nutritional status.
The Iron studies test will give you a complete overview of your iron stores and saturation and can determine whether you have too little or too much iron in your system.
Since there are no plant-based sources of B12 (only fortified foods like nutritional yeast and some plant-based milk), it is recommended that vegans take a B12 supplement and to also keep an eye on your B12 levels. A B12 deficiency is serious and can result in nerve damage. Ask your doctor to check for Vitamin B12 and Folate.
A thyroid stimulating hormone (THS) test is not crucial unless you are concerned or showing symptoms of an overactive or underactive thyroid such as weight loss or gain, dry skin, heat or cold intolerance, increased heart rate, anxiety or swelling of the thyroid gland. Be sure to talk with your GP about this blood test and any of your concerns.
Vitamin D is vital for the growth and health of bones, and also helps to control the absorption of the minerals calcium, phosphate and magnesium from food. The body gets vitamin D from sunlight and a few food sources. Your GP may suggest a Vitamin D 25 OH measurement because vitamin D deficiency appears to be common in Australia.
The lipid profile is a group of tests that are often requested together to determine the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (ie. heart disease or stroke). The lipid profile test typically includes total cholesterol, cholesterol ratio, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. This test is optional unless you are concerned (especially if you are 50+ years old).
While you are visiting your GP, ask to take your blood pressure (pulse) so you can note down the results as a basis for comparison in the future.
Interpreting your results
Upon receiving the vegan blood test results, you should go over the findings with your GP including any areas where you can improve. If there is anything to be concerned about, this will be noted in the clinical notes section on the test results. Usually, blood test results will show a column with your personal results next to a column that depicts the normal range.
Make sure you get your blood test results printed or note them down somewhere safe so that you have something to refer back to.
How often should vegans get a blood test?
How often you get a vegan blood test is something you are going to come up with with your doctor, or for you to judge based on your own understanding of your general health.
Health QLD Gov suggests that you should ask your doctor for a blood test when you’re first thinking about going vegan, so you can identify your iron and B12 levels. “This will give you a baseline so that three or six months later you can have your iron and B12 levels tested again to check that they are tracking okay,” Public Health Nutritionist Mathew Dick explains.
We got ours checked when we first went vegan, six months later, and then plan to get it done at least every year after that, being sure to note down the results so we can compare with previous tests.
Where to get your blood test
The first place you should make contact is with your regular GP. From there, your doctor will refer you to where you can get your blood tests done in your local area.
If for any reason, you don’t want to talk to your GP or you don’t have one, you can look into making an appointment with a plant-based dietician or GP. Find your closest one using this article.